- Associated Press - Friday, September 15, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Passersby walking up and down Historic Cherokee Antique Row often stop to peer in the large storefront windows of Bob and Barbara Nelson’s home, or, gazing into the lush courtyard alongside the building, pause to ask if they are open for lunch. This is no antiques shop or sidewalk café, however.

It’s the Nelsons’ residence, private museum and the base for their nonprofit, St. Louis City Kitties, which assists local caregivers in crisis to adequately provide for the cats in their care.

The brick building was built around 1906 by local businessman Joseph Schilly to operate as a haberdashery with a four-bedroom apartment upstairs for his large family. Over the years, it’s housed several other businesses, including a long stint as a popular tavern called the Messler Family Bar.

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The antique bar that was once its centerpiece is now the main bar at Blueberry Hill.

Later, the space appropriately became an antiques shop and still was in 2000, when the Nelsons stumbled upon it while passing through St. Louis en route from a vacation in Florida to their home in St. Paul, Minn. They were perusing antiques in the neighborhood when Bob was drawn to the shop’s original tin ceiling and quickly discovered the building was for sale. An avid collector of antiques including rare Wurlitzer jukeboxes from the 1940s and 1950s, Coca-Cola memorabilia and framed pin-up art from the 1920s and 1930s, Bob thought the storefront would make the perfect “museum” in which to display his vast collections.

The Nelsons purchased the building and began the move from St. Paul. At the time they moved, the upstairs apartment had long been vacant and was in need of a complete overhaul. “We slept there with no heat for the first year,” Bob says. The couple lived in one room, partitioned off with plastic, while they lovingly restored the apartment to suit their needs. The entire renovation process took eight years, but the results display their incredible attention to detail.

The Nelsons opened things up and shifted walls around to turn the once-four-bedroom apartment into a spacious one-bedroom, one-bathroom home. Bob’s collection of charcoal pin-up art by renowned artist Rolf Armstrong lines the walls of the elegant wood staircase leading to the apartment. Beautifully restored Missouri oak floors throughout were salvaged from the St. Aloysius convent on the Hill when it was torn down. Bob installed stately crown molding throughout the antique-filled rooms. Even the doorknobs are special - each one a matching Eastlake model from the 1800s.

The only more modern space in the home is the bright and open kitchen, which boasts a large center island, an enormous Viking chef’s stove with a hammered copper backsplash and a small sitting area with a fireplace and one of the colorful Wurlitzers tucked into a corner. Barbara notes that it was designed with easy accessibility to lower cabinets and oversized drawers for aging in place. The Nelsons plan to stay in the apartment as long as possible and will eventually install an elevator when the stairs become too much.

The first-floor storefront is filled with Bob’s and Barbara’s antiques collections - carefully curated and displayed for guests to take in. Mini-collections include a shelf of antique toasters and waffle irons, Frankart ashtrays and 1950s glazed pottery dishware. It is recognized and listed by the city of St. Louis as a “private museum,” open to curious friends who are invited in by the couple and occasionally rented out for small events as a way to raise funds for St. Louis City Kitties.

Barbara told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the best part of the unique home, however, is the neighborhood and sense of community they have found living here over the past 17 years. Barbara says they’d never live anywhere else.

“It’s nice to have good neighbors close by to help out when you need them.”


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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