Thursday, Dec. 20 2012 4:22PM
By Russ Pulley
With all the back and forth about finding a use for Arnold Hall in downtown Lee’s Summit, one might well ask, who was Arnold?
That would be Joe Arnold, said Kathy Smith, president of the Lee’s Summit Historical Society, who has researched his contributions to the city.
She said Joe Arnold arrived in Lee’s Summit in 1903 and with partner Perry McKission opened a successful restaurant at 13 SE Third Street. Next door they started a pool hall, and then Arnold decided to go into real estate.
Smith said that in an account attributed to Todd George, a former mayor and advisor to Arnold, Arnold had wanted to leave his estate to where it would benefit the most deserving people, especially older residents. Arnold had originally planned to build a new facility where people could gather for community activities and play sports.
Then the building which bears his name came on the market. It stood on the site of an earlier building which had been devoted to civic purposes, The Betterment of Ourselves Club, which had been destroyed by fire.
The club was started by Lee’s Summit businessmen around 1900 as place for sports, public gatherings and high school graduations. It was the site of an early Lee’s Summit library.
After World War I the club gave its building to the American Legion to establish a memorial to those who lost their lives in the war.
In 1922 Harry Truman, visiting Lee’s Summit, gave a speech at the memorial building declaring his candidacy for county judge, the start of his political career.
Fire destroyed the original structure in 1941.
A businessman, Frank Sherwood, bought the land in 1946 and built a factory to make pipe nipples, producing 11,000 a day, shipping them to seven Midwestern states. Eventually the company moved and the building was for sale.
In 1950 Arnold, 82, buys and offers it to the city with hopes it will be a community center.
The city declared May 24, 1950 as Joe Arnold Day, on that day he presents Arnold Hall to the city as a gift, valued at $25,000. Many residents turn out for a banquet in is honor. A community leader, Bill McKee, wanted to install maple-wood floors for a skating rink.
Then, war again shaped the fate of Arnold Hall.
By June the country was fighting in Korea and the government wouldn’t allow use of building materials for that purpose and the renovation was on hold.
The city decided to rent the facility and use income to establish a fund for the remodeling and it was rented.
Eventually city leaders decided to use the money for community buildings at Harris Park, and summer recreation buildings and ball diamonds, which was before the town’s park levy was established.
In 1995 the city renovated the building then used it for City Council meetings and other purposes, including finally for the city’s senior center, until the Gamber Center opened.
Arnold had died in May of 1955.
“He was saddened that the city never used his gift the way it was intended,” Smith said. “Instead of leaving his money to the city he chose to give it to Children’s Mercy Hospital and the Salvation Army.”