Central States Life Insurance Company Building Listed in the National Register, Headed for Rehabilitation

by Lindsey Derrington

Many may know the Mission Revival style building at 3207 Washington Avenue by one of its string of tenants over the past forty years, from the St. Louis Conservatory and School for the Arts (1970s-1990), to the Midtown Arts Center (1991-2000), to a series of nightclubs including the Kastle, Dreams, and Club TV (2002-2008). But whether you attended a poetry reading in its atrium, got down to hip hop on its balconies, or just drove by wondering what this whimsical, seemingly out-of-place building was doing there, you will be pleased to know that it is entering into its next phase of life with a dedicated new owner and a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Central States Life Insurance Company Building at 3207 Washington (1921; Tom P. Barnett Co, architects).

The Preservation Research Office prepared the building’s nomination to the National Register for Chameleon Integrated Services, a Saint Louis-based IT firm established in 2002 and currently located in Lafayette Square. The company purchased the building earlier this year for its new headquarters, and is pursuing a $2 million rehabilitation of the property using state and federal historic tax credits. After many decades the project will return the building to its somewhat surprising use: offices.

Detail hot of the Bedford limestone surrounds of the entrance and magnificante quatrefoil window.

Designed by St. Louis’ own Tom P. Barnett, the building was completed in 1921 as the $140,000 headquarters of the Central States Life Insurance Company. Established in 1909, Central States was a small local firm with big aspirations, aggressively expanding its policy coverage throughout the West and Southwest in under a decade. The company’s decision to build on Washington Avenue just west of Compton was unusual at a time when virtually all of the city’s insurance firms were located downtown, yet this stretch of the recently-widened thoroughfare was then projected to become the “Fifth Avenue of St. Louis,” a modern, upscale commercial district to match those in Chicago and New York. The building’s Mission Revival design, with its bell tower, heavy trussed roof, Conquistador stained glass window, and Spanish Baroque terra cotta detailing, embodied Central States’ ambitions and stylistically identified the company with the region it sought to dominate.

The stained glass window depicting a conquistador.

Central States was the first major enterprise to invest on Washington Avenue between Jefferson and Grand, but unfortunately the promise and hope of Washington Avenue as a future “World Famous Street” quickly fizzled. Its impressive new headquarters was soon surrounded by boarding houses and automobile-related industries, and Central States abandoned the building in 1928. From then on it housed dozens of tenants over the ensuing decades, bringing us back to the present.

The vaulted atrium anchors the building's interior.

PRO couldn’t be happier to have a been a part of this project; not only will Chameleon rehab the Central States Building for its new headquarters, but the company has leased its parking lot to its western neighbor, the Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, for the brewery’s new biergarten. This project illustrates the best in what historic tax credits can do for local communities by facilitating development in long-dormant neighborhoods, stimulating small-business growth in the city, and, of course, bringing new life to our long-vacant architectural gems.

For more on the Central States Life Insurance Building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 25, 2012, read on.

Central States Life Insurance Company Building

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  • http://twitter.com/sideunes sideunes

    and here I thought that building was a church!

  • samizdat

    Ha, Percy Dovetonsils!

  • http://www.preservationresearch.com Michael R. Allen

    Many people do. Our grandchildren might assume it was built for the biergarten.

  • Guest

    I’ve bid on jobs where I needed its Moorish/Spanish architecture. It’s beautiful inside!

  • http://www.facebook.com/wesley.law.96 Wesley Law

    I’ve bid on photo jobs where I needed its Moorish/Spanish architecture. It’s beautiful inside! I hope it goes through

  • http://www.facebook.com/wesley.law.96 Wesley Law

    This is great news! I’ve bid on photo jobs where I needed its Moorish/Spanish architecture. It’s beautiful inside!

  • just an old friend of the arts

    how many of you can say you lived there??? took showers on the rain between the walls of the mansion next door & the MAC? just a few of us claim that prestige!! lol nice knowing the original garden space will retain that use & oh!! how perfect the art glass window wasn’t stolen!!! do any of you remember climbing through the attic space to claim triumphant on the roof top for 4 July fireworks downtown? I didn’t think so…

  • samizdat

    Well, aren’t you special…

    When you were a kid of nine or ten, did you ever just sit in a creek you dammed up, and the torrential rain coming down was pouring over the top of your “dam”, and soaking you to the skin? Did you remember just sitting in the middle of a redwood (sequoia sempervirens; I know the scientific name by heart…top that) forest and feel the gentle shower on your face? My girlfriend (now wife) was saying hi to a handsome and very personable pit bull near Reservoir Park, and in the middle of asking “Is he friendly”, Zeus jumped up, put his front paws on her shoulders, and gave her a big kiss. *Sigh* I love that one…never fails to bring a smile to my face.

    Everyone has some great memories, and so do you. Enjoy them, and share them, but please let us enjoy them on our own terms.

  • another friend of the arts

    Why don’t you keep your thoughts to yourself, especially when those thoughts come off as insults?
    I don’t recall him asking your opinion. PLEASE be quiet & get some self-esteem.