As I look out the window from the fourth floor of the Marquette Tower, I can see the quaint, shaded brick house on Themis that has become the new home of Phillip B. Smith Architect, LLC. Maybe you don’t recognize their name, but you definitely know their work: the retail center that houses Qdoba, the large North Pointe Center where Subway and Beef O’Brady’s are located, and, in part, the Hotshots upgrades.
How They Ended Up Downtown
A few years ago, Phillip and his wife, Kim, had been driving around Downtown Cape when they spotted a for sale sign in front of 423 Themis. Since November of 2017, the Smiths have been proud owners of this property and have been working fix it up to house their growing business.
They wanted to be downtown because it’s where “a lot of things happen,” especially being just a block away from Broadway. This year, Phillip B. Smith Architect is celebrating its 20th anniversary located in a re-purposed house that has been restored to its historic glory.
Built in 1890 and serving as a functioning residence for the majority of its existence, this house put up some challenges during its renovation. Fortunately, the Smiths’ knowledge of architecture and love of this building’s historic character have resulted in a beautiful office space. For this reason, showcasing their work is the perfect way to wrap up Historic Preservation Month!
The Smiths’ attention to detail can be seen in their business as well as throughout the house. The first thing that caught my eye when I walked in this Victorian house was the original stained glass window. The transom over the front door is even the first owner’s family crest! Also located in the entryway is the original hardwood flooring.
While most might overlook the small details, the Smiths absolutely knocked it out of the park; notice the base boards and door trim that are a detailed replication of the original, individual carved rosettes on the doorways, and preserved hardware such as the original door handles. Mrs. Smith was excited to show me how they kept the ornate furnace grates and placed them over the return air vents. Impressively, the Smiths are even stripping off the 8(!) layers of old paint from any remaining trim, staircases, and doors. That’s a huge undertaking with all of the grooves and details, but it will result in an amazing finished product!
Sometimes rooms must be updated more heavily in order to be functional. This is typically true for older kitchen areas and bathrooms. However, the Smiths’ did a fantastic job of keeping small, but significant pieces in these rooms. The kitchen is currently being used as a break room, so modern appliances are a must. But the unique exposed brick wall remains as a focal point of the room. A similar idea was used for the bathroom upstairs with the original sink incorporated into the otherwise modern room.
In honor of Historic Preservation Month, I would like to say that I truly appreciate the Smiths’ efforts to preserve or recreate the small pieces of this structure, which has resulted in a great deal of historic integrity and character. Congratulations on two decades of business and thank you for your beautiful contribution to our downtown! #ThisPlaceMatters!
More Fun Facts on the history of this house:
1. The original slate fire surrounds on fireplaces came up from New Orleans, Louisiana. “R.H. Whitelaw, Cape Girardeau, MO” was written on the back of the slate. Whitelaw, the original resident of the house, served as a city attorney for Cape Girardeau and state representative during the last half of the 1800’s.
2. While the Smiths were renovating, they found 4-5 sinks upstairs, each with a corresponding gas line. This indicates that multiple families lived upstairs during the Great Depression.
3. According Mrs. Smith, the house was wedding present for the Whitelaws, but the couple did not move in until much later after the wedding.
4. In the original construction of the house, the kitchen was in the back of the house, possibly not even attached to the building. Later, with the changing times, remodeling moved the kitchen to the front of the house. Now, the Smiths have returned the layout closer to its original state and moved the kitchen back towards the back of the house.
5. As with many wealthy families’ houses of the time, a smaller set of stairs for the servants were located in the back of the house, and currently still remain. According to Mrs. Smith, the servant’s quarters were most likely added to the area above the kitchen, when it became attached to the house.
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