Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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Beauty Alley

February 3, 2020

I love alleys. From the narrow, fire-escape-dotted canyons of downtown, to those in quiet neighborhoods lined with chain link fences and small garages. Each has its own charm, but in St. Louis few of these alleys have names. One that does recently caught my attention.

Along the southern edge of the McKinley Heights neighborhood, just north of Gravois between Indiana and Shenandoah, sits Beauty Alley. No street signs identify this two or three block stretch, and as far as I can tell, no homes or businesses utilize its address. Despite the lack of identification on the ground, Beauty Alley is listed in directories and city records as far back as 1891, and appears on Google Maps today. But walking down this alley (or scrolling through the photos above), beauty probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. So why the name? Was it ever beautiful?

Unfortunately I’ve had trouble finding out anything substantive about this place. A 1909 Sanborn map (above) doesn’t show anything remarkable about Beauty Alley except its name – there’s just a bunch of wooden outbuildings like every other alley in the area. The only record of any interest I’ve been able to find is barely more informative than a street directory acknowledgement (but significantly more entertaining). Read it below, as seen in the November 25, 1898 edition of the Post-Dispatch:

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So Beauty Alley has probably always been off the beaten bath, or at least not well known. Maybe it’s just a name?

Maybe not. After tracking down the Compton & Dry view of this area from 1875, it started to make sense. The alley might not be identified by name on this map, but it is a beauty.

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The Telephone Company

December 14, 2014

The telephone is possibly the most rapidly advancing technology of our time.  Flip phones alone could have killed the landline, and smartphones compete with almost every other device in our lives.  Public Payphones, once ubiquitous and imperative, are now an endangered species (I’ve been documenting the survivors on my Flickr stream).

Payphone outside of the abandoned Bell Telephone Company at Locust and Beaumont

As fast as the technology changes, one physical reminder of the old days remains in many communities: The telephone company’s local exchange/switching office.

Bell Telephone Company on Natural Bridge at the St. Louis City Limits

These are in addition to the more high-profile downtown headquarters that are a part of every major American City’s skyline.

Old Bell Telephone Building in Downtown St. Louis

AT&T on the Skyline in St. Louis

Below are some of my favorite neighborhood/community telephone company offices in St. Louis.  My full collection of these photos are in this album on Flickr.

Detail on the Natural Bridge Building

Telephone Company in Kirkwood

AT&T

Detail on the Building at Washington and Spring in Grand Center

Kinloch Telephone Exchange in McKinley Heights

Webster Groves AT&T Building

Downtown East Boogie

East St. Louis Telephone Company

Switching Office on Delmar in the Academy Neighborhood

AT&T Building on South Grand

Detail on the Bell Telephone Company in Maplewood

I have yet to visit a number of other telephone company offices in the region, but hope to stumble upon more.  Happy exploring!

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Near North Riverfront

June 2, 2013

The New Mississippi River Bridge is coming along quickly, and will soon raise the visibility of the Near North Riverfront neighborhood, and its main drag North Broadway.

Mound Street Bridge, Mississippi River, Cass Avenue Bridge

New Mississippi River Bridge from Broadway and Mound

This section of Broadway has a fairly intact built environment and is home to many businesses.  Admittedly it’s in pretty bad shape, but the potential here is humongous.

Near North Riverfront North Broadway Revitalization

Warehouses on North Broadway

Although the thoroughfare is major and many of its buildings are large, the street still has a human scale.  One of my favorite parts of coming here on the weekends is the large number of people out on their motorcycles (presumably many of them are in the area for Shady Jacks).

Motorcycle Tricks Wheelie

North Broadway is already a pretty cool place

Because this area is about to see a lot more traffic, developers will be tempted to build truck stops and drive-thrus with giant billboards and signs to advertise them.  Competitions for who can build the biggest and newest gas stations (or chain drug stores, etc.) have destroyed enough of our great intersections and commercial strips.

Highway Advertising, Urban Blight

Downtown St. Louis Interstate 70 Billboard

I hope the city is working to ensure that development around the new bridge will help knit together the neighborhoods north of downtown, rather than create more barriers in the form of auto-centric development.  670 Million dollars is a big investment that St. Louis needs to take advantage of.

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Ash Pits and Coal Chutes

May 9, 2013

Coal powered the industrial revolution in its beginnings in England, during its American continuation in New England and down the east coast.  Coal facilitated the rust belt’s rise, and remarkably remains the dominant source of energy worldwide today.  St. Louis is currently home to several large coal companies including Peabody, Patriot and Arch, but the heyday of coal usage in St. Louis (and the US) is in the past.

Peabody Coal's Mid-Century-Modern HQ

Peabody Energy’s Former Headquarters on Memorial Drive

At the middle of the 20th century most homes in the area were heated by coal (National use peaked around 1940, St. Louis experienced the worst side effects in late 1939).  I’ve heard stories about horse drawn wagons traversing the alleyways of St. Louis and dispersing various grades of coal to its consumers at least until that time.  Some reminders of this era remain, notably the coal chute doors (often marked by brand names like Banner, Schurk, Manchester, Mechanics or Majestic) that can be spotted on houses in every neighborhood of the city and in many parts of St. Louis County.

Historic Coal Chute Doors of Missouri

Coal Chute Doors

Ash pits are slightly harder to notice due to their placement on alleys, but are nonetheless an ever-present reminder of our coal heritage.  The most recognizable and common model of ash pit in the city is P.A. Shorb’s:

P.A. Shorb Ash Pit in a St. Louis City Alley

Ash Pits in-use as planters: P. A. Shorb 1475 Graham

See more photos of these relics below:

Masonic Temple Midtown Albert Groves Grand Center St. Louis University

Coal Chute Door on Masonic Temple on Lindell

Majestic:

Majestic Coal Chute Door

Older in the Gate District:

Coal Chute Door in the Gate District double door swing lock

Adapted to modern usage:

Coal Chute Door in use as a vent in South St. Louis

Ash Pit with Cacti:

Cacti in an Ash Pit in Kingsway East Neighborhood of North St. Louis

For more photos of Coal Chutes and Ash Pits see my flickr set.

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Carriage Blocks and Hitching Posts

November 7, 2012

While strolling around Layfayette Square a few weeks ago, I noticed for the first time that several homes around the square have stone blocks out near the curb in front of them.

A carriage step is a block of stone placed near the edge of the street usually in line with the front doorway of a home, it served as a stepping stone to help passengers as they climbed in and out of carriages. Popular back in the horse and buggy days of the 19th century carriage steps could be seen in towns and cities all over the United States. They are rarely seen in the present day as most carriage steps have been destroyed because they became obsolete when cars took over as primary transportation. – Carriage Steps in the United States

Just in case you didn’t click the link, that quote is the description of a youtube video.  I must not be using the right search terms.

Dr. Luytie’s Home on Lafayette Square

Despite an apparent lack of interest on the internet, I personally find these relics of our horse-drawn past fascinating.  In the photo above, a carriage stone advertises the mansion’s owner.  Dr. Luytie’s company is still in operation today as 1-800-HOMEOPATHY.

Carriage Stone on St. Louis Avenue in North St. Louis

These reminders of a seemingly distant past can be found in many part of the city.  Below is a concrete carriage block and hitching post near the intersection of Utah and Texas in Benton Park West.

Dr. A. S. in BPW

See more photos of carriage blocks and hitching posts that I’ve noticed around St. Louis here.

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Cast Iron Storefronts

August 30, 2012

Ubiquitous in almost every neighborhood in the City of St. Louis (and most inner-ring suburbs as well), cast iron storefronts offer a glimpse into St. Louis’ once booming architectural iron industry.  Ranging from purely functional to elaborately ornamented, and from lovingly cared for to all but forgotten, these architectural elements reflect the diversity and character of  St. Louis and its neighborhoods.

Union Iron & Foundry Co. Cast Iron Storefront on S. 4th Street Downtown

In the peak of their production, from the 1890s to the 1910s, St. Louis exported cast iron storefronts all around the region and out to the boom towns of the west.  Most well known and prolific were the Mesker Brothers (a company that doesn’t have a single storefront in town that I know of) and George L. Mesker & Co (brother to the Mesker Brothers) based out of Evansville, Indiana.  Because there is a wealth of information about these companies already available on the web (start here), and because there are so few of them that have been identified in the City of St. Louis, this acknowledgement is as far as I’m going to take the topic of the Mesker Brothers.

Mesker Brothers Side by Side in Wickliffe, KY

Luckily, although the Mesker Brothers’ signature was not left very apparently (at least to me) on their work in the City of St. Louis, their local competition made sure that their names would be remembered.  Below is a photographic inventory of all of the local Iron Works, Foundries and Manufacturing companies that produced cast iron storefronts in St. Louis, for St. Louis (as far as I know – I’m sure there are more out there and I’d love to hear about them).  So here it is, Cast Iron Storefronts, B through V.

Banner Iron Works

Banner Iron Works

Chester Iron & Foundry Co. (On right)

Chester Iron & Fdy Co.

Christopher and Simpson (J. Christopher & Co)

Christopher & Simpson

Gerst Bros Mfg. Co.

Gerst Bros

Globe Iron and Foundry Company

Globe Iron & Foundry Company

Kilpatrick & Gray

Kilpatrick & Gray

Koken Iron Works (Scherpe & Koken, Scherpe, Koken & Graydon)

Scherpe & Koken

Meyerpeter & LeLaurin

Meyerpeter & LeLaurin – South St. Louis, MO

Pullis Bro’s (T.R. Pullis & Sons, T.R. Pullis & Bro, Pullis Brothers)

Pullis Bro’s

South St. Louis Foundry (S. STL. F)

South St. Louis Foundry

Standard Foundry

Standary Foundry Co

St. Louis Architectural Iron Co.

St. Louis Architectural Iron Co – One of the more distinctive nameplates

The Union Iron and Foundry Co.

Union Iron and Foundry Co

Victor Iron Works

Victor Iron Works

For more photographs of cast iron storefronts around St. Louis and elsewhere, visit my Flickr photo set Cast Iron Storefronts.

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Fox Park Sidewalk Markers

June 26, 2012

The Fox Park Neighborhood has a wonderful variety of sidewalk markers.

Laid by The Weir Co – 613 Chestnut

My personal favorite is The Weir Co’s clover-shaped marker.  The bold lettering and design do a good job of catching the eye.  This marker really demonstrates the pride its layer takes in his work.  Less than a block away is the American Granit Flagging Company.

American Granit Flagging Co. – 1820 Park Ave

Unfortunately I was unable to locate any information online about either American Granit Flagging or The Weir Co.

Gilsonite Roofing and Paving Co – St. Louis, MO – 1892

Unlike the two companies above, Gilsonite Roofing and Paving turns up a lot of results on Google.  From the Report of the U.S. Inspector for Indian Territory:

Gilsonite’s 10 cent a ton asphalt

After finding and photographing so many rectangular, circular, and oval shaped sidewalk markers, it’s really nice to come across some different shapes.  Here’s another marker I found just outside of Fox Park in Compton Heights:

Missouri Granitoid & Sidewalk Co. – 617 Chestnut Street

In the St. Louis Place neighborhood I came across a very similar sidewalk marker with a slightly different name and an entierly different address:

Missouri Granitoid Paving Co – 1895 – 1447 Cass Avenue

St. Louis has so many miles of historic sidewalks that I doubt I’ll every be able to walk down them all, but I’m going to keep on trying.