In with the old; out with the new.
That's a phrase you won't often hear but one that should be considered carefully, especially when irreplaceable architecture is concerned.
Fifth-generation Fort Smith resident Chuck Girard will present a slideshow of about 120 historic photographs dating back to the 1800s and speak on the topic of preserving significant structures in Fort Smith on Sunday (Feb. 26) at Clayton House.
The presentation, "Garrison Avenue: A Look Back," is the latest installment in Clayton Conversations — a monthly program detailing a specific aspect of Fort Smith history.
Girard has traced his family's connections to Fort Smith back to the 1830s, when his ancestors operated the first commercial ice cream operation in the river city. As a child, Girard’s grandfather would take him to Eureka Springs and show and tell him about his life when he was younger. History is much more than a passing interest for Girard, who is employed as a regulatory compliance officer at First National Bank of Fort Smith.
“I have a real passion for downtown and remember a lot of the things as a kid growing up here that I just wish we had,” Girard said.
He developed his slideshow presentation “to show people that you have to really kind of think and make sure that you don't destroy your heritage.”
Girard came to know Clayton House executive director Julie Moncrief several years ago when she was with Leadership Fort Smith. She called on him to give his presentation to the emerging leaders in that year’s class.
Girard said many in the group were either too young or not from Fort Smith and therefore don't have the connection to the city's past. He now delivers his slideshow and accompanying lecture to six or more different audiences a year.
Girard also is a volunteer conductor for the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad. Though he loves the history of the railroad and its interaction with the community, he has a particular interest in the architecture of buildings from a bygone era. Girard cites the Goldman Hotel, Grand Opera House, Missouri Pacific Railway Station and the Kansas City Southern/Frisco Union Railway Station — the demolition of which he claims to be the biggest disaster of all — as examples of fine architecture that are no longer standing.
Back in the 1950s and 60s, there was a push to make the landscape look progressive, and that is when many of these historic structures were torn down, he said.
He doesn’t want these images to be forgotten.
“It’s more of a snapshot presentation to say, ‘Here's what was once here and here's what's not here anymore,’ sadly because no one had the foresight or the thoughtfulness to either maintain, preserve or restore ... and unfortunately there's no way that we could ever get these things back,” Girard said.
“Today we couldn't build these buildings at any price — let alone if we had the money to do it. We don't have the artisans to do it," he said.
The 45-minute presentation is always evolving based on feedback from audience members. A new question or previously unknown fact piques Girard's curiosity and sets the wheels in motion for further research and possible inclusion into future presentations.
Sunday’s event is free, though reservations are recommended. Seatings are at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Contact Moncrief at (479) 783-3000 or firstname.lastname@example.org