Sunday, May 15, 2011

Grande dame with a 1950s facelift

We talked a little about the oldest building still standing on Chariton’s square during Molly Myers Nauman’s recent walking tour --- and this so far as I know is it. But would you have even a hint of its age just driving by? Probably not.

Built about 1869-70 just north of the west-side alley, its façade was “modernized” during the 1950s --- much of the  cornice was removed, the two ground-level business fronts were treated to ersatz stonework and plate glass facelifts, the tops of its graceful upper-floor arched windows were blocked and replacement sashes installed (third-floor windows later were blinded) and brickwork facing the street was painted, perhaps to mask alterations to the masonry.

It must have seemed progressive at the time, but now looks dated --- even a little lopsided since the windows on the second floor do not match.

Here’s the way the building looked ca. 1873-74 in relation to the west side of the square at that time. This photo generally is dated 1871, but that’s a little early; the south edge of the Mallory Opera Block, commenced in 1872 and completed in 1873, is visible at the extreme right.

The brick building three storefronts to the left of the Penick building was earlier, housing First National Bank until its 1880s move to the Union Block, but it was replaced by the Richardson Romanesque Stanton building some time after 1906, so neatly matched to the 1901 double-front Ensley-Crocker building to the north that they seem to be of one piece.

The Penick building was constructed for the partnership Manning & Penick (Edwin Manning of Keosauqua and William C. Penick of Chariton), pioneer Chariton merchants. At the time this photo was taken, Manning & Penick occupied the south storefront and A.J. Coles Grocery and Queensware, the north storefront.

Signage indicates a printing operation and Dr. Brant’s Dental Rooms were among business and professional operations on the upper floors. There also were club rooms in this building and Chariton’s Masons met here from 1871 until the Union Block was completed on the square’s northwest corner in 1882.

Manning & Penick retired from the mercantile business in 1876, selling out to W.B. Thompson & Co., among many tenants thereafter of the south storefront. At about the same time, however, Manning & Penick acquired controlling interest in the Chariton Bank (later Chariton National Bank; not to be confused with First National Bank) and it was moved into the north storefront, becoming among the longest-term tenants of that part of the building.

The Penick building was the tallest on the square until the Union Block was built and because of its three-story height, solid construction and lack of openings in its north wall became something of a brick and mortar hero during the great fire of late January, 1904, that destroyed all the buildings north of it on the west side --- Lockwood Jewelry, Storie Drug and the Mallory Opera Block.

Had it not stood firm, firefighters said, the entire west side of the square easily could have been destroyed on that cold and windy winter night.

Here’s how the west side of the square looked during a community celebration of some sort during the summer of 1906. I know this was the summer of 1906 because the W.H. Smythe dry goods building at the west end of the north side, destroyed with five other north-side buildings by fire during late December, 1905, still is in ruins.

Note that by 1906, the void created north of the Penick building by the 1904 fire had already been filled by four new buildings (from the south), Lockwood, Storie, Oppenheimer and Hollinger & Larimer (now Chariton Vision Center). And the grand old Union Block, gone now, had pride of place on the northwest corner.

By 1906, there may have been slight alterations to the Penick building’s roof line. I think more brick had been added to the parapet and that the façade had been capped by a modest cast iron cornice, removed during the 1950s modernization. The postcard view makes it look as if the entire building had been painted and the window frames (flush brickwork with keystones in the arched caps) enhanced in a contrasting color. This may not have been the case, however, since this image was hand-colored and whoever did the coloring may simply have made a mistake. On the other hand, there really may have been an attempt to update the structure so that it blended with its newer and more modern neighbors.

Today, the building appears to be in an excellent state of repair. The quality of the brickwork, including that around window openings, is clearly visible along the alley. It may even be that the brackets supporting the second-floor landing of the exterior stair are original to the building.

One mildly surprising thing about the building is that although it is tall, it is not especially long. A newer one-story annex is attached to the back of the compact original structure, adding space that first-floor merchants would have needed.

It would be cool to have a gazillion dollars and use part of it to restore the simple original façade --- but I’m not complaining. At least the oldest building on the square is occupied and in good repair.

Buildings like Penick, Molly pointed out during the tour, often were cosmetic victims of their communities'  prosperity --- and the Chariton square once was a prosperous place. In less affluent county seats, building owners generally had just enough money for repairs but not enough for major alterations. Where more money was available, the temptation to modernize rarely was resisted at a time when 19th century building fronts were not appreciated.

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