The Lemp Brewery Complex holds a prominent place in St. Louis history. The property lies within the Benton Park National Historic District and the Cherokee-Lemp Local Historic District, and is designated as a St. Louis City Landmark. It also lies near the Soulard and Lafayette Square National Historic Districts as well as the headquarters of Anheuser-Busch, Sigma-Aldrich and the National Imagery & Mapping Agency.
The Lemp Brewery Complex was the manufacturing site of two of the most successful businesses in American history – the William J. Lemp Brewing Company and the International Shoe Company (“ISCO”). The property is significant as an early manufacturing center which contributed to the preeminence of St. Louis in both the brewing and shoemaking industries of the 19th and 20th centuries. From 1864 to 1922, the complex was owned by the Lemp family to produce and distribute beer and other beverages. From 1922 to 1992, it was owned by ISCO to produce and distribute shoes and shoe components. Both of these companies reached great heights and experienced great tragedies, and both played an indelible part in establishing the historic reputation of St. Louis as the home of “Booze, Blues and Shoes”.
However their success was not destined to last. With the advent of national Prohibition, all brewing operations had to shut down in 1919. Driven to a state of emotional and financial distress and convinced that Prohibition would never be repealed, the Lemp family sold their complex on June 28, 1922 to ISCO at public auction.
The Lemps subsequently sold their flagship Falstaff trademark to another St. Louis brewer who used it to establish the Falstaff Brewing Corporation after Prohibition was repealed. Such was the market power and inertia of the Falstaff brand that it continued to outsell its famous crosstown rival Budweiser on the St. Louis home turf well into the 1960’s.
Out of the ashes of the Lemp downfall emerged a new era, that of International Shoe Company. Although it was the second owner of the property ISCO also had a long and significant history at the site. They used every available square foot of the complex for shoe manufacturing, packaging, storage and distribution and supplied over 90 other shoe facilities they operated in the U.S. from this site.
Initial development of the site began in 1864 by William J. Lemp. He sought to expand a growing brewing operation originally started in 1838 by his father Adam Lemp near the St. Louis riverfront, now the site of the St. Louis Gateway Arch.
Adam Lemp was first in the United States to produce lager-style beer and is considered the father of modern brewing in St. Louis. The Lemps selected the current site for its two natural features – underground limestone caves and closeness to the Mississippi River. Before mechanical refrigeration was available, ice was cut from the Mississippi River during winter and stored in the property’s natural caverns to preserve and age Lemp’s lager beer.
During the next 55 years the Lemp family built their brewery into an industry giant. Their brewery eventually became the largest in St. Louis – larger than its neighbor Anheuser-Busch – as well as one of the largest in the United States with national brands such as Falstaff, Lemp Standard Lager and Culmbacher.
The Lemps also owned and operated their own refrigerated railroad, the Western Cable Railway Company, and were first in the nation to establish coast-to-coast distribution of beer. They had sales offices and distribution centers in most major U.S. cities. By the 1890’s Lemp beers were being shipped around the globe and in 1912 Lemp beers were first in the world to be delivered by airplane.
The Lemp family designed their buildings with an architectural significance that corresponded to the magnitude of their business. As their brewery continued to expand and prosper, the Lemps became a symbol of civic wealth and power in St. Louis.
In the decades that followed, ISCO grew to become the nation’s largest shoe manufacturer with recognizable brands such as Poll Parrot, Red Goose and Florsheim. By 1962 it was one of the largest industrial employers of any kind in the U.S. with over 33,000 personnel. By 1966 ISCO diversified into retailing and apparel, and shoe manufacturing began to take a less prominent role in the business, prompting International Shoe Company to change its name to the broader title of “Interco”. Through the balance of the 1960’s and 1970’s this strategic shift along with the gradual movement of shoe production overseas resulted in a steady decline in the use of the Lemp property as a shoe manufacturing center. By the 1980’s Interco diversified into the furniture business, and shoe manufacturing operations largely ceased at the Lemp site. In the 1990’s Interco began to lease out the property as a multi-tenant warehouse/industrial complex, which is the use that it still holds today.
Based on its size, appearance, location, architectural design, workmanship, prominent historic owners and historic industrial uses, the Lemp Brewery Complex contributes significantly to the sense of time and place in the historic development of St. Louis. In the words of St. Louis historian Stephen P. Walker: “The well-chosen architects and the fine St. Louis German bricklayers that created the Lemp Brewery were among the most elegant masters of their trades. As a result, the brewery was more than a workshop, more than a factory, more than an office – it was an outstanding ornament to the community”.