In this episode we resume piecing together the mystical story of a four story building at 2345 Lafayette Avenue. Here, we take a walk in faith along an assortment of entrepreneurial pathways to Heaven, when the instruments of salvation chose to land at the St Louis House and gathered up wool from the local flock.
As early as 1931, The German House was utilized by various church groups for meetings, fund raisers and services.
The current owner of the building at 2345 Lafayette Avenue is the Church Of Scientology. In 2007, they bought it from the Gateway Temple church that had acquired it in 1972. During a phase in which Scientology was expanding, they desired more space than they had in their University City location. It was an interesting choice from a historical perspective, as L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, had delivered a speech on Dianetics from the stage at the St Louis House back in 1950. Earlier that year his book, Dianetics: The Modern Science Of Mental Health was published and he was touring to promote both the book and the new Dianetics Foundation he created. When that venture went bankrupt two years later, Hubbard lost the rights to his book. He took the novel approach of recasting his theories as a religion and first introduced the Church of Scientology in 1952.
Hubbard was in the vanguard of a long line of preachers who thundered from a pulpit at the St Louis House. In 1957, J. Charles Jessup held three services, returning again in 1961 after two weeks of “fasting and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane”. Jessup began preaching at age 12, and was a fixture on the Mexican border radio. “One could hear Jessup beg for money all the way to Wisconsin on a good night.” Although he didn’t preach on the point, he admitted to friends that he was also sexually insatiable, as evidenced by his marriage to a 15 year-old girl while coincidentally married to his wife. He siphoned the donations of the faithful into yet another compulsion; one to betting on cockfighting. He was eventually convicted of mail fraud and sent to prison in 1968.
Dr.Thomas Wyatt, of the Wings Of Healing ministry was another radio evangelist. He worked hard and eventually received coast to coast coverage on the Mutual Radio Network in 1953. Deafness, paralysis, mysterious internal maladies – Wyatt could cure them with faith and skilled exhortations. He became the face of the Latter Rain movement, which recruited teams of two to go forth and spread the healing word of God. Wyatt travelled internationally, demonstrating his miraculous touch. His grandson carries on to this day with Wings of Healing, at http://www.thomasrwyatt.org
The Reverend Bill Beeny found space for his St.
Louis Baptist Temple at St Louis House in 1961. By then he had run a radio ministry from Alton, Illinois for 13 years, and developed a 30 station network. He used his reach to discuss not only the Lord, but to rail against Communism and its influence in American universities. He also used the airwaves to discuss his opposition to racial integration. For contributions of $10.00, Beeny would send listeners a copy of J. Edgar Hoover’s book “Masters of Deceit”. He founded the Missouri Youth Ranch near Wright City, giving underprivileged children a week’s vacation at the ranch. Despite bringing in $13,000 per week from donations, he was compromised by overdue debts from efforts to begin broadcasting from Mexico, and other side projects he had issued bonds to finance. For a $25.00 donation he offered listeners a “riot pack”, containing a stove, five fuel cans, a rescue gun, radio, and the Defender, a weapon that discouraged attackers by covering them in blue dye. In the 1960’s, he began the Counterrevolutionary Organization on Salvation and Service, essentially a home defense league formed to prepare for civil rights related uprisings. Relocating to Wright City in 1969, he started the Elvis Is Alive museum in 1992.
And lesser lights in the darkness came and ministered to the people from the St Louis House stage, ready to attend to everyone’s needs. Glen Thompson in 1961, Faye Spencer in 1966,
and an appearance in 1981 by my personal favorites, Slim and Zella Mae Cox, who were mainstays in Reverend Larry Rice’s programming on KNLC TV.
Good folks, with a sense of humor that served them well, they ran a furniture store on Chippewa Street for years. Here’s an ad for and from them, from 2011:
Slim met and married Zella Mae back when they were sharecroppers picking cotton in Arkansas in 1948. He had to borrow $12.50 to marry her. Michael Sworkin wrote in the Post Dispatch that $2.50 went toward the marriage license, $1.50 toward new shoes for Zella Mae, and the rest for two bus tickets to St Louis. The pair eventually sang at the Grand Ol’ Opry, alongside George Jones and Roy Acuff. They recorded 13 albums and 200 songs, and never let a moment of it go to their heads.
The German House has sat empty for the past 12 years, as the fortunes of Scientology have dimmed a bit. I like to think that if you put your ear to the bricks, you might still catch reverberations of the brimstone and redemption and good gospel music from its revival days. Maybe something more like Detroit’s Grammy Award winning Winans, who entertained in the Gateway Temple days of 1991.
Thanks to research sources, including:
Jim Linderman wrote about Charles Jessup in Paraphilia magazine; http://www.paraphiliamagazine.com/periodical/charles-jessup-radio-preacher-and-cock-fighter/
Miracle Man by Peter J Boyle in New Yorker; April 12 1999 is an excellent overview of Jessup. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1999/04/12/miracle-man-2
Border Radio; Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford; 2002 University of Texas Press
St Louis Post Dispatch; Michael D Sworkin; October 20 2014; https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/obituaries/famed-gospel-singer-and-furniture-saleswoman-zella-mae-cox-dies/article_e03711bc-7284-5909-a4f8-ffeb1cdda0fc.html