By Gail Parsons
DCNT News Editor
Carved into a stone above the front door of the building at the corner of Old Highway 40 and Marshall Street in Chapman is the word BANK. While it may have started out as a bank, the corner-facing limestone building has housed an assortment of businesses in its 117-years.
The owner, Tana Davis, said it’s her understanding the building was one of the first built in downtown Chapman but the bank was only open about 10 or 15 years.
“The people that built it got in trouble for embezzling — as the story goes,” she said. “Then it became a succession of different stores. It’s been a music store several times; it’s been a hairdresser or barber more than once; it’s been, I think, a bakery; it was the Stoplight Cafe’ It was the Irish Shop; And it was most recently, before us, Fansler Family music. So it’s just been a whole bunch of different things since its inception. But never been one thing for very long.”
At some point, the building was split into two sides. Today, on one side of the building is Jypsy Jen’s, an eclectic shop, and Davis’s art studio and gallery. The other side houses a quilt shop.
In 2017, Davis purchased half of the building — in the fall, she obtained the quilt shop side with the goal of preserving a piece of history.
“These buildings cannot be rebuilt,” she said. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone. And they’re part of the life of Kansas. This is native Kansas stone here, this building has a story to tell about the entire history of this region.”
However, preservation is neither easy nor cheap, as Davis learned soon after the 2017 purchase.
“The first big scare we had was that there was a keystone over the window that slid out,” she said. “We were told by the first person to come in and give us an estimate that we’re looking at $80,000 in repairs, all at once. At that point, I thought I’d have a nervous breakdown. I thought, ‘I can’t do it, we’re selling to get out from under it, cut our losses run, I just can’t do it.’”
She credits her husband’s calmer demeanor for her holding out and getting a second estimate, which was more reasonable.
One of the first projects in her newly-obtained part of the building was to start cleaning up the upper level above the quilt shop. The area was not accessible through the quilt shop and has withstood decades of neglect, which was one of the driving forces behind Davis’s interest in owning the entire building.
“I’m very concerned about the building next to (the art studio) because it is in terrible shape,” she said. “But at least now, with owning both sides of this building, I can take care of it and it gives me control over the roof, If a roof is gone, that’s it. A building can stand for ages as long as it’s got a good roof on it. But as soon as a roof on a building goes and water starts to get in there, that’s it.”
Davis looked beyond the bird waste, the old wasp nests, and the years of collected dirt when considering the purchase. She saw the old tin ceilings, wood floors and the artist side of her could start piecing together what the original paint job might have looked like.
Her intention was to save the tin ceiling, but it needed to be carefully removed and cleaned up. That was when old water damage was discovered.
They had put scaffolding up and her husband, son, and a friend were going to start prying off the panels.
“All of a sudden I hear this tremendous roar, it sounded like a bomb went off — the whole building shook,” she said. “I just sat there and I listened to for a minute, then I heard voices — I heard everybody’s voice.”
After breathing a sigh of relief, she opened the door to the open expanse and the room was filled with a cloud of dust.
“Half the ceiling came down,” she said. “It just came down.”
Before the day was out, the rest of the ceiling fell.
Davis said they estimated three tons of plaster was held up by the tin, much of which got bent, crushed and mangled when it fell, although they were able to save some of it.
Before purchasing that side of the building, Davis suspected there was damage to the ceiling, the extent of which was unknown because it was hidden under the tin. After the tornado ripped through Chapman in 2008, a new roof had been put on the building but sometime prior to that, there was a leak and water loosened the plaster from the lathe.
As nice as the tin was, she said it wasn’t original to the 1905 building.
Originally it would have been lathe and plaster and they would have done a coating on it and usually some kind of circular painting,” she said.
The painting would have matched the border, which is still visible in some areas. As she researches the history of the building, she is hoping to figure out what it may have looked like so she can replicate it.
“We want to try to restore it to what it might have originally looked like,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to find an exact pattern. But I can at least find a pattern from the same era that would have matched it.”
As Davis works to piece the building back together, she is also piecing together its history. In the level above the quilt shop, she believes it was at one time it was a Mason’s Hall; it was also a dance studio at some point and an apartment for the people who owned the diner downstairs.
She is hoping people who know anything about the building will reach out to her. Any tidbit can help her start piecing it together. The building is more than just her art studio and gallery, it’s something much bigger.
“I love knowing that somebody came here before us and made a home here and that we are continuing on and preserving that tradition,” she said. “We’re not owners of this place so much as we are stewards of it. We are trying to preserve it for the next generation of people that will come after us. We don’t get to live forever but this building can stand a lot longer than we will. By preserving old buildings like this, we are leaving our mark.”