Laclede’s Landing Architecture
As the oldest district in St. Louis, Laclede’s Landing is also home to some of the city’s oldest buildings. From warehouses to saloons to markets to factories, Laclede’s Landing has been the home of thousands of businesses over the past 250 years.
Every one of these century-old buildings has an interesting story or two.
Read ahead to learn all about them; and next time you’re on Laclede’s Landing, take a look around – outside and in – to experience firsthand the history and architecture which makes this district unique.
At the end of the 19th century, St. Louis was the largest processor of chewing and pipe tobacco in the United States. This building, which now houses the offices for the Metro transit system, once stored the leaf for the Christian Peper Tobacco Company. Its plank floors were slanted to workers could roll large barrels down toward the Mississippi. In 1906, the company produced a series of racy cards for their Turkish brand Kadee cigarettes – one of the first uses of artistically-posed nude models for advertising.
In 1793, Jacques Clamorgan transferred the title of this property to his mulatto mistress, Esther, to throw off his creditors. When she refused to give it back, he threatened to sell his her daughter in the New Orleans slave markets. Esther appealed to the Missouri governor’s wife, Marguerite McNair, and kept the property. The current building features one of the most attractive examples of cast iron facades in St. Louis.
This three-story, Federal-style structure once housed Smith, Beggs & Co., which repaired engines for the St. Louis Fire Department in the 1870s. It also housed Frederick S. Plant Seed Company and the Cherrick Distribution Company, a salvage grocery warehouse. in 2005, the Cherrick Building was purchased and udated by FUSE – an internationally known, award-winning advertising agency.
Shortly after the Civil War, retired Quartermaster General E. Anson More retained his supply connections and ran a commission and grocery business from this location. His son Elmer, who graduated from Washington University and later taught Sanskrit at Harvard, went on to become editor of The Nation magazine. Henry Shaw, former hardware importer and founder of the Missouri Botanical Gardens, later purchased the building. The interior is architecturally unique with eight segmental brick arches – each 10 feet wide and 16 feet high – that serve as the load-bearing partition.
National Historic Landmark
A marvel for its time and a beautiful, bold example of early steel bridgework, the Eads Bridge was one of the final two bridges installed (the other being New York’s Brooklyn Bridge) that fully connected the United States overland from coast to coast. When James Buchanan Eads, a St. Louis marine engineer, was commissioned to build the bridge, he insisted on steel – a move many questioned, as steel had only just begun to be produced cheaply, and never for a project of this size. Eads combated busy river traffic, swift currents and unsafe depths, using top-side falsework and cantilever cables to connect the arches and pressurized pneumatic caissons to sink the bridge’s mid-river piers more than 100 feet. When concerns arose over the stability of the newly erected bridge, an elephant (it was believed that elephants would refuse to walk on unstable surfaces) was brought in and led successfully across the span.
During the nation’s westward expansion, J.D. Streett & Co. manufactured and supplied wagon wheel grease in this building, and later produced “Street’s Ideal Motor Oil” for the Tin Lizzy (Ford Model T). The building is a classic example of the “stars-and-bars” construction method, which features cast-iron bars running the length and width of the structure, capped and bolted on the building’s exterior. This process keeps the brick walls from bulging or moving away from the building. The Feather Building gained its name from the feather mattresses that were once manufactured in it.
In 1875, the Buck Stove & Range Co. began manufacturing at this site. In 1906, the metal polishers went on strike for a 9-hour workday. BS&R obtained an injunction, broke the boycott and later filed a contempt claim with the United States Supreme Court. The case, Gompers V. Buck Stove and Range Co. (221 U.S. 418), was dismissed May 15, 1911 as EXPLAIN. First Street Ironworks was the location of the last Laclede’s Landing machine shop and one of its most historically exact renovations.
When Carlos S. Greeley started his wholesale grocery business he put in no stock of liquor. Word travelled up and down the levee about this experiment and bets were taken as to its success. This “dry grocery” house grew into a St. Louis institution whose profits helped build the Kansas Pacific Railroad and contributed to the Boatman’s Bank, the St. Louis Cotton Factory, Lindenwood Seminary and Washington University. In 1980, the building’s cast-iron facade was re-exposed and refurbished.
Actress Betty Grable – the #1 pin-up girl of the 1940s and Hugh Hefner’s inspiration for Playboy magazine – developed her “million dollar legs” working summers here at her grandparents’ produce market. Until the mid-1930s it was the headquarters for produce distribution throughout the burgeoning St. Louis community, before being taken over by the Ferman Tent Company. The building features one of the most elaborate brick facades in St. Louis.
Captain William “Buck” Leyhe was the colorful master of the steamboat Golden Eagle and other famous Mississippi River steamers. His family’s Eagle Packet Company operated from this location and offered passenger service until 1956. The building is a later example of a simple-faced brick laid in red-colored mortar.
This site has served as a saloon for over 130 years. It once was home to Jimmy Massucci’s Café Louie, the pub in which the name “Laclede’s Landing” is said to have originated. Now it is the westernmost lodge of local brewpub Morgan Street Brewery, whose Golden Pilsner won silver and gold medals at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival and 2010 World Beer Cup, respectively. In cold weather months, industrious saloonkeepers of the early 1900s were known to skirt Missouri’s “blue laws” by selling booze from the middle of a frozen Mississippi River – even on Sundays – and thus outside the law’s radius.
Housed in this building in 1914, the Western Wire Products Company is credited for creating the precursor to the modern chain link fence. They also manufactured the “Never Sag Knitted Wire Bed Spring,” which boasted a lifetime guarantee and was used in the furniture lines of several national companies. The building itself is a unique example of the use of the original 19th century interior with a late-20th century exterior renovation.
Originally built for the offices of Scharff & Bernheimer, one of the largest Mississippi River shipping firms of the era, this building was purchased by Old Judge Coffee in 1918 and converted into a factory and spice warehouse. At peak levels, the company produced over 3 million pounds of coffee per month. Notable features of this five-story brick building include cast-iron columns at street level and large lower windows, with matching smaller windows on the second and third floors. On warm St. Louis days, the smell of cinnamon can still be detected from wood supports on the 3rd floor.
National Historic Landmark
This is the site of the famous Missouri Hotel where the First Missouri Legislature was held on September 20, 1820. This assembly preceded the state’s August 10, 1821admission into the Union. In 1831, the hotel’s owner, Major Thomas Biddle, was killed in a dual with Spencer Pettis on Bloody Island, a “neutral zone” sandbar in the middle of the Mississippi River. The current six-story building, which once housed Christian Peper Tobacco Company, is unique in its use of simple Victorian cast iron design to produce large amounts of window space and light in the building.
Built prior to the modern street grid, these buildings are some of the oldest in Laclede’s Landing [Note how the slope of the windows on Morgan Street doesn’t match the current grade of the road]. Meyer Friede, early silversmith and Missouri’s first Jewish legislator, was a resident here in the 1860s. The Schoelhorn-Albrecht Machine Company ran its business from here, manufacturing capstans for barges and shipping steamboat engines and deck equipment used during the Gold Rush. Another interesting quirk is the uneven sidewalks on Morgan Street between Second and Collins Alley. Underneath is a cellar room that was purportedly used to hide runaway slaves as they made their way into Illinois.
This set of buildings, once used for storing and blending whiskey, might have been raided as part of the scandalous St. Louis Whiskey Ring. The scheme ran an extensive network of bribes to distillers, IRS agents and elected officials in order to defraud the federal government of liquor taxes. It was rumored that the monies were to finance the second presidential campaign of Missouri favorite Ulysses S. Grant. The building’s ground floor double doors are framed with iron, a decorative and functional feature that protected the brick from damage when horse-drawn wagons backed in to load and unload.
Witte Hardware, one of St. Louis’ oldest companies, was housed here until 1975. It was equipped with all the “latest” features, including electric elevators and a floor devoted to showroom samples. The company also manufactured “hardware store guns” under the Expert, I.X.L. label – which are now highly-sought items by rifle and shotgun collectors. The Witte Building is an excellent example of historic renovation, preserving its original timber and steel structures for the corridors, and showcasing a glass elevator and a wide, five-story atrium.