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Historical houses offer glimpse of Columbia's past

Application for historic register details character of Old Southwest homes
Wednesday, January 13, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:53 a.m. CST, Wednesday, January 13, 2010
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A portion of West Broadway applied to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The houses of this district exemplify important architectural styles common in America at the turn of the 20th century. Each of the homes in the district were built between 1902 and 1953.

COLUMBIA — West Broadway resident Robert Tucker understands that owning a historical home is about more than location, floor plans and square footage. It’s a way of life.

“I like how it smells, the creaks in the floors. I like thinking about the people that were here,” he said.

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Tucker and his wife, Deborah Tucker, have invested much of their time and money to restore the house at 716 W. Broadway to its former grandeur.

“For some people this isn’t a fun thing for them. They buy an old house and just see work,” Tucker said. “It’s definitely a lifestyle.”

But the Tuckers’ home, which they also operate as a bed-and-breakfast, is not the only notable property in the neighborhood. West Broadway is a street defined by historical homes that have overlooked the busy avenue for decades, and in some cases for more than a century.

In recognition of the neighborhood’s importance in Columbia’s civic development and its historical architecture, local historian Debbie Sheals developed an application to have a section of West Broadway placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The listing would not affect the city's effort to widen West Broadway unless federal funds were used to complete the project.

The historical district would include the properties along West Broadway between the 300 block on the east and West Boulevard on the west. The Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation plans to discuss the nomination at its meeting at 9 a.m. on Feb. 19.

The story of West Broadway in many ways is the story of Columbia. As the city expanded from its population of just more than 5,500 in 1900 to its more than 100,000 residents today, the West Broadway district has mirrored the prosperity of growth.

Near the downtown hub of Columbia, the quality and location of the neighborhood has made it a desirable locale since its development. Drawing prominent local business owners and families, for more than a century the district has maintained its original purpose as a residential neighborhood.

“It’s always been a nice, clean, well-kept neighborhood,” Tucker said. “You hear everyone talk about, ‘I want a house in the Old Southwest.’ ”

Sheals has been a West Broadway homeowner for more than 20 years. Her house at 406 W. Broadway is particularly convenient, because like many of her neighbors, she works downtown.

“We’ve got it all: lovely settings, minutes from downtown, great houses,” Sheals said.

Of the houses that contribute to the historical district listing, the first was built around 1902 and the last in 1953. The buildings and the development of West Broadway showcase Columbia and America’s history. Whether it's the fine detail and luxury of the late Victorian style or the stripped down practicality of the craftsman bungalow, every contributing building in the district is a well-maintained example of the trends and variation in American architecture.

“The houses are very reflective of that evolution,” Sheals said. “Just about all major architectural-style types that were in vogue at the beginning of the century are reflected here.”

A dedicated population of loyal homeowners has helped this neighborhood survive as a solely residential neighborhood.

“It’s one of the last residential gateways; often historic areas get swallowed by commercial development,” Sheals said, adding that many West Broadway houses have had only two or three owners.

That’s astonishing, considering how much change has come to Columbia through the years.

Development of West Broadway

The register application details just how far this neighborhood has come.

What is now the busy thoroughfare of Broadway began as a gravel toll road stretching from the western city limits to the Missouri River port of Rocheport. The first development didn’t take place until 1899, when Jefferson Garth transformed farmland along the road into a new neighborhood. Garth divided his father’s former estate into three-acre house lots, which included all properties on the north side of the West Broadway district.

After Garth, local developer and judge John A. Stewart created the subdivisions of Westwood in 1905 and Park Hill in 1922. These two additions included all the properties on the south side of the Broadway district.

Stewart was a key figure in determining the character of the neighborhood and was a formidable figure in his own right. At the time, he was the youngest man to be elected to the county bench, and a 1916 University Missourian cartoon described him as “The power that moves Columbia.”

“He was quite a visionary, and he was a very shrewd businessman,” Sheals said.

He owned at least 49 of the 58 plots within the district boundaries and added building restrictions that defined the character of the properties along West Broadway.

A major asset of the homes on West Broadway is the comfortable distance between them and the street. The large lots allow for a setback of more than 100 feet in some cases.

Stewart influenced this trend as early as 1908. When he sold his property on the north side of the street, he included the requirement “that no dwelling shall be erected on lot number 19, the main front of which shall be nearer the street known as Broadway, than the residence now occupied and owned by G. L. Williamson.”

That house still stands today. Built around 1902, the house at 917 W. Broadway was originally listed in the city directory as “W. Broadway at limits.” Set about 100 feet back from the street, the house was at the very edge of the city limits and was built for local businessman Daniel Hulett and his wife.

Hulett owned a transfer and livery company downtown and sold the house to Williamson around 1907.

Stacia Reilly, who works for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, is an eight-year resident of 504 W. Broadway. She and her husband, Michael Reilly, found the generous property size to be a major selling point.

"The fact that we were able to get such a large lot in the middle of town was definitely a benefit," Reilly said.

Stewart’s Westwood Addition placed even more clearly defined restrictions on how the houses were to be developed. They were required to be at least 80 feet from the street, 15 feet from other houses and to have the front wall parallel to the front line of the lot. Moreover, houses had to be at least two stories with service areas located in the rear, and they had to cost no less than $2,000.

A 1911 advertisement in the University Missourian for the Westwood housing development highlighted many of the features that still draw families to the West Broadway neighborhood:

“Buy a lot now — today; build a real home in the finest residence district in Central Missouri — Westwood … Consider the exclusive and beautiful sites … The high building restrictions assures you homes of uniform construction and good neighborhood."

The Westwood development, which encompassed most of the southern side of the district, experienced rapid development in the early 20th century.

A 1910 newspaper article in the University Missourian mentions the growth of Westwood.

“During the last several years, scores of beautiful homes — some of them almost palatial — have been built out in this section,” the article says.

The houses of West Broadway

One of those homes is the Payne House at 504 W. Broadway. Significant for its late Victorian styling, a picture of the home was included in the Westwood ad. Exemplifying the qualities Stewart sought to emphasize in the neighborhood, the house is deeply set back from the street on a large lot.

Victorian houses often feature ornate decorative elements and an irregularity to the composition of the home. Some of these elements can be found in the Payne House. It has a steeply pitched roof and stained-glass windows on the second floor. It has an outward symmetry from the street, but elements such as the pitch of the roof determines the shape of the inner rooms.

"My husband and I like older homes and the character they have as opposed to newer homes," Reilly said. "The different characteristics throughout the house make it neat."

The Tuckers’ home at 716 W. Broadway, also known as the John and Elizabeth Taylor House, is one of the grandest examples in the neighborhood. Built in the colonial revival style, the house already is listed individually on the National Historic Register. John Taylor, who built the house around 1909, owned a music shop, a garage and a car dealership downtown.

Colonial revival architecture was known for simple, boxy shapes and symmetry. In contrast to Victorian houses, the floor plan is consistently rectilinear throughout the house. The Tuckers bought the house in 1999, and it has been painstakingly restored.

“Our reason for purchasing the house was to save it,” Tucker said.

Built to accommodate Taylor, his wife and their seven children, it has room to spare. Tucker and his wife, who live on the third floor with their two children, decided to operate the home as a bed-and-breakfast so that it could regain some of the vivacity it carried when a large family lived there.

“It thrives on it; it needs that energy,” Tucker said.

It has been hard work, but a labor of love for Tucker. After Taylor died, the house passed on to his daughter, Eleanor, who partitioned the house into three apartments. Tucker has removed all the unoriginal work and restored the home to the original floor plan.

With colonial revival, the form and dimensions of the home often were the first elements considered, and the floor plan revolves around the structure. The front of the house has two separate sitting rooms on either side of the two load-bearing walls that divide the house through all three floors. Bedrooms dominate the second floor, branching off of the main hallway.

"I like how simple everything is," Tucker said. "It's simple yet purposeful."

The woodwork has been stripped of the paint from the 1930s. The stone front porch still features the original limestone quarried from Hinkson Creek and the light fixtures originally selected for the house. The floors are delicately refinished to preserve the quarter-inch thick original oak. One can survey Broadway through the same glass that the home builder did. Even the boiler gauge is original.

The Taylor home highlights the luxury of the era, but home building in the district would start to change. Richly appointed homes were the norm through 1920 with a total of 20 of the houses in the district being built. But in the 1920s, Stewart eased the stringent building restrictions.

Stewart developed a new subdivision called Park Hill in 1922. It included five lots in the 300 block of West Broadway that did not conform to the same guidelines as earlier homes. All the houses are one-story, and they sit only about 50 feet from the street.

Toward West Boulevard, Stewart also divided several large lots to make room for smaller homes, many of which are craftsman-style homes. This type of architecture emphasizes simplicity and includes architecturally clean lines characterized by large, open front porches with wide supports and wide roof overhangs.

Sheals' house features the heavy original door and large windows with thick wooden sashes typical of the style and complete with original hardware.

“You just can’t beat the craftsmanship,” Sheals said. “It’s difficult to build houses like they used to.”

The home features a modern, open floor plan. The house is more connected and integrated than earlier homes, with the living and dining rooms and the kitchen flowing into one another. A central staircase runs through the middle of the home, connecting the bedrooms.

"I really love the simplicity and clean lines," Sheals said. "It's open — not really a big house, but the rooms flow together well."

Among the new wave of homes was a bungalow at 901 W. Broadway built by local florist H.R. Mueller. Bungalows are smaller, compact houses that usually have a single story. The central location of the neighborhood was perfect for Mueller, who owned a floral shop downtown and a large greenhouse at Ash Street and West Boulevard.

Of the houses in the district, more than half have some elements of craftsman styling, and more than 20 are bungalows. But the new houses going up along the street during the time period were not limited to bungalows, or small homes in general.

Many of the new homes were still built on large lots with more than ample distance to the curb, similar to development in the earlier decade. For example, the craftsman-style house at 610 W. Broadway was built in 1925 and has one of the largest lots on the street. Along with 604, the houses occupy an entire block.

Through the 1930s, more homes continued to go up along the street; 50 of the 57 houses included in the historical district application were built by 1940. By 1953, a final ranch-style home adding to the historical value of the neighborhood was built on West Broadway.

“The joy of historic neighborhoods is even when the houses were built over the years, they have developed their own personalities,” Sheals said.

Since then a few newer buildings have been erected along this stretch of street, including a church in the 1970s that later would become Columbia Montessori School.

The newer construction has been completed with the surrounding houses in mind. The application maintains that the street still possesses a continuity that lets the historical spirit of the neighborhood shine through.

That historical character and the many benefits of the Old Southwest spark a loyalty and dedication in its residents.

“I think the most common trait is we all stay here,” Sheals said. “People live here a long time.”

The benefits of living on West Broadway extend beyond the location, the schools and the unique houses. The district also offers residents a chance to add their own chapters to the ongoing story of the neighborhood’s history.

“Yes we own it, but we all pass away, and it goes to someone else,” Tucker said. “I think we’re more the stewards of it."


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