The Lemp Mansion & Brewery
St. Louis, MO
Mansion & Brewery
people go to St. Louis to visit the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. I've been
there myself and it's not completely uninteresting... but for the
morbidly-minded there's a much more fascinating brewery just a few blocks
old, abandoned Lemp Brewery, once the biggest brewhouse in St. Louis,
closed down by Prohibition. The first time I went to St. Louis (3/25/01),
I wasn't sure exactly where the Lemp Brewery was. I drove around the neighborhood
aimlessly, hoping I'd bump into it, and imagine my delight when I turned
a corner to behold the words 'LEMP'
blazing brightly across the century in the distance. I instantly fell
in love with this building. It's like a gothic
castle and it covers 11 city blocks. I was delighted to see that the
original Lemp Brewery emblem
could still be seen on the side
of the building. Why do I have such an incredibly fascination with
the Lemp family and the Lemp brewery? Let me briefly tell you the story
of the Lemps... one of the most tragic tales in St. Louis (or, indeed,
John Adam Lemp arrived in St. Louis from Germany in 1838 and started a brewery, using the natural cave system under St. Louis as refrigeration to perfectly age his beer. His brewery was a huge success and he died a millionaire. His son William J. Lemp took over the family business and he was the one who built it into an industrial giant. Under his tutelage, the Lemp Brewery that still stands today was built. By 1870, Lemp was by far the largest brewery in St. Louis. However, here's where the tragedies start...
The first major fissure in the Lemp dynasty occurred when Frederick Lemp, William's favorite son and the heir-apparent to the brewery presidency, died under mysterious circumstances in 1901. (They think he worked himself to death...) William was despondent and withdrew from the world, until he finally shot himself in the head in a bedroom at the family mansion. William Lemp Jr. succeeded as heir to the family throne and the brewery's fortunes began to decline until Prohibition closed the plant permanently in 1919. William Jr.'s sister, Elsa, who was considered the wealthiest heiress in St. Louis, committed suicide in 1920. On June 28, 1922, the magnificent Lemp brewery, which had once been valued at 7 million dollars, was sold to International Shoe Co. for $588,500. Although most of the company's assets were liquidated, the Lemps continued to have a morbid attachment to the family mansion. After presiding over the sale of the brewery, William J. Lemp, Jr., shot himself in the mansion's office. His son, William Lemp III, was forty-two when he died of a heart attack in 1943. William Jr.'s brother, Charles, continued to reside at the house after his brother's suicide. An extremely bitter man, Charles led a reclusive existence until he too died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The body was discovered by his brother, Edwin. In 1970, Edwin Lemp died of natural causes at the age of ninety... and thus ended the Lemp family line.
Of course, with so much morbidity occurring at the mansion, I had to track it down too. It is, after all, considered "one of the most haunted houses in America" - and who can resist a billing like that? After one false start where I ended up back on the freeway and had to drive a few miles out of my way, I headed down the correct street and stumbled upon the beautiful Lemp Mansion. Unfortunately, I'd wasted so much time wandering the streets of St. Louis, that I arrived 20 minutes after the last tour began. The Lemp Mansion has now been turned into a dinner theater and I walked in to see that some dinner guests had already arrived and were dining in the same room where William Lemp, Jr. had shot himself all those years before. I wonder if they knew that? I wanted to take a picture of that room, but it felt slightly inappropriate with a bunch of people sitting in their fineries awaiting their meal, so I asked if I could wander about upstairs. They said sure, but I had forgotten that most of the mansion has been turned into an Inn, so the bedrooms are locked guest rooms. So, the best I could do is get a couple of pictures of the upstairs hallway. It was kindy creepy up there except for that glaringly out of place high chair! If I stayed there, I'd want to find out which room William committed suicide in and I'd want to stay there! Because, you know, I have a morbid attachment to the mansion too...
So, I decided I'd have to come back another time to get the full mansion tour... so on April 22, 2001 (a Sunday) I returned within visiting hours, eager to get my full tour. Now, here's where the story turns grim. I noticed that there were a large number of cars outside the mansion, which made me a little nervous because, after all, there couldn't possibly be that many people coming for a tour... and they didn't serve lunch that early in the day previously. As I entered the Mansion my worst fears were realized:
"I would like to take a tour of the mansion."
"We don't have tours on the weekends any longer. We've started serving lunch on Saturdays and Sundays now."
"But I've come all the way from California to take this tour. I have to work during the week so this is the only time I can take it."
"Sorry." <shrug> "You can walk around and take some pictures if you like..."
Oh gee, thanks a lot. I was incensed at my rotten luck!! There, in the parlor where William Lemp Jr. had shot himself, were about 20 patrons stuffing their faces. I thought about taking a picture with them there... but I was too timid to intrude... so I just walked upstairs again, cursing at the morons who had foiled my plans yet again!!! Regaining some measure of composure, although my eyes were slightly watery from bitter disappointment, I managed to snap a few shots of the "Most Haunted House In St. Louis". (Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.)
I soon stomped out of the mansion grumpy as can be (it was one of those days, what can I say) and took a farewell exterior shot of the morbid abode and the yard (notice the word 'Lemp' on the brewery in the distance). I stood in the yard, still fuming, wondering what I should do now that my plans had been ruined... when I thought about the Lemp Brewery complex that I was so incredibly enamored with. Why not walk around the exterior of the Brewery and get a few extra shots while I'm here? As I began walking around the exterior - photographing the old "International Shoe Company" building (they utilized the Brewery after Lemp had gone out of business) and a remnant of the old Lemp Brewery logo - I found, much to my delight, that a gate had been left open and there was no evidence of anyone around to sully my explorations. I headed towards the interior of the Lemp Brewery Complex. I now present to you an obsessive, loving, and by and large quite dull photo-exploration of the old Lemp Brewery Complex. (Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.)
a fantastic bit of tragic Americana!
Someone bought the brewery for $200,000 a few years ago and there are talks of renovating it as a restaurant/entertainment complex. That's always a mixed blessing - because while it's great to preserve the place, renovation always means destroying some of the beauty of the building. Still, the preservation of the Lemp Brewery would be a grand thing, indeed!
FASCINATING URBAN EXPLORATION STORY FROM JAY S.
"Hello from St. Louis! I just happend to come upon your website pertaining to the Historic Lemp Brewery. Thought you might be interested to know I am an artist who has been renting studio space in the brewery since 1989. Presently my studio is in what is building #8 which is located directly above an entrance to the cave system. It is very creepy down there, yet the architecture and brick work is simply amazing. Many of the walls are ceramic white glazed bricks which are built into the natural cave structure. Yes it is flooded down there. Although you can explore."
are some images Alan generously provided: