The Life of Ernst Janssen

It was February and the rains had given way to a slightly warmer day.  My son and I played soccer in the children’s dome at the center of Tower Grove Park.   The usual crowds of summer were non-existence as the farmers market season was months away.  The Pavilion construction crews had gone home as the dipping sun plunged the city back into the chilly isolation of winter.  We went as long as we could bouncing in the last rays of warmth. The dumpster was behind the Pavilion near the utility road and what I saw inside was 100 years of history on it’s way to oblivion.

This is how I discovered Ernst Jassen!!

   Having lived around Tower Grove for many years, I would bicycle the alleyways and park paths on my vintage one-speed enjoying the beauty that is this jewel of a green space.  The Saturday morning Farmers market and festivals are some of my favorites in the area. I have felt it’s essence many times in the four seasons of Missouri. To discover it’s history is a dream come true and too discover that Ernst Janssen was partners in a firm with Otto Wihelmi is quite a synchronicity. The name might not ring a bell, but Otto was the architect that built the house at 2323 Lafayette ave, the project that created Dumpster Archeology. 

So Ernst Janssen was became a central in a Dumpster Archeology story, with the windows becoming a character in the strange intertwined world of South St Louis and the German Lutheran Community. Yet as always the rabbit holes get deeper, the more you see the patterns of oddness!

2323 Lafayette ave.

The Story of the Pavilion

Henry Shaw

 Henry Shaw is an important figure in St Louis history. His country estate had become the Missouri Botanical Gardens, paid for and created with love from Queen Victoria’s own private gardeners and gifted to the city.  Perhaps Henry was still in a giving mood, or building a legacy but he donated 289 acres of prime land in 1868 to become Tower Grove park. The infrastructure was developed slowly with unique buildings, ponds, comfort houses and pavilions added sporadically.  In 1914 an architect named Ernst C. Janssen created a one of a kind Pool Pavilion in the center of the park with a “Roman” wading pool.   

The Pavilion was built in 1914 during a period of high profile architects given projects in the Park.  Ernst Janssen had just finished “Magic Chef Mansion” and was a sought after professional Architect. The Mansion was built for Charles Stockstrom, the founder of the Quick Meal Stove Company, later renamed Magic Chef. The largest stove maker in the world at one time, the St. Louis plant alone sprawled over 600,000 square feet and employed over 2,000 people.   Ernst and his partners had a reputation for Romanesque influences with German flair. Most his houses are primarily in the Compton Heights area and he even created the Grand entrance on South Grand.. himself. 

Magic Chef Mansion
Compton Heights Entrance
the new windows in place.

Technical Biography of Ernst Jannsen

 Chillicothe, Ohio was an interesting place to be born, surrounded by wilderness, Indian mounds,  and endless natural resources. It was founded by Southern agricultural progressives who left the bounds of slavery to make an “honest wage”.  It twice held the State Capital designation. Former Southern slaves set up communities next to Lincoln loving Lutheran Germans and together formed an Underground Railroad.  This sense of freedom and multi-cultural solidarity would remain through out Ernst C Janssen’s work. He was born in 1855, a product of the tight knit community of his mother and his Belgian born father.  Oscar Janssen would work hard and become partner as a Merchant and a Brewer. He would proudly teach his son carpentry and send him to Germany in 1877 to become an architect.

Karlsruhe Technical School in the 1800’s

  Polytechnic Karlsruhe technical School was one of the most respected Colleges in the world at the time.  Both the inventor of the bicycle and the automobile studied there. We know very little about his education at the school but for the gold metal Ernst was given by the Duke of Baden for best architectural thesis.  It is said he kept the gold metal in his fishing box the rest of his life. What is known is he toured Europe to view German castles, see ancient Mediterranean influences, and allow practical utilitarianism would inspire his work.   He met Otto Wilhemi, an accomplished student from St Louis sometime during his adventures and when Otto returned home, Ernst would follow to create the partnership that would leave an epic footprint on the St Louis landscape. 

German Social Club

  From 1879 through 1881  their short lived partnership would produce a couple schools, a brewery and the famed Liderkranz Hall (a German Social club).  Otto Wilhelmi would go on to build the 7th crematory in the entire country and the first this side of the Mississippi river, cremation was a taboo subject and rarely practiced previous to 1875.  The pair would then make mansions in the same neighborhood. Ernst would spend some time designing buildings at the Anheuser Busch complex, then after many years of people using his work, he applied to join the St Louis institute of Architects, quickly becoming a top architect for the Barons of the food industry.

Ernst Janssen’s Houses in Compton Heights

  •        3400  Russell Blvd  — Charles Stockstrom –  Magic Stove  
  •        2903  Russell Blvd  — John J Wuertenbacher  -Refrigerators
  •        3444 Russell Blvd   — C G Mathey    — Engineer 
  •        3263  Russell Blvd  — Louis Stockstrom — Magic Stove
  •        2935 Russel Blvd  — Otto Meister  — Book Binder
  •        3463  Longfellow Blvd —   William Henry Dittman  
  •        3448  Longfellow Blvd  — John Max Wulfing  — Antiquarian 
  •        3417 Longfellow Blvd —        Frank E Nulsen — Whole Sale Liquor family turned Investor
  •        3401 Longfellow Blvd —       Otto Louis Teichmann — Teichmann Company sold Grains
  •        3427  Longfellow Blvd  — Otto H Witte  — Witte Hardware Company 
  •        3436   Longfellow Blvd  — J W Cramer    
  •        3263 Hawthorne Blvd  —      Louis Stockstrom  — Magic Stove  
  •        3419  Hawthorne Blvd  — George A Meyer  — Grocer
  •        3036  Hawthorne Blvd     — Joseph A Monnig  — Inventor/Industry 
  •        3506 Hawthorne Blvd  — Edward Wagner  — Wagner Brewing Company

Ernst C. Janssen (1855-1946). The Ohio-born builder and architect had already worked for several years as a draftsman and carpenter when his father – a well-to-do merchant of hops and other brewery supplies – sent him to study architecture at the Polytechnische Schule in Karlsruhe, Germany (1877-78). After having received a gold medal for the best architectural thesis, Janssen returned to St. Louis and set up a firm with Otto Wilhelmi. In this firm, which lasted until 1881, and throughout his long career, Janssen’s primary interest appears to have been in commercial structures, especially breweries; his designs were particularly sought out by the German-Americans of St. Louis and the surrounding regions. The Wilhelmi-Janssen firm’s best-known work is the now-demolished Liederkranz Hall. In 1891 Janssen applied for admission to the St. Louis chapter of the American Institute of Architects; from that point until the 1920s he appears to have practiced independently; thereafter he also practiced in partnership with his nephew Oscar Janssen and with Jesse McFarland. Although Janssen was most active as a designer of commercial buildings, his best-known surviving structures are a number of the larger residences in the Compton Hill neighborhood, especially the Charles Stockstrom House (1907), a magnificent example of the American Chateauesque style in brick and terra cotta. He is responsible for the Pool Pavilion (1914) and the Stone Shelter (1923) in Tower Grove Park, and for the Friedrich Hecker monument (1882) in Benton Park.

“The Beer Baron Architect Conspiracy”

Rott road in Sunset hills was a selected location for the summer homes of the St Louis Beer Barons.  Joseph Griesedieck, the brewer of Falstaff beer was owner of the Realty group they all used. Edwin Lemp, Louis Stockstrom, and Adolphus Busch, Jr all had homes on the road.  Ronald Kahle was the son George Kahle who was working with Rigen Stove co. At some point the Stockstrom brothers and the Kahle boys, joined forces to create Quick Meal Stove co. Ernst Janssen began working with the Beer Barons as early as 1890’s creating several Breweries and commercial property for these wealthy Germans, having previously impressed them with his German Social Club.  Through 1892 to 1911, Ernst created over 17 mansions for the St Louis “new money”.

 Ronald Kahle bought the property that would become Laumeier Sculpture Park in 1916 and began building in 1917.  He listed himself as owner, builder and architect, despite having almost no technical skill in drafting. What the evidence shows, is Ernst Janssen was the draftsman for the house designing the unique creation by having great technical skill from a lifetime of experience and training from one of the top architectural schools in the world.

Is it possible Ernst Janssen designed the house and Kahle took credit?

The influence is clearly from the Maritz and Young style that was popular a few years before. Ernst loved to dabble in various styles but retained a certain signature that is clearly seen in the Stone bungalow. Ronald would pass on in 1938 and his widow would sell the property to Henry Laumeier in 1940.  Why Ernst Janssen’s name appears on early drafts of house design as evidenced in the History Annex records, remains a mystery.