10 years later…mural mania in Cuba, Missouri

Monster truck and mural in Cuba, MO

Sometimes the murals are just backup for other community events. This is a shot from the Lions Club September Car Show.

Recently, I was touring the murals, checking for trash, etc when I noticed some chalk drawings on the ledge by the Apple Mural (which happens to be part of the mural). I needed some water to wash off the chalk.

Apple Mural Cuba MO attraction

The ledge along the east wall of the Apple Mural is part of the mural.

Charlie Vaughn was watering flowers at Peoples Bank, so I asked if he had a bucket that I could borrow to take some water over to mural and clean off the chalk. He fixed me up and as we were talking, he mentioned that when the mural project started that some people thought it was a waste of time and money, but he thought it was the best thing that ever happened to Cuba.

As I thought about that remark later, I decided that the truth was probably someplace in the middle. New factories, new schools, active volunteers in all areas, especially with youth groups, the History Museum, Visitor Center, good businesses, etc., are very important to our thriving community.  But then I thought the murals have been a benefit too.

1. The murals didn’t cost taxpayer money. Viva Cuba used fundraisers and donations from businesses and individuals to finance them.

2. The tourism tax has helped with funds for promotion and trolley tours, but that is paid by a tax from visitors to the town’s motels. Added taxes are pretty standard for motels and hotels, so I don’t think it costs lodging businesses customers, and the murals have given tourists an additional reason to stop in Cuba and spend money.

3. They have brought money into Cuba because of  the sales tax that the tourists pay when they spend money in Cuba. They spend money at gas stations, restaurants, and other retail outlets. That puts money into the pockets of Cubans, who can then re-circulate it in the community.

4. They have helped “brand” Cuba as “Route 66 Mural City.” The murals are an additional draw for the many Route 66 tourists who travel to Cuba, and the murals give them another reason to stop here. It makes our community stand out from other small towns along the road.

5. Murals are used to teach local and national history to Cuba students. The school has a curriculum for each mural that students study in their 4th grade MO History Week. Other grade levels have also utilized the murals for teachable moments. Cuba students probably know more about local history than students in other towns as a result.

Cuba MO kids tour Truman mural

Viva Cuba members took some All Aboard Learning Center students on a tour of the murals.

6. Other businesses have added to the beautification of Cuba with their own privately funded murals. You can view these on our website.

7. Locals and tourists alike have enjoyed the murals during Cuba Fest’s Trolley Tours. Local often say that the murals are something they show off to out-of-town visitors.

8. They have brightened up the buildings with some variety.  Most people have a favorite (or one they don’t like). They add interest to our small town of 3500.

But I guess the question of the murals’ value is best answered by those who come to Cuba to visit them or live in the community. Viva Cuba, a beautification organization of volunteers, invests a lot of time, energy, and money to maintain and promote the murals. Hopefully, our efforts are seen as beautifying and enriching the heritage of our community and engender mural pride in Cuba citizens.

Mural mania or madness, that is the question…

To see more on young people and the murals: “Cuba MO Fourth Graders show off their history,” “Murals and Young People a Winning Combination,” and “Fourth Grade bloggers speak their minds.”

For information on bus tours see : “The wheels on the buses go round and round…and bring visitors to Cuba, MO.”

Main Street Cafe Mural Cuba MO

The transformed area behind the Mainstreet Cafe buildng in Cuba's historic area shows one of Cuba's privately commissioned murals. This one is painted by Julie Nixon Krovicka, a South St. Louis artist.

Heirloom sock monkey has near miss in Cuba, Missouri’s Historic District…

Heirloom sock monkey Cuba MO

This heirloom sock monkey (the long tail variety) rests up after a near miss at the recent Route 66 Treasure Sale at Munro House.

Labor Day weekend is the annual Route 66 Yard Sale that stretches along Route 66. Saturday brought out many sellers and buyers along the Route 66 in the Historic Uptown District. The event is billed as a Treasure Hunt. But one Cuba family came close to losing a local treasure.

Kim Pinnell and Tara Brewer came together to have a sale at the Historic Munro House on Route 66. Kim was browsing through Tara and her daughters’ box of stuffed animals and noticed an old sock monkey. When she mentioned it, Tara immediately retrieved it. It had been made by her grandmother Catherine Krekeler, who died in 2008 at the age of 97. She had made the monkey for Tara when she was a child, and her three girls had also played with the sock monkey. The heirloom sock monkey was definitely not meant for the sale.

Sock monkey hopes he receives a little more respect from his family in the future.

Reporters were soon on the scene after reports of Monkey Business in Historic Uptown Cuba. When Viva Cuba’s sock monkeys, now incased in the Hayes Shoe Store window, heard of the heirloom monkey’s experience, they just batted their lashes and smiled.

Reporters were soon on scene to interview the sock monkey.

Viva Cuba's Sock Monkeys watch the traffic along Route 66 from the Hayes Shoe Store window. They were pleased to hear of the rescue of one of their own and were glad to hear that sock monkeys have longevity on their side.

For history on the Sock Monkey, a form of Americana Folk Art go here.

Cuba’s Mesker building needs rescue and restoration…

What is a Mesker building?Mesker Building Smith Street Cuba MO

Cuba, MO's Mesker Building needs to be rescued and restored befitting its historical heritage.

The latest copy of Rural Missouri had an article by Jim Winnerman titled, “Small-town girl helps preserve historical stamped-metal facades.” Editor Jim McCarty graciously allowed us to print a link to the article. Initially, I stopped to read the article because I know the writer, and he has written Cuba-related topics before. This article was not about Cuba. Or I didn’t think it was.

The article is about 23 year-old Hallie Fieser who has a bachelor’s degree in historic preservation and has begun a master’s in public history. One of her areas of expertise is Mesker storefronts, manufactured in St. Louis and Evansville, Ind. by the Mesker Brothers Ironworks. They were erected between 1880 and 1920.

The article went on to say that they were popular in rural towns because the the storefronts could be ordered from a catalogue and shipped by railroad and could be installed quickly and cheaply to dress up the facade of a building without the expense of an architect or skilled craftsmen.  As I was reading, I vaguely remembered Marilyn Stewart of Cuba’s Historic Preservation Commission mentioning that one of the buildings on Smith Street was a Mesker Building.

As I was going to the historic area on Smith Street to eat, I checked out the building that I thought might be a Mesker. Sure enough, the company’s signature nameplate was there as well as the other characteristics of a Mesker building.

The building on Smith Street had the characteristic  nameplate of the company.

Mesker Brothers Nameplate Cuba MO

Winnerman’s article mentioned these characteristics:

1. Cast-iron nameplates with the Mesker name stamped in.

2. Morning glory and fleu-de-lis repetitive patterns.

3. Cast-iron or pressed metal architectural elements including columns, cornice-bracket ornaments and window hoods.

4. Decorative sheet-metal panels with stone or brick designs.

5. A recessed entrance that provides increased window display space.

Mesker Building Cuba Mo

The fleu-de-lis at the top of the column is one of the Mesker storefront characteristics as is the pressed metal architectural elements across the top of the building.

Mesker Building Detail Cuba Mo

One can imagine how this detail set off the building when it was new.

I emailed Marilyn Stewart of Cuba’s Historic Preservation Commission about the history of the building. She said that the building had been the Bank of Cuba, Jake Dorf”s Hardware Store for a time, and a Bishops Clothing Store. She said that Gary and Ann Branson had a furniture store there, an American Sales Store, and the Head Start School had also been in the building. Recently, the builidng was condemned by the city, and the windows were boarded-up. Clearly, what might be an architectural legacy was not being treasured today.  The boarded-up building on Smith Street has seen better days.

The subject of the article Hallie Fieser  asked  in the article that anyone knowing where a Mesker building was to email her, so I sent her the photos of our not-so-well-cared-for building.  She replied, “Sadly the story of condemnation and poor repair is not uncommon with many Meskers across the state.”

Fieser provided me a couple of links for Mesker information. One initiative in Illinois tries to educate people about the significance of Meskers. If you go here, you can find photos and historical information about the buildings. She also wrote, “As far as good examples of restorations, there are many photos on the gotmesker? photostream on flickr:.” You can find those photos here.  ”Darius Bryjka updates the site and leads the Mesker efforts in Illinois.  He is the one go-to man for me with any questions and has created a great collection of resources available online,” stated  Fieser.

Fieser also said that she is working on a blog about Meskers and that she will send information when it is up and running.

It is pretty plain to see that Cuba’s Mesker needs a rescuer for its sad and neglected  state. Much has been done in the Historic Uptown Cuba, but more remains to be done.  We hope someone with vision and the resources to take on the project surfaces. In the meantime, check out some of the photos of restored Meskers on the flicker site. They are treasures.

See “Historic Cuba building gets a new look” for an example of historic preservation on Smith Street.

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