of a St. Louis dry goods store
How Henry Fischer, responding to
increasing competition from early chain stores in 1930, converted his
family's stodgy 19th Century Victorian Main Street-style building at
7209 S. Broadway in the Carondelet neighborhood of South St. Louis into
a modern 20th Century Art Deco structure.
By Martin E. Fischer
After emigrating from Germany at the conclusion of the American Civil
War, my great-grandfather, Morris L. Fischer, a peddler, arrived in St.
Louis. The first official notice of his presence in the Mound City was
the certification with the Recorder of Deeds office of his marriage to
Ernestine Kober on Oct. 14, 1866, by Henry Vidaver, "grand rabbi" of the
United Hebrew Congregation.
In the early years of their marriage, the Fischers stayed for no more
than one or two years at any one address, the listings in Gould's St.
Louis City Directories showed. They first resided together near downtown St. Louis
at 1116 N. 8th St., which the newlyweds shared with the bride's younger
brother, Leopold Kober. A year later, the 1868 City Directory listed
Morris Fischer as a peddler residing in the alley in the block bounded
by 6th, 7th, Washington and Franklin. (Meanwhile, Leopold Kober had
moved to 1009 Market St., where he lived and worked as a cigar maker.)
By 1870, the Fischer couple had relocated from near the heart of the
city to Carondelet's Main Street (now Broadway). During the 1870s,
Morris Fischer established himself as a clothing merchant, relocating
several times, but always on the west side of Main Street in a
four-block stretch that extended between Pine Street (now Loughborough
Avenue) on the north and Taylor Street (now Robert Avenue) on the south.
Why did Morris and Ernestine decide to set up shop in Carondelet? The
village south of St. Louis had a thriving business district that offered
prosperity for a hardworking merchant. Many of the residents, like the
Fischers, were German immigrants, so they could speak the language.
Also, some were Jewish like the Fischers. A healthier environment than
in the bustling central city may also have been a factor. St. Louis had
suffered a devastating cholera epidemic in 1866, the year the Fischers
were married. But a map from 1866 in the St. Louis Public Library
showing the pattern of cholera deaths reveals that most of the
fatalities occurred in St. Louis proper, but that Carondelet and much of
south St. Louis had been untouched by fatalities from the disease.
The Fischers set down roots in Carondelet that were to last for nearly a
century. On Sept. 14, 1881, a deed of purchase for what became Fischer's
Dry Goods store at 7209 S. Broadway was filed in the Recorder of Deeds
Morris Fischer bought the property for $6,000 from August and Caroline
Nasse. As part of the transaction, a separate deed was filed under which
Fischer executed a promissory note for $3,000 owed to August Nasse for
the property and four interest notes each of $90. The lender was
identified as William Fink. (Nasse and Fink were partners in a wholesale
grocery business at the time, according to Gould's St. Louis City
Directory.) The interest rate for the loan was 6 percent per annum. The
latter deed was canceled Dec. 20, 1885, when all the notes had been
While living at 7209 S. Broadway, Morris and Ernestine Fischer had three
children. They were: Johanna Fischer (1870-1874), Caroline Fischer
Slupsky (1875-1938) and Henry Fischer (1876-1956).
Unfortunately, their father died when the two surviving children were
still teenagers. Morris died Feb. 3, 1891, of "paralysis of the heart"
(heart attack) at the age of 51, according to the St. Louis Bureau of
Vital Statistics certified copy of death. Morris had lived only five
more years after paying off his loan to purchase the store.
Into the 20th Century
After Morris's death, his widow, Ernestine, with the help of her son,
Henry, managed the Fischer store. (Her daughter, Caroline was apparently
less involved with the store and moved out when she married Col. Abe Slupsky in 1896.)
Before Morris died, the 1880 U.S. census had characterized Ernestine as
keeping house, but the 1900 census identified her as a merchant, and her
son, in his early 20s, as a clerk.
As Ernestine aged, Henry took on increasing responsibility in running
the store. Starting with the 1893 Gould's, Henry was listed as a clerk,
but starting in 1909, he was listed as manager of the store. Even before
his mother's death in 1924, Henry was identified as the owner of the
store in November 1921 in the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds office.
In Ernestine's will, prepared in 1912, she bequeathed the store and its
contents to Henry and residential property at 7228 Pennsylvania and 117
Roberts to her daughter, Caroline Slupsky.
At the time of Ernestine's death in 1924, Carondelet's Broadway shopping
district seemed to be thriving. The national economy was growing, suburban
shopping malls had not been invented, and neighborhood residents still
preferred to shop close by.
The 7200 block of South Broadway was typical of the variety of small
merchants serving the neighborhood.
The 1924 Gould's St. Louis Red-Blue Book listed: Southern Commercial and
Savings Bank at 7201, Herz Hat Shop at 7205, Fischer's Dry Goods at
7209, Weisman Dry Goods at 7211, Olson Hat Shop at 7213, Wasserman's
Shoe Store at 7221, and C.W. Mueller Grocery at 7229.
On the east side of Broadway were located: Kroger Grocery & Baking Co.
at 7200, Lampke Confectionery at 7202, Chott Varieties at 7204, Southern
Floral Co. at 7206, Robert M. Taylor, chiropractor, at 7208, C.R.
Watkins Furniture & Fuel Co. at 7208-24, Albert Fischer, barber, at
7226, and BM Tire & Vulcanizing Co. at 7230.
Circa 1930 photos
We don't really know exactly when these "before" and "after" photographs
of the Fischer dry goods store were taken, but several facts point to 1930. Henry Fischer obtained a building
permit to conduct a $950 alteration of the brick store at 7209 S.
Broadway in 1921, according to Sandy Bender, archivist with the Recorder
of Deeds. But, for reasons to be explained below, this permit most likely preceded by a decade the major facade
transformation shown in these two pictures.
|The Victorian look:
Fischer's Dry Goods store before the remodeling.
||The Art Deco look:
Fischer's Dry Goods store after the remodeling.
One important clue to the timing of the photos is found in the lower right
corner of the older photo: The front end of an old car parked there
barely shows the radiator shell, hood, bumper, fenders, headlamps and
tires. The research staff of the Automotive Research Library of the
Horseless Carriage Foundation Inc. in La Mesa, Calif., identified the
car as a 1929 or 1930 Model A Ford. And a staff researcher for the Henry
Ford Museum Research Center in Dearborn, Mich., said it appears to be a
1930 or 1931 Model A Ford.
Other clues are found in design
elements of the renovated store shown in the later photo. The new facade is clearly an Art Deco architectural design, a style which was
prominent from 1925 to 1940, according to "Identifying Architecture: A
Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945" by John J.-G. Blumenson.
The opaque, pigmented glass called Vitrolite installed around the
display windows of the renovated store was used extensively in the 1930s
and 1940s to cover walls, according to "The Buildings of Main Street: A
Guide to Commercial Architecture" by Richard Longstreth.
The large "Fischer's" sign painted onto the Vitrolite above the display
windows is rendered in a typeface of the Art Deco period called
Broadway. (It is ironic that Broadway is also the name of the street
where the store was located.) The type font was identified for me by Otmar
Hoefer, director of font marketing for Linotype Library GmbH in Hamburg,
Germany. The Broadway typeface was created in 1928 by Morris Fuller Benton, who was
chief typography designer for American Type Founders of Elizabeth, N.J.
Unfortunately, when questioned about whether the Recorder of Deeds
office had any construction permits for the Fischer store from around
1930, archivist Bender said that the records from that period were not
on microfilm and the building permits from then were missing.
The 1921 building permit was listed in the Carondelet News, but the
newspaper failed to follow it up during the following year with further
details of what the project entailed. And an exhaustive search through
the Carondelet News editions of 1928 through 1935 for other building
permits or articles referring to Henry Fischer or the 7209 Broadway
address failed to turn up any reference to the renovation.
But from the clues described here, it seems certain that the building's
transformation occurred around 1930.
From Victorian to Art Deco
The earlier photo shows a typical
19th Century Victorian storefront marked by features characteristic of
that architectural style: a mansard roof topped by a crown molding with
hexagonal slate tiles; two projecting dormer windows topped by curved
head moldings on the third floor; and a pronounced cornice with a soffit
decorated with modillion blocks forming the boundary between the second
and third floors. The windows on the second and third floors are wooden
double-hung sash types with plain sills. The second floor facade is entirely comprised of
a simple brick wall punctuated by the three windows. The first floor facade
is mostly comprised of two large rectangular display windows framed with
wood and brick.
Features that were probably early 20th Century additions are the
unattractive electrical wiring connected through the second story brick
wall and the awning, which separates the first and second floors.
Perhaps the 1921 building permit may have been related
to these items.
Renovation of the store provided opportunities for the Fischers to
promote their business. The windows in the "before" photo contain a
variety of items for sale in the store and bear "Remodeling Sale" signs.
Similarly, the "after" photo shows the windows displaying merchandise
and sporting "Grand Opening Sale" signs.
The later photo shows a major transformation: The roofline has been lowered to match the height of the
neighboring limestone building to the north, and the electrical
connections that marred the front of the building have been removed.
To Carondelet neighborhood residents of the time, the restyled facade
must have appeared very modernistic. The bold use of the 1928 Broadway
type font on the sign, in particular, emphasized novelty in the
renovation. Art Deco typefaces "were not merely neutral marks
communicating ideas or information; they were symbols of the new and
improved," according to "Deco Type: Stylish Alphabets of the '20s and
'30s" by Steven Heller and Louise Fili. In addition to the Vitrolite
surface treatment and the typography of the Fischer store's dominant
sign, other typical Art Deco features included: the flat roof topped by simple
crown molding; three rosette floral decorations; a decorated chevron
masonry panel; metal casement-style windows framed by double columns of
glass blocks; and the large display windows with panes angled toward the
The lower half of the facade is dominated by the shiny, smooth-surfaced
Vitrolite, which provides a visual contrast to the brick surface of the
upper part of the building. The parallel roof molding, horizontal
distribution of rosettes, decorative panel and top and bottom edges of
the Fischer's sign created a very horizontal look for the vertical
This horizontality, as well as the decorative banding, smooth wall
surfaces and the rounding effect of the display window panes, are
characteristic of the later, streamlined period of Art Deco design of
the 1930s and 1940s, according to "The Buildings of Main Street: A Guide
to American Commercial Architecture."
The next generation
|Portrait photo, circa
1921, of the Fischer children, clockwise from upper left:
Morris, Rosalinde, Salwin and Lucille.
Henry Fischer and his wife, Martha (nee Daust; 1875-1954), had four
children. They were: Rosalinde (1909-22), Morris (1912-61), Salwin
(1915-21), and Lucille (1917-).
In the following interview,
conducted on May 19, 2001, Lucille Alexander (nee Fischer), who was
around 13 years old at the time of the store renovation, recalls memories of her childhood in the family dry
Q. Do you remember when your family moved into the back of the store?
A. We used to live at 7515 Pennsylvania Ave. After my brother and sister
passed away six months apart, my mother said she couldn't live there any
more. She kept seeing their playmates, the neighbor's children. So then
we moved to the store. There were tenants in the front and in the back
on the second floor, so my father had the folks move out from the back
and we moved into the back. I guess we moved when I was about 5, because
I went to school when we lived in the store.
There was an old fashioned bath, maybe of wood, for the people in the
front. We didn't have a bath inside, so we had an outhouse in the
backyard. We had to go out the back way. We didn't have a front entrance
[to the living area]. We had a back entrance and a big porch across the
back. Eventually my father said we can't keep living like this.
I was born in 1917, so it was about 1922 or 1923 when we moved into the
back of the second floor of the store.
Q. Do you remember the renovation of the store that occurred after you
A. We had to move out of the [store] building because it was practically
demolished. We moved across the alley. Right in back of us at 7210
Pennsylvania Ave. there was a two-story house where we moved into the
It [the renovation] took I don't know how many months. They took this
off and they took that off. Instead of having a front and back quarters,
it [the second floor of the store] was made into a single residence. It
was real nice. It was a six-room apartment.
Q. What was on the third floor before the renovation?
A. Renters. I don't think it was as big as the second floor. I didn't go
Q. What was the second floor like before the renovation?
A. There were three rooms in the front. There was stairs going up to the
third floor and a gangway. I guess there was a kitchen, but I don't
really remember it because we didn't live there in the front. We lived
in the back.
In back was a room we called the dark room because it didn't have any
windows. It was a very small room where we kept an upright piano against
the wall. My parents had a bedroom in one of the other rooms. The way
the land was laid out we had three steps going down [from one room to
There was a kitchen and another bedroom. My brother, Morris, and I slept
in the same bedroom. As I got bigger and he got bigger, Morris moved
into the kitchen, which was turned into a bedroom. We didn't need it as
a kitchen because there was a kitchen downstairs [on the first floor
behind the store].
Q. How was the renovation financed?
A. My father took out a mortgage to do all this remodeling.
Before he did this, in order to get a little extra money, he bought a
four-family flat on McRee near Shaw's Garden. It was right before the
Depression. At that time $50 rent was considered pretty good. During the
Depression people were out of work and they couldn't pay the rent. They
moved out. So my father lowered the rent--cut it in half to $25 a month.
Q. How was the store on the first floor remodeled?
A. The entrance of the store was remodeled to be a little different. My
mother had a nice big kitchen in the back of the store. Next to the
kitchen, we had the "cement" room. We called it that because it had a
cement floor. It was a bathroom and a storeroom combined. There was a
toilet and a bathtub, and we had stock in there. That was there before
the house was remodeled.
When my grandmother, my father's mother [Ernestine], was still living,
she lived on the first floor behind the store.
From the back door, we had to go four steps up from the kitchen into
the backyard. I guess that was because of the way the land was laid out.
This was close to the [Mississippi] river, so the ground was slanting
down toward the east.
Before the house was remodeled the outhouse was in the backyard. But
after it was remodeled, we had a bathroom added. My grandmother had the
toilet on the first floor, and there was an old fashioned toilet on the
second floor, but before the renovation we couldn't use that because it
was for the tenants in the front. That's why we had to use the outhouse.
Q. Did your grandmother live on the first floor because she had trouble
walking the stairs?
A. No. That was because the second and third floors were rented to
tenants. They were all Spanish people. Carondelet was a large Spanish
settlement, direct from Spain, not from Mexico; Spain.
That's how my father learned Spanish. They would come into the store
and they couldn't speak English. My father couldn't speak Spanish, but
they would point. [In the store] they didn't have stuff on the tables like they do now and you help
yourself. Everything was on shelves along the walls, and there were
counters. The Spanish [customers] would point to what they wanted and would say the
Spanish word. My father picked up the nouns. He couldn't have a
conversation. And that's how I learned some Spanish too.
Q. Was the cement room with the bathroom used for storage before the
A. That must have been my grandmother's bedroom. She must have lived
there behind the store. She died [in 1924] after my sister and brother,
but before the renovation.
My brother Salwin died first [in November 1921]. Six months after that,
my sister died [in May 1922]. At that time they didn't give preventive
shots like they do now. My brother died of diphtheria. Six months after
that, my sister had an abscess in her middle ear. Nowadays they give
penicillin for that.
I admired my mother [Martha Daust Fischer]. She worked in the store. We used to have our big
meal in the daytime and we came home for lunch. I walked seven blocks
[from school]. After my grandmother died, we ate in the kitchen in the
store in the back.
My mother didn't work in the store until after we moved there. Before
that, it was my father and grandmother who ran the store.
Q. Did you and your brother, Morris, ever work in the store when you
A. I started when I was seven years old. They had registers in those
days. My father got me a box, and I stood on the box. This wasn't all
the time, but when I wanted to, I was the cashier starting when I was
seven years old. I don't think my brother was interested when he was young. Later on he
worked in the store, but I don't think he really liked to.
Q. Did your mother and father divide up the work in the store?
A. They were both working in the store waiting on customers. The
wholesale houses were on Washington Avenue, and my mother would take the
streetcar and go downtown to do the buying for the store. Butler
Brothers was on 18th. Rice-Stix [Dry Goods Co.] was at 9th and
Washington on the south side of the street. Ely Walker was about 16th on
Washington. Washington was full of small wholesale places. They [the
wholesale companies] also had salesmen who would come around to the store, and both of
my parents would do the buying. But sometimes my mother went to the
Q. What items did you sell in the store.
A. They called it a dry goods store. Young people don't know what that
is. It was clothing--men's clothing, women's clothing, underwear,
stockings. No shoes, except soft bedroom slippers. Not any dress
clothing like fancy dresses or men's suits. We had gloves, stockings,
knitted caps. No dress caps.
In those days, there were separate stores. There were millinery stores
that sold ladies hats. There was a millinery store next to us. And there
were shoe stores. Hardware stores were separate. Every store was
separate. Nowadays Famous & Barr, Venture and Target sell everything.
Q. What were some of the other stores on the 7200 block of South
A. Oh, there was a big furniture store, Watkins furniture store. He was
the wealthy man in the neighborhood. He had the whole block on the other
side of the street, the east side, and he owned about half a block on
our side. Next to us was a millinery store. The bank, Southern Commercial
and Savings Bank, was on the corner. That was their first office. There
was a shoe store in the middle of the block, a grocery store down at the
south end, a jewelry repair shop and a beauty shop. That was all on our
side. Watkins had storage and furniture sales on our side.
After we remodeled, the bank remodeled. There used to be a store
between our store and the bank, but they took it over. Afterwards, the
bank was right next to us.
Q. What was in the basement of your family's store?
A. When we first
moved there, it was just a half of a basement with a dirt floor. There
was nothing down there. I guess they had a coal furnace, but that was
after they had a coal stove. When we lived there it had hot water
radiators. In the sidewalk in front there were big metal doors that
would open up for the coal delivery trucks.
Q. At the front of the store, besides the main store entrance, the photos
show there was a second door on the left side. Where did that lead to?
A. Inside was a stairs going up and a walkway, a hallway, going to the
backyard. That was before the remodeling. The store was made a little
larger, I guess, with the remodeling, because afterward there was no
Q. Did you tell me that the Fischer store building was once a bank?
A. It was a bank at one time. In the basement there was a stone
extension that might have been their vault at one time. It was solid. We
talked about tearing it down, but we never did. We thought it might have
been a vault, but there was no entrance. It was all stoned up. They didn't
use bricks in those days. It was stone.
Q. How did you know it was a bank? Did your parents tell you?
A. I think so. I don't think it was the same as the Southern Commercial.
It was a different bank.
Mrs. Alexander comments further while viewing the older photo:
These were bars on the windows on the second floor so people wouldn't
Pointing to the second floor window on the left:
This was a separate room that my father had rented out before the
renovation. It was occupied by a woman maybe in her 40s or 50s, and she
had a young girl staying with her. She was maybe in her teens. It wasn't
her child. Her name was Molly, but no relation. People used to question
that. Who was that girl after all? But we never knew. We minded our own
(According to the U.S. Census, the
small three-story building at 7209 S. Broadway was housing eight people
in 1920--Ernestine Fischer, the owner who occupied the first floor; an
unrelated family comprising a 35-year-old man, his 30-year-old wife, and
their 13-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter and 1 1/2-year-old son,
probably living on the second floor; and a 55-year-old man with an
18-year-old "boarder," probably occupying the smaller third-floor
apartment. All seven of the boarders were Spanish, according to the
End of an era
After Henry and Martha Fischer retired from the dry goods business in
the early 1950s, they rented out the store building to a series of
tenants, including the neighboring Southern Commercial Bank. The family sold the property to Southern Commercial Bank on July 11,
1974, according to the Recorder of Deeds office. The bank needed the
land to expand its parking lot.
In 1974, Carondelet local historian Ernest E. Winkelmann, whose family
owned a pharmacy in the neighborhood, writing in his "Winkology" column
in the Carondelet Bugle, lamented the loss of the Fischer building and
others to the bank's need for parking. By 1974, the bank had expanded to
take in 7201-03-05-07-09 S. Broadway and was renting the Fischer
building (then renumbered 7211) and using it as their loan department. Winkelmann noted the demolition in October 1974 of the C.W. Mueller
Grocery at 7229 and the Todt, Weik & Kortanek Tailors at 7227.
"Also marked for demolition," he wrote, "are the buildings which
housed the Herz Hat Shop at 7213, where once stood the Menendez Saloon
and Boarding House. It was to this location that many of the Carondelet
Spanish people migrated and had their first accommodations in America.
Also [demolished was] the Southern Commercial Bank's Loan Department,
earlier occupied by Fischer's Dry Goods store.
"This block, in the early 1900s, was a true example of American private
enterprise," Winkelmann wrote. "Now gone are the buildings that housed
other institutions: At 7225-23 stood the shop of H. Erkman-Watchmaker,
and his domicile upstairs. At 7221 was the Carondelet office of Laclede
Gas Co., which was earlier the store of W.A. Graeper, who specialized in
carpets and oilcloth. 7215-17-19 was the Carondelet Hotel.
"Part of the present bank building at 7209 was occupied by Mrs. Paul's
Millinery Shop, and at 7207 was the Carondelet post office. In those
days the bank was 7201-03-05. Earl Hammer [had his 'Walton's
Mountain']. We in Carondelet have our South Broadway where we walked
and shopped and played and met our friends," Winkelmann wrote.
|Advertisement from May
12, 1933, Carondelet News. Fischer's Dry Goods store
generally did not advertise in newspapers. This is a rare
exception that was included on a page with other merchants'
Mother's Day ads.
The razing of the Fischer store was one small example of the shift in
the nation's economy away from "mom-and-pop" neighborhood
entrepreneurship toward huge chain businesses that were able to offer
wider choices and lower prices.
The circa-1930 building renovation may have been partly an attempt to stave off
the beginnings of those inevitable trends. It does not appear to have
been prompted by any increase in competition with other nearby
"mom-and-pop" dry goods stores. The Gould's directories identify 10 dry
goods stores in the immediate neighborhood in 1924, but 9 such stores in
1930. In fact, the Weisman store that had been next door to the Fischer store
in 1924 had by 1930 left the Carondelet neighborhood.
But a Sears, Roebuck & Co. store opened in 1928 at Grand Boulevard near
Gravois Avenue, about 4 miles from the Fischer's store, and in
December 1928 the chain department store ran a full-page advertisement
in the Carondelet News that was just the start of years of regular
advertising in the local paper.
In April 1929, a J.C. Penney Co. outlet opened at Gravois Avenue and
Morganford Road, less than 3 miles away from the Fischers.
And, in July 1931, a J.J. Newberry 5-10-25-Cent Store opened just blocks
away at 7525 S. Broadway, featuring low-priced ready-to-wear and hosiery
All three chain stores carried dry goods items and regularly purchased
advertising in the Carondelet News, which also covered their special
sales events in news articles, often on the front page. The Fischers generally did not advertise in the newspaper. Only
one Fischer's ad turned up during our search through back issues of the
Carondelet News, a small horizontal rectangle that was part of a
Mother's Day page in 1933.
Instead of advertising, the Fischer
Dry Goods store relied on
passersby and word-of-mouth. Their
modernizing building renovation undoubtedly gave neighborhood residents
something new to look at and something new to talk about.
Notes on Sources
For identification of architectural features, see Blumenson, John J.-G.,
"Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and
Terms, 1600-1945," (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1981).
For an explanation of historical design trends in commercial
architecture, see Longstreth, Richard, "The Buildings of Main Street: A
Guide to American Commercial Architecture," (Washington, D.C.: The
Preservation Press, 1987).
For architectural terminology with illustrations, see Harris, Cyril M.,
"Dictionary of Architecture & Construction," (New York: McGraw-Hill Inc.,
1993); or Harris, Cyril M., "Illustrated Dictionary of Historic
Architecture," (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1977).
For photos and illustrations of Victorian architectural features, see
Guild, Robin, "The Victorian House Book," (New York: Rizzoli International
Publications Inc., 1989).
For examples of Art Deco typefaces, including Broadway and the similar
Broadway Engraved font, see Solo, Dan, "Art Deco Display Alphabets: 100
Complete Fonts," (New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1982) and Heller,
Steven, and Fili, Louise, "Deco Type: Stylish Alphabets of the '20s and
'30s," (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1997). Also, see the Web sites
For information about earlier Jewish merchants in the Carondelet
references to Adolph Abeles, Isidor Bush and Charles Taussig, who had
established stores in the neighborhood at least a decade before the
Civil War, in Ehrlich, Walter, "Zion in the Valley: The Jewish Community
of St. Louis, Volume I, 1807-1907," (Columbia and Paris: University of
Missouri Press, 1997)
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