by Michael R. Allen
This corner storefront and at 2742 Cass Avenue in JeffVanderLou was one of the properties recently purchased by Larmer LC from the Cass Corporation for $739,000. Actually, these are two separate buildings. While Geo St. Louis dates the buildings to 1885, that’s probably wrong. Most of the Geo St. Louis building information comes from unreliable city records, not building permits. Likely, these buildings are earlier and the storefronts added later.
Across the city in the post-Civil War era, many builders built tenement housing over commercial space like this on streets in “suburban” areas away from the central city. Some streets were main thoroughfares and shifted to commercial uses. When those changes came, building owners would often reconfigure tenement buildings with ground-floor commercial uses by putting a cast iron storefront in place of the brick wall on the first floor. That’s what seems to be the case here. In other cases, storefronts were inserted in place of residential space.
The cast iron front allowed for greater glazed area than a heavy masonry wall; stores needed exposure of goods to the passers-by. This was long before automobile-clad consumers learned about goods through television and computers before heading to the local windowless big box.
Cast iron fronts are structural as well as decorative. The columns, poured into attractive classical forms, bear the weight distributed across the front by paired steel I-beams. Adding wide storefronts must have been interesting surgery!