November 20, 2017
Inspiration is Everywhere: Must-See St. Louis Architecture
By Rachel Geringer
Let me start by saying that I’m not an architect. I am, however, a lover of art, an observer of beauty and an interested student of the events and people that came before us to shape the world into what we know it today. That’s why I love working for UPBrand in the building that was once the Missouri Pacific Railroad offices, built in the 1850s. The white terra cotta exterior of this 23-story building makes it a stand-out, as does the beautifully restored lobby and suite of walnut paneled executive boardrooms on the top floor.
“Architecture is invention.” -Oscar Niemeyer, Brazilian architect and key figure in the development of modern architecture
“Architecture is art, nothing else.” -Philip Johnson, American architect known for his works of Modern architecture
“The mother art is architecture.” -Frank Lloyd Wright, widely recognized as the greatest American architect of the 20th century
I could not agree with these quotes more. And with that inspiration, I’ve put together a small sampling of what I consider to be the historical and stylistic gems of Downtown St. Louis and the surrounding areas.
St. Louis Public Library
Architect: Cass Gilbert (1912)
Cass Gilbert was one of the first celebrity architects in the United States. In addition to this spectacular structure, he also designed the St. Louis Art Museum, the Woolworth building in New York City and the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. Our library was made possible by a grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie as part of his great initiative to build public libraries in cities across America.
In the fall and winter months, when the sun has gone down, the view of the library always stops me in my tracks. There’s nothing better than walking out of the office to that warm sunset glow against the granite.
Architect: Louis Sullivan (1891)
The Wainwright building is a National Historic Landmark. It is credited for being the first successful utilization of steel frame construction. The strength of the steel frame allowed architects and builders to add floors and reach great heights, making the Wainwright building one of the world’s first skyscrapers. That aside, the beautiful clay-colored terra cotta brickwork, elegant proportions and my favorite aspect, the detailed frieze, make this one of our city’s architectural treasures.
Architect: Henry Singleton, with significant renovations by William Rumbold (1839, 1861)
For over 175 years, the Old Courthouse has been an architectural staple in Downtown St. Louis. Originally designed in Greek Revival-style with four wings and a central dome, it was later re-envisioned by William Rumbold who replaced the original dome with one that reflected the Italian Renaissance-style, and was modeled after the dome found in St. Peter’s Basilica. The U.S. Capitol actually houses a dome that was built during the same time and was made from the same reference model.
The Old Courthouse has held cases as important as the Dred Scott case, when he sued for his freedom in the mid-1800s, and Virginia Minor’s case for a woman’s right to vote in the 1870s.
The National Park Service now maintains, preserves and operates the Old Courthouse as part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
In 1965, the view of the courthouse got even more grand with the addition of the Arch that now sits in its backyard.
The Gateway Arch
Architect: Eero Saarinen (1965)
Speaking of the Arch, who can make a list about St. Louis architecture without including it? After all, we are the “Gateway to the West” and its very design was the winner of a competition to commemorate the United States’ westward expansion.
To help articulate the significance that this structure represents, I’ll quote the transcript of the documentary The Gateway Arch: A Reflection of America. “It was a dream… to travel west into newly acquired lands – lands that promised a new home and freedom beyond imagination. …the city of St. Louis on the banks of the Mississippi, represented the end of “civilization” to a young nation. It was there that travelers going west gathered their supplies – and their courage – to venture into a vast unknown territory.”
Standing at 630’, with a width of the same measurement, the Arch is the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere and the tallest stainless steel monument in the world. Once more, it is a timeless example of the mid-century modern aesthetic, beautifully juxtaposed against the many historical building styles that surround it.
Architect: C. Howard Crane (1929)
The Fox Theatre was one of five theaters built by the Fox Film Corporation in the 1920s. The other locations include Detroit, Atlanta, Brooklyn and San Francisco. It’s locally and lovingly known as the “Fabulous Fox” for its dazzlingly, ornate beauty. The style is an invention of the architect himself—a blend of Asian and Byzantine motifs, with a little Rococo thrown in for good measure. As a palace of entertainment, the building itself provides half of the fun.
Architects: Theodore Link, Louis Millet (1894)
During its peak usage, St. Louis Union Station served more than 100,000 passengers a day through 32 boarding gates, making it one of the largest train stations of the time. Union Station also utilized the largest train shed ever built, earning it a National Historic Landmark designation in 1970.
In Richardsonian Romanesque style, the Headhouse features the Grand Hall with sixty-five foot vaulted ceilings. Between its grandeur, colors and intricate details, this room, in my opinion, is one of the most spectacular spaces in all of St. Louis.
Although the station has been restored and repurposed throughout the years, you can still enjoy many of the original, awe-inspiring features today. Namely, the original terrazzo floor, green glazed terracotta bricks, stained glass windows and wooden carpentry detailing. Perhaps the most symbolic feature that underwent restoration for continued viewing today was the Allegorical Window, a hand-crafted, stained glass design, featuring three women depicted to represent the expanse of train travel in the 1890s from New York to San Francisco with St. Louis in the middle.
Old Post Office (OPO)
Architect: Alfred B. Mullett (1884)
A rare surviving example of the French Second Empire style, popularized again by architects after the Civil War, the OPO is a building with stories to tell!
After the war, a reconstruction project was commissioned in five of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. to accommodate the need for new Federal offices. St. Louis’ office would serve as the U.S. Customs House and Post Office. It was home to the Federal 8th Circuit Court, which grew to be the largest circuit in the nation, spanning 1,000 miles east to west, with jurisdiction over 11 million people.
Today, it too is on the list of National Historic Landmarks thanks to the quality of the original construction, those who fought to preserve it in the 1960s and 1970s and those who gave it life again in the 1990s.
My personal favorite building accent is Daniel Chester French’s sculpture, Peace and Vigilance. It once sat at the base of the dome but has since been restored and moved to the central atrium for better preservation. A cement replica now sits on the dome in its place.
Seth Godin said, “Architecture is a combination of sculpture and art and engineering and user interface.” As makers and marketers here at UPBrand, we appreciate this thought, and the remarkable examples of architectural beauty all around us.