Up the Carlson Terrace creek

The old man is an evil bastard. During my childhood he relished giving me one shoe for my birthday and its match on Christmas. His frequent description that journalism is, “a low-life profession for drunks and misery profiteers” has been his most supportive comment about my work.

“My boy,” he would say, “Journalists are incapable of thinking critically. Most of you ‘gatekeepers’ are too timid to address both sides of an issue. Have you heard anyone saying anything bad about single-mothers? Or how ’bout the lovey-dovey drooling everyone has done over the ‘homeless’ situation, eh?”

“That cruel cynicism, Pops,” I’d reply in shock.

“Cynicism’s a coward’s way of backing down from critical thinking. Find a way to write cynically about the homeless and I’ll give you a $100 and quit referring to you as a coward. First though, you need a practice piece, what are you working on now?”

“A column about Carlson Terrace and how the UA administration and housing department are gluttonous whores of capitalism wallowing in their own filth and greed.”

“Ho, ho, ho, junior. Good one. But that’s too easy. It’s shootin’ fish in a barrel, no critical thinkin’. Get cynical about people on your side of the debate. Then you might be ready for the homeless article and $100. Go get’em coward.”

. . .

On the surface of things, indeed even when diving into the information, it would seem the Board of Trustees and the administration isn’t helping disenfranchised students who need a place to live. In the Carlson Terrace debacle, the only room anyone has made for students to voice their concern has been in the “Letters to the editor” section of The Arkansas Traveler. Who then, besides the students themselves is speaking on their behalf? Who is coming to the rescue for the students?

That would be Paula Marinoni – real estate agent, historical preservationist and all-around thorn in the side for many people around town. Marinoni is the founder of the Washington County Historic Preservation Association. The group has fought against both the university and the city of Fayetteville, including but not limited to hoopla over adding a couple of stairs on the side of the old Dickson Street train depot and restoring Carnall Hall to its original beauty.

Marinoni has been the most vocal opponent to the UA’s planned razing of CT. She has made numerous claims and accusations, some of which appear to be half valid. She has helped point the way for several reporters in hunting the paper trail of miscommunication between the UA administration and the student community and she appears to be the only adult who has given face time to CT residence and other students.

All in all, things are do not look good for disenfranchised and non-traditional students and not because they only have Marinoni’s support but the fact that they have her support at all.

I talked to more than 25 people for this article and the best anyone had to say about Marinoni was that she “meant well.” That was the best anyone could say and only one person said it.

The best line about Marinoni?

“If she saw a pile of petrified dog crap, she’d corner it off and claim it had historical importance.”

Beautiful.

There was something oddly relaxing in hearing one person after another shun her like she was the village’s leprotic outcast. And it’s easy to see why.

During a meeting with members from RIC and ASG, senior Charles Perry and CT resident spent his time earnestly asking for organizational support in helping keep CT open for non-traditional students. Marinoni waited patiently until her turn before knocking the heads of everyone in the room with all her facts, numbers and support. She spent her time telling the students how important it was to keep CT from being razed because of its historical significance.

Any student or supporter of affordable housing wasting time arguing the definition of “historical” will be S.O.L when Housing and the administration continue with their plans to destroy the buildings. Housing and administration certainly aren’t losing sleep over the issue and won’t think twice when knocking down Stone’s work.

In the course of Marinoni’s blitzkrieg, few people have bothered to ask what “historical significance” actually means and why it has any real bearing on the issue at hand. The question itself has been detrimental to what disadvantaged students really need – affordable and accommodating housing – and as the spearhead, Marinoni has been detrimental to that cause.

What the hell does historical mean anyway?

If by “historical” she means the building served as an important structure in Arkansas, she would be incorrect. CT itself was not the apple of its creator’s eye by a long shot. Stone faced several difficulties during the construction. Delays, more delays, contract squabbling, and even a fairly troublesome fire were all apart of the reality Stone faced when making the building.

While all construction projects face obstacles but it would dishonest to make it appear as though the complex was a dream to build or even remember. Stone, in fact, hardly ever mentions CT again. Stone refers to the project one time in his autobiography. It’s a sentence listing his other university projects, including something for the University of Alaska.

If the building itself has no “historical” significance, what about its creator and his connection to Arkansas?

Stone, it seems, was not a big fan of our little corner of the world. He high-tailed it out of here without finishing a degree and spent much of his time working and relaxing abroad. He seemed almost gleeful with the idea of being individualistic and a non-conformist who didn’t need a university or town to tell him how to work.

His importance as an architect also seems to be a constant question among architectural critics and the public alike. From the time he was alive till now, there seems to be a quiet but constant question of whether his work’s popularity had any truly aesthetic value or was simply a flash-in-the-pan fad.

The “Dictionary of American Biography” says Stone was “condemned for ‘architectural populism'” when he created the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In the 1958 issue of Time that carried the architect’s picture on the cover, the article asks rhetorically, “Will the grille [Stone’s signature] become a clichĂ© and a cover for bad architecture?” It quotes architect Eero Saarinen (on the Time cover himself in ’56) saying, “‘the best thing that could happen to Ed Stone is for his friends to take him down on the floor and wrestle his grilles away from him.'” Years later, Stone’s work would become news in the New York Times when artist Michael Singer redesigns Stone’s New England Science Center. The author says, “By the time he died … [Stone] had been written off by many architects as an oddball.” Singer says in the article that he had never heard such bad things about a building and that the structure seemed to press down upon the visitor. His exact words were, “‘It was awful.'”

Even Stone’s own son, Hicks, took a jab at his old man’s work in a 1998 The New Yorker article.

His.

Own.

Son.

Marinoni’s focus hasn’t been helping students find alternative options for housing but simply the historical preservation, something that is clearly up for heated debate. At the meeting, she brought up example after example of how important the structure is to our community history without once directly addressing the concern of students. I knew she was a fraud when I actually heard her say, “There’s no such thing as ‘can’t.'”

No real person says that.

Looking through Marinoni’s comments on the university over the last nine years (and there are many) there doesn’t seem to be one sympathetic word for students. Individual students and student organizations looking to ensure every person at the UA has reasonable and affordable housing would do well to stay away from Marinoni. These are turbulent times, bubba, and it’s hard to know who’s on whose side or even Who’s on First.

Make no mistake about it – Marinoni does not represent student concerns. She could sell every student down the river if it meant “preserving” CT. She is an outside agitator who should be tossed with extreme prejudice in the interest of actual students.

The future looks grim for affordable and accommodating housing. What students need is someone willing to preserve that. What students need is a miracle.

[Original piece available here.]

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