Linda Tate on September 5th, 2011

Switch Assembly at Wellston's Wagner Plant

In honor of Labor Day, I’d like to give a shout out to Rosemary Feurer’s book, Radical Unionism in the Midwest: 1900-1950 (U of Illinois P, 2006). Feurer focuses in particular on the rise of labor unions in electrical factories – especially those in St. Louis, including Wellston’s Wagner plant.

Also worth checking out is Feurer’s online booklet, “The St. Louis Labor History Tour,” as well as her extensive collection of labor history links.

I’m proud to say I’m descended from folks who worked hard for their unions. Enjoy Labor Day, everyone, and remember those who paved the way for safe working conditions, a 40-hour work week, and a decent wage.

Above: Women work at the switch assembly in Wellston’s Wagner Plant.

Linda Tate on August 29th, 2011

Thanks to alert Wellston Loop reader Maud Essen for sending me info about a new St. Louis documentary that’s out now and screening this weekend at Off Broadway, 3517 Lemp Avenue (Friday and Saturday nights, 7:00 both nights).

In Brick by Chance and Fortune, filmmaker Bill Streeter explores St. Louis’s rich brick history (yes! it has a rich brick history!) and the devastating impact brick thieves are having on the city, particularly in North St. Louis. 

You can learn more about the film by reading this Post-Dispatch article.  

This is one of those times I wish I were in St. Louis — so I could go see the film (with Maud!). Those of you who go: post a comment and tell the rest of us all about it.

Linda Tate on August 29th, 2011

This week, I’m captivated by a radio essay by local St. Louisan Sean Collins. Aired on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” the piece highlights a “sound of summer” — in Collins’s case, the sound of the train at the St. Louis Zoo.

This is an iconic sound for me as well, and I especially home my cousin, Laura Schneider, will remember all the fun we had on that train. I looked for an old photo of Laura, my brother Dave, and me posing by the train, but I couldn’t find it.

Trains, streetcars . . . whatever the mode of St. Louis transport, my family is there!

Linda Tate on August 22nd, 2011

S&H Green Stamps

Last week, I featured Raleigh Cigarettes, with their coupons that could be saved to purchase special items.

An even more popular way to save toward something special was to collect Eagle Stamps and Green Stamps. Retailers – such as grocery stores and department stores – would give these stamps out at the checkout counter, basing the number of stamps given on the size of the customer’s purchase. Gas stations were also a popular place to get stamps, as my family can attest!

Customers would paste the stamps into trading books, and if you collected just the right amount of books, you could trade the stamps in for the item of your choice. “Remembering Trading Stamps” focuses on the phenomenon in Chattanooga – but the piece will make you remember trading stamps in St. Louis.

S&H Green Stamps were a nationally distributed trading stamp, in existence from the 1930s until the 1980s. Green Stamps were so popular, in fact, that during the 1960s “the rewards catalog printed by the company was the largest publication in the United States and the company issued three times as many stamps as the U.S. Postal Service”!

Some U.S. cities – including St. Louis – also had Eagle Stamps. From what I can gather, Eagle Stamps started as a stamp for the May Company (whose stores included, of course, Famous-Barr, the grand St. Louis department store) and then expanded to other outlets.

There are a number of great pieces about Eagle Stamps – full of wonderful memories and stories about the beloved trading stamp. The St. Louis Explorer blog investigated the Eagle Stamp craze in St. Louis – and the blog post is followed by great reader comments, including one which recounts the story of redeeming stamps at the Eagle Stamp store in North County’s Grandview Plaza – precisely where my mom would take us when it was time to trade in our books. The comments section on this page also features a 2003 article from the Webster-Kirkwood Times: it tells the story of one family’s Christmas experience with Eagle Stamps. Definitely worth reading!

On another website, an oral history interview with a Dogtown resident says: “One of the things that nearly every kid did was to cadge eagle stamps from the adults, easier to get out of them than money. The Eagle Stamp Company knew this and had lots of kids’ goods in their catalog.” For more on Eagle Stamps, read “The Great Eagle Stamp Expedition” (it takes place in Cleveland, but the experience was the same in St. Louis).

Cap off this trip down trading stamp memory lane by watching a commercial for S&H Green Stamps. The Green Stamps commercial is the last in this bunch – starting around 6:40. Enjoy! (And if you want: post a comment about what you “bought” with your trading stamps!) 

 

Linda Tate on August 15th, 2011


Raleigh Cigarettes by DwightFrye

The last two weeks, I’ve written about my grandfather’s favorite beers – Falstaff and Stag. Now it’s time to immortalize his favorite cigarettes: Raleighs. Made by Brown & Williamson, Raleigh Cigarettes were the sponsor for Red Skelton’s popular Raleigh Cigarettes Program. (I remember watching Red Skelton with my grandparents but didn’t remember that the show was sponsored by Raleighs.)

Grandpa may have enjoyed the taste of Raleighs (I don’t know – I never asked), but he definitely loved the coupons that came on each pack (and bonus coupons when you bought cartons of Raleighs). He saved the coupons and redeemed them for various items.  For a great close-up of a Raleigh coupon, click here.

I don’t know what Grandpa “bought” with the coupons – perhaps some of my family members recall? If your family redeemed Raleigh coupons, what did you get with them?

This week’s post is mostly interactive. You’ve got to visit these sites and watch the Raleigh commercials. You will not be disappointed!

Next week: Another way to save up for special items!

Linda Tate on August 8th, 2011

Last week, I wrote about one of my grandfather’s favorite beers – Falstaff. But the beer I associate him with even more is Stag, a St. Louis-area favorite.

Grandpa had his particular way of referring to this beloved beverage: “Stag. Stag Beer.” (Those readers who heard Grandpa say this will know exactly what I mean.)

Originally produced by the Western Brewing Company in Belleville, Illinois, Stag was developed in 1907. It was named by a customer in a naming contest for the new brand of beer. Shortly after that, in 1912, Giesedieck Brothers – the company that produced Falstaff – bought Western Brewery and Stag.

Though Stag had to cease production during Prohibition, the company wisely managed its resources during that period and resumed Stag production as soon as Prohibition was lifted. According to the Stag website,

It was announced that Western was the only brewery in Illinois outside of Chicago that could begin manufacturing beer on short notice. Dealers as far south as Alabama notified brewery officials that they would like to buy their beer if and when the 18th Amendment was repealed, and St. Louis hotels began bidding for the first case. . . . The facility would reopen with a capacity of 100,000 barrels per year and the ability to pack 5,000 cases daily.

As the decade continued, Stag charged ahead as the top selling beer in the St. Louis metro area, “well ahead of Falstaff and Budweiser.” Based on this success, the “Stag distribution area began to grow.”

The ‘40s and the ‘50s saw more growth for Stag:

In 1944 construction began on a new smokestack. The 225′ tall structure was completed in early 1945 and featured 5’5″ high white tile letters saying “Stag Beer.” Sales of Stag continued to escalate, with 4,000 barrels being produced daily. The brewery’s biggest year was about 1.5 million barrels, and by the early 1950’s Griesedieck Western was the 11th largest brewing company in the U. S., with Stag beer being sold in 22 states. Sales continued to be strong for the next several years, as popular advertising campaigns featuring the cartoon character Mr. Magoo for Stag continued to draw attention to the brand.

Though Stag has fallen out of popularity as a widely distributed beer and though much of the brewery is now empty, “Stag Beer continues to refresh beer drinkers in central and southern Illinois, and parts of Missouri, in particular the southeast portion of the state. Stag outdoor neons still glow red outside taverns, and the beer remains the popular choice of many beer fans throughout the region.”

To learn more about the history of Stag, click here. For a great photo of a 1950s/1960s couple enjoying Stag beer, click here and then click on “The Ancestry.” And finally, for even more Stag fun, check out the videos I’ve embedded at the top and bottom of this entry. Mr. Magoo, of cartoon fame, is the focus of these 1950s Stag commercials.

You heard it here: Stag. Stag Beer.

Linda Tate on August 1st, 2011

Missouri Historical Society Falstaff Sign

One of my fondest recurring childhood memories is seeing my grandfather, Art Landsbury, sit at the kitchen table with his transistor radio tuned to the Cardinals ballgame. In the ashtray would be a Raleigh cigarette. In a tall brown bottle would be either a Falstaff Beer or a Stag Beer.

When I recently went to the Missouri Historical Society, I was pleased to see a Falstaff sign. It reminded me how ubiquitous Falstaff was in St. Louis, and it prompted me to do a little digging into the history of this St. Louis brewery.

Although the Lemp Brewery – the parent company for Falstaff – began operations in the mid-nineteenth century, it wasn’t until 1903 that the Falstaff trademark and logo came into existence. According to the Falstaff Beer fan site, William J. Lemp

thought the Shakespearean character of Sir John Falstaff represented the more positive social aspects of drinking, rather than the destructive consequences of over-consumption emphasized by prohibitionists. Sir John was a ‘man’s man’ whose philosophy was to ‘eat drink & be merry’ and his sense of good fun was tempered by an exceptional intellect. According to the company’s profile, Sir John was beset by no frustrations, fears, or problems of protocol.

Throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Falstaff’s popularity grew, not just in its hometown of St. Louis but in other key markets around the country. In the 1940s, Falstaff began sponsoring the St. Louis Cardinals and other St. Louis sports teams, with Dizzy Dean and Harry Caray broadcasting the play-by-play. By the mid ‘60s, Falstaff was the third largest brewer in America, and by 1968 case sales of Falstaff were nearly 50% higher in St. Louis than competitor Budweiser.

By the 1970s, Falstaff sales began to decline. Harry Caray left St. Louis and became a sportscaster for the Chicago White Sox – and Falstaff shifted its sponsorship to the Sox. Sales continued to plummet in the 1980s, and in 1990, the last remaining Falstaff brewery (in Ft. Wayne, Indiana) was closed.

For a list of great FAQs (including thoughts as to why Falstaff ultimately failed), visit the Falstaff Brewing fan site.

Here are some great Falstaff-related images:

Falstaff logo
Falstaff label
Another Falstaff label
Yet another Falstaff label
Picture of Falstaff bottle of beer

Other great resources can be found at this Falstaff collector’s site and on Wikipedia. And of course, you’ve got to love this Falstaff commercial about the “man-sized pleasure” of this beer.

Next up: history of and reflection on another of my grandfather’s favorite beers: Stag (. . . Stag) beer.

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Linda Tate on July 25th, 2011
Northland Shopping Center

Northland Shopping Center, photo by Toby Weiss, http://www.beltstl.com/

“In the early 1950s,” writes St. Louis blogger Toby Weiss, “Jennings, Missouri was a red hot White Flight destination, just a scootch outside the St. Louis city limits proper. “

She goes on:

‘Newfangled’ is the correct word to describe the new homes and businesses that were built at a rapid clip, designed in the modern style with the automobile in mind. Jennings grabbed for the golden ring and gave St. Louis County its first ultra-modern retail village, Northland Shopping Center, located at the intersection of Lucas & Hunt and West Florissant.  The town made the bold, jet-age move of ‘one-stop shopping’ by selling a bucolic 64+ acre site next to the train tracks to developers G.J. Nooney & Co. Famous-Barr – then the leading St. Louis department store franchise – took the gamble of committing to a store in an untested suburban marketplace.  Would the city people take the bus or drive their cars out to the suburbs?  Would the county grow fast enough to support a store this size?  The gamble paid off handsomely, and was a key component in the rapid expansion of Jennings and its neighboring towns.

Another blogger, Robert Powers, also details the story of Northland Shopping Center:

For several decades, this was a premier shopping destination and an attraction for persons of all walks of life. Famous-Barr [the shopping center’s anchor department store] gambled on the area’s future and was rewarded handsomely, as the suburban area around it developed rapidly.

I have many memories of Northland Shopping Center – or simply “Northland” as we called it. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, Northland was still going strong (it had not yet begun its declne) – and many is the day I’d walk to the shopping center, often with my friend Cindy.

Cindy and I might set out for Northland in the late morning. We would have begged and pleaded with our mothers all morning, but finally they would have relented. Our agreement: if Cindy and I walked to the shopping center, my mom would come pick us up later in the afternoon. “Now be ready and be outside Famous at 3:00,” she might say. Of course, we’d be ready, I’d assure her. Didn’t she think we were responsible?

It was a long walk to Northland – down Forestwood to Highmont, left on Highmont and then to West Florissant. Then it was West Florissant all the way to Northland.

We knew we were getting close when we spied the Schnucks in the distance, but it wasn’t the grocery store we were after. No, we had our sights set on Kresge’s. By the time we got there, it might be just past noon, and we were good and hungry for lunch. Oh, how we loved to get lunch at Kresge’s.

We’d find two empty stools at the counter and slide onto the seats. The waitress wouldn’t look any too happy to see us – would we, scrawny 14-year-olds have the money to pay for lunch – and would we even know about leaving money for a tip? Still, she had to wait on us, and we reveled in our time at the counter.

As I ‘d eat the deliciously greasy pizza, full of pepperoni, I’d think back to the summer day when my mom had brought me to get my ears pierced. Kresge’s was just great – you could get pepperoni pizza and get your ears pierced, buy 45s and get the best popcorn in the world.

After we’d finished our pizza, we’d leave Kresge’s and make our usual rounds – first Worth’s to try on clothes we knew we wouldn’t be able to buy, then Northland Music so I could look at sheet music, and always – always! – we’d end up at Walden Books. I was slowly working my way through the hard-bound classics. At $2 each, they took a fair amount of my allowance, but they looked so nice sitting on my bookshelves – the red-white-and-blue shelves Dad had painted for me.

Of course, we’d make a stop at the Famous candy counter – Cindy would get chocolate-covered peanuts and I’d get non-pareils. Then we’d go look at the shoes at Baker’s and, before we knew it, it would be time to meet my mom at the downstairs entrance to Famous.

On other visits, with my friends or with my family, I’d go to the bowling alley, the grocery store, the movie theater (I well remember seeing Swiss Family Robinson there). And twice a summer, my dad and I had the wonderful ritual of taking the bus to Busch Stadium, as we used the tickets I’d won for earning straight A’s.

But as we’ve been learning with the history of Wellston, nothing stays the same – and the white flight that spelled trouble for Wellston also came to plague Jennings. As Powers writes,

The Jennings area was in financial decline by the early 1990s; like the city neighborhoods it replaced, it too was being vacated as residents continued to seek land at the fringes of the metropolitan area, further and further from anywhere. Sales at the Northland center dropped. The single-building Famous-Barr store, surrounded by strip retail rather than an enclosed mall, no longer fit the May Company’s preferred retail model. Maintenance issues began to pile up as well; Famous-Barr vacated the store in 1994.

That spelled the beginning of the end for Northland. When Famous pulled out, the rest of the mall struggled to stay afloat – and it was only a matter of time before the wrecking ball hit this beloved shopping center.

For insighful commentary about the architectural and cultural significance of Northland, followed by its demise and, ultimately, its demolition, see Weiss’s piece, “Northland Shopping Center: Too Young to Save, Too Old to Matter.” At the end of the piece are links to “A Pictorial Log of the Demolition of Northland Shopping Center,” with these entries: June 15, 2005; June 19-July 4, 2005; July 26, 2005; July 31-September 4, 2005; and September 24-November 9, 2005. A final entry – “Northland Shopping Center Artifacts” – details the many items Weiss salvaged during the demolition. Virtually all of the posts have extensive reader feedback (and memories!) in the comments section. Weiss’s writing about and photographs of Northland are not to be missed!

To learn more about the history of Northland, including its decline and destruction, visit the Robert Powers’s Built St. Louis multi-page exploration of the mall. Be sure to look at all of the sub-pages, many of which feature numerous detailed photographs of the famed shopping center, a kind of photographic preservation before demolition. See especially “The Death of Northland Shopping Center: A Failure to Learn from History,” in which Powers says, “Northland Shopping Center is too old to be new, and too new to be old. This more than anything has doomed it.”

See also “The Rise and Fall of the First Shopping Mall” at YoungSaintLouis.com (St. Louis’s webzine for kids). And finally, an out-of-date but nevertheless helpful overview of Northland can be found at DeadMalls.com.

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Linda Tate on July 18th, 2011

Northwest Plaza

Last week, I discussed the development of St. Ann, an inner-ring St. Louis County suburb. Perhaps St. Ann’s greatest claim to fame is Northwest Plaza.

Now defunct, Northwest Plaza was, in its heyday, perhaps the grandest place to shop in the St. Louis metropolitan area. And by “heyday,” I don’t mean its peak years as an enclosed mall. To me, the 1989 enclosure was a desecration, a move that made the mall as plastic as any number of other malls in the St. Louis area.

No, for me, the glory days were its incarnation as an outdoor air mall. Sure, the elements could get to you sometimes – snow and sleet could pelt you as you scurried from one shop to another, looking for warmth, and the humid St. Louis summer weather could wilt you as you valiantly pushed on to yet another part of your shopping expedition. But these were minor worries as you enjoyed the beautiful surroundings of the “Plaza,” as my grandmother called it.

I’ve seen two dates for the mall’s opening: 1963 and 1966. Any Wellston Loop readers care to weigh in on which date is correct? According to Wikipedia, at the time the mall opened, it was the largest mall in the world. Certainly it continued to be one of the grandest malls anywhere. As a child, then a teenager, and eventually as a young adult, I took Northwest Plaza for granted, assumed that every metro area had such a stand-out place to go shopping. Only in retrospect have I come to appreciate what a treasure St. Louis had.

Anchor stores were Famous-Barr (later Macy’s), JCPenney, Sears, and eventually Stix, Baer & Fuller (referred to simply as “Stix,” later Dillard’s). Also featured were Vandervoort’s (a local department store), Boyd’s (an “upscale apparel store), a Walgreen’s pharmacy (complete with a great grilled cheese sandwich that I used to love to purchase on my excursions to the “Plaza”), and a two-story Woolworth dime store. Famous had an iconic rotunda (and in fact, if there were any public domain images available of the rotunda, I’d post that on this page as my symbol of Northwest Plaza).

After its enclosure, the mall experienced a rebirth for a time, but eventually crime came to plague the mall (including a gang-related murder and two other fatal shootings), and the mall suffered a decline from which it never recovered. The mall was finally closed in Fall 2010.For more on the decline and closure of Northwest Plaza, read the Wikipedia entry.

As always St. Louis blogger Toby Weiss offers a thoughtful take on the history and demise of Northwest Plaza; the comments section on this blog post is especially rich – well worth the time it takes to read through the 18 responses.

Another excellent discussion of Northwest Plaza is offered by Label Scar, a retail history blog. This post has generated (to date) 183 comments, but they are fabulous and, again, well worth the read.

And finally, if you really want to trip down Memory Lane, listen to this great radio jingle about Northwest Plaza. It includes references to eight record stores and to shoe stores that offer everything from Earth shoes to platforms!

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Linda Tate on July 11th, 2011

St. Ann Exhibit Kitchen

This typical kitchen, circa 1950s, is part of a fascinating Missouri Historical Society exhibit on the development of St. Ann, an inner-ring St. Louis County suburb that drew many post-war families.

Originally developed in 1942 and incorporated in 1948, the community was named for the mother of the Virgin Mary. The community had a strong Roman Catholic presence, and in fact a Westridge Construction Company ad reads:

A Subdivision Dedicated to LARGE FAMILIES ONLY: MARY-RIDGE: SALE OF THESE HOMES ARE RESTRICTED TO FAMILIES OF FOUR OR MORE CHILDREN.

According to the City of St. Ann website, developer Charles F. Vatterott “started the community as a housing project for families of workers employed in nearby defense plants. It was one of the few defense housing projects in the country to develop into a permanent town.” The site goes on to say that “a lot of the family heads during this time were World War II veterans and other returning servicemen that found St. Ann was a young thriving community with moderately priced homes and attractive areas to raise their families.”

The Missouri Historical Society exhibit makes vivid and tangible the post-war move to suburbanization. In addition to the kitchen, a typical backyard is presented as well (see below).

A sign at the exhibit emphasizes that the suburbanization phenomenon was not limited to St. Ann:

Twentieth-century St. Louisans found a growing number of suburban alternatives to their older city neighborhoods.  In suburbs such as St. Ann, St. Louisans lived beside neighbors with similar ideas about how they would live, shop, worship, and play.

Another exhibit sign underscores the urban sprawl that resulted:

From one subdivision to the next, from one municipality to another, twentieth-century St. Louisans shaped an increasing number of carefully planned, socially distinct communities. As the private automobile supplanted the streetcar and the truck replaced the train, metropolitan St. Louis grew ever further from its historic heart. By the end of the twentieth century, the metropolitan area was spread across 6,400 square miles in 12 counties and 2 states.

I highly recommend a visit to the Missouri Historical Society so that you can see this as well as all the other exhibits in the “Seeking St. Louis” portion of the museum. However, if you can’t get to the exhibit in person, you might want to check out this 360-degree panorama of the exhibit.

Also useful is this great YouTube video of the exhibit. Beginning at 3:39 (and running to 7:15), the video switches from an exploration of the Missouri Historical Society exhibit to footage of a 1950s-era newsreel about the advantages of moving to St. Ann. The narrator tells “The St. Ann Story”:

This story could be about you. It was Sunday, and as many of your fellow apartment dwellers did, you went driving. It was a beautiful and sunny day and the kids were all excited. The family was bundled into the car. Mom opened the door and in they went, off to a new adventure. The city we are entering is unique. As the community grew, land was set aside for all the things that make for complete community life. Schools, churches, parks, playgrounds, stores, and municipal services were added on an organized, preconceived program. Our family stops and takes the first step. They are about to discover the meaning of the great thrill in American life, the owning of your own home. So they are guided through the complicated process of buying a house. A house that is soon to become a home, filling all the needs of a young, fast-growing family. And their dream became a reality. Daily, over 26,000 cars travel over St. Charles Rock Road, the main artery in St. Ann. For the more than 14,000 who now comprise the population of St. Ann have seen for themselves the benefits they are receiving from living in a planned community. Benefits that give them the pleasure and the comfort of living in well-planned, well-constructed, well-organized homes, that are built to be homes for the average American family. Benefits that give them the joy of living in the out-of-doors, in freshness, and in beauty, clean and wholesome. Your boys and girls and my boys and girls, growing up into healthy and vital manhood and womanhood, as the citizens of tomorrow. Their children attend these modern schools. Safe, new buildings of modern design, surrounded by the large play and athletic fields. The whole family may attend one of its many fine churches. They may enjoy the three drive-in theaters, including the unique and fast, four-screen drive-in, and the ultra modern La Cosa Theater. Annual events, such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, are always looked forward to with great anticipation by the whole community. We welcome you to the City of St. Ann. We hope you will discover what those who already live and work here have discovered: that all the new frontiers are not gone.

Since its heyday, St. Ann has fallen on harder times, as witnessed by this contemporary footage of St. Ann.

Next week, I’ll talk about the feature most St. Louisans associate with St. Ann: Northwest Plaza.

St. Ann Exhibit Backyard

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