Rarely does a company's name reveal everything about the organization. The firm of Robert Parker Adams, Architect, comes close, telling us the owner's name and identifying his profession, but the story of Millsaps alumnus Bob Adams, 1959, and his accomplishments requires far more than four words.
His work on the preservation and restoration of historic buildings has been carried out over four decades and has itself become a living part of Mississippi's history.
Adams has spent more time in Mississippi public buildings than most of our politicians. A cynic might say that he's also given taxpayers more for their money. He has twice overseen restoration of the Old Capitol building and did the same for the New Capitol. For good measure, he presided over the restoration of the Governor's Mansion, the War Memorial Building, Jackson City Hall, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History's Historic Preservation Division headquarters, once the GM&O railroad terminal.
And those are just the government buildings in the Capital City. Other municipal restoration commissions include Oxford City Hall, Meridian City Hall, and county courthouses in Carroll, Lamar, Holmes, Marion, Sharkey, and Stone Counties. He also worked on the Leflore County courthouse, but limited his efforts to the clock tower.
Adams is a nationally recognized authority on the preservation and restoration of historic structures. His firm has a policy of not entering awards competitions, but clients and others have often done the nominating, resulting in a significant number of awards. Among these is the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, conferred for a body of work in the field of historic preservation.
Born in Jacksonville, Fla., Adams said, "We moved around a lot. My dad was a troubleshooter for a large national company and too valuable to put in one place." That movement came to a halt in Jackson in 1951, however, and his father went into homebuilding and real estate. A member of the Jackson Central High School class of 1955, Adams credits Richard Bacon, a career counselor and mechanical drafting instructor at the school, for giving him his first insights into design.
"I showed a particular interest in his course, which was unusual I suppose for a 17-year-old," Adams said. "He gave me advanced work to challenge me and tried to talk to me about architecture, whatever that was."
After graduation, Adams entered Millsaps College where he pledged Pi Kappa Alpha. Joe M. Hinds, B.A. 1959, and Adams have been lifelong friends since their days at Central High School and at Millsaps when Adams had a Whizzer bike - a bike with a motor on it - and they rode all over town on it.
Hinds said it's come as no surprise that Adams has built a career in architecture. "Even in high school he was always drawing house plans," he said.
Betty Miller Sadler, B.A. 1958, said the friends she made at Millsaps - including Adams who was her first real boyfriend - are among the best she's ever had. "The fifties were such a fun time. We would go to dances. We would go to picnics. We would go to 'tacky' parties where you would wear the tackiest thing you could find."
Adams was a good student and more. "He could fix anything," Sadler said.
Adams planned to follow Millsaps with the study of civil engineering at Mississippi State but he realized that he wanted more artistic elements in his academic work. This led him to Auburn University, where he spent five years before receiving his terminal degree in architecture, finishing first in his class.
At Auburn, Adams found time to serve as president of his fraternity and to court the Pike dream girl, Mary Orr. They wed in 1961 and would remain married for a half-century before the happy union was sundered by cancer in the spring of 2010.
After Auburn, Adams entered the army and did his first design work for the Army Corps of Engineers. For his exceptional service in directing construction operations during the Vietnam conflict, Second Lieutenant Adams was awarded the Army Commendation Medal. He left the army as a captain.
After exiting the army, Bob and Mary Adams came to Jackson where Bob worked as chief designer for Barlow & Plunkett and later held the same position with the John L. Turner firm.
"I got tired of large firms and possibly modern architecture," said Adams, "So I opened my own office in 1970 and consciously kept the firm small so I could maintain involvement."
The first independent Adams offices were at The Quarter on Lakeland Drive, followed by a stay at One Le Fleur's Square in an office building he designed. His next and final move exemplifies his belief in architecture as an integral ingredient in everyday life. In 1988, he restored and moved into the Greyhound Bus Station on Lamar Street.
Generations of Central High School's male students knew the Greyhound terminal as "The Dog," and they would congregate there in the hour before classes began to play its nickel pinball machines, oblivious to the art moderne structure's streamlined exterior. The building would later serve as a terminus for the Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights years of the 1960s before a new bus terminal was built. Today the 1937 structure is a Jackson landmark and has been featured in numerous articles, one in the Washington Post.
"I also date from 1937," Adams told the Post.
Even Bob Adams' non-business life has a significant architectural component.
In 1979, Bob and Mary bought and restored Mississippi's only Frank Lloyd Wright structure, the former J. Willis Hughes residence in Fondren's Woodland Hills neighborhood. The house, named Fountainhead by Wright and the late Mrs. Hughes, is made of concrete, copper, and red cypress and nestles in a hidden woodsy glen all but invisible from the street. Its long copper roofline, slab chimneys, and harmony with the natural landscape are Wright trademarks, as is the stream that cascades from a fountain into the swimming pool.
Fountainhead was more than thirty years old when the Adams family moved in, and Adams describes the five-year restoration as "long and expensive." The house had not been maintained for years, and Adams said his first thought after his first look at the interior was that Fountainhead was like Elizabeth Taylor.
"It had been through a lot, but there were good bones under there."
Wright designed Fountainhead in 1948, and the house took more than five years to finish, interrupted at least once by Hughes's fluctuating success as an oil wildcatter. It is built in Wright's "Usonian" style, a cost-conscious one-story construction method characterized by a carport instead of a garage, no basement or attic, and sparse ornamentation. The house has radiant heating in the floors, and its interior rooms take the form of parallelograms.
"It's subliminal," Adams said, "But there are no 90-degree angles."
Few men in Mississippi architectural history have touched so many familiar buildings with so much care and artistry. His restoration work has included academic buildings at Jackson State University, Alcorn State University, and Mississippi University for Women; churches include the Episcopal Chapel of the Cross, St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral, St. Peter's Catholic Cathedral, College Hill Presbyterian Church in Oxford, and Oakland Chapel at Alcorn State.
In Jackson, Adams' skilled hand has treated historic residences including the Eudora Welty House, the Manship House, the Oaks House Museum, and the oldest residence in Jackson, The Cedars. His work also includes the Coker House at the Edwards Battlefield Site and the Holtzclaw Mansion in Utica.
Ken P'Pool, deputy state historic preservation officer, said Adams is one of the foremost preservation architects in the Southeast, perhaps because of his attention to detail. For example, Adams oversaw repairs when the state Department of Archives and History restored the Welty House, and he devised a plan to build new footings and make structural repairs from the inside out so that none of the camellias and other shrubs that Welty and her mother had planted would be disturbed. "It was a very surgical approach," P'Pool said.
Of particular interest to his fellow Millsaps alumni, Adams is working to help restore the oldest building on campus, the James Astronomical Observatory, located on the west side of the campus just south of Woodrow Wilson Drive. In researching the observatory, he has uncovered forgotten fact after unknown fact about a structure long a trademark of Millsaps College.
Given Adams' extensive record of accomplishment in the close-knit world of historical preservation and renovation of historic buildings, one might conclude that he had time for little else in his forty-year career as an independent architect. That would be a false conclusion. One of the Adams specialties over the years was a concentration on facilities for financial institutions, more than 400 of them. A recent financial building, the Bank of Yazoo on U.S. Highway 80 near Brandon, is allnew but exhibits historical overtones that remind one of bank buildings from the early 1900s.
At the age of 69, Adams completed graduate work at Goucher College and the Harvard School of Design and was awarded a master's degree in historic preservation. He both lives and works in structures that he not only bought and renovated but which are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Fountainhead is secluded; the Dog is not.
"From my office in the Greyhound Station behind Central, I look out of my office window and see the room where Mr. Bacon taught drafting and wonder if he somehow sensed all this."
Speaking of his most recent restoration of the Old Capitol, completed in 2009, Adams said, "Sixteen million dollars and fifteen years of research and restoration later, the stucco is back, the interior is restored, and the original iron fence that none of us knew existed, are all in place. Richard Bacon's influence is deep within our Old Capitol building."