|Murals restored on the old Coca-Cola building|
Photo by Morris Stephenson:
The sign painting was finished last week on the original Rocky Mount Coca-Cola Bottling Company building across Franklin Street from the Harvester Performance Center. The restoration was made possible by Coca-Cola Company Consolidated in Roanoke.
Monday, May 5, 2014
By MORRIS STEPHENSON AND LINDA STAN - Special to the News-Post
A new restaurant in the old Rocky Mount Coca-Cola Bottling Company facility on Franklin Street is paying homage to its past with the restoration of the old mural on the building.
Restoration of the old paintings on the front of the building was made possible by Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated of Roanoke.
The building, just across from the new Harvester Performance Center, will soon open as the Bootleggers' Cafe. New owner Bryan Hochstein said the restaurant is tentatively scheduled to open May 31.
When the local Coca-Cola bottling business started in Rocky Mount in 1921, Franklin Street was still known as Railroad Avenue. The site was a rented building near the building that most recently housed the Edible Vibe restaurant.
The Menefee men, Moton and Harry, decided to build their own facility at the intersection of Floyd Avenue and Franklin Street, which opened in May 1929.
Moton's sons, Richard (now living in Florida) and Charles (now living in Richmond), said they worked in the plant as young men and went on to work for Coke and retire from the company. (Their brother Moton Jr. also worked in the local plant as a youth.)
The brothers said they are proud today that their family was able to build the facility without the help of N.P. Angle, who financed or owned about every business in Rocky Mount at the time.
The new building allowed enough space to pull vehicles inside to load them out of the weather -- the original building had been only 20 feet by 70 feet with no room for vehicles inside.
At the time the Menefees built their plant in Rocky Mount, there were more than 1,100 small Coca-Cola bottlers in the U.S. The mixing was done upstairs and ran by gravity to fill the bottles on a bottle rack downstairs. The scales used for weighing the sugar for the grape, ginger ale and orange flavored drinks bottled at the local plant are on display at the Franklin County Historical Society on South Main Street. The bottles were imprinted with "Rocky Mount Virginia" -- and several of those from different years are also on display.
The Menefees eventually stopped getting the imprinted bottles when they learned people would put money (5 cents) in a drink machine and bet who would get a bottle from the plant farthest away. Then they began putting the plant name in the numbers in the cap.
The Menefees' biggest customer was The Hub Restaurant, which bought 100 cases a week, a large number in the early 1930s. During World War II, when sugar rationing came about, production was cut. The Hub got 25 cases a week based on their previous year's usage -- and local grocery stores got five cases a week.
Harry Menefee died in 1947, and Moton operated the local plant until 1952. At that time, Roanoke bought the franchise and took the bottling operation to that city.
Bottled Coke was transported back to Rocky Mount to a distribution warehouse the company built on present-day North Main Street (beside KFC today). That building was used until the 1960s.
Jack Fralin of Best Bet Arts in Roanoke and his assistant George Kelly started work on restoring the signs on Monday, April 21, and completed it Thursday evening, April 24.
Fralin, who does all of the Roanoke Coca-Cola restoration painting, said all of the colors used in the sign were the same as what appeared on the original building. The green and bright red were outlined in gold paint.
The work took longer than usual for several reasons, Fralin said. First, the bricks used to construct the building were hand-made and very uneven. No two bricks were alike. And the building had been sand-blasted at some point in time. He said it took time to completely cover the bricks and second coats were required in places.
Hochstein said he was very happy that Coca-Cola in Roanoke agreed to restore the signs, and he is working hard to restore the exterior of the building to its original design, which would include replacing several side windows.
Hochstein noted there was a folding garage door on the left side of the building where trucks backed in to load the product. The doors opened from the middle and were pushed to the sides.
"I would like to find a way to retain that look and keep the solid front," he said.
Hochstein is redesigning the interior of the building, last occupied by Pyramid Pizza. Customers will be dining on two floors. The kitchen is on the street level and a "silent butler" will transport meals to the second floor.
Motorists approaching the farmers' market and Harvester Performance Center on Franklin Street will clearly see the restored murals.