Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem
April 18th, 2013

The Southside Brewing Heritage Tour

Andrew Veety

In about two weeks, Distilled History is going to celebrate its first anniversary. Looking back over the past year, I am amazed at how this project has enriched my life. I’ve won an award, I’ve scored free meals, and people tell me all the time that I’m good at what I’m trying to do. I’ve had bike crashes, I’ve been chased, and I’ve even been tickled. I’ve met great teachers, librarians, historians, bicyclists, and mixologists who have helped me find the answers I needed. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve become much more aware of the city I know call home. Wrap it all up and it’s been a fun and amazing year.

It all started when a guy named Andrew Veety told me that I should be writing a blog. A freelance writer himself, Andrew has made a name for himself in St. Louis as a person who can tell you where you can find good food in this town. His articles are often published in local magazines such as St. Louis and Feast. With several other “foodies”, he’s also involved in a podcast named StewedSTL that will tell listeners (in a very colorful way) where to find the best (and worst) places in St. Louis to get food and drink. Three years ago, he thought up a project named “The Church of Burger“. For twelve months, he toured St. Louis eateries to find out where the best burger was being served. Like my history posts, it wasn’t done for any sort of reward or pay. He simply wanted to know where it was and let other people know what he found.

Andrew is a great writer. He’s witty, intelligent, and an insufferable smart-ass. I thought I could curse with the best of them until I met this guy. Still, maybe he saw a diamond in the rough when he first tried to convince me to put my opinions to page. At the very least, I’m sure he was growing sick and tired of me complaining about the lack of places in St. Louis that do a Manhattan cocktail right.

1706 Washington Avenue

As I approach the one-year mark of Distilled History, this post will be a bit different. For this one, I don’t have a history topic and tasty drink to write about. Instead, I’m making a fun announcement (keep reading) and offer my thanks to that goofball Veety. I ask my readers to go check out his work, because it’s very good.

The last post, the Bygone Ballparks of St. Louis, was my most ambitious one yet. With all the research, biking, and artwork that went into it, I needed a nap after it was done. And two days after it was published, the company I worked at for the last sixteen years suddenly closed. I’ve tried to keep topics coming out on a regular basis since starting this blog, but Distilled History had to go on hiatus while I looked for a new job.

After working (and biking) to the same job for sixteen years, my daily routine was flipped upside-down. Instead of biking the back streets of St. Louis city, I found myself wearing suits and driving far into the forests (or as most people call it “the County”). Worst of all, I had to cut back on the good gin. As anyone who has been out of work can tell you, unemployment doesn’t pay the liquor bills. However, I did find some time to get out on the bike and create an appropriate new bike-a-sketch.

Bike-a-sketch: Hire Me

Fortunately, things turned around quickly. In an interview, I was actually recognized and asked “Are you the guy that writes the St. Louis history blog?”. After a twenty-minute discussion about it, I was rewarded with a job offer the next day. With that in my back pocket, I started talking up Distilled History in other interviews. Remarkably, two more job offers soon followed. I’m sure it’s just a funny coincidence, but I’ll take it. Suddenly, I had my choice of places to work. I accepted a great position back in downtown St. Louis and things are now getting back to normal. I’ve also started research for the next Distilled History topic and lining up an ambitious drink plan. It should be ready for publication by early next week. So along with blowing up Mr. Veety’s ego, I’ll use this brief post to make an announcement that I’m really excited about.

(Upate: As of May 1, 2013, the tour has been sold-out. However, we’ll have another one scheduled in the near future. I’ll post on this blog when we have a date.)

The Southside Brewing Heritage Tour

Here’s the skinny: Due to popular demand, Landmarks Association of St. Louis has decided to reprise their popular South Side Brewing Heritage tour. They last offered it in 2010, but this time they’ve asked Distilled History (me) to help them out. The tour will travel past a wide array of brewing-related sites in St. Louis including remaining brewery buildings, the sites of former breweries, the homes of beer barons and former “tied houses” (brewery-owned/operated taverns). We’ll even offer snacks and tasty beer from a local microbrewery on the bus. The tour will make stops at several brewery-related buildings including the Malt House of Schnaider’s Brewery (now Vin de Set) and the stock house and cellars of the former Cherokee Brewery. Andrew Weil from Landmarks Association and yours truly from Distilled History will provide riveting and enlightening commentary along the way.

Landmarks Association of St. Louis

Tickets are $45.00 for members of Landmarks Association and $55.00 for non-members. Call Landmarks Association at (314) 421-6474 or email Andrew Weil (aweil@landmarks-stl.org) at Landmarks to purchase tickets. Seats are limited and additional bar tabs at tour stops are not included. Participants must be 21 or older.

Since 1959, Landmarks Association of St. Louis has been a dedicated advocate for the architectural heritage of St. Louis City and the surrounding region. The organization is an independent non-profit that works to protect St. Louis’ unique architectural heritage and to educate the public about the economic and social values of unique historic buildings and neighborhoods. Through the years, the organization has played pivotal roles in the protection of iconic St. Louis buildings such as the Chatillon-DeMenil House, the Bissell Mansion, the Wainwright Building, and the Old Post Office. It has also helped to protect thousands of neighborhood buildings throughout the city and create incentives for their redevelopment through the creation of National Register Historic Districts. Landmarks Association of St. Louis is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of our amazing historic buildings and works hard to create opportunities for people to explore and learn about the places where we live.

When I decided to write this blog, I made a decision to avoid making controversial statements. Not a fan of debate (especially on the Internet), my goal has been to relay interesting information about topics that interest me. I know I ruffled a few Cardinal feathers in the baseball post (some of you people need to lighten up), but other than that, my intent is to simply inform and amuse. But here’s an opininion I will never back down from: St. Louis is better because of Landmarks Association. I would not be able to write this blog at the level I can if that organization did not exist.

Landsmarks Association

With that said, lets review a few more opinions that I will cage fight you over:

The Del Taco Flying Saucer

  • Stop shaking the Manhattan cocktail. It should be stirred. Although I am grudgingly accepting that many people insist on drinking it on the rocks, I’ll never buy into the shake
  • You need to see the Campbell House Museum. It’s one of the most amazing places in St. Louis. Go there and take a tour. Seriously, the things you’ll see and the story you’ll hear in that house are worth well more than the seven dollars you’ll pay to get in
  • A martini is made with gin. If you want vodka instead of gin in your martini (something that confuses me) you should say “I’d like a vodka martini”. If you ask for it shaken, then you are an extraterrestrial
  • Get on a bike and ride around St. Louis. Even better, get involved with Trailnet and take any one of their fantastic bike tours. It’s a great way to see our city

In closing, please join Landmarks and myself for a beer tour on Sunday, May 19. It will be fun to meet Distilled History fans as we travel through the brewing history of St. Louis. We’ll drink good beer and hear some good stories.

(Update: Again, as of May 1, 2013, the tour has been sold-out. However, we’ll have another one scheduled in the near future. I’ll post on this blog when we have a date.)

Most importantly, proceeds will help Landmarks continue their efforts in historic preservation and educate St. Louisans about the history of our great city.

 

January 30th, 2013

Our Flag is Better Than Yours

The St. Louis Flag

When I was bicycling around south St. Louis a few weeks ago, I noticed the St. Louis city flag flying prominently in front of several private homes. St. Louis pride runs deep in this town, so it makes sense that many fly the flag. I share that pride, but I believe there’s another reason the flag is so popular: It looks really, really good.

Aesthetically, I think it’s one of the best flag designs in use anywhere. I actually sit around and think about ridiculous things like “who has the best flag”, so I’ll take on any challengers to this argument. Unless you live in the United Kingdom or maybe Bhutan, I think the St. Louis flag is better than yours.

Seeing it around town, I started to wonder how it came to be. When was it adopted? Who designed it? How did St. Louis get this minor aspect of their city so right? Turns out, it’s a pretty good story.

The St. Louis Flag

St. Louis’s flag is exceptional for many reasons. It’s simple, it’s unique, it uses just a few basic colors, and it contains several components that symbolize the history of the city. It doesn’t have lettering (it’s difficult to read a waving flag), it doesn’t have a seal (a seal is meant to be seen up close, such as on a document), and maybe best of all, it doesn’t use the image of the Gateway Arch. The St. Louis flag does exactly what it’s supposed to do: It’s a symbol for the city and it’s easy to identify from a distance.

I’m not alone in my opinion. In my initial research for this post, I stumbled upon an organization named the North American Vexillological Association. According to Wikipedia, vexillology is the “scientific study of the history, symbolism[,] and usage of flags or, by extension, any interest in flags in general”.  It also seems there are quite a few prominent vexillologists around that take flag design very seriously. In 2004, NAVA held a survey to rank the top 150 American city flags. St. Louis came in fifth, behind Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver, and Phoenix. Personally, I think St. Louis has them all beat. Maybe I need to join NAVA and set things straight.

topfour

In contrast, take a look at Milwaukee’s flag below. I’d wager not many porches in our fellow beer town are waving this travesty. I thought I’d offer up my own design that I think is a far better representation of that fair city.

milwaukee

How about Mankato, Minnesota? The folks there must know a thing or two about good flag design. They know the St. Louis flag design is so good, they should just rip it off. Too bad they screwed it up by adding the riverboat, lettering, and a putrid color scheme.

mankato

It’s actually only a recent development that American states and cities starting flying official flags. Prior to the 20th century, many believed the United States flag was the only banner needed. Despite this sentiment, Baltimore kicked things off in 1914 by adopting an official city flag, followed by New York City in 1915.

Baltimore & New York Flags

It didn’t take long for St. Louis to join the fun. In 1915, a man named Percival Chubb suggested that St. Louis should design and adopt an official municipal flag. Soon after, a group named the Pageant-Drama Association held a contest, offering $100 to the winning design. The winning design would then be offered to city authorities as an “appropriate city flag”.

Krondl's Winning Design

A winning design was announced in January, 1916. The winner was a young St. Louis artist named Edward A. Krondl. It featured a white figure of St. Louis on his horse in front of blue background. Surrounding St. Louis are four fleur-de-lis, representing the Louisiana Purchase and signifying the city of St. Louis as being the fourth-most populated city in the United States. The flag also contained three stripes on the right, signifying Krondl’s idea that St. Louis would soon advance to third place.  The color blue behind St. Louis represented celestiatlity, the white stripe represented purity and cleanliness, and the two orange stripes represented gold, wealth, and prosperity.

His winning design kicked off quite a debate. Some argued that a flag was no place for a portrait. Percival Chubb complained that the blue was too blue and the orange wasn’t orange enough. He made Krondl change it. Almost everyone agreed that the four fleur-de-lis representing St. Louis as the fourth city was impractical. If St. Louis dropped in the rankings, the flag would need to be redesigned (today, it would need fifty-eight).

The city aldermen were the least impressed, with some even hinting favoritism. Alderman Gus Bauer was accused of promoting Krondl’s design since he represented the area where Krondl lived.  In one humorous exchange during the debate, Bauer barked at one of his accusers “What do you know about art? You’re a florist!”.

Aldermanic Contest Winner

Ultimately, the city aldermen rejected the design and decided to hold a contest of their own. After reviewing over 150 designs, a new winner was announced on May 20, 1916. This time, a young man named A.P. Woehrle was awarded $100 for his winning design. The new design replaced orange with red and centered the image of St. Louis in front of a blue shield. Stars replaced the fleur-de-lis, but surprisingly, they held the same symbolism. St. Louis was to be represented as the fourth city.

It’s not difficult to notice that the two designs are very similar. And that’s where things get interesting. It was soon discovered that the same artist designed both flags. Claiming that he wanted to win on merit and not on the prestige from winning the first contest, Edward Krondl entered his new design under the name of his friend, A.P. Woehrle.

By this point, the aldermen didn’t really care. Except for one alderman who refused to vote for any flag that wasn’t the stars and stripes, they had their flag. To celebrate the new design, the aldermen all hopped on a riverboat and took a ride on the Mississippi with the new flag proudly snapping in the wind.

St. Louis Flag 1916-1946

Thirty years later, it was discovered the flag argument wasn’t finished. In 1946, a local man stumbled upon a collection of varying St. Louis flag designs. Unaware of the competitions held in 1916, he walked over to City Hall to see what he could learn. He was startled to discover that St. Louis didn’t have an official flag. After their friendly boat ride promoting the new banner, the aldermen went back to work on other matters. They never bothered to make the new flag official.

An ordinance was quickly passed in 1946 to correct the oversight, but many St. Louisans were now reminded that the design wasn’t very good to begin with. Prominent St. Louisan Charles Nagel, an architect who would come to play a role in the selection of the Gateway Arch design, declared the 1916 flag to be “wretchedly bad in heraldic design”.

Proponents for a new design became more vocal in the 1950′s. Even the St. Louis Post-Dispatch promoted the idea of a new flag with an editorial in 1957. Eventually, Charles Nagel called upon an acquaintance who had experience designing flags. Theodore Sizer, an art professor at Yale, came to St. Louis and designed the flag that flies in St. Louis today.

stlflag_diagram

Sizer also used specific colors to represent the four empires that have ruled St. Louis:

  • Spain – Red and Gold
  • Bourbon France – Blue and White
  • Napoleonic France – Blue, White, and Red
  • The United States – Red, White, and Blue

In an article for St. Louis Magazine in October 1964, Sizer explains that designing the flag presented quite a challenge. He was asked to incorporate the history of the city into the design, with references to the Louisiana Purchase, Charles Lindbergh, and even Stan Musial. Most importantly, he was told his design must include the image of St. Louis on his horse.

Theodore Sizer

Fortunately, Sizer had better ideas in mind. In response to using the image of St. Louis, he stated:

“I have nothing against St. Louis, or his white horse, but on a flag it looks like anybody on any horse. Dammit, you look at it and you can’t tell if it’s Saint Louis, King Arthur, or Robert E. Lee.”

To the benefit of St. Louis, he took his design in a completely different direction.

“The one distinctive feature about the city of St. Louis are the rivers, the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi. The confluence was the reason for St. Louis being founded by the settlers in the first place.”

Sizer stressed the importance of how the flag would look at a distance. When it was suggested an eagle be included in the design, he responded that it would have “looked like a chicken or some other bird”. Fortunately, he also rejected incorporating the newest of St. Louis symbols.

“And we decided to stay clear of the new Saarinen arch. Would have looked like a chicken wishbone at thirty paces.”

Fortunately, Sizer was able to bring others around to his way of thinking. When the process was complete, Sizer’s design was officially adopted as the St. Louis municipal flag on February 3, 1964.

Theodore Sizer died in 1967. Today, his design can be found flying around the city without a whisper of derision. Eat your heart out, Milwaukee.

The Drink
STL-Style

Before getting a drink, I thought it’d only be appropriate to get out and buy my own St. Louis flag. For that task, I knew exactly where to go.

STL-Style is one of the neatest stores in town. Located at 3159 Cherokee Street in Benton Park West, it’s owned and operated by two brothers, Jeff and Randy Vines. Like myself, these guys have a deep pride for St. Louis city. Back in 2001, they decided to make it their mission to create a line of apparel that promotes the city as they saw it.

Twelve years later, that mission has evolved into a unique store filled with fun pro-St. Louis merchandise. They’ve since built a team of artists who create witty and eye-catching designs that promote the city and the neighborhoods in it. It started with t-shirts, but they’ve since expanded to sell prints, bags, mugs, stickers, hats, onesies, and even underwear. The St. Louis flag is available in two sizes, but Sizer’s great design is also available on shirts, bags, and other store items.

It’s a great store for tourists, but the designs are really meant for St. Louisans to promote their city from within. Get down there and check out their inventory. They’ll have something to represent whatever neighborhood you call home.

STL-Style Designs

Their passion goes beyond selling t-shirts. Dig around their website, or simply talk to them, and you’ll discover two guys working to make St. Louis better in many different ways. They are even on the Board of Directors for Landmarks Association of St. Louis, a great organization I mention often in this blog.

Stl-Style InteriorFor the record, I’m plugging this place without any kickback from Jeff and Randy.  I simply think they have a great store and I appreciate what they are doing. And since it’s tough to tie a flag to a drink, I asked them where to get my drink for this post. They didn’t disappoint. They directed me to the The Fortune Teller Bar, located nearby in the eclectic Cherokee Street neighborhood.

fortuneteller

I’d never been to the Fortune Teller, so I was happy to they recommended a place that takes cocktails seriously. As soon as I walked in, I noticed a well-stocked bar with a great selection of spirits. The Fortune Teller also offers a good craft beer selection. As I sat down at the bar, I noticed a bottle of Old Tom’s Gin on the shelf. If a bar has Old Tom’s, it’s going in my belly. With that in mind, I ordered the “Alpine Daisy” off their specialty cocktail menu.

The drink was delicious. Served on the rocks in a highball, it was tart and refreshing. And since it was a dark and stormy night, I followed it up with their version of my beloved Manhattan. Since I know I’ll be returning to the Fortune Teller, I’ll save that review for a future post.

NOTE: In my research for this post, I came across several references to the St. Louis flag being dubbed the “Three Rivers Flag”.  These sources claim the Meramec River is also represented as one of three rivers in the design (instead of two). I found no evidence to support this. As Sizer quoted to St. Louis magazine in 1964, the key feature of the design is the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri. The Meramec is never mentioned. There is also no mention of the Meramec in the official city ordinance passed in 1964.

Furthermore, putting the Meramec on par with the Mississippi and Missouri is absurd. It also makes no sense in the design. Are the three rivers supposed to be flowing together behind the bezant? So, until someone proves otherwise, don’t call it the “Three Rivers Flag”.

January 5th, 2013

The Langdon Mansion

Greetings from ElmiraI had a one hell of a day last week. While driving from my native upstate New York to my current home in St. Louis, my car hit an ice patch on I-86. I lost control, spun, and was flung off the highway. I was flipped perfectly onto the roof of the car, which is where I stayed as I bobsleighed one-hundred feet down a hill.

It was quite a ride. Lots of snow, glass, and colorful language was bouncing around inside the car as I went. Remarkably, I hit something that caused the car to slowly roll me back upright. I came to a stop, turned off the engine, and realized I was completely uninjured. I was able to walk away like nothing happened. Other than a slight headache from a book (I think it was a book) that hit me in the head during the roll, I was as good as new.

What does this mishap have to do with history and booze? Well, after being collected and driven back to my hometown of Elmira, I had some time on my hands. Instead of sitting around and feeling sorry for myself, I decided to dig up some history in the town where I spent the first eighteen years of my life.

Sweet Wounded Jesus!

For a small city, Elmira has some good stories to tell. With that in mind, please pardon this brief sojourn away from St. Louis. I’ll return to the hidden tales of The Gateway City soon enough.

elmiramap

Elmira, New York is a small city of about 29,000 people in the Southern Tier of New York State. Just south of the Finger Lakes, it sits in a truly beautiful part of the state. Unlike St. Louis, it has rolling hills, voluminous lakes, and cooler summers.  Although I now prefer to live in St. Louis, I’ll never waver from the opinion that it was a great place to grow up.

In fact, I believe Elmira shares many qualities with St. Louis, but on a far smaller scale. Both cities are the population centers of their respective areas. Both cities serve as the regional hub for financial, cultural, and educational institutions. Both cities have a rich and deep history that often gets overlooked by the people who live there.

1972 Flood

On the flip side, both cities have watched their populations plummet in the years following World War II. Both cities are trying to bring people, companies, and jobs back within city limits. Both cities are desperate to revitalize their downtown cores (and both cities have mistakenly believed that building sports arenas is one way to do it).

Both cities have also been severely impacted by flooding. While St. Louis’s history with flooding is well-known, Elmira’s history with rising waters is just as troubled. Many point to the damage caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972 as the point from which downtown Elmira has never recovered.

And finally, both cities are filled with historic homes, buildings, and structures that are in desperate need of preservation.

Since starting this blog, I’ve become far more aware of the need for historical preservation. This was especially true when Landmarks Association helped me research the blog post about the William B. Ittner schools. I was stunned to see how much work and research they had completed in order to campaign for the survival of those historic buildings.

I can now say for certain that I wish my hometown had its own version of Landmarks seventy-five years ago. That’s because in 1939, the wrecking ball took apart this historically significant house that once sat at the corner of Church and Main streets in downtown Elmira.

The Langdon House

The Langdon House, facing Main Street

This large Victorian home was the home of a wealthy coal merchant named Jervis Langdon. He was an ardent abolitionist, and he served as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad along with his close friend Thomas K. Beecher. The brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Thomas Beecher was the pastor of Park Church located across the street from Langdon’s home. Both men counted Frederick Douglass as a close friend. The famed abolitionist even once visited Langdon at his home in Elmira.

It was Langdon’s daughter, however, that would make the most significant impact upon the Langdon legacy in Elmira.

Olivia Langdon as a young woman

In 1867, Olivia’s brother Charles traveled to the Mediterranean aboard a boat named Quaker City. On the trip, he befriended a reporter writing a story for a California newspaper. That reporter was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, soon to become known as the famous author Mark Twain. One night, Charles showed Clemens a small daguerreotype of his sister Olivia. Upon looking at the portrait of the delicate woman, Clemens admitted to falling in “love at first sight”. Throughout the rest of the trip, he asked Charles to bring out the photograph and allow him to gaze upon it again. When the trip concluded, Twain made a point to visit Langdon and his sister during a trip to New York City. During that visit, Clemens was invited to visit the Langdon home in Elmira. It wasn’t long before Twain found himself knocking on the large door of the Langdon home on the corner Church and Main.

For the next two years, Clemens courted Olivia and visited Elmira often. After an initial rejection, the two became engaged in late 1869. On February 2, 1870, Mark Twain and Olivia Langdon were married by Thomas K. Beecher in the library of the Langdon home.

Over the next twenty years, the Clemens family would make Elmira their summer home. While there, they lived at Quarry Farm, a Langdon vacation home located on a large hill outside of town. In the octagonal study built there for him, Mark Twain found what he called “the quietest of all quiet places.”  Here, he would write the majority of his most famous works, including Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Mark Twain at Quarry Farm in Elmira

While in Elmira, the Clemens family would spend a large amount of time at the large house in town. Three of the four Clemens children were born in the house. The house was a convenient place for Clemens to entertain visitors or to do business. The house is where Ulysses S. Grant once visited Twain to discuss his memoirs, a work that Twain helped get published. Clemens even stated that since the house was so large, one could “always escape your enemies in Langdon house”.

The Langdon home is also where on a warm day in 1889, a young reporter from British India traveled to Elmira in search of his idol. Detailing the experience in his later work Letters of Travel, Rudyard Kipling recounts his arrival in Elmira:

“I slid on the West Shore line, I slid until midnight, and they dumped me down at the door of a frozy hotel in Elmira. Yes, they knew all about “that man Clemens,” but reckoned he was not in town; had gone East somewhere.”

Kipling then took a carriage to Quarry Farm, but was told Clemens was in town. He traveled back down the hill and found himself at the Langdon house. Kipling continues with his description of the meeting:

“Then things happened somewhat in this order. A big, darkened drawing room; a huge chair; a man with eyes, a mane of grizzled hair, a brown mustache covering a mouth as delicate as a woman’s, a strong square hand shaking mine, and the slowest, calmest, levellest voice in all the world saying: – “Well, you think you owe me something, and you’ve come to tell me so. That’s what I call squaring a debt handsomely.”

“Piff!” from a cob-pipe (I always said that a Missouri meerschaum was the best smoking in the world), and behold! Mark Twain had curled himself up in the big armchair, and I was smoking reverently, as befits one in the presence of his superior.”

Rudyard Kipling & Mark Twain

Kipling was just starting his career and was still unknown. It would be a few years before he’d achieve fame as the author of stories such as “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and “The Man Who Would Be King”. But a year after their meeting, Twain recognized a sketch of Kipling in a copy of the London World. The article also mentioned that Kipling had traveled to the United States. Twain took interest in Kipling’s work and began to admire his burgeoning career. In 1895, Twain wrote a letter to Kipling:

“It is reported that you are about to visit India. This has moved me to journey to that far country in order that I may unload from my conscience a debt long due to you. Years ago, you came from India to Elmira to visit me. It has always been my purpose to return that visit and that great compliment some day. I shall arrive next January, and you must be ready. I shall come riding my ayah with his tusks adorned with silver bells and ribbons, and escorted by a troop of native howdahs richly clad and mounted upon a herd of wild bungalows; and you must be on hand with a few bottles of glee, for I shall be thirsty.”

Interior rooms of the Langdon Mansion

Olivia Langdon Clemens died in Italy in 1904. Although buried in Elmira, Clemens returned just once to Elmira after her passing. His last visit was in 1907 for the dedication of a new organ at Park Church. On that visit, he declined an offer to visit Quarry Farm because it would “awaken sorrowful thoughts”. Samuel Clemens died in 1910 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira along with Olivia and their four children.

Mark Twain's Grave in Elmira

Imagine if the stately Langdon home still stood in Elmira. Located at the busiest downtown intersection, it could have become the symbol of the city. Flanked by the historically significant Park Church, the elegant Trinity Church, and Wisner Park, the entire neighborhood would have become one of the most historic corners in the Southern Tier. Perhaps the house could have been used as the focal point in presenting the legacy of Mark Twain in Elmira. Unlike other cities that claim a legacy to Twain (Hannibal, Hartford), Elmira has no central building from which to tell his story. The octagonal study that was relocated to the campus of Elmira College is too small. His grave in Woodlawn Cemetery is well, perhaps too morbid. Quarry Farm still stands, but it’s far outside of town and isn’t open to the public. It’s even likely that most Elmirans couldn’t find it if they tried.

Mark Twain Study

The ultimate fate of the Langdon home is nothing short of maddening. In the 1930’s, the Langdon family offered to sell the house to the city of Elmira at its assessed value. It was offered as such for the purpose of creating a museum or a place of historical significance. For a price of just under $50,000, the city could have preserved a rare historical jewel that would have been a beacon for the city. City leaders debated, voted, and ultimately concluded that such a large home would be too expensive to maintain. The city declined the offer, so the home was sold home to a private developer. Within months, the home was razed and a shopping center was built. Named “Langdon Plaza”, the shopping center provides visitors to Elmira a place to purchase meatball sandwiches and hair gel.

All that is left of the Langdon home is the fence that surrounded it. Like the octagonal study, it was relocated to the Elmira College campus.

Langdon Plaza

The Drink

After flipping a car, it’s so surprise that I needed a drink. Maybe five. And although completely uninjured, I still had the mind to milk it. To that end, Mom filled me with good bourbon, gin, and plenty of home cooked food over the next few days.

Carl on the rocks

The extended trip also allowed me to spend New Years Eve with my Mother and her close friends. The party was held at the home of two very close friends in Elmira, Carl and Bunny Vallely. This presented a great opportunity because Carl Vallely is also a huge fan of the Manhattan cocktail.

There’s a great story that goes along with Carl and his love of the Manhattan. Years ago, when he first courted Bunny, he showed up at her door to take her on their first date. Tucked under his arm was a thermos. When Bunny answered the door and inquired “What’s in the thermos?”, to which Carl replied “Manhattans, of course!”. I can’t help but admire the guy for that. Taking a thermos of Manhattans on a first date is nothing short of fantastic.

And going forward in my search Manhattan cocktail varieties, I can now the recipe for “The Vallely Manhattan”:

  • 1 Part Canadian Club Whisky
  • 1 Part Sweet Vermouth
  • Stirred and served on the rocks

I asked Carl what the ratio of the ingredients should be, and he simply said “until you get the right color”. I guess I’ll have to work on that. He also omits the cherry, since it “takes up room in the glass needed for more Manhattan”. I certainly can’t argue with that logic. The “on the rocks” aspect of the Vallely is tough for me to get by, but it’s his drink. I was in his house and I was happy to drink them with a fellow fan of my favorite cocktail.

Carl served me a few of his Manhattans that night, but I also took the time to visit Horigan’s in Elmira. Owned by my old high school pal Katie Boland, I am a frequent visitor here when I’m in Elmira. My father used to spend so much time at the bar reading books that they’d actually keep the book there for him. Katie also happens to be Carl’s step-daughter, so when I asked for Carl’s version of the Manhattan, she was happy to oblige.

Horigan's ManhattanAs for my opinion of the drink, I’ll say that it’s very pleasant. Due to the ice and the use of Canadian whisky, it’s a lighter and smoother version what I’m used to. It doesn’t have that bite on the first sip (which I adore). It made me think I could be tricked into drinking more in one sitting than I’m used to. After rolling a car, that’s not the worst idea.

December 19th, 2012

Municipal Bath House #6

Washtub

Just last week, I finished my first year as a volunteer docent at the Campbell House Museum in downtown St. Louis. I’m pleased to say that joining the Campbell “family” was a great decision. I have met some great people who share similar interests. I’ve learned the fascinating story of the Campbell family and the house they lived in for eighty-four years. And now, I actually get to talk about history to people who want to hear it (unlike many of my good friends who are forced to suffer through it).

I’ve also learned how to give tours and be a quality docent. I didn’t expect it, but I quickly learned that all tours are different based on the museum visitors taking them. Now, when I start a tour, I know within three minutes if I’ll have a two-hour tour with tons of questions and interaction, or a half-hour tour filled with nothing but my own voice. In those first three minutes, I’ll know how to adapt the tour to the people in front of me.

In other words, I now know how to deal with people who don’t give a shit.

Avoid this

I learned early on that If there are small children on the tour, get through the house fast. If not, a meltdown could happen by floor three. A  droopy-eyed guy that’s been dragged there by his girlfriend? Skip the chit-chat about intricate carvings on the parlor furniture. I’ve even had a couple of visitors that couldn’t speak English. Since I can’t speak a lick of German, it’s no use trying to explain to Klaus that Robert Campbell made his fortune in the fur trade.

Despite the multitude of differences each tour can bring, there’s one item in the house I never skip. When I bring visitors into the head servant’s bedroom on the second floor, I always stop and point out the small washtub that sits in the corner. Then, I describe the effort it took to use it and take a bath in 1885. When I do, even the most aloof visitor (except maybe Klaus) finds it interesting.

It’s difficult to overstate the malodorous condition of St. Louis in the late 19th century. If you lived in this city 125 years ago, you probably reeked. The people around you reeked. Even the air you breathed and the water you drank reeked. Being one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the country, St. Louis was congested, filthy, and fetid. The air was filled with soot, streets were filled with horse manure, and noxious fumes wafted from inadequate methods of waste disposal.

Photograph of a New York City tenement by Jacob Riis

For the common citizen, the process of getting clean in that environment was difficult and it happened rarely. To use a washtub like the one on display at Campbell House,  several trips to a water source were needed to get it filled.  Water was lukewarm at best, especially if the bather wasn’t first in line. On bath days, families shared the same tub and the same water.

Grime was especially noticeable in the slums and tenements of urban American cities. In St. Louis, a survey taken in 1908 showed that in the poorest neighborhoods, only one bathtub existed for every 200 residents. In the densely populated tenements where more than a quarter of the population lived, one bathtub existed for every 2,479 residents. To make matters worse, bathtubs were not always used for their intended purpose. Due to the limited space in small living quarters, bathtubs often held coal or firewood. Even as late as 1950, only 1/3 of the homes in the poorest neighborhoods of St. Louis had private bath facilities.

"Breaker Boys" by Lewis Hine

Toward the end of the 19th century, social reformers led a movement to improve the quality life of all Americans, not just the wealthy. At the center of this movement was a push to improve the living and working conditions for poor people living in urban slums. Since being dirty and being poor were seen as going hand in hand, promoting cleanliness became a part of that movement.

At the same time, scientists and doctors were figuring out that good personal hygiene could help prevent the spread of disease. This sentiment can be seen in a statement made by the New York Tenement House Committee in 1894:

“Cleanliness is the watchword of sanitary science and the keynote of the modern advice aseptic surgery.  If it apply to the street, the yard, the cellar,the house and the environment of men it most certainly should apply to the individual.”

Already popular in Europe, the movement prompted a few American cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to build public bath houses in the early 1890’s. Encouraged by the initial success and high attendance rates, the public bath movement quickly spread to other American cities. In St. Louis, the progressive mayor Rolla Wells campaigned for several bath houses to be built throughout the city. Despite his support, it would be several years before St. Louis joined the movement. Forty American cities had operational public baths before St. Louis opened its first.

That day came in August 1907, when Public Bath House No. 1 opened near the intersection of Carr and 10th in north St. Louis city. Over the next thirty years, St. Louis would build five more.

St. Louis Public Bath House Locations

Public Bath House No. 1 contained forty-one showers and one tub bath for men. Strictly divided by separate entrances, the women’s side of the bathhouse had fifteen showers and two tubs. Using the baths were free, but soap and a towel could be rented for one cent if a visitor did not bring their own. Modest bathers could even rent a bathing suit if they so desired.

Inside the bathhouse, an attendant sat behind a booth and issued numbered tickets to people as they entered and waited in line. When their number was called, the visitor would walk down a corridor to a cubicle that was divided in two. One side contained a dressing area with clothing storage. The other side contained the shower. Although a time limit existed only during high volume hours, the attendant on duty had full control off water usage and water temperature.

Public Bath House #1

Public Bath House No. 1 was an immediate success. Sixty-nine thousand people visited in the first year alone. By 1915, that number rose to nearly 500,000.  Two years later in 1909, Public Bath House No. 2 opened in the Soulard neighborhood. In No.2’s first year of operation, an astounding 238,000 patrons visited the south city bath. Over the next few years, that number would triple.

Unexpectedly, the bath houses became social centers. While queued to get clean, St. Louisans used the locations as a place to socialize with friends and neighbors. The bath houses were considered safe, clean, and pleasant to use. Due to the cavernous echos created by ceramic tile, local newspapers reported prolific singing and choir boys practicing hymns. However, not everyone considered the constant melodies to be music to their ears. In 1951, bath house attendants bitterly complained that the endless renditions of The Weavers’ popular hit, Goodnight Irene, were driving them crazy.

Saturdays were the busiest days, but the early hours of Sunday is when the bath house lines were longest. Following the sentiment that “Cleanliness was next to Godliness”, many St. Louisans made sure get clean before heading off to church.

Additional bath houses continued to be constructed in densely populated neighborhoods. In 1910, Public Bath House No. 3 opened just twelve blocks west of bath house Bath House No. 1. That same year, Public Bath House No 4 opened at 3600 Lucas. When St. Louis passed a segregation ordinance in 1916, Bath No. 4 had the distinction of becoming the first segregated bath house in St. Louis. In 1932, a second segregated bath, Public Bath House No. 5, opened at the intersection of Jefferson and Adams.

Public Bath House #5

In 1937, the final public bathing facility was built at 1120 St. Louis Avenue in north city. It serviced 170,000 patrons in the first full year of operation. It would be the last public bath house constructed in St. Louis and the last one to remain open. It’s also the only one of the original bath house buildings that still stands today.

As the 20th century progressed, technology continued to make the process of bathing simpler. In the 1920’s, the cast iron bathtub coated with porcelain began to be mass-produced. The end of World War II brought in the housing boom and the mass flight to the suburbs. It became standard for homes to be built and refitted with private bath facilities. By the 1960’s, the need for public bath houses had all been eliminated. The final facility to remain open in St. Louis, Bath House #6, ceased operations in 1965.

Municipal Bath House #6 still stands today at 1120 St. Louis Avenue in north city. It likely goes unnoticed by the vast majority people who drive near it in order to visit a St. Louis landmark just up the street, the famous Crown Candy Kitchen.

Municipal Bath House #1
The Drink
Soulard Restaurant & Bar

Well, here’s a post I really struggled to find a drink for. How does one tie drinking to a bath house? Even with the thousands of bizarre cocktail recipes and names that exist today, few have any sort of reference to getting clean. The best I could do is when a Google search found a cocktail named the “Naked on the Bathroom Floor”.  It includes shots of tequila, Rumple Minze, Jägermeister, Wild Turkey, Goldschlager, and cinnamon schnapps served on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass.  Obviously, this drink is meant for people who plan to end up like its name.

Well, there’s no way in hell I’m going near a potion like that. So, I turned my attention to finding a watering hole located near one of the original bath houses. This turned out to be an easy solution. Sitting at the corner of 7th and Soulard, the same intersection where Public Bath House #2 once stood, is Soulard’s Restaurant and Bar. I’ve been to Soulard’s before to try their bread pudding during the Taste of Soulard event, but I had never ordered a cocktail there.

The interior of Soulard’s is attractive and they have a well stocked bar. I ordered my standard Manhattan cocktail to see what I’d get. I ordered it with Maker’s Mark, but I did not provide any further instruction.

They served it straight up in a cocktail glass with a good 2:1 ratio of bourbon and sweet vermouth (I did not see which brand of vermouth was used). It was shaken (sigh), but no big deal.  I was happy to get it straight up.

NOTES: A big boost to my research for this post was provided by two sources. First, the Central Library in downtown St. Louis finally reopened. After two years, I was finally able to walk back into that wonderful building. The new “St. Louis Room”  simply blew my mind. Writing this blog just got much easier.

Second, the fine people at Landmarks Association of St. Louis again went above and beyond. I called Landmarks for some help, and when I showed up, they had a stack of articles, clippings, and books ready for me to look through. My initial goal was just to find where the original six bath houses were located, but they provided much more. Notably, Landmarks set me up with an article from the Fall 1989 issue of Gateway Heritage magazine titled “The Politics of Public Bathing”. It became the main source of much of the information in this post. If you read this blog regularly, please consider becoming a member of Landmarks or donating to them. They are a wonderful organization that strives for historic preservation in St. Louis.

October 24th, 2012

Schnaider’s Beer Garden

Schnaider's AdvertOne of my first action items when moving to St. Louis in 1995 was to take a tour of the Anhueser-Busch Brewery. Fresh out of college, I thought the place that made Budweiser must be the only significant brewery in the history of the city. I marveled at the bottling machines, admired the Clydesdales, and tried to scam more than the allotted two glasses of free beer in the tasting room. Back then, I had no idea that there was much more to learn about the story of beer in St. Louis.

As I've matured (well, maybe I should say “aged”), I'm pleased to report my appreciation for the history (and drinking) of beer in St. Louis now goes far beyond Bud and Bud Light.

The history of beer in St. Louis is an enormous topic. It's too big for a single blog post, but to make this one work, a bit of historical backfill is necessary. In second half of the 19th century, the population of St. Louis exploded. Between the years 1850 and 1870, the number of people living in the city more than tripled. A significant part of that population growth was German. In 1829, a famous German writer dubbed Missouri “The Rhineland of the west”. As a result, thousands of German immigrants flooded St. Louis and the lower Missouri River valley. With the Germans came beer and the need to make more of it. St. Louis was a perfect fit for this industry. Along with a growing number of thirsty people, a large system of natural caves existed beneath the city. These caves provided the cooler temperatures needed to ferment large quantities of lager. As a result, St. Louis would find itself brimming with dozens of breweries in the latter half of the 19th century.

I recently learned about the unique story of one of those breweries. Even better, I found my first opportunity to research the history and drink aspects of a subject at the same location.

That brewery is Joseph Schnaider's Chouteau Avenue Brewery. Once located at the intersection of Chouteau Avenue and Twenty-First Street, it was one of the most successful St. Louis breweries in the in the 1870's. In 1876, Chouteau Avenue Brewery ranked among the top three local breweries in capital stock, annual value of business, number of barrels produced, number of employees on hand, and number of horse wagons used. Today, no trace of the brewery exists except for one building.

It's founder, Joseph Maximillian Schnaider, was born in Zell am Hammersbach, Germany in 1832. A brewer by trade, he settled in St. Louis in 1854. At first, he co-owned a successful brewery named the “The Green Tree Brewery”. In 1865, he sold his interest to his partner and set off on his own. Shortly after, he opened Chouteau Avenue Brewery just west of the city.

The story of Schnaider's brewery isn't much different from the other St. Louis breweries of the day. What makes it unique is the beer garden he built next to it. Covering several acres, Schnaider's Beer Garden served food and drink to thousands of people at once. At its height, it became a nationally known resort where visitors could enjoy music, watch theater, and of course, drink beer.

Entrance to Schnaider's Beer Garden

The northern half of the brewery complex can be viewed in the upper left corner of plate 40 in Compton & Dry's Pictorial St. Louis.

1875 Pictorial St. Louis - Plate 40

By lining up plates 39 and 40, the full extent of the beer garden can be seen. The main brewery is located in the upper-right edge of the complex (labelled “1”). The rest of the property contained an auditorium, pavilions, plenty of shade trees, gazebos, and other structures used to entertain the large crowds that would pack Schnaider's each day.

1875 St. Louis Pictorial - Plate 39 & 40 - Combined

Across the street from the brewery is a structure that no longer stands. It was demolished and Schnaider's Malt House was built there in 1876 (one year after the publication of Compton & Dry's Pictorial St. Louis).

1875 St. Louis Pictorial - Plate 40 - Closeup

Schnaider's Beer Garden became a nationally known venue. Bands, theater groups, and travelling shows performed nightly during the summer months. According to the book St. Louis Brews: 200 Years of Brewing in St. Louis, 1809-2009, Schnaider even created his own light opera company to compete with a local baseball team, the St. Louis Brown Stockings. The success of the Brown Stockings (later to be known as the Cardinals) was drawing patrons away from his beer garden and eroding his profits. It's also believed that some of the musical groups that played Schnaider's would eventually combine to form the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. To promote Schnaider's, schedules, advertisements, and reviews for performances such as “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Beggar Student”, were published daily in local newspapers.

Schnaider Bands

Behind all the entertainment, Schnaider's served beer… enormous quantities of beer. Thousands of people would fill Schnaider's Beer Garden each day to eat, drink beer, and celebrate. They'd make toasts, smoke cigars, and watch fireworks displays as music and theater swirled around them. With such revelry, it's not surprising things would sometimes get a little out of hand. One notable example was reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in August, 1881. A young man “under the influence of liquor” visited Schnaider's Garden and promptly began throwing tables and chairs around. When waiters intervened and called the police, the man simply claimed “Oh, that's nothing! We do that kind of thing in Philadelphia and never think anything about it”.

The next morning, he found out things work a bit differently in St. Louis. A judge fined him ten dollars.

Schnaider Pavilions

Joseph Schnaider died in 1881 while visiting his homeland. His wife and oldest son took control of the brewery and continued to expand operations. Over the next ten years, several buildings were added to the complex, including an ice house, a machine house, a storage house, a bottling house, and a summer theater. By 1885, Schnaider's would be one of the largest breweries in St. Louis.

Schnaider's Beer Garden

Despite growth and the splendid reputation of garden, Schnaider's wouldn't last long. In 1889, eighteen St. Louis breweries were consolidated under one company, the St. Louis Brewing Association. Although breweries such as Lemp and Anhueser-Busch opted not to join the syndicate, Schnaider's Brewery did.

Over the next few years, the SLBA began consolidating and closing down member breweries one by one. Schnaider's continued operations for a few years, but the beer garden slowly began to lose its allure. New musical venues and entertainment establishments opened around the city, drawing patrons away. In 1893, the brewery was closed and the beer garden abandoned. The main brewery buildings were converted to a cold storage and ice plant. The beer garden structures were razed to make way for a large shoe factory. The Schnaider Malt House, located across the street, is the only building that still stands today.

Schnaider's Beer Garden

Today, the “Centennial Malt House” (as it is now called) stands at 2017 Chouteau Avenue. In 2005, the building was purchased by Wendy and Paul Hamilton. They quickly went to work on an impressive $4 million restoration project. Across the street, the former site of the beer garden is now where several attractive row houses stand. These homes, located at the northern end of the Lafayette Square neighborhood, set a good example for effective urban development in St. Louis.

Schnaider's Malt House is significant because it is was one of the first malt houses to be constructed in St. Louis. Designed by Fred W. Wolf, a Chicago engineer, and Louis Kledus, a St. Louis architect. Wolf was a prominent brewery engineer of the time. The Schnaider Malt House is one of his earliest designs and one of just a handful that still stand today. Today, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Schnaider's Today

The Drink

The Centennial Malt House offers a variety of dining and drink options. The first floor contains PW Pizza, a great place to drink local beer and eat pizza made with fresh ingredients. Moulin, on the second floor, can be rented for special events and meetings. The third floor contains the rooftop bar and bistro, Vin de Set. There's also a small market and culinary store on the first floor named Grand Petite Market. The Malt House Cellar, which once granted access to the underground caves, is also used for private events. Overall, it is an impressive renovation of a historic building.

Vin de Set

After thinking and writing about Joseph Schnaider and his brewery for over a week, I'm elated that I can get a drink in the actual building that I'm writing about. It's a first for this blog. Even better, Vin de Set is exactly the kind of place where I like to get a drink. Although it has a nice rooftop seating area, the bar inside is even better. The lighting is great, the staff is extremely friendly, and the brick and woodwork make for a great atmosphere. It's obvious the history of the building was important to the designers.

The first thing a visitor sees when entering the bar is a familiar statue. It's a smaller version of “Apotheosis of St. Louis”. The full-size version of this statue is a symbol of St. Louis city and stands in front of the St. Louis Art Museum. While at Vin de Set, I was told this smaller version was presented to Schnaider's as a gift to commemorate the 1904 World's Fair. Years later, it was found stored away in the Malt House missing its head and sword. It has since been restored and now sits impressively above the bar.

My drink of choice at Vin de Set was an Old-Fashioned cocktail. Made with a spirit, bitters, simple syrup, muddled fruit (and sometimes club soda or water), the Old-Fashioned is one of my favorites. I plan to write more about the history of this drink in its own post . I've been told it's considered an “old man drink”, so it's appropriate that I'm in an old building (but at 41, not yet an “old man”). Even better, the bartender made a good one. He made it with rye whiskey, which I was happy about since I did not offer any instruction. Some Old-Fashioned drinkers eschew the fruit, but like the history of the drink, I'll save that argument for a future post. For now, I'm happy to have rye whiskey in my Old-Fashioned.

Since Vin de Set also offers a full menu, I'm sure I'll be heading back to take in a bit more of the Schnaider ambiance.

divider

Notes: The original idea for this post came from Andy Hahn, the Director of the Campbell House Museum. One day he mentioned a “beer garden that could hold thousands”, and it caused my eyes to light up. Much of the information for this post was obtained courtesy of Landmarks Association of St. Louis. The renovation of the Joseph Schnaider Malt House was on their list of “Eleven Most Enhanced Places” in 2006. Photographs are courtesy of the Missouri History Museum. The book St. Louis Brews: 200 Years of Brewing in St. Louis, 1809-2009 by Henry Herbst, Don Roussin, and Kevin Kious also provided quite a bit of information. Anyone who is interested in the history of beer in St. Louis should own that book.

August 30th, 2012

The St. Louis Schools of William B. Ittner

William B. Ittner

In 1897, a man named William B. Ittner became the Commissioner of School Buildings for the Board of Education in St. Louis.  It was a new position, created to oversee an ambitious plan to design and build scores of new public schools in St. Louis city. Before this, school buildings in St. Louis were vastly unappealing structures. Almost resembling prison blocks, school buildings were uniformly dark, dreary, and overcrowded. Simply put, attending public school in 19th century St. Louis was an uncomfortable and unhealthy experience.

Growing up in St. Louis, William Ittner attended city public schools. The experience of learning in a cold box-like building must have made a significant impact on him. After attending Washington University’s Manual Training School, he earned a degree in architecture from Cornell University. Upon returning to St. Louis, he began a successful career working in a few private architecture firms and on his own. When he landed his new job for the Board of Education in 1897, Ittner would apply his experience and knowledge to completely revolutionize school building design.

Ittner introduced what would eventually be called the “open plan”. His new school designs used natural lighting, open spaces, unique classroom designs, attractive exteriors, and improved safety features. Instead of a simple four-sided box, his schools implemented E-, U-, or H- shaped floor plans. Corridors were lined up along large windows, allowing sunlight to spill in and fill open spaces. His schools were the first in St. Louis to have indoor plumbing, heating, and adequate ventilation. Proper fire proofing became a priority for the first time.

School building exteriors became canvases for works of art. His father owned a brick factory, so he knew how to utilize different colors and textures of brick to create appealing designs. He incorporated towers, cupolas, and grand entrances that made schools look like civic monuments instead of plain brick boxes. Most importantly, his schools were designed to create a safe, healthy, and warm environment that fostered learning.

Walnut Park School

Ittner would design over fifty schools in St. Louis over the next eighteen years. At the same time, he built a national reputation. Architects, educators, and tourists from around the country traveled to St. Louis to see his designs in person. Thus, he began designing schools for other cities around the country. As a result, he is credited with the design of over 430 schools nationwide.

Today, forty-eight Ittner school buildings still stand in St. Louis city. Several more can be found in the county (including Maplewood High School and University City High School). His legacy is not limited to school buildings. He is the architect of three of the most notable buildings in St. Louis: The Continental Life Building, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, and the Missouri Athletic Club.

I decided to head out into St. Louis and find his schools. Over the course of a few days, I biked and drove all over St. Louis locating each one of them. The result was one of the most entertaining weekends I’ve had in some time.  It became something like a treasure hunt, sending me into neighborhoods and parts of the city I had never been.  I even met some friendly people who wondered what I was up to.  One particular gentleman walked me around and showed me some interesting features of the school he attended as a child.

I needed help, however. Since Ittner had such an influence on future school architects, many schools built after his tenure look almost identical to his.  To make sure I had the right schools, I went down to Landmarks Association of St. Louis to get some assistance.  The staff at Landmarks went above and beyond what I expected. Not only did they answer any question I threw at them, they let me review their entire survey of William B. Ittner schools. I thought forty-six schools existed, but Landmarks helped me determine two I had missed. After a quick ride to find them, I had pictures and notes for every Ittner school still standing.

Starting with his first school Eliot, and ending with his last school Mullanphy, here are the forty-eight schools still standing in St. Louis city. Each thumbnail is a link to a larger image and a bit more information about the school.

Several of the buildings remain open as functioning schools today (Blow, Clark, McKinley, Farragut, Mann, Sigel, Soldan, Sumner, etc.), while others are empty and for sale (Simmons, Lafayette, Marshall, Shepard). Many have been remodeled and are now apartments or condominiums (Field, Arlington, Emerson, Franklin, Harris Teacher’s College, Monroe), while others are being used for other purposes such as magnet schools or for special purposes (Shaw, Humboldt, Madison). Sadly, a few are in a severe state of disrepair (Rock Springs, Central/Yeatman High, Jackson). Carr School, located just north of downtown, is perennially on Landmarks Association’s list of the most endangered buildings in St. Louis. Just a few blocks away sits Henry School, which looks like it could have opened yesterday.

William B. Ittner Schools
It’s believed Ittner met an artist named Henry Chapman Mercer at the World’s Fair in 1904. Shortly after, beautiful mosaics designed by Mercer began being incorporated into the exterior walls of new Ittner schools. The mosaics at Carr are especially noteworthy. At Farragut Elementary in north city, a gentleman from the neighborhood walked me around and showed me a lion head fountain. It worked when he attended the school as a child, but it’s since been filled with cement.
Ittner School Features
Several of the schools are on the National Register of Historic Places (Carr, Clark, Eliot, Emerson, Field, Jackson, Mann, Rock Spring, Soldan, Sumner, Wyman, etc.). However, many consider Soldan High School on Union Boulevard to be the premier Ittner design. The school features towers, intricately carved stonework, fireplaces, a grand auditorium, and a beautifully tiled cafeteria. At the time of construction, even the lavatories and locker rooms in Soldan were being compared to fine hotels of the day.
Ittner School Features
Getting out to find the Ittner schools will take you to every corner of the city of St. Louis. Most can be identified by a cornerstone chiseled with the schools name, date of construction, and his name, Wm B. Ittner. Here’s a Google Earth map showing the location of each school.

St. Louis Ittner Schools

The Drink
Mosaic Lounge

Initially, I struggled with the drink aspect of this post. At first, I figured I’d just head to a bar or lounge near one of the schools. This idea didn’t seem quite right since a random bar has nothing to do with Ittner or a school it may sit near. Fortunately, the good folks at Landmarks helped me out again (albeit unknowingly).  While at their office, they informed me that the architecture firm that William B. Ittner founded after his job with the city of St. Louis still exists.  I left Landmarks and walked over to the building (it was located just a couple blocks away). To my great delight, the tapas bar Mosaic sits on the ground floor of the building that houses Ittner’s firm. After work, I headed over to Mosaic to see what kind of drink I could get.

I learned a few things at Mosaic. First, I learned that Mosaic makes a pretty good Manhattan. The recipe on their classic cocktail menu calls for Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Cinzano Sweet Vermouth. I ordered it straight-up, but I made no mention of my preference for shaken or stirred. I wasn’t happy with the presentation (they shook it and served it in a rocks glass), but I still liked the taste. Buffalo Trace was new to me, and I’ve always enjoyed Cinzano in my Manhattan.

Mosaic Manhattan

Second, I learned that I need to shut my trap about the topics I’m researching for this blog. The bartender saw me taking notes, so she asked what I was up to. I told her I was writing a post about William B. Ittner (she had never heard the name) and that I needed to find a drink that relates to him somehow.  When I explained that’s how I found myself at her bar, she rolled her eyes and looked at me like I was a complete nerd. She may be right, but I had a shitload of fun nerding out for this post.

This has easily the most enjoyable topic I’ve tackled in the young life of this blog. I enjoy exploring the parts of St. Louis I haven’t seen, and William Ittner took me to dozens of new places. A few of the areas were a bit rough around the edges (to say the least), but I love those parts of St. Louis. It’s why I write this blog. There are stories all over this town.

In conclusion, a few of the Ittner schools are worthy of their own post (Soldan, Sumner, Carr). I assume I’ll be retracing my steps and coming back to William B. Ittner in the future. Stay tuned.

 

%d bloggers like this: