I’m not much of a history buff, I’ll admit. But I do love the stories about why things came to be. I don’t particularly care who owned what during the Byzantine Empire, but items and property often fascinate me because there’s usually a zany story behind them.
If you dig a little, most things intrinsically interesting because they were made by humans who made them, made mistakes and usually did some off-beat weirdo stuff.
Such was the case with a story I recently wrote about an old warehouse that sits bizarrely in the city’s center ensnared by roadways that make it ironically inaccessible.
The warehouse used to be a sign company and up until about two years ago, the building was nothing but a sign. A 32-foot-tall Anheuser-Busch eagle logo and Budweiser sign that’s been mounted there in the 1960s. By the way, although the sign is on the site of a former sign company, it was not made by said sign company.
The Missouri Jewelite Sign Co. building at 3562 Market Street in St. Louis was at what used to be the most prominent corner of the city at the juncture of Grand Boulevard and Market Street in the late 1940s. Since then, it’s long stood empty and forgotten.
The embattled building became a casualty of modern highway construction in the early ’60s. First came the ramp elevating Grand and then came Highway 40 (Interstate 64). The building now rests in the elbow of the Highway 40 east exit ramp for Grand, but it’s no longer accessible from Grand or Market.
You can only approach the building from its rear entrance off Bernard Street.
The building, however, remains notable as the perch of the giant neon A-B eagle advertisement, an iconic St. Louis fixture since 1962.
The “A” in which the eagle is superimposed glows red and gold and the eagles’ wings move to six positions to give the impression of flight. The sign requires more than 4,000 feet of neon tubing and 5,000 light bulbs which are a huge pain to maintain, as you might imagine, but this sign is one of the most prominent and visible in the entire city, if not the state.
The only thing that gets more eyeballs and attention is the arch, I’d wager.
So where’d it come from? Well, a Disney animator named Byron Rabbit designed the sign, which originally was mounted above Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Eventually a skyscraper was built near the sign and obscured it from view, so they dismantled it and sent it by rail to St. Louis in 1961.
St. Louis already had another neon flying eagle sign but it was at the Busch Stadium. Later when the stadium was torn down and rebuilt elsewhere, the sign was dismantled and put into storage.
Since 1953, Anheuser-Busch had six similar eagles put up around the country. Only two remain mounted. The other stands atop the A-B brewery in Newark, N.J., according to A-B InBev.
Mounting the giant A-B sign appears to be the last act of the Missouri Jewelite Sign Co. before leaving the building, which has been vacant for decades.
It appears that the sign company may have relocated, changed its name to American Jewelite Sign Co. and was later bought out by a bigger sign company.
So as I was telling my boss all about this, he nodded and said that it was really interesting but he didn’t let me include much of the info in the story. The story was not about the sign.
Instead, people will have to corner me at cocktail parties to hear the tale of Jewelite’s labor disputes and the union’s unorthodox tactics in the 1940s of using high-powered air rifles to tap into the profits of the neon sign maker.
The story I wrote was a modern tale of a serial entrepreneur in a building called Crank: Hidden-in-plain-sight warehouse gets eclectic new lease on life.