Brecht Butcher Buildings North St. Louis Old North

Losing It

by Michael R. Allen

My goodness, I hate passing the corner of Cass and Florissant and seeing a strange mess of masonry rubble where before the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings stood. It’s getting harder to know when I’m back home. I hate to engage in outbursts of emotion, but I feel that this problem is pretty logical: the loss of tangible landmarks erodes a living environment to the point of unfamiliarity.

Do you want to pass by daily a pile of rubble that may stay a vacant lot for years?  Do you want to look through that rubble and see intact and recognizable parts of the building?  Do you want to deal with the failure of any legal authority to protect the sanctity of place?

This was no mere run of the mill (method) building. The Brecht buildings were among the finest of the near north side’s industrial buildings, and completely worth the loss of reputation I risked to defend them. Additionally, they defined the southern portal of my neighborhood, Old North St. Louis. Without them, I have a vacant lot as a grave and — perhaps surprising — more energy to resist the next assault on my neighborhood. I’m not angry, I’m agitated — and that leads to action.

Brecht Butcher Buildings Demolition North St. Louis

Destruction of the North Side Continues

The Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings on February 26.

Brecht Butcher Buildings Demolition Old North

Watching the Brecht Demolition

by Michael R. Allen

Every morning comes one of the many internal negotiations of the day: Do I pass by the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings on my way to work?

I have a few choices for routes to work, so passing by the buildings is not necessary. However, as wrecking work progresses, I have to deal with the innate curiosity. How much further have the wreckers progressed? What does the column on that floor of that section look like now that it’s exposed? And so forth. These are questions that I consider not only for my own curiosity but because I’m bound to get a few (and I mean very few in this case, given what side of Delmar these buildings are on) questions.

Most days, I take the hard route and pass by. Sometimes, I linger for awhile. The smiling workers are busy putting bricks up on pallets, knocking wall sections down. I watch, but only once have I photographed the scene. Usually, I am compelled to take a few photographs of demolitions, because the recorded details are useful for later research. This time, I have been slow to record what has to be one of the greatest buildings to be demolished in St. Louis since the Century Building.

Perhaps my lack of urgency comes from my deep personal disgust at this senseless loss — one I haven’t felt much before. Perhaps it comes from the fact that these buildings never received the preservation battle that they deserved. (Has any building in recent years?) Most likely, both. In the face of business as usual, investment in observing great loss alone can seem pointless.  I suppose that I will take the camera with me tomorrow, though.

Brecht Butcher Buildings Demolition North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North St. Louis Building Division

Brecht Butcher Supply Buildings Under Demolition; Permit Altered

by Michael R. Allen

Two weeks ago, the A.G. Mack Contracting Company began wrecking the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings at the northeast corner of Cass and Florissant avenues in Old North St. Louis. The historic buildings, owned by Blairmont Associates LC (30% owned by developer Paul J. McKee, Jr.), have sat empty since their purchase by the current owner in 2005. On October 6, 2006, a large fire struck the buildings and caused extensive but not insurmountable damage.

On October 31, 2006, the city’s Building Division issued an emergency demolition permit for the eastern two buildings of the three-building group. According to demolition inspectors, the two-story western building was to be spared while the other buildings would be wrecked with city money.

Then, suddenly, salvagers removed the cornice from the two-story section beginning January 8. Demolition started on the two-story section, and a complaint to the city led to information from Demolition Supervisor Sheila Livers stating that all three building would be wrecked.

The city’s Geo St. Louis website shows that the original wrecking permit issued October 31, 2006 was replaced by a new one issued January 12, 1007.

The reason for the change is unknown. Obviously, the loss of the two larger buildings would have diminished the visual impact of the two-story building. Yet leaving some part — a part not at all damaged by the fire — of the historic row would have been better than nothing.

(Photograph from February 8, 2007. Most of the two-story section is demolished now.)

Brecht Butcher Buildings North St. Louis Old North

Eulogy for the Brecht

by Barbara Manzara

Friends of the City, northsiders, lend me your ears;
I come to query Blairmont, not to blame them.
The buildings that men burn live after them;
The truth is oft interred with their rubble;
So has it been with Blairmont. The noble City
Has told us it works not with Blairmont:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
For grievously has Blairmont let us burn.

Here, under the gaze of Francis and the rest–
For Francis is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable aldermen–
Come I to speak for the near northside.
It is my home, beautiful and dear to me:
But Paul McKee says he is not Blairmont;
And Paul McKee is an honourable man.

He hath built many homes in West County
Whose taxes did the general coffers fill.
Which subdivision funded malicious speculation?
When that the poor have shivered, Blairmont hath burned:
Ambition should be made of less flammable stuff:
But Harvey Noble says he is not Blairmont;
And Harvey Noble is an honourable man.

You all did see that when the Brecht did burn
And neighbors feared for loss of life and homes,
The City issues handy demolition permits.
Yet the City swears it knows not Blairmont;
And, sure, the mayor is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what the City spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love the northside once, not without cause;
What cause witholds you then from simple honesty?
Blairmont has bought square miles of the 5th ward
And not without a politician’s ear; Bear with me —
My trust is in the coffin there with Blairmont’s burnouts,
And I’m not waiting til it comes back to me.

Barbara Manzara is a resident of Old North St. Louis. Contact her at

Brecht Butcher Buildings Central West End Collapse Lafayette Square North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North South St. Louis

Examples of Buildings Stabilized After Collapse

Other industrial buildings in St. Louis and elsewhere have been stabilized and rehabilitated after sustaining damage as sever or worse that that sustained by the 1897 addition to the Brecht Butcher Supply Company building. These photos here show conditions at buildings brought back from ruins. Thanks to architect Paul Hohmann for providing these images.

LISTER BUILDING (Central West End, St. Louis)

The Lister Building at the southwest corner of Taylor and Olive was in ruins before its historic-tax-credit rehab. Read more here.

M LOFTS (Formerly part of the International Shoe Company Factory, Lafayette Square, St. Louis)

The “M Lofts” building in Lafayette Square was in a very similar state to the Brecht addition before developer Craig Heller purchased it in 2001 for an ambitious rehab. The former International Shoe Company manufacturing building was a mill-method building like the Brecht, with extensive structural collapse. Heller’s LoftWorks company rebuilt much of the building and converted it into residential space. Read more here

WIREWORKS (formerly the Western Wire Products Company Factory, Lafeyette Square, St. Louis)

A significant portion of the Western Wire Products Company buildings burned after rehab started in 2000. The developers chose to stabilize the affected section and create an inviting enclosed courtyard. Read more here on Landmarks Association’s 2002 Most Enhanced Building Awards page (the building was among the winners).

MILL CITY MUSEUM (Minneapolis)

From the museum website: “Built within the ruins of a National Historic Landmark — the Washburn A Mill — the museum provides a multi-sensory, interactive journey. The story of flour milling — and its impact on Minneapolis, the nation and the world — comes to life through the eight-story Flour Tower and other hands-on exhibits.”

Brecht Butcher Buildings Fire North St. Louis Old North

Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings: Post-Fire Interior Photographic Evidence

by Michael R. Allen

These photographs date to December 9, 2006 and show the post-fire conditions of the interiors and rooftops of the sections of the Brecht buildings built in 1890 and 1897. Since the section built in 1900 is not condemned and free of any fire damage, it is omitted here.


The first floor of the original building shows no signs of fire damage — just clutter and debris left by former occupants and squatters.

The worst fire damage in this section is on the sceond floor, where a partly-opened fire door allowed flames to reach the acoustic ceiling tiles, which show heavy surface burning. Some wooden partitions at right burned. View looking south.

The third floor, looking south. No fire damage here.

The fourth floor, looking south. There are few traces of fire damage here.

Here is a typical post and beam connection in the building. All visible connections show good structural integrity. This is on the fourth floor.

Here’s another view of the fourth floor, looking north.

As this photo shows, the roof of the original section is intact save normal deterioration. Note the mostly solid parapet wall at right.

The terra cotta parapet on the Cass Avenue elevation lost some pieces due to the pressurized water spray of firefighters’ hoses, but is otherwise stable with fairly solid mortar joints throughout.


View looking southwest through a fire door opening between the first building and the 1897 addition. Note that some structural members, although compromised, remain tied into the front elevation on Cass Avenue. The masonry walls are solid although the collapse of roof structures led to some damage.

A closer look at some of the remaining structural members of the 1897 addition shows salvageable condition.

View southwest from the roof of the 1890 building.

View to the west shows damage to the west parapet wall of the original building. Note that only the top seven courses and coping tiles collapsed, and that the wall is solid below. Temporary coping could protect this wall from moisture until rebuilding occurs.

View to the northwest shows the collapsed section of the north wall facing toward the recess. The adjacent walls of the wings seems solid.

This view west across the terra cotta parapet of the 1897 addition shows a fairly straight shape, altered by normal bowing in masonry walls. No major movement has occurred since the fire. Steel bracing could keep the wall from moving further as debris is cleared from the interior.

Brecht Butcher Buildings North St. Louis Old North Theory

Our City

by Michael R. Allen

Such architectural beauty and refined historic masonry as found in St. Louis is not easy to find in other American cities. We who dwell here in the city are surrounded by wonderful sights free for the intake. On a walk to work, or a drive to the grocery store, we pass hundreds of buildings that uplift our aesthetic sensibilities. Unlike new, glamorous architecture, which unfortunately is segregated in the wealthier parts of St. Louis, the historic architecture abounds everywhere people live.

Such a cultural resource needs to good stewardship, and often we fail to provide that. As we conclude one year and start another, we should reflect upon what we all can do to steward one of the world’s most important architectural collections: the city of St. Louis.

Photo: Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings, 1201 Cass Avenue.

Brecht Butcher Buildings Demolition Northside Regeneration Old North

Demolition Permit Issued for Brecht Butcher Supply Buildings

by Michael R. Allen

On October 31, the city issued an emergency demolition permit for the burned part of the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings. The contract supposedly has been let to Bellon Wrecking. Oddly enough, the burned section has been left unsecured since the devastating fire last month. There has been no fence around the building, and the permit didn’t come until three weeks after the fire.

While I am upset to see the building go, I am also upset that the Building Division did not see fit to order the owners to erect a fence or board up a building that was condemned on October 10 and was in terrible, dangerous condition inside. The building is directly across Cass Avenue from the Greyhound Station, too, making its post-fire appearance a rather sour introduction to this city.

When a building this large has such a terrible fire, safety precautions should be taken until renovation or demolition can begin. It’s an insult to residents of the near north side than neither the Building Division nor Blairmont Associates LC — which can afford to finance millions of dollars in property purchases — did not see fit to secure the burned buildings.

Hopefully, the demolition site will be secure although I doubt it. I also hope that the wreckers only demolish the fire-damaged center section, and leave the flanking buildings standing. Even though the remaining buildings will look strange severed from the connector, there is no need to lose all of them. Cass Avenue needs some architectural stability, and given how little historic fabric remains it is very reasonable to preserve what is left.

Brecht Butcher Buildings Fire Hyde Park North St. Louis Old North Terra Cotta

Terra Cotta on the Move

by Michael R. Allen

According to a neighbor, a missing piece of the terra cotta cornice of the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings now resides in front of the firehouse at the northwest corner of Blair and Salisbury in Hyde Park. The buildings burned last Friday.