Compress no more

Old water tower and building at former Federal Compress in Pine Bluff Arkansas

This building and water tower are all that’s left of the former Federal Compress and Cotton Warehouse on West 6th Avenue in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The original facility stretched for two or three city blocks and was a beehive of activity during cotton harvesting season. Advancing agricultural technology put compresses in the same category as high-button shoes, buggy-whips, and the Edsel.

Back in the day when cotton was King, most LA cities and towns of any size had a cotton compress (or two). The compresses received baled cotton from local gins and then compressed  the bales to a smaller size, around 60% of their original size, which made storing and shipping more efficient. Most of the compresses operated on steam as did this one, the Federal Compress in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Old Coca-Cola sign

Click on the sign to see more.

While we are on the subject of “back in the day,” let me direct you to see an old Coca-Cola wall sign, painted I’m thinking sometime around 1907. The sign is on Main Street here in Pine Bluff, so locals can go ogle it, if so disposed. Go to the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com to see the sign and graze through some commentary.

When gin operators discovered high-capacity hydraulic presses, they eliminated the need for the trip to the compress, sounding the death knell for these businesses. There was one other compress  in Pine Bluff, the Pine Bluff Compress and Warehouse Company. It is now leveled. The only evidence remaining of its former presence are a few concrete piers.

Old water tower and building at former Federal Compress

Here is a toads-eye view of the tower. The wide angle lens gives a, shall we say, “towering” appearance.

Old compress water tower and building on same premises as an ice company

The old building and water tower now share real estate with a modern ice plant. Steam to ice in one generation, quite a transition. Shot across the street from the old compress premises.

A straight on shot from the edge of the premises gives you a more accurate view of the proportions of the building and tower,

A straight-on shot from the edge of the premises gives you a more accurate view of the proportions of the building and tower.

Though the economic value of compresses has long since met its demise, there is still historic value to that part of our background. Investors made commitments and provided a needed service. They created jobs that put food on family tables. Even the compress steam whistles were a dependable time check for neighbors. Compresses were a mainstay made obsolete. There’s a lesson there somewhere.

Streetscape in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Three generations of signs speak to the history of this corner in my hometown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. We see a venerable financial institution well over 100 years in business, a beloved local merchant no longer in business and the new occupant of the premises, a church with a neon slogan. Time and life goes on.

Sometimes a swing back in time is good for the soul. I trust this one was to you.

Joe Dempsey

Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.


Save the Saenger

Originally posted in September 2011

Saenger Theater Pine Bluff AR

The 87-year-old Saenger Theater in Pine Bluff, Arkansas needs attention and needs it fast. Fortunately, a group of local supporters have organized and are raising money to stabilize and save the structure for eventual renovation to its former glory.

The long suffering Saenger Theater in Pine Bluff, Arkansas is enjoying renewed attention just in the nick of time. Little Rock video producer Chris Cranford got wind of the aging structure’s plight and put a video together detailing the predicament of the ailing edifice. It worked. The video touched more than a few nerves and stirred up substantial interest in rescuing the building from sure and certain disaster in the absence of attention. Now, more than 1,650 people are signed on to the “Save our Saenger” Facebook page and the Pine Bluff area is dotted with billboards soliciting support.

August 3, 2014 update

The city now owns the Saenger and is taking steps to stabilize it to slow down the forces of nature and age.

The Post Office Lunchery

Click on the picture for old building pix.

See the Saenger’s neighbors

Before we go too much further, may we suggest that you take a look at the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com where this story started.

You’ll see some of the theaters neighboring structures including the venerable old “Post Office Lunchery.” You’ll also get a few opinions on old buildings versus the newer ones. We’ll wait here until you return.

The theater was more than a venue for movies. Vaudeville acts performed there along with other entertainment. It had a classic theater organ which would rumble the foundation. Thousands of attendees got their first taste of film entertainment in the grand old structure. It was the destination for countless “first dates,” and no-doubt was the site of at least hundreds of first stolen kisses.

See more pictures of the Saenger, the Community Theater, and other historic Pine Bluff buildings in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

Exterior decor of Pine Bluff Saenger Theater

This bad boy under the Saenger flag pole has been on the job since November of 1924. Wonder what’s on his mind?

Though the theater has been dark for decades, say the word “Saenger” around Pine Bluff and you’ll probably trigger a recitation of recalled memories. I can remember my jaw dropping and roar of the crowd when Hawkeye and Trapper John dropped the shower curtain on Hot-Lips Houlihan and crew.

Pine Bluff Saenger Theater exterior decor

The arches above the windows on the front of the theater are in good condition and still show the attention to detail that is the hallmark of Saenger Theaters.

 The details you see on the outside of the Saenger give you an idea of the former opulence inside. It was spacious with cathedral class ceilings and well appointed with all of the nooks and crannies reminiscent of an era when tiny little details and ornate decor were the order of the day. If the Saenger supporters have their way, we may yet see this opulence again.

See more pictures of the Saenger, the Community Theater, and other historic Pine Bluff buildings in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

side entrance to Harlow Sanders Cotton Company

You gotta love the “Pointy” doors at the former home of the Harlow Sanders Cotton Company in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Just a couple of blocks away is the building which last housed the Harlow Sanders Cotton Company. I’m not sure what it was before it was the cotton company, but no doubt will hear from someone and can add that information when it comes in. The building has three “pointy” doors (for lack of a better word), this one is on the side, the other two are on the front.

Back entrance to the Henry Marx Company building

This has to be the fanciest back door in town. The building was last used commercially by the Henry Marx Company of Pine Bluff, the building owner. It now is home to a downtown church.

 You don’t find many windows like the ones you see in the upper floor of the Henry Marx Company building at West 5th Avenue and Main Street in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.The designer apparently wanted to achieve a unique look which probably gave a window maker fits as compared to a garden variety window with only two panes. Fits or not, the designer and the window maker were successful. Now there’s that little bit of art in our downtown. Just look up to see it.

Henry Marx Company bulding

The windows have a unique design. Wonder why the one on the right side of the sign is different? What were they thinking? Did the window maker pull a fast one?

art deco doors

Click on the doors for more pictues

SEE MORE pictures including

the Saenger, the Community Theater, and several other historic structures in downtown Pine Bluff, including the old Post Office Lunchery, in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

You’ll see some close up details most folks overlook. There are 31 new pictures of old stuff, some with lingering opportunities. Click and see.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

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