Austin Allen, Architect
Dieter Wetzel, Builder
Listed on the National Register in 2008
The Olivia had a well-deserved reputation as the “handsomest apartment house in the West.” Arthur Bendelari, a civil and mining engineer from Canada, moved to Joplin during the mining boom. He commissioned architect Austin Allen and the contracting firm Dieter and Wenzel to construct this 5-story, $150,000 masterpiece. Construction began February of 1906, and it was open in October that same year.
Arthur Bendelari had a reputation for being a well-liked charmer. He owned one of the town’s first automobiles, and he would race anyone anytime, especially if it involved wagering. He named the Olivia after his mother, Mary Olivia Bendelari.
Decorated in “Pompeian fashion,” the public spaces of the Olivia sparkled with solid Italian marble. The lobby decor impressed all who crossed the threshold where mosaic tiles spelled out “Olivia.” Passing through the elaborate rotunda, visitors entered the reception room, finished in old ivory and lit by skylights and a large leaded glass window with the name “Olivia” expertly crafted in multi-colored glass. A highly polished oak staircase spiraled up from the lobby, connecting all five floors. Electric elevators, both passenger and freight, also provided easy access to all parts of the building. A uniformed attendant provided 24-hour elevator service.
The red brick Olivia comprised 34 one and two-bedroom apartments, for a total of 110 rooms. Some of the larger apartments had almost 2,000 square feet of living space. All of them featured built-ins, fireplaces, marble bathrooms with claw-foot tubs, and every labor-saving device known at the time. Tenants enjoyed bright airy rooms with French doors opening onto private balconies. A roof garden overlooked the city, affording spectacular views in all directions. On clear days, one could even see Webb City. Trolley lines ran down 4th Street, right next to the building, taking residents wherever they wanted to go.
The Olivia’s Current Situation:
After many false starts and a tragic fire in December 2020, this Murphysburg landmark is being
restored by Blue Haven Homes and Bykota REI, along with Neal Group Construction &
Preservation Efforts & Updates:
- HMP partnered with stakeholders including the City of Joplin and the current owner to find ways to stabilize the structure.
- Downtown Joplin Alliance uses grant funds to conduct a professional assessment on December 11. Fire damage was limited in scope to the roof structure and the first-floor area below the lower roof. The decorative domed ceiling in the lobby has collapsed onto the floor, which has also partially collapsed. However, the exterior masonry and all floor structure areas are in sound condition and the building can still be rehabilitated.
- October 29, 2020: The Olivia is named one of Missouri’s “Places in Peril”
- December 7, 2020: The Olivia Apartments suffer fire damage (view drone footage of fire damage)
- December 17, 2020: Bywater Development’s application for tax credits to help pay for the renovation is denied by the Missouri Housing Development Commission
- Bywater Development withdraws from the offer to purchase The Olivia from Scott Tillman with Tillman Redevelopment of Springfield
- Fall 2021: New developers are making … progress to bring The Olivia back to her grandeur
- Good News Update February 12, 2021: City officials propose investment in Olivia building: Council to consider $250,000 agreement