Backstory and Context
The Virginia Building opened in 1911 and remains one of the largest historic commercial buildings in downtown Columbia. The structure is also the last former department store building in the city. The Virginia Building has been home to numerous offices and retailers, including the original Columbia Commercial Club and Missouri's first urban Montgomery Ward and Co. retail outlet. Today, the building stands as a reminder of the downtown's history as the center of retail shopping.
Construction of the building in 1911 coincided with significant growth for the city during the early years of the twentieth century as Columbia's population nearly doubled from 1900 to 1910. The increased population led to a transformation of the downtown area from that of mainly residential buildings to a commercial district.
Three of the historic property's first owners and one its first tenants were part of the original Columbia Commercial Club, the precursor to the city's Chamber of Commerce. The club also rented space in the building shortly after the building opened for business. The Commercial Club had newly formed when the Virginia Building emerged. The club promoted downtown development, including paving the streets, building a courthouse, installing electric lighting, and constructing a municipal water facility. Credit has also been given to the Commercial Club for ensuring that a cross-state highway (now Interstate 70) passed through Columbia.
Montgomery Ward and Co. moved into the building in 1928 as one of the first urban retail outlets in Missouri. The company proceeded to occupy the vast majority of the building and remained its main tenant until 1961. The era of the large department stores in downtown regions peaked during the middle twentieth century, eventually giving way to malls and other retail centers in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Virginia Building stands as the only surviving department store building in downtown Columbia. The historic structure points to an era when Columbia had transitioned into an urban center and before malls and online shopping when people mainly shopped in downtown regions.
Cohen, Lizabeth. "From Town Center to Shopping Center: The Reconfiguration of Community Marketplaces in Postwar America." The American Historical Review, Vol. 101, No. 4 (Oct., 1996), pp. 1050-1081. Published by:Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association.
Sheals, Debbie. "Nomination Form: Downtown Columbia Historic District." National Register of Historic Places. mo.gov. September, 2006. https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/nps-nr/06000990.pdf.
--- --- ---"Nomination Form: Virginia Building." National Register of Historic Places. mo.gov. December 18, 2001. https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/nps-nr/02000163.pdf.
By HornColumbia - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7613145