Ever noticed the 5 story, vaguely moorish looking building pictured above?
The CF Blanke Building on Papin Street near the corner of 14th and Chouteau is a 156,000 square foot behemoth, Parts of it date back to 1888, when it was home to the Haydock Brothers Carriage Works. When completed, it was the largest carriage factory in the United States, capable of turning out 100 buggies and carriages per day.
By 1919, the buggy had gone the way of the buggy whip. Cyrus Blanke bought the facility, and ran the CF Blanke Coffee and Tea Company from there until 1935. At one time, it was the largest roaster of coffee beans in the world. Blanke products were produced close to the railroads, served on the railroads, and brought by the railroads to the far points of the country.
Cyrus Blanke was born in Marine, Illinois in 1862. He attended commercial college in St Louis, and began his career as a grocery clerk at the age of 16. He was connected with the Steinwender-Stoffregen Coffee Company, and worked as a bill collector for two years, then took to the road as a traveling salesperson. In 1890, at the age of 28, he began his own company, and steadily grew the concern, roasting and selling coffee, distributing spices and selling tea.
He also headed St. Louis Tin and Sheet Metal Working Company, and St Louis Soluble Tea and Coffee Company, and Blanke-Baer Extract and Preserving Company. He had the lithography and printing for labels and ads done in house. In house kilns produced coffee pots and bottles.
Having interdisciplinary abilities and vision paid off big for Blanke, who seldom missed an opportunity to promote his product. When World War I broke out, he was ready to respond to the need for coffee. Blanke dealt with the difficulty of brewing in the trenches of France by dehydrating coffee through his extract company, packaging the resulting instant coffee in tins from the sheet metal company, and sending it overseas through the coffee company. He was even able to parlay the tin container trade into providing for army ration packaging, a method that became ubitquitous as C rations in World War II.
While traveling through Europe, he observed that more people knew St. Louis for Faust’s Restaurant, than vice versa. In return for the exclusive coffee business of the restaurant, Blanke agreed to name their best coffee for the establishment, and Faust Coffee was born. A classic win/win.
Blanke was a master of advertising. He once bought a beautiful jet black horse for $300, and hired a man to ride him while wearing a large empty can of Faust coffee on his back. The presence of horse, rider, and advertisement up and down Broadway brought in more business than a fixed sign could have. Teddy Roosevelt rode the same horse at the opening of the 1904 Worlds Fair.
Noticing the damage done to trees along city streets by horses chewing at the bark. He had several hundred tree boxes built, and installed at night without anyone’s permission. He solved a problem on his own terms, putting ads for his coffee on every box.
Blanke took note of the free newspaper coverage a man was receiving for pushing a wheel barrow from Michigan to California. He intercepted the man and arranged to cover the cart in advertising. He recouped his $200 investment in an adventurer many times over.
Early on, he realized that a motif is as good as a logo, and added a checkerboard border to each of his delivery wagons, something noted by a certain maker of animal feeds locally. The connection was further established as Blanke always insisted that the draft horses pulling his wagons be attractive and well groomed. He said, “it costs no more to keep good horses than it does to keep ‘plugs’.
Blanke made and sold playing cards, 52 ads to the deck. He made and gave away coffee pots as premiums. Conscious of how often people looked at the clock, he had clocks shaped like coffee pots produced, bearing his slogan, “Blanke’s Coffee; best on earth, or anywhere else.”
Blanke was a tireless civic booster, elected president of the Million Club, a group dedicated to raising the population of St Louis. He was a director of the Union Club for eight terms. He also belonged to the Masons, Moolah, Royal Arcanum, Knights of Pythias, Chamber of Commerce, Elks, and Convention Bureau. He ran free bread and coffee lines for the unemployed in 1921. He served as a director of the 1904 Worlds Fair, and in that, you’ll find the definition of a guy who could dream big.
For the World’s Fair, he ordered 125,000 cups and saucers decorated with the Blanke trademark, and handed them out free to the concessionaires in return for their exclusive purchase of Blanke coffee and tea.
An admirer of U.S. Grant, he once bought a wagon Grant owned, added advertising to it, and sent it on tour. When he was offered Grant’s Cabin at a reasonable price he bought and relocated it to the World’s Fair grounds, then sold Grant’s Cabin coffee and tea from it. After the fair, he sold the cabin to August Busch, who moved it back near White Haven (Grants Farm), where it remains today.
But sometimes, it’s not the accomplishment but the quixotic dream that sticks in people’s imagination. This is a tenet of sales – that it’s not the steak, so much as the sizzle that attracts a diner’s attention.
And what sizzle! The New York Times of August 29,1901 reported that Cyrus Blanke and Samuel Friede had formed a venture capitalized at $1,500,000, and would begin work on something that required the creation of the worlds largest blueprint (5 x 10 feet)
It was in anticipation of the Worlds Fair, and would be called the Blanke Aerial Globe, “rendering the Eiffel Tower and Chicago Ferris Wheel as crude engineering feats.” Behold!
Within the month, Cyrus Blanke had managed to create a vision that seemed real to readers, and hooked it into advertising Faust Blend Coffee. Mind you, this is 1901, but the rest was detail compared to selling coffee.
The Fiede Aerial Globe was to stand 700 feet tall from its stone base to its observation deck, 70’ taller than the Gateway Arch, though also made of steel. Its roof garden at the 110 foot level would be 350 feet in diameter, and feature 2 restaurants and 2 theaters. The restaurants would rotate within the sphere, providing diners a 360 degree view of the city and surrounding area. At the 295 foot level there would be a colosseum, with iron bridge walkways overlooking the gardens, two circus rings and a racetrack. Below the seats of the colosseum would be the menagerie (zoo), also viewable from the walkways. Topping it off, at 420 feet, a great music hall and finally at 450 feet, a palm garden. The observatory tower would rise another hundred feet from the top, beneath 4 giant multicolored electric searchlights designed to pivot and dazzle the sky.
Cyrus F. Blanke said, “I consider the conception one of the grandest ever formed in the human brain.”
In November 1901, a prospectus sold shares in this ‘can’t miss’ enterprise for $1.00 per share by mail. It confidently asserted that the low 50 cent admission was easily offset by additional fees for attractions and the fact that the dome would accommodate between 25,000 and 30,000 people at a time. Profits were estimated “from a conservative standpoint,” at 100 – 200%.
160,000 people a day whisked briskly up and down via the 16 elevators in service.
The prospectus cautioned that the introductory offering was only made available for the first two weeks to St. Louisans, as it was the desire of the principals to “keep at home the money it is confidently expected will be paid in dividends.”
It boasted of ongoing negotiations with the Worlds Fair to have an entry gate and bridge from the Fair to the Globe, further increasing patronage from the fairgoers. “People will travel thousands of miles to view this structure.”
“In the history of finance, this is beyond question of doubt the greatest opportunity the public of this or any other country have ever had for a profitable investment.”
Unable to raise the capital needed by subscription, and missing the engineering deadlines to enable opening by fair time, the Friede Aerial Globe dream quietly ended, taking some folks small investments with it
Undeterred, Samuel Friede pitched his idea to the City of Chicago in 1904, and it similarly began with a bang, then sputtered, then failed. He decided he’d had enough of Midwestern small thinking and went to Coney Island in 1906 with the same proposal. This globe would have a diameter of 900 feet, and house a huge hotel, a miniature train, bowling alleys and slot machines, as well as the other mentioned amenities. He captured the entire front page of the New York Tribune on January 20. Friede claimed having already poured the piers and expected completion within six months. That should have been a clue. When the first piece of steel was placed in February, 10,000 people turned out to see it.
By the next year, it was clear that nothing would develop from the grandiose plans. Investors were once more bilked. Things grew quiet with Friede after that.
On the same day in 1915 that the sinking of the liner Lusitania was reported, a smaller item on the front page noted the passing of Faust’s Restaurant, as creditors, led by C.F. Blanke prepared the bankruptcy documents. The end of eras occurs when virtuous chains break. Faust’s location adjacent to the spectacular Southern Hotel and across from the Olympic Theater ensured a steady dinner trade. When the Southern closed in 1912, followed by the Olympic in 1916, a restaurant that depended on opulence and excellence had lost its own meal ticket. Faust’s Coffee, like Anheuser-Busch’s Faust Beer, continued on for a while without their primary association.
In Dresden Germany, in 1928, at the height of the forward looking Bauhaus movement, a giant globe was finally erected, and it was a thing of wonder, although not approaching the fantastical scale of Friede’s designs. It was called the Kugelhaus (ball house), and sat in the middle of a major fair. Unfortunately, it met with disapproval a mere ten years later, as the Nazi government declared it degenerate and ungermanic. It was wrecked in 1938.
The Great Depression ruined some big outfits, and the CF Blanke Companies were no exception. By 1935, Judge Baron issued a judgement that Blanke had to stand down as receiver of the company in bankruptcy, and cease operations. At that time the company was losing $1,000 per month and the judge gave his opinion that in his years on the bench, he had never seen a company operated as poorly. Blanke blamed the inroads of chain stores on independent retail merchants and the tough environment for bank credit. The money, like the magic, had dried up. The assets of the enterprise were sold the following year.
The building, listed at 904 South 14th Street, became a warehouse for large furniture and appliance store Union-May-Stern.
Life is for the ride, but the dismount can be rough. Blanke’s wife of 40 years died, two weeks after suffering a nervous breakdown, in 1930. Cyrus remarried a year later at the age of 63, to a woman 25 years younger. Cyrus F. Blanke was 79 when he fell and was struck by a revolving door at a bank. Confined to his home, he died a year later of kidney failure. The Blanke building was purchased by Gary and Gloria Sextro in 1982. At one time they had their 8,000 square foot home in the building and have leased other areas to various enterprises since.
There is a faded ghost sign for Faust’s Coffee on an obscured side wall of the Sidney Street Cafe. Another stood for years in Wellston until the wrecking ball caught up with it. The image above was from 1981. It’s a lot like memory itself, lasting until the one holding it passes. St Louis in 1904 was a place for dreamers, and CF Blanke fit his time pretty well.
Incidentally, restauranteur and impresario Tony Faust leased the Lafayette Square residence at 1605 Missouri Avenue from Adolphus Busch in 1904, and died two years later at the age of 70. He had owned and operated the most famous restaurant in St. Louis history for over 50 years. Faust and Blanke shared the staying power that classic fly by nighters like Samuel Friede lacked.
Thanks to research sources including:
St Louis Post-Dispatch; February 12, 1905; Page 3 “Cy Blanke’s Talk on Successful Advertising”
An excellent history of Faust’s Restaurant awaits at the always enlightening Lost Tables Of St. Louis. http://www.losttables.com/faust/faust.htm
A good review of Friede’s magnificent invisible aerial globes is by Allison McNearney at the Daily Beast: https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-coney-island-tower-that-was-really-a-shady-ponzi-scheme?ref=scroll
Background on the Kugelhaus in Dresden from the ever interesting Ephemera Society at https://www.ephemerasociety.org
Early detail about CF Blanke Coffee found at The Industries of St Louis; John Leonard; JM Elstner Publishing, St Louis MO; 1887