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Lemp Brewery Collapse Crumples Decades Of History, Hundreds Of Bikes

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Alison Carrick
Crews have their work cut out for them after a partial collapse of the oldest above-ground Lemp Brewery facility on Sunday.

Sunday morning brought devastating news for BWorks, a nonprofit that teaches children bicycle safety and provides them with a free, refurbished bicycle at the end of the program. Part of the Lemp Brewery, where the organization stored roughly 700 bikes, partially collapsed — leaving nearly 80% of BWorks’ inventory under rubble.

The collapse was a major setback, and the organization is considering the bicycles a total loss.

“That's how we're planning on proceeding from here on out, not having a chance to really inspect them. Just the thought of having to remove them from the rubble, evaluate them, clean them so they’re safe for volunteers to process, it'd be an overwhelming task,” said BWorks board President Wayne Brinkman.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Brinkman joined the show to talk about how the organization is planning to continue the bicycle safety and maintenance program.

“The challenge now is … not only did we lose close to 700 bikes, we also lost our storage facility,” Brinkman said of the space they began using in 2017. “[But] we do have some ability to store donated bicycles today; we do have offsite locations that collect bikes for us.”

Brinkman added that financially supporting the organization is the best way for people in the community to help.

Lemp Brewery’s historical significance

The portion of the Lemp Brewery complex that collapsed Sunday was the oldest above-ground component of the entire operation. Dating from the early 1870s, the building housed enormous kilns, and an expansion in the 1880s added three stories atop the original three.

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Chris Naffziger
This illustration of the Lemp Brewery complex, from the 1879 book "A Tour of St. Louis," shows its early heyday.

Art historian and architecture blogger Chris Naffziger has researched the history of the brewery and has written about it in recent years for St. Louis Magazine. He focused on the fireproof building that collapsed in a January 2018 article titled “The Lemp Malt House was built to be functional — and beautiful.”

Naffziger joined the program to discuss the building’s former life as part of a St. Louis beer dynasty — all before it was used as a storage facility for bicycles.

He reiterated that the best way to continue the legacy of historic St. Louis buildings is to invest in them before they get to their breaking point.

“Many people in St. Louis have stepped up; they bought buildings that were in danger of being demolished and they saved them. If you have the money, if you have friends, if you want to advocate to save buildings, you're the best person to do it. Don't wait around for someone else to do the advocating to save that favorite historic building of yours,” Naffziger said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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