The Phoenix of Trade Street

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Written by Vincent Verrecchio; Photographed by Vincent Verrecchio and courtesy of Polk County Historical Museum

clicked again and the next black and white photograph appeared on the computer screen. Around me, the Polk County Historical Museum and its visitors faded away. It was that easy to be drawn into the image, to be one with a nameless crowd in a long ago August who gasped, shouted, or mumbled as the roof of the Missildine Pharmacy collapsed in an eruption of hot smoke and debris. Of the many browned and faded memories that I had already seen in this photo-rich archive, this one for me was where the story really began of the buildings on the southeast corner of Oak and Trade Streets. Not so much with the pharmacy foundations laid in 1896, but with the rise from the ashes in 1913.

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From the ashes rose a heritage of rebirth across more than a century of ups and downs, comings and goings, from local boys nursing sodas while waiting for trains that would take them to world wars, to a famed writer or actor eating Biltmore ice cream, to a schoolteacher with a prescription, and a farmer asking for Mercurochrome and an El Producto cigar. Owners and tenants drove the cycle of the three buildings: druggists, doctors, weavers, bankers, each in their time moving ahead with aspirations and purpose, or tiring and stepping away, until at last, life within the bricks seemed gone forever. 

Fortunately, where many saw only vacant buildings, Gayle and Scott Lane saw a legacy best not forgotten and a vision of vibrancy for the length of Trade Street through downtown Tryon.

Together, they first saw the rundown buildings, but the perspective for each was conditioned by individual experiences.

Gayle had grown up in Atlanta where she had seen how the rush of what’s new could easily run over much of what had been historic. Later, working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation deepened her appreciation for maintaining sites and buildings of significance in the story of America.

When driving through Tryon with Scott, she recalls seeing the buildings at Trade and Oak Streets and commenting, “Someone has to do something about this.” Scott responded, “Looks like somebody kicked the front teeth out of Tryon’s smile.”

Scott had grown up in Charleston, a city that loves its history, and long worked with the Historic Charleston Foundation.

Together they had attended Columbia University. Gayle earned an MBA in finance; Scott, an MFA in theater. I could readily understand how finance would strengthen the knowledge base of a real estate developer.

Perhaps, sensing my surprise, however, at the MFA, Scott explained, “I enjoyed the studies and always enjoy the arts but was never cut out for the life style of an actor or painter. I was born into a multi-generational real estate family…builders and developers.” Based on the results in Tryon, one can see the evidence of how his artistic side comes into play with his work.

“Gayle and I complement each other, a team effort,” says Scott, “The entire project is a team effort…you have to include Dean [Trakas] and Mike [Karaman] in this article.”

When professional pianist Dean Trakas is not playing American Standards in the trio Cigarette Holder, he exercises his creativity as principal architect/owner of Brady-Trakas Architecture of Tryon. He was a conceptual resource in helping develop the Tryon streetscape vision in 2001 and his work is readily appreciated in projects such as the Tryon Depot, St. Luke’s Plaza with its clock tower, and the renovated Shops of Tryon.

“Our town is one-sided, three blocks long,” says Dean. “And I want it to prosper. Missildine’s used to be a hub with passengers getting off the train and waiting inside. Now with the buildings opening, I sense a regeneration…and can easily imagine this corner, once again, as a gathering spot for everybody that calls Tryon home and all those visitors who wish it were.”

Mike Karaman, general contractor for the project, has teamed with Dean and the Lanes before. He took a break from working on the three condominiums on the second floor to talk with me. A former metallurgy engineer who had worked his way through college as a welder, he says, “I much prefer working with my hands. I enjoy renovation…the demolition, the discoveries, technical challenges.” He smiles about discovering a collection of antique pharmaceutical bottles and gestures with pride up to the I-beam that had not previously been there to support the second floor.

“Scott and Gayle had the vision and the courage to invest. Enthusiasm and history hooked me and I’m getting to see people enjoy the finished product that I helped make. I firmly believe this will be a destination.”

The three commercial tenants also share the belief, vision, and courage. Ashley Menetre moved The Nest Artisan Market into Missildine’s convinced that the original art and gift items created by local artists would add to the mystique and charm of the corner.

Shoppers can pass back and forth through the open double doors between her market and the Black Coffee shop next door where a former medical malpractice lawyer regales visitors with the artistry and stories of Third Wave coffee. Adam Marcello, certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, shows how coffee is an experience that would bring people back to his store and the Tryon downtown.

Next door, Julia Calhoun, life-long Tryon resident and descendant of South Carolina’s noted Calhoun, brings three businesses to the mix. Carolina Confections gathers the sweets from 12 family owned candy makers into a single source temptation available only in Tryon. Mills-Mosseller Rug Studio preserves a tradition started in 1925. “And there was no way I was going to let the Tryon Toymakers and Woodcarvers slip away,” she says. “Working together, we can celebrate our history and make our town a proud restoration.”

Upstairs, Gayle and Scott stand at the corner window of the largest condominium and have a view on the length of Trade Street and a nearby Blue Ridge peak. “This is not a money-making venture,” says Scott. Gayle adds, “We could more easily be building subdivisions to do that.” Scott nods in agreement. “We want to live in a vibrant town,” he says. “And we live in this town and love it.” •