IBM-like support in 1906 – Hamilton-Brown Shoe Factory, 1123 Wilkes Blvd.

Last week, a May 18, 2010, article in the Columbia Missourian outlined a list of what it called unprecedented incentives provided to IBM to get it to open a service center in Columbia.

Those incentives, outlined by newspaper articles, include $28 million in tax credit incentives from the state as well as a city agreement to buy the building for $3.2 million and lease it to IBM for $1 (yes, one dollar) per year for 10 years. In return, IBM has promised to employ 600 to 800 people and stay for 10 years.

But this is not the first time a company has gotten help to locate in Columbia, nor a company promised to employ 600 workers and to stay here. The Hamilton-Brown Shoe Factory building at 1123 Wilkes Blvd., in Columbia, Missouri is an example of a similar, though less expensive, venture.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission’s Notable Properties List.

This historical building got its start in 1906, when the Hamilton-Brown Shoe Company contacted the newly formed Columbia Commerical Club, which would go on to become the Chamber of Commerce. At this time, all of the major shoe companies in St. Louis were seeking to open plants in smaller towns to save on labor costs. During this time period, St. Louis was the center of the world’s shoe manufacturing and Hamilton-Brown was the largest shoe manufacturer in the world.

The Columbia’s plant would be the company’s first foray outside of St. Louis.

To land this industrial plum, the Columbia Commerical Club had to agree to raise funds to buy the land and the factory and to install a railroad siding to serve the new factory. For its part, Hamilton-Brown agreed to operate the factory and keep a certain number of employees working for at least 10 years. At the end of that time period, the Commerical Club would sign the building over to the shoe company.

The Columbia Commercial Club raised the necessary funds, about $60,000, in roughly two months, to Alan R. Havig in his book 1984 book, “From Southern Village to Midwestern City: Columbia, An Illustrated History.”

In today’s dollars, $60,000 would be worth roughly $1.5 million in 2009 dollars, according to the website, which is derived from Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson publication, “Purchasing Power of Money in the United States from 1774 to 2010,” MeasuringWorth, 2009. URL

For a while, it was more or less a success, although it never met its promise of employing 600 workers.

It operated from 1907 until 1939, when it earned another note in history as the only large company in Columbia to close its doors permanently during the Depression.

Even before then, the company had had its problems.  

In 1916, the Columbia Missourian published a “scathing review of working conditions and quoted a nurse as saying, “Tuberculous persons should not be permitted to work in the factory because they spit on the floor and other inhale the germs with dust and become infected with the disease … I never saw so much careless expectoration as there is in the shoe factory. While I saw many signs warning the workers to be careful with their work, I did not see one warning them against spitting on the floor. I do not see how human beings can stand it. When I visited the factory in December the air was sickening,” according to the NRHP document.

Soon after, a new factory manager W.H. Braselton was brought in and the work day was cut from 10 hours to nine and workers received a 5 percent pay increase.

By 1917, things had improved and the Columbia Commerical Club determined the company had met its agreement and signed over the deed for the factory to Hamilton-Brown, according to the NRHP form.

In 1920, Braselton also gave the employees what the NRHP document calls a “surprising bonus” — a 10-day paid vacation. He denied it was due to a lack of work. Yet, documents show a year later, the workforce had fallen 50 percent, and in April 1921, only 178 workers were on the payroll. Work did rebound, however, and in 1923, the workforce stood at 369, who turned out an average of 2,000 to 3,000 pairs of shoes each day, notes the NRHP document.

After the shoe factory closed in 1939, the building continued in use for manufacturing into the early 1960s, for manufacturing wooden airplane propellers during World War II and then by the Ar-Cel Garment Factory.

Today, the building has been completely renovated and is owned by Atkins Investments and operates as an office complex.


Missouri Theatre – Tough Luck, Mary Todd Lincoln’s cousin

In 2008, the Missouri Theatre, now called the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, under went a $10 million renovation, again becoming the jewel of downtown Columbia.

But with every gain, sometimes comes a loss — as in the case of the 1928 construction of the Missouri Theatre.

Named in 1979 to the National Register of Historic Places, the Missouri Theatre is a shining example of the architecture of cinemas that began in France around 1894, according to the National Register of Historic Places document nominating the Missouri Theatre to the Register.

” …  ‘Cathedral of the Motion Picture (architecture) …  created, or tried to create a world of its own, more fantastic than any ordinary citizen of an industrial society could have ever seen — and it was available to all for just 25 cents,” the NRHP document notes. 

The Columbia, Missouri, theatre, was the only pre-Depression movie palace built in central Missouri, and is a “fine example of the restrained yet elegant style of the Boller Brothers of Kansas City, Missouri,” notes the  NRHP document.

Yet, one might wonder what was there on that site before the Missouri Theatre.

A footnote in the historic document reveals the theatre was built on the site of the 1841 home of  Robert L. Todd, which was first occupied by G.D. Foote, the builder of Academic Hall. Todd was the first cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln and one of the first two students to graduate from the University of Missouri.

The house was torn down to make way for the theatre.

The company that built the Missouri Theatre was created for that purpose — to finance and build the Missouri Theatre. The company was headed up by J.D. Stone of Columbia, the son of Elvira and Josiah Stone of Columbia.  Josiah Stone was responsible for building the Columbia Theatre at 1101 E. Broadway, which currently houses an Indian restaurant  and luxury apartments, and the Elvira Building at 1109 E. Broadway, which currently houses Willie’s Field House, a sports bar.

On October 5, 1928, the Missouri Theatre opened to a capacity crowd offering a varied program, as was the norm for the day. It featured the Missouri Orchestra, the Missouri Rocket Girls, a newsreel, cartoon and “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” feature with Buster Keaton and Ernest Torrence as well as “obscure comedian named Bob Hope, who was not even billed,” the historic document continues.

According to the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts website, an full-page ad in the October 4, 1928 Columbia Tribune proclaimed: “Formal Opening of your new Missouri Theatre-Friday Evening … A $400,000 Showhouse of Unrivaled Beauty and Extravagant Setting in Central Missouri. The Magnificent Splendor of This Palace of Amusement Will Dazzle and Thrill You.” The website goes on to note that at that time, the price of admission was 25 cents for matinees, 25 cents for the balcony and 35 cents for the floor seats for evening shows. Children’s tickets were 10 cents at all times.

The NRHP document notes in the footnotes the economic impact of movies during this time period. Moving pictures made up the fourth largest industry in the United States by the mid-1920s. “By 1927, there were 20,500 theaters in this country with a total seating capacity of 18 million,” states a footnote in the document.

But as vaudeville and live entertainment attendance waned, the Missouri Theatre was transformed into a simple movie theatre.

In 1953, Commonwealth Theatres leased the building and remodeled it extensively. In 1968, the facade and shops under went remodeling. In the 1979 historic document, it states the building is excellent condition and Commonwealth’s lease had been recently renewed. When the owner, who lived in California visited around the time the National Register nomination was being written, the document notes, “local preservationists … urged her to continue operation of the theatre due to the importance of its interior decoration. Since the theatre is still a money-making concern, she responded favorably to these requests.”

At the time, the retail space surrounding the theatre housed Woody’s Mens’ Furnishings, Car Tunes, Telegift, Et Cetera Gifts, Second Nature Health Foods and Allens’ Flowers.

However, between the time of the 1979 nomination to the National Register and 1983, the theatre ceased being a “money-making” venture for Commonwealth due to the development of multi-screen cinemas, the MTCA website notes.

On Jan. 7, 1988, the Missouri Symphony Society (MOSS) bought the 1209-seat theatre, according to the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts website, “to serve as the home venue for the orchestra.”

In 2007, the Missouri Theatre launched a fund-raising effort and renovation project as described in a Dec. 21, 2008 Columbia Tribune article written by Lynn Israel:

“The marvelously maddening, sweat-filled, 10-month, $10 million renovation of this jewel was the talk of the town when David White III and his hardworking staff opened the doors in a May 21 gala with champagne, circus acrobats, vintage films and Charles Digges Sr., who attended the theater’s 1928 opening night at age 9. The work included burnishing the chandelier, new seating, a restored proscenium, state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, and — gasp! more restrooms. Only legendary singer Tony Bennett could do justice to such an event, and he did not disappoint.”

Despite these accolades, all was not well. In June 2009, White resigned “amid a flurry of lawsuits over the arts center’s unpaid bills and lingering debt from the theater’s $10 million restoration project,” noted a June 2, 2009, Columbia Daily Tribune article written by Jodie Jackson Jr.

Today, the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts seats 1,216, and its website notes, serves as a performing arts venue hosting events such as “the annual Mozart-Higday Music Trust series, the Columbia Civic Orchestra, the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series, the Boone Heritage Foundation Ragtime Festival, and First Night Columbia.”

The MTCA’s website lists the following organizations as having a home at the Missouri Theatre: Boonslick Chordbusters, Columbia Chorale, Columbia Civic Orchestra, Junior Strings, Missouri Contemporary Ballet, Missouri Symphony Conservatory, Missouri Symphony Orchestra, the Missouri Symphony, Missouri Technical Theater Institute, MOSSCC (MOSS Children’s Chorus), MOSSYO (MOSS Youth Orchestra), Ragtag Cinema’s Missouri Theatre Film Series, Show-Me Opera, The Blue Note, Treblemakers and the Women’s Symphony League

Today, the retail space houses the Columbia Art League on one side and Yogoluv, a frozen yogurt shop on the other side. 

So while the Missouri Theatre could have gone the way of Todd’s home, it didn’t. And we can all once again enjoy the jewel of Columbia.

Stephens College

A hidden home at Stephens College

Senior Hall, home to thousands of students over the years, actually started out as just that — a home.

Built in 1841, Senior Hall is actually built around an 1840s house, built for Oliver Parker, of New Hampshire. He moved to Columbia in 1821 and opened and operated a general merchandise store. He died the year after he built the two-story home at the center of Senior Hall.

Parker’s widow resided in the family home until March 4, 1856, when she sold it to Moss Prewitt for $5,000. He then transferred it, at the same price, to the newly formed Columbia Baptist Female College, which would be renamed Stephens College in 1870.

So how did a two-story home become Senior Hall?

The first enlargement of the building took place in 1870, designed by St. Louis architect C.B. Clarke. He’d originally planned a three-story, square tower on the east side and a two-story, round tower for the west side. But only the east tower was built.

Then in 1890, the college hired architect M. Frederick Bell of Fulton to design another addition. His planns called for adding a three-story round tower at the northwest corner and a three-story ell, adding a third floor to the older Parker House, giving the building a uniform three-story front, the nomination explains.

If Bell’s name sound familiar, that’s because he was the major architect responsible for rebuilding the University of Missouri’s Red Campus, the Francis Quadrangle, following the 1892 fire.

Until 1918, Senior Hall was the only dormitory at Stephens College. The list of famous residents includes Mrs. George Caleb Bingham and daughter Clara, actors Patricia White Barry and Tammy Grimes among others.

Senior Hall under went renovation in 1990 and today it is home to the Harriette Ann Gray Dance Studio, the Music Program, a board room, recital hall and parlors, according to the Stephens College website.

Lucky for us, the home inside has not disappeared.

“The main entrance still gives access to the 1841,” says the National Register of Historic Places’ nomination form for the building’s placement on list as of August 2, 1977. “The north-south central hall floor plan with double parlors to the east and west survives. Numerous refurbishment projects have, however, removed most of the original interior finish and the stairway …,” the document notes. However, “The multi-light wood windows throughout are intact and in very good condition … This building was fully restored after it was listed in 1977 and has been maintained well since then,” notes the National Register for Historic Places nomination form which resulted in Stephens College’s South Campus being placed on the list on Nov. 25, 2005.

So how historic is Senior Hall?

It was Columbia’s first entry to the National Register for Historic Places and one of the first places honored by the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission with its placement on its Notable Properties Listing.

For more information, see the NRHP nomination form for Stephens College South Campus: and the NRHP nomination form for Senior Hall:

Historical Homes

Keiser Avenue? Today it is Wilson Avenue

Historic homes can tell us more than just about buildings and architecture. Sometimes they can tell us about our culture and our past fears. 

Today, anti-immigration sentiment against Mexicans is making the news, but in the past, Germans bore the brunt of such negative feelings.

The Walter and Helen Guthrie Miller home is at 1516 Wilson Avenue, built circa 1916. It was named to the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission’s Notable Properties List in 2002.

It has not been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is within the East Campus Neighborhood Historic District, which was placed on the Register in 1996.

The document nominating the East Campus Neighborhood for placement on the Register notes, “Wilson Avenue was once named Keiser Avenue, perhaps named after J. P.Keiser, who owned land in the area in the late 19th century. The name was changed in the late teens or early twenties, as a result of anti-German sentiments following WWI. The new name could be after Thomas C. Wilson, an early resident of 1507 Wilson, who served as the secretary to the Board of Agriculture in 1912…” 

The house does more than mark a time period of anti-German sentiment.

It also represents a home designed by James Jamieson, who designed many of the buildings on the University of Missouri’s “White campus,” so named for the color of the stone used to build many of those building. Jamieson was involved in the design of Ellis Library, Memorial Union, Mumford Hall, the President’s House and the 1953 renovation of Jesse Hall, among others. 

This home is thought to be the only architect designed home within the East Campus Neighborhood, according to the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places. 

 1516 Wilson Avenue, built 1916, photo courtesy of Historic Preservation Commission and FitzImages Photography 1516 Wilson Avenue, built 1916, photo courtesy of Historic Preservation Commission and FitzImages Photography


Daddy’s girl – 111 S. Ninth Street – Virginia Building

Ever wonder where the name for the Virginia Building at 111 S. Ninth Street came from? 

You could be faulted for thinking it came from someone longing for that Eastern seaboard state — but you’d be wrong. 

The Virginia Building was built in 1911 and named in 2002 to both the National Register of Historic Places and the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission’s Notable Properties List. 

111 s ninth st virginia building courtesy of the Historical Preservation Commission and FitzImages Photography
111 S. Ninth St., the Virginia Building, photo courtesy of the Historical Preservation Commission and FitzImages Photography


The name of the building, however, could have just as reasonably been the Columbia Commerce Club Building — or later the Montgomery Ward Building. 

The name comes, in fact, from the name of the daughter of one of the investors who developed this formerly residential site into a commercial building. 

The investors were “Sanford Conley Hunt, Sanford F. Conley, J. Alex Hudson, and T.C. Hall,” according to the NRHP nomination

Hunt’s daughter was Mrs. Virginia Robinson and the building was named after her. Hunt and his family owned the building into the 1960s, notes the NRHP document. 

But why could the name of the building just as easily have been the Commercial Club Building? 

During the 1900s, Commerical Clubs and Chambers of Commerce were sprouting up throughout the nation. Three of the original building investors were founding members of the Columbia Commerical Club. 

The club, formed in 1906, changing its name to the Columbia Chamber of Commerce in 1927, was credited with “advancing commercial and civic interests in Columbia,” such as paved streets, electric lighting in downtown Columbia, the construction of the municipal water and light plant and the new county courthouse. The club, according to a Columbia Missourian article in 1918, was also responsible for ensuring the then new cross-state highway came through Columbia, following the Old Trails Road. Today, that highway today is Interstate 70. 

“Other notable Club achievements in the first decades of the 20th century included getting downtown railroad stations built for the MKT and Wabash Railroads, and promoting the construction of a new county courthouse and a large new downtown hotel… The hotel, which opened in 1917 as the Daniel Boone Tavern, remained in operation until the 1970s, and the building is now the headquarters for the City of Columbia,” notes the NRHP nomination form. 

The Club also rented space in the building for years. 

Yet, the building could have had its name changed to the Montgomery Ward Building. 

In 1928, Montgomery Ward opens one of its first retail stores — and the first in Missouri — in the Virginia Building. 

The first Wards store opened in 1926 in Kansas, the document states. The company had been conducting a thriving mail order business 1972. Ward has been credited with starting the mail 0rder catalog business. Such businesses were popular with rural residents who could not travel to urban areas to shop. But by the 1920s, improved roads and automobiles were making rural shoppers more mobile, threatening the mail order business. Eventually, the Ward company developed plans for retail store fronts. 

“The Wards store was one of the most prominent downtown department stores ever to operate in Columbia,” according to the NRHP document. 

However, in 1961, the Wards store moved to a new location. Even prior to this, the then owner, Hunt’s daughter Mary Francis Hunt, had been looking for a new tenant and declined an offer from Macy’s in Kansas City. 

In the 1960s, Strollway Investors remodeled the building, basically slipcovering it with a metal covering to make it look more modern. 

In 2000-2001, the building was remodeled and today, it looks much like it did when the Columbia Commerce Club held meetings there. 

And we all know it as the Virginia Building.

Historical Homes

Built by a cabinet maker’s apprentice – Taylor House – 716 W. Broadway

If you’ve driven past the Taylor House Inn at 716 W. Broadway, you’ve driven by a piece of history nearly forgotten today.

No, it’s not contained in the 1909 Colonial Revival home itself, although that is impressive, especially after its $1.3 million renovation in 1999 by Deborah and Robert Tucker.

It is the fact that this two and one-half story home of roughly 7,000 square feet was built by a man who attended school only through the age of 12, when he was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker. Today, the age of being apprenticed to someone is long gone.

The story of John Newton Taylor and his wife Elizabeth F. Reed of Huntsville is told in the National Register of Historic Places. The home was placed on the Register on May 25, 2001 and named to Columbia’s Historical Preservation Commission’s List of Notable Properties in 2002.

716 W. Broadway, Taylor House, photograph courtesy of Columbia's Historic Preservation Commission and FitzImages Photography
716 W. Broadway, Taylor House, photograph courtesy of Columbia's Historic Preservation Commission and FitzImages Photography

Born in Pennsylvania, John Taylor  moved to Iowa and worked as a cabinet-maker. There he married Lida Stroup and they moved to Huntsville in Randolph County, Missouri. They went on to have four children, but she died in 1886 and he married Huntsville, native Elizabeth F. Reed in 1890. They went on to have seven children.

The Taylors built their house in 1909. John Taylor had piano and furniture stores in several mid-Missouri towns, including Columbia and gradually he went into the automobile business, even acquiring the local Dodge dealership before the car was even on the market, according to the NRHP nomination form. In 1917, Taylor ran an ad in the Boone County Atlas proclaiming himself a wholesale and retail dealer in pianos and automobiles, the document notes.

Taylor also served on the board of directors for the Columbia Commercial Club, the nomination form notes, and the Taylor House Inn website states he was on the Columbia City Council and the Stephens College Board of Directors.

By his death in 1932 at age 83, he was a prominent businessman. His obituary was printed on the front page of the local newspaper with a photograph, the nomination form states, and the mayor and city council all attended. City employees were even given time off for the funeral, the document continues — noting his son Thomas Taylor was a city councilman at the time.

More information on the history of the Taylors, including photographs, is available on the Taylor Home Inn website.

After his death, wife Elizabeth continued to live in the house with her daughter Eleanor, who was then an assistant professor at the University of Missouri. In 1935, Elizabeth had the house divided into a tri-plex and continued to live in the home. Elizabeth also developed the surrounding acreage.

As the years passed, the house passed out of the Taylor family and fell into some disrepair.

Then, in 1999, Deborah and Robert Tucker, then owners of Tucker’s Jewelry, renovated the home, converting it into a beautiful bed and breakfast. You can take a tour of the home as it is today via the Taylor Home Inn website.

The home also has been featured on HGTV, and the video highlights the home, its renovation and historical finds the Tuckers came upon.

The home was also featured in a January 13, 2010 Columbia Missourian article on an effort to have a section of West Broadway placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

All this in a home built by someone who only attended school through the age of 12 and then went on to become a cabinet-maker. Yes, historical homes do tell us about who were were and, in this case, with his automobile business, where we went.

Historical Homes

John William “Blind” Boone – 10 N. Fourth Street

The home of John William “Blind” Boone at 10 N. Fourth Street is a perfect example of history that could have been lost, but for the efforts of dedicated volunteers and public funding.

The residence of an African-American pianist who played and composed ragtime and classical music and resided in Columbia until his death in 1927, it was nearly lost to renovations and decay.

Boone was one of the most famous men from Columbia, but after his death in 1927, his home was sold and once housed the Stuart Parker Memorial Funeral Home and then the Warren Funeral Chapel. The Warren enterprise was the only African-American-owned business to survive the urban renewal razing of the 1960s, according to a Special Business District and Central Columbia Association website publication.

But when the city purchased the home in 2000, it had termites and structural damage. It required nearly half a million dollars in improvements.

Now the home is slated to become a museum dedicated to the life and music of Boone.

The home itself isn’t very special; it is simply a two-story wood frame home, but the history it embodies is priceless. Despite being born during the Civil War and then becoming blind through efforts to reduce a fever by removing his eyes, Boone’s slogan as a touring pianist and composer was “Merit, Not Sympathy Wins.”

An annual ragtime festival is named in his honor. The two-day festival, “The Original ‘Blind” Boone Ragtime & Early Jazz Festival will be held on June 9 and 10, 2010 at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts on Ninth Street.

A play about his life, “Nobody plays like Boone,” will be held at 6:30 p.m. on May 16, 2010 in the Second Baptist Church, 407 East Broadway, Columbia and at 6:30 p.m. on May 21, 2010. in The Blue Note Theatre at 17 North 9th Street, Columbia. It was written by Mary Barile and will feature a performance by Clyde Ruffin, a professor of of theatrer at the University of Missouri. He also is president of the Blind Boone Heritage Foundation, senior pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church, which is adjacent to the Boone home.

 This State Historical Society of Missouri MoHiP Theatre production is sponsored, in part, by the Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs, the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the University of Missouri Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative. For further information, visit the MoHiP Web site.

For more information about the Boone home and its history, see these two articles:

Housing a Legacy: Renewed Interest in John William “Blind” Boone and ragtime – Columbia Home & Lifestyles — February/March 2010.

Boone home inches closer to new life – Columbia Daily Tribune – October 14, 2009