Saturday, June 22, 2024

St. Louis Brewery Shenanigans at Lemp Park

Recent headlines prompted me to investigate historical stories about “beer barons” who behave badly. There were many colorful stories from the 1920s about breweries that sold beer with too much alcohol. A few stories of licenses that were not legitimate for certain taverns I came across (before the prohibition of intoxicating spirits) are a few of my favorites. A few times, a brewery heir was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon at a ward meeting. My attention was drawn to the Lemp’s Park private entertainment spectacle, located just north of the brewery on the corner of Utah and Lemp avenues.

Let’s start with some background information about Adam Lemp’s land purchases in St. Louis Commons. The old French common fields to the south of the colonial settlement had been inherited by our rapidly expanding city. Although the City had been renting some of the lands out, it became clear that the time was right to make a profit on the land’s wealth. The land was sold in large blocks, each one numbered by city ordinance. Adam Lemp, who had only established his brewery in 1840 was well-placed to purchase the southeast quarter of Block 52 for $970. His lagering cave would be built and his beer garden. John Withnell purchased the northeast quadrant of the site of Lemp’s Park the following month on October 13th, 1843.

The 1876 Compton and Dry pictorial St. Louis were published in 1926. Withnell’s northeast quadrant was transformed into Concordia Park. According to city directories, it was owned privately, but was still listed in the book’s Index as a “beer garden”. The plate depicting the park features several buildings. One is a Chinese-style pagoda at the center of the greensward. Along 13 the Street are several long buildings. The Victorian park design features beautiful views as the curve of the path in a way that mimics English gardens. According to Rippey’s Index Map and the Business Guide, Hermann Bachmann owned the park and advised those who wanted to picnic onsite to contact him.

Ernst Kargau’s German-language St. Louis in fruheren jahren Ein Gedenkbuch fur das Deutschthum. The name of the park comes from the Concordia Turnverein (or gymnastics club), of which Adam Lemp’s heir William Sr was a member. John Scholten and Moritz Schilling were the previous owners of this park. One of the buildings on 13th Street had a dance hall. The Concordia Turnverein purchased the park, which could have been financially insolvent, from William Lemp as a favor or as a business decision. The brewery wanted to return to “family” entertainment, as the Lemp’s Cave beer garden in the south had been converted into luxury houses.

The park’s public programming had become more formalized by the Lemp Brewery, which owned it in the early 20th century. You can get an idea of Lemp’s Park’s appearance by looking at Whipple and Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Also, a photograph was taken from the Missouri History Museum archives. The southeast corner of Utah and 13th streets had a massive, ornate brick entry. It was at 45 degrees. I believe there was also a streetcar stop there. Advertisements indicated that Broadway lines were the best way to get to the park. The archway was just a few blocks from this major thoroughfare. North on 13th Street was a grand hall that looked like a Central Asian palace, with its twin towers. Inside, there was an auditorium that could host live performances. On the west side of Lemp Avenue, there was a larger wooden frame dance hall that extended almost to the end of the park’s border. The fire maps do not show the pagoda that was older, but they do show an octagonal structure, which I believe was the replacement.

Newspaper articles revealed that entertainment was not as ethical or legal as we would consider it to be today. An article in the St. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch article dated October 8, 1902, reveals that a lion-tamer barely managed to avoid being killed by Spitfire, an animal who had reportedly already killed two people (presumably in Germany as the country ordered her deported immediately). She had fled Germany to be exiled and was now in St. Louis participating in the Gaskill-Mundy Carnival. The newspaper recalled how Spitfire had knocked James Dyer to the floor and that she had, just moments before she could deliver the fatal blow to obtain her “expected meal” of human flesh, been chased by another lion tamer using a red-hot poker.

On October 7, 1902, the monkeys at Lemp’s Park were not having any of their human counterparts’ tomfoolery. George Speice, 17 years old, was from 1626 Market Street. He had overestimated how many monkeys were domesticated and tried to feed them by sticking his entire arm through the bars using a peanut. His arm was promptly bitten–hard–requiring the attention of a Dr. Poeppen at 3123 S. 7th Street. Even though the PostDispatch had been able to get an interview with them, Mr. Monkey said, “How do I like that?” and Mrs. Monkey replied, “What fools are these mortals?”

Acrobats in Lemp’s Park, as seen in the St. Louis Star and Times on September 20, 1911

Lemp’s Park events were usually more mundane. There are announcements in newspapers about graduation celebrations and meetings, as well as acrobatic acts performed, and a Lemp Brewery worker punching an officer after being denied entry. However, a March 13 PostDispatch newspaper article revealed that Charles Lemp had lobbied hard to convert the park into a railyard to house the brewery’s shortline railroad the Western Cable Railway. (A story for another day, though). Charles tried to convince the City of St. Louis’ then-bicameral legislature to allow the brewery to run a railroad line down the alleyway between 13th Street and 18th Street to Lemp’s Park. A switching yard would replace the pagodas and dance halls. The public opposition to the titan brewery was focused on the danger for children walking to school nearby who would need to cross the railroad. The Lemp railyards were already oriented towards the southeast along Levee. The efforts of the Lemp Brewery failed and now Cherokee Park is known for the land once occupied by revelers, lions, and monkeys.

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