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Monday, March 2, 2009

A Ramshackle Masterpiece

Welcome to the Family Thrift Store loacted on Fitzgerald Avenue in Gerald, Missouri. Gerald is a small town in Franklin County southwest of St. Louis. The Family Thrift Store building is a tour de force of homemade architecture. Literally, there may be no common American building material not used in the construction of this ramshackle masterpiece. This building has it all -- brick, clay tile, concrete block, metal siding, wood, vinyl siding, polished granite, limestone and even a piece of terrazzo embedded in the wall.

The construction uses a lot of plausible leftover materials, but also some salvage parts. Many of these salvaged pieces appear to come from a Roman Catholic Church, with a stone bearing the name of Joseph Cardinal Ritter and a date in 1967. There is even a carved limestone cross -- much earlier than 1967 -- over the rear garage door.

While the colorful mess of materials is the piecemeal handiwork of a builder, there seems to be a unitary component on the east side, where a brick wall on the first floor uses the matching bricks laid conventionally across its run. This appears to be the remnant of either a destroyed, altered or unfinished building.

The wood-heated thrift store is open to the public, but its wares are not as exotic as the exterior would suggest. The origin of the thrift store building remains unknown to this writer, who would love to learn how the brick wall became an unfinished, gaudy and unique work of folk architecture. Does Missouri have anything else like this? This building is as idiosyncratic, hand-made and strangely alluring as the Watts Towers. All my notions of architectural propriety wither in the face of the Family Thrift Store. I dig it.


Ruckus said...

This is Great! Thank you so much for putting this up. My family owns a couple of farms in this area, one being just 5 miles down the road. I have always looked at this building travelling down Hwy 50. You cant forget this place once you have seen it! :)

CowgirlPam said...

i love it!

Jeff said...

That is the official Palace of Hoosierdom!

Vanishing STL said...

This kind of reminds me of a very crude version of some of the early projects completed by the Rural Studio, a building program that is part of the architecture school at Auburn University. Many of the projects used streets signs and other found materials.

Here's a link:

What this obviously lacks is design, which gives it more of an overgrown 3rd world shanty look.

Karen said...

I like the artfully placed vinyl window.

It is a Gee's Bend quilt.

samizdat said...

One is definately reminded of the favelas in Brazil.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Gerald, MO, and this building is very familiar to me. This was actually a nice brick home at one time. My grandparents knew the owner, who fell off a wagon as a young orphan and was never quite right after that. He lived in this home and made it what it is today. He also had wealthy friends and connections with prominent people in the Catholic Church. He was very religious, and collected the various artifacts that are mentioned in the blog. In fact, he called this building his "cathedral". He mostly kept to himself, but I often saw him either in church or roaming the streets of Gerald with a wheelbarrow and a hard hat. He has recently been removed from this home and placed in elderly care.

Anonymous said...

I grew up many years ago in Gerald. I am glad there are people who appreciate this. The gentleman who built it was unique. I am also equally sure that if anyone would like to take these structures down and move them to a more apprective setting the folks of Gerald would applaud. Gerald is a nice little town and these buildings do not project the image of the community. It does reflect their patient tolerance.


Mark Groth said...

^hey "anonymous" thanks for posting. I thought your story was worth sharing. Michael, thanks for shedding light on this building. I now have a reason to go to Gerald.

Anonymous said...

I have seen the man that lived in the place ..many many times walking the streets of Gerald. I have seen him dressed like a construction worker to a priest. Nice old man and harmless. I would like to thank the town folks that cared for him.

Anonymous said...

while in Gerald, if the ice cream place is still there it was always worth a stop.

I was dragged through that area for years and always suspected there were reasons for looking around, but with a 70's station wagon dad "we gotta make time" it never happened.

except for the half'n'half cones in Gerald.

may have to make a trip. I think Bland had an old school with a slide type fire escape. but maybe that was Rosebud.

Anonymous said...

to the other anonymous poster:

your interest, knowledge and concern for this man is what makes places interesting.

the tolerance and patience that you refer to I have seen in many places, but not always with the concern you imply.

I've always wondered about the railroad towns around 50 and 28. so Tom Waits.

Anonymous said...

Yes, The building is original just as the man who built it. I have talked to this person many times and is very kind to those who don't ridicule him.

cheri said...

Conrad...or "Mayor Conrad" as his hard hat stated at one time...has passed away as far as I know.

As far as the "Thrift Store" I live near it, and know of the owners thievery...in nearby homes and drug charges. Items in the store have been stolen. There has been arrests made. I would not/will not shop there.

Conrad was a sweet soul with a tortured spirit.