Touring the Olivia Apartments
May 09, 2010

Joplin entrepreneur Mark Williams held an open house at the Olivia Apartments. Curiosity brought many members of the community to 320 Moffet Avenue on May 8, 2010 to see what had become of the apartment hotel that had been designed in 1906 by Austin Allen, one of Joplin's foremost architects.

The cake that was served was delicious, the cart ride was fun but neither could mask what visitors saw--a building in need of tremendous repair, not the least being the exterior. Someone called attention to the brick mortar as seen to need tuck-pointing and called it "an expensive proposition, to say the least," as well as the rot that appears to render many of the balconies unsafe for use.

Williams (photo at right) in 2008 estimated the cost to purchase and renovate the building at $2 million. His target date for completion of what he has dubbed The Olivia Lofts and Grand Dining Hall was 2010 but no building permits currently are visible anywhere. He now advertises that date as 2011.

The plan for a typical loft-style apartment is shown with open space for the kitchen and living areas. No details were given for heating and air conditioning, size of rooms, kitchen and bath facilities or whether the French doors would lead to a usable patio or balcony.

The tour of the Olivia also included the promise of a roof-top garden.

Several events, we were told, already have been booked for the 3,000 square foot grand dining hall, pictured in the drawing at right, that will seat 250 people.

Two architectural renderings show what Williams and his StonesThrow Properties, LLC envision for each of the rental units and the building's fifth floor ballroom. He is the first to admit that "a lot of imagination is needed" to transform the present structure into the "luxury lofts" and 3,000 square foot banquet room pictured. But no one should question Williams' faith-based background, his having attended Cincinnati Christian University, Villanova and Joplin's Ozark Christian College.

Forty percent of the lofts are pre-leased, Williams claims. So, about a dozen people sharing Williams' vision have been willing to put down a $300 deposit for living space that will rent for $700 to $1500 including utilities and with Merry Maids service for one year as a bonus.

Williams has sold himself as a tax credit strategist, a historic preservationist and a real estate investment and management mogul. In the summer of 2008 the Olivia was named to the National Register of Historic Places qualifying it for tax credits for historic preservation and possibly Brownfield credits or money to remove hazardous materials. By the end of that year the Joplin City Council voted to abate taxes on improvements to the Olivia--100% for 10 years and 50% for the next 15.

A British flag flies alongside the U.S. flag in front of the Olivia designating unnamed British investors who have committed to the renovation project. Obviously, more than just deposit money to hold each loft was being encouraged. The open house was a cry for additional monied backers.

Olivia's history

The Olivia's original owner/resident was Anton Bendelari, a civil and mining engineer from Canada, who made his fortune in the local mines. He hired architect Austin Allen and the firm of Dieter-Wenzel in 1906 to design the building alternately described as "Roman revival," "Pompeian fashion" or simply of "revival styles that were characteristic of late 19th and early 20th century buildings, including Tudor-style." The cost of construction was said to be $150,000.

The apartments featured built-ins, fireplaces, marble bathrooms with clawfoot tubs, and French doors leading to patios/balconies. Other amenities included a "world-class" restaurant on the fifth floor, billiards in the basement and a hairdressing salon.

Through the years tenants were said to include W.H. Picher of Picher Mining, Howard Murphy, president of the Special Road Commission, J. I. Geddes, publisher of the Joplin Herald, Rev. R.H.M. Augustine of the First Presbyterian Church and physicians William E. Craig and A.R. Snyder. John F. Stevens and his wife were asleep in their first floor apartment and became seriously injured in 1908 when a gas explosion killed Marvin Reynolds, a 20-year-old night clerk. However, no ghost stories have surfaced from this incident and the building was repaired.

Keith Videtto of Pleasanton, CA was the last to own the Olivia before Williams. He forced 20 tenants to move out while he attempted to renovate the building but his money ran out before his vision could be satisfied and he abandoned the effort. Somewhere along the way the city of Joplin determined the building unsafe for habitation.

Picture yourself on tour at the Olivia. Click on the thumbnails for larger photos.

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