The History of Our Building (for the history buffs out there!)
Seen in the far left corner of both old-time photos below, the current Florence Adams building was already a major part of downtown St. Marys, Kansas in 1907. Just previous to its construction in 1882, the editors of the St. Marys Express had spoken of the new building in glowing terms, "We hear that Miss Fabing will have a large and substantial business house erected on the corner of 6th and Bertrand Avenue next spring. If so, it will be quite a boon for our city as the old rookeries that are now on that corner are hardly fit for hen houses, and are nearly ready to fall down."
The builder of the future Florence Adams building was Miss Beva Fabing, a remarkable woman who had owned a very successful dress making business at Fort Leavenworth in the 1870's. Amongst her most prestigious clients was the wife of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico who had special order dresses made by Miss Fabing and shipped all the way to her residence thousands of miles to the south.
When Beva's sister fell ill and died in St. Marys, Miss Fabing closed shop and moved west to take care of her brother in law's motherless children. The widower was Benjamin Bertrand, a man of note, who owned and had platted all of the land for the creation of the city of St. Marys. Already a rich woman, Beva ended up purchasing thousands of dollars worth of downtown lots from Benjamin and became one of the most respected citizens of the city.
Shortly thereafter, she decided to build a "house of business" which she would subsequently rent out as office and retail space to a variety of interests. Construction on her new building began in March of 1882 and lasted until November of the same year. In July, the building had already progressed far enough for the Express to comment on the 14th of that month, "The immense walls of Miss Fabin's new stone building are almost finished. It will be, when completed, a large and commodious structure and an ornament to our city. Let others follow suit, and ere long Bertrand Avenue will be one solid mass of stone and brick buildings."
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Unfortunately, the owner of the lot next to the future Florence Adams building, seen just to the right of it in the photo above, did not take the newspaper's advice and operated out of a wooden structure. In November of 1908, the Boehringer building, as the neighboring building was known, caught fire and burned to the ground in a dramatic episode captured in the St. Marys Star (the successor to the Express). Blackened stone can still be seen to this day in one of the rooms upstairs along the east wall. After that close call and 16 years after constructing her building, Miss Fabing decided to sell it as quickly as possible. It was then that John Erbacher, a prominent local businessman, purchased the building for $4,000.00.
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The Knights of Columbus Purchase
In January, Mr. Erbacher turned around and sold the building to the Knights of Columbus of which he was a member. From then on the building was known as the K of C Building, and was inscribed with this name high up on the facade sometime after 1908.
When the current owners tore off the aluminum siding covering the front of the building in 2007, they found that same inscription only slightly damaged and restored it to its former dimensions.
The Knights of Columbus operated their building continuously for almost one hundred years using one floor primarily as a meeting hall and the rest of the building for rental space. Many businesses found their home there over the years including Fennel's Store, the State Bank, Miller's Clothing Store, the office of E.J. Beakley, and the Ice Manufacturing Company. The building's original purchaser is still remembered to this day in faded white lettering high up on the exterior of a building across the street reading, "Erbacher Bros. Dry Goods, Shoes, Groceries, Flour & Feed, Seeds."
During the 1950's a "Hollywoodesque" bank robbery took place across the street at the First National Bank, complete with Tommie gun toting gangsters and well-meaning town sheriffs. After exchanging shots with about ten St. Marys citizens and "Lawman Best", the gangsters swaggered off down Mission Street "four abreast" to their getaway car. In their wake, Sheriff Best lay wounded in the doorway of the current Florence Adams building where he had taken refuge, shot cleanly through the lungs. Sheriff Best survived the incident and the gangsters were later caught in Topeka.
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Renovation in the 1970's
By 1968, the building was again in need of a facelift and the Knights were forced to remodel.
In June of 1972 a new facade was put on the building. The top half was covered with light green fiberglass and the bottom with light green decorative rock panels. Running out of funds, the building Committee raised membership dues by $8.00 to continue renovation. Construction was continued and finished with a top-to-bottom remodel.
On September 29, 1974 the St. Marys Club, operated by the Knights of Columbus, was opened and continued in business until October of 2001 when the building was finally sold by the Knights.
After being sold, the K of C building was home to several ventures including a wedding planning shop and, most recently, Pete's Place Bar and Grill.
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Today (and the details of how we got here - we name names!)
In 2006, the building reverted to First National Bank of Wamego. The current owners bought if from the bank in December of 2006. Employees of K.G. Moats & Sons Engineering Inc., along with many local artisans began renovations immediately in December and finished almost exactly one year later.
The entire building had to be gutted again from top to bottom, the first order of business being the removal of the aluminum facade put in place by the Knights nearly forty years earlier. Underneath, the new owners were extremely pleased to find many graceful windows and intact original architectural accents.
Inside the building, a century of plaster was removed from the walls to reveal the beautiful stone spoken of in the St Marys Express so many years before. Award winning Kaster Masonry was used to re-tuck point all of the walls and to carve out four large new windows along the west wall. In order to install these new windows, workers found out what the Express had meant when it spoke of "immense walls".
Over two feet of stone had to be cut through in order to shape the new openings. Although the original bead board ceiling had to be taken down in order to fireproof the building, it was not lost: a portion was shipped to Southern California as part of a Victorian mansion remodel there, and a portion was reused as wainscoting along the west wall of the main retail space downstairs - because it was important to the present owners that as much of the original structure as possible be preserved. A plastered section with layers of wallpaper (one hundred years thick!) can also be seen in one of the upper corners of the main floor and the original safe, built in the 1880s, sits solidly in the Florence Adams office, as beautiful and usable now as it was over one hundred years ago.
Today, gentle Spanish arch themes can be seen curving throughout the three upstairs apartments and flowing subtly through the downstairs retail space, mimicking the original window arches and complimenting the Victorian-themed facade. Carpenter, coffin maker, and St. Marys business-owner, Matt White, was able to bring the Florence Adams building back from the dead with his precise craftsmanship and willingness to customize. The interior trim work is by Master Carpenter, Joseph Gambino, also a St. Marys resident, whose expertise speaks for itself room-by-room throughout the building.
The present facade was designed and built by Michael Drippe of Drippe Construction and is an excellent example of the high level of craftsmanship and artistry that we enjoy in St. Marys. Local painter, Mr. Richard Wallmeyer and his three sons, Jacob, Gabriel, and Dominic do some of the best work in northeast Kansas and the Florence Adams building stands as a gallery, inside and out, of their skill. Sarto Marble & Granite of St. Marys added enduring beauty to the mix upstairs and down with locally fabricated granite countertops, while the bathrooms were transformed with the tile work of skilled Sarto employee, Dave Koskinen.
St. Marys' largest manufacturing facility, Custom Wood Products, is responsible for the well-crafted cabinetry seen throughout the building and sold to Florence Adams through their representative, Mr. Doug Flerlage. Many other local tradesmen contributed greatly to the project including, Brian Nohava, plumbing; Michael Disipio, plumbing; Justin Harpe, electrical; Jason Bunel, drywall; Steve Kaiser, heating and air; Jeff Gayner, finish carpentry; John Keenan, plaster; Frank Mioni, gas piping; and Lee Steinmeyer of Lee's Fabrication, welding. Other workers: Ben Garland, Dominic Mueller, Joe Rojas, Steven Taylor, Jeffrey, Jephree, and Gabriel Dagenais, most of the Moats boys, Nathaniel Sevigny, Louie Garcia (who was nearly killed on the project), Mark Thomas, Joe Thomas, Andrew Christen, Kirk Burhans, John Mueller, Nick McCarthy, Joe Mueller, James Daganais, Tim Geritty, Josh Covert, Jerome Murphy, Roberto of Junction City, Rick of Tradesman International, Matt Syrokosz, Luis Jacas, Mr. Schindler and his helpers, young Keenan, and Tony Mioni together spent many hundreds of hours transforming the Florence Adams building into what it is today.
Florence Adams now operates out of 2,500 square feet of new retail space, an upgrade of over ten times the size of its original location. All our renovation work was put under the protection of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and St. Joseph. We, the owners of Florence Adams, invite you to come visit downtown St. Marys and experience small-town urban living!
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Benjamin Moats 07.16.08