Restoration of the Olivia Apartments

A few building restoration projects are taking place in Joplin, including redeveloping the historic Olivia apartments, which caught fire this past December.

A fire broke out in the Olivia Apartments in Dec. 2020, damaging the building and destroying the roof. Colorado brothers Sawyer and Sullivan Smith, who own Bykota REI LLC, which is a Limited Liability Company, bought the Olivia apartments. In Feb. the Joplin City Council agreed to match Bykota up to $250,000 for liability in the redevelopment of the Olivia Apartments.

The liability funding will go toward the costs of labor and materials for the construction of a new roof and other necessary measures to ensure the Olivia is a safe space for its residents to live.

Before the historic building was purchased by the Smith brothers, Jill Sullivan, the executive director of Post-Art Library, submitted the forms to nominate the Olivia for Missouri Preservations 2020 Places in Peril Program.

“The purpose was to raise awareness that the Olivia was available to interested parties,” said Sullivan.

A major reason Sullivan, and several other Joplin citizens, felt interested in the preservation of the Olivia was its rich history. The building was completed in 1906 and it was built by an entrepreneur, A.E. Bendelari, who was invested in the mining community. Bendelari hired a local architect, Austin Allen, then used contractors Deiter & Wenzel to design and build the building.

“The Olivia was always a mixed-use building. It always had commercial spaces in addition to the residential spaces,” said Sullivan. “There was an eatery on the fifth floor, and they employed a world class chef. The dining room on the fifth floor was used by residents, of course, but was also open to the public.”

The Olivia also housed a barber shop, a billiard room, and a grill room, which were also open to the public.

The once highly acclaimed “handsomest apartment house in the west,” didn’t withstand the test of time.

“The building started to deteriorate and get into a really poor condition, so by 2006, the city decided no one could live in the building,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said restoring the Olivia creates potential benefits for Murphysburg neighborhood and for downtown Joplin.

“With the Olivia specifically, it’s one of those buildings I would hate to see our community lose. There’s a lot of potential to do something great there,” said Sullivan.

Aside from the restoration of the Olivia, another development project is converting the old downtown YMCA to apartments as well.

“I think there is a great need for great quality apartments and people want to live downtown. Downtown lofts and apartments are always full, with waitlists. We just lost housing from the Frisco building that had been vacated for renovations, so all those people had to go somewhere, and there aren’t enough places for people to live,” said City Council member, Christina Williams.

While there is a need for updated, quality apartments in downtown Joplin, local organizations demand the Olivia keeps it classic charm.

“The restrictive covenants that are put in place for that project by the Downtown Joplin Alliance require the project to meet historic preservation standards so it will have to retain a certain amount of that original character,” said Williams.

Williams is in favor of the benefits of developing more real estate in downtown Joplin, but the Olivia is especially important to her because she lived in the building with her parents as a child. Williams was devastated to hear about the Olivia catching fire in Dec.

“I was in a City Council meeting when the fire started and Councilman Copple sits next to me, who is a retired fireman, so he received a message about the fire because the whole fire department city wide was all hands on deck,” said Williams. “He showed me a picture and I nearly broke down right there.”

When the session was over, Williams watched the building burn from the room she was sitting in.

However, Williams is excited to see the future of the Olivia and feels as though many Joplin residents would agree.

“When you have such a huge fire event like that, you think you’re going to lose this historic treasure, then Lori Haun really just rallied the troops to try to save it. It’s kind of a remarkable story that everyone can get behind,” said Williams.

Williams believes the younger generations will be attracted to the idea of living in the Olivia because of its proximity to downtown Joplin and the allure of being a part of Joplin’s historic culture.

“When you think about the things the future generation will need, the way culture is changing, seeing projects like the Olivia, I think are meeting that need. Bringing back that history, bring Joplin’s past to the forefront,” said Williams.

During the 1950s-1970s, Joplin took part in the Urban renewal, several historic structures were torn down or covered with metal then people started to leave Joplin.

“Our culture was gone. Our young people didn’t see a place here where they could work and go to college and get the career they wanted, so they left,” said Williams. “Now people are starting to come back.”

Aside from the redevelopment of the Olivia and the downtown YMCA, there are several other projects taking place downtown including the Cornell Complex, the Jasper County Courthouse, a new gym, and mixed-use developments emerging on Main Street.

Additionally, half a block away from the Olivia apartments, the Frederick H. Rogers house will become a future museum, which Williams believes will be a cultural site to attract Joplin residents.

As downtown Joplin continues to develop into a cultural hub, proximity is an important factor in establishing quality apartments.

“I love the idea of a 15 minute neighborhood where residents can get to all of their services like doctor’s offices, the grocery store, their workplace, school. Where they could walk to these locations within 15 minutes. It creates a much healthier lifestyle for people. When you see people out in the street saying hello together, it creates a really fun community,” said Williams.

The estimated date of completion for the reconstructed Olivia apartments is Mar. 1, 2023.