Collection Number: SC#164
Spiva Memorial Park Collection
"Spiva Memorial Park
by Chad Stebbins
Dedicated on July 7, 1966, Joplin’s only downtown park was a welcome green space and considered both an “oasis” and a “gem.” The park featured a fountain display with dancing waters, a white marble statue made in Italy depicting an early-day Joplin miner, an antique-type brick wall surrounding the property, and public restrooms in a basement section. Colored lights illuminated the reflecting pool and fountain display at night. There was also a rock collection representing the mineral ores mined from the Tri-State Mining District near the park’s entrance.
A Joplin businessman who at first declined to be publicly identified gave the $200,000 park to the city. At the time of its dedication, it was called Downtown Park or City Park. A few months later, the Joplin Park Board and the Joplin City Council formally adopted the Spiva Memorial Park name.
George A. Spiva, a civic leader and philanthropist, purchased the park property from the Joplin Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority in 1964. A three-story brick building that once housed one of Joplin’s most famous establishments – the House of Lords – had been demolished at the site as part of the controversial urban renewal program. Spiva, who had the park designed and built, donated it to the city in memory of his father, George N. Spiva (1873-1950). George N. Spiva was an explosives powder manufacturer, banker, and business leader whom the Joplin Globe called the city’s “foremost citizen.”
A month before he passed away in May 1967, George A. Spiva was honored with the Joplin Chamber of Commerce’s first annual “Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award.” It was presented for his outstanding contributions to the city’s cultural, art, and civic functions throughout the years. Two buildings at Missouri Southern State University – the Spiva Library and the Spiva Art Gallery – were named in his honor, as he provided the lead gift of $100,000 in 1964 to purchase the former Mission Hills estate as the location for the new four-year college.
George A. Spiva also helped establish Joplin’s first arts center in 1958 by donating the former Edward Zelleken residence at 406 Sergeant to the Ozark Artists Guild. The Spiva Art Center was created at that location, and following two subsequent moves, the renamed Spiva Center for the Arts has been housed at the Cornell Complex since November 2022.
In 2022, efforts began by the Joplin Arts District and Spiva descendants, in cooperation with the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department, to restore Spiva Park to its original splendor. The renovations included the addition of a 12-foot sign created by sculptor and painter Jorge Levya.
Spiva Memorial Park remains a prominent historic site as well as a lasting tribute to one of Joplin’s greatest benefactors."
Digitized scrapbook and loose leaf documents detailing the construction and dedication of Spiva Memorial Park. The collection contains photographs chronicling the construction process, including the demolishment of the 'House of Lords' that was formerly on the site as well as photographs of the dedication of the park. Further documents include correspondence to George A. Spiva about the park and newspaper clippings of stories about the park.
Donated in December of 2022 by Scott Cragin.
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