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In the winter of 1937, when Warren Dalton was a sophomore at MU, tuition was $50 a semester, and a typical lunch cost 35 cents (a nickel more got you a Coke.)
But the going wage was only 35 cents an hour, and Dalton had just lost his job at a shoe store because business was slow, and he had no money for books, rent and food. He was eating cheese and crackers and losing weight when he walked into J.C. Penney’s in the Hetzler Building at 706 E. Broadway.
“Mr. Roy Houdersheldt, the manager, hired me in the shoe department in February,” Dalton wrote in a book he co-authored, Historic Downtown Columbia. “What a blessing it was!”
Commerce in those now-historic downtown buildings was, of course, quite different during Dalton’s college years.
The Hetzler Building is now an annex of the Boone County National Bank. Down Broadway, the Piggly Wiggly grocery store occupied the building now housing Felini’s Restaurant. In his senior year, L.D Johnston Paint and Wallpaper took over the part of the same building that now houses C.J.’s restaurant. A block farther west, the post office was in the (Ann) Gentry Building, named after the state’s first “postmistress,” which now houses the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
On the corner of Walnut and 10th, Paul McKay, “one of the best-dressed men of his day,” opened McKay Chevrolet in 1937 in the space that was taken over by Parker Funeral Home in 1951.
“A lot of these buildings have special meaning for me,” Dalton, now 92, said. “I lived a lot of the history.”
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Dalton was transferred in 1946 from a women’s clothing store in Marshall to Columbia to manage Suzanne’s, billed as “Columbia’s Smartest Shop for Women.” The building at 912 E. Broadway is now home to Kayotea.
He now owns the Dalton Building at 915 E. Broadway, longtime home of KOPN and former home of the Columbia Daily Tribune when it was called the Whittle Building, and he co-owns the Booth Building at 922 E. Broadway that now houses Poppy.
About four years ago, Dalton came across an old abstract of downtown Columbia, which piqued his interest in Columbia history. He started writing a column on local history for the Columbia Daily Tribune and as time progressed he got interested in historic buildings. He asked himself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can get pictures of all of the old buildings, the ones more than 100 years old?” He guessed there would be about 20.
“There turned out to be more than 50,” Dalton said. Using city directories, he started listing businesses that occupied the buildings during the past century. Then he struck up a partnership with David James, a retired professor of hotel management at MU.
James, who previously wrote a book on historic hotels in Missouri, helped with the research, gathered photographs and other material for the book and designed the layout. They lined up sponsors and benefactors to help defray costs and agreed to give proceeds from sales of the $30 book and accompanying DVD to the Missouri Symphony Society & Theatre.
The first 200 copies sold during a book signing in three hours, Dalton said, and the 500 copies from the second printing came just before another book signing on Jan. 18 at the Missouri Theatre.
“People are hungry for history,” Dalton said. “They want to know about their own relatives, but they also want to know about where they live. There is a real surge of people wanting to know where they came from, what happened in their grandfather’s lifetime.”
Dalton, who earned his living in retail, can still make the pitch.
“Every business owner downtown should have (a copy of the book) to show their customers.”
Athens Hotel/Boone Tavern
The hotel was built in 1902 and replaced a livery stable and a marble yard. Other businesses at the address included Johnson & Son Furniture Exchange and the Daniel Boone Tavern, established in 1917. Renamed the Columbian in 1919 and Ben Holt Hotel in the 1940s, the hotel closed in 1976, and the building was converted to The Village Square Apartments in 1982.
Hays Hardware/PS: Gallery
The building dates back to 1870 and is now occupied by PS: Gallery. In 1883 there was a piano store on the first floor and a billiard room on the second. In 1904, Charles Matthews moved his hardware store, previously run by his father, from 710 Broadway into the building at 812. In 1923, Kirk Hays purchased the store, which featured a pot-belly stove in the center, and it operated until 1969.
Exchange National Bank/Landmark Bank
The first Exchange National Bank was built in 1866 and replaced in 1904 by a larger four-story building. The heirs of C.C. Bowling sold the bank in 1964 to Carl Landrum, and the name was changed in 1971 to First National Bank and again in 2009 to Landmark Bank.
Miller Shoe Co./Vespa
The building now housing the Vespa scooter shop was built in 1880 and occupied by Miller Shoe Co., a business C.B. Miller started when he was 18. In 1911, Hatton & Knight Drug Shop moved into part of the building and operated until 1973. Jean Prange Intimates later occupied the building.
Victor Barth Clothing/Bingham’s
Moses Barth moved his business to Columbia in 1865 after his general store in Rocheport was burned down by Civil War guerillas. His nephews, Victor and Joseph, took over the store in 1868, and Victor bought out his brother in 1906. Cousins Joseph and Isadore Barth (founder of the Round Table Club) built a new building on the same corner in 1910 and named it after Victor, who died the previous year. Longtime employee Joseph Hourigan took a half interest in the business after Victor died and full interest after Joseph died. Barth’s closed in 1987, and Bingham’s took its place.
Columbia Auto/The Rome restaurant
Fred Niedermeyer built the Columbia Auto Co. sometime prior to 1916. It was the first auto dealership in town. In 1936, Piggly Wiggly moved in, to be followed in later years by Columbia Billiards and current occupant, The Rome.