Suspicious Fires Week: The Old Bowling Ball Factory, Jennings

“Fire at an old bowling ball factory on Xograph Avenue in Jennings?”

I knew when I heard about this strange occurrence, and how the St. Louis Fire Department had to join their colleagues in the County to help extinguish the flames on Thursday (which later reignited on Friday), I had to go check out this building.

Inherited by the City of Jennings, the building was originally a warehouse for Eastman Kodak, hence the name of the street in front of it, Xograph Avenue (pronounced X-O-Graph), which is a type of 3-D photograph. It then became a bowling ball factory. It has been vacant since at least 2018, and there were hazardous materials stored in barrels which caused the fire departments to warn neighbors in the nearby residential area to stay indoors with their windows and doors closed. Jennings is often associated with the post-World War II explosion in suburbia, but it was actually a community well before then, and this factory looks to have been built around the year 1900.

While I examined the burnt out hulk from the public right-of-way, a woman poked her head out of the window of a nearby house. I had a conversation with her, and learned her name was Connie and been living in the house for thirty years.

She told me the building had long been inhabited by squatters, and that most likely one of them had started the fire. She also told me how unsettling and fearful she was living next to such a large abandoned building that was not properly secured for so long.

For her, and many others in lower income communities, her house, which she said is paid for, is the one asset she wants to pass on to her children, so in her words, they can be self-sufficient and not have to live off government assistance. We worried about how a bombed out hulk of a factory with potentially hazardous chemicals could affect her ability to pass on her home–her asset–to her children.

I see little reason from a historical or cultural perspective to let this old factory to remain standing, and it should be completely demolished after the site has been environmentally remediated–something the federal government will do for free.

There is abandonment creeping in around the factory. I stayed for only a little while because the air was still nasty from the fire. I have no idea what was stored in the building, but it needs to be cleaned up. Jennings must act quickly; you own it, you deal with it.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Debra Rheinlander Miller says:

    Here’s a Facebook link to an old photo and history of what had formerly been a large industrial complex built around ~1875:

    What a great and ultimately long sad story for the community. While in town in 2018 for the class of ’78 reunion, I drove around Jennings by myself, got permission to wander around inside Jennings High School while school was in session, took photos of places my family lived, the dead mall sites, and old haunts like Velvet Freeze. I posted my shot of the building on X-Ograph in the comments section of the link. At that time, Visionary Bowling Products’ now defunct website was still active.

    1. cnaffziger says:

      Wow, great old photo! Thanks for sharing, and also for your memories.

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