Growing up, I attended St. Mary's Grade School on South Sprigg Street, just south of William Street.
At times, Mom would bring lunch to my siblings and me. We would sit in the family van parked in front of the school and eat together. I remember those midday meals for the Angelus prayer that started them and for the scenes we enjoyed as we munched sandwiches and chips.
The view from the van always included a brick building on the west side of Sprigg that sported a large sign: Lorberg Home Appliance. It wasn't until I started working at the Missourian that I learned that the present building was a rebuilt structure. The original was damaged by a devastating fire in 1951.
Published Monday, March 12, 1951, in the Southeast Missourian:
Fighting to keep a $300,000 fire confined to the Lorberg Appliance Co., building, 215 South Sprigg St., Sunday night, firemen poured thousands of gallons of water into the appliance company building. They also wet down nearby buildings to keep them from catching fire. Above the new aerial ladder truck is shown being used for the first time, and two other streams of water are being thrown into the burning building from the street. Other lines were used at the rear. (Southeast Missourian archive)
$300,000 FIRE DAMAGE IN SPRIGG STREET BUILDING
Fire roared through the Lorberg Appliance Co., building, 215 S. Sprigg St., Sunday night doing an estimated $300,000 damage to the 30-year-old structure and its contents. The three-story, brick building was stored to near capacity with new stoves, furniture, ice boxes and other appliances and household furnishings, all of which were destroyed. Only the walls of the building were left standing.
For at least an hour a strong north wind threatened to sweep the fire south to the frame dwelling of Anton Haas, only three feet from the appliance company building, and also threatened other nearby residences and business places to the south and north of the burning structure. Firemen, who fought the blaze for more than three hours, were able to keep the fire confined to the one structure. Hundreds of gallons of water were poured onto nearby buildings to keep them from igniting from burning debris or the intense heat.
Cause is unknown
Cause of the fire could not be determined. The company had closed Saturday for the weekend. When firemen arrived, the entire inside of the building was filled with smoke, and in but a few minutes the whole interior roared with flames. The building was turned into a roaring inferno and it was but a short time until the roof caved in. Flames then shot high above the building.
Carlton J. Lorberg, who operated the appliance building on a partnership basis with his father, Martin G. Lorberg, estimated their loss in stock at $75,000 only 10% of which was insured. The building, he said, cost $60,000 to build in 1920, but it was conservatively estimated that it would require $100,000 to build such a structure now. It was only partially covered by insurance, he said.
Besides being occupied by the appliance firm, the building was used for commercial storage. Suffering the greatest loss besides Lorberg was Uregas Distributors Inc., 818 Broadway, which had several hundred new gas stoves and furnaces stored on the third floor.
Martin Loos, manager, estimated the firm had between $70,000 and $80,000 worth of appliances in storage. A checkup had not been completed today as to the number, but there were four or five car loads of from 75 to 100 stoves per car, he said. Only last week 73 stoves were put in storage, Mr. Loos reported.
He said there was some insurance on the merchandise but it had not been determined today how much. Some of the pieces cannot be replaced now, he said, because of government restrictions on some metals.
Beside the Uregas firm there were numerous other storage accounts, mostly household furniture stored by individuals. It could not be determined readily how much these losses were, but it was believed it would be as much as $25,000.
The second story was used for the commercial storage, while the third floor contained the Uregas stoves and furnaces, and also a large quantity of electrical appliances of the Lorberg firm.
The ground floor was used by Lorberg as a retail store and service department. In the rear portion of the building were garages, from which the ambulance of Lorberg Funeral Home, 433 S. Sprigg St., and an appliance delivery truck were removed. The two vehicles were the only things saved. They were driven out by an employee, Norman Sebastian.
Mr. Lorberg told firemen the company safe buried in smoldering debris contained $1,200.
There was some damage to the Haas dwelling to the south, and tumbling bricks knocked a hole in the roof of a one-story brick building to the north of the Lorberg structure which is used for storage by Maiers Auto & Home Supply, 28 N. Main St.
Started soon after 7
Merchant Policeman (John) Kohlfeld said he was on Good Hope Street when a motorist told him there was smoke coming from the Lorberg building. He turned in the alarm shortly after 7 o'clock.
Two firemen were injured painfully when, blinded by smoke, they fell six feet down the elevator shaft into the basement. Fireman Charles Mills suffered a severe laceration to his right hand, four stitches being required to close the cut. Fireman Elvis Crump, who fell at the same time, sustained body bruises and scratches. They were pulled up by other firemen.
The new aerial ladder truck purchased last fall by the city was used for the first time. Firemen took a hose atop the raised ladder and poured water into the upper stories of the building. The new engine is highly effective, firemen reported. Nine nozzles, fed by seven lines, poured water into the building for hours. Three men remained on the scene all night. The entire 16-man department was working while the fire was at its height.
Five engines -- three pumpers, a ladder truck and an aerial ladder -- were used. The three pumper engines worked a total of 12 1/2 hours. Firemen used 3,250 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose and 450 feet of 1 1/2-inch hose. The alarm was received at 7:14 o'clock.
C.J. Lorberg said he plans to rebuild in the same location, but he has no definite plans at this time. The firm owned the building, which was built in 1920, a formal opening having been held Oct. 15 of that year.
Great heat generated
It was the second major business fire here in less than three months. Fire last Christmas Eve destroyed the Rust & Martin Co., building on Broadway doing thousands of dollars in damage.
Flames which leaped 50 feet above the top of the Lorberg building at times could be seen for miles. The entire area was lighted up with a red glow, the flames reflecting against low-hanging clouds.
Chief Carl Lewis said the fire must have been smoldering for some time before it was found that the building was afire and an alarm turned in. John Kohlfeld, merchant policeman, one of several who turned in an alarm, said he could hear the flames roaring inside the building before any flames could be seen.
Firemen said it was believed the fire originated in the lower part of the building and then went up the elevator shaft which (was) near the middle of the structure. The fire was a holiday alarm, termed by Commissioner Cleo Johns as about the worst type, because no one was in the building to discover it was afire when the flames were in their early stage. In such case, he explained, a fire has plenty of time to get a good start.
Published March 13, 1951, in the Southeast Missourian:
CAPE ANTIQUE ITEMS BURNED
SOME FAMILIES HAD REMOVED THEIR GOODS
Hundreds of pieces of valuable antiques, many of which cannot be replaced, were lost in the fire which destroyed the Lorberg Appliance Co., Building, 215 S. Sprigg St., Sunday night. Also, many of the stoves, refrigerators and gas and electrical appliances destroyed are scarce items now because of government restrictions on metals.
The second and third floors of the three-story building were used for commercial storage, and many families had placed furniture, both new and antiques, there temporarily. Some were insured and some were not. One firm, Uregas Distributors, 818 Broadway, lost 300 stoves and furnaces estimated at between $70,000 and $80,000. Total fire damage was estimated at $300,000.
Some individuals were fortunate in having recently removed furniture from storage. Mrs. Sam Vandivort, 419 Bellevue St., was among these. She had had six rooms of furniture, mostly old walnut antique pieces, stored there for a year and she removed it only last week. Among items stored was a complete collection of the valuable Sprigg Pattern glassware, 100 years old, which Mrs. Vandivort had gathered from all over the nation.
Moved in time
Also among the fortunate was Alvin Froemsdorf, who moved six rooms of new furniture from storage only last Friday to (his) new home at 1727 Themis St. They had debated whether to make the move last week or this week, but finally decided to do it last Friday, Mr. Froemsdorf said.
Although Lorberg Appliance Co., lost heavily in the building and stock, the firm recovered $1,200 from the company safe that was in the smoldering debris. Carlton J. Lorberg, a partner with his father, Martin G. Lorberg, said the cash was removed from the fire-resistant save late Monday afternoon. It was not damaged.
Among those who lost antiques in the fire were Mrs. Zoe Rozier Leuer, formerly of Cape Girardeau and now of New Madrid and it was also believed that her daughter, Mrs. Sally Leuer Sterling of New Madrid had some old articles in storage; Miss Emma Madden of St. Louis and formerly of Cape Girardeau, Russell L. Dearmont of St. Louis, who had stored effects of his mother, the late Mrs. W.S. Dearmont.
Mrs. Julia Worcester of St. Louis, and who formerly lived here, lost a number of rare and valuable books, her entire music library, and new furnishings for a bedroom, dining room, and refrigerator and stove, and a quantity of chinaware.
H.L. McFarland of McFarland Floor Co., with offices in the Lorberg Building, lost two sanding machines and other equipment, and in addition he had stored furniture for two bedrooms, living room and dining room and also miscellaneous articles.
Caskets are destroyed
Eight metal caskets, ranging in price from $700 to $1,500, were destroyed. They were stored by Lorberg Funeral Home, 433 S. Sprigg St.
Frank A. Lowry, Cape Girardeau attorney, who recently re-entered military service as an officer, lost a number of law books, as well as some household furnishings.
Others losing furniture include Mrs. Delores Voelker, 214 S. Ellis St., and Bobby Jones of St. Louis, formerly of Cape Girardeau.
The fire was described as one of the worst here in years, and it took the entire 16-man fire department to fight it. Firemen expressed appreciation of employees of Hirsch Bros., Store, 241 S. Sprigg St., and Three Flowers Cafe, 710 Good Hope St., who provided coffee for them at the scene.
Published March 13, 1951, in the Southeast Missourian:
SOON TO REBUILD
Martin G. Lorberg and Carlton J. Lorberg, co-owners of Lorberg Appliance Co., today announced the business will resume operations this week at 437 Broadway, and that work will begin soon to rebuild the Lorberg structure at 215 S. Sprigg St., which was destroyed by fire Sunday night. It will be constructed on the same site.
And re-build they did. This May 2, 2007, article continues the story of the Lorberg store and the family that operated it.
Joe Lorberg discussed his electronics repair business in Cape Girardeau while standing next to a 1954 Magnavox black-and-white television set that he repaired for a local customer. It needed new tubes that he had in stock. (Fred Lynch ~ Southeast Missourian archive)
LAST OF THE TV REPAIRMEN
By Tim Krakowiak
Between hundreds of old television sets, dusty computer monitors and disassembled stereos, a path leads to Joe Lorberg's work station in the back of his shop at 215 S. Sprigg St. in Cape Girardeau. He's been there repairing electronics since the early 1950s.
Lorberg Home Electronics is one of few authentic electronics repair shops left in Southeast Missouri. Often, it's more practical to purchase a new television or radio than to pay for it to be fixed these days, Lorberg said. Customers typically take a more expensive piece of equipment like a PC or a flat-screen TV back to the store to be sent back to the company that made it.
"Newer stuff is made in such a fashion that there's not much to do for maintenance," Lorberg said.
Lorberg has tinkered with a lot of electronic devices in his shop over the years, including musical instruments, medical equipment and transistor radios. He also has worked on some modern devices, though for the most part, he deals with older electronics.
"It's not unusual when I'm working on a CB, for instance, and the customer will get a call on his mobile phone while he's waiting," Lorberg said.
When the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act goes into effect Feb. 17, 2009, broadcasters will end analog transmissions and switch to the digital technology that's taken over during recent years. Lorberg is not worried about losing his clientele because many of his regular customers get things repaired for sentimental reasons.
Lorberg recently fixed an antique Magnavox television set from the 1950s. He had to repair some of the tubes in the TV and happened to have some of the replacement parts in the shop.
The owner of the TV, Michael Ballou of Cape Girardeau, bought the set in a resale shop in Delta for $20.
"I thought, gee, if I ever sell my house in Cape and move out to the country, I'll want to have a nice collection of old electronics," Ballou said.
As more electronic repair shops close, Lorberg's customers are traveling from greater distances. Some come from as far away as St. Louis to have equipment repaired. Common problems are wires chewed by pets or people forgetting to unhook the cable from the wall when they move a television set.
"Some days you have a day that nobody at all shows up, and then sometimes from the time I open up until the time I close there's people," Lorberg said.
Monday he was working on an organ for a piano teacher in Bloomfield, Missuri. The piano teacher, Buddy Heaton, collects old organs. He said he's been doing business with Lorberg for years because he is the best repairman in the area.
Ballou used to work for the KGMO radio in Cape Girardeau and KJAS in Jackson, and met Lorberg more than 20 years ago when the electronics whiz worked on the radio equipment. "He was always the most trusted radio engineer," Ballou said.
Lorberg got into the business after his grandfather, Martin Lorberg, started a family company, Haarig Furniture & Undertaking in Cape Girardeau, in 1910. The business split into two different companies when Lorberg's father, Carlton Lorberg, became involved. Then electronics were incorporated into the furniture store as they became permanent fixtures in people's homes.
Joe Lorberg became interested in television sets and radios in high school. When he graduated in 1957, he began working full-time at the shop, eventually taking over the business.
Lorberg has some antique electronic devices in the shop, including a jukebox, a postage machine and a piano that plays music on its own when a coin is inserted.
Over the years, the shop has developed a collection of abandoned equipment. Lorberg doesn't mind, he said. He strips the machines for salvageable parts or resells them after awhile.
"As long as I'm able to work, I don't plan to retire," said Lorberg, who is 68. "I'd be lost without anything to do."
Although Lorberg has worked on televisions most of his life, he said he doesn't watch much TV anymore.
Joe F. Lorberg passed away in Cape Girardeau July 29, 2017, at the age of 78.