The Yellow House As We Knew It
by Dana and Micky Leake
During the fall of 1993, Dr. Ken Shafer, a local cardiologist, began looking at property in West Plains that might be suitable for a community arts center. After checking out several less suitable buildings, he began negotiations to purchase an old Victorian house at 209 West Cleveland, adjacent to the Southwest Missouri State University campus, from Homer and Margie Johnston, who had lived there many years. The house, an Eastlake, Stick-Style, Victorian had been built by a prominent West Plains family in the late 1800s. The building and foundation were sound, with large windows and high ceilings - perfect for Ken Shafer's purpose!
The house had an entry hall dividing the space evenly between left and right, big bow bay windows on each side of the entrance. Being a residence, the rooms were not large enough to accommodate large crowds. A lot of remodeling would be needed to create public spaces and a commercial kitchen. Nanette Weaver would operate a coffee-house type entertainment in the evenings, while her daughter, Michelle Cox, would operate a full service restaurant during the day. Dr. Shafer contacted Dana Leake, a local carpenter and musician. They looked over the premises and started planning the major remodeling - from a residence into a community arts center.
Dana's history with the Yellow House starts with Homer and Margie Johnston, who were living at 209 West Cleveland in 1994. After the real estate deal closed and Homer and Margie moved, Ken Shafer stopped by the empty building to test the acoustics. He was entertained by the "Bad Back Band", consisting of Steve and Jane Markley, Dana and Micky Leake, John and Jeanne Bentley, and Larry and Nanette Weaver - all sitting on the floor happily playing their own acoustic versions of old jazz standards.
The following week, remodeling started in earnest. Space was allocated for private meeting rooms and public bathrooms. The kitchen was expanded into commercial size and an enclosed porch was added to hold refrigeration equipment. Next came all new central heat and air conditioning. Walls came down, plumbing was relocated, electrical modified, repairs were made as needed. Over the course of the summer the building was transformed from a residence to a space that would accommodate dining tables, meeting rooms, and performance space. The old garage was transformed into a dance studio, complete with vaulted ceiling, restroom, and ballet-quality flooring. The attic, which had another full bathroom, was rented out as living space, used for meetings, became a recording studio, and storage space - as the needs arose through the next several years.
By late 1994 the Yellow House Cultural Arts Center, as it was now known, was open for business. Luncheon meetings could be arranged, even private parties. Larry Weaver, an excellent guitarist and folk singer, with Dana Leake on bass, now became the official "house band", entertaining folks every Friday and Saturday night in a coffeehouse atmosphere. Eventually the musical entertainment branched out to include up-and-coming local artists and the occasional "open-mic night." Discussion groups were formed and the private meeting rooms began to be utilized on a regular basis. All this was managed by a board of directors consisting of Dr. Ken Shafer, Nanette Weaver, and Brad Smith.
Eventually Larry and Nanette made plans to move to Arizona and the restaurant idea was no longer practical. Dr. Shafer, wanting to preserve the history of the house and possibly get it listed on the Historic Registry, donated the property to Ozarks Resource Center, a not-for-profit organization. A new board of directors was formed by Brad Smith, the only remaining director, and thus began the Yellow House Community Arts Center - now an all-volunteer organization.
Since that time, untold thousands of hours have since been generously donated by a series of board members and volunteers. The mission has expanded to include educational events, as well as entertainment, for all the arts - truly a community experience. The Yellow House Community Arts Center has evolved into an organization which manages the space for arts and educational events. Classes and meetings are held; music, poetry, and plays are performed; special events are organized, like "Earth Day," -- all this being done by volunteers, working together as a community of arts-minded folks. In 2021, the board was granted a 501(c)3 designation to graduate from a project of Ozarks Resource Center which will allow for the organization to continue its mission.
Nanette Weaver passed away on December 21, 2015.
Larry Weaver followed her 3 weeks later on January 13, 2016.