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Collinsville's World's Largest Catsup Bottle receives historic preservation award

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 2, 2012 - It’s been a winning week for unique local landmarks.

First came Friday’s opening of a Starbucks coffeehouse in the former Del Taco "spaceship building” at 212 S. Grand. Now comes the news that the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville has been honored by Landmarks Illinois, which gives annual awards to innovative preservation projects in the state.

The 170-foot water tower on Illinois 159 just south of downtown was erected in 1949 by the W.E. Caldwell Co. for the old G.S. Suppiger catsup plant which bottled Brooks original and tangy catsup. The 70-foot, 100,000-gallon steel bottle still stands tall atop its 100-foot steel legs, an iconic roadside attraction for six decades.

In 1995, the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group formed to save and restore the landmark from demolition. Judy DeMoisy, who led the preservation efforts, is now vice president of World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Inc., a nonprofit group of volunteers who preserve and promote the water tower -- and who relish that task.

"We will never be accused of taking ourselves too seriously, but when we get a serious award like this we really appreciate it,” said Mike Gassmann, known as "The Big Tomato” of the catsup bottle's fan club.

The water tower was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 2008.

The Landmarks Illinois honors, known as the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards, are given “to individuals and organizations whose works demonstrate a commitment to historic preservation.” Other 2012 honorees include the Monroe Building in Chicago, a Texaco station in Decatur and the Edgar County Courthouse in Paris, Ill. The awards will be made on Oct. 27 at the historic Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Chicago.

Gassmann noted that during a media interview earlier this year he was able to weigh in on the “Save Our Saucer” efforts by St. Louis preservationists to stop the razing of the Del Taco building, constructed in 1967 as a gas station. He plans to stop by soon for a cup of coffee.

"We at the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle support the ‘flying saucer building,' " Gassmann said. "Where else in the country are you going to hear that?”

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.