Friday, September 02, 2016

The Matson-Stanton-Johansen building's 150 years

The west-side Stanton Building, now home to Johansen Plumbing & Heating, has stories to tell that date back to post-Civil War days. But you'd probably not guess that while admiring its gloriously restrained, now restored, stone Richardson Romanesque facade. That facade was added 50 years after the structure behind it was built, designed to blend harmoniously with the 1901 Ensley-Crocker Block just to the north.

Although work on the building was extensive during Chariton's Facade Improvement Program, now nearing completion, the changes of the past year appear subtle, and this lucky building had settled back gracefully to the way it looked when Dr. Theodore P. Stanton added the stone facade --- and his name --- during 1915 to what had started life as the Matson Building back in 1867.

This is how the building looked during 2011 before restoration began. For a number of years, before True Value Hardware moved to its new building just off the square, the Stanton Building had been one of three buildings that housed that business, as well as Johansen Plumbing & Heating. As a result, the upper street-level facades of all three buildings had been boarded to allow signage that united the buildings.

The first step in restoring the facade was to remove for rebuilding the three second-floor windows that lighted medical offices in 1915, then a dental and other offices and finally apartments. While that operation was in progress, the window openings were temporarily blinded with plywood.

After that, the signage boarding that covered the Luxfer prism glass in the street level transom was removed, as was the glass itself which was taken away for restoration.

Finally, the street-level configuration of windows and doors dating from the latter half of the 20th century was removed, a basement entrance that once led to a beauty shop removed and the facade returned to a classic simplicity in the spirit of the original.

The prism glass has a story of its own to tell. This sort of glass was installed in many storefronts around the square in the days before fluorescent lighting to capture natural light and reflect it far back into the business rooms.

The legendary Frank Lloyd Wright designed and patented 41 versons of these glass "blocks" in 1895, but only one design was manufactured and distributed by the Luxfer Prism Co. And Wright's design, in this case with a purple tint, was installed in the transom of the Stanton Building.

To reinforce a point, perhaps, the small bronze triangular trademark of the Luxfer Prism Co. was embedded in the sidewalk in front of the Stanton Building where it still may be seen today.


The first known structure on the site of the Stanton/Johansen building was a wood frame structure owned by T.A. Matson that housed his harness and saddle business, probably constructed during the 1850s. During February of 1867, a fire started in the Matson building that went on to destroy all six buildings then standing on the south half of the west side of the square. Matson’s loss was estimated at $8,000, $5,000 of it insured (No Chariton newspapers exist for this early date, but the fire was reported upon in The Burlington Daily Hawkeye of Feb. 21, 1867, giving The Chariton Patriot as the source.)

Matson began almost immediately after the fire to construct a two-story brick building, the second brick building on the square (the east-side O.A. Palmer Building, now housing a pet shop, was the first). The Chariton Democrat reported on Jan. 2, 1868, that Matson was “comfortably fixed up in his new brick building on the west side.” This building forms the core of what now is known as the Stanton or Johansen Building.

When the following photo was taken during 1869, Matson was operating his harness business upstairs and Col. Charles W. Kittredge was operating a general merchandise store downstairs.

During December of 1869, the Matson building was sold to the banking house of Lyman Cook & Co., based in Burlington, and they “fitted up the first floor for the banking business” and moved in during February of 1870, according to The Chariton Democrat of Feb. 8, 1870. Later in 1870, Lyman Cook & Co. merged with the newly formed First National Bank, headed by Smith H. Mallory, with Edward Ames Temple (later founder of what now is the Principal Financial Group) as cashier. The deal included the building, which remained bank headquarters until 1882.

During 1881, construction began on the northwest corner of the square of the Union Block, a joint project of Chariton’s Masonic and I.O.O.F. lodges with various partners, including First National Bank. Upon completion of that building, First National moved from the Matson building to corner rooms the new Union Block during February of 1882. The photo below, which dates from the early to mid 1870s shows the Matson/First National brick building, virtually unchanged, at left, with the newer three-story Manning & Penick Building, which also housed a bank, in the foreground. 

Also during 1882, the old Matson/First National building became something of a hero when its solid brick walls stopped the progress of another disastrous west-side fire that destroyed all of the buildings to its south. All of the brick buildings that now stand south of the Johansen building --- H.H. Day’s corner “Good Luck” building and the double-front Day-Mooney and Exchange blocks --- were built in the aftermath of that fire. Two frame buildings north of the Matson/First National building survived because of the protection it afforded.

Even though the bank no longer occupied the old brick building, it continued to own it. Rental property on the town square was considered to be an excellent investment. A variety of commercial tenants occupied the first floor, most notably John E. Brown, tenant for 20 years from roughly 1884 to 1904 in various business incarnations, including the Brown & Butcher shoe shop.

Here, clearly visible in the background, is how the Matson/First National Building looked during 1903, when paving of the square commenced. You can see the new 1901 Ensley-Crocker Block immediately to its north.

The Matson/First National Building still was in bank hands during 1907, when bank cashier Frank Crocker bankrupted that instiution. It was among the assets of the bank sold by the federal receiver in an effort to recover depositor funds. If Dr. Theodore P. Stanton didn't buy it then, he did soon thereafter.

During 1915, Dr. Stanton undertook a major renovation of the old building, completed during November. The stone Richardson Romanesque facade was added. This new facade was in perfect harmony with and of the same stone as the 1901 Ensley-Crocker block to its north, both reflecting in style in the 1894 stone courthouse due east across Main Street.

 A 40-foot extension was added to the rear of the structure when the business room was remodeled to house the music store of Combs and Clouse. One of the new rooms housed Victrola products; the other, Edison. Pianos, sewing machines and sheet music were displayed in the front of the building.

Upstairs, Dr. Stanton created a hospital. Eight consultation and patient rooms, a bath and toilet room and an emergency treatment room all were constructed, making it among the most up-to-date medical facilities in Lucas County at the time.

The building remained in Stanton hands after the death of Dr. T.P. Stanton, and housed the dental offices of his son, Edwin Stanton, until his death during the 1950s.


The Facade Improvement Project began during 2013 with a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant awarded by the Iowa Economic Development Authority after a highly competitive application process. About a dozen Iowa projects were funded that year.

Project funding was available to all building owners in the Courthouse Square Historic District. The CDBG grant provided about a third of the funds for each facade project, the owner another third and the balance was local match, an amount that will be recovered through Tax Increment Financing. In the end, 15 buildings --- six of them on the west side of the square --- were involved.

A Burlington-based architectural and engineering firm, Klingner & Associates, surveyed the district, then prepared initial and detailed plans for each project. All plans were approved by the State Historic Preservation Office and all work done complied with U.S. Department of the Interior preservation standards. Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street partnered with the city and building owners during every phase of the project.

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