The Heibel-March Drug Store resides at 902 N. Rangeline here in Columbia, Missouri. It is adjacent to Field Neighborhood Park and is one of the largest historic neighborhood commercial buildings left in Columbia. It was built ca. 1910 and was one of the most important commercial enterprises in this modest residential neighborhood.
The building is architecturally notable for the prism glass windows located above the open display windows of its large storefronts. Although prism glass tiles were popular for commercial storefronts in the early 20th century, few have survived to modern times, and they are now rare in Columbia.
From the Latin “lux” meaning “light” and “ferre,” meaning “to carry,” Luxfer prisms were a new twist on the Fresnel lenses that equipped lighthouses. Invented by James Pennycuick of Great Britain and patented in the U.S. in 1882, the lenses were once promoted as “The Century’s Triumph in Lighting” because of their ability to pull light deep into a space without creating an uncomfortable glare. Light passing through a Luxfer prism can be 5 to 50 times brighter than ordinary glass, but the prisms diffuse the light to create a comfortable light source that was ideal for commercial applications.
Luxfer prisms lighted the Heibel-March building for several proprietors, including the Heibel family’s grocery; March Pharmacy, Temple-Stephens General Store, as well as Curtis Black, who operated the store until 1955 with his wife Leona. Black recalls that many of his customers were workers in one of the neighborhood’s largest historic buildings-the Hamilton Brown Shoe Factory at 1123 Wilkes Blvd.
In December of 1998, the City purchased approximately three quarters of an acre of land located on the northeast corner of the intersection of Wilkes and Rangeline Streets for the purpose of developing a new neighborhood park. The proposed park was adjacent to Field Elementary School (now the Columbia School District’s Center for Gifted Education/Early Childhood Education) and was intended to serve the recreational needs of this north central neighborhood. At the time the City of Columbia acquired the property, initial plans for the neighborhood park called for the demolition of the Heibel-March Building. The decision to preserve the building was arrived at after considering input from residents, businesses, schools and other interested groups using a series of park planning sessions, public hearings, as well as other sources. Ultimately, the City Council approved a master plan for the new park, which stopped the demolition of the building provided that City funds were not used to renovate or operate the building. Following approval of the master plan, the City, in September of 2000, entered into an agreement with Central Missouri Community Action who was acting on behalf and in the interest of the North Central Neighborhood association. That agreement allowed CMCA to acquire and renovate the Heibel-March Building for use as a neighborhood center for neighborhood groups, school programs, and other public events. Ownership of the building was transferred to CMCA for a fee of $10 along with a long-term lease of the land on which the building sits. Under the terms of the agreement, the renovation was to be completed and a certificate of occupancy issued within five years of the signing of the agreement. As the neighborhood effort to raise the funding necessary to restore the building in accordance with their plans (cost estimates for renovation ranged from $200,000 – $250,000) encountered substantial challenges, the agreement was eventually extended for a total of three additional years. In March of 2008, representatives of the “Corner Renovation Project”, as the project had become to known, announced that CMCA had withdrawn their support of the project and that all effort to raise funds to restore the building were being suspended. With no renovation having been completed, the City’s agreement with CMCA expired on September 19, 2008, and ownership of the building was transferred back to the City. No major improvements to the building other than some minor interior demolition and cleanup had occurred, and the building continued to be in need of extensive renovation.
Bob Grove, a business owner of Grove Construction, LLC, and real estate developer located in Columbia recently portrayed interest in the property. He has always loved old buildings and has enjoyed watching them transform back into buildings of nobility. His son Tony and he had been driving by the building every day for fifteen years and finally decided to make it their project. Their company, Grove Construction, has been a growing company over the past years and they were in need of a place for expansion. They wanted to stay close to the downtown area and saw the Heibel-March Building as a great potential new location. Obviously, drastic restoration efforts needed to be done. They submitted a restoration proposal regarding the March-Heibel Building, were approved, and began their restoration efforts soon after.
After sixteen years of vacancy, the Heibel-March Building, now Grove Construction General Contracting, is completely restored and functions as an operating business. The restoration efforts put into the building were tremendous. Tony Grove remembers at the beginning of their restoration a tree was growing inside the building and there were dirt floors. Now, the inside is completely redone and modernized.
Grove Construction’s entry room, beautifully restored (no more dirt floors!)
Above: One of several offices inside the building
Below: Grove Construction conference room
Although the building now has a completely new interior, the Grove’s still wanted to maintain the building’s outside historic look. They put on a new roof, replaced all the windows, inserted all new outside lighting but were able to keep its original historic structure.
The mural that was painted on the side of the building still remains as well!