The drawing that accompanies this blog looks a little off. It shows the western facade of the historic Common Pleas Courthouse in Cape Girardeau, but not as we know and love it.
The drawing was published Feb. 25, 1941, as Girardeans debated the fate of the old courthouse. For months the city fathers, business men, civic leaders and historic preservationists heatedly discussed whether to preserve the courthouse, or hand it over to the federal government in a trade for the post office/federal building that stood majestically at the southeast corner of Broadway and Fountain Street. A trade would mean the demolition of the Common Pleas.
City leaders wanted the stone federal building to use as a city hall and to house the Common Pleas Court. They complained of the upkeep of the old Common Pleas, its rotting timbers, its drafty halls. The federal government wanted to build a new post office/federal court structure in Cape Girardeau. They were running out of space.
And so, a trade was proposed, I'm guessing by the mayor at that time, but I don't know for sure. The city would take the post office/federal building and give title to the federal government for what was called the "heart" of Courthouse Park. The feds, in turn, proposed to tear down the Common Pleas and build a new federal building towering over downtown Cape Girardeau.
Of course, there was opposition to the plan. Various committees were formed and alternate plans were offered, including one that accompanied the drawing that appears above. Here is the article that outlined the preservation effort.
REBUILDING OF COMMON PLEAS COURT BUILDING IS PROPOSED
Enlarge Present Post Office Building, Using Stone for City Hall, Library Is Suggested.
A proposal eliminating the use of a part of Courthouse Park as a site for the post office building, but designed to bring about the erection of a new post office and the modernization on an extensive scale of Common Pleas Courthouse and the Public Library, was sent to Congressman Orville Zimmerman at Washington today.
The proposal, submitted by a committee made up largely of those who from the beginning have opposed the use of Courthouse Park, but favored the building of the post office on any other site, provides:
1. Enlargement of the present Federal Building (at Broadway and Fountain Street) to cover the entire space now used by the government and using the present building as a nucleus for the new one.
2. Use of the stone taken from the present Federal Building in the expansion project for the rebuilding and enlargement modernization of Common Pleas Courthouse.
3. Use of stone taken from the Federal Building in the enlargement and modernization of the Public Library.
Enlarge Present Building.
Through the use of the base of the present Federal Building, it is contended in the proposal that the new building could be erected at a cost of around $300,000 instead of the $430,000 projected, a saving to the government of over $100,000.
The proposed enlargement of the Common Pleas Courthouse and Library was figured in the proposal to cost $108,900, $63,300 for the courthouse and $45,600 for the library, this not including credit from use of the stone from the old post office.
The proposal was submitted to Congressman Orville Zimmerman by Judge Lee L. Bowman at the request of the committee, members of which for the most part have opposed the use of Courthouse Park for the post office since the beginning of the controversy.
It has been said that Congressman Zimmerman and Sen. Harry S. Truman deplore the controversy that has arisen over the post office site situation and are anxious to work out a friendly settlement that will put an end to the argument.
The expansion and modernization of Common Pleas Courthouse would include the addition of wings to fill in parts of the corners at the west side, making the west side the main entrance, shifting the Common Pleas quarters entirely to the second floor and building of adequate vaults, additional offices and other modern facilities. The building would be faced with the stone taken from the Federal Building.
The post office/federal building was constructed in 1909-10. (Southeast Missourian archive)
Similar treatment would be given the Public Library (referring to the Carnegie Library located in Courthouse Park and now used as the courthouse annex), which would be extended to the south, a more spacious auditorium provided and much more space given over to the book racks and reading rooms.
The proposal submitted by the committee follows:
"This summary of a compromise plan in reference to the proposed new post office, at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, has been prepared on behalf of the larger group of average citizens of Cape Girardeau. Its purpose is to acquaint the proper authorities with a middle road point of view in a situation which bids to cause much dissension in the community, which the average citizens would prefer to see avoided.
"It has been presented to the citizens of our community that we are to have a fine new $430,000 post office and Federal Building, which pleases us greatly. The inspector of sites, who was sent here several months ago, indicated that the preferable location was the one now occupied by the present Federal Building and post office. A question was asked as to his opinion of the use of a public park, at present occupied by the Common Pleas Courthouse and Public Library buildings. These two sites along with numerous others were submitted to the proper authorities in your department.
"It later developed that the present post office site was listed as first and the Common Pleas Courthouse Park site second. Many people seemed to deplore the waste of wrecking the present post office which, we will admit, is a very substantial building, but there are many others who deplore more emphatically the destruction of the last remaining community landmark. At the present time, the general population has been led to believe that if the new Federal Building is not placed in Courthouse Park, we will not receive the new building. Toward this end, an election is to be held March 4 to give the voters an opportunity to sanction the use of their park for this purpose. Since the inspectors and architects who were sent from your department seemed in agreement on the point that the building occupied by your present building was, by far, the most valuable and strategic for your purpose, we wish to offer the following compromise plan and substantiate it as best we can with the accompanying data.
"This compromise plan consists of two basic parts, namely:
"A. Build the new post office on the present location, incorporating the present Federal Building into the plan without wrecking it. This would effect several economies, first, economy of cost, second, saving of time (approximately six months) in construction, third, avoiding the great inconvenience and added cost of renting other quarters for postal and federal uses (if present site were used and building demolished and a completely new one erected).
"Since the present building is placed approximately 30 feet back from Broadway, (the major street), and has available approximately 35 to 40 feet of property to the east owned by the post office department, it seems feasible to build around this present building, a new unit approximately on the present front and side property line. This would not be out of keeping with the location, for two of the other corners are occupied by hotels and the fourth by an office building, all of which are built virtually on the property lines.
"We believe this plan could be put into effect for approximately $312,000 to $330,000 (including ground for parking lot, expansion, etc.) in place of the proposed $430,000, and use the present Federal Building site for the purpose to which it is best suited.
"B. Provide for the remodeling and expansion of the Common Pleas Courthouse and the Public Library by using part of the theoretical $128,000 saved by the preceding plan "A" to aid the community to arrive at this result. This could be done through one or two of several existing plans, RFC (Reconstruction Finance Corporation) or other agency, or a combination of two of them. The estimated cost of these two plans, are as indicated on the accompanying summary, Courthouse $63,300 and Public Library $45,600, making a total of $108,900. We realize, of course, that your department could not aid financially in this proposed work on these two buildings, but a potential federal expenditure of $430,000 by two or three agencies for the improvement of a single community might appear in better light than the $600,000 or so needed for the three completely new buildings. If the Federal Building were placed in the park, a new site and building will have to be provided soon for the library and this will cost over $100,000. Since there would be approximately $22,000 needed to remodel the present Federal Building for use by the Common Pleas Court and city offices, we assume that this amount at least could be used to augment the amounts allotted by federal agencies or a small bond issue possibly could provide an additional amount for district's share.
"It seems logical that by using the present Federal Building as a nucleus for the new building, a modernly designed structure could be readily built around it. Since the exterior stone facing of the present post office would have to be removed, we would suggest that this be used for refacing of the courthouse and Public Library as provided in the second phase of this proposal. Thus the present aged stone facing would make an appropriate facing for the two existing public buildings in the Courthouse, thereby enhancing and providing the district with three admirable structures without destroying anything.
"We offer these suggestions in the belief that the middle road will leave the Federal Building in the most strategic location for the purpose, provide much needed improvements to existing public buildings and retain whatever of historical or sentimental significance may be attached to them by the community, and above all, that it will effect a much desired economy in this time of national emergency.
As indicated in the article, an election was held on March 4, 1941, asking voters whether the city should trade the Common Pleas Courthouse and site to the federal government for the post office/federal building at Broadway and Fountain Street. The issue was approved by a bare 268 votes.