The Mop Factory

A skeleton walks into a bar and asks for a beer…and a mop”.

The old Zittlosen Building at 1330 Dolman has been a particularly prominent skeleton in the Lafayette Square closet. This 50,000 square foot colossus has been in play for a long time as proposals and potential redevelopers have come and gone.  It has finally been sold and a plan to develop the building into around 50 apartments has been approved by both Lafayette Square Restoration Committee and St Louis City Planning Agency. Reconstruction should start in the first quarter of 2018.

This might be an appropriate time to take a look at the backstory. Zittlosen Manufacturing Company was founded by Martin Zittlosen, at 106 North Broadway in St Louis, way back in 1867. Its primary business was cotton canvas cloth. When Zittlosen died in 1888, the company incorporated, and expanded its trade into “Mackintoshes, silk umbrellas, tents, flags, and rubber clothing”.

Zittlosen built and moved into the building we have come to know as The Mop Factory in 1910. A northern half was added onto it in 1915. Mimi Stiritz wrote in 1984 that the building itself can be appreciated for its “soldier course brick linteled windows, (and) simple white terra cotta cornice and parapet”.

An idealized drawing from before 1915 shows the proud company flag waving in the breeze, and the building in close proximity to streetcars and a modern biplane. Smoke was an emblem of industrial success back then, and we get 2 stacks worth. Pedestrians and cars bustle about. These were boom times for Zittlosen Manufacturing.

Eventually, Zittlosen faded from preeminence in the cotton and rubber cloth trade. The building was taken over first by The Crown Dress Factory and in 1961 by the Bouras Mop Company…hence, what we’ve all come to know as The Mop Factory.

I caught up with Bill Bouras, son of founder James Bouras, and requested some background. James, originally Dimitrios, was a young Greek immigrant who started out working for Crunden-Martin downtown. In 1904, he took what he learned of manufacturing and bought, on consignment, a mop makers machinery and inventory. A livery nearby rented James the transportation he needed to deliver the product. He made mops during the night, selling them by day.

As the business thrived, he brought in family members and moved from 7th and Spruce to Page and Prairie, and finally, to Dolman and Park. Everything was then under one roof, with the basement used for storing raw materials, the first floor for offices and shipping, the second for production and the third for boxes and inventory. Two large freight elevators connected the operations. In 1978, the company had 24 full-time employees and as many as 60 at its peak in 2000. Bouras prided himself on hiring immigrants like himself and worked with Catholic Charities and the International Institute to find workers. He consistently paid above union scale, and job turnover was rare.

Meanwhile, the world and the neighborhood was changing. The Lafayette Square that Bill remembered from his youth, with the Wire Works, Mary’s Restaurant, The New Minstrel Bar, Clinton School, and City Hospital had grown emptier and crime-ridden. The pressure from low-cost competitors overseas pinched sales and production. Consolidation of small businesses by large ones became a necessity for survival. By 2007, Bouras Mop had become part of NexStep Commercial Products, home of O-Cedar home products.

Thanks to nextSTL.com

Since then the aging building has sat dormant for ten years, patiently awaiting another idea.

A window halfway across the third floor may have already been rehabbed!

The vision for the proposed building sees the aeroplane replaced by birds, the smoke by high clouds, and the streets well-lit and landscaped. So much progress in just 100 years!

Until then, we continue to live with the more prosaic reality, in which we play host to a forlorn structure aching for rehab. We wish Vinson ONE LLC much success in bringing it back.

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