We Lost the Handball Court

Handball Court at River Campus 02-12-2013It was appropriate that the first thing and the last thing you would see when you were coming into or leaving Cape by the Mississippi River Traffic Bridge was a religious institution, the St. Vincent’s College, a Catholic Seminary dating back to 1843. I suspect more prayers were said on that bridge than in all the churches in Cape on an Easter Sunday morning.

The first (or last) things you’d notice when looking at St. Vincents were the magnificent trees on the terrace to the east of the school and the curious brick structure in front of it – the handball court.

Goodbye handball court

Handball Court at River Campus 02-12-2013Well, don’t look for the handball court in the future. The Missourian had a story today that dismantling the historic structure began March 12. The court, built in either 1843 or 1853 and possibly the oldest handball court in the country, is being torn apart so the green space where it has lived all these many years can be covered with academic and residential buildings.

Goodbye green space

Handball Court at River Campus 02-12-2013

The loss of the brick court is a disgrace. The loss of the open lawn that gave the College buildings its character is a crime. They could have stacked the buildings they are planning on top of the parking lot to the west and maintained the character of the River Campus.

The biggest joke

Handball Court at River Campus 02-12-2013The biggest cruel joke is that the university and planners are going to honor the handball court by preserving “some” of the bricks and incorporating them into the facade of the new building. Follow the link to the Missourian and you can see the care Milam Masonry is taking in “preserving” the bricks. It looks to me like the workers are heaving them off a scaffolding to land in a truck. I doubt there are workers wearing catcher’s mitts standing down there to catch them.

When I made these photographs Feb. 12, 2013, I was astounded at how many had names and dates intricately scratched into them. There were some seminarians with a lot of time on their hands. What was fascinating was the different printing styles the students used over the years.

Did anyone document the bricks?

Handball Court at River Campus 02-12-2013I wonder if anyone took the time to shoot individual closeups of the bricks before the wreckers got there? You’d think a university with an historic preservation program would have been all over that.

I shot a few of the bricks, but the lighting wasn’t coming from the best direction to capture detail. The 1920s and the 1940s were well-represented.

When I looked at the ones from the ’40s, I wondered how many of those boys were shipped overseas to fight in World War II and whose only markers are a white cross in a foreign land and a name scrawled on a brick in a handball court that is being torn down.

Will the terraces and trees be next?

Handball Court at River Campus 02-12-2013It won’t do any good to cry over spilt bricks. We’ve lost that piece of Cape’s history. Now’s the time to head off turning the terraces and trees into parking lots.See how flat the ground is? Cut down those pesky trees and spread some asphalt and you could fit several hundred cars there.

I mean, after all, they could “preserve” the trees by turning them into commemorative toothpicks.

Earlier River Campus stories

River Campus celebrates 5th season

SEMO plans to erase Cape landmark

Photo gallery of handball court

Some day, someone doing research may come looking for photos of what Cape Girardeau looked like before Southeast Missouri State University bulldozed it. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

SEMO Plans to Erase Landmark

River Campus 10-20-2008 First handball court west of the Mississippi RiverThere were a number of things that let me know I was getting close to home: going down that last hill at Thebes Gap, catching the first glimpse of the Mississippi River as it curved around Gray’s Point, spotting the Common Pleas Courthouse and the dome of Academic Hall poking above the trees… Once we made the white-knuckle passage across the Traffic Bridge, I’d look off to the left, not to see St. Vincent’s College, but to spy the strange brick structure on its lawn. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it was a sign that I was home.

When I researched a piece on the 5th anniversary of the River Campus, I discovered a report filed with the National Register of Historic Places saying the court was constructed in 1843 and was supposed to have been the first handball court west of the Mississippi River.

James Baughn reads the fine print

Aerial photos of Southeast Missouri State University River Campus areaThe December 16 Missourian ran a routine story about the SEMO regents approving 96,000 square feet of new construction at the River Campus. There was an aerial photo overlay, but I’m sure most readers didn’t look at it closely. I’m guilty as charged.

Missourian webmaster James Baughn, who does one of three must-read blogs in the paper, is one of those detail kind of guys who notices things. He discovered that the new construction will erase one of the oldest structures in Cape Girardeau, one built by Joseph Lansman. Who is he? Thanks to Baughn’s research, we find that he was the guy who was probably responsible for SEMO being in Cape in the first place.

Baughn notes “[Louis] Houck was able to work his magic to steer the newly formed Board of Regents toward Cape, but Lansman helped seal the deal. He agreed to donate land he owned at the site of Fort B, the old Civil War fortification on a hilltop north of town, well away from the mosquito-laden swamps. During a crucial meeting at the St. Charles Hotel (built by Lansman), the regents made the final selection of Lansman’s site for the new college.”

SEMO, which touts one of the few undergraduate historic preservation programs in the country, assures us that they will incorporate a “select” number of bricks from the handball court into the facade of the new River Campus building. If they were in Philadelphia, they’d probably scrap The Liberty Bell and incorporate the clapper as a door knocker. I mean, why hang on to that old thing? Nobody’s going to ring it with that crack in it.

Holy Crapola! I’ve been ripped off

Southeast Missouri State University River Campus areaI followed a link on Baugn’s blog to a SEMO publication that details the constuction project. Guess what they have on the first two pages? This copyrighted aerial photo showing the River Campus I shot November 6, 2010. I can’t wait to make some phone calls tomorrow morning to SEMO and the Lawrence Group to talk about appropriating photographs for commercial use without compensation. (As always, you can click on the photos to make them larger.)

Frame Two of my purloined photo shows clearly that they are targeting the lawn and handball court area that gives the site its quiet beauty, second only to the trees area and terraces overlooking the river. (They’ll go next and SEMO will sell “preservation toothpicks” made of the trees.) It would appear to me that there is plenty of space occupied by parking lots that would be perfect for the expansion. Put two floors of parking under the new buildings and you could leave the lawns and terraces alone.

Thanks, Mr. Baughn, for the heads-up.

Charles Dockins as Mr. Zuss

I missed Charles Dockins‘ birthday by a day if Facebook is to be believed. I’ve been sitting on these photos of Chuck (I don’t think any of us called him “Charles’) preparing for the role of Mr. Zuss in the SEMO play J.B.

I was hoping to find other pictures of opening night, but they’re hiding. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

First production in new theater

Matt Sanders wrote an interesting look at the background of the Rose Theater in the April 19,2007, Missourian:

Construction on the theater began in 1964 as part of the Language Arts Building, which would later be named for Dr. H.O. Grauel, a longtime English professor and administrator at what was then known as State College. Two years later the Rose, originally called “The Theatre,” hosted its first production in fall 1966, “J.B.,” a drama based on the book of Job.

The last production was 42nd Street, performed in 2007. Shows since then have been performed at the River Campus.

Dockins, a Boy Scout hero

February 20, 1960, a 12-year-old Chuck Dockins rescued two girls from a burning car. Follow the link for the whole story and to see photos of him in Red Dagger plays at Central High School.

I’m going to slack off

I’m feeling pressure to get some projects done before I head back to Cape in October. I hate to break from my seven-day-a-week posting schedule, but I haven’t figured out a way to fit more than 27 hours in a day. I’m not sure what my temporary schedule will be, but sign up for the email notifications and keep an eye on Facebook to see when I have new content.

Greetings from Cape Girardeau

I’m always looking for Cape memorabilia. I think I picked this Souvenir of Cape Girardeau postcard packet at Annie Laurie’s Antiques on one of my recent visits. It could have been mailed for 1.5 cents (without message) when it was new. (Click on any image to make it larger)

Sold at Strom’s News Agency

There’s a tiny note that says Strom’s News Agency, Cape Girardeau, Mo., on this sheet that has all kinds of factoids about Cape. I’m going to guess the information dates back to the late 20s or early 30s.

Bridge, bluffs and steam boats

The Mississippi River Traffic Bridge opened to traffic Aug. 22,1928, so this had to have been published after that.

The rock bluffs have me guessing unless they are on the stretch on South Sprigg south and west of the cement plant. I can’t think of any other bluffs that are that close to the highway on The Kings Highway. I’m not even sure that South Sprigg carried that moniker.

Someone much more ancient that me will have to come up with the last time three steam boats docked on Cape’s riverfront.

Is that the KFVS tower?

These postcards were hand-colored, so the artists had to make assumptions. Unless the facades changed, both the Common Pleas Courthouse and St. Vincent’s College were made of red brick.

The only radio tower that I can think of between Cape and Jackson was the KFVS Radio tower that I photographed in 2009. The one on the postcard doesn’t look like it’s on the crest of the hill but the perspective might be off.

Burfordville, Arena Building and SEMO

The Bollinger Mill and Covered Bridge at Burfordville looks pretty much like when I photographed them last year.

The Arena Building looks pretty much the same, too, but this was years before the Radio-Active Girl Scouts showed up there.

St. Vincent’s, Marquette and SE Hospital

Southeast Hospital certainly has changed a lot since this was taken.

The Marquette Hotel looked pretty close to this in the 60s when it was in the background of a fender-bender I covered at Broadway and Fountain. The artist missed on the color of the facade, though.

St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church has red brick in the real world, too.

St. Francis Hospital long gone

St. Francis Hospital was torn down in 2000.

They must have run out of things to show in Cape, because the rest of the images are from around the Big Springs region.

Curt Teich & Co.

As a photographer, I’m pretty careful about appropriating photos that others have taken because I don’t like mine to get ripped off. In tiny, tiny print there was a note that the Souvenir Folder was © Curt Teich & Co. Figuring the copyright had probably expired – or the company probably had – I Googled the name.

I had seen this style of card over the years, but I didn’t realize exactly how many the company had produced. There’s a whole collection of them that includes images of more than 10,000 cities and towns.

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.