On the Trail: Historic floods can't knock down a piece of Pacific's history | St. Louis Public Radio

On the Trail: Historic floods can't knock down a piece of Pacific's history

Feb 4, 2016

If you rumble up to the top of Blackburn Park, you’ll get a picturesque view of the city of Pacific. You’ll see rows of tidy houses and retail shops settled beside gently rolling hills. At the center of it all is a sturdy brick structure shipped to the 7,000-person city at the conclusion of the 1904 World’s Fair: the McHugh-Dailey Building.

Like other residential and commercial structures in Pacific, the McHugh-Dailey didn’t escape the wrath of late December floods. High waters from the Meramec River inflicted severe damage to the structure’s first floor.

But now that floodwaters have dissipated, the McHugh-Dailey Building is on the road to recovery.

Workers are feverishly bringing the landmark back up to snuff, with the hope that the building could be back in full operation by the beginning of March. It hasn’t been an easy or cheap process, but the building’s owners and inhabitants are motivated to get a piece of Pacific's history back into full operation.

“We definitely want to stay in the town of Pacific,” said Luke Fagan, the co-owner of the Pacific Brew Haus on the building’s first floor. “And everybody around here has really been good helping out with a lending hand and a lot of effort.”

Center of a community

Even though the McHugh-Dailey Building’s functions have changed since 1908, its status as a Pacific landmark has remained unchanged.

Jamen Weddle walks past the front entrance of the McHugh-Dailey building Wednesday afternoon while working to repair floodwater damage.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Part of the building was initially situated at Forest Park during the 1904 World’s Fair. After that, some of the structure was shipped by more than a dozen railcars to Pacific. It opened to the public on New Year’s Eve 1908.

Over the years, the building served a number of practical and sentimental purposes: The first floor was the home to a general store, while the second floor was the living quarters. The third floor is known as the Opera House and has served as gathering place for Pacific residents for decades.

The Opera House served as a venue for theater, high school graduations and, as Ed Wahl recalled, Missouri political legend Harry S Truman. The future president stopped and played the Opera House’s piano when he was barnstorming the state during his 1934 U.S. Senate campaign.

“He played on this baby grand piano over here and played in a little recital,” Wahl said. “Rumor has it somebody gave Harry Truman’s daughter a little trouble. And he offered to take him outside – just on what he thought of that. “

In recent years, the Pacific Brew Haus has occupied parts of the building’s first floor. The Opera House was commonly used as an events center. And even though much of the building was refurbished, some historic details remained.

“They restored this thing no more than a year ago. And they put in several hundred thousand dollars,” Wahl said. “They put an elevator in. They redid the floor, the ceiling. Everything they could. These windows are over 100 years old.  If you look at the window treatment, it’s about 60 days old. This window treatment. We really would prefer to have green because we’re mainly Irish. But you can tell by maroon and gold, it all came from the Fox Theater.”

One other tradition remained constant: Youngsters would scribble their names on the Opera House’s walls, providing a rolling history of Pacific’s generations.

“When people graduated from high school, the courts were here,” Wahl said. “A lot of classmates signed their name here. You see some of the dates – class of 1913 from Pacific. Some of the ones that say ’16 and  '15 are from this century. But 1913 is from actual 1913.

“So several generations have signed these walls,” he added.

The McHugh-Dailey building, which houses Pacific's historic opera house, is seen surrounded by floodwater on Dec. 30, 2015.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When disaster strikes

The flooding that struck the St. Louis area in late December wasn’t a completely new experience for the owners of the McHugh Building. But that didn’t make the damage any easier to take. 

“In 1915, there was about eight inches of water in here. We got about 40 inches this time,” Tom Dailey, the building's co-owner, said in early January. “I think it’s a little bit higher than 1982. But according to the graph, they say it’s about two inches lower. I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s the highest it’s ever been.”

While the second and third floors of the building were largely unscathed, the Pacific Brew Haus wasn’t so lucky.

“We got into panic mode there and we started moving everything up to the second and third floor to try to save as much as we can,” Fagan said in early January. “To deal with a lot of our equipment, it had to be specially put in and then put on wheels. So a lot of the equipment we couldn’t get out of the building on time – because it’s just too high for the doorways and too heavy to move that quickly.

“So right now, we’re just devastated and all,” he added.

Ed Wahl points out how high the floodwaters got in Pacific during the late December floods.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Neither Fagan nor Dailey know the exact cost of the damage but estimated it’s in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The first floor’s drywall, floors and elevator were total losses. When asked about the extent of the damage to the Brew Haus, co-owner Steve LaFrance replied: “Everything.”

“The walls. The floors. Everything from five foot down, we’ve replaced,” LaFrance said. “The bars. The backbars. I mean, just pretty much everything.”

Unlike other businesses hit by flooding, the McHugh-Dailey Building did have flood insurance. But that didn’t necessarily ensure a painless recovery process: Dailey said the deductible for parts of the first floor was $50,000.

“It will be a hit,” Dailey said. “But thank goodness we paid that premium. So now it’s paying off. Not paying off, but you know. If we didn’t have insurance, I’m sure we’d be a lot more than $50,000.”

Road to recovery

Right now, the goal is to get the entire McHugh-Dailey Building back into full operation by early March. The Opera House started hosting events again, while workers are repairing much of the flood-damaged first floor. The broken elevator, for instance, is all fixed.

“It’s a great opportunity. It’s definitely a great project,” said Ray Gullet, who is the building’s general contractor. “I’ve been taking pictures throughout. Posting it on Facebook, things like that. It’s kind of neat. We’re going to do some of the woodwork on the front too and try to keep it the same as what it is. All that stuff’s over 100 years old, so it’s definitely interesting to work with.”

Jamen Weddle puts down new flooring on the first floor of the McHugh-Dailey building Wednesday.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Even though getting the building back into shape hasn’t been without cost or effort, LaFrance said he’s motivated to get his restaurant back open.

“It’s good for the community. We have loyal employees and dedicated employees – and a lot of loyal customers that come in,” LaFrance said. “There are customers we see three or four times a week who come and eat lunch with clients or come in and have dinner with their families. It’s a family-oriented place and it’s a gathering spot here in Pacific. So we want to keep it going and hope they come back.”

Added Dailey: “My grandpa and James Dailey and his brother-in-law McHugh started this thing in 1908. And we’re going to keep her going.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.