Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lemp Junque

When we moved into 2115 Ann one of the things we noticed was the hole in the living room wall where a heat register was missing. A matching register adorns the dining room. It's of an unusual design. The heat duct is a hole about a foot square at the base of the wall. This hole requires a register with a frame shaped like a narrow right triangle that sits on the floor and holds a decorative grate that covers the vent. We did not notice the one missing in the living room during our inspections of the house probably because it was covered by furniture. Not a real big deal, but where would we find such an object? Our helpful real estate agent, Chuck, told us we might be able to get a suitable replacement on Cherokee Street.

We already knew that Cherokee St. is a near-by small shopping district consisting of several blocks of antique stores. Merry seemed to welcome the opportunity to seek this obscure object. Over the next few weeks she made several forays to Cherokee St., but no luck. She did get a tantalizing lead, however. She was told at the east end of Cherokee St. a guy operates a shop specializing in antique fixtures out of the abandoned Lemp Brewery. He has occasional hours. You can only tell he's there if a bicycle with a sign is chained out front. Merry drove by, but no bicycle, then found out he is only there on weekends.

Last Sunday we decided to try again. The brewery complex is huge, covering several city blocks. On one corner, next to the Interstate, chained to a light post was a beaten-up green antique bicycle with a small sign - “Junque.” All the windows in that area of the brewery are boarded up, the doors secured with rusty chains. There appears to be no way in. We walked along one side of the complex and looked down the next street. Part way down the block is another old bike chained to a post.

There is a gated truck entrance next to the second bike. The gate is ajar. Inside a passageway leads under interconnected brick archways to a freight dock and an open courtyard. Old machinery, giant gears, lumber and assorted tools are spread around this area. The disused freight dock is littered with an impressive assortment of wood working tools. As we wander through we can hear a small engine roaring. I spot a go-cart looping around the dirt courtyard between the boarded up buildings. Three men in work clothes are deep in conversation behind the dock. As we approach a tall thin man welcomes us to go inside and take a look around. We climb steps behind the dock and step inside.

We are in a cluttered warehouse space. We see more construction equipment and work benches, then dozens and dozens of bins, shelves, cupboards, drawers, salvage. Amazingly, it's all very well organized. A bin of broken black marble here, white marble there, terra cotta roof tiles in the corner – on and on. The proprietor finds us before we wander too far.

Merry describes our missing heat grate. He puzzles for a second walking deeper into the room. He mutters something about frames, grates and Chicago, I think. We come to a shelf covered by heat grates. He reaches into the heap and pulls out the exact thing we are looking for. He shows us the other grates in the stack. There is only one that looks like what we want. $25 is the price. We take it.

He leaves us to wander the room. There is an incredible assortment of building material everywhere. Mantle pieces, picture frames, mirrors, fire screens, hooks, pipes, wooden nickels, you name it. A small sign proclaims a 10% discount for materials to be used as public art. We explore for awhile.

It's exciting. An organized resource of ancient treasure. I woman appears and enquires whether we need any help. It turns out she's a friend of the owner sent to make sure we were alright. She tells us about the restaurant she's just opened that crosses an ice cream parlor with a martini bar. We discuss where in upstate NY her daughter, who wants to be a writer, should go to college. A few more people wander in. It's a contractor leading his clients on an expedition. They live in our neighborhood and are rehabbing a house. We acquire the contractor's card. The owner returns and we pay.

Back on the street the place seems like a hallucination. At home, the grill is an exact match.

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