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Iconic columns at Springfield Art Museum have ties to city's past

Two of the columns from the Colonial Hotel now at the Springfield Art Museum's amphitheater
Springfield Art Museum
Two of the columns from the Colonial Hotel now at the Springfield Art Museum's amphitheater

The four columns at the amphitheater date back to 1907.

If you’ve been in the area for any amount of time, you’re probably familiar with the four columns that flank the amphitheater just west of the Springfield Art Museum. But what you might not know is that those columns were part of Springfield’s history beginning in the early part of the 20th century.

A campaign on Giving Tuesday raised money to do needed preservation work on them.

Their history

The Colonial Hotel, which once stood in downtown Springfield.
Springfield Art Museum
The Colonial Hotel, which once stood in downtown Springfield.

At one time, the columns framed the entrance to the Colonial Hotel at the southwest corner of St. Louis and Jefferson.

That hotel, built in 1907, hosted numerous dances and political meetings and was “widely feted as the finest hotel in southwest Missouri,” according to the Springfield-Greene County Library District.

President Harry Truman stayed at the Colonial when he came to Springfield for a 1952 reunion with his buddies from World War I. Elvis Presley stayed there in the 1950s, and John F. Kennedy stayed there during a campaign stop, the library's website states.

The hotel's demise

By 1986, when the Colonial Hotel building was donated to the Southwest Missouri State University Foundation, it had been in disrepair for several years. SMSU, citing the expense to restore the building, tore it down in 1997 and turned the site into a parking lot.

But the columns survived. Kate Francis, affairs officer for development and fundraising at the Springfield Art Museum, said someone had put them in storage, and they were eventually installed at the amphitheater.

"Initially, those columns marked the entrance to the park but then were moved to the amphitheater, which is a WPA (Work s Progress Administration) era — 1930s era — construction project, so they flank the amphitheater now," said Francis.

Fundraiser to preserve the columns

The iconic columns are in good shape, she said, but they need some work. They were cleaned a few years ago, but some projects are necessary now.

"They also need sealant in some cracks and some chips repaired," said Francis. "So, that was what our Giving Tuesday campaign was — to do a little bit more extensive repair work to the columns. But, really, they're in fantastic shape for being 115-years-old."

The goal for Giving Tuesday was $2500. And, so far, $2783 has been pledged for work on the columns.

Francis said any additional money will be used for beautification work around the amphitheater – including reinstalling heritage plants that had to be moved for recent projects – and for future repairs to the columns.

You can donate at Look for “Help Conserve the Springfield Art Museum’s Iconic Columns Project.”

Finished projects at the museum include Fassnight Creek naturalization and flood mitigation, a new parking lot on the north side along Bennett Street, strengthening of the amphitheater, new walkways, a re-seeded lawn and a new Ozark Greenways trail through the grounds.

Future projects include a $25 million renovation of the art museum building.

Francis said that will include demolishing the 1958 part of the building and replacing it with a two-story modern facility that will house classes, a family art lab and administrative offices.

The lobby will be expanded, two additional galleries will be added and a change in traffic flow will allow visitors to make a complete circle through the museum.

Outdoor sculptures will be installed, the original parking lot will be removed and another added, and the lawn will be expanded.

A campaign to raise the money needed for those projects has just gotten underway and goes through 2028.

To donate, email

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.