NGA - National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

06/18/2024 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/18/2024 08:41

Buster Brown Brick Wall Included at New NGA St. Louis Campus

Buster Brown Brick Wall Included at New NGA St. Louis Campus

Buster Brown Blue Ribbon shoe factory stand-alone wall of the future NGA St. Louis campus at the midway point. Photo by NGA.

The new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency St. Louis campus includes a 12-foot-high, 82-foot-wide wall, comprised of 6,000 legacy bricks reclaimed from St. Louis' industrial past, in the future main operations building public hub.

The wall is a historical preservation initiative, incorporating St. Louis manufactured bricks from the former Buster Brown Blue Ribbon shoe factory, built in 1901 and razed in 2017, in preparation for construction of the new 97-acre NGA St. Louis campus.

"When the city [of St. Louis] turned the land over, they elected to conserve some of the brick from the Buster Brown shoe factory," Gene Morisani, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers program manager for campus construction explained. "USACE took that and put it into the requirements document to the proposers and said, 'We have these nine pallets of brick. What would you like to do with them?'"

"What's neat to me is that we got to put this into our contract - this is not something we would typically do at all - and then we get to see it come to life," said Morisani.

Brick and shoe manufacturing represent two of St. Louis' most historically significant industries and now are symbolically juxtaposed with the future of St. Louis' GEOINT industry.

Before 1870, shoemakers were primarily artisan tradespeople, requiring much training and experience.

The advent of leather working machinery in the mid-1800s eliminated requirements for skilled craftsmen in shoe manufacturing, but the need for cheap, plentiful labor increased, and St. Louis had that in abundance at the time.

By 1905, St. Louis produced one-sixth of all shoes manufactured in the United States, making it the largest shoe-manufacturing city in the U.S. at the time.

Within the industry, Buster Brown was arguably the most iconic children's shoe brand of the early 20th century, due in large part to Brown sales executive John A. Bush attaining the rights to the name and character of the Buster Brown comic strip during the 1904 World's Fair held in St. Louis.

Unlike shoe manufacturing, the St. Louis brick industry was born out of geological fortune.

Just beneath the surface of the soil surrounding the banks of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers lay rich deposits of various grades of clay, along with veins of plentiful coal used to fire that clay into high-quality brick and tile.

At the industry's peak, St. Louis brickyards produced 245 million bricks annually. Due to their high quality and weather-resistance, bricks were the preferred product for constructing homes and other buildings and paving streets.

By 1900, St. Louis was the brick-manufacturing capital of the world, shipping bricks all across the U.S. and overseas.

Whereas shoe and brick manufacturing represent St. Louis' historical prosperity and prestige, GEOINT is the present and emerging industry of choice for St. Louis.

"What you're standing in is a building that is the beginning of something new for St. Louis, in GEOINT and the entire eco-system we are trying to create here," said Morisani. "You're seeing the cornerstone project of all of it."

The history of the site around the new NGA campus is rich, reflecting the changing society and economy of the St. Louis region, said Lisa Williams, Ph.D., NGA historian.

"NGA is proud to be a part of the latest chapter in that history," she added.