The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

March 22, 2014

Wally Kennedy: ‘Old green elephant’ once ‘grand, glorious’

JOPLIN, Mo. — When you shake a tree, you never know what will fall out.

Last week’s column about the Shank Foods building, 1209 S. Main St., provided one of those moments. I did not know that Golden Gloves Boxing was held there for many years. I did not know the building housed the Joplin Little Theater in the 1940s.

And I learned from a member of the Shank family that the building I referred to as the “old green elephant” on Main Street was not sea-foam green or turquoise. The family has lovingly embraced the color as its own — Shank green.

Cheryl Shank Morrow, granddaughter of H.E. Shank and daughter of Marvin Shank, wrote this: “She was pretty grand in those days. And if you go up the old concrete steps to the second floor, you can still get a feel for that time. As a child, that second floor held lots of mystery for me, and I loved to dream about how it once was.

“As far back as I can remember, the entire market was painted white. But at some point in my childhood, my dad decided it needed a fresh coat of paint. His intention was to paint her white again. But I was a daddy’s girl, and I wanted him to paint her green. Something natural. So it would blend in to the environment more. LOL!

 “I know she’s an old and ugly monstrosity now, but she was grand and glorious in her day. All my life I have dreamed about what she looked like in the beginning. It would be so incredible to see her restored to that. Wouldn’t it?”

I received this email from Cecie Fritz, historian for the Joplin Little Theater. Fritz wrote: “In 1945, Joplin Little Theatre moved from The Royal Heights Playhouse on North Florida Street to the second floor of the Shank Building, the City Market. It was owned by the city of Joplin, rent was $20 a month, which included steam heat.

“JLT particularly liked this location across the street from Wilder’s, as pre-show and intermission crowds would collect there — until over the Wilder’s loud-speaker would come: ‘Curtain going up!’”

The theater group staged productions there until March 1948 when it purchased its own building.

Not all of the memories were pleasant, as one patron remembered: “We had a saloon right below us, rowdy truck drivers streaming in and out, and the odor of onions, cantaloupes and overripe bananas floating through the cracked windows.”

I got a look inside the building this week. It is indeed an impressive structure. We’re talking heavy-duty concrete. Buildings from that era were made to last. Workers were removing items that could be salvaged. I was told by a worker that the building is coming down.

That’s too bad. If ever a building would be a suitable site for a Joplin farmers market, this would be it.

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