A Ramshackle Masterpiece

by Michael R. Allen

Welcome to the Family Thrift Store loacted on Fitzgerald Avenue in Gerald, Missouri. Gerald is a small town in Franklin County southwest of St. Louis. The Family Thrift Store building is a tour de force of homemade architecture. Literally, there may be no common American building material not used in the construction of this ramshackle masterpiece. This building has it all — brick, clay tile, concrete block, metal siding, wood, vinyl siding, polished granite, limestone and even a piece of terrazzo embedded in the wall.

The construction uses a lot of plausible leftover materials, but also some salvage parts. Many of these salvaged pieces appear to come from a Roman Catholic Church, with a stone bearing the name of Joseph Cardinal Ritter and a date in 1967. There is even a carved limestone cross — much earlier than 1967 — over the rear garage door.



While the colorful mess of materials is the piecemeal handiwork of a builder, there seems to be a unitary component on the east side, where a brick wall on the first floor uses the matching bricks laid conventionally across its run. This appears to be the remnant of either a destroyed, altered or unfinished building.

The wood-heated thrift store is open to the public, but its wares are not as exotic as the exterior would suggest. The origin of the thrift store building remains unknown to this writer, who would love to learn how the brick wall became an unfinished, gaudy and unique work of folk architecture. Does Missouri have anything else like this? This building is as idiosyncratic, hand-made and strangely alluring as the Watts Towers. All my notions of architectural propriety wither in the face of the Family Thrift Store. I dig it.

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