The Bohm Building stands sentinel at Main Street and Route 66 - Edwardsville Route 66 History #3

Here's #3 in the series of Edwardsville Route 66 history! This originally ran in the October 2012 issue of The Prairie Land Buzz. (Note that three of the businesses listed below in the original article - Township Grocer, EuroFresh Farms, and Ursch Clock Repair - have closed in this location since this article was published. Something new is afoot in the space next to Cleveland-Heath.) Enjoy!

"The Bohm Building Stands Sentinel at Main Street and Route 66 in Edwardsville"

Route 66 travelers driving through Edwardsville undoubtedly regarded the three-story brick Bohm Building as a landmark at the intersection of Route 66/Vandalia Street and Main Street. But in addition to serving as a marker, “Edwardsville's first office building” offered a variety of services and merchandise needed by the resident and the traveler alike.

The building was constructed in 1911 by William H. Bohm, who was born on a farm near Maryville in 1857. He began acquiring farm land of his own at an early age. As Edwardsville's need for an office building grew, Bohm saw an opportunity to invest in a different kind of real estate. He purchased the property and replaced the frame buildings on it with the handsome red-brick building that still graces the corner. The plans and elevations were drawn by architect George H. Kennerly of St. Louis. Several retail store fronts on the first floor faced Main Street, while the others faced Vandalia Street – the eventual Route 66. The second floor contained about 20 office rooms, and the third floor was designed as an entertainment space. The Bohm Building was considered to be one of the finest and most well-equipped buildings in Edwardsville at the time. Steam heat, electric light, and city water were installed throughout.

In 1926, when Route 66 began to carry a steady stream of traffic through Edwardsville, motorists joined residents in patronizing a line-up of food and beverage choices on the first floor of the Bohm. Groceries, meats, or produce could be purchased from Emil Eberhart's grocery, the Edwardsville Co-Operative Company Grocers, or the Edwardsville Commission Company. Robert Leuschke satisfied a sweet tooth from his bakery and Ben Wood served soft drinks in an era that had turned his corner saloon into a confectionery.

In 1929, the bakery was taken over by the Gerbig family, who renamed it the Sally Ann Bakery and kept it going until the late 1970s. Ben Wood's establishment was briefly succeeded by Alf Abbe's Sandwich Shop before becoming a succession of pharmacies. Delicate Drug Company and then Ballweg's Pharmacy occupied the corner during the 1930s. Around 1940, May's Cut Rate Drug moved in and stayed until the early 1960s. The drug store lunch counter became the place to be for “tasty sandwiches and lunches,” local gossip, and travel directions. Several bus lines used the corner for passenger pickup and drop off, including DeLuxe Motor States, Greyhound Lines, and DeLuxe Trailways.

The drug store lunch counter acquired some competition in the mid 1940s when Frank J. Wolf opened Wolf's Cafe in the former Eberhart Grocery space. A couple years later that became the Edwardsville Cafe, which lasted under various management for twenty years. Early ads for the Edwardsville Cafe boasted, “Our chicken dinners are worth crowing about.” In 1963, the cafe offered “steak, chops, chicken, sea foods, sandwiches, short orders, complete breakfast, carry out orders.”

Clarence Bohm, the youngest of 11 children born to William H. and Emma Bohm, recognized early on that his talent and his love was dance, although his mother considered it a vice. His lifelong affinity was cemented when he saw legendary ballroom dancers Veloz and Yolanda perform at the Kiel Opera House. Clarence opened his dance studio in the Bohm in 1948, and from then until the late 1960s, dance music surely wafted out the windows of the second-floor dance studio and third-floor ballroom as he taught a steady stream of Edwardsville citizens how to dance. Edwardsville's ballroom dance king taught large groups, private lessons, and performed “exhibition” dancing at various events and venues, including the S.S. Admiral excursion boat at St. Louis.

Flash forward to the year 2000. Andrew Schlueter, an Edwardsville native, and his wife Gloria, a Chicago girl with a statue business who was born into a family of artists, realized that they could run their company online from anywhere they liked. Edwardsville was the natural choice. They moved into a historic house close to downtown and operated from there. As their business grew, the need for a separate location grew as well. About that time, an auction was held to sell Bohm family property. The Schlueters purchased a “Bohm barn” and all its contents. Then, as Andrew would say, “the universe was in perfect harmony” and the opportunity arose to purchase the Bohm Building. The statue business had found a new home and the Schlueters had a new project.

We tore out the remuddling and restored it. We tried to do it artistically,” Andrew tells me as we sit in Statue.com's pleasant and light-filled second-floor offices. Andrew points out vintage wood and artifacts that came from the Bohm barn that have been integrated into the design and restoration of the Bohm Building. Their restoration work has been tastefully done, down to the Benjamin Moore historic paint colors. “The building has performed well,” Andrew says. “The Bohm Building was a strip mall.” Indeed, this building has housed a great variety of services, retail businesses, and organizations in its 100 years, including doctors, clothing stores, township offices, union headquarters, plumbers, barber and beauty shops, and a violin studio. Some businesses counted their tenancy in decades instead of years. Long-running tenants included Alexander's Edwardsville Shoe Service, architect M. B. Kane, and the Madison County Chapter of the Red Cross.

The building's current longest-running tenant at 11 years is Sherrie Hickman of Creative Options Graphic Design, the first business to move in after the Schlueters purchased the building. “The building has a tremendous amount of character. It attracts a nice group of tenants and the location is fantastic,” Sherrie tells me as I admire her light and airy second-floor rooms accented with contemporary furnishings. Various other service businesses occupy the second floor.

Six tenants currently occupy the first floor. The Township Grocer is a retail specialty market that offers wines, cheeses, fresh eggs, organic chicken, grass-fed beef, and a great space with a historic ambiance to rent for private parties. The Evermore Gallery offers tattoos and piercings; “they are true artists,” another business owner commented. EuroFresh Farms is the Edwardsville presence of an award-winning year-round greenhouse grower of tomatoes and other vegetables. Ursch Clock Repair is a well-reviewed clock and watch repair business manned by master clock repairman Timothy Ursch. Statue.com utilizes the display window of a first-floor unit while keeping their offices upstairs.

A contemporary shot of the Bohm Building. Photo by Andrew Schlueter.
A restaurant and bar occupies the largest first floor space. Jennifer Cleveland and Eric Heath opened Cleveland-Heath close to a year ago and have enjoyed the successful response to their offerings. “We didn't think [the restaurant] would warrant that much attention,” Jennifer says. “It has definitely exceeded our expectations, but it also puts pressure on us to keep it up.” The restaurant's food is lovely, with from-scratch food using local food vendors graced with excellent presentation. I don't keep Jennifer for long as this is her busy time of day, and of course I am eager to order lunch in this very pleasant room. Several years ago, the Schlueters invested in a major renovation of the space for Cleveland-Heath's predecessor, Fond, and their investment shows well. Earthy but sophisticated colors, copper accents, a gorgeous bar, and quality furnishings have created a very welcoming space. Cleveland-Heath is open Monday-Thursday 11 am – 10 pm, Friday 11 am – 11 pm, and Saturday 10 am – 11 pm. They are closed on Sunday. Jennifer and Eric both attended the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California, and honed their skills at fine restaurants in Utah and California before coming to the Metro East – Jennifer's native area. For current Route 66 travelers, Cleveland-Heath presents a relaxing and delicious option at the landmark Main Street and Route 66 intersection.

Eric Heath and Jennifer Cleveland. Photo by Cindy Reinhardt
As for the third floor of the Bohm Building, evidence of the ballroom and entertainment space that it once was is all around. A vintage sign, “The Chartreuse Room,” indicated to entertainers where their green room awaited them. A tiny ticket booth stands empty. The original stage still dominates the ballroom. Gloria Schlueter gives me the official tour of the third floor and points out the view of St. Boniface Church's steeple through the window above the stage. “One day we'll get an elevator put in,” Gloria says. In the meantime, the third-floor space has served as a private get-away for the Schlueters, inspiration for future restoration, and, to visitors like me, a charming, shabby-chic hint at the entertainments that were held here and the personalities that sparkled in the enjoyment of the evening. I have no doubt that this space will someday shine and sparkle again when the tasteful restorative hand of the Schlueters and the beneficence of the universe align.