Gautier after Bingham, Stump Speaking (detail), c. 1856, engraving.

Friday, November 1, 2013

This day in Mizzou history............
 
(1979 Savitar)
 
 Remembering the Shack

The Shack burned to the ground on Halloween night in 1988. (1989 Savitar)
 
It was 25 years ago today that Columbia, Missouri awoke to find that the Shack, a beloved campus hangout since the 1930s, had burned to the ground in a mysterious fire on Halloween night.

Chandler Davis and his family in Texas while on their way to Columbia, Missouri from San Diego, California in 1921. The journey took five months. (Courtesy of University Archives C:0/30/1)
 
The origins of the Shack date back to 1921, when Chandler Davis moved his family across the country from San Diego, California to Columbia, Missouri to open the Davis Tea Room. Located across from Jesse Hall, where the Reynolds Alumni Center stands today, the Davis Tea Room originally consisted of little more than a touring car that the family modified so that it looked like a little wooden house on wheels.

As their business grew, the Davis family built a Tea Garden out of wooden lattice work in the area surrounding the Davis Tea Room. The garden was lit by red and green Chinese lanterns.
(Courtesy of University Archives C:0/30/1)

Jack Armel leased the building from the Davis family in 1932 and changed its name to “Jack’s Shack”. In 1936 it was purchased by Vern and Mary Blakemore, who shortened the restaurant’s name to “The Shack” in 1939. As the business grew, the owners simply built around the existing structure of the touring car, thus giving the Shack its distinctive character. The Shack was known for its low ceilings, dark interior, piecemeal construction, and leaky roof. However, none of these prevented it from becoming a beloved hangout for generations of MU graduates.

The Shack was infamous for its leaky roof, which was a result of the building's piecemeal construction.
(1957 Show-Me)
 
Students flocked to the Shack to enjoy a famous Shackburger, a frosty beverage, and to carve their initials into the wooden interior. The MU humor magazine Show-Me was also known to hold their staff meetings at the establishment.

This Show-Me cover depicts the Shack in the background. (September 1951 Show-Me)
 
The Shack was purchased by Joe Franke in 1962, only to close in the late 1960s. However, the Shack was reopened in 1974 by Butch and Donna Weston. By the late 1970s Mizzou students were once again heading to the Shack to meet with friends or grab a bite to eat, but this rejuvenation was short lived. The Shack closed again in 1984 and the ramshackle old building finally met its end in the mysterious fire on October 31, 1988.

 Students were drawn to the peculiar atmosphere the Shack provided. Mort Walker, MU alumnus and celebrated cartoonist, explained the appeal, "It stunk. It was dark. It was miserable. It's just the kind of place students love." (Spring 1989 Missouri Alumnus, photograph circa 1970s)
 
Although the Shack no longer stands, it lives on in the fond memories of MU alumni and in pieces of the original structure saved from the fire that are now on display throughout Mort’s in the MU Student Center. In addition, the original location of the Shack is memorialized by a bronze statue of Beetle Bailey© seated in a Shack booth that was placed on the north side of the Alumni Center in 1992.

Mort Walker created his famous Beetle Bailey© character in 1950 shortly after graduating from Mizzou. As the editor of the Show-Me magazine, Walker and his staff spent many evenings toiling away at the Shack. In this photo, Walker poses with the bronze statue created by his son, Neal Walker. (Fall 2001 Mizzou Alumni Magazine)
 
Please share your memories of the Shack in the comments section!
 
Authored by Sarah Horne, PhD Student in Art History and Archaeology
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To learn more about the Shack:
 

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