VIDEO: Photo Archives of Industry Legend, Diversity Pioneer I.E. Millstone

By on April 4, 2019

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

Recently Thom Kuhn, CEO and president of  contractor Millstone Weber LLC, was going through the papers and memorabilia of his grandfather Isadore E. Millstone. Mr. Millstone, who died in 2009 at the age of 102, was known as “I.E.”.

I.E. was a monumental figure in St. Louis both in construction and in philanthropic circles. He was also a diversity/inclusion pioneer who championed the hiring and training of African American workers in the building trades.

Millstone workers on the Pruitt Igoe housing projects construction site in 1952

Thom Kuhn said that reconfiguring the space at the company’s offices on Fountain Lakes Blvd. in St. Charles resulted in discovery of the trove of photos, which capture projects from the mid-’30s through the ’60s.

“We set up an archive for his things when we moved in here in 2001,” Kuhn said.  “Since then we’ve needed the space and moved his stuff around. We now need more room for millennials and decided send his personal things to the appropriate family member. The construction stuff stayed here.”

I.E Millstone was an unassuming man whose large, vital presence transformed both the built environment and the community at large. At the time of his death the New York Times wrote:

Expert in the construction business, Mr. Millstone founded Millstone Construction in 1927 and went on to become a millionaire. The company built the old Busch Stadium and one of the nation’s early double-decker highways, U.S. 40, as well as banks, schools and a synagogue.

He was proud of his work, a grandson said, but held no sentimental attachment to the buildings, understanding that a time would come when they had lost their purpose and needed to fall (as Busch Stadium did in 2005). For that matter, he seemed unattached to most material things, friends and family said, content to live in a single-story home and drive a Chevrolet Impala.

His passion was St. Louis.

“The only time I saw him get really angry,” said Mr. Millstone’s longtime rabbi, Howard Kaplanksy, “was when people with wealth wouldn’t use it to help others.”…

At Millstone Construction, (I.E. Millstone)  earned a reputation for his support of civil rights, refusing to sign some contracts unless unions admitted African-Americans. In the 1940s and 1950s, he started vocational schools for black men to become skilled tradesmen eligible for jobs as bricklayers, plumbers and welders.

Mr. Millstone was never sentimental about the buildings his company he built, and indeed he outlived many of them, including Pruitt Igoe and the old Busch Stadium. But his legacy lives in the good and the people he influenced, from St. Louis to Israel. It also lives in his family.

Thom Kuhn, who provided these photos to ConstructForSTL, is co-founder of PHL, a not for profit that has built 15 playing fields for the St. Louis Public Schools. Kuhn was also instrumental in founding of the Gateway Welcome Project (GWP), administered by CFSTL In 2016 GWP built a $250K soccer field for immigrant/refugee kids and their parents at Nahed Chapman New American Academy (NCNAA) on South Grand Avenue.

Kuhn, and the successor to the company that I.E. Millstone founded, are currently involved in the construction of a soccer complex project double the size of the NCNAA project at Kingdom House, located at Tucker and Park on the Near South Side.

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