Local entrepreneur Hagan Walker stands outside his newly purchased home on Louisville Street in Starkville Tuesday afternoon. Built nearly a century ago, the building’s history dates back serving as Buckley Grocery store. Walker’s first project is to restore the famous Coca-Cola mural on the side of his house. Photo by: Jennifer Mosbrucke/Dispatch Staff
July 24, 2019 11:58:27 AM
If Hagan Walker is anything, it's that. And he doesn't mind it.
The Mississippi State graduate turned down a job at Tesla to start his own drink light company, Glo, in Starkville a few years ago. Now, at 26, he's purchased his first home -- which, incidentally, is an old grocery store built nearly 100 years ago.
Walker had been living as a renter in the renovated Buckley Grocery Store, located at 201 Louisville St. across from the Greensboro Center, for about two years. When his landlord and former Mississippi State engineering professor J.W. Bruce decided to sell it, Walker snapped it off the market.
"I guess I've always been the oddball in that way," Walker said. "I've always taken a quirky path. When I saw it was for rent, I jumped on it. My landlord was my professor at State. ... I think a lot of people wanted it. I'm just glad I got it."
The sale closed Friday, and now Walker is spending more time than usual in the Starkville-Oktibbeha Public Library on a mission to learn as much as he can about the old brick building, best known in Starkville for the Coca-Cola mural painted on its north side. It's been through seven owners and various functions over the years, and Walker said the research has been fascinating.
"You never really think about it until you're looking back, how often things change," Walker said. "It's been fun. It's like a puzzle."
Plans to revitalize
On the inside, the home looks simply like a home. With two bedrooms and an open concept living room and kitchen, the second bedroom serves more as a workshop with soldering kits and a 1950s glass bottle Coke machine under repair.
"This probably hasn't run in 50 years, so that'll be a fun project to get it working," Walker said. "It's period-accurate though. ... I plan to put it outside the house so people can come by and grab an ice-cold bottle Coke if they want."
Walker plans to repave the driveway and have the Coke machine up and running next to the well-known mural, which he plans to commission an artist to revitalize.
"We're going to keep it looking old and clear-coat it so we can kind of preserve it," he said. "I even found the four-digit phone number that used to be on the top corner of the building. So we definitely want to add that."
Walker credits Starkville historian Ruth Morgan with helping him uncover information about the building's past. Morgan said she's excited about Walker's research and especially his plan to revitalize the mural.
"I think it's a wonderful idea," Morgan said. "I think it would do a lot for that street. That's a historical street and it holds a lot of memories to a lot of different people."
With the front door original to the building, 14-foot ceilings and exposed brick walls, Walker has decorated his living room with old Texaco and Sinclair tin signs, things he feels suit the building itself. That's also a homage to his father, Jim, he said.
"My dad collects old signs, so we thought that would be fitting," Hagan said. "I feel like I'm turning into him. He always collected signs and now it's kind of weird that I have the old historic building that has the mural and the Coke machine and all the quirky stuff."
Hagan and his dad have been working together to preserve and learn the building's history. Posting on social media, both said the responses have been eye-opening. A few weeks ago, Jim met Joseph Buckley Jr., the grandson of the former Buckley owners.
"He reached out that he had an old cash register and old scales and he's going to give them to Hagan," Jim said. "He said they belong with the building. We'd like to know all the history. It's just nice to hear those stories."
Piecing together the history has presented a few roadblocks, too, Hagan said.
"I actually think the deed is wrong. I believe it says 1931," Walker said. "We know it predates that. (The Buckley's) bought it in 1928, so we think it was actually built earlier, but there's no one alive to figure out past a certain era."
Over the years, the building housed Buckley's Grocery from 1932 though 1952, then served as O'Rears Grocery in 1961, a television and radio repair shop in 1981, TV sales and service store in 1985 and a florist and gift shop in the '90s. It sat vacant for nearly a decade until Bruce purchased the building in 2007, renovating the store into a residence.
"Dr. Bruce was the one who really took the time to restore the place," Hagan said. "I think I'll leave things mainly as is (inside).
"It's a cool part of Starkville," he added. "I feel like Starkville is a pretty creative community."
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