Danger of demolitions

Any DIYer or carpenter can tell you the importance of the adage measure twice, cut once. That applies to demolitions, too.

In 2013, several buildings were demolished, including a 1905 historic home, to make way for the Hagan Scholarship Academy, a residential college preparatory school for rural students. Three years later, despite the worthy plan, there is only a vacant lot — and the irrevocable loss of several historic buildings.

It may stay that way for a while. In this May 23, 2016 article, Construction of Hagan school in central Columbia delayed for second time” Mark Farnen, a spokesperson for Dan Hagan, who is the behind the foundation which is funding the project, said the building is “still in the design stages.”

What happened

In 2013, an article in the Columbia Daily Tribune proclaimed, “Old Stephens buildings to make way for academy soon.” Perhaps the problem was with the word “soon.”

The buildings destroyed included the1905 Altis/Chandler House at 1404 E. Broadway, a loss noted in this 2013 city of Columbia report decrying the loss of historic properties in our recent frenzy of destruction. This picture shows it was no beauty prior to its destruction and was in need of renovation.

1404 E. Broadway, Altis/Chandler Home prior to the 2013 demolition. Named to Columbia's Notable Properties list in 2007. Image credit: FitzImages Photography/City of Columbia Historic Preservation Commission.

1404 E. Broadway, Altis/Chandler Home prior to the 2013 demolition. Named to Columbia’s Notable Properties list in 2007. Image credit: FitzImages Photography/City of Columbia Historic Preservation Commission.

 

To make way for the Hagan Scholarship Academy, Stephens College lost an auditorium, a 1948, 2,300-seat auditorium, not that the college seemed to regret it. A Dec. 11, 2012 article in the Columbia Missourian, “Students, officials at Stephens College react to property sales,” quotes the college’s marketing manager Rebecca Kline as saying the building wouldn’t be missed.

Yet, in the same article, a Stephens student, Kirsten Izzett called the building the “old Jesse,” referring to the University of Missouri’s Jesse Hall, an anchor of the university’s historic quad. This July 1, 2013 article in the Columbia Missourian noted the building had not been used in 20 years.

Hillcrest Hall, another building demolished, the article notes, was used as a residence hall since it was built in 1965.

Loss or progress?

I can’t denigrate Stephens College for selling the buildings to fund other projects.

I do take umbrage against  society’s country’s inability to reimagine buildings. While traveling in the United Kingdom in 2015, I saw churches turned into restaurants, bed and breakfasts, taverns and bookstores. In Europe, I know of a family who visits their old ancestor’s home in Germany which now includes the family’s old barn. I’ve seen pictures and you can’t tell it’s a house/barn combination.

In Columbia, we’re familiar with reusing buildings. At Columbia College, for example, Williams Hall in 1848 was the home of Dr. James H. Bennett, a leading Columbia physician, according to information provided by Columbia College as a part of the nomination process for the city’s Notable Properties list. “Williams Hall is the oldest college building in continuous use for educational purposes west of the Mississippi River,” according to the Columbia College Web site.

Perhaps when we finally see the true cost of demolition including the cost of filling up our landfill with building rubble and the loss of soul when an old building is gone, we as a society will choose differently.

For now, there’s a large vacant area on Broadway that we can only hope will someday house hopeful students on their way to college where I hope they’ll learn a better way to use our resources rather than rip down and dispose of buildings rather than reuse them.

True losses from demolitions

Once again, historic houses look like they are slated for the wrecking ball, and the public has little recourse. Both Victorian houses at 1312 Bass Ave., and 1316 Bass Ave., have had demolition permits applied for, according to this May 6, 2016 article in the Columbia Missourian.

So what can the public in Columbia, Missouri do? Nothing. Unless the development planned would violate zoning permits or cause harm to public safety, property owners have the right to do what they like to their property.

Who is behind the destruction of these historic buildings in Columbia, Missouri?

It’s good to recall these things happen because someone wants them to happen. These are not strangers coming to Columbia to destroy our historic homes, but people just like you and me who decide they’d rather have a different building on their property. In this case, those people are Elizabeth Crawford through her firm CCD Investments. According to public records, CCD Investments is an eight-year-old firm headquartered in Columbia.

Another person involved owns Connell Architecture, and public records show the owner of this firm is Brian Connell.

Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that real people are taking real actions we may or may not like, as in this case. But the reality is that owners of property can do what they like with their property, unless public funds are involved in some way such as when historic preservation tax credits are used for renovations.

The article outlines that once again, the proposed use of the land, after the two 1910 circa homes are destroyed, will be apartments. Apparently, both Crawford and Connell think the needs of Columbia, Missouri would be better served by a three-story apartment complex with 48 bedrooms than two Victorian homes.

So what are we losing?

1316 Bass Avenue

The house at 1316 Bass Ave., is described as “The most obvious remnant from the Victorian age,” according to the National Register of Historic Places document for the East Campus National Historic District. The document continues, “the ca. 1898’Wm. T. Bayless house at 1316 Bass Avenue, an archetypical Queen Anne house featuring a curved wrap-around porch, corner tower, patterned shingles, stained glass windows, and polygonal corner bays.”

1312 Bass Avenue

Here’s what the NRHP document says about the 1312 Bass Ave. house:

“One early house in the northern part of the district displays such a mixture of styles. Directly east of the Bayless house, at 1312 Bass Avenue, is a large residence built by William Cochran around 1910. It displays an interesting mix of stylistic elements, some of which look ahead to twentieth century houses and others which are straight out of the Queen Anne era. The house has a solid rectangular form and Classically inspired decoration typical of Colonial Revival houses, and shaped exposed rafter ends and textured brick wall surfaces common to Craftsman houses, but also has decorative shingle work of the front gable end, and many multi-paned windows which are more representative of Queen Anne dwellings of the late nineteenth century. It appears that Cochran simply chose what was for him, the best of both worlds.”

The real loss

But I think the real loss of these homes is not the stained glass windows, the textured brick walls or event the decorative features of these Victorian homes. No, we’ll lose the story of the people who lived there. Who recalls William T. Bayless? Perhaps no one. But William Cochran may have been the man who helped organize the Presbyterian Church, according to this April 12, 2009 article in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Once the house is gone, no one will go looking for the history of Mr. Cochran or of Mr. Bayless. Perhaps offspring will come by and look for their memorial stones, but there will be no space, no living room, no bedroom, no garden, no bricks and mortar where their ancestors lived and perhaps died to look at, to see how they lived. And that is the real loss of any home.

So now, Columbia, Missouri and the East Campus Neighborhood will gain eight four-bedroom apartments and eight two-bedroom apartments.

Might be a fair deal, but that’s not our call. It’s not for the public to say, but for the owners of the development firm, Elizabeth Crawford and those at the construction firm Crawford Construction and the architect, Connell Architecture to say. It’s their call, but Columbia’s loss.