by Michael R. Allen
The large vacant brick building at 5234 Wells Avenue in the Academy Neighborhood bears a sign reading “St. Louis Public Schools / Area 1 Offices.” The imposing Jacobethan building has the symmetry, grace and quality of construction that is consistent with the stock of the St. Louis Public Schools, but it really does not resemble the buildings designed by William B. Ittner or Rockwell Milligan. Stylistically, there is some connection, but the plan, siting, lack of ornamentation on the side elevation and detailing is different. The massive terra cotta heraldic shield that caps the central entrance bay as well as the cartouches under the flanking window bays are clearly the work of another architect.
There’s a good reason for this: the building was not built for the St. Louis Public Schools. The Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church built this building in 1928 as a private religious school (cost was $40,000). Architect Albert Meyer designed the building, likely trying to match the renowned architecture of the public school district. Eventually, however, the congregation moved west and the closed school met the needs of an expanding St. Louis Public School district. Yes, the district expanded to the point of buying other school buildings within the lifetimes of many living city residents.
The Mt. Calvary school became Wells School and then Emerson Branch School. The last use was as the Area 1 Offices, housing regional administration for the Northwest, Soldan and Southwest high schools. The district closed the building in 1995 and sold it in 2006 to Grizzly LLC, a St. Charles-based firm. Today the building sits empty with no plans for reuse.
MGT of America recommended that the St. Louis Public Schools consider selling the downtown headquarters building and reusing existing schools for offices. This building, already converted, would have fit the bill. Its small size would also have made it a suitable alternative school. Too bad the district sold it.
Area 1 Offices building in September 2006.
Area 1 Offices building in May 1988 (photograph by Landmarks Association of St. Louis).