What's the story behind the Landau Grocery Co. in Belleville?

News-DemocratJune 23, 2014 

Q. There is a two-story brick building on West B Street across from McTeel Street (or alley, if you will) in Belleville. Painted on the side facing West B is "Landau Grocery Co. Wholesale Only." Can you tell me its history?

-- Joe Weir, of Belleville

A. Louis Landau made front-page headlines on April 18, 1916, when the Belleville Daily Advocate announced that Landau's St. Louis-based grocery company would add a wholesale branch in Belleville.

Landau, the company president, said the Belleville Commercial Club had "induced" him to establish a "first-rate and up-to-date" warehouse. So he signed a contract with Hoeffken Bros. Construction Co. to erect a "strictly fireproof" building at what was then listed at 216 W. B St.

Landau, who had lived in Lebanon and was a McKendree College grad, said he was lured by Belleville's cheap rents, so he signed a 10-year lease with an option to buy. The warehouse would open in mid-summer.

For the next 15 years, Landau supplied grocers with customer favorites -- with a few hiccups. See if this sounds familiar 100 years later: In the early hours of April Fools' Day, 1922, thieves pulled up to the rear of the building, smashed a window and swiped nearly $1,300 of Camel and Piedmont cigarettes, Juicy Fruit and Clown gum and six large sacks of sugar.

As it turned out, police found most of the loot in a shed at Jack Williams' home in Venice. Williams had stolen a 1920 Buick from Elmer Howe on West Harrison Street in Belleville and then ditched the car in East St. Louis after unloading the pilfered goods. More notable robberies would follow in 1923 and 1924.

But the thefts apparently had nothing to do with the closure of the warehouse on March 31, 1931. With the Depression deepening, the Landau company announced that it would be more practical, efficient and economical to service its grocery customers from its central St. Louis location.

After sitting idle for several years, the building became the home of Bodega Wine and Liquors from about 1945 to the early '60s. It then sat in the midst of the Hoeffken Bros. Construction Co. complex and now belongs to the restoration experts at Genco Construction (gogenco.com) at 212 W. B. The one-block-long McTeel Avenue, by the way, didn't show up in city directories until about 1955.

Q. Who is the longest tenured on-air person in St. Louis television news? I'm guessing Betsey Bruce.

-- B.T., of Swansea

A. Thanks for helping me realize that I'm not the oldest thing going in St. Louis media circles just yet.

I celebrated my 40th anniversary here (full time) earlier this month, but you're absolutely right: Betsey still makes me look like a rookie. (Well, it's nice to think that, at least.)

In the early '60s, Bruce was writing stories about her junior high school for the Tonawanda (N.Y.) News. Then, after graduating from my alma mater (University of Missouri at Columbia), she landed a job at KMOX-TV (now KMOV) in 1971 and has been here ever since. She joined KTVI in 1989 and won the national 1994 Clarion Award from Women in Communications for her report on the St. Louis County Special School District.

"From the Flood of '93 to the pope's visit, from presidential nominating conventions to stories of personal adversity and courage, TV news reporting gives me a front row seat for history in the making," she writes on her fox2now.com bio page.

If you're looking for a station steeped with veterans, it's KTVI/KPLR where so many have gravitated to. See if these names don't bring back lots of memories: Tom O'Neal, who started on KSD in 1974; Dave Murray (KSD, 1977); Dan Gray (KSDK, 1979); Elliot Davis (KTVI, 1980); Paul Schankman (KTVI, 1983); Roche Madden (KTVI, 1985); and Belleville's own John Pertzborn (KSDK, 1986).

Other old-timers include KMOV's Robin Smith, who worked at KTVI in 1973 and KSDK vets Art Holliday (1979) and Mike Bush (1985). And, although he is gone, I should mention Larry Conners, who started at KMOX in 1976.

And as some other news veteran used to say, that's the way it is. Thanks as always to my friend Frank Absher for his excellent St. Louis media history site at www.stlmediahistory.org.

Today's trivia

What Broadway musical eventually was staged by a labor union in the 1930s?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: After attending Fullerton Junior College from 1931-1933, Thelma Catherine Ryan tried her luck in Hollywood and wound up as an uncredited extra in four films in the mid-'30s, including as a Ziegfeld girl in "The Great Ziegfeld." She, of course, became better known in 1969 as first lady Pat Nixon.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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