All of those adjectives could be used to describe The Browne building at 7156-60 Manchester which has my vote for the most flamboyant façade in the Maplewood business district.
Built about 1922 it was named for Theodore Browne, “Floral Artist”. His building is bisected by the boundary with the City of St. Louis with one storefront paying taxes to the same and the other paying taxes to Maplewood.
Looking at the Browne never fails to bring a smile to my face. Imagine sitting in on the meetings between Theodore and his architect. I can’t. If they were determined to leave not one square inch of the façade undecorated, they succeeded handily. Browne’s ads used the slogan “Say It with Flowers.” He apparently wanted to, “Say It with Terra Cotta” as well.
The pointed arch over the opening in the center of the building is very cool as is the B&W tile checkerboard just above it. Two-toned and two-textured bricks are used all over in a variety of configurations.
Much of the building’s ornament was apparently inspired by plants and flowers. That makes sense. He was a florist. At the top flanking a sort of reverse arched parapet are sculptural bouquets of flowers resting on flat spots of the glazed terra cotta coping. A molding that appears to be a repetition of a stylized columbine flower (I’m guessing) was used in several places. Numerous other floral themed plaques and tiles abound.
The reasoning behind the choice of some of the other ornament is hard to guess. For example just above Browne’s name is a shelf with two items on each end that look to me a lot like those clay pipes we nearly all have somewhere under our yard. If that’s not what they are, then what are they?
Also centered high on the façade just below the parapet is a vent that looks suspiciously like a floor drain. But weirdest of all are the decorations on top of the pilasters on either side of the façade. They appear to be five burning candles (What else?) on each side. How or if they are symbolic of the florist trade, who knows? They are another goofy mystery that contributes to the uniqueness of our community.
Browne and his wife Emma lived on the second floor until he sold the building sometime between 1932 and 1934. Other tenants included the Jones Commercial College and the People’s State Bank.
Theodore Browne left a lasting treasure of a building. It is the sort of whimsical and exuberant, if not exactly Arabian, discovery that makes urban exploring so rewarding.
Thanks to Esley Hamilton for the historical data.