Glenn’s Cafe Neon
In 1999 this neon sign advertising Glenn’s Café was still firmly attached to the southeast corner of the Ballenger Building on the corner of Ninth and Cherry. For some reason I wasn’t as fascinated by this sign as I was by the neon on the Peking restaurant, so I really don’t have any photos of this from earlier than 1999. Below the sign Is the piece of graffiti that was also there for years before I photographed it, the white-painted bricks, the barred basement window opening to the sidewalk, the tree that cast a fantastic shadow in the long rays of autumn sun and in the less distinct light of a streetlamp on the other side of Cherry, and the second story windows above the sign. In one of these groups of paired windows the viewer can faintly discern the painted signage of The Missouri Press Clipping Bureau.
I remember becoming interested in documenting this corner of Columbia in late 1999 and early 2000, but it was hard to find a night without parked cars blocking the view. This image was taken in late December 1999, during winter break, when downtown was a little less busy and the two or three parking spots on this stretch of Cherry Street were unoccupied. I have encountered several theories regarding the correct nomenclature for this beautiful corner building…the Troxell Building, the Ballenger Building, the J. Louis Crum Building, and the Paramount Building. My usage of Ballenger comes from research performed by architectural historian Deb Sheals. The G.F. Troxell Furniture Store was the first tenant after construction in 1892, but for me the most interesting and enigmatic tenant to ever occupy this corner of downtown Columbia was Rene Butel, a distiller and candymaker from France who emigrated to the United States.
We know that Mr. Butel was born in Paris in 1844, spent some time perfecting his trade in New York City, with a focus on licorice making, and then owned a business in Toledo, Ohio where he worked as a distiller. I have found research suggesting that Mr. Butel owned a business in St. Louis with his wife Celina; Rene making and selling confections, and Celina selling perfume and boutique items for women. By 1877 Mr. Butel was running a soda bottling operation on this site, utilizing the free-flowing spring waters on site to create and bottle a range of ginger ales, birch beers, and champagne ciders. Rene Butel died in 1904 and is buried in St. Louis’s Calvary Cemetery. Research on Rene Butel and his Columbia-based bottling concern is hard to find, and I have never encountered any city directory listings, newspaper items, or advertisements for his business. In 2003 a renovation was started on this building that has yielded a historically accurate and architecturally relevant corner of downtown Columbia.