Thanks for Asking | Nov. 29, 2012

our local Jack-of-all-Facts tells you how it is

Frank Smoot |

The Kline Building at 6 S. Barstow Street was built by local architect Charles A. Pear. Are there any other buildings designed by Pear left in Eau Claire, or anywhere? Do you have any other information about Pear and his work?

Thanks for asking. As far as I know, the only other Eau Claire building attributed to Charles Pear — that is, the only one still standing — is a Georgian / Colonial private residence at 437 Lincoln Ave., built in 1927, which preservation junkies know as the H.A. White house. H.A. was the nephew of A.E. White, engineer, inventor, and founder of White Machine Works. H.A. was an officer in his uncle’s company.

I know of at least one Pear building dearly departed. The Second Congregational Church stood at the corner of Bellinger and Maxon. Beautiful. But now replaced by an unremarkable late-fifties-style structure, which currently holds the Eau Claire Hmong Alliance Church.

Pear also designed several buildings in St. Paul’s Grand / Selby neighborhood. If my guess is correct, at least one of those buildings is still standing at the northeast corner of W. Grand and S. Oxford, about a block east of Grand and Lexington. (Exit 239B off I-94 in the Cities, then south on Lex.)

And, a brief bio: Charles was born in Illinois, the third child of Bohemian immigrants Joseph and Intoni, or Antonia (nee Pepla). Charles began his career as a draftsman with W.J. Keith in Minneapolis a few years before 1900. He married a Minnesota girl named Mary. They lived in St. Paul and had a daughter Dorothy about 1910. By 1923, they had moved to Eau Claire. The Pears lived here until 1929, when they moved to Minot, North Dakota.

So those are the simple answers. But your question opens up a bigger local mystery — for me anyway. Folks have argued (including me, and even in these very pages) that Edward J. Hancock designed the building at 403 South Barstow, which currently holds Greater Midwest Mercantile. As far as I can tell, everyone bases this belief on a line in Lois Barland’s book The Rivers Flow On. But Barland has been known to be wrong on a few details.

Hancock and Pear both worked in Eau Claire at the same time, and were both influenced by the popular styles of the day (art deco, gothic revival). But architects — like ice skaters, authors, pastry chefs, bomb-makers — do have signatures, including building materials (in the case of these two buildings, hand-tinted terra cotta tile) and detailing. The detailing of these two buildings is eerily similar. For example: trefoils, those clover shapes decorating the stonework; projecting facade elements called pavilions (yep, just like where you eat at the park); and long, narrow, multi-paned windows (windows in both buildings have been updated since construction). In fact, I would say the “styling” is identical, down to the color of the terra cotta.

If Pear designed the Kline building (and I think he did), then I would not prepared to swear he didn’t design 403 South Barstow, at least not based on the evidence I’ve seen. In any case, I’d lay a small wager that the same person designed both buildings.

As you surely know, the Kline building is under great threat from the confluence project, along with its friends on that side of that block of South Barstow — the Kneer, Derge, and Power & Light buildings. If you’d like to stand up for the Kline building (or just learn more about the confluence project), you can start here:

Got a local question? Send it (205 N. Dewey St.) or email it ( and Frank will answer it!  Frank has lived in Eau Claire for most of the past 43 years. He is an editor and researcher at the Chippewa Valley Museum, which is open all year just beyond the Paul Bunyan Camp Museum in beautiful Carson Park. You should go there.