The complex that housed the William J. Lemp Brewing Co. dominates the eastern edge of the Benton Park neighborhood. It contains towering buildings in a neighborhood of predominantly 1- and 2-story houses. In addition to its fantastic Italian Renaissance architecture, the brewery is famous in St. Louis circles for the tragedies and eccentricities of the family that ran it.
This area has a long history with breweries, which were originally attracted by the limestone caves that criss-cross the neighborhood. Because of their cool temperatures, caves were used for beer storage and even as beer gardens, allowing 19th Century St. Louisians to escape the oppressive summer heat. William J. Lemp brought the family brewery to this location in 1864. The famous family house, which still stands on the other side of Cherokee Street, also went up around this time.
The Lemp Brewery thrived through the end of the 19th Century, growing to become the largest brewer in a city full of them. Despite their success, a series of deaths and suicides befell the family after 1900. Ensconced in decadent wealth, the Lemps gradually lost interest in their own enterprise. The brewery faced increasing competition from other breweries, which diminished its fortunes; Prohibition sounded the final death knell. The complex was sold to the International Shoe Company in 1922 for pennies on the dollar.
ISCo primarily used the complex for warehouse storage. They left their mark most visibly on the smokestack, but also made sporadic changes, including construction of at least one 1950s building. International Shoe, later InterCo, began leasing space to other companies in the 1960s, and sold the complex in 1992 after gradually abandoning portions of it. Since then, the space has been inhabited piecemeal by various concerns, from artist studios to small industrial companies.
Despite being underutilized for decades, the Lemp complex has never been abandoned, and it has avoided demolition. Development proposals have been floated for nearly 2 decades, ranging from residential and mixed use to an entertainment complex; none have come to fruition as of 2010, and site remains a fascinating relic, a frozen snapshot from the past.
Interior photos and Sanborn maps from St. Louis Patina
A History of the Brewery
Lemp Mansion official web site
This chain of stacked up buildings originally held functions such as the carpenter's shop, machine shop, and ice house. Railroad tracks, bound for the river front, once entered the brewery grounds through the titanic archway. The tracks once criss-crossed the entire complex.