Wednesday, April 19, 2017
The scene was set. Downtown was alive with street fair animation. Aromas of sugared funnel cakes and savory ethnic foods wafted through the air. The historic courthouse square overflowed with humanity of all ages, creeds and colors: young parents with children in mommy-navigated strollers or atop daddy shoulders, senior citizens relaxed on park benches taking in the hubbub and single millennials in tomato-red jeans or biking garb, swaying to the music. African drum beats thundered from the festival stage. Folklorico dancers followed, equal to any on San Antonio's Paseo del Rio. And the dogs -- leashed citizens reminiscent of those in Maui's Makawao upcountry cowboy town.
Was this perfect setting a Hollywood cardboard diorama? No. 'Twas the real thing, a usual Bentonville First Friday on the square with a civic energy any similarly sized city would covet.
Yet per one Eureka Springs wag, quoted by a Bentonville citizen at a recent county Quorum Court session, Bentonville is "Stepford and all fake."
The jab was derived from the 1975 sci-fi movie "The Stepford Wives," based on the Ira Levin novel. Stepford was a Connecticut bedroom community. The town was perfect and the wives were fake, transformed into obedient, ravishing robots for the pleasure of their husbands, captains of industry in nearby corporate compounds. So now you know, per someone's snark in Eureka Springs, what goes on at Bentonville's 702 SW 8th Street: Walmart men are devising ways to control their wimmenfolk. What a laugh! In all communities where I've resided in the Gulf Coast, Northeast or Ozarks, I've never met more purpose-driven women than those of Bentonville. One should not worry about the city being Stepford until, as in the movie, a siren signal wails across the town and the ladies stop to take a loyalty pill. Or worse, they stop mid-sentence for a Walmart cheer, complete with butt squiggly.
I've lived in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I know "Stepford," the not-so-subtle portmanteau devised by the New York author. I passed through Upper Stepney and Stepney on the daily commute to my cubicle in Stamford. I can aver: Bentonville is not "Stepford." For one, compared to monochromatic, economically-segregated Fairfield County where everyone is white in Darien and New Canaan and Puerto Rican in Bridgeport, Bentonville is a United Nations within zip code 72712.
Then what possible sin is assigned Bentonvillians, going about daily routines of managing retail shelf space and curating fine art, to have deserved this zinger from Eureka Springs? Houses. Historic ones, some of which that have disappeared from old Bentonville.
The developers' wrecking claws have brought several such homes to their end, making room for larger, au courants. As I see it, a few tear-downs morph to McMansions, but mostly make way for town homes and lofts. Bentonville is becoming SoHo on Sugar Creek.
Fortunately, due to people like Benton County history buff Randy McCrory, one home has been spared---the so-called Thaden House of the family of America's accomplished aviatrix Louise Thaden. Next to it was my favorite Central Avenue home: A handsome, brick, Empire-styled structure, less common locally than Victorian or Craftsmen. It is gone.
Antiquity, in a manner, versus modern practicality are the topics these days as the Benton County justices have wrestled with courts facility expansions. They finally decided to squeeze what is needed into property downtown, near the current courthouse, as opposed to less restrictive space towards Centerton. I am pleased. Nothing rips the heart from a traditional county seat more than relocating most of the people's business away from city center.
In this decision however, the fate of the old post office off the northeast corner of the square is in limbo. The 1930s Spanish colonial building serves as a court annex. A citizen raising concern that this building might be razed for the newer courts complex is the one who quoted the detractor from Eureka Springs. And her words found newsprint.
No doubt Eureka Springs brims with faithfully maintained Victorian homes and businesses. It's delightful to stroll down the resort town streets perhaps to attend a concert in the venerable city auditorium. But using it as the standard for a growing business center like Bentonville is off-base.
Surely Benton County and city officials have room to improve the architectural ambiance of the county seat. Updated codes may further protect history. But given a choice between Bentonville and Eureka Springs, that kitschy tourist town with those mid-century, faux Alpine motels and church busloads of Passion Play patrons taking communion at the Spring Street fudge shoppe, I'll take the former. For real.
Commentary on 04/19/2017
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