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.

What the Train Brings In

Any town with a railroad was bound to have its share of characters. Joplin certainly had its share. In 1897, Arthur Harrold, an eighteen year old tramp, arrived in town with a curious collection of artifacts. Harrold told a Globe reporter that he hailed from New York City and had left the Big Apple eight years and ten months earlier to see the country. With him he carried a sack full of relics that rivaled the collection of the Smithsonian: fragments of rope used to hang Cherokee Bill; a petrified potato; spectacles given to him by the first settler of Texas; the bullet that killed General James McPherson; cartridges owned by Cherokee Bill and one of the Dalton boys; saws used by Noble Shepherd when he cut his way out of the St. Louis city jail; and letters from officials from all over the country certifying his presence in their cities.

Harrold’s journey was sparked by a wager that he could not travel 65,000 miles in a ten year period and save up $6,000. At the time of his arrival in Joplin, he had reportedly saved $5,382 that was deposited in a New York bank. As part of the wager, he was not allowed to beg, steal, or borrow on his journey. Should he fulfill his mission, Harrold was to receive $5,000 from the Police Gazette magazine plus $5,000 from New York World and Associated Press.

At around the same time, another character drifted into Joplin, but not one that the police wanted to see. “Kansas City Jack” was described as a “bum” who was not “meek.” Upon arriving in Joplin, Jack immediately raised a disturbance at one of the train depots. Officer Jack Winters was called and quickly collared Kansas City Jack. But the bum was not one to go quietly as it was a “continual fight all the way from the depot to the station house.” In the course of their journey, the officer knocked Jack down “about twenty times and was about tuckered out when he reached the jail.” His neat, clean police uniform was reduced to shreds as the officer arrived at the police station wearing “only a pair of shoes and a tired looking countenance.” This, according to the Globe, was “the sort of struggle every officer is reported to have who arrests Kansas City Jack.”

After he was processed and released, Jack did not stay out of trouble. At two o’clock in the afternoon, Deputy Marshal Fones discovered some bums were passing liquor through the jail window to prisoners inside the jail. Upon going outside, Fones found that Kansas City Jack was one of the main culprits. After a struggle, and Deputy Marshal Fone’s pants being destroyed in the process, Jack was back in jail.

If Fones expected the rest of the day to go smoothly, he was wrong. At five o’clock that afternoon, while Fones was talking to a friend on Main Street between Second and Third streets, a little boy named Ira Chubb ran up and told him that prisoners were escaping from the city jail. Fones, together with Officer Winters and Deputy Constable Hopkins, took off in hot pursuit. Their chase was made all the easier by a group of young boys who were following the escapees. The prisoners were captured at Third and Byers. Upon inspecting the jail, it was discovered that one of the prisoners was a “mechanical genius” who had managed to unlock the jail door using only a simple wire.

There was never a dull moment in early Joplin!

Joplin Union Depot Franchise

Earlier this week, we brought you the heated debate that surrounded the passage of the Union Depot franchise, also known as the Scullin franchise.   For those of you who’d like to see the elephant, rather than hear about its parts, we now provide you scans of the original franchise.   Click on the images to be taken to a flickr page where you can read them far more comfortably! [Then click "back" on your browser to return here.]  Thank you to those who helped us in getting a copy!

Page 1

Page Two

Page 3 - contains the perpetuity clause, the 2 year construction clause, and the controversial facilities clause.

Page 4

Page 5

Page 6 - concerns the demand that the Depot company help with 1/3 the cost of constructing viaducts

Page 7 - Note Mayor Jesse Osborne's signature

Source: City of Joplin City Archives

Joplin Union Depot Today

While Historic Joplin is currently at work on a post about the Union Depot’s history, we took the opportunity to visit the beautiful building last week.  Below are some photographs (but not all) of the building designed by Louis Curtiss, an architect of Kansas City.  There would be no folly greater than to allow this treasure to be loss for lack of a will to take action to restore it.

Joplin Union Depot

Joplin Union Depot East Facade

Joplin Union Depot East Facade

Joplin Union Depot

East Awning

Joplin Union Depot

Joplin Union Depot

Grass, Stucco, and Metal

Joplin Union Depot

Fence, Sky, Green, and East Facade Detail

Joplin Union Depot

Joplin Union Depot West Facade

Joplin Union Depot West Facade

Joplin Union Depot Interior

Joplin Union Depot Interior

Joplin Union Depot South Facade

Joplin Union Depot South Facade

For more photographs, see this Flickr set.

Rochester Kate

train tracks in Joplin

In the winter of 1907, Joplin received a visit from “Rochester Kate” a female hobo who ran away from home sometime in the late 1880s at the tender age of twelve. She claimed to have visited “in every state and territory in the union and made two trips through Europe, paying her way in the steerage once and hiding in the hold the second time.” According to Kate, her fare “across the Atlantic in the steerage was the only money she ever paid for transportation in her life.”

The world traveler, who was in her early thirties, arrived in Joplin via a car on the Kansas City Southern freight train. As the train passed the Frisco crossing she jumped off and walked into Joplin through the Frisco yards. She must have been an object of curiosity as the Globe noted she “despises dresses and wears a pair of corduroy trousers.” When interviewed by a Globe reporter, she was wearing a “very heavy sweater of good quality” and a coat. The only giveaway as to her gender was her long hair of which she was “very proud.”

Rochester Kate told the reporter, “I’ve been moochin’ since I was a kid. One day I got mad at Ma and got on a freight that was standing on a side track back of our shack. We hadn’t gone far when the brakey [hobo slang for brakeman] spotted me and put me off at the next stop. A guy let me ride on a wagon with him back home and I got a beating.”

But wanderlust was in Kate’s blood and she soon took to the rails again. She remembered, “I kept running off after that and when I was about 15, I guess, I lined out one day and didn’t come back. I couldn’t stand staying around a place very long after I lined out the first time. I mooched up to Buffalo and got a job in a factory and saved up a little and mooched it to Chicago on the blind most of the way, and I been a going since.”

The reporter observed, “Aside from the professional slang words picked up on the road, Rochester Kate does not use the rough language that would be expected from such a life, nor is her appearance as rough as would be thought.”

Kate would not tell the reporter how long she planned to stay in Joplin or where she was headed next, saying that “she did not care to have the police know too much about her movements, as she had spent too many days in jail for vagrancy.”

Source: Joplin Globe, 1907

No Rest for the Weary Willie

Today many Americans, unless they live in an urban metropolitan center, have little interaction with the country’s rail system.  Once in a while, one might find themselves stopped at a railroad crossing watching a train roll past, but gone are the days when the train would stop at the town depot to take on coal, passengers, mail, and freight before heading to its next destination.  Peruse an old Joplin newspaper and ads from the St.  Louis and San Francisco “Frisco” Railway touting summer excursions to Eureka Springs, St.  Louis, and Chicago spring from the pages.  Joplin was fortunate that it not only had an extensive interurban trolley system, but was home to a handful of rail lines that carried lead and zinc to industrial centers in the east.

With the trains came hoboes and tramps.  Just a few years after the turn of the century, the Joplin Daily Globe reported that local train crews were having problems with hoboes.  “According to trainmen,” the Globe recounted, “they are having more trouble with tramps this winter than for a great many years.  They are of the worst class and are exceedingly dangerous customers.  They are traveling around stealing rides when they can and endeavoring to find the most favorable places for looting stores or cracking safes.”

The trainmen claimed that the “harmless hoboes who would go out of their way rather than harm a human being are very much in the minority.” Instead, many trainmen told the Globe reporter that they had engaged in “hand to hand fights in an effort to rid the train of them.” Many of the fights broke out during the night when hoboes boldly roamed the rail yards in groups of four to six men.

Later that year, the Globe reported that the, “rail road yards have been especially infested with the merry willies of late.” Nels Milligan, a Joplin police officer detailed to keep an eye on the hoboes told a Globe reporter, “All up along the Kansas City Southern embankment from Broadway to Turkey Creek, you could see the bums lying stretched out in the warm afternoon air sunning themselves like alligators or mud turtles on a chilly afternoon, and here and there was a camp.”  According to Milligan, a hobo’s camp consisted of a “small fire that you could spit on and put out, between two or three blackened rocks, and a blackened old tin can, and an improvised pan or skillet made out of another tin can melted apart and flattened out.”

Hobo getting a free meal

Sometimes a hobo succeeded in getting a free meal.

The officer admitted there were too many hoboes and not enough room in the jail to house them.  He worried they would be “working the residence district for grub, hand-outs, punk, pie, panhandle, pellets, and any old thing they can get together.” Once they had food, Milligan claimed, the hoboes would “feed and gorge and lie around there like fat bears dormant in the winter time” until a bout of bad weather would send them on their way.

Five years later, the Joplin News Herald interviewed a railroad employee about the tramps who traveled through Joplin.  Watching a couple of hoboes jump off of a freight train in the Joplin rail yards, the railroad employee remarked, “See those fellows getting off up there? Now there is no telling where they got on, nor where they rode.” He shook his head.  “There’s another thing connected with this hauling of tramps.  Some of the most notorious criminals of the country have occupied places on the train and eluded the crew for hundreds of miles.”  According to the man, rail workers made every effort to assist law enforcement officers in locating wanted criminals who might be catching a ride on the trains.

Joplin was still struggling with hoboes eleven years later when Chief of Police Joseph Myers directed his officers to sweep the town for any weary willies.  Six men were arrested on charges of vagrancy, jailed, and then told to move on.  But as long as there were trains rolling into Joplin, there were always tramps and hoboes to contend with.

Hobos kicked out of Joplin

Joplin Police kicking out bums and hobos

Hoboes were sometimes looked at in a humorous light.  A hobo celebration was held at the “hobo cave one mile and a half north of the union depot in the hills of Turkey Creek.  Twenty of the Ancient Sons of Leisure gathered there in the cool cave.” One of the hoboes stood up to deliver an impromptu address about the significance of the Fourth of July and said, “Fellow brothers, you all realize what this day means.  It was on this day in 1776 that George Washington crossed the Delaware, whipped fifty thousand Redcoats and whacked out the Declaration of Independence.  Since that time we have been independent.  We do not have to work.  I now propose a committee of three raid a [chicken] coop so we can have an elaborate dinner as befitting Washington’s birthday.”

By 1918, the day of the hobo in Joplin had begun to wane.  Despite Joplin remaining an “oasis  in the great American desert created by prohibition” it was no longer “possible for police to spread a drag net in the railroad yards and gather in anywhere from a dozen to fifty ‘Knights of the Open Road.’”
Tim Graney, a former Joplin police officer and station master at Union Depot, declared he had not seen more than half a dozen hoboes in the last year and not one in the past six months.  The camps where the tramps and hoboes once gathered were empty.  The Globe, unable to explain their absence, mused, “Maybe they have all gone to work…At any rate, they’re gone! The genus Hobo is no more!”

Sources: Joplin Globe, Joplin News Herald