Unique, needs work: Tupelo's Spain House still has character, notable features

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Vacant and deteriorating from neglect, the century-old Spain House, in the midst of a contentious preservation effort, has managed to retain some of its original beauty.
Evident in a tour given by the city to the Daily Journal on Wednesday were hardwood floors, plaster walls, bay windows, a sweeping staircase, high ceilings, enormous columns, and a sense of elegance and grandeur common among the “wedding cake” houses that once lined downtown Main Street before the 1936 tornado. These and other unique features survived 10 decades of wear and tear.
The rarity of such details, along with the legacy of the home’s former occupants, makes the house worth saving, the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission argued before the city in its 2009 bid for historic recognition.
Three years later, on June 17, a divided City Council committed itself to relocating and stabilizing the house with the acceptance of a grant to cover those costs and a bid from a contractor willing to perform the work.
Relocation is likely to happen sometime before Oct. 1, the deadline imposed by the structure’s former owner, Calvary Baptist Church, which had purchased it in 2006. After deeming its renovation too costly, Calvary planned to tear it down but instead transferred ownership to the city.
If Tupelo doesn’t move it within the two-year deadline, Calvary can tear it down.
The two-story Colonial Revival house, built in 1914, sits on the corner of West Main and Madison streets in what once was known as the “silk stocking district” because of its upper-class homeowners, according to the Historic Preservation Commission.
It survived the tornado that swept through Tupelo nearly a quarter century later and served as the residence of pharmacist and businessman Robert L. Pound and his wife, who lived there until 1948, the commission states in a biography of the structure on its website.
They entertained often.
Parties likely took place downstairs, which features a grand foyer and several parlors leading into what probably was an elegant dining room, functional kitchen, pantry and serving station.
The general structure of those rooms survived the years but also bear signs of unfortunate alteration and decay: a kitchen stripped bare, broken floor tiles, peeling plaster, rotted wood and a musty odor.
Upstairs, spacious bedrooms with equally high ceilings and adjoining doors overlook downtown from their numerous large windows. But deterioration has intruded here, too: more peeling plaster and broken tiles, along with a leaky roof and wisteria growing through a window crack.
After the Pounds sold the house to W.D. Spain and his family, the downstairs turned into a funeral home while the upstairs was converted into the primary residence, complete with an added kitchen.
The funeral home operated for two decades, and the Spains remained in the home until 1991, when it was sold to TRI. The real-estate business kept the property there until 2006.
After its relocation, the commission hopes to raise funds needed to restore the home to its original condition. It’s unclear how much that will cost, but estimates obtained by the church three years ago came in between $250,000 and $300,000.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com

See more photos from the Spain House in today’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.