• Menu
  • Menu
olivia apartments

Olivia Apartments

Location Class:
Built: 1906 | Abandoned: 2006
Historic Designation: Missouri Register of Historic Places
Status: Under Renovation
Photojournalist: Billy Wade

Olivia Apartments Hotel

Olivia Apartments
Simpson, Leslie, Post Memorial Art Reference Library

In 1906 a building permit was issued in Joplin for the “Olivia Apartment Hotel” for $150,000. The genius behind one of the first luxury apartments in the Joplin area was mining mogul Anton E. Bendelari. The building gained the name Olivia after Anton’s own mother, Olivia. Architect Austin Allen designed the building as one of the finest apartment houses in the West. Dieter and Wenzel were hired as the general contracting firm to build the 5 story brick building. Named the “Olivia Apartment Hotel, it had 34 units for short and long-term stays. An elegant and open foyer with details of Italian marble, quarter sawed oak panels, marble tiled floors as well as stained glass.

The building incorporates Tudor, Colonial Revival and other common 20th-century architectural features. The building originally included a parapeted roofline that contributed to the Tudor Revival aspects of the building. It included the most modern of fixture appliances including a 1000-gallon hot water tank, a cold refrigeration storage plant, a commercial kitchen and freight/passenger elevators. The Olivia was designed for upscale living, catering to “up-and-coming young bachelor business and professional men. Also included were laundry services, private dining, billiard room and more! In the basement a clothing store and barber shop to allow for resident conversation and preparing for their days of doing business.

Officially in the full swing of business by 1907 some of the most notable residents throughout the years were Howard Murphy, J. I. Geddes, Rev. R. H. M. Augustine, Dr. William E. Craig, Dr. A R. Snyder, and Anton Bendelari. The main foyer exuded elegance with a large rotunda with a grand stairwell and open space with seating. In total it cost around $225,000 after construction was all said and done.

But in early 1908 the Olivia experience a great tragedy and setback when a natural gas explosion occurred. The explosion occurred in the basement, night clerk Marvin Reynolds just a 20-year-old young man had gone down to feed a pet cat. The lights were not working properly and Reynolds lit a match to light the way, the gas that had been leaking was ignited. The explosion damaged the entire first floor and even houses across the street. Reynolds was taken to a nearby hospital where he regained consciousness briefly to explain what happened and then passed. Mr. and Mrs. Stephens whose apartment was located right above where the explosion occurred were pulled from the wreckage with bad injuries. The total damage to the building was roughly $8,000 but the loss was far greater than just materials.

When the family filed with their insurance company, Fire Association of Philidelphia, the company refused to pay the policy alleging it did not provide for loss from explosion. A lawsuit would be filed and the case would go to court where a judge awarded the Stephens family with $1000 affirming their loss was from the fire and not the explosion itself. The case was appealed but later upheld by Judge J.P. Nixon.

The Olivia made news headlines in 1925 as one of the biggest real estate deals to happen in the area in many months. A.E. Bendelari announced he would transfer the title of the Olivia to a new company under A.W. Thurman and L.T. LeBow called Olivia Apartments Inc. Bendelari’s reasoning for selling this property and the others was due to an upcoming move he planned out of the city.

For the most part, the apartments and their residents lived a quiet life for decades. In the 1970s William Sutton of Springfield owned the building and had been known for buying up other residential properties in the area.

But as time went on deferred maintenance and age started to reflect on the Olivia. Money needed to be poured into a renovation, in the early 1980s the Hadley family did just that. On their agenda was repainting and refinishing the lower levels, and plans were drawn up to reimagine the fifth-floor dining room into a penthouse.

Still, these updates were not enough, with the changing times building codes changed. This meant the death of a ton of old buildings around the country. The City of Joplin threatened to have the building vacated if the electrical and fire suppression systems were not brought up to the 1996 code. This would have allowed the building to remain open and the owner of the Olivia had given their word that the systems would be brought up to code. But a decade passed and the problems were still not fixed, the building was deemed unsafe and an evacuation of all tenants was issued in 2006. This uprooted residents, some of which had lived in the building for decades.

A year following its vacancy it was designated a city landmark given its architectural significance and a longtime history of important residents. This would set the stage for the movement to save it in later years.

Olivia Apartments Fire 2020

Firefighters were called to the scene at 9:38 pm on December 7th, 2020 when neighbors called to report flames coming from the top floor of the vacant building. Upon arrival the fire had ripped through the roof and covered 80% of the fifth floor in flames. Firefighters bravely fought the flames until 1:10 am Tuesday morning to save the structure from a complete engulfment and possible collapse.

The cause of the fire was listed as undermined due to the fact that as the state inspector got closer to the source of the fire it became more and more dangerous. Just a few months prior the building was placed on the Missouri Places in Peril list. But the fire seemed to spark community concerns about other vacant buildings in the city and how to come up with solutions for those vacant properties. But this is something that is said after every fire and MOST times little change is actually made.

Restoration of the Olivia Apartments

But it seems that things in Joplin actually started to work, just two months after the fire the Downtown Joplin Alliance facilitated the transfer of ownership of the Olivia Apartments from the North Main Redevelopment to Blue Haven Homes. They had formed Endangered Properties Program Committee and chose the Olivia as its first property to focus on months before the fire, so after the blaze, it became more urgent to find a solution.

Since that transfer renovation work has been heavily underway with the completion of a new roof, demo, and actually renovation occurring now with a proposed completion date of 2023. Neal Group Construction was hired as the general contractor for the project and kept the progress bar filling. The fifth floor where the fire broke out will obviously prove to be the hardest for restoration but Blue Haven Homes and team are determined to make it happen.





The Olivia Apartments



We get a first look inside the Olivia Building as restoration work continues







Olivia Apartments
Emily Cowan

Emily is a two-time published author of "Abandoned Oklahoma: Vanishing History of the Sooner State" and "Abandoned Topeka: Psychiatric Capital of the World". With over two hundred published articles on our websites. Exploring since 2018 every aspect of this has become a passion for her. From educating, fighting to preserve, writing, and learning about history there is nothing she would rather do.

If you wish to support our current and future work, please consider making a donation or purchasing one of our many books. Any and all donations are appreciated.

Donate to our cause Check out our books!

Emily Cowan

Emily is a two-time published author of "Abandoned Oklahoma: Vanishing History of the Sooner State" and "Abandoned Topeka: Psychiatric Capital of the World". With over two hundred published articles on our websites. Exploring since 2018 every aspect of this has become a passion for her. From educating, fighting to preserve, writing, and learning about history there is nothing she would rather do.

View Locations
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Copyright © 2009- - Abandoned Atlas Foundation - board@AbandonedAtlas.com | Designed By Prairie Nation Creative, LLC - Disclaimer

error: Content is copyright protected by The Abandoned Atlas Foundation. To request the use of information/media: board@abandonedatlas.com or copy and paste link to post
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x