The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

April 30, 2011

Wally Kennedy: Old meets new in restored Christman’s building

JOPLIN, Mo. — At one time, the main floor of Christman’s Department Store in downtown Joplin was as busy as any walkway at the mall. It was a place to see the latest in fashionable men’s apparel and women’s shoes. And, it was a place to be seen.

A month from now, the main floor will be buzzing with activity again. Mark Williams, a key player in the redevelopment of the downtown, is transforming the main floor into an event center. He has formed a new company, Dream Makers Events LLC, to do that.

The main floor, with its ornate columns, has 6,800 square feet of space. That’s a big venue. Over the next four weeks, new heating and air-conditioning units, restrooms, flooring, lighting and a caterer’s kitchen will be installed.

“It will be an old-meets-new chic design,’’ Williams said. “It will be like walking into a Hollywood-style venue from the 1920s.’’

The work, which started in March, must be completed by May 28, which is when the venue’s first event will be held. Twenty events, including wedding receptions, dinners, concerts and corporate holiday gatherings, have been booked so far. If you’re interested in booking an event, call 417-625-1103 or visit joplineventcenters.com. Williams also has four other small and large venues available for special events.

Work is being done by Build LLC in conjunction with the Matt Miller Co., Springfield. They own the five-story building, which had recently been known as Howsmon’s. The upper floors have been converted into lofts.

If memory serves me, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. It was constructed in 1916 as the Christman Dry Goods Co. Designed by August and Alfred Michaelis, the building is an example of the Chicago style of curtain-wall architecture. All of the changes involving the event center have been approved by the state historic commission.

The store featured one of the first, if not the first, electric elevators in Joplin. That elevator would prove to be important to my family. Albert and Arthur Christman hired my mother to operate the elevator when she graduated from Joplin High School in the early 1940s. She was paid $12.50 a week. Needless to say, my sister and I were well-schooled in proper elevator etiquette.

During World War II, the store was frequented by soldiers from Camp Crowder. One day while on the job, a handsome RAF pilot from England stepped onto the elevator and reportedly proposed to mother on the spot. Though mother was impressed by his uniform and his English accent, she turned him down because she did not want to leave her family in Joplin to live in England.

Not long after that, another handsome fellow proposed on that elevator. That would be my father. Their marriage, which had its ups and downs, would last for 58 years.

Wally Kennedy wants to hear your news about something happening on Range Line Road or Main Street. Call 417-623-3480, ext. 7250; send an email to wkennedy@joplinglobe.com; or send a fax to him at 417-623-8598.

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