For Jim McHugh, the building his grandfather, Lawrence McHugh, and Great-Uncle Jim Dailey built has been a focal point in his life and the lives of his extended family.
The McHugh-Dailey, building, 220 S. First St., Pacific, dates back circa the early 20th century and was born from an entrepreneur spirit shared by Lawrence and Jim, who wanted to open a mercantile/opera house in Pacific.
McHugh said that the Louisiana Purchase Exposition had a contract to hold the 1904 World’s Fair in Forest Park with the condition that it be turned back to a park-like setting within six months after the seven-month-long fair closed. Lawrence and Jim took advantage of the short cleanup time after the fair and brought back 11 train cars full of building materials.
“They brought back the tin ceilings, woodwork and some footings made of cinder blocks,” McHugh said. “Cinder blocks used for footings was a new idea at the time.”
The three-story building was completed in 1908 and the first floor became the home of McHugh-Dailey Mercantile. The second story housed the two families and the third floor was a grand opera house, complete with dressing rooms, a stage and a small kitchen area in front for caterers.
“You kind of arrived when you had an opera house,” McHugh said. “They were really popular in small towns back then. This is one of the few remaining ones.”
The opera house wasn’t just for the latest traveling vaudeville show that arrived in town, but was the centerpiece for many events and special occasions.
“It was a place where people came together to do what people do,” McHugh said. “It was used for weddings, birthday parties and graduations. Just about anybody over 65 in this town has probably had a party up there.”
Tom Dailey and other family members have been renovating the opera house and have preserved the original curtain, which is a collage of advertisements dating back toward the turn of the century.
Embossed on the curtain are old-time ads from local businesses such as The Transcript newspaper, “The paper that delivers the goods,” “phone number 34,” Pacific Bottling Works, and the Thomas Hotel, “$1 a day, everything up-to-date.”
Renovations to the building’s opera house have revealed a dressing room with names etched on the walls of classmates from graduations of long ago. And the top of the second step on the front of the stage can still be lifted to see the place where bootleggers hid their goods during Prohibition.
“This was where everything happened,” McHugh said. “Harry S Truman even came here once.”
Years after the era of opera houses and with the passing of the elder McHugh and Dailey relatives, the mercantile closed and the building was no longer the hub of Pacific life, but it was still a focal point of later McHugh-Dailey generations.
During the 1980s, McHugh managed his own unsuccessful campaign for Congress and many other more successful ones, including a gubernatorial campaign for Gov. “Walking” Joe Teasdale.
Teasdale hired McHugh and his team to manage his campaign when he decided to run for governor.
“We were young guys who were full of ideas and energy who believed we could make a difference,” he said. “But we didn’t have any money.”
McHugh had heard of a man named Lawton Chiles from Florida who had successfully won a seat in the U.S. Senate by walking across his state, meeting and greeting people along the way.
“So we went to Washington, D.C., to talk to Sen. Chiles,” he said. “We just walked into his office and talked to his aide. The guy went back to talk to Chiles and we could hear him say, ‘Not another crazy SOB!’ But he got really enthused and told us he had suggested to (former Illinois governor) Dan Walker that he should walk across his state.”
Walker and Teasdale started at opposite ends of their states and walked toward St. Louis. With a big media hoopla, McHugh said the two men finally met in the middle of the Eads Bridge.
“The newspapers and television people were all there to cover it,” he said. “All of the sudden, we were a force to be reckoned with. We came back in four years and won. We had proven ourselves, and we had more money the second time.”
Politics has always played a role at the McHugh building, even in later times. McHugh’s uncle, Joe McHugh, was an artist who had a fascination with the presidents, especially President John F. Kennedy. A conference room on the second floor, that the family calls “the Kennedy Room,” still displays paintings and sculptures of the president. One painting, however, purposely remains unfinished.
“Joe stopped painting it the day Kennedy was shot,” McHugh said.
New Life for an Old Building
After housing a series of businesses, today the first floor of the McHugh-Dailey Building is home to the Pacific Brewhaus Bar and Grill and in a back corner McHugh’s brother, Dr. Bill “Doc” McHugh, still hangs his dental shingle.
The Kennedy Room on the second floor is still a gathering place for the family, and on either side of a long narrow hallway are newly renovated offices, some of which are still available to rent.
McHugh and his family are working to return the third-floor opera house to its former grandeur, as renovations are under way to modernize, but preserve the history that seems to speak from the original wooden tables and chairs there that have managed to survive generations.
McHugh hopes a new generation of Pacific residents will celebrate graduations, weddings and birthdays in the opera house he is working so hard to restore. And this spring, the grand room will see a descendant of a long-ago famous guest.
“Harry Truman’s grandson is coming to Pacific,” he said.
Clifton Truman Daniel will be at the McHugh-Dailey building, for a private signing of his book in the opera house on the third floor. This is the same place his grandfather gave a speech in 1934, days before he was elected to the Senate.
He is the author of “Growing Up With Grandpa: Memories of Harry S Truman” (1995, Birch Lane Press) and “Dear Harry, Love Bess: Bess Truman’s Letters to Harry Truman, 1919-1943” (2011, Truman State University Press).
McHugh not only is interested in preserving his own family’s building and history, but also has a vested interest in preserving the history of the Pacific area.
In 2002, McHugh and other business and civic leaders formed the Pacific Partnership to help preserve the culture, develop and restore the old town area of Pacific.
One of the initial projects was construction of the Pacific Station Plaza next to the McHugh-Dailey Building.
“The Pacific Partnership started many of the activities that we have today, such as the car show and Pacific Railroad Day,” he said.
McHugh said a lot of help for the partnership comes from the University of Missouri, where he served as chairman on the board of curators during the 1990s.
“I made a lot of friends on the research side, and the administrative side, during that time,” he said.
The university was able to help with some of the partnership’s plans, which led to the formation of the Pacific Ring Initiative, a group that created an area that could be studied as a sustainable community, such as combining fly ash from the Ameren plant in Labadie with silicon from Pacific to create a strong cement.
McHugh is still active with the Pacific Partnership, serving as the chairman of its advisory board and as its legal counsel.