Question about funky stairs

chloecatJune 11, 2005

Our (approximately) 100-year-old home is a former two-family flat that has been converted to a single-family home. Our "front" stairs are interesting, in that the bottom 7 stairs are hinged, and lift up on a counterweighted spring mechanism to allow access to the basement.

When this was a two-family home, this was the way the upstairs tenants were able to access the basement. The downstairs tenants had "regular" stairs to the basement under the "back stairs" - which were the only access to the backyard for the upstairs tenants.

Anyway - these "Addams Family Stairs" are odd to us, and apparently odd to everyone in our city. The mechanism has this wording:

Rodgers Automatic Stair Door

St. Louis

Patent October 12, 1915

Interestingly, this date puts our house at much later construction - if these stairs were installed originally - than previously thought, based on title searches and items found in the house.

Anybody know what I'm talking about, or have any idea how often this method of basement entry was used?


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Never heard of it, but it's cool to have the original name plate and date. Probably added afterward, but even if patent date is correct that's not too far off your estimate of 100- y.o. farm house. (It still feels like the early years of the 00's but after Dec., we're on the backside and gaining fast!)

    Bookmark   June 11, 2005 at 1:19PM
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How interesting. I've never seen anything like that, but now I will be looking for it. I guess it is possible the stairs were altered later.

Is this a row house--houses built wall-to-wall? That is the ony reason I can figure for the basement being the only access to the backyard for the upstairs tennant. Or are you saying the "back stairs" came down from the second floor in the back yard?

If you are in St. Louis City, you can look up online (or in person at city hall) the ownership and tax info on any house. I found a clue there that told me my house was built a few years earlier than I thought from the info the previous owners had given me.

Again, if you are in St. Louis, it might be mildly interesting to hear that the old LaCoutier Stair Company building burned about a month ago. Only a brick shell and the UGLY front stairs are left.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2005 at 7:37PM
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Nope - not a row house. Just a typical 2-family flat, much like those in Soulard.

The "back stairs" were the upstairs flat's backyard access.

Where's the LaCoutier Stair Company building? I hadn't heard about that.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2005 at 8:44PM
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It is just north of The Hill, very close to the old State Hospital. It had been closed for a very long time. It's next door to an also long-closed stone dealer where right along the sidewalk there are walls of samples of all kinds of rock for construction. It is another ugly, but cool place. This city used to have so much more.

Actually my old house may have been built specifically for workers at another nearby factory--back in the days when factory workers were paid very little. Thus my house is really tiny, with not much special about it except its sturdiness. But to bring it back to old stairs, my house did get stairs relocated. Just after WWII, an upstairs was added--a kitchen, half bath, and bedroom. So as not to waste space, the stairs to the basement were relocated to lie right under the new stairs to the second floor. Previously the only basement access was from the outside, backyard.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 12:46AM
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I would guess one of two things happened.
1.There was an addition or renovation done to the house.
2.The original mechanism failed and was replaced.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 8:56AM
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Any chance it was a single family house before it became a two family house?

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 6:25PM
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LOL - we can see the State Hospital dome from our house! Cool - I'll drive over that way and take a look sometime.

No, Buddy - it was built as a two-family. That's guaranteed. There are a zillion of these in St. Louis.

Joed, I'm thinking the failed mechanism might be the right answer.

I'll try to get a pic posted here some day.

Thanks for all the help!

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 8:13PM
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William F. Rodgers was my grandfather, I still have the patent paperwork for the stairs and the advertising brochure with my mother(at age 12) demonstrating how easy the stairs operated. These were a godsend to the second floor dwellers who in the cold STL winter had to go out the front door, go around to the back basement door to the laundry or trash.

I helped my grandfater install a Stairdoor as late as 1950. The marvel of this door was the weight and balance and not requiring electricity as some present doors.

My grandfathers shop is now part of the Convention center and where our sawmill was is now the left foot of the ARCH.

He made considerable money on the Stairdoors but lost most of it on other inventions.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 8:07PM
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This is so interesting - & to have the mechanism explained by the inventor's grandson! I'm in VA & have never seen anything like this, but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for such an oddity.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 1:59AM
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Well, glad you got an answer :)
And the fact that you have a stair door is the coolest thing EVER. :)

    Bookmark   January 3, 2008 at 10:09AM
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Linked below is a house for sale in St. Louis, with pictures of the "stairs under the stairs". Click on the 3rd and 4th pics. Pretty cool.

Here is a link that might be useful: clicky

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 6:29PM
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that's really neat! Click on the link that says 'more images' and you can see a close up picture of what I guess is the counterweight.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 10:34PM
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Wow! I am sooo impressed, These things are amazing! And how cool that the grandchild of the originator chimed in.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2008 at 8:52PM
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I would like to build/install this type of Herman Munster stair case in my house. Does anyone know of any kits or even random pictures that I could use to better plan the project?

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 8:21PM
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I am sorry didn't check this site sooner. The stairs were dominate in the south St. Louis area. Primarile in the duplex flats. Look for these homes for sale and do a site visit. My brother in law forund a set that had been removed when converting to a single family home. If there are wrecking yard you might check there. If I can find a way to ppost the brochure on this site I will do so.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 1:54AM
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