A Photograph’s Story: Fourth and Main Street Joplin Turn of the Century

Here is a fascinating glimpse of a moment in time in Joplin’s history. Time to explore the story of the photograph of looking West on Fourth Street from Main Street:

First, let’s positioned ourselves and stand in the same place as the photographer. In front of us is the intersection of Main Street and Fourth Street. We are looking West in this photograph which tells us that out of sight, but immediately to our left is the Keystone Hotel. On the right, you can see the edge of the curb of the Worth Block, which means the House of Lords is just a quick jaunt around the corner.

Second, the Connor Hotel is across the street from us. The Connor Hotel was completed in 1908, so we now have an estimated time as to when we are standing at the intersection of Fourth and Main. If you look closely, you will recognize some of the stonework that is now outside the Joplin Public Library. When you look down the street from the Connor, you will notice a row of small buildings. These buildings were eventually demolished to make way for the Connor Annex, which was built in the 1920′s. Again, we have now created a time span for when we are looking: 1908 to 1920′s.

Third, beyond the small buildings, you will notice a tall building. Gone now, but only a few years old at the time of this photograph, the Miners Bank Building was home not only to the aforementioned bank, but also to one of Joplin’s premier architects, August Michaelis. If you squint, on the opposite side of the street framed by telephone and power lines, is a steeple. That steeple belongs to another of Joplin’s lost buildings, the Club Theater. It was home to the Joplin Commercial Club, which survives today in the form of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fourth, immediately across from the Connor is a two storm frame building. Until it was destroyed to make way for the Liberty Building (and current resident of the southwest corner of Fourth and Main), this was the oldest remaining building in Joplin at the time having been built in the 1870s.

Fifth, also of note, are of course the the trolleys and if you look close at the street, you can see a textured surface. Reportedly, these were macadam streets, which Joplin boasted of having many and might still exist in some form under her currently paved streets.

The Club Theater – Architectural Drawing

Almost a year ago, we brought you the history of the Club Theater which once stood at the intersection of 4th and Joplin Street.  Recent research has uncovered what we believe may be the only surviving exterior side view, or Joplin Street view of the Club Theater.  Of course, we have to share!  The image appears to be an architectural drawing for the building, which was constructed in 1891.  Note the drawing appears to be the work of a Kansas City firm.

The Joplin Street view or side exterior view of the Club Theater

Most images of the theater that do exist show the building either looking at it from the entrance presented above on the right side of the drawing, or of its Fourth Street exterior.  Below is an example of the former.

Photograph of the Club Theater taken some time before 1902.

By all appearances, it seems there was no real deviation at first glance from the drawing to the building.    As noted in our prior post, the last remnant of the Club Theater vanished after a fire in 2003.

Source: Historic Joplin Collection

The Elks’ Present Their Imperial Minstrels

A Joplin newspaper cartoon referring to the Elks' Minstrel Show.

A Joplin newspaper cartoon referring to the Elks' Minstrel Show (click to access larger version)

“Business men in blackface can be more amusing than professionals, especially when they strike a happy medium between the elite and the ridiculous.”

So began a review of the minstrel show put on by Joplin’s Elks Lodge, No. 501, in mid-January, 1909.  Since the 19th Century, the minstrel show had been a steadfast form of entertainment based upon humiliating and stereotypical depictions of African Americans, often by white men with black makeup on their face.  Generally, the performers adopted comical dialects exaggerated to effect laughter and ridicule.  Entertainment in the shows ranged from comedy skits to song and dance.

In an example of the acceptability of racism at the time in American and Joplin society, the minstrel show was produced by the Elks Lodge, a social organization of Joplin’s businessmen and reputable members of the city’s society.  One advertisement for the minstrel show specifically noted the participation of Edward Zelleken, a member of one of Joplin’s most distinguished and wealthy families.

A cartoon of Prof. Edward Zelleken's anticipated black face appearance.

A cartoon of Prof. Edward Zelleken's anticipated black face appearance.

A small article that ran before the show promised an entertaining show and an opening which “should not be missed.”  Tickets, the article claimed, were going fast, but good ones could still be reserved.  An advertisement that ran near the article promised, “Ten Dollars’ Worth of Enjoyment For the Price of One.”  The “Imperial Minstrels” as the Elks called their cast performed in the Club Theater.  A follow up article the day after headlined, “Elks’ Minstrel Creates Furor Among Society” with the subtitle, “Business Men In Blackface Score Tremendous Hit.”

An advertisement for the Elks' Minstrel Show

An advertisement for the Elks' Minstrel Show (click for larger version)

The jokes in the show ranged from the plain comedic to pokes and jabs at local businessmen, like the owner of Donehoo’s pharmacy, which was located at the busy intersection of 4th and Main.  Other jokes were political in nature such as one about William Jennings Bryan recalled by a minstrel who claimed he had just stepped into an elevator in Chicago when he saw, “Mrs. William Jennings Bryan come running down the corridor waving her hand for the elevator operator to hold the car until she arrived. ‘You need not have hurried to catch the car,’ the elevator operator is said to have informed Mrs. Bryan, ‘I’d have waited for you.’  ‘Oh,’ replied the Commoner’s wife as she breathed heavily. ‘ I just wanted to show you that there was one member of the Bryan family who could keep in the running.’”

Another sign of the acceptability of the lampoon was the audience that turned out for the event.  A reporter from the Joplin Globe described them, “Society turned out in all its finery to see something rich and rare…”  Indeed, as the reporter noted, “And to a thousand, auditors giggled, laughed and te-heed until their faces ached while Joplin Lodge, No. 501. B.P.O. Elks, presented their Imperial Minstrels at the Club Theater last night.”

Source: Joplin Globe, 1909

Growth of A City – Fourth Street Looking East

At the height of Joplin’s boom days, the intersection of Fourth and Main streets was the beating heart of the city’s commercial district.  It was no coincidence that the city’s two greatest hotels, the Connor and Keystone, faced one another from opposite corners, or that Democratic party boss, Gilbert Barbee owned the House of Lords on another corner.  Along Fourth Street, particularly that west of Main, was prime real estate.  One venturing down west Fourth Street found themselves passing the Club Theater, as well the Elks Club lodge and the home of the Miners Bank.  In the next few photos, we’ll examine the change to the street over just a few years.  In addition, with a nod to Leslie Simpson’s latest book, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture, a present day view of the street.

A view of Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1906.

A view of Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1906.

In this first view there are several clues to time the photograph was shot.  First, visible to the right is the steeple roof of the Club Theater.  The Club Theater was completed in 1891.  The conical roof further down the street marks not only the Keystone Hotel, built in 1891 and completed a year later, marks the intersection of Fourth and Main.  On the left side of the street, a block down and hardly noticeable is the old Joplin Hotel.  What is not in this photograph is the Connor Hotel, an eight story building that was built where our squat Joplin Hotel now stands.  The Joplin Hotel was razed in 1906.  As such, we know this photograph dates from before that time.  Speculatively, sometime from 1891 to 1906.

View of Fourth Street looking east sometime after 1908.

View of Fourth Street looking east sometime after 1908.

In this view we have some familiar faces.  The Club Theater on the right, the Keystone down the block, and on the immediate right, the once Elks Lodge and offices of the Joplin Water Works.  The main difference is now the reverse of our previous photograph.  Where the old Joplin Hotel stood, now stands the Connor.  Its presence lets us know that this photograph was taken after its completion in 1908.  Note the change in design of the automobiles on the street and the lack of horse drawn wagons or carriages that were present in the previous view.

Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1913.

Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1913.

Our third view of Fourth Street.  The Connor and the Keystone are both present.  The steeple roof of the Club Theater is conspicuously absent, though you can see the roof line of the club’s western side.  Incidentally, by this time, the Club Theater, despite a renovation in 1905, had lost its status as the finest theater in town to the Shubert Theater which was located several blocks down to the south.  The vehicles are a little more modern and a subtle aspect is the switch from one set of trolley tracts to two.  Also different, which allows us to place this photograph as more recent, is the addition of electric signs to the facades of the buildings.  Now, we state that this photograph is dated as having been taken before 1913.  How did we come to that number?  In this case, its simply knowing your source.  This photograph came from a booklet published in 1913 to publicize the city, which allows us to place that hard date.

Fourth Street looking east - present day.

Fourth Street looking east - present day.

This photograph, taken on March 13, 2010, is not for the faint of heart for those who love the architecture of bygone days.  All that remains from the previous photographs is our friend the one time host of the Elks and Joplin Water Works building on the immediate right.  The row of buildings on the left are gone, though a few halfway down the block disappeared in the 1920′s when the Connor built an annex further down the block from its Fourth and Main location.  The Club Theater is gone, the front of a car, marks the parking lot that now remains in its place.  On the left down the block is the Joplin Public Library, situated where the Connor Hotel stood until 1978.  The Keystone, destroyed several years before the Connor, is gone.  The building visible beyond the library is the Joplin Globe office, visible only because the Worth Block was demolished (taking with it the House of Lords).  On a bright note is the tall building at the end of the block on the right side.  It was built around 1923 and managed to survive the devastation that was “Urban Renewal.”

If any comfort can be taken from this view of modern day Fourth Street it is that the City of Joplin has embarked on a mission to restore and recognize the city’s remaining historic buildings.  A drive down Main Street reinforces the belief that while a lot has been lost, that which remains will be saved.

Sources: Historic Joplin collection, Missouri Digital Heritage.

Growth of a City – Northwest Joplin

Sometimes it’s worth letting photographs speak for themselves.   Below are three photos taken from what is likely the Keystone Hotel of northwest Joplin, essentially a view of Fourth Street heading west.

1902 or earlier view of Northwest Joplin centered on Fourth Street

A photo of northwest Joplin, particularly Fourth Street from at least as early as 1902.

In the first photo we can see the Club Theater, which is on the left with the steeple at the intersection of Joplin and Fourth Street.  On the immediate right, we have the old Joplin Hotel which was constructed like the Club Theater prior to 1900.  What is missing  is the Miners Bank building which has not yet been built across the street from the Club Theater, as well the new Joplin post office building that was completed the same year as the aforementioned bank in 1905.

1905 - 1906 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

1905 - 1906 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

A few years later and there’s a recognizable change in Fourth street and the northwest view of Joplin.  Now across the street from the Club Theater is the Miners Bank building and to the right of it on Joplin Street is the brand new Joplin post office.  The vacant lot across the street from the Club Theater (the other side of Joplin Street) now has a two story building and laid down the center of Fourth Street are trolley rails.  The old Joplin Hotel is still in the right hand corner, but by this time Thomas Connor is likely already planning to tear it down to build a brand new hotel that one day would bear his name.  It was demolished at some point in 1906, which helps date this view.  Thus, sometime after 1905 and before a point in 1906.

1906 to 1907 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

1906 to 1907 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

If only this photograph was not torn, we might have had a better view of the Joplin of 1906 or 1907.  Not much has changed from the last photograph except the absence of the old Joplin Hotel in the lower right hand corner.  Instead, we have the beginning excavations for the foundation of the future Connor Hotel.   Constant in all three photos are two narrow buildings in the center bottom or left, one with a flat roof and the other with a peak.  In a few short years, a seven story building would take their place and might have contributed to the decline of the Keystone Hotel as a popular spot to take a northwest view of Joplin.

Thus, in three photos that likely cover a time span of less than a decade, you can get an inclination of the rapid growth of Joplin.

Sources: Historic Joplin’s private collection.

The New Club Theater

When the Club Theater was renovated in 1902, the interior was trumpeted as a “color scheme of Empire Red, with Exquisite Trimmings of Gold and Ivory.” The theater, originally built in 1891, stood watch at the intersection of Fourth and Joplin Streets. After its renovation it was commonly referred to as the New Club Theater. The idea for its construction originated as a meeting place for Joplin’s business and social elite.

The Joplin Club, formed in 1889, was comprised of Joplin’s most influential and powerful citizens. They were civic minded men who were inspired to promote and improve Joplin.  The club members played a key role in the construction of the Keystone Hotel in the early 1890’s, the finest lodging in the city until it was eclipsed by the Connor Hotel which opened in 1908.

Once a week Joplin’s captains of commerce, men like German born brewer Charles Schifferdecker and real estate mogul Thomas Connor, met to discuss the future of Joplin.  Members of the club realized two things.  First, the club needed a proper meeting place to hold their gatherings. Second, and most importantly, they realized that Joplin lacked what they believed every up and coming city needed, a first class theater. Intent on building a clubhouse for the betterment of Joplin, the club purchased lot located a block west of the center of city’s commercial heart at Joplin and Fourth Streets. The lot was reportedly purchased at a price of over five thousand dollars (though this may have included cost of construction).

On January 26, 1891, the Club Theater formally opened. It boasted seating for 1,400 patrons in a theater situated in on the west side of the building along Joplin Street.  A painted scene of local landmark Grand Falls adorned the stage curtain.  On the north side of the second floor was an area reserved for the Joplin Club to host its formal and informal functions and meetings.  This area may have consisted of two grand rooms.

Street view of Club Theater

This photograph likely taken prior to 1902, the Club Theater is the steepled building on the right. The Keystone Hotel at Fourth and Main Street is just down the block with the conical roof.

The first production to grace the stage of the theater was Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII.  Centuries before, when Shakespeare’s Globe Theater had produced the play, an accident during the show had resulted in a fire that burned the theater to the ground.  Tragically, the Club Theater would later suffer a similar fate.

The clubhouse section of the theater was formally dedicated on March 4th, 1891, with Joplin’s finest in attendance.  It was a scene of well-dressed gentlemen sipping spirits and filling the air with the rich aroma of Havana’s finest. Speakers included the head of the Joplin Club, W.H. Picher, who spoke and then read from a letter sent to the Joplin Club from Governor David Francis.  The next to speak was the Honorable Gabriel Schmuck, who had traveled from Galena, Kansas, and then a local judge, O.H. Picher.  Other speakers, from nearby Carthage, Webb City, and Neosho all spoke of the prominence and promise of Joplin.

The New Club Theater as pictured in 1902

An ad for Attorney General Herbert Hadley is evidence of the powerful and important figures who the Club Theater hosted in its heyday.

Eleven years later, wear and tear had taken its toll upon the Club Theater. By this time the Joplin Club had sold its interest in the theater to other investors, and renovations were begun in August, 1902 at a reported cost of at least $15,000. Period newspapers claimed the newly refurbished theater had no equal in the great state of Missouri with the exception of perhaps the Willis Wood Theater in Kansas City.  Renovation work had taken three months to complete. Workers replaced stained and worn panels with new panels of empire red and ivory wainscoting trimmed with gold.  Gold and ivory were also used to dazzling effect throughout the interior in the ornamentation of the boxes, gallery and balcony fronts.

Interior illustration of Club Theater

An interior illustration of the Club Theater

For the wealthy, eight boxes were available as well as six loges. All were carpeted with plush red velvet.  The same lush carpeting extended to the gallery floor for the enjoyment of those of more modest means.  The stage was expanded to a size of forty-five by sixty-five feet, with an arch overhead complete with a sounding board painted a soft blue and decorated with white clouds and branching red roses.  The stage even had the capability to expand even greater to allow for the production of the most modern and elaborate plays or musicals.

Of the men in charge, only one was a local to Joplin, Don W. Stuart. Stuart had worked at the theater under its previous management.  The other three were essentially absentee owners, C.U. Philley from St. Joseph, L.M. Crawford of Topeka, Kansas, and F.C. Zehrung of Lincoln, Nebraska.  All three men were involved in the entertainment business.  For another six years, the New Club Theater was the premiere venue in Joplin, attracting operas, minstrel shows, and famous conductors as they swept across the nation entertaining Americans with the music of a new century.  In that time, the theater charged anywhere from ten to thirty cents for admission.

Sketches of the New Club Theater's managers

The New Club Theater's Managers: From Left to Right is C.U. Philley, L.M. Crawford, F.C. Zehrung, and Don W. Stuart

However, in 1908, the Shubert Theater opened several blocks away, and assumed the position as the premier theater of the city of Joplin.  All that was left to the New Club Theater was the low brow amusements of vaudeville and memories of the great operatic performers and productions.  An implicit indication of this loss of status was the absence of the New Club Theater in a promotional photo booklet put out by the city of Joplin in 1913, where as the theater had been included in a 1902 version of this booklet.

Ad for Commercial Club

By 1906, the Joplin Club had moved out of the premise and the Joplin Commercial Club placed an ad in the local paper describing its value and place in Joplin society. (For easier to read version just click on image).

Ten years  following the opening of the Shubert, in 1918, the theater portion of the building burned and was never replaced.  What remained of the New Club Theater continued on regardless, eventually being remodeled as an office building.  A fire struck again in 1939, but the building persevered, but ultimately was unable to escape a fiery fate when in 2003 a grease fire from a restaurant located within brought the once proud building down to ashes.  Today only a parking lot remains.

Sources: History of Jasper County by Joel Thomas Livingston, Missouri Digital Heritage, and the Joplin Daily Globe.