Notable Properties List, Sacred Spaces, Stephens College

New old images of Eero Saarinen’s Firestone Baars Chapel at Stephens College

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Did you know there’s a bit of St. Louis in Columbia? The same designer, Eero Saarinen, who designed The Arch in St. Louis designed Stephens College’s Firestone Baars Chapel.

If you love before and after views, you are going to love this historic images released on June 17, 2016 by the State Historical Society of Missouri.

The seven images below are from the State Historical Society of Missouri’s Steinberg, Simon C. “Si” (1906-2002), Photograph Collection, 1938, 1950. (P0005) collection.

All seven images are from the May 22, 1950 groundbreaking.

The image above is a public domain image from Wikipedia.

Firestone Baars Chapel Groundbreaking

Firestone Baars Chapel Groundbreaking

Firestone Baars Chapel Groundbreaking

Firestone Baars Chapel Groundbreaking

Firestone Baars Chapel Groundbreaking

Firestone Baars Chapel Groundbreaking

Firestone Baars Chapel Groundbreaking

Background

Dedicated in 1957, Firestone-Baar Chapel at 1209 E. Walnut St. is a unique, nondenominational chapel. It was designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, who also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis as well as other landmark buildings.

The chapel features a square plan and an entrance at each of the compass points. The Stephens College Campus Life-Student Handbook notes, “The chapel symbolizes commitment to individual spiritual development and worship. The chapel is used for meditation, religious services, vespers, weddings, memorials and campus programs.”

In 2002, the chapel was named to the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission’s Notable Properties Listing.

  • November 2013 — Columbia, The Beautiful by Morgan McCarty. Inside Columbia. Outlines the architectural finds in Columbia.

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Brick streets

The big business of bricks

Bricks once meant big bucks in Columbia, Missouri. In 1908, The Edwards Brick Co., invested $50,000 — $1.3 million in 2012 purchasing power according to MeasuringWorth.com — and employed 40 men, producing 25,000 paving bricks a day. The big buck investment was cited in Brick, Vol. 29, published in October 1908.

W.E. Edwards established the Edwards Brick & Tile Company in 1896 in Columbia, Missouri.
W.E. Edwards established the Edwards Brick & Tile Company in 1896 in Columbia, Missouri.

By the time the company closed in 1985, the name had been changed to Columbia Brick and Tile, but the employment and output hadn’t changed much. According to a Sept. 12, 1971 article in the Sunday Missourian Magazine, the plant produced 35,000 bricks a day and employed 35 men, including owner operator Bill Powell.

Now Columbia has approved fixing the city’s brick roads, citing their historic value and even the economic value of brick roads. Asphalt roads must be replaced every 15 years, while brick roads can last more than 100 years, notes a March 16, 2014 article by Veronike Collazo published in the Columbia Missourian. On March 17, 2014, Collazo reported the city approved restoring brick streets in Columbia over the next 20 years. See this city map for information on where brick streets are now. In the agreement, it should be noted, the city agreed to limit the cost and include characteristics to make brick streets safe for persons with disabilities.

Today, the brickworks once at 2801 E. Walnut, Columbia, Mo., is roughly under the Lowe’s on Conley Road, according to Liz Kennedy, the sister of the now late John “Jack” Kennedy, the last operator of that brick company. Kennedy noted that Columbia once supported a half dozen brickworks, an industry she says was put out of business due to several factors: increasing regulations, soaring energy costs, the availability of inexpensive mass-produced bricks and a shift toward a demand for perfect and uniform colored bricks, something the beehive kiln bricks of the local company couldn’t be counted on to produce. Today, the reminders of the brickworks exist in a stack of a wide variety of brick and tile at Liz Kennedy’s home — and the brick buildings in Columbia.

Bricks and tile from Edwards Brick, later called Columbia Brick and Tile.
Bricks and tile from Edwards Brick, later called Columbia Brick and Tile.

But the energy costs Liz Kennedy cites might not have affected W.E. Edwards who established the Edwards Brick and Tile Company in 1896. In 1907, he sank a shaft at the works “so as to get at the coal to use at the works,” notes the 1907 Clay Record, Volumes 31-32 by J. Dixon Doyle and George H. Hartwell published by Clay Record Publishing Company.

Here’s a brief chronological history of the Columbia Brick and Tile Company:

According to The State Historical Society of Missouri archival material and summaries of this information, the Edwards Brick and Tile Company “manufactured brick and tile for use in residential, commercial, and institutional projects in Columbia, central Missouri and out-of-state.”

In 1930, the plant became the Edwards-Conley Brick and Tile Company, when Sanford Conley joined the firm.

In 1945, Edwards sold his interest to A. Burnett Coleman.

In 1947, the company’s name was changed to Columbia Brick and Tile, following the death of Conley died and the sale of his interest to Hart Robnett.

In 1950, Fred Kennedy and William Powell bought the plant. In 1966, Fred Kennedy died and his son Jack Kennedy continued the firm in partnership with Powell.

In 1985, Jack and his sister Liz closed the business. The historic archives explains the closure: “Inflation; cost increases in labor, materials, and gas prices; gas shortages and curtailments; and increases in federal regulations in the 1970s took their toll on the small business…”

Now, the history of Columbia as a town with brickworks is nearly forgotten. Yet the legacy lives on in the brick homes and buildings with their multihued and unusual bricks

Apartments

Women’s hidden history on Columbia’s Hitt St.

Women architects aren’t news today, but in the 1920s, they were. Yet, few people realize one of the state’s first women architects designed two well-known apartment buildings here in Columbia, the Belvedere at 206 Hitt St., and the Beverly at 211 Hitt St.

Nelle E. Peters was the architect of the both of these 1927 buildings, according to this State Historical Society of Missouri report on her.

Women were indeed rare in the profession at that time. Peters herself is quoted in a Nov. 21, 1925 Kansas City Journal article as saying “There are not many women who have the mechanical mind to follow architecture,” Mrs. Peters says. “They cannot ‘see’ the mechanical part. They either aren’t interested or they don’t do it.”

Peters, however, did, and was one of Kansas City’s most productive architects, and was one of the few to have her own independent architectural firm, the SHS report notes. She specialized in designing apartment buildings and hotels and went on to design nearly 1,000 buildings. While most of them were in the Kansas City, area, at least two were in Columbia.

According to the State Historical Society of Missouri accounts, in 1927 a group of Columbia businessmen used her design for an apartment building near the university, an English-style building with three floor of eight apartments each. That building is the Beverly Apartments at 211 Hitt St. The same group of investors turned to her again and used her designs to build the Belvedere at 206 Hitt St.

Peters lived from 1884 until 1974, dying at age 89.

Yet this kind of history can easily be forgotten. In 2008, when the two apartment buildings were added  to Columbia’s Notable Properties List, no mention of this link to women’s history was mentioned.  Nor was it spotlighted in the 2009 Final Survey Report Locust Historic Study Area, Columbia (Boone County), Missouri, which did state the apartment buildings were among five in the area individually eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

In the 1925 interview with the Kansas City Journal, Peters also said, “I want each building to be a perfect, as economical and practical, as if I were building it for myself.”

You can take a peek and see inside the buildings to see how she did here, on this website for apartments by the current owners, the Richardsons. They own the Belvedere, Beverly, Frances and Dumas apartment buildings, combined under the name of Dumas Apartments.

Perhaps the proof of her success in creating practical buildings comes from the fact that 86 years after the buildings were put up, they are still in use and in demand, as demonstrated by a quote from the managers on the About page of the site:

“The best part of our job is when we have the opportunity to renovate an apartment. Since they are nearly always occupied those chances don’t come as often as we’d like.”

Do you know about any hidden women’s history in Columbia? Can you name any places that mark the accomplishments of women’s history? Let me know. I love to learn about Columbia’s hidden in plain sight history!