2014 August

The Case of the Copper Cornice

Jopliners are no doubt familiar with the history of the Connor Hotel. Perhaps a presently lesser-known history is that of how the hotel’s national historical distinction was supposedly removed. According to accounts archived, a Memorandum of Agreement was drawn to essentially replace the Connor Hotel’s listing in the National Register with that of the Joplin Carnegie Library. 

Naturally, stipulations abounded. The first of which was that the Carnegie building had to in fact be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The second stipulation was that the Missouri State Historic Preservation Officer be given an opportunity to solicit workable plans for re-use of the Connor Hotel. The third stipulation was that “If no feasible re-use plans are submitted, the site of the Joplin Connor Hotel, and adjacent parcels, will be cleared for the purpose of constructing a new Joplin Public Library.” Included in the third stipulation was that the City of Joplin salvage and preserve certain architectural details of the Connor Hotel. The fourth and fifth stipulations stated that the items salvaged and preserved be incorporated into the interior, exterior or landscaping of the new public library or “other use that will benefit the citizens of Joplin and serve as a reminder of the Joplin Connor Hotel.” The sixth stipulation was that within thirty days of the Connor’s demolition, the appropriate parties take the action and notify the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places and request the Connor Hotel’s removal from the register. This memorandum was signed in December of 1977.

As one who looks at the Northwest corner of Joplin’s 4th & Main Streets can see, all of the memorandum’s stipulations were met. Well, sort of. Listed among the items to be salvaged and preserved were the wall murals from the hotel’s lobby; the lion-face keystone; the caryatids; the frieze panels from the east and south elevations of the hotel; segments of the lobby’s marble balustrade; segments of the copper roof balustrade and four copper brackets from the hotel’s cornice. Although the Connor was demolished in 1978, these architectural details (sans the murals and marble balustrade segments) were lying in an open field northwest of the airport building as late as 1983, as evident in the following Polaroids taken that same year:

Eventually, the two decorative frieze panels and the two caryatids made their way to the Joplin Public Library and the lion-face keystone to Missouri Southern State University, as stipulated by the memorandum. Also, the hotel’s murals were installed in the then-new public library’s small meeting room, which is visible from the building’s west entrance. It’s unclear, however, what became of the marble and copper balustrade segments, as well as the four copper cornices. Perhaps they lie still, in some field. Just as the Joplin Connor Hotel listing lies still, in the field of the National Register of Historic Places, though thirty days have long since passed. (http://www.dnr.mo.gov/shpo/jasper.htm) 

…On a lighter note, the following photograph of the Connor’s exterior is tucked among the archives:

The Robertson Apartments

Robertson Postcard    

In her glory days, the Robertson Apartments were state-of-the-art dwellings, where Joplin’s more prestigious residents had access to such amenities as a direct telephone system, a safe (which remains intact in the lobby), gas stoves and the day’s finest boiler heating system. Individual apartments keep the original layout, including built-ins, such as Murphy beds and dressers, as well as a full-bath, a small dressing room and a small kitchen. Those residing just behind the building’s facade also have elegant French doors that open onto private balconies. Or so they did. Presently, the Robertson is a hodgepodge of quick “fixes” and broken windows. She sits wide-open and empty, save for the trash strewn about her corridors and rooms.

A few weeks ago, a couple of friends and I decided to take a tour of the building. Visitors are warned as follows:


Upon entering, we discovered that it looks as though the building was suddenly abandoned. Left behind are belongings of all sorts: books, clothes, coolers, food, furniture, shoes, televisions and so on. At best, the apartments now look something like this:


Further exploration revealed that all of the door knobs have been taken off of the doors; the sinks and commodes are detached and dismantled; and appliances, such as refrigerators, stand with their doors open, some still containing food. Painted on one of the first-floor apartment doors is a warning to stay out or get shot. Heading West down the first floor’s main hall, we took note of a foul smell, presumably emanating from the cut-outs near the floor, which likely lead to the basement. We decided to venture neither downstairs nor upstairs.

Like many of Joplin’s historical buildings, the Robertson Apartments are falling into disrepair. This doesn’t have to be yet another sad story–the building is for sale. Only time will tell of her fate: disrepair/demolish or rescue/restore? No doubt Riley Robertson would lobby for the latter.

Riley Robertson 001