Bing Crosby sang its praises. More than 1,300 people showed up for the opening of the neon-lit Esquire Theater when it opened in 1947.
The one-time Cape Girardeau landmark closed in the mid-1980s. Now it's being talked about again, along with a one-room schoolhouse, an aging cemetery, a former Catholic seminary and a prominent old home in Cape Girardeau as the latest buildings that may be added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation will consider approving the five sites for inclusion on the national register when it meets in Cape Girardeau on May 19 and 20.
The board plans to act on the five nominations on the second day of its quarterly meeting, starting at 9 a.m. That session will take place at Port Cape Girardeau restaurant.
They are among 38 nominated sites from around the state that the board will review.
If approved, the nominations will be forwarded to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., to be placed on the national register.
That's normally a formality once the state board approves a site, said Terri Foley, a historic preservation consultant in Cape Girardeau who regularly researches old buildings and writes up nominations for national register status.
This will be the second time the state advisory board has convened in Cape Girardeau since 1986. The board currently has 10 members.
Ongoing revitalization and preservation efforts in downtown Cape Girardeau have drawn the board's attention, Foley said.
Board members want to see the revitalization firsthand, including the floodwall mural, she said.
Cape Girardeau currently has 17 buildings and four historic districts on the national register, Foley said.
Foley, who did the research and paperwork for the Esquire Theater nomination, said the shuttered movie theater at 824 Broadway has an art deco style. It opened Jan. 21, 1947.
"At the time it was built, it represented all the glamor and glitz that the movie industry was seeking to promote," Foley said.
Built at a cost of $150,000, it was called the largest art deco theater in the Midwest when it opened, Foley said.
It had over a mile of neon lights. "It reportedly had more neon lighting than any theater in the South," she said.
The theater could seat 800. It opened with two showings of the movie "Blue Skies," starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.
Crosby sent a congratulatory telegram to the designers of the theater.
The theater closed in 1984.
It reopened in March 1985 as a second-run movie theater, charging $1.50 per person. But that venture ended in December 1985.
Cape Girardeau businessman Phil Brinson owns the building and would like to see it preserved, Foley said.
The boarded-up, one-room schoolhouse at 3110 Kage Road was built in 1880. It operated until 1966.
"It was one of the last one-room schools to close in Cape Girardeau County," Foley said. At times, the school had an enrollment of more than 100 students.
"It was unique because of its economic and racial diversity," she said. The school was integrated at a time when many area schools were segregated, Foley said. The enrollment of Kage School included white children from well-established families, blacks and children from the county's poor farm, which housed indigent residents. The poor farm, as it was called, was on property that is now Cape Girardeau County Park North.
"African-American students enrolled as early as 1889," she said.
The school began serving hot lunches in 1933 through the efforts of the Parent Teacher Association. Eventually a makeshift cafeteria was constructed in a back corner of the classroom.
Cape Girardeau resident Keith Deimund now owns the building.
The L-shaped brick college at 201 Morgan Oak St. was constructed between 1843 and 1871. It was one of the earliest colleges west of the Mississippi River.
The seminary closed in 1979. Southeast Missouri State University obtained the property in 1998 and is building its River Campus arts school on the site.
The historic structure's brick exterior is being preserved, school officials said.
The university has demolished a swimming pool and gymnasium on the grounds that overlook the Mississippi River.
A contractor, Kiefner Brothers of Cape Girardeau, currently is doing structural work designed to keep the historic seminary from collapsing in a major earthquake.
Construction workers are drilling 41,000 holes in the brick walls and installing metal rods that are glued in place. Concrete walls then will be built on the inside of the brick structure.
The work also includes interior demolition work to chip plaster off the old interior walls, said Lisa Howe, project manager with Southeast's facilities management department.
Howe said this initial work in the seminary building -- part of a larger project to develop the River Campus -- would cost an estimated $2.8 million. The work began March 31 and is expected to be completed by the end of December.
While the university is seeking national register status, the focus is on preserving the building's exterior.
"It would have been difficult to preserve the interior," Howe said.
The university's board of regents last week agreed to seek national register status for the seminary building after school officials said Southeast had to apply for such recognition because it received federal funds to help fund the River Campus project.
The city's oldest cemetery dates to 1808, when it was laid out by Cape Girardeau founder Louis Lorimier.
Lorimier and his Shawnee Indian wife are buried there.
Cape Girardeau's early settlers and civic leaders, including Lorimier and railroad builder Louis Houck, are buried in the cemetery at 500 N. Fountain St.
"There are some very ornate headstones out there," Foley said.
The cemetery has nearly 1,500 marked graves. Most of the burials occurred between 1808 and 1955. The last burial was in 1983.
Getting the cemetery on the national register would allow the city to apply for federal grant money to preserve and repair some of the aging headstones, Foley said.
The William Henry and Lilla Luce Harrison House, a Queen Anne-style brick house at 313 Themis St., was built in 1897 by prominent St. Louis architect Jerome Legg.
He also designed Academic Hall at Southeast Missouri State University.
"A lot of the interior has its original features including stained-glass windows. It has five fireplaces," Foley said.
A wraparound porch was added in the early 1900s.
The house is named after the Harrisons, who were influential business and civic leaders in Cape Girardeau.
Dr. Robert Hamblin, who directs the Center for Faulkner Studies at Southeast Missouri State University, and his wife, Kaye, bought the house in 2003. They are restoring the home along with help from family members.
"It's just an adventure for us," Robert Hamblin said. "It needed a good bit of repair."
Historic structures owned by private individuals can qualify for tax credits for renovation work.
But the Hamblins so far haven't explored the possibility.
Hamblin said national register status would provide some prestige for the house.
"We are personally more interested in the history of the house," he said. "Like most things in life, you don't do it for the money."
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