Things that go bump in the day and the night

Interested in what you can’t see? That’s what you’ll learn about at these free downtown historic walking tours, with the first one slated for July 31, 2014. Given by members of the Historic Preservation Commission of the City of Columbia, the tours will focus on what you can — and can’t see.

All four of the upcoming tours start at 7:30 p.m. at the “Key” at City Hall at Broadway and Eighth Street. The first tour will cover Columbia’s brick streets, but not the part you can see. The other walks include an August 14 walk to view Columbia’s historic hotels and theatres, the Sept. 18 event will cover downtown worship centers and Oct. 30, the last walk, will take a look at places where ghosts and other scary tales lurk.

For the walk on Thursday, Patrick Earney, HPC member and project engineer at Trabue, Hansen & Hinshaw, Inc., will discuss the engineering under and around the brick streets of Columbia, Missouri.

What? Who cares? You should. Many of these streets are more than 100 years old and while they’ve lasted, those dips and ridges that make your car go bump in the day and the night when you drive on them are due in some cases to the poor foundation under the bricks.

As Earney noted in an email, “The take away for the average person is that a street laid 110 years ago is still viable and would still be performing well had they been maintained.”

There’s another value said Earney, one that not every one would recognize at first glance or first drive.

“Each brick was touched by at least two people — he who made it and he who installed it. They’re not all the same, and the rows aren’t exactly straight. There’s a human element to a brick street that another street pavement doesn’t possess,” Earney wrote in a recent email.

In this day and age of disposable, manufactured items, a hand-made, crafted item can hold value for those who see it.

Wonder where those brick streets are? Here’s a map that shows where they are exposed and hidden.

Map showing brick streets, covered and uncovered and the core area of concern. Historic Preservation Commission map used with permission.

Map showing brick streets, covered and uncovered and the core area of concern. Historic Preservation Commission map used with permission.

Are those bricks or bucks under your feet?

Just as important, these brick streets may end up costing — or saving — you money some day. Proponents of brick streets cite the fact that they last. Remember the part above that mentioned some of them are more than 100 years old? Advocates for spiffing up and even uncovering some of the brick streets say the reason they were covered during the 1960s and 1970s is because they weren’t maintained. They also point out that asphalt streets must be repaved every 15 or so years, making the apparent savings of covering brick streets instead of repairing them a false frugality over time.

On the other hand, some people point to the cost of repairing the brick streets, pointing out that when the brick street were laid, labor costs were a fraction of today’s costs. Repaving using bricks calls for craftsmen and craftswomen, not just rollers.

Like it or lump it, on March 17, 2014, the City Council passed a Brick Streets Policy Resolution PR 229-13 that says the city will not remove covered or exposed brick pavement within a “Core Brick Street Zone,” and may be given a budget to uncover some brick streets over the next 20 years, “after a successful demonstration project.”

Brick streets good or bad?

What? Not a fan of brick streets. Well, you are not alone. Some folks decry the bumpy ride they provide, while others point to that same rumbling road as a good thing. A city document cited a case study of Winter Park, Florida that showed traffic fell on one of the main brick streets by nearly one-third from 8,500 to 6,000 cars ,with the average speed taking a nosedive from 41 mph to 29 mph after a 1996 brick street restoration. That’s called traffic calming and it can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective.

Others complain that spending money fixing or uncovering brick streets is a waste just for the sense of place and historic ambiance. That view is countered, of course, by those who say brick streets can save money in repaving costs.

But whether you are for or against brick streets, here’s a chance to learn more for free and find out why you might want to care about the part of the brick street you can’t see.

Fish, Eugene Field and a spring named Rollins

Got a damp spot in your yard? I do and I often wonder if it is a spring.

Perhaps it’s a historic site. There’s a spring now marked in an fairly obscure spot at Providence Road and Mick Deaver Drive and it’s mentioned in a 1991 article by Frances Pike of the Columbia Daily Tribune. He wrote a series titled, “Whatever happened to …” and on July 28, 1991, the topic was Rollins Spring.

Pike outlined the history of the spring which was on land owned by James Rollins who sold to the University of Missouri in 1870 for the agriculture farm. What? Never heard of the agriculture farm or the spring? That’s because the spring is no longer a popular spot for college students to hang out and today is little spot off a trail on the other side of the road from Research Park.  To save it from obscurity, in 2011, it was cleaned up and planted with native Missouri plans and dedicated to Missouri athletes. Take a peek at an outline of its history here.

The information from the site of the Mizzou Botanic Garden notes that at one time area was fenced off for an experiment in pasturing cows, but the students who loved to gather there for a picnic beat down the fence and let those cows escape, ruining the experiment.

In frustration, the agriculture dean tried to fill in the spring. Twice. He gave up.

But the history of that spring’s treachery involves more than that. In 1879, there were plans to turn it into a fish hatchery. Except when officials came to inspect the area, the spring ran dry. The plans were scuttled and in a few days the spring was running again.

The spring has another claim to fame as well. The 1991 Pike article quotes a poem by Eugene Field, of Little Boy Blue and Wynken, Blynken and Nod fame. Field attended the University of Missouri in 1869, and like Brad Pitt, he did not graduate from the university. Instead, he went on to fame as a poet and a journalist. The poem he wrote about Rollins Spring refers to the flow there as “Adam’s ale … From the spring they say will never fail.”

So we’re lucky the dean was unsuccessful in filling in the spring, because that probably saved this history from getting lost, but sometimes I wonder if that place that wet spot in yard is a spring … or a historic site.

The history behind The Blue Note building

Yes, you’ve heard right: Richard King is selling The Blue Note at 17 N. Ninth St. But this former “movie palace,” won’t be going the way of other movie venues in downtown Columbia, Missouri. These two articles, “Richard King sells The Blue Note, Mojo’s,” and “Richard King passes torch, sells The Blue Note, Mojo’s.

The live music venue is being purchased by Matt Gerding and Scott Leslie, who will maintain its purpose and vibe.

Important for more than the most recent 34 years of great music, The Blue Note is part of downtown theatre history. Don’t let anyone tell you the building started out as vaudeville theatre. Built in 1927 by Tom C. Hall, it was once The Varsity Theatre and it showed movies from then until the 1960s, according to this National Register of Historic Places document on the North Ninth Street Historic District (Downtown Columbia, Missouri MPS) (map [see note]), 5-36 North Ninth St., Columbia (1/21/04).

This report refers to the building as one of the largest and newest buildings in that district. It was built at a cost of $100,000, or $1.3 million in today’s purchasing power, according to Measuring Worth, a website that gives comparative, historic values. It was designed by Boller Brothers of Kansas City, according to Debbie Sheals, author of the NRHP document. She notes it was the third movie theatre on that block and the second on that exact spot. The Star occupied that space previously and was also owned by Hall and it either burned or was razed.

But The Star isn’t the only theatre missing from downtown Columbia. By 1930, Ninth Street offered 3,591 theatre seats in a city of roughly 15,000. In 2010, Columbia had 4,227 seats for a population of roughly 100,000. Prior to television and now Netflix, people went to the movies much more often, according to this 2010 article, “Capturing Columbia’s Cinema Century,” in the Columbia Business Times.

Here is a list of some of Columbia’s missing theatres:

Haden Opera House: 1884-1901, destroyed by fire. Showed the first film in Columbia in 1897.

Airdome at Tenth & Walnut.

Columbia Theatre at 1103 E. Broadway. The interior was destroyed by fire and the first floor remains as a law office.

The Uptown on Broadway is now a retail space.

The Elite at 13 N. Ninth St.

The M Theatre at 8-10 N. Ninth St.

The Columbia Broadway Drive-In Theatre, where Gerbes is on Broadway now.

The Biscayne III on Stadium, where the Shoppes at Stadium are now.

The Columbia Mall 4, close to where Barnes & Noble is now.