Spirit

When it came to moving mansions, this mogul was a good sport

In 1908, Herman F. Schmelzer’s mansion was jacked onto enormous wooden beams and moved to a different spot on Gladstone Boulevard.
In 1908, Herman F. Schmelzer’s mansion was jacked onto enormous wooden beams and moved to a different spot on Gladstone Boulevard.

When Robert Alexander Long aimed his residential footprint at the then-fashionable Northeast side, it surprised few that he required a whole city block.

The ostentatious lumber king was not just making room for his 70-room Corinthian Hall, but also his horse-handlers, an area to exercise the beasts, a gardener’s shop, greenhouse, conservatory, you know, the usual rich-guy stuff.

Moving all those souls into 3218 Gladstone Blvd. meant moving other folks — and their existing residences — out.

These were not just double-wides. One was the stony mansion of Herman F. Schmelzer, vice president of Schmelzer Arms Co., advertised — at least in Kansas City — as the largest sporting goods outfitter in the world.

Maybe, maybe not. But the business, first at 710-714 Main St., then at 1214-18 Grand Blvd., was that era’s Bass Pro Shop.

It started with a German-born gunsmith, who’d sat at Mr. Colt’s benches in Hartford, Conn., before steamboating west.

Like other Leavenworth merchants, John Schmelzer and his sons shifted stakes in 1886, once the commercial center of gravity for the Great Plains began swirling around the piers of Kansas City’s new railroad bridge downriver.

The painted advertising on the storefront promised fishing gear, sporting goods, cutlery, bicycles, fireworks, Kodaks, talking machines and toys. When golf became big, they made their own hickory-shafted clubs.

Herman’s older brother, Charles, became president, and as a mainstay of the community he reached into everything from banks to parades to gardens to the Chamber of Commerce. Herman stayed civically busy, as well.

The brothers didn’t just sell their stuff. They belonged to angling clubs from Minnesota to the Rio Grande, hunting associations, the local car-driving club. They loved golf.

And they flailed away in that monster sand trap called the Great Depression.

Today, the law office of Charles “Chip” Schmelzer III overlooking Westport Road is a shrine: flat, leather baseball gloves; fishing poles, displays of wooden lures; trophies once presented to local champions, enticing catalogs.

In 1908, John H. Renne lifted Herman’s Northeast home with jacks onto enormous wooden beams and hauled it by mule diagonally across the street to 3401. (Where was Charles living? On Troost Avenue, a couple of Beacon Hill blocks north of the long-vanished “Millionaires’ Row.”)

A magnanimous pew holder at Independence Boulevard Christian Church, Long later gave the place to the church’s pastor, George Hamilton Combs. Long’s horse-happy daughter, Loula, married the preacher’s son.

Renne also shifted the imposing red-brick home of Judge William Hockaday Wallace, unsuccessful prosecutor in Frank James’ Gallatin murder trial.

Heavily remodeled as a castle imposter, it’s now 3200 Norledge, behind Long’s place at the tip of Scarritt Point. They claimed not a drop spilled from medicine cabinet bottles.

  Comments