Saturday, October 1, 2011

West Side: Hollinger & Larimer Block

The Hollinger & Larimer/Chariton Vision Center block, 129 and 131 North Main Street,  was built during the latter half of 1904 on the two most northerly of four single-front lots that had been occupied by the three-story 1870s Mallory Opera Block, which burned during January of that year along with the Storie and Lockwood buildings to the south. Hollinger and Larmer, a clothing store and business partnership of Horace G. Larimer and his father-in-law, N.B. Hollinger, had been tenants of the Opera Block before the fire.

The structure always has been kept in good repair and always has been occupied, . But as in a number of other cases around the square, the many windows that lighted its second floor --- always a commercial space --- were closed and blinded during the latter half of the 20th century when the market for second-floor tenants declined.

The reopening of 10 of those giant windows after rebuilding and reinstallation was among the most noticeable aspect of the building's restoration by Chariton Vision Center as part of the city's Facade Improvement Program, which began during the autumn of 2015.

Installation of street-level fixed awnings --- weatherized fabric over metal frames --- during the final week of August, 2016, completed the project. These are a contemporary nod to the original awnings used on the building, awnings that had to cranked out, then cranked in, daily.

Another clever reference to the past is the fact that "Chariton Vision Center" signage in long strips above the awning is in the same location as the signage of its first commercial occupants.

Although all windows in the building's "show" facade were restored and reopened, more than a dozen windows on the north side of the building remain closed, but the original blinding materials have been replaced with framed black panels to recreate the "feel" of windows where windows, in fact, no longer exist. A smaller awning, mirroring the large on in front, has been installed over the side door.

The street level office facade also has been rebuilt in a manner more compatible with the original look of the building.

Here's how the building (at far right) looked soon after it was completed.

Here's how in looked during 2011 before restoration began.

And here's how it looked on Aug. 28, 2016.


After the 1904 fire, Jessie Mallory Thayer, owner of the Opera Block, announced her intention in The Chariton Herald of Feb. 4 to rebuild on the site a two-story commercial structure with three 25-foot store fronts, eliminating the public performance space that had been a major feature of its predecessor.

Mrs. Thayer began to dither, however, and eventually decided to keep the insurance money and sell the lots. Hollinger & Larimer purchased the north lots; Simon Oppenheimer, another Opera Block tenant, the two south lots.

This resulted in a construction delay, so the ruins of the opera block remained in place on March 3, 1904, when The Herald reported that D.Q. Storie had commenced to clear the debris from the site of his burned single-front building immediately south of the Mallory lots in preparation for new construction.

Once the lots had been sold, Hollinger & Larimer commissioned their building and Oppenheimer, another double-front building for his two lots. The result, when combined with the new Storie and Lockwood buildings to the south is one of the most harmonious and complete suites of turn-of-the-century commerical architecture in southern Iowa.

Here's how the four buildings looked soon after they were completed.

And here's how the four buildings looked on Aug. 29, 2016.

The most likely architect for all four structures is Chariton architect O.A. Hougland, although that has not been documented. We do know, however, that two years after all four buildings were complete, during the summer of 1906, Hollinger & Larimer hired Hougland to design the narrow two-story north-facing building at the rear of their lots sometimes called "the annex." This smaller structure mirrors the larger block in every way.

Once under way, construction of Hollinger & Larimer and the other three buildings moved quickly and was complete by the 1904 Christmas season.

The Chariton Patriot of Dec. 8, 1904, reported that "The new buildings on the west side of the square are almost all completed; the occupants have moved in, as follows: Hollinger & Larimer Block, lower rooms occupied by Hollinger & Larimer clothing store and the Grey-VonBehren grocery store. In the upper rooms are located Dr. .B. Sutton, dentist; Dr. Theo. Barnes; Whisenand & Bigham, real estate and loans; Frank D. Larimer, insurance; Kridelbaugh & Stuart, attorneys; George Wiltsey and family, residence; the Misses Carry and brother, residence; John Blouse and family, residence."

Twenty-four years later, on Jan. 1, 1928, the Holliger & Larmier block was gutted by another massive blaze. By this time, the clothing store had expanded to fill both storefronts. That fire apparently started in the Hollinger & Larimer furnace room and gutted the structure without affecting the stability of its exterior walls. Total loss in building and contents was estimated at $100,000.

The fire itself reminded older Charitonians of the January 1904 blaze that had destroyed the Opera Bblock and its neighbors, then considered to have been the most destructive in Chariton's history.

The Chariton Leader's Henry W. Gittinger reported the firefighting effort this way in his edition of Jan. 3, 1928: "... throughout the night ... a courageous battle was led by the firemen against the onleaping foe of flame, and there were times when the mastery seemed in doubt. The engines roared and the water streams hissed through the air, as the walls of fire receded, rebounded and again advanced, only to meet another volley from the pumpers, and thus by little the gain was made. The fighters were covered with ice as they worked in the intense cold, and their suffering was intense, but never once did they relax, but pushed forward determined to win. The nearby clothing establishments, the Golden Eagle, belonging to Alf Timmins, and that of S. Oppenheimer & Son were thrown open so that workers might rush in for a bit of warmth, and be provided with dry coats, hosiery, mittens, caps, etc., then back to the charge. Other merchants brought needed supplies of relief, and the coffee cauldrons were kept boiling throughout the long night, and thus the commissary was not lacking. In reality it became a seige with equipment and battery pitted against Spitzbergen cold and consuming flames, and the victory resulted in saving the walls and arresting the general spread."

Horace Larimer decided to rebuild within the surviving walls of his business block, but died during late February, leaving his son, Hugh, and widow, Willie (Hollinger) Larimer, to complete the job. Hollinger & Larimer did not reopen.

Instead, the space was leased to Montgomery Ward, then moving aggressively to pepper the nation with retail outlets to supplement its catalog business. Montgomery Ward occupied both floors of the rebuilt structure and remained its longest-term tenant. After Montgomery Ward closed its retail operation in Chariton, a variety of firms occupied the retail space until the building was acquired by Chariton Vision Center.

Frank D. Myers/August 30, 2016

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