Vacant Marmon Automobile Dealership
More Automobile Company - Marmon Autos, St. Louis Missouri
Built for the More Automobile Company, according to the design by St. Louis architect Francis C. Cornet, the building was completed in 1920. As is characteristic of many of the early automotive businesses in St. Louis, the More Automobile Company had started in a much smaller commercial storefront in 1914. Within five years, it could afford to commission a larger, four-story, corner commercial building at 2801 Locust. The new building had an entire first-floor showroom, ideal for displaying Marmon automobiles, and room for storage of the cars on the upper floors. The More Automobile Company remained in the building through 1928. The company closed its doors even before the economic depression that hit in 1929, unable to compete in a changing automotive industry.
Subsequently, the building became the home for other automotive businesses struggling throughout the Depression and World War II, before ending the building's historic association with the automobile. In 1928, the Mississippi Valley Motor Company, a distributor of Oakland and Pontiac Automobiles, moved into the building, remaining through 1934 when the building became vacant. The next known tenant was W. B. Denard, Inc., a small automotive dealership that moved into the building in 1940. In 1944, W. B. Denard, Inc., was replaced by the U.S. Rubber Company, the Federal Rubber Company, and the Fisk Tires Division of the U.S. Rubber Company. By 1946, the U. S. Rubber Company was the only occupant of the building and it was replaced by the Puro Company, Inc., a chemical manufacturer, the Clean Home Products Company, the Leffingwell Realty Company, the Sterling Company, Inc., and Puro Greetings, Inc., sometime before 1955. All of these businesses were still in the building into the 1960s. Until the Puro company moved into the building, all of the tenants that followed the More Automobile Company were in the automotive business, a usage common along the "Automotive Row" based on Locust. The large display windows and car-sized freight elevators were also important for the smaller dealerships that replaced the More Automobile Company and later for the automotive related retails companies (in this case tire companies) that replaced those dealers as they moved or went out of business.
The More Automobile Company formed in early 1914 and was housed in a small, two-story commercial building at 3005-3007 Locust, just two blocks west of the More Automobile Company Building. It had assumed the Marmon dealership from the previous building occupant, which had been there since its construction in 1912. The More Automobile Company, became the exclusive St. Louis regional distributor of Marmon automobiles, including the Marmon 34, "a scientifically constructed light weight car" that epitomized "Advanced Engineering-Stabilized Design." The More Automobile Company served as the exclusive regional dealer for Nordyke, Marmon and Company, selling the manufacturer's automobiles, the line of which was known as "Marmon" automobiles. The More Automobile Company had quick success and just five years after its formation, in 1919, the company began construction of its new automotive distributorship to sell the Marmon line of automobiles from the new location at 2801-2805 Locust, in the heart of the Locust "Automotive Row." The row extended more than a mile along Locust Street from six blocks east of Jefferson west nearly to Grand Avenue.
The More Automobile Company's fortunes paralleled the history of Nordyke, Marmon and Company, for which it distributed cars. After an impressive period of growth at the start of the company's history, characterized by the More Automobile Company's move into its custom-built building at 2801-2805 Locust, the company quickly found a limit to its success. By 1927 the company was in serious financial trouble and did not survive more than another year. By 1929, the former president of the More Automobile Company, John T. Salisbury, had started Salisbury Motors, Inc. to distribute Marmon Automobiles for Nordyke, Marmon and Company while the More Auto Company was no longer in business. By 1933, Nordyke, Marmon and Company itself was out of business.
Nordyke, Marmon and Company
Nordyke, Marmon and Company was formed as a partnership between Ellis Nordyke and his son, Addison, in 1851 to manufacture and build flour mills under the name E. & A. H. Nordyke. Not long after the company was formed, a young boy by the name of Daniel Marmon began hanging around the Nordyke plant, where he demonstrated an interest in machinery and mechanics while helping the industrialist uncle who raised him. The uncle's businesses included a sawmill, a small furniture manufacturing firm, and pumps. After Marmon graduated from Earlham College in 1865, Nordyke offered to make him an equal partner in the company. Over the next twenty-five years the company became a major manufacturer of milling machinery. Marmon's son, Howard, began to spend a lot of time at the plant experimenting with mechanical devices; he then joined the company in 1899. By 1902, Howard had built his first experimental car after being disappointed in the durability and dependability of a car he had purchased. A second car he built was so popular with his friends that they encouraged him to build six more. The popularity of these cars convinced Marmon of the potential for his design and by 1905 Nordyke, Marmon and Company had put the car into commercial production as the Marmon automobile.
The Marmon automobile was a quick success, based on its durability, dependability, smooth ride, and luxurious design. In the company's second year as a car manufacturer, its product won the 1906 Gilded Tour and was the only car to complete the race without needing a single replacement or repair. A Marmon car was also the first to win the 500 Mile Sweepstakes on May 30th, 1911 at an average speed of 74.61 miles per hour. Like its performance in the Gilded Tour five years before, a large factor in the Marmon's victory was the fact the driver never had to stop for repairs during the race and did not carry a riding mechanic, as the other cars were forced to do. The victory is even more impressive because the 500 Mile Sweepstakes, run just outside of Indianapolis, was the first running of the race now known as the Indianapolis 500. As early as 1905, there were already claims from people who had driven Marmon cars over 8000 miles without repair.
The Marmon found success not only because of its reliability, durability, and dependability, but also because it was a luxurious car that was a joy to drive and a status symbol. The Marmon advertising emphasized the smooth ride of the cars, as well as the safety and comfortable handling. This is amply demonstrated in an advertisement for the wire wheels the Marmon 34 used in place of wood. The advertisement described the weight differential between the two types of wheels and the effect it had on the ride and handling, and touted the increased safety and durability of an easier handling car. Marmon was also able to promote itself as a luxurious car through the celebrity endorsements of many of the luminaries of the day. Marmons were owned by Warren Harding, Vernon Castle, Franklin Roosevelt (before he was president), and F. B. Rentschler (the president of the Wright Aeronautical Corporation), several European heads of state, and even Henry Ford before Ford acquired the Lincoln brand. Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, wrote to a friend to tell her what they used the $50,000 Fitzgerald earned selling his first book, a list that included:
Nordyke, Marmon, and Company was even endorsed by Helen Keller who wrote:
Despite the endorsements the car received and the luxury it offered, the Marmon could not compete with the other car makers once the Great Depression started, despite being one of the first companies to offer "sunshine roofs," an adjustable steering wheel, adjustable seats, electric signals and a total of more than thirty-two body designs. By 1930, Marmon was losing ground to other luxury car manufacturers, in part because of bad business decisions, such as delaying the production of a sixteen-cylinder car only to see Cadillac come out with one first, and to huge success. The combination of the Great Depression and successful competitors led Nordyke, Marmon and Company to the same fate as many of the early car manufacturers; the company could not survive the Great Depression and went out of business in 1933, although the Marmon-Herrington Company, founded in 1931 as the truck division, remained in operation until 1964.
Built in 1920, the More Automobile Company Building, located at 2801 Locust, in St. Louis, Missouri, is a four-story (plus basement), brick curtain wall, concrete framed, flat-roofed, automotive distributorship building. It is located on the northwest corner of Locust and Leffingwell, with the main entry facing Locust. It dominates this section of Locust, which is generally characterized by one and two-story commercial buildings, mostly designed for other early automotive-related businesses. Its design referenced the Classical Revival style with its limestone pilasters and entablatures, which was a popular choice in the early twentieth century for imposing commercial and institutional buildings, a psychological ploy denoting stability and grandeur that the More Automobile Company used to help identify their company and the Marmon automobile.
Classical Revival features can be seen in the symmetry of the design and in the limestone detailing, including the entablatures that cap both street elevation parapets and separate the storefront level from the red brick upper levels of these two facades. In addition, limestone pilasters reference the colonnaded appearance identified with Classical Revival designs and separate the bays of display windows on both street facades. Even so, the 90 x 120 foot, four story, industrial building is a large automotive distributorship with a fireproof skeletal frame of poured concrete floorplates, beams, and square columns that is five bays wide along the front (Locust) and seven bays deep along Leffingwell.
The upper levels of both street facades appear to be identical, with red brick curtain walls punctuated by the paired, eight-over-two wood framed, pivot windows that have a dressed limestone sill and a soldier course lintel. The two elevations are capped by the limestone entablature at the parapet. An additional limestone entablature separates the upper levels from the street level of both facades, but slight variations distinguish the primary facade (Locust) from the Leffingwell elevation.
The Locust elevation is divided into five bays by the limestone pilasters resting on plinth blocks. The central bay is divided in half by a simpler limestone pilaster strip with entry doors on either side and display windows on either side of the entry. Each large display window historically consisted of a pair of plate glass panels, framed in wood with a brass muntin and capped by a three part, wood framed transom and extended close to the floor, making it ideal to display automobiles. The display plate glass panels have been replaced as part of the current historic rehabilitation project, utilizing insulated glass and adding secondary interior muntins for support. Each panel of the transom is divided by wooden muntins into eight lights, with the upper lights having round arched tops. Below the display windows is a limestone kickplate. The Leffingwell or east elevation is similarly designed, with matching window patterns, except that it has seven bays. The land slopes downhill to the north, gradually exposing more of the basement level windows, which are designed similar to the upper-level sashes.
The west elevation is a common, red brick wall (which has been painted) with only two small man doors near the middle of the wall and two loading dock entries at the back. Above these loading dock entries are steel, three-over-three, double-hung, sashed windows. The man door entry and its hipped roof canopy were added recently to the north of the loading dock entries, as were the new loading dock steel coil doors. The alley (north) elevation has a rusticated limestone foundation with a ramp leading into the basement at the east corner and a smaller freight door near the west end. Along each upper floor level, it also has the same wood pivot windows as the street elevations. On the roof are two brick, elevator penthouses, at the north end of the building.
Interior features are kept simple with the most distinctive treatment on the first floor, which served as offices and showroom space. Unlike most other distributorships of this era along Locust, the display showroom spanned the entire length of both street elevations. The front office/showroom area had been modified with dropped ceilings and partition walls, but these have recently been removed and the majority of this level still retains its original, exposed concrete beams and columns, and the original porcelain tile showroom floor. At the back is an automobile-sized freight elevator and the footprint of where a second elevator was, the two original metal and concrete stairways with square newel posts and metal balustrades, and two small mezzanine offices, divided so that the space could be split for two tenants. Although there are some new partition walls to the rear, the original automotive showroom along the display windows has been returned to its historic dimensions.
The upper levels and basement were all open, without interior partitions, except for the stairwells and elevator shafts. Some partition walls have been added on the upper floors, but it still retains large open spaces. A grid of square, concrete columns, matching the bay divisions on the exterior and supporting the massive concrete beams is the most distinctive interior feature. Other distinctive features include the poured concrete ceilings/floors, the freight elevators, and the exposed brick walls.