by Michael R. Allen
Last fall, chemical giant Sigma-Aldrich Corporation purchased the historic building housing The Brick bar located at 3548 S. Broadway in Marine Villa. The bar quickly shuttered and the building, built in 1887 by brick maker Paul Oehler, is now vacant. So far, Sigma-Aldrich has not announced plans for the building, although speculation of eventual demolition has begun. The Sigma-Aldrich plan sprawls on the southeast side of this stretch of South Broadway. In recent years, the company has wrecked many buildings on Broadway across from the Lemp Brewery complex.
That the building is the work of a brick maker is no surprise. The masonry details of the corner building are unusual for a south city corner storefront. The strongly articulated piers, recessed planes, fine arches and what remains of the blind arcade on the top of the wall reward many viewings. The spandrels (areas under the windows) combine brick patterns and stucco in a manner that suggests later Arts and Crafts experimentation.
Oehler came to St. Louis from Germany in 1861, and quickly established one of south city’s largest brick manufacturing operations. His yard was locate don nearby President Street. Among the founders of the Concordia Turners, Oehler was prosperous. Oehler bought the corner lot in 1885, and by the end of 1887 had completed the substantial three-story building and adjacent one-story feed store.
Oehler’s company did not make the transition from hand-made brick to hydraulic press production, and the business died with him. However, the family was quite well off from real estate investment alone. After Paul Oehler’s death in 1891, widow Franziska Oehler constructed the three residences at 3542-46 South Broadway in 1893.
The row’s staggered fronts articulate the bend that Broadway makes here. These are typical Romanesque residential buildings for their time. Handsome Roman arches create the window and door openings, ornamental brick friezes and cornices mark the top of the second floor and modest mansard roofs form the third floor. One of the brick dormers retains an original metal finial. The foundation fronts are trimmed in cut limestone. While the mansards are covered by later materials, the row recently was renovated by developer Ben Simms. The units are rentals — nothing fancy, just good apartments with a lot of historic character.
The residences and the the corner building comprise the National Register of Historic Places listing for the Oehler Brick Buildings (8/1/2008), written by Andrew Weil and myself for Landmarks Association of St. Louis. The listing recognizes the unique origin of these buildings, which provide a strong anchor on a changing section of South Broadway. With the Lemp Brewery across the street, and the houses and storefronts of old Marine Villa surrounding Broadway, the solid forces of old industry and brick architecture are palpable here. Sigma-Aldrich can help keep it that way.