For almost 40 years, a significant portion of downtown Columbia’s history was hidden behind the “Missouri monorail,” the concrete canopy built on Broadway in 1968. The canopy, which was erected to follow a trend, met its demise in the face of new trends last summer, when Broadway property owners pooled their money to dismantle the obtrusive structure and resurrect Columbia’s architectural legacy.
Shedding the canopy was a decisive step in gaining designation as a “historic district” and reconnecting Columbia’s architectural past. The Special Business District crossed that threshold in November when the National Park Service decided to list 28 acres of downtown on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sixty-two structures built between 1836 and 1956 qualified as historical in addition to 21 structures that already had the designation. The designations opened the door for tax incentives designed to encourage restoration projects as well as the promise of higher property values and a potential boost in tourism.
Before qualifying as a “historic district,” Columbia faced an important — if unofficial — prerequisite: The canopy had to go.
Tiffany Patterson, the National Register coordinator for Missouri, said her office wouldn’t have approved the nomination otherwise. “We felt the canopy really took away from the historic sense of character,” she said.
The business district tapped historical preservation consultant Deb Sheals of Columbia to detail the architectural characteristics, history and state of each of the 83 historical structures — 82 buildings and the columns at Eighth and Walnut streets that were part of the 1847 Boone County Courthouse.
In the nomination for historical status, Sheals emphasized the need to remove the canopy that had compromised the “visual integrity” of historical buildings and fragmented storefronts by physically separating the ground level from upper floors.
While the attention to historical architecture will bring renewed focus to the past, the overall effort is seen by some as the key to reshaping the future of downtown.
Carrie Gartner, director of the Special Business District, said the historical designation highlights downtown’s unique architecture and speaks to the history of Columbia.
“The stores are different here, and if you have unique older buildings with interesting architecture, I think they tend to attract those independent, funky businesses,” she said. “Of course, we cultivate that.”
For the past several years, however, the Special Business District has been working to endow downtown Columbia with an identifiable sense of character that capitalizes on the older buildings already there.
Columbia isn’t the only city to create the look and feel of a smaller, pedestrian-friendly village. The change is part of the larger “new urbanism” movement, which is characterized by mixed-use development that encourages living, working and playing in the same area to conserve energy and bring communities closer together. The trend is a major change in urban development theory from the period when Columbia’s concrete canopy was put up in the 1960s. The canopy — which cost $175,000 then or $1,013,290 in 2006 dollars, and cost $133,800 to be removed last year — was intended to create consistency, streamline the appearance of downtown and create an uncluttered commercial space.
“I guess we have the original lifestyle center,” said John Ott, a downtown business owner who serves as chairman of the Special Business District’s board. “We just had to peel off some concrete pieces to express it.”
Arnie Fagan, owner of Cool Stuff at 808 E. Broadway, believes the revitalization efforts are encouraging people to move downtown.
“They’re going to build more and more structures to house people,” he said, “and once we get more of a critical mass of people living down here, it’s just going to continue to grow.”
Fagan believes that as downtown becomes increasingly populated, chain stores will be increasingly drawn to open alongside the specialty retailers that make downtown “the heart of the city.” While national restaurant chains such as Subway and Quizno’s aren’t new, he said, the introduction of retail chains would be.
“At a certain point, some larger retailers — specifically national chains — are going to be very interested in downtown,” Fagan said.
Architect Stephen Bourgeois, who was hired by the Special Business District to draw before-and-after-the-canopy renderings of Broadway, also believes downtown’s growth is encouraged by the residents who live there. “The residential really helps because you have permanent occupants of a downtown, and that garners restaurants and clubs that cater to those people,” he said.
bal•us•trade — a row of vase-shaped supports topped by a rail; a low parapet or barrier.
bas-re•lief — sculpture that is slightly raised from the surrounding surface.
cor•nice — architectural composition that crowns a wall.
fa•cade — the front of a building.
frieze — a sculptured or richly ornamented band.
ga•ble — the vertical triangular end of a building from cornice or eaves to ridge; where the triangular top of a wall meets the roof.
or•na•men•ta•tion — an embellishment.
para•pet — a low wall or railing to protect the edge of a platform, roof or bridge.
pa•vil•ion — part of a building projecting from the rest.
pi•las•ter — structurally a pier but architecturally treated as a column; usually projects from the wall.
por•tico — a type of porch.
ter•ra cot•ta — a glazed or unglazed fired clay used especially for statuettes and architectural purposes.
Source: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition
Downtown Columbia experienced two major periods of architectural development: late Victorian and Classical revival. The Victorian style in the late 1800s is marked by a vertical emphasis; tall, narrow, often arched windows; bracketed cornices and applied ornamentation. Around the turn of the century, a more subdued and straight-forward influence predominated with a return nationwide to the cleaner lines of the classical era. The resulting classical revival styling is characterized by flatter, wider facades, boxier and simpler windows and the use of classical elements such as pilasters and columns, creating a more restrained appearance.
The Howard Municipal Building at 600 E. Broadway built in 1932 is one of the city’s best examples of beaux-arts style, Sheals said. Designed by Edmund Eckle, who studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the building has a flat roof, high foundation, wide-fronted terrace with a stone balustrade, smooth limestone pilasters, a tall stone frieze and tall arched panels inset with bas-relief ornamentation above the ground-floor windows.
Among Sheals’ favorite downtown streetscapes is three buildings on East Broadway that exemplify three of the historical area’s architectural styles:
- The Victorian style of Tucker’s Fine Jewelry at 823 E. Broadway, built in the 1880s;
- The beaux-arts style reflected by Binghams Traditional Clothing in the Victor Barth Building at 827 E. Broadway, built around 1909;
- The classical revival style of the Haden Building, circa 1921, that houses Commerce Bank at 901 E. Broadway.
The Barth Building is the oldest downtown building to use terra cotta, a fired clay. This styling is visible in the trim on the Barth Building’s three large second-floor windows. The Haden Building is the largest intact building in the district that reflects classical revival architecture.
“Those three are a nice little time capsule of what was going on on Broadway,” Sheals said.
Other architectural styles are also evident. The Parson Sisters’ Beauty Parlor, constructed in 1927 and now home to India’s Rasoi restaurant at 1101 E. Broadway, is an example of Tudor revival residential-type styling. The building features a slate roof, brown brick walls, a steep front-cross gable with patterned brickwork, wooden false timbering and a sloped wooden awning. The Coca-Cola Building at 10 N. Hitt St., built in 1935, features similar gabled and brick elements typical of the colonial revival style.
A less common style in the district is art deco, which is characterized by a vertical emphasis, vibrant colors, clearly defined outlines and geometric ornamentation. A limited amount of art deco can be found among some of downtown’s 1930s architecture. The building at 22 S. Ninth St., which houses Natural Groove, was originally built in the 1890s, but it has a facade featuring terra-cotta and a stylized plant motif that dates to the 1936 opening of the Novus Shop in the same location.
The character of downtown continues to develop and change, Sheals said, and that’s what gives it its varied, eclectic character.
“We’re not stuck in a time warp,” she said. “It’s not like downtown has looked the same since 1880; it’s been changing every day.”