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2 local landmarks look to be among National Register of Historic Places

by Michael Shine | February 14, 2021 at 5:16 a.m. | Updated February 14, 2021 at 5:17 a.m.
The now closed Simonsen School building is one of two local landmarks owners are looking at the opportunity of being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Two Jefferson City landmarks are looking to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The former Simonsen 9th Grade Center and Orchard Acres will go before the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation for consideration in March.

Recently, there have been conversations over finding a new use for both locations.

Ernst Simonsen High School, at 501 E. Miller St., was built in 1926 and last hosted students in May 2019.

The school is the oldest remaining high school in Jefferson City and was one of the first two schools to racially integrate in 1954, according to the National Register application. It has had several additions over the years to add classrooms, the gymnasium and auditorium.

The Jefferson City School District voted in December to sell the vacant school to Allyn and Todd Witt, who want to develop it into a modern-style apartment building with historic elements.

The Witts originally planned to start work on the building in June, but those plans are on hold as they make their third attempt to have Simonsen listed on the National Register.

To be added to the list, applicants need to explain the property's age, significance and integrity. The application needs to be approved by the state's historic preservation office before going to the national office.

They've presented two proposals at the state level with applications focused on the building's educational history but were told to narrow the focus, Allyn said.

Witt said they submitted the first application in December hoping Simonsen would be on the National Register by May. They've since submitted a second application but were told it isn't complete enough to move forward at this point, Allyn said.

"Now that we've received this unfortunate news about not being able to get on in the soonest timeline, this will push us back a minimum of nine months," she said.

If this third attempt is successful, the soonest work could begin would be August or September, she said.

Witt said the couple wants the former school building to be listed on the National Register because it deserves the recognition - and because it needs the National Register designation to qualify for a historic tax credit.

The tax credit is a 20 percent credit for the rehabilitation of historic, income-producing buildings that are considered "certified historic structures," according to Technical Preservation Services.

Allyn said their ability to complete this project is based on receiving that tax credit.

While the couple is frustrated the timeline needs to change, Allyn said they understand the importance of the process and the guidelines that need to be followed.

"We just want people to understand that we have things planned on our end," Allyn said. "We feel very strongly the building does deserve to be on the National Register."

Orchard Acres

Meanwhile, Orchard Acres, at 2113 W. Main St., is looking at its own new life.

Although it's a single-family home, in the past, it was used as a research facility/laboratory.

Local ice cream company owner John Weber built it in 1939 and sold it to Dr. Everett Sugarbaker in 1950. Sugarbaker conducted cancer research and experiments on the property as well as living there with his wife and three children, according to the National Register application.

Now, the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, the Special Learning Center, and the Everett D. and Geneva V. Sugarbaker Foundation are in conversations about developing 13.5 acres of land on the property into an all-inclusive park and new home for SLC.

Any actual development on the land is likely years away.

The Jefferson City Historic Preservation Commission approved both nominations unanimously during its meeting Tuesday.

Commissioner Mary Scantz asked if plans for the properties' future uses, especially for Orchard Acres, would be impacted if they are added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Commissioner Tiffany Patterson said she doesn't think it would be a problem.


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