Sunday, March 4, 2012

Made it out alive and smiling

Yesterday I was itching with excitement.  Now I'm just a little itchy.

But it was totally worth it.

I followed instructions to the T.  Good socks, a pair of Hushpuppies, a bottle of water, a little bag of cashews, a pair of gardening gloves, layers and an extra hoodie.  And my camera, of course!  

At 11:30, I arrived at the destination given in my Top Secret (not really) instructions.  The address was on South Broadway, but the "Come around the back" part sent me to Lemp and Cherokee.  My destination was the old Lemp Brewery complex:
Dating from the 1860s, This brewery was built over a series of caves, which was handy
in the brewing and storing of beer, and which I am dying to get into one of these days,
because of the history, because I <3 caves, and because it's there.

Those of you who know me already know I am mildly to moderately obsessed with old, decrepit and/or abandoned buildings, and a few of you who know me well also know that I have had occasion to be ejected from one such (old and very decrepit) building on these premises a couple of years ago.  I couldn't help myself.  The door was open!  So were the windows, in that they had no glass.  And the roof, in that there were gaping holes in it.  Totally not my fault, right?  Who wouldn't want to check that out, given the opportunity?  But when a guy came by told us we shouldn't be in there, we left, no harm done.

Anyway, that particular building seems to have been mostly boarded and cinder-blocked up in it's still gap-roofed condition now.  The other, more solid buildings on the complex are still in use, including Building 9, my destination:

Building 9.  So enticing!
The instructions said to call when I got there, so I called the number and was told to come on up - take the stairs to the 3rd floor.  I looked around and didn't see any other people, although there were a few other cars.  Delighted, I went inside:

Through the enormous door

Spotted the stairwell to the left.
Lit like a stage, and with the old rolling door, my toes started tingling.  It's beautiful!:

I walked to it slowly - I love stuff like this So Much.  Couldn't bear to rush.

Gorgeous old iron staircase will outlast the human race.  Someday intelligent flora
of some sort will marvel at it's sculptural beauty and wonder what it was for.

It was a bit dirty and decrepit, yes, but that's sort of the way I like it.  So I did what I always do.  1. I fell in love.  2. I stood still and listened, and imagined I could hear the echoes of all the lives that have passed through here in the last 148 years.  Took a moment in their memory.

Then I wound my way up to the third floor and found the little office area, and met Donna and her staff, and learned who I was dealing with.  Donna, of Donnaland Vintage Variety, and formerly of Hullabaloo, which is a name I've known for vintage clothing in St. Louis since I was a kid.   Apparently Donna buys vintage clothing by the bale, and sells it, largely wholesale, all over the place.  

While I waited in the office, Donna sent someone (who you will meet later) to get me a "barrel".  This is when I realized I was in over my head.  Apparently, rather than a shopping basket, bag or cart, shoppers here use a barrel!  Here was mine:

Barrel, before.
So, once provided with a barrel, I was set loose in the warehouse.  Huge, pallet-sized, 4' tall boxes, rows and rows of them, full of vintage clothing, coats, etc.  I asked the barrel-guy about accessories.  He told me they are in the "bubble room", and indicated a room marked off with plastic sheeting.  I admit I was totally overwhelmed, but pretty excited, as well.  I left my Mission Impossible supplies in the office, but brought my camera with me:

A view of one part of the warehouse.  Those boxes you see?  Three people could have hidden in each one.
A gorgeous arched window hiding behind boxes full of thousands of vintage dresses.

After awhile I kind of wished I'd worn the gloves.  And brought a face mask for the dust and sometimes mildew that I unearthed.  But I had a blast.  Some other views of the warehouse:

Another area full of blouses, skirts, jackets... also blankets and even quilts.

A couple of very old warehouse carts enjoying the sunshine.

The freight elevator.  I elected to take the stairs again when I left, but this looked just as cool as the rest of the place.

Another old cart.  These were so cool.  If I'd been alone in there, I totally would have tried to ride one around.  Don't judge me, you know you would too!

This was actually the downstairs end, but I believe this went all the way up the building.
I've ridden down one like this before, at the coolest place in St. Louis - 10 stories!

While I was there I learned something interesting about the current fashion industry.  The staff was busily picking garments with certain kinds of cool vintage prints for a company that scans the prints and uses them to make new fabrics for new designs that show up in places like Target. Neat, if sort of cheating!

Anyway, after playing around in all those enormous bins of vintage coolness for awhile, I got to go into the famous bubble room.  I didn't find much in there that I couldn't live without.  Well, at least that I could afford. They had a working, gorgeous, awesome Predicta tv in there that I would have given a couple of fingers for, but... most people don't take fingers, as currency.  I did chat a bit with the guy who was supervising my bubble-room visit/eating his lunch.  Meet Austin James Wall.  I asked him if I could just call him Austin, if I wrote about him, and he said I should at least call him Austin Wall, so I actually even remembered the James part:

The bubble-room guardian, sporting items of many eras.

Austin's personal style is eclectic, to say the least, but what I liked best about it was his explanation for the pants.  It wasn't so much that he liked the pants, he said, but that the fact that they existed demanded that he wear them.  I have to say, that's a philosophy that makes me happy, in spite of the eye-crossing print.  This is a man wearing the Mount Everest of pants!  He is also wearing a very cool tie decorated with forest, that is straight across at the bottom instead of pointed.  When I picked it up and pointed this out, he immediately decided to add it to his ensemble.  Very fun person, who made my visit to the bubble room enjoyable.  He also shared with me what, in his opinion, was the coolest dress on the premises:

George Clinton in space!
How much do you love the idea of Hardcore Jollies?

I don't know how anyone could argue with his logic.  I'm not sure anybody's much cooler than George Clinton.  I was marveling at the idea that this was a fabric, but upon closer inspection, we decided it looked suspiciously like someone did this by hand, with inks or dyes or something.  Which indicates an enormous level of dedication to the P-Funk.

After the bubble room, I really had to call it.  As much fun as I'd been having, it was definitely time to stop my foraging and move on.  Here was my barrel at that point:

Barrel, after.

It may not look like much, due to the sheer size of the... barrel, but it was quite a lot.  Editing ensued.  Further editing followed, once Donna went through it all and I started thinking rationally about how much I wanted to spend instead of just gleefully filling a barrel.  I "edited" out several items with great prints that I believe will be going to the print-scanning, fabric-making people.  I'll be on the lookout for vintage knockoff prints I recognize!

Pictures of the beauties I did come away with coming soon, but tomorrow night I'll share some more pics from my walk around the grounds there and a visit to another, very different place of vintage awesomeness that occupies the same complex, which I've known about and been fascinated by for some time.  That's the one I was visiting when I wandered off into the now-blocked-off building I mentioned earlier.

Huge thanks to Donna, Austin and everyone else at Donnaland.  I had a wonderful time combining two of my very favorite things, which, come to think of it, are both part of one favorite thing:  Old stuff!

For now, I leave you with some vintage Parliament Funkadelic, and a wish of hardcore jollies to you all!  Good night!


  1. I'm swooning over the idea of digging through all that goodness! If I ever have reason to be in St. Louis I'm going to have to call them up.

  2. Hee! I know, right? But if you do, bring gloves and if you have allergies, a mask.