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Locust Pharma Corner

About two weeks ago I did a ride from the riverfront to around Downtown West, into Midtown, and then poked into the Central West End around the old Gaslight Square area. I always feel I miss some interesting stuff on Locust and areas between 18th Street and Jefferson so I spent a lot of time here on a Saturday afternoon rolling around on my bike. This area was big into manufacturing and along Locust there are many hints to it’s importance to the commercial printing/publishing industry and the automotive history in St. Louis. In addition lots of stuff was made around here but I’m going to focus on a corner important to the pharmaceutical industry. In fact it’s part of a historic district called the Lucas Avenue Industrial Historic District because of it’s manufacturing. Locust forms the south edge. Locust is also part of another historic district called the Locust Street Automotive District.

I only want to focus on The Lambert Building (aka the Singer Fixture Company or the T.M Sayman Products Company Building) because there is so much information on it.

lambert-buildingThe Lambert Building is a hulking Richardson Romanesque red sandstone building built in 1891. It is the birthplace of Listerine Mouthwash which was invented by a chemist named Joseph Lawrence in 1879. He named it “Listerine” in to honor Joseph Lister, a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. Lawrence then licensed his formula to a local pharmacist named Jordan Wheat Lambert in 1881. Lambert, in turn, founded the Lambert Pharmacal Company. In 1895 Listerine was promoted to dentists for oral care. Then in 1914 it became the first over-the-counter mouthwash sold in the United States.

Later in 1955, Lambert merged his company with New York-based Warner-Hudnut and became Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Company. Their headquarters moved to New Jersey. Then in 2000, Pfizer bought them out. In St. Louis, most people will recognize the name “Lambert” because of Lambert – St. Louis International Airport. However, the airport is not named after Jordan Wheat Lambert, it is named after his son, Albert Bond Lambert, who was a golfer that competed in the 1900 and 1904 Olympics. After his Olympic years he was an early proponent of aviation. In 1907 he was one of the founders of the Aero Club of St. Louis. At that time he was flying hot-air balloons. Then in 1909, Lambert met the Wright Brothers, and purchased his first airplane from them. Soon after he took flying lessons from Orville Wright. Then in 1911 became the first St. Louis resident to hold a pilot’s license.

Later he bought Kinloch Field, which had been used for hot-air ballooning. There he made improvements by building runways, hangars and all the things needed for an airport and called it Lambert Field. He also did it with his own money. Then in 1927 Lambert was one of backers/financers to Charles Lindbergh’s purchasing the The Spirit of St. Louis and making his historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The following year he sold his airport to the city of St Louis, thus making it one of the first municipal airports in the USA. Oh and he sold for the same amount he paid for it, and making improvements. Essentially he sold it at a loss.

It’s easy to say Listerine made the family tremendously wealthy. The development of a mouthwash essentially funded part of America’s early involvement in the aviation industry. Just to think this is the corner where it started.

After Lambert Pharmacal Company moved out, it became the home to Sayman Products, another pharmaceutical company. They then chiseled their name above the door so it’s hard to know by looking from the street, that this was where Listerine was produced.

T.M Sayman, the founder of Sayman Products Company, seems like an interesting fellow. He was born in 1853 in Indiana and ran away from home at age 9 and by 10 he joined the circus. After a couple years he worked for P.T. Barnum’s Circus, touring with them for a couple years. Later he joined other circuses, vaudeville acts, and groups that sold medicines across the country. How does a circus, vaudeville performer sell medicine? Well, it sounds to me like he was involved with “snake oil” salesmen of the day. The idea was to sell medicine through means of entertaining a crowd first and then selling the medicine after the crowd had gathered and they were in a happy frame of mind. It seems to me a circus and vaudeville performer could do this well. He became interested in the “medicines” and found most were worthless but found some to be useful. By age of 18, he entered medical college and studied medicine for four years.

After his medical studies he founded Sayman Products Company in Carthage, Missouri. He was interested in certain Indian herbs and became interested in what was called the soap plant. After a couple of years of trial and error, he learned how to make an effective extract where he combines these herbs and soap with other materials to produce Sayman Vegetable Wonder Soap. Soon after he developed Sayman Salve and other remedies for common ailments. Still sounds snake oily to me. I bet he was a good salesman, one that could talk you in circles and get you to buy anything.

By 1912 he was a multi-millionaire and moved his operation to St. Louis. After moving to St. Louis he expanded his operations with the manufacture of soaps, toiletries, household preparations, salves and related items that were distributed nationally. He also became a philanthropist in the city.

On top of that he seemed like an eccentric person who like to challenge people to headbutting. He would challenge people to butt heads with him and liked to do it on a bet. What? I guess it was something learned in the circus? He also passed out pistols to all his employees and collected them at the end of their shifts. A fully-equipped shooting gallery was maintained at the plant. He specified that applicants must be proficient with rifles and revolvers to work at his plant. Wha-what and why?

Anyway, Sayman Products Company moved out in 1975 and was replaced by the Singer Fixture Company. In 1976 a huge fire swept through and destroyed many nearby buildings and heavily damaged this one and Swift Printing Company across the street. The ruins from this fire seemed to be attractive to movie director John Carpenter were then used in his 1981 movie, Escape From New York. In fact, features from this building, and the old Swift Printing building can be seen in the movie. Today, both have been fixed up. In 1991 the Swift Printing Building became The Schlafly Tap Room and is still going strong. The Lambert Building was rehabbed and is now home to offices and lofts.

I was going to write about the Swift Printing Company Building and the Mendenhall Building but the history of this one cool corner at 21st and Locust was more interesting than I thought it would be. What an interesting place! I had a feeling or could sense and importance to this place as I passed on my bike. To me, if a name is inscribed into stone on a building, it has be be important. I do wish I did take more pictures because all I have is the one of the corner entrance. Sounds like another assignment.

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Sir, The Trail is Closed

I think my goal for this one was to ride down Jefferson. In the end, that is what I did but I didn’t do it how I planned and I was a little upset about it. I started on the Riverfront Trail and wanted to ride down the new section in front of the Arch then loop around, go north on Jefferson and then hit my starting point by riding through downtown which would be downhill. That is not what happened. I still rode down Jefferson though.

It was gearing up to be a hot Sunday. It was early morning and it was already hot. I started down the trail passing in front of Laclede’s Landing. I did notice some barriers across Leonor K Sullivan but that didn’t seem to worry me. I kept going, that shouldn’t keep me from the trail. So I thought. I stop my bike to go walk the bike around the barriers and then hop back on the trail. Startled, as a man jumped out of a van exclaiming, “Sir, the trail is closed!”. Ok. Huh? I respond with why is the trail closed with a great degree of irritation. First of all, I’m not male. Second of all, nothing is going on. The trail isn’t obstructed. He adds that I can take my bike and ride below the trail on the cobblestones along the shore. I’m thinking, “are you kidding more or are you just stupid or do you think I’m stupid?”. It’s terrible just walking on those things and I’m supposed to ride my thin tire bike on them? Seriously? People that don’t ride bikes just don’t have a clue. Grumbling, I start walking my bike up the levee…up through Laclede’s Landing. I can’t ride because the bricks are just too rough and treacherous for my bike. In my mind I’m grumbling and trying regroup. Once I get to the I-70 overpass I guess I’ll just ride up to Jefferson.

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I meander through Convention Plaza, Washington Ave, Lucas Ave then turn left on 14th and then right on to Olive and head up it gentle incline. Once I pass 18th street, I start to coast downhill until I start noticing a few things. First I recognize Korzendorfer and Bick Picture Framers. I remember getting frames from them for my BFA show in 2001. I wasn’t sure they were still around. They have been around for a very long time. In fact they have been open since 1898 according to their website. They are the oldest picture framing service in St. Louis. I’m not sure if they have always been in the same location though. Further down is a building I have passed many times in my car and have wondered about it. It a building for the National Electric Company. It has a limestone facade in an Art Deco style. It does have some relief ornamentation and some ironwork above the doorways. Plus I like the sign. Other than that it is not that extraordinary. I continue down to Jefferson.

I know I’m going to dislike this part of the ride. There is not much to look at but that’s probably a good thing because even though there is a bike lane, there is a lot of traffic on this wide road. There is not much of a shoulder and there is a large part that is a bridge. There’s also no shade and on a day that is already hot and is quickly heating up, it’s just not fun. I’m concentrating on traffic and doing what I can to keep myself safe. I think once I cross Chouteau, I’ll feel better. That’s not the case. The dedicated bike lane ends and now I’m in four-lane traffic. I then make a turn into The Gate District as soon as I can. I can take side streets but once I get to I-44 I’ll have to get back on Jefferson where there are entrance and exit ramps for the highway. I’ll probably have to take the lane and that rarely makes people in cars happy. What matter is that I am safe. Once I get past the highway, it’s all good.

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Why on Earth do I want to ride down Jefferson? First I want to get a closer look at the California Do-nut sign building. Second there are some interesting houses, old signage and buildings from here to Cherokee Street. I determine Cherokee Street will be my southern boundary. Plus the traffic has thinned out a little bit. While biking I realize there is some interesting storefront art from one that is covered in cat silhouettes to the street art of 2222, Peat Wollaeger’s place. There’s a storefront covered in collaged pictures of animals, Albert Einstein and bright colors. This place would be hard to see by car because it is blocked by a large trailer. As I get closer to Gravois, the traffic gets heavier. I get some pictures of The Palms sign that is on the storefront of the Way Out Club. My guess is that there was a place called The Palms here but when the Way Out Club opened, they couldn’t bear to take the cool old sign down. I think of a mid-century bar with tiki decor or maybe something that has a Las Vegas Rat Pack vibe. Anyway, I wait for the red light to change to green. I’m surrounded by cars and their hot exhaust, the sun beating down. I gaze at the tattoo shop and the sculpture-like bike rack. Must keep an eye on the traffic signal because once the green light signals I must race to the other side.

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I finally come upon the California Do-Nut building. I notice it’s a favorite amongst photographers and is a great bit of neon signage from the 1940s. The California is in a cursive script style and the Do-nut is a bold san-serif style. the metal sign above the storefront takes on a green and white color just like the building. There is an additional vertical “Donuts”sign along the southwest corner on the second story. Originally, it was opened in 1948 by Henry J. Bielefeld and churned out homemade donuts to the neighborhood for decades. As far as I know, someone is working on opening a donut place here again. It looks like some work is going on. The great thing is I hear they want to keep the old sign.

bentonpark-houseI get toward Arsenal and Benton Park, the street gets a little more residential. In fact there are some large victorian era houses – some Romanesque Revival, Richardson Romanesque with big towers and large arched windows and entries. It’s tree lined so there’s some shade. Eventually I turn down some side streets in the Benton Park West neighborhood. I meander around looking at the brick houses. I spot a plain white hipped flounder type house on an alley. I’m always looking out for flounders. It is a little odd in how it is raised. the front door is a good 6-10 feet from the ground. I think I’ve mentioned several times that it’s hot and I’m getting close to Cherokee. I get a picture of an old mid-century looking bank that doesn’t look open and then I get on Cherokee and start heading back. At this point, I just want to get back. I can take Cherokee down to South Broadway and ride straight into downtown. Going down Cherokee is a downward slope but instead of going straight to Broadway, I veer onto Lemp and head to Arsenal. From there I’ll hit Broadway. I fly downhill in canyon the Anheuser-Busch complex.

Once I get on Broadway there is almost absolutely no shade. I keep my head down and just focus on pedaling and keeping a decent pace. It’s mostly flat but it’s a wide and busy road mostly. It’s Sunday morning so it’s not too bad except for a few big rigs that pass. The bike lane is ok. I don’t like the ones directly on the curb because a lot debris seems to gather here. This can be broken glass, to trash, broke car parts. In some places I ride outside the bike lane if I can. Eventually Broadway turns to 7th St and I hit the bar section near Busch Stadium. Some of the buildings are covered in graffiti and are pretty ratty looking. Though some are starting to get fixed up. I’d think there’d be more development because of the stadium. This area has many large empty lots but are used for parking when there is a baseball game. I cross under the web of dark steel railroad trestles, now Broadway again and then turns to 4th St (confusing?). I head up a slight incline past the Tums building, the high-rise hotels, past the old Courthouse. I’m almost back to my starting point. The next challenge is the mashup of streets that weave around under I-70. From there I coast down Biddle. Drenched and done. I forget about the annoyance from when I started. I still figured out what to do and still did what I set out to do. It wasn’t how I planned but I was able to figure out my route and get past the irritation. I could have just quit and went home but through all my complaining and irritation, I stayed resilient. The bit thing is I need to learn to stay calm and not let annoyances get to me as I’m getting through the tough parts. I’m tougher than I think I am.

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