The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 4, 2013

Wally Kennedy: Orpheum Theater building looking sharp

By Wally Kennedy
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — It was not long ago that the intersection of Sixth and Main streets in Joplin looked rather ratty. I’m being kind when I say that.

It was so bad that there was talk of bringing down the Newman Building and the Frisco Building. Could you imagine what downtown Joplin would look like today without those buildings?

Fortunately, some people with vision made things happen. The Frisco, an old office building at the southeast corner of the intersection, was transformed into senior housing. The Newman, an old department store at the southwest corner, was transformed into an office building. When the business no longer needed the building, the city stepped in and converted it into City Hall.

The Ramsey Building was renovated into a retail space with an upper-level banquet center at the northeast corner. But the old Orpheum Theater building at the northwest corner still looked rough.

Well, that’s certainly changed now.

When Jay Olson, one of the owners of the building, said the plan was to revitalize the Orpheum, he was not kidding. Three striking storefronts have been added to the Main Street side and one has been added to the Sixth Street side. It is a very good blending of old and new by the Neal Group, which has done several downtown restorations.

The storefronts are among 16 facade restorations that have been under the guidance of the city’s Design Review and Standards Committee. The restorations have ranged in cost from $15,000 to $100,000. The total cost of all the projects is about $528,700 at last count.

If these restored storefronts can generate some sales tax revenue for the city, it will be money well invested over the long haul.

• Speaking of old buildings downtown, the Joplin Fire Department and the city’s top building inspector recently conducted a test of a product that is designed to retard the spread of fire.

The test of Contego took place about two weeks ago in the parking lot of the Sherwin-Williams store at 632 S. Main St. The product was painted on a metal ceiling panel. A piece of wood was attached to the ceiling panel. A blowtorch was used to apply heat to the panel to see if the wood behind it would catch fire.

The test results are still being analyzed, but it appeared the product worked. When exposed to high temperatures or direct flame, the product expands to form a ‘char barrier’ that cuts off the fuel source a fire needs to develop. Contego not only helps prevent fires, it minimizes smoke production, one of the leading causes of fatalities in residential and commercial fires.

Why am I being told this, you might be asking?

If this product is approved, it could aid in the redevelopment of downtown buildings that have historic metal ceilings with a second floor above. The cost of making such buildings conform to fire suppression codes can be expensive, if not cost-prohibitive. This could help that.

• Another business that was destroyed by the tornado has returned.

Main Street Pawn, which used to be at 2402 S. Main St., next to El Vaquero’s, has reopened in a remodeled storefront at 1409 S. Main St.

Mike Thompson, the owner, has taken an old building and given it a major makeover, including new paint and lighting on the outside. Some interesting Western drawings that were painted on the walls of the building in a previous life were uncovered when two layers of paneling were removed during the restoration. Those drawings have been preserved.

The store goes back to 1910. It was a feed store, a cafe, a bar and an alterations shop. It was probably best known as the 1409 Club, where someone got shot playing pool one night. Who would think such a small storefront would have such a colorful past?

The shop deals in vintage guitars, amps, musical instruments, gold, diamonds and jewelry, among other things.

After the tornado, Thompson picked through the debris to salvage what he could. Not much could be saved, but he was determined to reopen somewhere on Main Street.

“We’re Main Street people,’’ Thompson said.

Welcome back.

If you have news about something that’s happening on Range Line Road or Main Street, call 417-623-3480, ext. 7250; email; or fax 417-623-8598.