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Preservation Springfield tour reveals historical treasures

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Springfield is experiencing staggering growth. Business is booming. And that's great.

But as our city comes to resemble its larger counterparts, so, too, has it begun to lose some of its individuality. We could be any city anywhere. McCity, home of video store X, department store Y and fast-food joint Z.

Our community is not just a number on a market research report one of 100 or 1,000 likely candidates for the expansion of the month. This is Springfield, state of Missouri, itself alone. Rooted. Real. And steeped in history. It is that history that makes Springfield special.

Preservation Springfield recently invited community leaders on its first Site Express Tour, a six-site tour of some of Springfield's historical treasures, based in part on the city's old trolley route.

?The Moses Levy House, 1021 E. Walnut. Once the home of prominent Jewish merchant Moses Levy, principal in Levy-Wolf Dry Goods on the Public Square, it is now the home of Preservation Springfield. A Catalogue Four Square style house built in 1906, the home is now commercial space on the first floor with three apartments above.

?The Seville Hotel, 214-220 E. Walnut. Originally a mercantile building, it began its transition into a hotel in the roaring '20s as the Hotel Savoy. By 1933 it became the Seville. In decline after the war, by the '60s it was a low-income apartment hotel. In 1999 it was acquired, along with the adjacent Ozark Camera Building, to be restored as a luxury hotel, residential loft and commercial complex.

The two buildings will share space on the first floor for a large dining/meeting space, and owner/developer Tim Rosenbury will occupy the fourth floor, according to Richard Burton, Preservation Springfield executive director.

?The Mansfield Opera House, 313-315 South Ave. Built in 1873 and most recently home to Ozark Paper and Janitorial Supply, the opera house is the only reminder of the opera house movement prevalent in the community at the turn of the century. Masked by an "aluminum can" false front is the building's true face, an ornamented brick facade.

Now echoing and empty, only scraps of richly colored wallpaper recall its days of grandeur. A Springfield Historic Site, this property is endangered, not protected by state or national historic designation.

?The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge, overlooking historic Commercial Street. Opened Aug. 29, 1902, the footbridge connected North Springfield residents with the bustling Commercial Street business district, giving pedestrians safe passage up and over the train tracks.

A rare example of a suspension bridge for pedestrians, the footbridge is a focal point of revitalization efforts. The surrounding area is envisioned as Frisco Lane, offering parking, gathering space and living greenery.

?Washington Avenue Baptist Church, 729 N. Washington. Built in 1885 as Second Baptist Church, it was rededicated as Washington Avenue Baptist Church in 1904, becoming an African American congregation.

The post-Civil War structure has shingled eaves, stained glass and a Carthage stone foundation. Even from the outside, this site is inspirational.

Directly across the street is the Hammons School of Architecture. I was struck by the delightful contrast: 100 years of time bookended by two distinctive structures. However, the church is also endangered, unprotected by state or federal historic designation.

Drury College has purchased the property with plans to build. Drury, Preservation Springfield, the church and city government have approximately 18 months to devise a plan to relocate this structure.

?The Mosher House, 1147 E. Walnut. Built in 1893, the Mosher House is a well-preserved upper middle class residence of the Queen Anne style, featuring a false tower with dome, palladian lead glass windows and original brass hardware.

Following the 1906 lynching of three African American men on the square, the residents of this house sheltered three African American families, daring the wrath of the mob.

Destined to become a house museum, Springfield will soon be able to experience this unique site up close.

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