Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rise & Fall of the Kubitshek Block

I still miss the Kubitshek Block --- just a little. Not that the U.S.Bank drive-up isn't appreciated, but when you compare its scale to that of the mighty building it replaced, the anchor of the Chariton square's southwest corner, it comes up short.

The west end of the south side of Chariton's square, officially Lot 4, Block 14, original city of Chariton, is among its most historic spaces. The intersection of Sections 19, 20, 29 and 30, Lincoln Township, where those assigned during the fall of 1849 to locate a county seat gathered around a surveyor stake to do so, is very near. And the hotel, known most often as Hatcher House, was built on its western three quarters during the fall of 1853.

Lot 4 was purchased from Lucas County on March 19, 1852, by Ann Arnold, who sold to Joshua P. Chapman, a land agent and surveyor, the following May. It's not clear who built the hotel. Elijah Lewis, in his memoir of early Chariton, credits the rambling two-story frame building to a Mr. Culbertson. But the Hatchers operated it later, and their name stuck. Benjamin F. Bates managed the Hatcher House before building his own Bates House, off the northwest corner of the square, during the 1870s, effectively putting the old wooden hotel out of business some years later.

By the time the 1890s arrived, the entire first floor had been divided into business rooms and the second floor was a hodgepodge of living quarters and offices. It had become unsightly, was not that sound structurally (Chariton's earliest buildings were built with minimal foundations because neither stone that could be quarried nor brick was available). Besides, it was a fire hazard --- many disastrous fires had spread from frame building to frame building over the years around the square and the goal was to replace everything with brick.

The Hatcher House still was going strong, however, when Henry Kubitshek and his family, including brother Michael, arrived in town very soon after 1870. Michael purchased the wood frame building just east of the hotel and went into business there with Henry, who purchased the building from him during September of 1872 and continued to operate a grocery store there for several years. You can read more about Henry Kubitshek and his family here.

During March of 1894, Henry purchased the adjoining Hatcher House property and, after demolishing both it and his own building, constructed the four-storefront Kubitshek Block during 1896, utilizing the entire lot. Other than the Mallory Opera Block, this was the largest commerical structure on the square when it was built.

Early in the building's history, Henry sold the east quarter of the building to the Yengel Brothers for use as a meat market, but the Kubitshek family retained ownership of the rest of the building until 1921, years after the family, including wife Deborah and daughters Susie and Henrietta, had moved elsewhere. Henry himself died in Denver during 1914.

At the time this photo was taken --- perhaps about 1910 --- the Kubitshek block was occupied by (from left) the Yengel meat market, a pharmacy, a restaurant and the U.S. Post Office. Henry had remodeled the west storefront for the post office after it had been burned out of a northside location and it remained here until the current post office was built during 1917.

Besides its presence, I remember the Kubitshek Block for two reasons. My mother lived here during the week while attending high school during the 1930s in a big upstairs apartment rented by a widow (whose name, sadly, I've forgotten) who supplemented her income by housing and feeding girls from the country at a time when what now is a 10-minute drive could take an hour or more. Mother helped pay her way by clerking at the east-side Crozier Store when not in class, returning home for Sunday with her family.

By the time I came along, the men who operated the Chariton Barber Shop had moved out of the basement of the Hotel Charitone and into a Kubitshek Block storefront --- so this is where most of my haircuts during elementary and high school were given.

The Kubitshek Block fell during the early morning of March 31, 1965, when fire broke out in Pat and Bill's Tavern, operated by Mr. and Mrs. Bill DeBord, which occupied one of the storefronts, and spread throughout the building. Although only the bar was gutted, smoke, water and flames heavily damaged the entire structure. Firefighters from Russell, Williamson, Lucas and Corydon helped bring the blaze under control.

Businesses left homeless by that fire, in addition to the barber shop,  were the Iowa Liquor Store, the Charles Beauty Shop, Norge Launderama and a basement photo studio operated by Dwight Oliver. An upstairs real estate office operated by Jess Umbenhower also was destroyed.

Those forced from apartments on the second floor were Phaene Hibbs, who owned the part of the building where the laundry was located, Mrs. Leona Anderson and her son, Mrs. Mae Gibbs, Floyd Bingaman, Mrs. Catherine Rivers, Mrs. Eva Rahn, Mrs. Blanche Adams and Marilyn Sanders. Edmond Stone & Sons owned the remainder of the block.

At the time of the fire, the estimated cost of restoring or replacing the building entirely was estimated at $200,000 --- and this was not a time when buldings of the Kubitshek Block's scale were being constructed on Iowa town squares. Drive-up banks were, however, just beginning to be popular.

In June of 1965, after the debris had been carted away, the lot was sold by its owners to the northside First State Bank as the site for its first drive-up. The drive-up bank on the site remains, currently operated by First State's successor, U.S. Bank.


Ken said...

Hmmm. I wonder why I don't remember the fire that consumed the Kubitshek Block (or its aftermath)? Granted, I was young (about 7 1/2, and only in 1st grade), but our family passed that corner each Sunday as we drove from the Methodist Church to southbound Highway 14. Did it take long to clear away the ruins?

Frank D. Myers said...

I was a college freshman that year, so don't really remember the fire either --- just the absence after. I think the building was demolished and the debris moved out quickly.