Community Under Construction
Texarkana’s growth continues to broaden the community, encouraging new opportunities and innovation, but its towering history casts a large shadow on the twenty-first century. This is not to say heritage is unimportant or that “old” is bad. Texarkana’s past is the character, and in many ways the literal foundation that waits to usher in a future where each may coexist.
Nestled alongside the railroad tracks on an overlooked block of downtown is the 1894 Gallery. The building, formerly home to Ritchie Grocery, is now owned by David Peavy. The art gallery opened in 2018 and today it is the largest gallery in the area, representing approximately 100 artists from the region with original pieces that range from canvas to fragile glass, all available for purchase.
“There’s no other place in town, or anywhere, that does more for local artists than we do,” said Peavy. “We give people an outlet for their art, and when you want to see the art of the Southwest Arkansas, Northeast Texas area, this is the place to go. The 1894 Gallery and building gives a place of pride for people that are from Texarkana. We work really hard to make it that.”
The gallery is free to enter, and guided tours can be provided, but it is an operating art gallery so visitors may walk around freely and buy any of the artwork seen. Trade Days are on the second Saturday of each month and are a fun event featuring artists and crafts, connecting artists with the community.”
“Ms. [Georgia] Hubnik had the art gallery up the street. I brought her down here and said, ‘Look at this place. What do you think?’” Her vision, alongside Peavy’s, brought about the current gallery design.
A column in the center of the entrance spawned one of the most iconic features of 1894’s innovative interior design. It is a rigged display connecting floor to ceiling with canvases trickling down, giving the illusion of walls and utilizing the full space in a unique and beautiful way.
“Of course, you should have art in your interior design,” said Peavy. “Some mass produced art is beautiful and just fabulous, but to have something that was created by hand and is uniqurely yours, that’s a little bit more special.”
The building is massive. The 1894 Gallery is found on the first floor and looks like a small museum. The original building, being decades old and once dilapidated, has undergone extensive renovation, but the improvements continue, and the building’s metamorphosis has only just begun.
“I suppose what drove me to this building were the beautiful arches and how it was built magnificently,” said Peavy. “It was just something to be seen back in that day, and it is even today. I didn’t really choose the location; it might have chosen me.”
The building comprises three floors with the gallery and five plaza apartments on the first. The second floor is a large venue space for rent called “Studio ‘71,” designed to highlight each decade. Peavy says, in the future, the second floor will include an “Airbnb.” Entering Studio ‘71, Peavy showed off its features. Standing in front of The Godfather poster, he said, “That’s my ‘man’s corner’ over there.” He also commented, “It’s funny to hear how many of these silver-haired guys say they had that same poster of Farrah Fawcett in their room.” Vintage ashtrays bought at auctions were scattered about, era-defining vinyl records hung on the walls, gadgets like a portable TV were on display and even an authentic, playable Atari Pong video game.
Peavy stepped on the elevator. “You ask where I live. Well, I live in a 50,000 square-foot building,” said Peavy. The third floor is home to 13 luxury apartments, including his residence. Entering his apartment, a cat appeared around the corner down a long hallway beyond the entrance which opened to sky high ceilings and an open floor plan filled to the brim with natural light. The dining area is cleverly defined in the open space. “That’s a textured wall,” said Peavy. “I wanted to create a separate room inside this larger room, so by texturing the wall it allows you to create a little space here.”
Jazz music played softly throughout, with three 125-year-old glass windows holding their own. An original painting by Joseph Raymond, which later inspired a bright downtown mural, stretched across the wall above the kitchen.
Peavy, who spent years in the electrical business, used his ambitious creativity to make two statement chandeliers. One of the light fixtures was grills from the electrical wires in the old Post Office. Across the room is another masterpiece of lighting above the dining area table.
Describing his bedroom, Peavy said, “That’s the cocoon room back there. That’s where I stay. It’s quiet. There are no windows. You’re just in a cocoon.” Pointing to the top of the stairs, he describes, “up there is kind of an open-air bedroom.” Walking up the industrial railing he explains, “we’re technically in the attic. I just took the ceiling out.”
In the loft’s corner stands a narrow wooden ladder and a skylight no bigger than a small TV. “You haven’t really seen the space until you’ve been on the roof,” said Peavy. The view gave a 360-degree look across downtown, the railroad on one side and city blocks of all shapes and sizes on the other. “It’s kind of like all of a sudden you feel like you’re at the hub of the city, at the heart of the city, at the heritage of the city;” said Peavy, “you can’t go across the interstate and build ‘old.’” “You walk on these floors and you see these little marks and you wonder, ‘What did that mark signify?’”
In one bedroom, reclaimed wood from the building was crafted into a large, geometric shelving unit and back-lit with bright LED lights. Among these neon blue shapes that patterned its wall, the “old” and the “new” merge, becoming intertwined, transcending time.
“Some people live in new places and that’s where they need to be,” said Peavy. “A lot of people don’t want to live in the same-ole apartment complex. They want to live somewhere different, and that’s what we try to do, to have a community here where everyone knows people.”
Walking into the dark space of the basement brings you back to the speakeasies of the 1920’s. Down the center of the space is an area featuring an impressive bar still under construction. “We built that bar out of all these spare parts. Everything that is interesting in the building we brought down to [the speakeasy],” said Peavy. They are currently working on the space, with hopes of someday adding to Texarkana’s options for dinner and live entertainment. “We represent about 100 different artists upstairs. I think there’s people that do music the same way.” Providing a place to feature such talent is the goal.
Vintage pictures of Texarkanians lined booths and Art Deco motifs covered its columns. Behind a sliding door was its “secret” street entrance. Holding to the history of the original speakeasy, whispered word of mouth will advertise the new establishment and will determine its patrons. “It’s a speakeasy, so you can’t be telling people,” Peavy said slyly. However, while speakeasies of the past were supposed to be run on the down low, they were considered the worst kept secrets of prohibition. It stands to reason the same will be true of this establishment and customers will be excited to get a place at the bar.
The 1894 Gallery is an amazing feature in a building that offers immense possibilities. Peavy’s ambition and creative eye conceived new opportunities for commerce, community and culture that had yet to be seen.
“People might say ‘oh, he had vision; he had all these dreams,’ or whatever,” said Peavy, “But, no. I just kinda walked by a building and saw that it was a really cool, beautiful building, but it was literally falling apart. I thought somebody needs to [fix] that, and no one else was doing it, so I did it. It’s kind of like you were assigned a task, you do the very best you can to accomplish it and get it done.” Having been successful thus far, Peavy decided, “I can do this. I know my way through the maze; I can show someone else how to go through it.”