Maplewood History: The Endangered Cabinetry of Harper’s Pharmacy

Have you ever looked at photos of past streetscapes not only in Maplewood but other places as well and wondered how is it that the folks in charge at the time could let so many important structures be lost?  Part of the answer is that they weren’t all lost at once but rather individually over what seems a long period of time compared to the lifespan of just one person.

Another part of the answer is that we live in a country with a history of not interfering much with owners of private property.  This is not all good.  Our best structures have lifespans that far exceed any human being’s.  They also have many owners over the course of their useful years.

Unfortunately some of the owners are the sort that take as much as possible out of a building and put back as little as they can.  These folks can greatly disrupt a community by stripping buildings of the details that make them interesting and often leaving them in bad repair.  That is why it is important to remain vigilant and insist that owners keep their properties in good repair.  Structures deemed important to the history of the community and beyond require special consideration.

If you’ve ever looked at photos from the past and thought more should have been done to preserve the things that were important, well at this very moment in time we are losing an important part of our historic fabric, the wonderful cabinetry of the Harper’s Pharmacy.

The persons responsible this time are surprising for they are the executives of the Sierra Club of Eastern Missouri.  I spoke with one, John Hickey, Thursday afternoon.  After listening to his reasons why the cabinets cannot stay, I’m not convinced.  I believe if he were of a mind to keep them, they could be very useful and no doubt fascinating to anyone visiting their office.  To their credit the Sierra Club folks are keeping other parts of the historic interior such as the floor covered with one inch, square, ceramic tiles and hopefully the pressed, tin ceiling.

Both Mr. Hickey (on Thursday) and the property owner, David Schlafly (responding to an earlier blog post) seem not to grasp the importance of keeping the cabinets in their original location.  They both mentioned that the cabinets will be saved.  This is not enough.  Reader Doug Smith nailed it when he said if the cabinets are relocated they would have no historical continuity and “might as well be in Chicago”.

David Schlafly is not a property owner who causes harm to a community, quite the opposite.  He has a proven track record of taking difficult buildings and returning them to productive use while respecting their historic characteristics. As for the Sierra Club, I have supported them in the past. I will support them in the future.  I can’t imagine a better organization to have in your community.

This makes it especially hard to understand why they would be determined to alter the historic interior of one of our most important, historic, commercial buildings.  We have shown in previous posts, the cabinets they are causing to be removed were installed about 1926 at the time of the buildings construction and have remained in place until this past week! 88years!

As I explained to Mr. Hickey, I will continue to call for the return of Harper’s cabinets to their original location.  The longer they are dislocated, the less likely they are to ever be returned.  There does not exist in any of Maplewood’s commercial buildings another historic interior as worthy of protection and preservation. This is the last one.

If you have ever wondered how we could have let some of our best architecture and fittings be lost, this is how.

A biblical sky enhances the scene looking north on Sutton with the Cape-Harper building in the foreground.

Doug Houser

A biblical sky enhances the scene looking north on Sutton with the Cape-Harper building in the foreground.

The same scene showing important losses and changes to our historic inventory.  The Bank of Maplewood was lost in the 1970's.  The shingle style Maplewood  Congregational Church lost its shingles and steeple at some time in the past.  for the first time in 88 years the cabinets of the Harper's Pharmacy are no longer in their original positions.

Doug Houser

The same scene showing important losses and changes to our historic inventory. The Bank of Maplewood was lost in the 1970's. The shingle style Maplewood Congregational Church lost its shingles and steeple at some time in the past. For the first time in 88 years the cabinets of the Harper's Pharmacy are no longer in their original positions.

35 thoughts on “Maplewood History: The Endangered Cabinetry of Harper’s Pharmacy

  1. The Sierra Club offices should be PROUD to be SAVING and REUSING beauty created by both nature and man, instead of disregarding the historic interior cabinetry. it would certainly make the offices more interesting to work in, perhaps attract non members into the office, and put a “feather in their cap” with the community.
    Peter Wollenberg

  2. I agree with you, Doug, these small changes over many years result in decisions like a Church’s Chicken where unique wedge shaped architecture existed. Small changes like these slowly turn a once interesting and valuable area into a boring and cheap suburb. We still have value and unique beauty here in Maplewood, it’s important we preserve what we can, while continuing to have useful and profitable spaces. It seems obvious that the Harper’s Pharmacy space could be both preserved as well as useful. Since it isn’t obvious why it CAN’T be preserved with the original cabinets, why isn’t Mr. Hickey speaking up? We all respect the Sierra Club and the prevention they do. This isn’t a case of Quik Trip coming in and tearing down a building, we assume Quik Trip doesn’t have preservation at its core. The Sierra Club is an organization with preservation at the very heart of its goals. It might help us all understand why the cabinets need to go if we could simply be given an explanation.

    • Michelle, Totally agree and also wonder why an “office space” tenant even needs to be in this unique retail or gallery type space. They could locate anywhere drywall is king.

  3. It concerns me that John Hickey is taking a “not in my neighborhood but I’ll do it to yours” attitude. I have to wonder if there is not something historic in John’s neighborhood, where he grew, up that would outrage him if an outsider did what he is proposing.

    Why can’t John consider another space for the Sierra Club? I am betting, at this point, that David Schlafly would accommodate them.

  4. Dear Doug,

    As always, your reporting on the beauty of the architectural treasure which has graced the heart of Maplewood for so many years, indeed, brought joy to my heart. What a shock then, only a short time later, to hear that the gorgeous custom cabinetry has been removed (probably permanently) from that carefully designed space. This news brought quite the opposite emotion for me.

    As one who is informed and cares deeply about environmental causes and tries to financially support efforts to protect our earth from overwhelming assaults, I am very familiar with the daily pain of suffering loss in our world, as species after species of both animals and plants are forever driven from the face of our planet. It was with great surprise that I read that it is our local Sierra Club which is treating the cause of historic preservation with an apparent lack of concern. I’m sure their move to the old Harper’s Pharmacy is a major event for them, but I hope that they could be persuaded to step back and rethink of their contribution as an organization to the whole of life. Preserving the footprint of the treasured space they will inhabit should be a part of their philosophy, I would think. There is a connection.

    Yes, Doug, as you so well described, this is just one more example of how the beautiful, not replaceable, workmanship and architecture which has enriched our lives for generations is so quickly disappearing from our landscape, as always in the name of modernity and pro”progress.”

    I hope that the Sierra Club can be persuaded to take the time to reevaluate their decision to remove that gorgeous cabinetry, and to instead incorporate it into their plans, thereby preserving that special place in our unique town of Maplewood.


    Sharon Tash

    • Sharon, thank you so much. Perhaps when the Sierra Club folks read all the heartfelt emotions expressed to preserve the cabinetry they’ll rethink their short sighted position.

  5. Doug, this message is directed to he Sierra Club. We have financially supported them and expect them to to be as concerned about our historic environment on near equal footing as they are about the natural environment and also that they remain attuned to the wishes of their neighbors, not being callous to those wishes. I cannot see how that irreplaceable, beautiful cabinetry could possibly interfere with their use and operation of the building, as a matter of fact I believe it would enhance their presence in the space and be a “place of the soul” for their workers and guests. Should they continue down this destructive and disruptive path we will remove our financial support of them, giving our donations to more responsive groups instead.

    • Gary, Thank you very much for your input. I think you’ve said very well what many of us have been thinking. It is a mystery how a group devoted to one important form of preservation could not support another equally important one. These are some of the very finest people we’re dealing with.

      That said,last night I forwarded links to all of the blog posts on this site concerning the Harper’s Pharmacy interior to all of the members of the Eastern Missouri Group. I received this letter in reply:

      Doug, thank you for reaching out to us with your concerns, and thank you for your support of the Sierra Club. I understand your passion for historical preservation and agree that it is an important issue.

      The Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club is seeking a new office space to accommodate growth. The Eastern Missouri Group will share the office space, but it will ultimately be the Chapter that signs off on a new lease. It sounds like you have already communicated with John Hickey, the Chapter Director, about your concerns. He is really the best person to talk to about the change in office venue for the Missouri Sierra Club.

      Thank you,

      Sarah Merida
      Chair, Eastern Missouri Group
      Missouri Sierra Club

      Mr. Hickey is the person I spoke with who was not willing to alter their plan. I assured him I would not give up. Looks like we’ll have to contact someone at the national level. DH

  6. The Sierra Club clearly does not need this space since any drywalled space would obviously meet their needs. I would like to suggest that David Schlafly let them out of their lease or rent them one of his other holdings.

    If he did that, there lies an opportunity. Refresh the space, restore the cabinets, put them back, and advertise the availability of this unique and historic space for the types of businesses that would love to have it. A win-win-win situation for the community, the Sierra Club and David Schlafly.

    • I definitely agree with Mr. Smith on this. The Sierra Club certainly doesn’t need to be in a prime retail space especially if they’ll be wiping out an historic interior by occupying it. When I spoke to Mr. Hickey on Thursday, he hadn’t read any of my blog posts though another person in his office had. I hope he has by now.
      County historian Esley Hamilton contacted executive board member Frank Lorberbaum and forwarded him links to my posts and one by Doug Miner. I would hope all of the executive board members would read these posts and the very many thoughtful comments that have been added. In the next few minutes I will forward links to all of these posts to all of the members of the executive board. We’ll hope they read them.

  7. Tim Alexander has very kindly allowed me to post his letter to the Sierra Club.

    Sierra Club Office
    7164 Manchester Ave.
    Maplewood, MO 63143

    I was dissappointed to hear that the Sierra Club is considering removing the orginal cabinetry from the former Harper’s Pharmacy building on Sutton in Maplewood. I’ve supported the work of the Sierra Club over the years and was glad to hear that the area office would be staying in Maplewood and occupying this historic building. However, contributing to the destruction of an integral part of this historic building is not in keeping with the general preservationist mission of your organization. Please reconsider this position and help to preserve this important element of our historic community. I’m sure that such preservation is not incompatible with your mission or space needs.


    Tim Alexander
    Maplewood, MO

    • Many of us who are Maplewood stakeholders in this issue — residential property owners and commercial property owners — would agree.

  8. If any organization should understand the consequences of individual actions I would think it would be the Sierra Club. Global warming is an example. One tree cut in the Amazon forest seems so inconsequential, but multiplied by millions of individual actions, huge environmental change has resulted. What applies to our external environment can also be applied to our internal environment. Denudation of our forests devastates our external environment. Denudation of historical interiors devastates the beauty of our internal environments.

    There is also another environmental element here that I would think the Sierra Club would take into consideration. The historic cabinetry of Harper’s Pharmacy used a typical wood for cabinet-making of the day, perhaps walnut. Replacing it with brand new cabinetry or furniture will result in the use of furniture from any number of modern sources which might include tropical hardwoods or coal-based plastics. Although not significant as a single action, taken together with millions of similar actions we will see our planet’s environment changed forever.

    If the Sierra Club is to relocate in our community it seems appropriate that they would take into account the thoughts and feelings of the Maplewood Community.

  9. Doug — You mention that Mr. Hickey talked to you about “the reasons why the cabinets cannot stay.” What were these reasons?

    • We didn’t discuss that in great detail. Mr. Hickey would be the best person to answer your question.

  10. Why does the Sierra Club want this space? Just wondering, as for the past year I had hoped it would become a candy store or ice cream shop.

  11. Here’s hoping the Sierra Club will reconsider and reinstall the cabinets. I know they’re a respectable organization and a little creative thinking would put the cabinets to good use in their original placing. If not they’ll probably be lost forever. I’m sure the Sierra Club can understand the need for preservation of history as well as wilderness.

    • Here’s hoping Mssrs. Hickey and Schlafly reconsider. I support Sierra Club myself — I’m an active, dues-paying member. The insistence that the cabinets be moved seems culturally obtuse. They have real historical and aesthetic value that an organization like Sierra Club ought to respect — even fight for. Whatever pragmatic or financial benefit accrues to Mr. Schlafly by moving them isn’t worth the loss of a small yet beautiful cultural detail of a city-scape that has allowed him to profit by it in many, many instances. Moving them would be irresponsible stewardship.

      • Yojimbo –
        I definitely think active supporters of the Sierra Club like yourself should contact their local office and let them know how you feel directly. You are likely to carry more weight. Plus above you said it so eloquently, especially your point about irresponsible stewardship. Just my two cents.

  12. Aaaahhhhh……. I would think the Sierra Club would insist on leaving the “slightest footprint” possible, the same as if one were taking a walk in the woods. Do not turn up stones, or move logs,…or remove entire beautiful cabinets! What ARE they thinking? Why is the Sierra Club moving from ‘down the street’ on Manchester unless it is for greater visibility? Surely the rent isn’t cheaper. With this current publicity, they are off to a great start in a new location IF they keep the cabinets…..

  13. Ralf Lucas has kindly agreed to let me post his comments from a personal email. They are as follows; “What a sad commentary on our modern-day inability to live with what has been left behind for us by our ancestors, especially when that inability involves the destruction or sweeping aside of quality workmanship. You would think that the Sierra Club, who otherwise seems to be in the business of preservation and protection, albeit of our natural resources, would jump at the chance to preserve part of history. This cabinetry speaks of a time when workmanship was able to combine beauty and function masterfully, and we don’t see that same commitment so much these days. Surely, the Sierra Club can embrace and conserve this commitment by continuing to use it in its original habitat.”

    • Can citizens create a petition? Sometimes I think despite what an official stance might be in-house with some organizations there can be contradictions and it may be up to others to point those out.

      • If you made one, I would sign it. You could also post it to the Maplewood YIMBY Facebook where there seems to be a lot of sympathy for saving the cabinets.

  14. To all who have taken the time to respond I say “Thank You” and “Amen”. You are a tremendous help!

  15. What John Hickey and David Schlafly are not considering is that each owner and tenant of a historic building is the steward of that building and its space. They should consider the fact that their tenancy will not last forever, but the decisions they make today will. What they do today will effect every tenant and every child who would appreciate seeing history in the future. Hopefully the Sierra club can see their way clear to apply their own philosophy in a more community oriented spirit during their stewardship.

  16. Just want to add my comment – the proprietors of the Harpers building, and the businesses within the many historical Maplewood buildings, should continue to realize they are holding on to a piece of history which clearly makes Maplewood stand out uniquely, i was just walking through the Maplewood Post Office, on Marshall, admiring that it appears the same as it always has. Lets retain the original character of our buildings and enjoy ‘showing off’ our uniqueness to those eho pass through.

  17. Doug,

    I am a kindergarten teacher. I can’t help but wonder…what are we leaving behind for our little ones? Preserving history is important for helping all of us remember where we have come from. New and different isn’t always better. I can only hope that the people involved will preserve the unique space. If not for themselves, for their little ones that need to understand the importance of history.

    I know in my heart that those involved will do the right thing. 🙂

    Ellen Flesh

  18. I find myself both frustrated and a bit sad after reading this article. As much as we can hope, my guess is that the cabinets are gone for good. Quite a shame. Nonetheless, thanks the informative posts, as always, Doug!

    • Hi Dan, Let’s hope they’re not gone for good. They have been moved to another part of the building so the space can be renovated. Hopefully Mr. Schlafly and the Sierra Club can be convinced of the importance of retaining them in their original location.

      • I completely agree. I feel that keeping them in place would add a unique character to the space following the tenant fit out. :crossing fingers:

    • Gary, they were modular as you may be able to tell from Doug Miner’s earlier post which included a page from the manufacturer’s catalog.

      • Thanks, Doug. I had guessed that but I didn’t know if they had been somehow attached to walls or modified to have a more built-in aspect.