Some fear Downtown Columbia's history could be erased

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COLUMBIA - Families, friends, and loyal customers pile into Shakespeare's Pizza on a busy Sunday afternoon. Smiles fill some faces enjoying pizza but other people grow impatient because of the long wait.

Shakespeare's manager Kurt Mirtsching said that's one of the reasons the business could use a remodel.

"The stuff behind the scenes where we work is going to be much improved." Mirtsching said. "We grew over the years, so what we work in to make the pizzas is a convoluted, Rube Goldberg mess, it's all kinds of crazy."

But that doesn't mean the remodel is going to be easy, Mirtsching said.

"For us, it's bittersweet. It's really going to be neat once we get it done," Mirtsching said. "The new facility is going to be a big improvement on the kitchen side but it's going to be as close as we can the same on the customer side. But that building, it's old, the stuff in it and the party we throw is what counts and that's going to keep going on."

The picture below is Shakespeare's Pizza in the last 1970s. 

Courtesy of The State Historical Society of Missouri

Mirtsching said when it comes down to it, the building is in need of improvement and a remodel would have had to happen some time soon regardless.

"There's historic, there's nostalgic, and then there's just plain old," Mirtsching said. "The building we're in, it's certainly nostalgic and a lot of people have memories but it's the memory of that party. The building itself, its not really historic, its just old. So when a new one comes along, then we want to keep the nostalgia going put a new restaurant in the new building and just keep throwing the same party."

But others are worried remodeling the property would destroy a part of iconic Columbia history. Columbia resident Peter Yronwode said he is appalled about Shakespeare's being torn down.

"It's historic. It means pleasant associations for thousands of people," Yronwode said. "When my kids come back from where they're living all over the country, the first thing they do is come down to Shakespeare's have a pizza, get a beer, hang out and reacquaint themselves with Columbia."

Now, he fears this will no longer be possible.

"Now it will be down," Yronwode said. "To build a little facsimile in the bottom of a ten story building, that's not even a bad joke, that's terrible. It's crazy."

He said he thinks the city should maintain a certain feel and if we continue to tear down buildings, the feeling will be lost.

"There should be some recognition that the town has a certain feel, a certain look and that's important," Yronwode said. "It means something to the people that live here now. It means something to the people who've grown up here and the people who came here to go to school."

That's why Yronwode said he thinks there should be restrictions on what a landowner can do with their property if it's considered historic. He said it's important to have overarching controls.

"So they can knock down as many buildings as they can, build high, ugly, income producing properties before the zoning prevents them from doing it, that's why there is a rush to do as much as possible now," Yronwode said. "That's unethical, it's improper, it's greedy and its disgraceful and I think whoever's doing it lacks intelligence, good taste and a sense of the importance of this town as a whole, all they want to do is make more money."

According to Columbia's Historical Preservation Commission, in general, there are no restrictions for landowners who own historical property. They can do almost anything they want with their property whether it be ten years or one hundred years old. There are currently 148 historical properties in Columbia. 

The Executive Director of the Boone County Historical Society Chris Campbell said property owners do have rights but there should be some sort of restrictions in place to preserve parts of history.

"We need to make guidelines so that some of the buildings that have superb history, that tell us who we are and where we came from and what the story of this community is we need to make a plan so that those are with us for a very long time," Campbell said.

Campbell said he thinks Shakespeare's has nostalgic value but there are other buildings in the community that would be a bigger shame to lose.

"Shakespeare's has history inside people but that doesn't mean necessarily that the building itself is historical," Campbell said. "Although I'll be the first one to say that we have a lot of historical buildings in this community that would be a different matter entirely than what we're experiencing right now with Shakespeare's."

Although it may seem sad to some, Campbell said this is just what happens as we move into the future.

"Coming from a perception of history, the one thing we can count on is that things will change. The downtown columbia we know and love now didn't look very much like it does now 100 years ago and the downtown a hundred years from now will only have a passing resemblance of what it is now," Campbell said. "So there will always be change and it's hard for several of us who live in this day in age to see that but Columbia was beautiful then, it's beautiful now and I know it will be beautiful a hundred years from now."

Shakespeare's manager Mirtsching said the nostalgia of the restaurant and feeling of the "box," as he calls it will be the same.

"It's not just the box that the party happens in, the box is changing but we're bringing back all the tables and chairs, the signs, as much as we can, we're even bringing back the same bricks and paneling. We're going to try and salvage the tin ceiling so a lot of the parts inside the box are going to be back but that's just the look," Mirtsching said. "The thing that really counts is the feel and the atmosphere of the party we throw and all the kids are coming back that work there, the pizza is coming back and so it's going to be the same party just a new location, a new box that it happens in."

Mirtsching said we can expect to see the new location in Summer 2016 but the operation is staying open.

"Sometime late May, early June we're going to move to our 8th street location, which is right next store, we're not closing. We're just moving temporarily next door for about 14 months. The new store will open in Summer 2016," Mirtsching said.