by Michael R. Allen
The narrow two-story commercial building located at 4712 Natural Bridge Avenue in north St. Louis sports exquisite terra cotta in the art deco style. While the smooth buff glazing is eroding, the terra cotta’s fine, curved abstract foliage and geometric patterns are intact. These form an integral part of the chamber drama of the building — pronounced piers define the four second story windows, which are topped by herringbone brickwork in the upper spandrel areas. These windows sit above a storefront that may have stretched the entire width between the building’s outer piers. Up above, the step in at each side of the parapet is a deft touch.
Of course, we don’t know much about that first floor storefront since the owners have bricked it in with a motley tapestry as well as concrete block surrounding a plain steel door. At least the filler brick in the second floor matches the buff color of the original face stock, because that first floor grabs the eye and tried to keep it from finding the beauty here. We do know that the buidling dates to 1929, and its first tenant was Peter Blumenschein’s shoe repair shop.
The blunders down the street are nearly forgiven two (long) blocks west of the old Blumenschein shop at the home of Droste Heating, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning at 4956 Natural Bridge. Sure, the storefront openings have been changed, and two of the four upper windows have lost original steel sash for glass block, but at least the openings aren’t closed up to light completely. Of course, the big draw here is the stylized sheet metal sign, with its delightful fonts. Droste and Rockel, tinners, built the building in 1937 and have remained here ever since. Apparently the company is proud of its presence on Natural Bridge, a commercial thoroughfare that can take every bit of pep that old sign provides.