Old fruit-packing warehouse needs some TLC, owner says

The building was built in 1907 “to pack fruit,” says Bert Whittenberg, owner of Whittenberg West Construction Services.

His company is remodeling an old warehouse on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Pitkin Avenue, for a St. Louis company, RNY and RK Merlin. For now, plans are to spruce up the first floor and lure investors with architectural renderings of what the building could be transformed into.

“The building can be purchased for about $800,000,” Whittenberg said while giving an impromptu tour of the 102-year-old structure Tuesday.

It’s not much of a looker on the inside at the moment. But with a little work, about a million dollars worth of remodeling, Whittenberg said, “The value then would probably be $3 million.”

Even in the midst of a historic slowdown in the economy, Whittenberg’s employer is willing to take the risk and start some renovations. He said the space could be filled with anything from office workers in cubicles to artists in studios.

He is content to have “tenants or buyers, whichever way it works out,” he said.

Mesa Supply, which distributed soaps and supplies, was one of the former tenants of the building, he said. “And they sold it to us about two years ago,” he said.

The basement’s walls are covered with graffiti, dust has settled everywhere, the floor boards and staircases creak, and the dim lighting creates eerie shadows that seem to follow your every move.

But there are many architectural nuances throughout the building that Whittenberg said he wants to highlight. The basement’s walls are 3 feet thick. They are made of river rock and concrete, he said.

A loading dock on the east side of the building will be removed, and seven hidden arches, made of brick, will be revealed. On the west side, seven more arches are hidden.

The two arches in the front of the building, facing Pitkin Avenue, have been painted a dull beige, red and green.

A clearstory — a raised, elevated area in the center of the building — will have windows added to allow light to stream into the heart of the building. A grand staircase might also be spiraled through its center, Whittenberg said.

Unquestionably, Whittenberg is somewhat biased, but he says the old warehouse is something worth saving.

“There’s a lot of tearing down going on these days. I don’t think the dirt is worth that much,” he said. “I mean, if you have a historic building, they are worth restoring.”


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