When the artist, Margaret Keller, and her husband, Rick Puller, bought their late Victorian home in Fraser Park 25 years ago, they knew they were getting a high quality home but little else. It was one of their neighbors, Dick Walker, who had lived across the street for many decades who gave them an interesting clue to the history of their new/old digs. He told them that it had been built by a shoe manufacturer named Johansen. He even had a 1997 catalog with information that the company had been founded in 1876.
Dick also thought that Mr. Johansen once had a building behind the home in which shoes were made and had loaded shoes on the railroad right there. Margaret, who has a background in historic preservation, was intrigued. From the Maplewood City Directory of 1912, she learned that a family of Johansens lived at 7211 Moller. Her address is 7215. More searching revealed that the much newer home of her next door neighbor was built on what was once the lawn of the Johansen’s home at 7211. About 1950 the address was changed. The new home got 7211 and the older one became 7215.
A little while ago, Margaret and I got on the subject of graining. That is the process of making a piece of wood (or whatever) look like it is a piece of a different kind of wood than what it actually is. There are numerous reasons why one might want to do this. A very stable wood like poplar can be grained to resemble a very highly figured unstable wood such as a walnut burl or crotch mahogany.
Probably in most cases, graining a secondary wood was cheaper than using the more expensive wood being imitated but not always. Graining has existed at a very high level for certainly hundreds if not thousands of years. Many of the most expensive homes in the western world contained examples of wood that had been grained well into the early 20th century.
Margaret had told me that her home contained some fine examples of grain painting. I asked her for some photos. I knew of a family of St. Louis grainers named Tichacek that I had been trying to figure out a way to connect them to our city so I could do a post about them. This could be it, I thought. I was blown away when Margaret’s photos arrived. Not only does she have some very fine examples of graining but her home also features some of the best woodwork that I have seen in Maplewood.
A little investigation with Newspapers.com revealed an incredible story about the Johansen shoe business. But first, let’s have a look at their beautiful home.
I don’t know who built this house but I know who paid for it. Mikkel Johansen. He began his career making shoes by hand. Later, he and his brother, Johan, built one of the largest shoe factories in a city that was known for them, St. Louis. First in booze, first in shoes and last in the American League as the saying went.
Mikkel retired sometime before 1908. His brother, Johan, was at the helm when the following article appeared on Valentine’s Day 1909. The company was announcing an expansion.
And what an expansion it was!
There is much more to this story which I will try and wrap up in my next post. Amongst the interesting things yet to be seen is a rare full page article on the company that ran in the Globe-Democrat on June 26, 1927.
Much thanks for all of the photographs and information to Margaret Keller and her husband Rick Puller. Margaret and Rick are both very interesting folks. I would encourage everyone to take a look at their websites. Margaret’s fine work can be found at www.margaretkellerstudio.com. Rick’s exceptional writing may be read at https://rdpuller.net.
Thanks again to everyone who supports this effort. I truly appreciate it.
Doug Houser March 5, 2021