Shaun Bennett, of Topeka, Kan., brother of Monett Community Church Pastor Chad Bennett, has purchased the Mansfield's building in the 300 block of East Broadway. Bennett has announced plans to open a coffee shop, art gallery and photography studio in the former clothing store.
The second floor of the building is where Bennett and his family will live. Bennett looked at around seven downtown buildings in considering a place to set up his business.
"When we saw this, we walked in and said, 'This is it. There's no other building we want,'" Bennett said.
The Mansfield's building has been unoccupied since Charles Rowell retired in 2007. Rowell had retained much of the look of the clothing store from its heyday in the 1930s, including many of the fixtures.
Upstairs has been one of the unseen treasures of historic Monett, the Stone Hotel. Built in 1892, the 18-room hotel was the last of the many hotels serving the railroad industry to stay in business, closing in 1967, the year before passenger rail service ended. The second floor has never been remodeled and still looks much like it did when it opened.
Bennett saw the 2,600-square feet upstairs as room for a good-sized home. Bennett closed on the sale with Rowell and has started remodeling.
The Manfield's store itself will need little work to serve Bennett's purposes. He has moved in a bar built as a counter for the bank in Harveyville, Kan. Bennett said the counter goes particularly well with the well-kept oak floor in the store.
Bennett does not want to change much of the classic ambiance of the store. He will add wireless Internet access and have a stage, from which his 16-year-old daughter, Angela, will occasionally play guitar. Track lighting will also be added.
In the rear Bennett plans to section off a community room where groups can meet. He expects to install the needed equipment to do Powerpoints presentations.
"The coffee shop will have sandwiches for the lunch crowd," Bennett said. "My 13-year-old niece, Sabrina, a pastry chef in the making, will contribute creations as well."
Bennett's father, Dave Bennett, is also a painter. He has painted some temporary July 4 slogans on the window. The elder Bennett likes to paint historic and nostalgic scenes and hopes to dig into Monett's past for subject matter. Dave Bennett and his wife, Tige, plan to move to Monett once they sell their home in Bolivar.
The main entrance to the Mansfield's store now bears the name "Denali Dreams." Shaun Bennett explained that he read Jack London's books about Alaska 35 years ago and last September got to visit Denali National Park with his brother. He plans to show many of the photos he took at the park in the store and use the venue to realize longstanding dreams.
More of those dreams will take shape upstairs. Bennett plans to divide the building and use the back half as an art institute. Painting instruction will be held in the wide hallway. The smaller rooms will be used for classes in techniques like furniture refinishing, which his mother does, pottery, woodcarving and other skills.
Bennett has been concentrating his efforts so far on turning the hotel into living space. Underneath four layers of wallpaper he has discovered writing on the original plaster walls. Walls in front, with notes dating from 1898 and 1900, bear the signatures of apparent hotel guests and their travel schedules.
While moving the bathroom, which had a raised floor in one corner to provide a separate women's bathing area, Bennett found a cache of whiskey bottles under the floor that appear to date from the 1920s and several live revolver bullets.
Bennett is trying to save as many pieces of old furniture and artifacts left in the hotel for some future use. He plans to take a cast iron bathtub from one room downstairs and place a sculpture of a dolphin in it that sprays water.
The construction of the building is a source of amazement to Bennett. He said the first floor was built about six inches off solid ground, leaving no crawl space underneath. A wall runs down the middle of the building, dividing the Mansfield's store from the showroom for The Trunk, which is also part of the building.
|Uncovering paint on the windows of the 20 doors along the hotel hallway reveals stained glass around the edges of the central window. Bennett plans to bring the doors back to their original stunning look.||Bennett has joined the Downtown Betterment Group and is actively participating in the visioning effort for Broadway.|
"I want people to see someone doing this [converting downtown buildings]," Bennett said. "This is not just a 15-year pipe dream for someday. If we can find the right people to do this, to share the dream, we can make this happen."
Presently, Bennett is staying with his brother during the week and going back to Topeka on weekends. His wife, who has a degree in accounting, is looking for work in Monett, and the family's move depends in part on when she finds a job. Bennett said he would like to open the business in late August or September.