Louis Curtiss and the Politics of Architectural Reputation

Today’s post is a link to an in-depth article on the architect of the Joplin Union Depot, Louis Curtiss. The article comes from the Places: the online journal of The Design Observer Group and is written by University of Missouri Professor of Architectural History and American Art, Dr. Keith Eggener. The article offers an insightful biography of Curtiss and explores how and why Curtiss and his works, such as the Joplin Union Depot, slipped into obscurity when contemporaries later became nationally renown.

You can find the article here, “Louis Curtiss and the Politics of Architectural Reputation”.

The Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea: The B.B. Johnson House of Joplin

The B.B. Johnson House

Today’s featured Garstang & Rea house is the B.B. Johnson residence located at 417 N. Byers Avenue. Although the house still exists today, the paint color has changed, and there is much more vegetation surrounding it. We are happy to see that yet another Garstang & Rea creation has survived.

The B.B. Johnson House present day.

(Special thanks to Leslie Simpson, Director of the Post-Memorial Art Reference Library, for tracking down the B.B. Johnson house today!)

The Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea: Amos Armstrong Cass House, Carterville, Missouri

Amos Armstrong Cass House, Carterville, Missouri

We are happy to present the first of many photographs from the portfolio of architect Alfred W. Rea of Garstang & Rea. The featured photo is of the Amos Armstrong Cass House in Carterville, Missouri. Many thanks to Rea’s relatives for preserving and sharing Garstang & Rea’s architectural legacy.

Amos Armstrong Cass

The Biographical Record of Jasper County, Missouri, by Malcom G. McGregor, had this to say about Mr. Cass:

“One of the most conspicuous exponents of that sturdy spirit of American progressiveness which enables men to win success in any field of labor to which they may be called, that could be pointed out among the many successful miners and business men of Jasper county, Missouri, is Amos A. Cass, of Carterville. He is a native of Georgia, but was taken to east Tennessee while yet a mere child, and was there reared to manhood. James M. Cass, his grandfather, was a cousin of General Lewis Cass. His father, James M. Cass, died in Tennessee. His mother, who prior to her marriage was Miss Martha Jane Ryan, was a native of Georgia, and she died in Carterville, Missouri.

Mr. Cass, a contractor and builder, came to Jasper county in 1886 and engaged in the milling business, but soon began to give attention to mining. During the last five years he has devoted himself exclusively to mining, and is now interested in seven good plants, having three on the Cornfield land, at Carterville, one on the Perry lease, one on the McKinley lease and one on Judge McGregor’s lands, besides one other at Oronogo, all productive mines, well equipped with good machinery, and he has come to be known as one of the most extensive miners in the district. He is a partner and director in the Weeks Hardware Company at Carterville, and is a director in the Carterville Investment Company, of which corporation he is secretary.

A man of much public spirit, he has the best interests of Carterville at heart and he is one of its most active and progressive citizens and one of theleading Democrats of Jasper county. He was for eight years a member of the school board of Carterville and was influential in increasing the number of school rooms of the public schools of the town from four to fourteen and in securing the erection of two new brick school buildings. In 1867 he was received as an Entered Apprentice, passing the Fellow Craft degree and was raised to the Sublime degree of Master Mason. Later he took the degrees of capitular Masonry, became in turn a Mark Master, a Past Master and a Most Excellent Master and was exalted to the august degree of Royal Arch Mason; the degrees of Chivalric Masonry were conferred upon him and he was constituted, dubbed and created a Knight Templar, and still later he acquired the Royal degrees of the Secret Ineffable degrees of the Scottish Rite.

Mr. Cass married Miss Sarah Hunt, a native of east Tennessee. His son, Walter W. Cass, owns a good interest in four good producing mines and is connected with his father in the management of the Bell C. and L. C. mines, of which he is superintendent and his son, Carl C. Cass, is assistant superintendent. He had four daughters: Ollie, the eldest, the deceased wife of M. V. James, of Carterville; Lillie A., wife of O. H. Schoenherr; Belle B., at home; and Beulah Jene, a student in St. Charles College, at St. Louis, Missouri.”

According to his death certificate, Cass enjoyed his home by Garstang & Rea up until his death in 1915 from heart disease.

This Building Matters: Louis Curtiss’ Joplin Legacy

In the past we have written posts about the construction of Joplin’s Union Depot. Now we would like to celebrate the life and work of its architect, Louis Curtiss. Sadly, his legacy is in peril. Of the over 200 buildings and projects that Curtiss designed, only 34 remained in existence by 1991. Of the 34 buildings, 21 were in Kansas City. Joplin is incredibly fortunate to have the Union Depot among its built landscape. If you care about history, if you care about cultural memory, and if you care about historic preservation you can appreciate Curtiss and Joplin’s Union Depot.

A native of Belleville, Ontario, Canada, Curtiss arrived in Kansas City, Missouri in 1887 at the age of twenty-two. Throughout his career, Curtiss was an enigma. He never discussed his life, never married, never had children, and ordered that his personal papers be burned upon his death. Curtiss was an incredibly colorful character. He loved fast automobiles: he would often roar around the city in a Winton runabout which, at the time, reportedly topped out at an amazing 30 mph. He loved women; he cut his own hair; and claimed to have studied architecture at University of Toronto and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, although historians have been unable to confirm this due to spotty recordkeeping.

Curtiss behind the wheel.

Curtiss briefly worked as a draftsman in the architectural firm of Adriance Van Brunt. He then left to form a partnership with Frederick C. Gunn. Together Curtiss and Gunn designed a large number of courthouses across the Midwest and South. The current courthouse for Henry County, Missouri, is a Curtiss and Gunn creation. Regrettably, the original tower on the courthouse was removed in 1969. The Curtiss and Gunn designed courthouse in Gage County, Nebraska, still has its original tower. The partners also designed courthouses in Tarrant County, Texas; Cabell County, West Virginia; and Rock Island County, Illinois (its roof dome was removed). Even more interesting, they designed St. Patrick’s Parish Catholic Church in Emerald, Kansas.

After ten years, Curtiss and Gunn went their separate ways. Curtiss traveled abroad and studied architecture, but eventually returned to Kansas City. He designed a private residence dubbed “Mineral Hall” which survives today on the campus of the Kansas City Art Institute. Curtiss designed other private residences and commercial buildings at this  time. Mineral Hall Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineral_Hall Note that the doorway is Art Nouveau in style.

Curtiss’ Folly Theater (now the Standard) still stands in Kansas City after construction finished in 1900. You can read about its colorful history here.

While living in Kansas City, the young architect had the good fortune of meeting Bernard Corrigan, a fellow Canadian who was a partner in Corrigan Brothers Realty Company, and for fifteen years the two worked together on a variety of projects.

Curtiss’ first large project, the Baltimore Hotel, was commissioned by the Corrigan Brothers. The hotel was located in downtown Kansas City at the corner of 11th and Baltimore. It was later demolished in 1939. Curtiss’ next major commission was the Willis Wood Theater. Located next to the Baltimore Hotel, the two were connected by a tunnel that was nicknamed “highball alley.” The theater was destroyed by fire in 1917. One of Curtiss’ residential masterpieces, the Bernard Corrigan House, still stands today. The house is a mesmerizing blend of Prairie, Arts and Craft, and Art Nouveau features. You can view pictures here and also here, too.

Curtiss established another fruitful partnership, although it was not with an individual, but with a company: The Santa Fe Railroad. Curtiss designed depots and office buildings for the railroad company all over the United States. He subsequently began designing buildings for the Fred Harvey restaurant system. During this time, he designed the Clay County State Bank, which is now the Excelsior Springs City Museum.

As years passed, he continued to design railroad depots, hotels, and private residences. In 1910, work began on Joplin’s Union Depot, a Curtiss creation. He also designed Union Station in Wichita, Kansas, which had survived the years since its completion in 1913. Interestingly, he designed the “Studio Building” to serve as his studio. Curtiss lived in an apartment in the building which coincidentally adjoined a burlesque theater. According to one individual who was interviewed years later about Curtiss, there was a balcony entry into the theater accessible only through Curtiss’ apartment, through which he could attend performances.

Beginning in 1914, Curtiss fell upon hard times. Many of his major clients began to pass away and the demands of World War One upon American society made new construction grind to a halt. Curtiss’ architectural style fell out of favor as new and reinvigorated styles became popular. He did achieve success with his work in the Westheight Manor subdivision of Kansas City, but he never regained his pre-war popularity. One of the residences he built in Westheight Manor is the stunning Jesse Hoel home:  Historical Survey of the Westheight Manor Subdivision and  Flickr Photo of the Hoel residence.

Another Westheight Manor home Curtiss designed was that of Norman Tromanhauser.

By 1921, Curtiss ceased to produce new architectural designs. Within a few years, on June 24, 1924, he died in his studio at his drawing board at the age of fifty-four. He was buried alone in Mount Washington Cemetery

Louis Curtiss, creator of the Joplin Union Depot


The Joplin Union Depot matters.

This Place Matters.


Sources: Stalking Louis Curtiss by Wilda Sandy and Larry K. Hancks, Kansas City Public Library, Others.

Review of Now and Then and Again by Leslie Simpson

Historic preservation in Joplin cannot be discussed without mentioning Leslie Simpson.  The director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, Simpson is a long established expert of Joplin’s architecture and historic past.  She is credited with initiating the push to preserve Joplin’s remaining historic buildings and homes. Simpson has played an instrumental role in the creation of the Joplin Historic Preservation Commission and Main Street Joplin.  She has produced numerous slide shows on the city’s past and published a pamphlet titled, From Lincoln Logs to Lego Blocks: How Joplin Was Built.  Such is her impact that the city proclaimed a day in her name and the Missouri General Assembly honored her achievements.

One of Ms. Simpson’s most well known works was a fascinating slide show presentation entitled, “Extreme Makeover: Joplin Edition,” that compared historic photographs of Joplin buildings and homes to present day photographs of the same locations.  In December, 2009, she published her latest book, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture Now and Then and Again is the published version of her popular lecture on Joplin’s architectural past.

Any fan of American architecture from the late 19th Century to the early 20th Century will both adore and loathe reading Ms. Simpson’s latest work.  Readers will love it for the photographs of grand old buildings and majestic finely cut stone homes that once populated Joplin.  It will, however, make the reader grimace at the lack of foresight and vision that cost Joplin some of its finest architectural masterpieces.

Now and Then and Again is written somewhat categorically, beginning with photographs of many of its former homes and buildings that represented the first several decades of the city’s prosperous growth.  This may well be the most painful part for those who mourn the loss of Joplin’s finest buildings. as it reveals the devastation of the period of Urban Renewal.  During the 1960s and 1970s, Urban Renewal oversaw the destruction of many of American’s turn of the century architecture under the belief that their replacements would spark economic growth and development. Sadly, such was not the case with Joplin. Downtown Joplin became a vast wasteland of empty parking lots and neglected store fronts.

Despite her passion for Joplin’s lost history, Ms. Simpson maintains a neutral tone, letting the devastation of Urban Renewal speak for itself. Buildings such as the Connor and Keystone hotels, the Worth Block, and other crown jewels of Joplin’s past were lost to the wrecking ball.  By the time the reader finishes with this first part of the book, he or she can begin to dry their tears with the knowledge that some buildings survived, though are now hidden behind more modern facades.   One example is the home of the Joplin Globe whose gaudy outdated facade belies the fact that it still has the bones of a century old brick building underneath.

Now and Then and Again opts for an ending on a happier note.  The last two sections of the book are devoted to those structures still standing decades after their construction, and in a somewhat smaller part, those buildings which have recently been renovated.  Now and Then and Again is not entirely made up photographs.  Each photographic subject is accompanied with a paragraph or two of information which generally consists of the history of the building or house, the architectural style, and the individuals who owned them.  Conveniently, Ms. Simpson provides two indexes, one by name and the other by address.

In the unfortunately limited pantheon of resources for those seeking to learn more about the history of Joplin, Ms. Simpson’s Now and Then and Again is a welcome addition.  It serves as a wonderful reference for both the trained and untrained to a past built by stone, brick, and beam.  Any collection is better for its inclusion, and knowledge of its contents most certainly help to bring alive the Joplin of the past, and to discover its wonder in the present.

The cover of Leslie Simpson's work, "Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture."

The cover of Leslie Simpson's work, "Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture."

For information about purchasing a copy of Ms. Simpson’s work, follow this link to the Post Memorial Art Reference Library websiteNow and Then and Again consists of 95 pages, sells for $17.95 and is published by the Winfred L. and Elizabeth C. Post Foundation, Joplin, Missouri.