Maplewood History: Still on the Subject, the Magnificent Cabinetry of Harper’s Pharmacy

When I moved to Maplewood in 1975 from the Delmar Loop area, I wasn’t much impressed with the architecture. The Loop has the lion gates, the octagonal city hall, and stunning residential areas. In Maplewood our story is different but not less interesting.

We have a couple of great buildings, the High School and the former Pool (now Library) building. We have a number of pretty good historic commercial buildings and a fair inventory of historic residences. But not a lot of either.

Scheidt Hardware is a treasure. Building and business. Ditto for Saratoga Lanes. We have the Stertzing building with its completely glazed façade and the building at 3101-5 Sutton with wonderful terra cotta and iron work. The stunning Browne building in the 7100 block of Manchester is one half in Maplewood. We have the Greenwood Historic District as well as the Dr. Cape buildings and another historic district comprising the 7300 block of Manchester.

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Many folks enjoy living here. Some are wild about it. Why? It is a complicated question with different answers for different people. But if you count yourself among those of us who are happy with this spot on the planet, ask yourself if the above buildings have anything to do with it. They do for me. Try and imagine the place without them.

Know then that one of our most interesting commercial buildings, the Cape-Harper building is being stripped of one of its original and exceedingly rare assets, the pharmacy cabinets that have been in place since the day the building opened in the mid 1920’s. What I am now being told is they will remain in the Cape-Harper building for the time being and be used by a different tenant. This is better than having them moved entirely from the premises but I will bet that the longer they are gone from their original positions, the less likely they are to ever be put back where they belong.

The point I’m trying to hammer home is that one of the most interesting and best features of our central historic area has just disappeared from view. If they are not returned soon, consider them gone.

This is the center section of a 360 degree panoramic photo.  It is a gift from Mary Harper Hall originally to the Maplewood Historical Society.  It is now in the collection of the Maplewood Public Library.

This is the center section of a 360 degree panoramic photo. It is a gift from Mary Harper Hall originally to the Maplewood Historical Society. It is now in the collection of the Maplewood Public Library.

I wonder how these folks would feel about those cabinets being removed.  If that man staring at the camera is William Harper, I bet he is now starting to turn over.

I wonder how these folks would feel about those cabinets being removed. If that man staring at the camera is William Harper, I bet he is now starting to turn over.

26 thoughts on “Maplewood History: Still on the Subject, the Magnificent Cabinetry of Harper’s Pharmacy

  1. Doug, you mention that the photo of the pharmacy above is only a central segment of a panorama. I’d certainly be delighted to see the other pieces of the “whole view.” Maybe they are already up as part of other posts of yours?

    • Tom, they’re not but they will be. I intend to feature the photo in an upcoming post. Thanks for your interest.

  2. Mr. Hickey – I also note from our April 2014 newsletter that you are looking for office furniture. I know where you can get some shelving!

  3. Thanks Doug for another excellent post.

    To Mr. Hickey – Thank you for coming on here and participating in this forum. It’s hopefully clear that most of us who are concerned about the cabinetry are reasonable and logical, and understand that every decision is not cut and dry. Your points about other preservation efforts on the building are of course valid.

    I guess I am just surprised that the idea of having your office in a location with beautiful original cabinetry wouldn’t be a win-win for your organization? If I walked into your office, and the walls are drywall and there are cubicles and standard office furniture, my immediate impression would be ‘temporary’ or ‘cheap’. If I walk in and see your workers existing in conjunction with all that woodwork, I get an altogether different feeling. I’ll be impressed. I’ll discuss it with you ‘Wow, tell me about those cabinets!’ It’s an opportunity for your workers to turn that discussion from preserving cabinetry to preserving trees that created the cabinets. To discuss the connection between all our material goods and the world that provides them.

    Where is the big picture?

    • Ian, I share your vision of a possible future scenario. Mr. Hickey, isn’t this a better scenario than what’s likely to occur without the cabinets? Know that us cabinistas are going to be around for quite awhile. I for one will steadily advocate for their return.

  4. I would encourage everyone to think of what it may have been like if Schlafly had never bought the building. It would have continued to rot, under miles of tax liens, until the city decided to demolish it. Count your blessings Maplewood, geez.

  5. Really!! Let it go and leave this business alone! Surely there is something more news worthy then these endless stories about old cabinets.

    • Considering the number of comments the cabinets have garnered over the past few weeks (second only to perhaps Brentwood political infighting), I think it makes sense for Doug Miner to continue to cover the story. It is obviously something about which many citizens are passionate. And for many of us, the cabinets are not only a tangible historical artifact that is potentially being lost; they are also a symbol of the ongoing gutting of Maplewood’s history that Doug Houser has so painstaking traced over the years. It’s Woodside, the Wedge building, etc. etc. It’s the seemingly benign decisions councils and property owners make over the years that slowly erode at the charm and historical importance of our little city. But if you just think of them as “old cabinets” with very little value, I guess my and others’ larger point is not shared by you in the first place.

      • Maybe the Maplewood Historical Society should have thought about leasing the building and then it would have been at their discretion what happened to the cabinets.

        • Cindy – on its surface, your comment seems completely reasonable, but if you dig deeper, it has disturbing implications. I also want to note, that it is such a common sentiment that shows up in almost every article about historic preservation that is has become a meaningless trope.

          In essence, you are saying that only those entities with capital or robust financial resources deserve to have a say in historic preservation. You and everyone else knows perfectly well that a volunteer historical society does not have the money to lease a large office. What we are left with is the idea that only those with money shape the appearance and future of the communities in which we live. I, for one, do not agree with this premise and will continue to voice my objections to commercial renovation decisions in Maplewood I do not support.

          And what, really, is your objection to citizens expressing their opposition publicly? Have you found them to be rude or disrespectful? The balance of power in society is clearly in favor of those with financial resources. They have a disproportionate influence on the places I see and enter everyday. Forgive me if I don’t feel sorry for companies and organizations when they might encounter a little civil disagreement about the choices they make. And yes, I am aware that the Sierra Club is a non-profit (albeit a large national one with substantial resources at their disposal), which is all the more reason why those who support them or might in the future have a right to express when they think decisions they are making stray from their perceived environmental goals.

          • I appreciate your strong thoughts and opinions. However I think you are missing my point entirely. I just feel there are other news worthy subjects that could be covered in both Maplewood AND BRENTWOOD that this reoccurring subject is on the verge of harassing.

          • Ah, I get it, Cindy, although in no way was your actual intent evident in your original reply or later comment. Even when he was with the Patch, I noticed Doug received complaints that Brentwood was somehow getting short shrift in his reporting, but I don’t think it bears out, especially not on 40 South News. He covers Brentwood politics quite extensively, precisely because those articles generate a lot of comments. He is only one person and very much relies on tips and leads from readers. My guess is that more Maplewood residents are e-mailing him information. If you are unhappy with the stories covered, next time there is an event or story about Brentwood that interests you, e-mail him and give him the scoop. It is likely he will follow up on it.

        • Hi Cindy, I was involved with the Maplewood Historical Society from its start in 2002 until I resigned in 2006. Long story, doesn’t bear repeating but in a nutshell raising money is extremely difficult. We were fortunate to have two very generous donors, Anonymous who saved Woodside by paying for a new roof and local attorney, Isaac Young, who generously contributed to the maintenance of Woodside. I will always regret that we couldn’t complete that project.

          Anyhow very few historical societies would have the money to lease space in a building. That would have been a wonderful use for the Harper’s Pharmacy space but we’d need an angel for it to happen. Earthly or otherwise.

          I know you’re tiring of the coverage of the cabinetry but it’s important to hash this thing out now so all parties involved understand what is happening and is likely to happen. The cabinets if they aren’t returned to their original spots soon are unlikely to ever be returned. Think about it. They’ll be refitted to a different space. The tenant there will use them. That tenant will not want their space ripped up should the Sierra Club vacate at some point in the future which they eventually will do. Or the next tenant in the cabinets new space doesn’t want them there and the owner quietly removes them.

          The owner will someday sell the building. He and the Sierra Club will move on and Maplewood will be forever short this valuable historic asset. The tenant and the owner are the transients. The building and the cabinets are the more permanent part of the equation.

          Anyhow, I appreciate your comments. My posts are rarely about anything other than historic Maplewood. If there is something in that subject you’d like to know more about, feel free to request it and if possible, I’ll be happy to oblige.

      • Jane, you totally get it as to the points I’m trying to make. You are a good person to have in one’s corner. Thanks.

        • I too am a good person! I am just not over the top when it comes to antique furniture. But that’s fine you all win, you get the last word. Just consider there is one less South 40 news subscriber.

    • I’m thinking that perhaps Cindy has not seen these “old cabinets”.

  6. Thank you Doug for keeping me in your loop of “maplewood newsies”…You articles make me want to move from U. City to Maplewood myself. Very interesting history and writing. Nora

  7. I always love reading Doug’s historical facts about Maplewood. Living here is one of the best decisions my husband and I made. We love the walk-ability, the interesting architecture, and also most importantly the people. We have such a community feel which is truly amazing. Coming from a small town in Kansas where everybody literally knows your name and business, this makes me feel a little closer to home. Thank you Maplewood and keep going strong!

    • Your comment is a wonderful thing to read. it makes me and a lot of other folks feel like we’re getting something right. Our small one square mile suburb is smaller than a lot of small towns. We are very fortunate to have new enthusiastic citizens like you and your husband.

  8. On behalf of the Sierra Club, I would like to respond. We are excited to be moving into a historic building that is being rehabbed. The developer is repairing the interior – including the tile floor (which has a major crack due to the settling of the building), the tin ceiling, the tile entryway, etc. The developer is also fixing the roof (the tin ceiling has water damage due to a deteriorating roof), and installing energy-efficient LED lighting. The Sierra Club supports re-use of old buildings as an important part of reducing our use of finite resources.

    The developer is also restoring a historic window space that had been covered with plywood to accommodate drive-through film processing. The basement has water .damage that will hopefully be addressed by the new roof as well. This building had been deteriorating – this rehabilitation work will restore the space and reverse the damage caused by neglect.

    The cabinetry was also deteriorated, and the developer is cleaning and re-assembling those cabinets and will keep them in the building. Unfortunately these cabinets, which are designed to hold pills and similar pharmacy items, did not work for the storage needs of a modern office.

    I have toured several other buildings that this developer (Dave Schlafly) has already rehabbed in the area – including the old Typehouse Building on Manchester and the old Mill and Mule Barn on Sutton. He has restored these buildings and kept the historic interiors. I would encourage interested folks to see those buildings for themselves, as I have done.

    The Missouri Sierra Club is proud to have had our offices in Maplewood for the past 10 years, and look forward to remaining a part of this community.

    • I appreciate Mr. Hickey’s response to my post. Please correct me if I don’t have this title exactly right, Mr. Hickey is the chapter director of the Eastern Missouri Group of the Sierra Club.

      I agree with all Mr. Hickey has said regarding the developer, David Schlafly. His buildings are well done. He seems to have a genius to be able to return difficult buildings to productive use. I think all would agree we are lucky to have him take an interest in Maplewood.

      My frustration with Mr. Hickey lies in his unwillingness to try and adapt his chapter’s function to our last surviving historic commercial interior. It truly stumps me. It seems so at odds with my expectations of a Sierra Club director. Those cabinets needed cleaning up. Sure. But most are in very good condition. Most of them could also easily handle a lot of the storage needs of a modern office. There are some small drawers but much more larger storage places. Check the photos about a half dozen posts ago.

      If the EMG of the SC has a plan for their new office, share it with us. There are many preservation minded architects in the area. I’m sure we can enlist one to give the plan a cursory look and make some suggestions.

      It is a shame that Mr. Hickey is blowing a chance to capitalize on a move that could win him and his organization much admiration. I have suggested that there is a wide world out there who may pick up this story once it leaves our bailiwick. That the expanded attention will poorly reflect on the Sierra Club seems very possible.

      Mr. Hickey all we’re asking is for your Sierra Club chapter to peacefully coexist with our historic and magnificent cabinetry.

    • I can’t see it clearly, even with your explanation, Mr. Hickey, as to how you can not utilize the most beautiful aspect of that location. Maybe have a Sierra Club contest, or something, to come up with a unique way to utilize the cabinets….? I, too, am hoping they won’t be lost.

  9. Doug, My home town in Oklahoma had the same situation and lack of insight has striped the town of almost all of its historic interest. They now get ZERO tourism dollars. Other towns in Oklahoma took the approach you and I promote and they are reaping the benefits. Guthrie Oklahoma saved its history, had very little else going for it, and is doing very well, Their whole business district is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
    So I believe our history can be an asset as well as a treasure.

    My conclusion is that the building owner and tenant in this case really do not care about Maplewood. It’s all about the money they can make out of it for themselves.