Architects JeffVanderLou Metro East Mid-Century Modern Missouri North St. Louis Pruitt Igoe South St. Louis Southwest Garden Wellston

The Mid-Century Modernism of Marcel Boulicault

by Michael R. Allen

St. Louis architect Marcel Boulicault’s name probably is unfamiliar to you, but a few of his works will draw an “ah ha!” or two. Boulicault is a designer whose contributions to Modern architecture in St. Louis are largely unheralded, but that needs to change. Boulicault (1896 – 1961) is best known for an obtrusive and despised addition to the St. Louis State Hospital, the Louis H. Kohler Building, which stood directly in front of William Rumbold’s domed 1869 County Asylum building. Boulicault also designed the building that became St. Louis Fire Department Headquarters, a major state office building on Jefferson City and other prominent works. Then, there is his patented electric tooth brush — which we will discuss in a moment. Boulicault’s buildings were creative, colorful (and a bit jazzy) but also purposeful — the best mid-century combination.

Highly-idealized rendering of the Kohler Building at St. Louis State Hospital — the flip side of what would happen. Source: Missouri State Archives.
Architects Belleville, Illinois Events Mid-Century Modern

Charles E. King Recognition Reception

The Belleville Historical Society will honor and celebrate the body of work created by architect Charles E. King in the Belleville area at a reception on Sunday afternoon, November 4th at 2:00 at the Alan J. Dixon Student Center on the campus of Lindenwood University (2600 W. Main Street). Artifacts from King’s period of work in Belleville and a photo display of his area designs will be a part of the reception.

This Modern house designed by Charles E. King stands near Kirkwood, Missouri.

King, a 1947 graduate of the University of Illinois School of Architecture, practiced in Belleville from 1947 until 1961 when his firm was purchased by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum in St. Louis. During his fourteen years in Belleville, at least 36 of his residential designs and 19 of his commercial designs were built. All but two still stand today. Probably the most notable of King’s works in Belleville is the City Hall designed in 1957 and dedicated in 1959. In 1957, he also designed five buildings on the campus of Belleville Township High School, one of which is the Fine Arts/Cafeteria Building in which the November 5th reception will be held.

King, who preferred to design in a Mid-Century Modern Style of architecture, went on to a very prolific career and in 1991 was named of one of Architectural Digest‘s “Top 100 Architects.” He was also the recipient of many other professional awards.

King, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, died on August 16, 1993 in St. Louis at the age of 73. This retrospective of King’s Belleville area designs is open to the public.

Architects Downtown Green Space

1967, 1974 and 2010

by Michael R. Allen

Whenever the Roberts Tower on Eighth Street downtown is completed, it will have been a long time since any new residential buildings have been built downtown. There is no need to state the obvious, that no tall residential buildings have been built, because there have simply been none. The last new residential building to be built downtown was any one of the three towers of the Mansion House Center on Fourth Street, completed in 1967. Over forty years later, we await the next installment in the very limited and erratic story of downtown apartment building construction. (Our last tall building, the maligned Thomas Eagleton Federal Courthouse, arrived in 1997.)

The Roberts Tower’s architects are unheralded, and I cannot draw any name when asked who she or he is, or who they are. All I know is that the design is a suitable modern building, disgraced only slightly by the oh-too-silvery reflective glass being used to clad it. While I appreciate the break from the minimalist humdrum that inhibits contemporary architects, I am not impressed with the awkward reference to 1980s postmodern glazing trends. I’ll admit that the greenish reflective glass shown in early renderings of the Roberts Tower would have been no better. At least views of the rear elevation of the Old Post Office will be enshrined in the wall as well as — unfortunately, for the most part — any elements of Old Post Office Plaza that catch the mirrored surface.

On the matter of Old Post Office Plaza, there is no denying that the block is playing out very much like the vision shown in the 1974 Downtown Plan produced by PGAV for the Downtown Partnership. While we did not get the sunken plaza shown in the rendering, we did get a plaza and a narrow concrete tower in line with the south elevation of the Orpheum Theater. Alas, the 1974 plaza looks to be far more humane than what was built. Hopefully the Roberts Tower outshines the tepid hulk envisioned by planners back in the day. Architecture, supposedly the realm of innovation, is more often the repetition of concepts through new expression. That is, it may have been 1967 when downtown’s last high-rise residential building was completed, but forty-three years later have seem to have progressed to 1974. That’s not terrible — Mansion House is still lovely despite some recent muddling.

Architects Chicago Louis Sullivan

An Update on the Louis Sullivan Film

by Michael R. Allen

Two years ago, Mark Richard Smith began filming Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture. He visited St. Louis that year, shooting in the city at and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, and I spent some time with him talking about the Union Trust Building.

Mark is a remarkably driven first-time filmmaker who spent twenty years as a graphic designer before switching paths. Wanting to make films that visualize history, Mark enrolled in the graduate history program at Loyola University Chicago. In Chicago, Mark saw the photographs of Richard Nickel and their poetic grace drew him to the subject matter of his first film.

Last year, Mark posted a trailer on YouTube.

Then, one month ago, an unfinished scene about the Trading Room of Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange.

Architects Downtown Green Space JNEM

The Design Competition’s Jury, and Its Grand Jury

by Michael R. Allen

This morning, the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation announced the jury that ultimately will select the winning entry in the International Gateway Arch Design Competition. The eight jurors are:

Robert Campbell, architecture critic at The Boston Globe and contributing editor for Architectural Record;

Gerald Early, Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and Director of the African and Afro-American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis;

Denis P. Galvin, former Deputy Director of the National Park Service;

Alex Krieger, founding principal of Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, architecture and urban design firm and professor at the Harvard School of Design, Cambridge, Mass.;

David C. Leland, an urban strategist and managing director of the Leland Consulting Group, Portland, Ore.;

Cara McCarty, curator of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York City;

Laurie D. Olin, partner and landscape architect of the OLIN Studio, Philadelphia;

Carol Ross Barney, founder and Principal of Ross Barney Architects, Chicago.

Notably, there is only one St. Louis resident on the panel, Gerald Early. However, the fact that the local juror is a scholar of cultural history and not someone deeply tied to the local architectural community is refreshing. Cara McCarty is also a scholar with a local connection; she used to serve as a curator at the St. Louis Art Museum.

Some wonder why there is not more local representation on the jury, and that is a valid question. Certainly there are local architectural critics, professors of architectural history, architects and designers whose credentials match or trump those found in this jury. There has been rumbling from local architects that the program requirements for the competition is out of reach for local firms, and jury spots could have provided consolation.

However, the jury would not do well for St. Louis if it were fraught with the politics of representing local talent or special interests. The jury must be able to independently evaluate the submissions free from the wires of local politics. That goal has been accomplished. We now will have a rare opportunity to watch architectural heavyweights from other places examine St. Louis, which should be a welcome breath of fresh air.

The jury’s composition, however, should not consign local critics to passivity. In fact, having St. Louis’ leading critics and designers outside of the official process allows them the free reign of critical engagement that only those with deep local understanding can offer. All of us concerned with the competition should step up to demand excellence, praise good decisions, call out bad decisions and work to guarantee that the design competition is truly a great moment for our city.

The decision to have a competition, after all, is political. Politics can water down great ideas. The ambitious deadline for completing the winning design is a political threat to realizing a transformative change in connections between downtown and the riverfront. The jury can’t tackle that problem — that’s up to the rest of us. Citizens remain the grand jury.

Architects Detroit East St. Louis, Illinois

Yamasaki, Inc. Closes

by Michael R. Allen

The Detroit Free Press reports that Yamasaki, Inc. has closed. This is the end of one of modern architecture’s most illustrious American firms. Founded by Minoru Yamasaki in 1959, the firm’s name is found on the drawings for the ill-fated World Trade Center as well as many significant modernist designs.

The firm marked the departure of Yamasaki from the Detroit-based firm Hellmuth, Yamasaki & Leinweber, which Yamasaki had founded in 1949 with St. Louisan George Hellmuth and Joseph Leinweber. The three had worked together at Detroit firm Smith Hinchman & Grylls. Hellmuth, Yamasaki & Leinweber left a tremendous impact in St. Louis, designing the terminal at Lambert Airport (1956) and most of the St. Louis Housing Authority’s projects from the early postwar era, including the Pruitt-Igoe project (1954). When the firm split, Hellmuth created the firm Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum in St. Louis, which went on to become the world’s largest architectural firm and continues to be a giant among American firms.

Architects Historic Preservation People

W. Philip Cotton, Jr. (1932-2009)

by Michael R. Allen

Today’s passing of W. Philip Cotton, Jr. marks the end of an era. Phil — born in Columbia, Missouri as William Philip Cotton, Jr. — was one of St. Louis’ early preservation pioneers. An architect by training, Phil became a tireless advocate for historic architecture out of the necessity of his times. After graduating from Princeton in 1954, Phil moved back to St. Louis in time for the urban renewal years.

In 1966, Phil wrote the National Historic Landmark nomination for the Wainwright Building. He also was active in efforts to get Lafayette Square designated as a Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places. The 1969 listing of the Square helped prevent plans for a highway that would have destroyed the eastern end of the neighborhood. In this time, Phil was also an outspoken advocate for the reform of city tax laws that rewarded owner inaction in maintenance and discouraged investment.

Also in 1969, Phil was part of a group of architects, historians and planners that created Heritage/St. Louis. Heritage/St. Louis is one of the early advocates’ greatest gifts to future preservationists: a citywide architectural survey conducted by volunteers between 1969 and 1976. Although documentation was simply a photograph, address and short assessment of buildings, the survey allowed for thousands of buildings to be documented — many for the last time. Heritage/St. Louis’ inventory of images from north St. Louis grows more valuable every day. Sponsored by the Landmarks Association of St. Louis (on whose board Phil once served) and the City Plan Commission, Heritage St. Louis’ daily operations were oversaw by Executive Director Cotton.

The aim of the project, a 500-page book on the city’s architecture to be published in the bicentennial year, was never realized. However, the survey sheets — now in the archives of Landmarks Association — are a civic treasure. Alongside this work, Phil also saw that architectural drawings for many major St. Louis buildings were microfilmed. One of Phil’s greatest contributions to preservation was his understanding of the value of thorough documentation.

Alongside this work in the city, Phil also was active in the county (producing the survey 100 Historic Buildings in St. Louis County in 1970) and the state of Missouri. In the mid 1970s, Phil Cotton drafted the outline of the statewide preservation organization later to become Missouri Preservation. He remain a counselor to that organization until his death.

Phil also championed the city’s official landmark program, and nominated the first 35 sites, structures and buildings to receive that designation. The city landmark program granted more than symbolic value or financial aid for preservation, but legal safeguards. Knowing Phil, I am not surprised that he sought the highest protection for the landmarks he valued the most.

Of course, throughout his service to the city and state as an advocate, Phil was an active preservation architect. Among his many restoration projects are the Piper Palm House in Tower Grove Park, the Mark Twain boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri, the Collins House in Collinsville, Illinois, the Gittemeier House in Florissant, the Saline County Courthouse in Missouri and others. Not surprising, also, that Phil Cotton was an organist and aficionado of classical music whose knowledge was revered by his friends. Phil’s interest in architecture seemed to stem from a larger concern about the legacy of culture we all share and must steward.

In recent years, Phil remained as persistent as ever — even in the face of illness. He continued his service as a trustee of the Steedman Architectural Library of the St. Louis Public Library. He was named to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 2002. When I first met Phil a few years ago, he was hard at work on editing a reprint of John Albury Bryan’s Lafayette Square, published in 2007. Dogged and principled, opinionated and generous, articulate and fastidious, Phil Cotton left us a legacy to admire and emulate.

(A copy of Phil’s 1978 essay “Architectural Space of St. Louis” is online here.)

Architects Central West End Never Built

Never Built: Million-Dollar Hotel

by Michael R. Allen

This rendering for a “$1,000,000 Hotel” at the corner of Maryland and Kingshighway appeared in the Realty Record and Builder in 1906. The architect was Isaac Taylor, whose already-wide renown grew even wider after his stint as Director of Works for the World’s Fair. The design is noteworthy for its exotic classicism, seen especially in the central dome crowning the enormous building.

Never built, the site is today occupied by Straub’s grocery store. An even larger hotel, the Park Plaza, would be built by 1929 across Maryland.

Architects Architecture North St. Louis West End

Lost: St. Ann’s Orphan Asylum

by Michael R. Allen

St. Ann’s Orphan Asylum stood at the northwest corner of Page and Union from 1904 until the late 1970s, when it was demolished. Operated by the Roman Catholic Church, the asylum relocated to the city’s west end from a downtown location at 10th and O’Fallon streets. The building permit dates to June 22, 1904 and lists a construction cost of $200,000 and the architects as Barnett, Haynes and Barnett.

The high cost went for high quality. The 3 1/2 story asylum was large, and its Elizabethan Gothic architecture was elegant. The building featured an expansive lawn on four sides, affording the orphans with grounds for recreation surpassing the modest court at the downtown location. Here we see the late Victorian ideals — lovely architecture masking a function of social utility as well as a belief in the social and health benefits of planned open space. The asylum rose as the World’s Fair was taking place not far to the south in Forest Park. The fair reinforced the faith in planned open spaces and architectural grandeur found in the asylum. Coincidentally, the architects of the orphan’s asylum also designed the Palace of Liberal Arts at the fair.

In 1904, Barnett, Haynes and Barnett was one of the city’s best-known and most revered firms. The firm’s principals were George D. Barnett, John Haynes and Thomas P. Barnett, and together the men had already designed many homes and commercial buildings in the thriving west end. The firm also enjoyed a good relationship with the Archdiocese, an had designed the romantic Visitation Convent (1894, demolished) located at Belt and Cabanne in the West End, Sacred Heart Church (1898, demolished) at 25th and University in St. Louis Place, and the Scholastic Building at St. Louis University (1896). On Page Boulevard alone, the firm was responsible for designing St. Ann’s Church at Whittier and Page (1897) and St. Mark’s at Page and Academy (1901). The pinnacle of the working relationship would be the firm’s design of the great Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard. The firm’s institutional work shows a tendency toward the romantic, with picturesque buildings placed on landscaped lawns, and St. Ann’s Orphan Asylum fits in that range. Stylistically, however, the Elizabethan Gothic is unique for a large institutional building by the firm but parallel to the contenporary work of school architect William B. Ittner.

The asylum eventually became a retirement home before being demolished by the Archdiocese. The site today is occupied by the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center and the Peace Villa, which maintain to some extent the site’s devotion to social service. The eastern end of the site is used by a grocery store.

(Postcard courtesy of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation Library.)

Architects Architecture Demolition Downtown Forest Park Southeast Historic Preservation LRA Missouri St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Odds and Ends

by Michael R. Allen

MCPHEETERS WAREHOUSES NEARLY GONE: The McPheeters Warehouses on Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, subject of a Vital Voice column of mine published in June, are nearly gone. Demolition started two weeks ago, and now the one-story cold storage warehouse and most of the center building are gone.

SHANK SONS HONOR ISADORE: Peter and Stephen Shank have published Firbeams, a lovely website featuring the residential architecture of father Isadore Shank.

KIEL PROGRESS: In the St. Louis Beacon, Charlene Prost reports on progress in the plan by SCP Worldwide and McEagle Properties to re-open the Kiel Opera House.

VACANT BUILDING INITIATIVE: As featured in a story on KSDK TV this week, Alderman Kacie Starr Triplett (D-6th) has introduced Board Bill 174, which would require owners of vacant buildings to pay an annual registration fee, carry liability insurance and secure all openings, among other requirements. Church and nonprofit property is exempt, but Land Reutilization Authority property is not. More later.

STATEWIDE PRESERVATION CONFERENCE SEPTEMBER 10-13 IN ST. CHARLES: The 2008 Annual Statewide Preservation Conference begins on Wednesday, September 10 in St. Charles. I am co-presenting a workshop with Jan Cameron of the St. Louis Cultural Resources Office entitled “Vernacular Architecture from the Stone Age to the Space Age.” Details here.

DRURY WANTS TO DO WHAT?: At Vanishing STL, Paul Hohmann reports on a bizarre plan by Drury Hotels to demolish the northwest corner of the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood for a new hotel. The plan threatens the Lambskin Temple and many historic homes. Drury will present the plans tonight at the Gibson Heights Neighborhood Association meeting, 7:00 p.m. at 1034 S. Kingshighway.