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Brunke Building Named State Semifinalist for Best Historic Preservation Project

The Downtown Excelsior Partnership, Inc. nominated The Brunke Building, located at 423 S. Thompson Avenue in Historic Downtown Excelsior Springs for the 2020 Missouri Main Street Connection Evening of Excellence Awards for Best Historic Preservation Project in the State of Missouri in 2019 and they have been named as a semifinalist! We will be hosting a watch party at Dubious Claims Brewing Co. and on our Downtown Excelsior Springs, Missouri Facebook page on Thursday, July 30th at 7:00 PM! Tune in and see if they win!

Here is the nomination that was submitted to celebrate the completion of this project… check it out!

The year was 1925 when Music Hall Bath House Company constructed a brick building in Excelsior Springs, Mo. The address was 425 Thompson Ave. as stated in the Abstract of Title, changed to 423 Thompson Ave. in the early 70’s. An address that would later become well known by locals as the go-to store for dry goods, everyday necessities, and hardware. After being built the building supported three local businesses. The Foley Sisters, Salt Sulphur Bath House, and American Delicatessen. In 1929 J.J. Newberry, a nickel & dime store, moved in and leased the building from Music Hall Bath House Company. J.J. Newberry was the go-to store through the depression era and World War II supplying locals with a variety of everyday dry goods. In 1969 Cecil & Helen Brunke, second generation owners of Brunke Supply Inc. founded in 1921 by August Brunke located just a few doors down, purchased the building from Music Hall Bath House Co. and continued to lease the building to J.J. Newberry. In 1971 J.J. Newberry five & dime store moved out. Cecil & Helen leased the building to Edgar & Shirley Radley who opened Radley Variety store, the new five & dime store. When the Radley Variety Store lease expired it was time for Brunke Hardware to expand.

In 1983 Cecil & Helen Brunke relocated from 415 Thompson Ave to this building at 423 Thompson Ave.  Brunke Supply Inc. was now the go-to store for everything a supply store could offer. In addition to normal fare of a supply store there were tons of hard-to-find, out-of-production and just plain interesting stuff. Brunke Supply shipped items all over the country. They carried automotive parts for antique cars and new cars. On a daily basis they would handle orders from around the country filling the needs of collectors and pack-rats. It was not uncommon to order an auto part from a magazine like J.C. Whitney & Co. Auto Parts in the 80’s and it would come wrapped in an Excelsior Springs newspaper with a Brunke price tag on it.

As times changed, so did the ownership. In September 1996 Cecil passed way. Cecil’s wife, Helen continued to operate the business with her son John Brunke. John and wife, Vera Brunke took over the business in 2005. Their daughter, Mary and Son-in-Law Bob Estes helped run the store.

In August 2017, Gary & Kim Sanson, local preservationists, passionate about Excelsior Springs history, and customers of Brunke Hardware, knew the store was going to be closing. John & Vera Brunke were closing the doors soon due to health reasons. They approached John & Vera with an offer to buy the building. They shared their plan to repair & restore the building back to its original condition and to dedicate a space to display the history and restoration of this amazing building. Following their passion, Gary & Kim Sanson purchased the building from John & Vera Brunke and began the detailed restoration process that would last over a year and a half after the store was closed and cleared out. Completion was fall of 2019.

The building is over 9,000 square feet and there were several items to address. The roof had to be first to protect the original wood floor. When it rained the Brunke crew would keep a watchful eye on various buckets and containers making sure they were catching the water and draining them. This helped protect their inventory and the hardwood floors. There were several leaks. Three spots in the hardwood floor had to be repaired. Seven spots in the roof had to be repaired and replaced before the new roof was installed. Two rooftop HVAC systems had to be replaced. The light fixtures in the building remained however the internal parts were upgraded to LED lighting for energy efficiency. There were 60 decorative metal tin 2’x2’ ceiling squares that were missing or damaged and needed replaced, the ceiling was repainted.

In the display windows the wood parquet flooring was sun & water damaged and covered up with green astro-turf. It was uncovered, repaired, and refinished. An emergency Exit door was added in the rear of the building for additional safety.

On the front of the building as seen in photos the awning was in severely worn & weathered condition and needed to be replaced. However, the mechanical hand crank was still operational, it just needed maintenance. The unveiling of the original exterior façade was apprehensive, not knowing the condition of the original façade shown in a photo taken in the 1940’s. The original façade of the building had a beautiful brick pattern with 24 hand painted and hand made cast stone rosettes recessed in a series of decorative patterns. Below that pattern is where the “J.J. NEWBERRY Co. 5-10-25 STORE” sign was displayed as seen in the photo. Nobody knew if the sign or original façade was still intact. The front had been covered up with metal and new signs were attached.

The BRUNKE letters were carefully removed and preserved to be displayed inside the building later. When the reveal began it was an amazing surprise to find most of the original façade intact. The J.J. Newberry sign was gone and 7 of the 24 rosettes were damaged when boards were attached to hold the metal siding. Several had tar on them used as an adhesive for some of the boards and some were broken out so the boards could lay flat. After removal of the metal, boards, and old awning it was time for restoration of the original façade.

The most complicated restoration process was replacement of the damaged rosettes. After extensive research replacements could not be found, they had to be reproduced. A stone rosette from the top right of the parapet wall was carefully removed and a cast frame was created around it and a liquid Polyurethane 2-part casting mixture poured into it. The replicas were made thinner than the original ones, 2” thick with two bolts extending 2” out. This helped secure them in the new mortar and epoxy was injected around the rosettes to permanently secure them in place. On the back, inside the original rosette you could see handprints where the cement mix was pressed into a mold created in the early 1900’s. A total of eight rosettes were reproduced by mixing a strong cement and color agent. A local artist, Don Collins matched and painted the replacement rosettes. The seven damaged rosettes were carefully chiseled out and installed with mortar and epoxy. The parapet wall on the façade was repaired and sealed.

Replacing the awning was a task as well. It was made up of three sections that had to be custom made. After removing the old material from the frame, the arms and gears were carefully cleaned & painted where exposed and all moving parts were lubricated. Then the new awning and cap were installed. All work was preapproved by the Historical Preservation Commission. A total of over $80,000.00 was invested into the restoration process. The Downtown Chapter 353 District Tax Abatement for the Historic District was utilized and approved by the City of Excelsior Springs and a $1,000.00 Façade Grant was approved and funded by the DEP- Downtown Excelsior Partnership to assist in the project.

Toward the end of the restoration of 423 S. Thompson Ave. a new occupant, Bliss, an antique, vintage, primitive, home décor store opened and brought life back into this historical building. As you walk into Bliss you will see a wall on the right dedicated to the history of the building.  Photos, memories, and stories of the past related to the building. Among those photos is one of Gary, Kim, and a Golden Doodle puppy. This Golden Doodle has a special connection with the building. They adopted him during the restoration process, so it was only fitting that they give him a name that they were passionate about. His name is Brunke. A name that has been displayed over nine decades in Excelsior Springs, three and a half of those decades were on the front of 423 Thompson Ave. As you travel to the rear of the store, up on the north wall are the original letters B R U N K E that hung on the façade of the building. Next to the letters you will see the original scales used to weigh items, a picture of John Brunke behind the key counter and Vera Brunke sitting in her rocking chair. These are the memories cherished by locals and one of the reasons this is a favorite place to visit by many who come to Excelsior Springs Historical Downtown.