Twelve thousand souls, and home to the Ava Gardner Museum, but probably not the Frank Sinatra Collection of Drunk, Weepy, and Angry Phone Calls Museum. Let’s take a look.

Well, apparently we’re getting the OMUB, or Obligatory Modern Ugly Bank out of the way first:


The materials keep it from being very ugly; if it was concrete - which it would have been, if they’d built it in 1972 - it would be worse.


“The door’s too big. Add something that seems designed to drop without warning and crush the customers."

“What our civic plaza really needs is a toilet that brings Abe Lincoln’s stovepipe hat to mind.”

Handsome courthouse. Designed by Harry Barton, a North Carolina architect.

“Sir, we’ve been open a week, and no customers have come in yet. Perhaps we need a -”

“Nonsense! I tell you, I’ve seen the future, and it’s people jumping out of low-flying airplanes, and entering through the door on the roof.”

I love the mid-century modern buildings, and I love those that proudly show off futuristic details like this one:


Ahhh, that staircase.

Before I go to Cinema Treasures, I’m just going to guess this one got an upgrade in the 30s.


I was wrong: it was built in the 30s. 1935, to be exact. And still open!

“Smithfield's finest example of Art Deco architecture,” says the town’s historic district statement. That’s a pity. I find this poignant, somehow:

H.P. Howell, who operated several theaters in Smithfield and throughout eastern North Carolina, built the Howell after the Sanders Theater on Market Street burned in 1934. A number of businesses, all apparently housed in frame buildings, had occupied this site since the early twentieth century, including "Fred's Place," which a local eatery, Bud Brown's Barbershop, and the "Western Hot Spot," a cafe.

That would be all we know about the bygone establishments, but thousands of stories floated through those places. Innumerable unknown details no supercomputer could yet reproduce. The people, things in their pockets, destinations, aches, hopes, worries, memories - the stuff of daily life everyone keeps to themselves and carries with them wherever they go.

Can you make it out?

It says AUSTIN, right? Well, let’s google . . . ah. The Austin Block, ”hailed as the "largest department store in eastern North Carolina" upon its completion in 1921”

“Sir, I know you experienced some bank runs in the 30s, and they must have been traumatic, but this design -“

“Does it include the hinged pots as I requested? The ones that hold the boiling oil?”

“Er- no.”

“Well, what about the archers? There should be a locker room on the top for the archers.”

This has the flavor of an old civic building, somehow.

But what was it?


There’s another story that isn’t a Main Street story, and belongs in the motel section - if I had the postcards. I wish the site had bigger pictures, but the story’s great: it’s about the time someone built a motel / restaurant called Henry Johnson’s - and it didn’t only look like the HoJo style and have similar typography, it was right across the street. Here you go.