Joplin landmark holds nearly a century of history

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Memorial Hall’s history at a glance

Veteran’s memorial, auditorium, concert and convention venue, and more, Memorial Hall holds within it 95 years’ worth of history prevalent to the city of Joplin. Dating back to 1923, this was the year the Robert S. Thurman Post of the American Legion spearheaded the community support for the Hall’s construction, according to Visit Joplin MO. 

The following year on September 12, 1924—National Defense Day—Joplin and its community members witnessed a cornerstone-laying ceremony in commemoration for all those who have fought for the country and for freedom, Visit Joplin Mo writes. Memorial Hall is known as Joplin’s only veteran’s memorial. 

“In a spirit of patriotism and reverence, Joplin’s Memorial Hall was dedicated yesterday,” wrote the Joplin News Herald, issue Monday, October 19, 1925. “Built as a tribute to the sacrifices of those who served their country in time of war, the massive structure was consecrated to peace.” 

The article continued, stating the Hall “was dedicated as a monument to three generations of defenders of the flag.” The Joplin News Herald reported that W.D. Meyers, advisory board chairman for the project, said in an opening statement that “Memorial Hall was made possible by the patriotism of the people of Joplin.” 

The Joplin Herald archives from October 20, 1925, page one, states that two bronze tablets were installed in Memorial Hall—one in honor of war veterans and one in memorial of Alfred S. Michaelis, who was the building’s architect who died before its completion. The inscription in honor of the veterans reads: “This building was constructed by the citizens of the city of Joplin as a memorial to all of those who, as members of any branch of the military of naval serice of the United States, have given their lives and services in behalf of our country in all wars in which it has been engaged.” 

When plans for the Hall first began, A.S. Greenwell was given award of the contract for Memorial Hall’s construction, according to the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department. It was quoted that he said, “The building may be used as an opera house and convention hall. The auditorium will seat 4,110 persons. The stage will be larger than that of Joplin’s largest theater. The auditorium will measure 187 feet long, running north and south, and 140 feet wide. On the first floor, plans call for a seating capacity of 2,497 persons. The entire auditorium, balcony and stage, are designed to be as magnificent as a building constructed for the purpose of an opera house alone,” the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department wrote. 

Visit Joplin MO writes that it wasn’t until October 1925, though, that the town took part in dedication and opening celebrations for Memorial Hall. Memorial Hall is now 95-years-old. Following Memorial Hall’s opening, the Joplin Globe wrote in their October 20, 1925 issue, page 11, that “Memorial Hall, dedicated only Sunday with a crowd of 2,000 attending, will come in for a number of entertainments and conventions.” 

The Miami News record archives from May 13, 1925, page three, reads that Joplin’s Memorial Hall “is destined to become a musical center for the entire district.” Memorial Hall became this and more, holding events from concerts to circuses. Thomas Walters, Joplin city planner and staffed to the historic preservation commission, is just one of many Joplin residents who experienced events at Memorial Hall in its time. 

“Well, there’s a lot of events that have happened there over the years, I mean the first time I saw an elephant was at the circus there when I was a kid—they came in those large doors,” Walters said. “There is a lot of emotional attachment to that building, some positive, some negative, a lot of different feelings about it. And it has been a place for venues and major events in the city of Joplin for a very long time. And then furthermore, from the preservation aspect, it is a snapshot of architecture of a civic building from a period where today if we were to ever build a building for the purpose which Memorial Hall currently serves, it would not be built to anything like it. Quite literally we don’t build them like we used to. …” 

As part of Joplin’ historic preservation commission, Walters has hopes to ensure that Memorial Hall and its history is preserved going forward. The Hall is already on the local register as a historical landmark, though the next step is to get it on the national registry. 

“Whenever we talk about a historic property—a property can be old, a lot of times people think just being old makes it historic, that’s not the case, there’s specific criteria that make it eligible,” Walters said. “… So the criteria that it is historic is the architectural significance for the period, and then with the architects who built it, the Michaelis brothers, but from its inception Memorial Hall was intended to be a dedicated memorial to our veterans—the memorial is inside the lobby there—and that is certainly part of local history and why it’s on the local registry as well.” 

Currently, the city of Joplin is in the works of finding a new future use for Memorial Hall after its almost 100 years of standing, and Walters wishes the Hall can be renovated instead of torn down. 

“It is a high priority to make sure it gets adaptively reused, that is one reason why we are nominating it for the national register,” Walters said. “… And preservation’s not about making sure the bricks are still there, an empty building is—adaptive reuse is really the goal of preservation to keep the building alive and in use, not to make it a monument or museum. That’s the goal of preservation.” 

Memorial Hall holds meaning to many Joplin residents from over the years, but especially members of the American Legion like Warren Turner, American Legion Post 13 Commander. 

“Well, most of our veterans grew up living in Joplin and Memorial Hall has always been big, there’s been everything,” Turner said, “One time if any event was happening in Joplin, Missouri it was at Memorial Hall … we grew up going to Memorial Hall, so it has special meaning for us. And then when the monuments were added as we go with monuments and names of people that all of our members have served with, that’s great to honor them. So, it’s all a special place in our heart and a lot of us are getting older, we kind of forget but we got to get it back to where it needs to be and promote it—be involved in promoting activities to happen there.” 

Whatever happens with Memorial Hall’s future, the city is working to preserve and commemorate its history along the way and it will always stay part of Joplin’s growing past. 

“Well, I mean, it’s in the name, it’s like I said, ever since the building was conceived it was intended to be a memorial to our veterans and so no matter what that’s part of the preservation, too, no matter what that property is,” Walters said. “… I know consultation is happening … with the American Legion and so forth to make sure that the memorial is given its due consideration so that’s never forgotten.” 

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