Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017

St. Joseph, Missouri's Pioneer Building Demolished After Fire

photo by: Patrick Evenson

In each Transitions section of Preservation magazine, we highlight places of local and national importance that have recently been restored, are currently threatened, have been saved from demolition or neglect, or have been lost. Here's one from Spring 2017.

The original 1872 Tootle Opera House was known as the place to see and be seen in St. Joseph, Missouri, and was billed as “the finest opera house west of the Mississippi River” when it opened. With its twin mansard roofs, it was an instantly recognizable landmark in the city’s downtown. Stars such as William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Oscar Wilde gave performances and readings at the theater in its heyday.

The opera house was shuttered in 1933, but by the 1940s new owners had renovated the structure. They renamed it the Pioneer Building, converted it into office space, and covered it with a new brick facade. It served as an office building in the heart of downtown St. Joseph for much of the 20th century, housing doctors, attorneys, and other professionals.

On November 21, 2016, an extensive fire caused the building’s facade and southeastern wall to collapse into the street and an adjacent alley. On December 1, the city ordered an emergency demolition of the structure’s remains.

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

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