Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cole Chemical Building - 3721 Laclede Avenue in the Midtown Neighborhood

The following is an example of how a building can pique one's curiosity and desire to learn about your surroundings and place in history. Conservation and preservation of places and buildings is such a valuable asset toward historical understanding and providing context within a city.

I was having lunch across the street from a building that caught my eye. There was a blue placard affixed to the building with a cool font that said "Cole's"; I had to cross the street to get some photos and take a closer look.

The building is on St. Louis University's main campus at 3721 Laclede Avenue in the Midtown Neighborhood. It is currently in use as an administrative building called Beracha Hall.
The building is sleek, you can tell it was designed to be special with modern touches from the Art Deco era (c1908-1935) with curving brick and concrete. And since the building was beautifully restored and major investments have been made to the interior, we all get to appreciate it for years to come as it has found a place on the SLU campus. The two story blonde brick building sits just west of the beautiful and brand new Spring Hall student housing tower.
You can see the building is wrapped in blue neon lighting. I have yet to visit after dark to see if it is illuminated.

Further inspection of the building's exterior proudly state the year it was founded and who designed it.
 perfect art deco font
founded in 1918

This is a testament to St. Louis' largest and oldest university doing the right thing and making the right investments to make them a community asset.
Hopefully SLU keeps this in mind as they are given carte blanche to develop massive swaths of land on nearly 400 acres on the south medical campus. Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The Board of Aldermen on Friday passed a bill granting St. Louis University broad authority to control what is built on nearly 400 acres in midtown and surrounding neighborhoods. 
The university envisions building new academic and medical buildings to go along with private investment near its medical center and north campus. 
Friday’s 17-4 vote, with one member voting “present,” formally declares the area as blighted and allows SLU to form what is known as a Chapter 353 redevelopment corporation.

It gives the university control over the zoning and tax incentives that will determine what is built in the area. (source)
This kind of smart investment seen right here on Laclede Avenue builds goodwill, respects our history and makes SLU more part of the neighborhoods they are in versus a fenced off entity apart from our neighborhoods.

I've had a sinking feeling that SLU would seek to close more city streets that run through their campus. This would effectively hide these buildings from the public. People like me that love to explore every nook and cranny of the city will be blocked. We need to fight street closures in nearly all cases. I'll be keeping a close eye on this one.

But the investment and reuse in this building is amazing. The interior of Beracha Hall is brightly lit, modern and totally functional.

If Laclede Avenue was closed, I likely wouldn't have been eating a sandwich on that street, I wouldn't have spotted the Cole's logo on the building. And, I would have remained ignorant of Hugo Graf's impact on St. Louis.

When I saw the Hugo K. Graf signature on the front exterior, the name sounded familiar. I searched this site and found out why, I'd crossed paths with Hugo Graf's other works while researching the St. Louis Public Libraries and schools. W.T. Trueblood and Hugo K. Graf Architectural Firm designed the Carpenter Branch on South Grand in the Tower Grove South Neighborhood.

Click around a little on the web and you find that Graf was also responsible for the Carter Carburetor office building (now the Grand Center Arts Academy) in the Covenant Blu/Grand Center Neighborhood. In fact he did all kinds of work around Missouri.

This guy is another fantastic architect who left behind some amazing work.  Born in St. Louis, he moved to the burbs in a house he designed in Webster Groves, MO. Per the State Historical Society of Missouri:
Hugo K. Graf was born in St. Louis on 17 January 1888 and died in 1953. He designed several significant buildings in St. Louis and the surrounding metropolitan area, including the Carpenter Branch Library and parts of the Barnes Hospital complex. In the 1920s he partnered with William T. Trueblood in the architectural firm Trueblood and Graf. He went into independent practice in 1934 following the dissolution of the partnership.
I will be planning a trip to the University of Missouri - St. Louis campus to see first hand the collection on Graf:
This collection contains papers, photographs, and images from the Architect Hugo K. Graf and the architectural firm “Kramer and Harms.” The Hugo Graf photos are generally of completed businesses and residences. The images are generally drawings of buildings, residences, and one drawing of a streamlined automobile from Lawncraft Incorporated. Also included are a copy of the “Missouri Ordnance News” that includes information wartime activities in Louisiana Missouri and several issues of the “Architectural Concrete” journal. The earliest document in this collection is a Graf paper that dates from 1924. The collection contains papers and photographs from Kramer and Harms. Gerhardt Kramer, who had worked for Graf, started this firm with Joe Harms following Graf's death. (source) 
Per the Missouri History Museum:
The Hugo K. Graf Albums are photographic portfolios of the work of St. Louis architect Hugo K. Graf. The first album contains 18 captioned interior and exterior views of the buildings and campus of Central Methodist College in Fayetteville, MO. The second album contains 27 photographs of Graf's work in St. Louis, including the Rand-Johnson (surgical) wing of Barnes Hospital; Cole Chemical Company, the Carter Carburetor building or Pythian Building, a factory of Jackies-Evans Manufacturing, the headquarters building for the 7-Up company and interiors, the Forest Oldsmobile-Cadillac dealership, the Peck and Peck clothing store and miscellaneous interiors; and photographs of renderings of a factory for Majestic Manufacturing, IBM, and a grocery warehouse. The collection also includes an original pencil design rendering for the 1940 addition to Missouri Portland Cement Company. (source)
That will be fun, can't wait to check it out. I'll do a proper post on Graf for this blog because I can't find a good photo of him on the web and I have much to learn. Stay tuned.

Then there was also the mystery of Cole's. What'd they make? Well, living in the information age is a real treat. A few clicks and I was piecing it all together.

Cole's was the trademark of Cole Chemical Company of St. Louis per a trademark renewal application with the U.S. federal trademark department. The product line in the application listed their line of pharmaceuticals including analgesics, anesthetics, antispasmodic preparations, cardiovascular agents, diagnostic aids, diuretics, hormones, laxatives, narcotics, vitamins, alteratives, antacids, antirheumatics, antiarthritics, coating agents, digestants, disinfectants, metabolics (source)

You know, just a little bit of this and that. They had great ads:






Again, the point of this post is to consolidate some information on Cole Chemical Building but to also hammer home the point that without preservation of this building, I'd be ignorant of the past significance of this part of my favorite Midwestern city.

Now that SLU has invested in the building's future, they have a cooler looking campus...a historic looking campus...and I now know more about Cole Chemical Company and will be making trips to UMSL to visit the Hugo Graf portfolio archives and Poplar Bluff, MO to visit this theater that Graf designed. 
Photo Source: Cinema Treasures



The Cole Chemical Building/Beracha Hall look great. 

Laclede Avenue between Grand and Vandeventer are the kinds of development and investment we need on the medical campus.

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