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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Old Chair Factory Stands in Path of New Bridge

The old Heller & Hoffman Chair Companies factory at the northeast corner of Howard and 8th streets will be demolished for the new Mississippi River Bridge. The bridge will claim these buildings and a few others, as well as the site of the "big mound." Believe it or not, the bridge path has been significantly changed to make the path less invasive to the built environment. The Missouri and Illinois Departments of Transportation made these changes to keep costs down, not to save buildings, but the result is a net benefit to the North Broadway industrial corridor. Still, we will be losing a few solid historic buildings.

The city issued a building permit to Heller & Hoffmann Chair Company on September 14, 1881 for the purpose of building a four-story factory at 715 Howard Street. The company estimated the cost as $10,000. At the time, the neighborhood was a patchwork of tenements, corner saloons and growing industrial operations. One of the largest companies in the vicinity was the Luedinghaus wagon company located to the immediate north. The chair factory fit in well. Its mill method construction, plain brick walls and bays of wooden windows set in segmental arch openings were traits of many contemporary industrial buildings in the North Broadway area.

Heller & Hoffmann manufactured everything from stock dining room chairs to fancy upholstered parlor chairs, and their ware enjoyed some popularity at north side furniture stores. On October 3, 1894, the city issued another permit for "repair of a four story brick factory" with a cost estimate of $3,000. This permit apparently accounts for the interconnected northern building that is now two stories tall. The 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map indicates that both sections were four stories tall and in use by the Mound City Chair Company. The original corner building is labeled "putting together" and the northern building is labeled "varnishing and polishing."

When the buildings lost their upper floors is uncertain. However, such alterations are very common in St. Louis industrial architecture, especially with mill method buildings. Many extant 19th century warehouses and factories along North Broadway has lost upper floors to fires in the days before our modern fire code.

Intact or not, the factory buildings stand right where the overhead ramps connecting the bridge to I-70 will be built. The neighbor to the north, M & L Frozen Foods, is already scouting sites for relocation. The old Heller & Hoffmann buildings are still in use, doing just fine with their current users, but their survival seems improbable. Could the bridge coexist with these buildings? Probably, but that takes a level of preservation planning (and small business promotion) that we don't have in St. Louis.

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