JMC Representatives Tour Depot

An article published yesterday in the Globe, brought us up to date on the recent developments concerning the restoration of the Union Depot and the potential plan to move the Joplin Museum Complex (JMC) to the site.

The current news is still pretty much the same news from a couple weeks ago. A group of the Museum Board’s members were given a tour of the depot by architect, Chad Greer, and city manager, Mark Rohr. The tour was an extension of the proposal pitched by Mr. Rohr near the middle of March. In response, the board, represented by Allen Shirley, declared that the JMC board planned to have a meeting on April 12, 2011, to discuss whether further study would be needed concerning the plan.

We are unsure if this means that the JMC board wants further study because they favor the plan or if it means they want further study to be convinced to go along with it. Given the history of the board over the last year, our inclination is toward the latter of the two theories.

We strongly urge the board members to press ahead with the plan. True, the removal of the museum from its present location at Schifferdecker Park would be one of the boldest moves by the JMC since its inception and move to its current home. True, as well, the JMC did try to occupy Memorial Hall, a plan which seemed to spring from the left field of Miner’s Park and was largely unsupported. Here’s the chance for the JMC to at least resume the energy of its failed proposal and to align it with the popularly supported idea of moving to the Depot. One would like to think that in such a scenario, everyone wins.

For the moment, however, the history of Joplin remains for the most part hostage to an organization that has yet so far proved as immobile as its mineral displays toward ideas that have not originated from its own body. The very collections which the JMC haphazardly safeguards were donated and initially overseen by those passionate about Joplin and passionate about Joplin’s history. One would like to think that they would support a move which would benefit the museum by placing it in one of the remaining architectural treasures of the city; a building which was once a symbol of progress and can be again as a foundation for the continuing restoration of north Main Street. It’s time to shake off the collected dust of decades and be bold.

Globe Overview of the Union Depot

Joplin Union Depot

East Facade of Joplin Union Depot

This last weekend, the Joplin Globe offered up a summary of the present situation with the Union Depot.  In addition, the Globe put together a short timeline of events for the Depot from its opening over 99 years ago.

The summary covers in brief the past attempts at restoring the Union Depot, including an offer in 1973 by the Kansas City Southern to deed the Depot to the city.  That proposal was nixed by the then head of the Joplin Museum Complex, Everett Richie.  The excuse given then was the danger that the active train tracks posed to the museum and its collection should it be moved to the location.

The Globe managed to speak briefly with Nancy Allman, who was the lead in the effort to restore the Union Depot in the 1980′s.  Allman did confirm that she still had in her possession some items from the Union Depot.  This is good news for the restoration of the Union Depot.  Even if Ms. Allman may not want to donate or sell the items, perhaps she would at least allow the restorers to photograph and measure the items for reproduction purposes.

Joplin Union Depot

West Facade of Joplin Union Depot

The article also brings us via Allen Shirley the 3 Key Issues for the JMC about a move to the Union Depot.  Let’s look at them one by one:

1) The Union Depot’s structural integrity.

Reports indicate that the work done in the prior restoration attempt went along way toward reinforcing and repairing structural integrity issues.  In the walk through by the Joplin Globe with David Glenn, who was part of the restoration team from the 1980′s, Glenn comments on the strength of the building.

2) There’s less than 400 sq foot than the current museum.

As we’ve pointed out in previous coverage of the Union Depot question, there are two measurements being offered of the Union Depot’s space; one from the JMC and company, and one from Mark Rohr.  It really boils down to the basement.  One side counts it and the other side doesn’t.  The basement also brings about another issue, as we’ll address below.  There’s no reason more space cannot be constructed to supplement the Union Depot and done so in a simple, elegant and complimentary manner to the Union Depot.  Here’s an off the cuff idea: enclose the concourse extending from the depot with glass, creating a beautiful glass hallway, and have the end of the concourse connect to a secondary building.  There’s plenty of space available for such an addition.  None the less, an addition may not even be necessary.

3) Environmental Control

Appropriately, the JMC Board is concerned about the presence of environmental control in the Union Depot.  It seems that it would be a matter a fact element of any renovation of the Depot, particularly a restoration performed with a archival purpose in mind.  In many ways, as photographs will often attest, the Depot is a blank canvas and now is the time where such improvements can be made and without the cost of tearing out existing material to replace it.  (That former material has already been torn out!)   Again the basement and the standing water.  Here’s a simple answer: pump any water out, replace any water damage and effectively seal the basement walls.  We’re not contractors here at Historic Joplin, but this solution does not seem to be one of great complication.

Mr. Shirley claims that the JMC board has not taken a position about the proposed move.  We would disagree.  No member of the board, or JMC Director Brad Belk, have not once said anything positive about the idea.  In the summary, Mr. Shirley does note they support the preservation of the Depot, as we would hope of those who are charged with protecting the city’s history.  However, supporting the saving of the Depot does by no means equate to supporting the idea of moving the museum.  Fearfully, three members of the City Council appear ready to allow the Board to do as it wishes, which means doing absolutely nothing.  The Board wanted Memorial Hall for a new home, turned down the offer by the Gryphon Building, and will have to be dragged into the Union Depot.

This is not the time for inaction.  Joplin has embarked on a push of re-establishing itself as a city of beautiful buildings and one engaged not only with its past, but with an active present focused on its increasingly vibrant downtown.  The relocation of the museum to the Union Depot would not only give more people a reason to visit downtown, but its better accessibility than the remote location by Schifferdecker Park would mean more would take the time to learn about the city’s glorious past.

The leadership of the city has proven itself innovative and bold by the successful and ongoing restoration downtown, we hope that the leadership does not back down at this important juncture.  The City holds the purse strings of the JMC and if the Board of the JMC is not willing to play a part in the revitalization and the new beginning of Joplin in the 21st century, the City should tighten those strings.  The Board of the JMC needs to accept that they will not always get what they want and assume a much more forward thinking position, lest they end up as dust covered exhibits they profess to preserve.

HJ Joplin Union Depot

Be Bold, Joplin!

Tepidness Reigns Supreme at Museum Board Meeting

Joplin newspaper cartoon

Don't Let the Obstructionist Win!

This last week’s meeting of the Joplin Museum board was a showcase in tepid response to bold planning for the future.  The topic of the meeting, covered by the local news station KODE, was the possible relocation of the museum to the Union Depot.  The news segment featured interviews with board member Allen Shirley and City Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg.

Shirley continued what is now becoming a two month long hem haw of expressing a cautious disapproval for the idea of moving to the Union Depot.  The main point expressed by Shirley in his interview was the lack of exhibit space, a point raised by Museum Director Brad Belk previously.  The matter of sufficient space appears to be growing into the banner to be waved by the Joplin Museum Board, we expect to hear it raised again and again as their argument against the move.

From even before City Manager Mark Rohr’s presentation, the Joplin Museum Board has not wanted to move to the Union Depot, and since the presentation, have protested as much as possible without appearing reactionary.  It is clear that if the Joplin Museum Complex is to be moved to the Union Depot, the board will have to be dragged kicking and screaming.  The angry child who did not get its prized relocation and taxes to take over Memorial Hall now just want to take their ball and go home, rather than settle for something less than they desired.

Disconcertingly, the meeting was attended by three city council members, which as the news report explained were there in support of the museum board.  Of the three, only Benjamin Rosenberg opted to speak with a reporter and offered a fascinating rebuttal against Mark Rohr’s well grounded plans for Joplin’s growth over the next five years.  Rosenberg, when asked about the plan declared, “I had no part in the city manager’s vision.  I had no pre-warning. I had no consultation with the city manager.”  By all appearances, it seems Mr. Rosenberg does not like or agree with Rohr’s plan that was presented earlier this summer.

Rosenberger also told the reporter that he strongly believed the fate of the museum should be left in the hands of the museum board and not forced by the hand of the city.  This would be a rational position to take were the museum lead by forward thinking, competent and experienced individuals, but that is not the case.  The only imaginative thinking the museum has displayed in recent years has been to spring an idea that was overwhelmingly disapproved of by 75% of the city’s voting residents.  Meanwhile, the popularly supported plan of moving the museum to the Union Depot languishes because neither the museum board nor apparently some of the city council are willing to take bold steps for Joplin’s future.

Is Joplin anymore the city of Thomas Connor, Charles Schifferdecker, or Thomas Cunningham?

We say nay!

Where is the vision?  Why the desire for mediocrity?  Where is the leadership that has helped to restore downtown?  Joplin became the city that is resplendent with beautiful buildings and good people because its leaders in the past were unwilling to quietly abide.  It would do the museum board well to remember this, a lesson they should learn if they are at all familiar with the history they have sworn to safe keep.

HJ Union Depot image

It Is Time To Be Bold!

Downtown Areas Up For Historic Designation

Today’s Joplin Globe features an article on the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and its consideration of several areas in downtown Joplin for historic district status.   The two areas that the city wants to join the Sunshine Lamp District include an area located between Joplin and Wall and 1st and 3rd streets and would be known as the Joplin and Wall Historic District, the other would be the South Main Street Historic District, an area on the west side of Main Street between 1st and 2nd Streets.   If the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation signs off on these nominations, they would then be forwarded to the Federal Register of Historic Places.  If placed on the register, buildings in the districts could qualify for Federal and state tax credits.

Here’s a link to a draft of the Joplin and Wall Historic District nomination.

The draft describes the historic area:

“”The Joplin and Wall Avenues Historic District (Photos 1‐11) consists of an approximately three square‐block 5‐acre area in the northern reaches of the central business district of Joplin, which is in Jasper County, in southwestern Missouri. The district is topographically flat and contains a total of 13 buildings dating from c. 1900 through the 1930s, all of load‐bearing masonry construction, flat‐roofed, and ranging in height from one story to five stories; no residential buildings are in the district. (continued below…)

Joplin Supply Company building

Joplin Supply Company building is included in the Joplin and Wall Historic District

“(continued…) The nominated area is located along a grid of three blocks of Joplin and Wall Streets which run north‐to south and are intersected by West First, West Second, and West Third Streets and unnamed alleys running both north‐south and east‐west. Of the 13 buildings in the district one, the Joplin Supply Company (Resource No. 13; Photos 3, 6), was previously listed in the National Register (NR 2007). Of the remaining 12 unlisted buildings, 11 contribute to the character of the district and one is a noncontributing element with reference to the district as a whole. The overall appearance of the district is entirely commercial, lacking landscaping and characterized by a grid of paved streets and alleys, concrete sidewalks, with most buildings built flush with one another. Some buildings have associated surface parking; the largest vacant parcel is associated with a 1936 former bus depot (Resource No. 5); this parcel was used historically for bus parking.”

Hulbert Chapel 2010

Hulbert Chapel, next door to the Joplin Supply Company building is also part of the nominated Joplin and Wall District

The draft provides a list of the properties, a brief description of each, as well some history.  Such recognizable buildings are the Joplin Supply Company building, the Greyhound Bus Depot across from the library, and the old court house post office building.

Here’s the link to the draft for the nomination of the South Main Historic District.

The draft describes the area as:

“The South Main Street Historic District (Photos 1‐8; Figs. 1‐4) is located in the City of Joplin, Jasper County, in southwestern Missouri. This one‐block long linear district encompasses less than one acre and occupies all of the west side of South Main Street between West First and West Second Streets and consists entirely of commercial architecture dating from the turn of the twentieth century through c. 1910. The district is located at the northern periphery of the central business district and contains ten buildings of one and two stories in height, all of load‐bearing masonry construction. Two buildings are non‐contributing elements within the context of the district as a whole and the remaining eight are contributing.

The district retains the characteristic dense concentration of development which typifies most downtown areas, with all buildings constructed without front‐lot setback. Rear‐lot setbacks vary
from building to building, and surface parking is provided behind most properties. All but two of the district’s buildings are built flush with one another; two adjacent buildings are separated by a narrow walkway. The district fronts on South Main Street, West First and Second Streets form the district’s north and south boundary, respectively, and an unnamed alley establishes the district’s western boundary. New construction and vacant lots are immediately adjacent to the nominated district, and the Joplin and Wall Avenues Historic District, nominated concomitant with this district but distinct in its own right, is to the west.”

Miles Block circa 1902

The Miles Block as it appeared around 1902.

The district primarily concerns the strip of beautiful buildings on the west side of Main Street from 2nd street up that include the striking Miles Block.

Miles Block 2010

The Miles Block, as it appears today, is included in the South Main Street District nomination

For those of you interested in learning more about the architecture used in the construction of these buildings, as well as for some brief histories, we encourage you to read the drafts in greater detail.  The Council will meet this Friday to discuss the nominations.

Joplin Museum Officials Are Clueless

Don't Let the Joplin Museum Complex move to the depot be blocked!

An editorial cartoon from before the Union Depot was built, which implied others were trying to obstruct its construction. Now is not the time to balk at renovating the depot as a new home for the Joplin Museum Complex.

Today’s Joplin Globe has two articles on Joplin’s Union Depot and its proposed renovation for use as the new home of the Joplin Museum Complex.

Isn’t it funny that the Joplin Museum Complex howled and yowled earlier this year that the Union Depot was in too bad of shape to restore? Remember all that talk about “water in the basement” made it unusable? It’s mind-boggling that an organization dedicated to the history of Joplin would just turn up its nose to restore one of Joplin’s architectural crown jewels, isn’t it?  Particularly after a contractor has stated the depot is in sound shape for renovation.

It’s time to be blunt.

If you have ever visited the Joplin Museum Complex, you know that it is not impressive. One of us visited it as a third grade student years ago and on a visit last year found that little, if anything, has changed. (Creepy mannequins, anyone?) The exhibits were pretty much the same. Rocks and minerals lay spread out with labels but no interpretive information. Rusty old mining equipment is outside exposed to the elements without meaningful information for visitors. There are cheesy exhibits on the Empire District Company, the National Cookie Cutter Museum, and the Joplin Sports Hall of Fame.

Why has the museum board seemingly failed to financially support the museum over the years?  Trustees are expected to support their institution through their own financial generosity as well as lobby individuals of influence and wealth to give financial, legislative, and/or other support to the institution. At the very least, can they not pony up enough money to pay for a grant-writer to bring in money for new exhibit materials?

A move to the Union Depot would present the chance for the Joplin Museum Complex to reevaluate its exhibits and pare down those like the Cookie Cutter Museum that simply have nothing to do with Joplin or its history.  It’s an opportunity to redesign and improve relevant exhibits that as well for the trustees to step forward and act to help improve the museum.

Board member Clair Goodwin (a sports columnist for the Joplin Globe) was quoted as saying, “The good thing is, people are concerned about the museum.” Mr. Goodwin mistakes the enthusiasm of the public for the renovation of the Union Depot and the north end of downtown Joplin as support for the museum.

In April it was clear that the public did not support the museum’s aggressive attempt to take over Memorial Hall. It is doubtful that the public has had a change of heart. What is clear, however, is that the public supports the continued renewal of downtown Joplin and the Union Depot. Anyone who appreciates architectural beauty, as many do in Joplin, that the Union Depot is a gorgeous building that deserves to be restored and preserved. Moving the Joplin Museum Complex to a restored Union Depot will kill two birds with one stone.

When board member Allen Shirley says, “The Joplin Historic Society wants a larger museum, but also ‘has an obligation to protect and preserve the exhibits that have been placed in our hands,’” he and the rest of the board need to jump on this opportunity while it exists.  This is not the time to twiddle one’s thumbs.

Allen Shirley has been described in the Joplin Independent as a “pharmaceutical sales executive” who was appointed to the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (MACHP) by former Governor Matt Blunt (we assume  that as a long time Republican Mr. Shirley was placed on the MACHP by Governor Blunt as a political patronage position and not for extensive historic preservation experience/expertise).

Shirley apparently likes to collect old newspapers that he wants to one day dump off on the Joplin Museum Complex. This is absurd for two reasons: one) newspapers from France’s Reign of Terror do not fit the mission of the Joplin Museum Complex, and, two) the Joplin Museum Complex will not be equipped to care for his newspaper collection. Once again, a collector with eccentric taste tries to dump off his collection on a museum to take care of once he’s dead, i.e. Let the taxpayers of Joplin pay for the care and preservation of old newspapers that have nothing to do with Joplin history.

Perhaps he just wants to make sure there will be enough space for his newspapers in the Union Depot?

The museum board must realize that the will of the people, whom the museum is designed to serve, is for the museum to move to the depot.  When their dream of taking over Memorial Hall failed, those who voted against it voiced support then for a move to the depot.  If the museum board chooses to balk at this proposal, then the City Council should step in.

We here at Historic Joplin think the only person with vision is Mark Rohr. We have never met him, have never spoken with him, and have never e-mailed him. But from what we can tell, this man is dedicated to improving Joplin. His vision for the north end of Joplin’s downtown would be serve as an anchor and impetus of revitalization for an area that was once populated at the turn of the century with brothels, saloons, and shanties. Keep going, Mr. Rohr! Onward and upward!

Support the renovation of the Joplin Union Depot as a new home for the Joplin Museum Complex!

Support the renovation of the Joplin Union Depot as a new home for the Joplin Museum Complex!