You momentarily forgot that some consider it one of Anniston’s lost causes.
Rows of American flags quivered overhead, rows of color that perhaps Noble Street’s keepers may want to make a permanent decoration. You saw them, and on this wind-swept day, you heard them. It was pleasant.
The sidewalks of Noble Street’s heart were equal parts quiet and busy. It was the 1 o’clock hour, just after lunch. Business people emerged occasionally from their offices. A couple walked along the street’s shaded western side. It was too early for the bar-hoppers or the nighttime crowd. But surveyors with all sorts of gadgets took measurements across the street from Mayor Gene Robinson’s hardware store.
There was life on Noble Street.
Rising above it all, as it has since the days of Calvin Coolidge, was the Liles Building, formerly the AmSouth Bank Building, now the Watermark Tower. The name is meaningless. The sight on this day wasn’t; glorious signs of improvement: barricades to protect sidewalkers from falling debris, work vehicles of all types, visible examples of the building’s necessary rebirth seen among the clouds.
I know you can do this, because I did: As you walk down Noble Street, you can gaze upward and see the skyline of 1930s Anniston emerge from its unsightly cocoon. Workers have peeled away just enough of the ugly metal façade of the tower’s top floor to whet our appetite for more.
Each floor has 16 windows on the north and south sides of the building. On the top floor — the one that burned in 2003 — repair has been made to 11 of the windows on the north side. On the side that stares at Oxford, nearly 10 were repaired or were well on their way. The smaller east and west sides weren’t so fortunate. Bet they’re jealous.
It made me wish to go inside and see the progress since my last climb up the tower’s soot-stained stairwell a few years ago. Another day, perhaps.
The belief that you can tell a great deal about a neighborhood by its people, and their intimate places, is a Noble Street truism. Let’s be honest: The historic part of Noble Street is a work in progress, a place where success is abundant, but so, too, is lingering decay. Optimists and pessimists are next-door neighbors; I like to think the optimists are winning.
As you leave the tower and head north on this day, you’re pleasantly surprised; the pessimists wouldn’t have been happy campers.
A shopper flipped open a boutique’s door and plopped onto a nearby bench. “Oh, boy,” she said, tiredly.
The weather beautiful, if not Chicago-like windy, store after store opened their doors, inviting visitors in. Sale signs hung in windows.
A pitching wedge south of The Rabbit Hutch brought smells — lilac and cinnamon, rose petals and vanilla; candles placed on a table outside the store’s front door sent aromas wafting south down the street. I didn’t buy a candle, but it was tempting, nonetheless.
The early afternoon sun did wondrous things to Noble Street’s architectural treats. The Security Bank Building at 11th Street looked elegant. Next door, The Rabbit Hutch building seemed swell in green and something akin to beige. For sentimental reasons, the old Wikle Drug Store is one of my favorite spots on the street. Above the hideous Rexall Drug signage at ground level, the upper floors still seem like war-time Anniston, the proper white paint accented by its blue trim. The golden plaque on the Federal Courthouse carried the century-old name of architect James Knox Taylor.
Up and down the street, the sun showed off the worthwhile — the subtle beauty of the Stovall Building, the style of the Constantine Building’s upper floor — and what’s left to be done, which is a great deal: empty storefronts, dilapidated, littered alleys, façades that could compete for the ugliest façades on earth.
That midday sun showed everything.
It also showed the people — workers and residents, bankers and lawyers and shoppers, black and white. It was Anniston, and proudly so. I imagine if you spent an afternoon on the square in Jacksonville, or at the lake in Oxford, or on Piedmont’s main drag, you’d get a similar picture of who lives there, of who we all are.
On this day, a stroll down Noble Street was everything it could be, and yet it could be much more. Perhaps the tower’s progress among the clouds is a sign of the probable, not only the possible.
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is The Star’s commentary editor.