Thieves Cart Off St. Louis Bricks

Malcolm Gay, New York Times, September 20, 2014

By the time Raymond Feemster awoke to the pounding of firefighters at his door, flames were already licking his shotgun-style home. The vacant house next door, which neighbors said was frequented by squatters, had burst into flames and was now threatening to engulf houses on each side.


“My neighbor’s house was completely destroyed,” said Mr. Feemster, 58. “I guess it was one of the crackheads in that vacant house.”

Perhaps. But the blaze, one of 391 fires at vacant buildings in the city over the past two years, may have had a more sinister cause. Law enforcement officials, politicians and historic preservationists here have concluded that brick thieves are often to blame, deliberately torching buildings to quicken their harvest of St. Louis brick, prized by developers throughout the South for its distinctive character.

“The firemen come and hose them down and shoot all that mortar off with the high-pressure hose,” said Alderman Samuel Moore, whose predominantly black Fourth Ward has been hit particularly hard by brick thieves. When a thief goes to pick up the bricks after a fire, “They’re just laying there nice and clean.”

It is a crime that has increased with the recession. Where thieves in many cities harvest copper, aluminum and other materials from vacant buildings, brick rustling has emerged more recently as a sort of scrapper’s endgame, exploited once the rest of a building’s architectural elements have been exhausted. “Cleveland is suffering from this,” said Royce Yeater, Midwest director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “I’ve also heard of it happening in Detroit.”

After the fire that devastated much of St. Louis in 1849, city leaders passed an ordinance requiring all new buildings to be made of noncombustible material. That law, along with the rich clays of eastern Missouri, led to a flourishing brick industry here. Historians say that at the industry’s height, around 1900, the city had more than 100 manufacturing plants, and St. Louis became known for the quality, craftsmanship and abundance of its brick.

“They love it in New Orleans and the South–wherever they’re rebuilding, they want it because it’s beautiful brick,” said Barbara Buck, who owns Century Used Brick. “It really gives the building a dimension, a fingerprint.”

Mr. Moore, who is drafting a bill that would increase the penalties for brick theft, said that while many thieves still used cables and picks to collapse a wall, arson had become the tool of choice. Thieves even set fire to wood-frame homes to create a diversion. Firefighters often knock down walls, making it easier for thieves to harvest the bricks.

“The whole block is gone–they stole the whole block,” Mr. Moore marveled as he drove his white Dodge Magnum through his ward’s motley collection of dilapidated homes and vacant lots. “They’re stealing entire buildings, buildings that belong to the city. Where else in the world do you steal an entire city building?”

There are more than 8,000 vacant buildings in St. Louis, and more than 11,000 vacant lots.

The maximum penalty for brick theft here is a $500 fine or 90 days in jail or both. The city police said there were 34 brick-related thefts in the last year.

“You see these guys with mortar dust all over them, and they’re stacking on a pallet, and they’ll say, ‘I’m just a day laborer working for that guy over there–whoa, where did he go?’ ” said Maribeth McMahon, a lawyer with the city counselor’s office. “So this poor stiff, who’s just trying to earn an hourly wage, gets a summons.”

Ms. Buck, who said thieves often arrived at her brickyard with “bricks in the trunk of a Lexus,” said she followed city ordinance and required brick vendors to produce a demolition permit to sell their bricks. A pallet of 500 goes for roughly $100, she said, but other less scrupulous buyers do not require permits.

Ms. Buck estimates that as many as eight tractor-trailer loads of stolen bricks leave the city each week for Florida, Louisiana or Texas, because “St. Louis brick is in such high demand.”



Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • It’s not just the bricks, it’s also the copper stars along the sides of such older buildings they like to steal.

    If you ask me, the very existence of a market for bricks from St. Louis and other similar cities is down right criminal, and only serves to encourage these kinds of arsons.

    Ms. Buck estimates that as many as eight tractor-trailer loads of stolen bricks leave the city each week for Florida, Louisiana or Texas, because “St. Louis brick is in such high demand.”

    That reads like how the Roman Coliseum was poached and torn apart and dismantled for its high quality building material in the two centuries or so after the degradation and eventual dissolution of the Western Roman Empire.

    • Shadow

      I’m sure the sacking of Rome began just like this.


      • someonewhoknows

        I see what you did there. Clever…

    • connorhus

      Ya but it’s really too bad they didn’t use old brick in those highrise Section Ape apartment buildings. They could steal all those they want 🙂

      • Many of the high rise projects in St. Louis were brick. I don’t think the Pruitt-Igoes were.

  • LHathaway

    Kids know when a home is vacant. It is an uncanny sense they have. Why the distinction is so important to them is unclear.

  • evilsandmich

    A pallet of 500 goes for roughly $100, she said, but other less scrupulous buyers do not require permits.

    And resold for what? Are we unable to make the quality bricks yore? Guess so…

    • Bricks are not a common building material anymore, not by and large, so there’s no great need for a modern brick making industry. To the extent they’re used, as you can read, enough can be had from stealing them from your city and my city.

      • Lego has become the largest toymaker in the world, largely by selling bricks…

    • 48224

      Builders like “antique brick”…..the term “repurpose” is huge in construction. this is all part of the green building movement. White liberals working hand-inhand with black crack-heads Ironic…..I know.

    • TruthBeTold

      While this wholesale theft of bricks is new to me, aged, weather bricks have long been a high-market commodity.

    • A) The newer Chinese made bricks have forced all the old American brickmakers out of business. It costs 12 cents to make a Chinese brick and 30 cents to ship it to the US which undercuts the cost of a 50 cent domestically made brick.

      B) So all the old brickmakers are fired, go on welfare, vote Democratic, which assesses higher taxes on the remaining working US brickmakers and lower costs for future Chinese brick imports. This causes the price of Chinese bricks to go to 8 cents, shipping now only 25 cents, and the price of US bricks to go to 60 cents.

      C) go to A) and repeat.

      However we’re still the greatest country on Earth as we can send troops to 35 African countries !!! to help them out. explains Rodriguez. “We’re not there to show them our system, we’re there to make their system work. Here is what their army looks like, and here is what we need to prepare them to do.”

  • MekongDelta69

    Blacks would steal the shoelaces off your loafers if they could…

    • someonewhoknows

      You mean Tyrone? Tyrone Shoelaces?

    • Katherine McChesney

      I’ve heard of black loafers before.

      • bilderbuster

        The government tries to hire as many of them as possible.

  • Guest

    “architectural elements” = civilization = white

    “harvesting” = destruction = black

    • The Worlds Scapegoat

      It’s the way of Africa



  • [Guest]

    We’re witness the slow dismantling of civilization, in this example literally brick by brick.

    • TruthBeTold

      These people cannibalizing their own communities.

      When their neighborhoods look like gutted battle zones, they will blame the white man for not caring about their community when it’s the blacks who are dismantling their neighborhoods to sell off, presumably to rich white buyers.

  • IstvanIN

    Where else in the world do you steal an entire city building?
    Blacks have stolen entire American cities from Whites, nothing new here.

  • Tim_in_Indiana

    All the air pollution caused by all those fires. Imagine all the contribution to global warming! Blacks are such good environmentalists, aren’t they? Natural born liberals, I say.

  • Truthseeker

    The Third World diaspora are turning the fruits of our ancestors’ ingenuity to ruin.

    • IstvanIN

      I am surprised they wait until the buildings are abandoned. Good thing Egypt doesn’t have a large pure-negro population or the pyramids would be carted off.

      • Shadow

        Don’t give them any ideas.

  • Luca

    St. Louis, it’s the new Detroit.

    • Shadow

      Following the same pattern as the old Detroit.

      : (

    • Shadow

      Following the same pattern as the old Detroit.

  • I saw a story about the St. Louis brick thieves on an architecture web site some months ago, so this is not a new discovery. Expecting blacks to honor the history and architecture of a city they did not build is unrealistic.

    So, let me offer the city fathers a second-best solution to the problem. The best solution would be to ship all St. Louis blacks to Detroit.

    Any fires that leave a burned out hulk, trusted city employees come in and harvest the brick which the city can sell as payment for their fire-fighting services. Thus, there’s no more motivation for arson. You take the profit out of something and you’ll have less of that something. Of course, at that point the brick thieves go back to stealing cars or whatever they were doing before they started stealing bricks.

    • Well they’re not being shipped to Detroit, but they are quietly being shipped out of the city proper. But then that only results in Ferguson and more Ferguson.

      • bilderbuster

        Tell them Detroit is full of bricks that they’re going to use for the giant wall to be built around it.

  • robinbishop34

    So now its down to bricks?

  • IKUredux

    I mean, I don’t know, but, I’m just saying that the brick thieves may not be black. You know, it takes a certain amount of intelligence to recognize the market value of bricks. Just saying. And, if it isn’t blacks, I say GO FOR IT! Shoot, our White ancestors built those brick building s to begin with…

    • OS-Q

      It does seem like a lot of work for the locals, but I’m sure it’s just fun to them.

      • IKUredux

        Oh please, work is NEVER fun for the locals.

        • OS-Q

          The fun of theft and arson compensates for pushing a wheelbarrow.

    • Katherine McChesney

      Whites also MADE the bricks to build those buildings.

      • IKUredux

        Good point, that makes our(White) if correct, re-appropriation even more valid.

  • someonewhoknows

    Use them bricks to drop down into their saggy pants as they run away from the scene of the arson LOL! The reward becomes the retribution….

  • Max

    “…increase the penalties for brick theft”.

    Typical nonsensical response

  • MBlanc46

    There’s just nothing to which American blacks won’t stoop, is there?

    • AmericanCitizen

      Getting a job seems to be one.

  • Malgus

    Sooo, let’s see.

    Back in 1849, a bunch of guys got together in St. Louis and started making bricks. The high water mark was reached in 1900.

    Fast forward 100 years, and St. Louis bricks are once again becoming popular.

    Solution? Make a niche brick-making facility and capitalize on the re-surging interest in St. Louis bricks? No. Burn down half the city and sell the scraps….

    Geez, these are low functioning retards… anyone who could scrape together enough to build even the crudest type of facility – alls you need is dirt, water and a heat source – would likely make a killing. “THE GENUINE ST. LOUIS BRICK COMPANY!” You could even stamp them, like in the old days…

    But no. They’d rather burn down a building and harvest the scraps than make something good and wholesome…

    • ViktorNN

      Great comment. Our attitudes are similar. Where we see opportunity to build and create, they only opportunity they see involves destruction.

  • Dave West

    Darell’s Eleven.

    The guys in Hollywood could actually put together a box office hit from this epidemic; it would be based off of Oceans 11. But instead of robbing the Bellagio, the target would be burring down the largest abandoned brick building in St. Louis. The movie would star 10 black thugs and one white guy. The white guy would come in later in the movie after the black thugs realized they couldn’t figure out how to burn down the large brick building themselves. Andy Garcia could even star as the vengeful owner of the building that gets burnt down.

    • Malgus

      It’s a good idea, but unworkable… you ever hear of “suspension of disbelief”?

      The audience might buy off on the basic premise of the movie, but NOBODY would believe 10 blacks working and carrying bricks…

      But, if you decide to make the movie, Matt Damon can play the white guy… Janean Garofalo can play his girlfriend…

      • AmericanCitizen

        “NOBODY would believe 10 blacks working and carrying bricks…”


  • ViktorNN

    The more I learn about blacks, the less I understand them. What becomes clearer and clearer is that they are deeply, inherently different from me. A different kind of human.

    I imagine I must feel like how my ancestors felt when they crossed paths with one of the human variants that existed in prehistory. A feeling of recognition that here’s a creature like me, but also very different.

    • mrfinoni

      I too am realizing that more and more each day! There is no moral or ethical judgement. They are just fundamentally different, as a cat is different from a dog!

  • 48224

    This is news????? We’ve been dealing with this in Detroit for 40 years.

  • Tim

    I had a run in with squatters, twice. In one case they built a hobo booby trap out of barb wire and nail studded 2×4`s to keep me off my own property. I confronted them sucessfully in the middle of the night. I`ll let the reader imagine how..if you ever have them you must deal with them instantly, aggressively and with deadly force. Otherwise you will never get them to leave. One the chance has passed and you let them stay or ignore the problem, they take that as a green light to continue and encroach further…

  • Rusty Shackelford

    If they can’t eat it, fornicate with it, or steal it, they’ll destroy it.

    • TXCriollo

      Couldnt have said it any better myself

  • AmericanCitizen

    Picking the bones clean on the carcass of Inner City America.

  • Caps Lock

    Good a way as any to get rid of the squatters. When the last building is gone, maybe white people can move back and make St Louis a wonderful city again.

  • Gotsumpnferya

    Down here in SoFlo , the pilferage is usually limited to metals .

  • Chris

    Actually , good condition bricks from the past can be worth $1.00-5.00 apiece. Old bricks usually have makers marks, that are a guide for approximate value, if you know bricks.