Architecture Events

Celebrate Obama Inauguration with Esley Hamilton

On January 20th, the day Barack Obama will be inaugurated as President of the United States, area residents will have the opportunity to consider his predecessors at a talk in University City.

Esley Hamilton, Preservation Historian with the St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation, will present his talk Front Porch and Log Cabin: Presidential Homes and the Presidential Image at the Annual Meeting of the Sutter-Meyer Society. “The United States is unique among modern democracies in enshrining the homes of so many of its presidents,” says Hamilton. “These building have been used to shape the public’s perception of the president’s character both during and after the president’s lifetime.” The talk will explain how the homes are used and present a colorful tour of presidential sites all over the country.

The presentation on presidential homes will take place at the Annual Meeting of the Sutter-Meyer Society on Tuesday, January 20th at the Julia Goldstein Early Childhood Education Center at 737 Kingsland Avenue in University City. The short Annual Meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. The presentation on presidential homes will begin at
7:00 p.m.

The Sutter-Meyer Society (SMS) is a non-profit organization working to renovate the oldest building in University City to become a small community museum and educational facility, which will focus on the history of University City, St. Louis County and the greater St. Louis region.

The SMS “Radishes-to-Riches” Raffle will also take place at the Annual Meeting. Anyone interested in purchasing raffle ticket can send $20.00 per ticket to the Sutter-Meyer Society at 7141 Delmar Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63130. The grand prize is $1,873, an amount that commemorates the year the Sutter-Meyer farmhouse was built.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Shelley Welsch / 314-727-6852 /

Architecture Historic Preservation North St. Louis

Art Deco on Natural Bridge

by Michael R. Allen

The narrow two-story commercial building located at 4712 Natural Bridge Avenue in north St. Louis sports exquisite terra cotta in the art deco style. While the smooth buff glazing is eroding, the terra cotta’s fine, curved abstract foliage and geometric patterns are intact. These form an integral part of the chamber drama of the building — pronounced piers define the four second story windows, which are topped by herringbone brickwork in the upper spandrel areas. These windows sit above a storefront that may have stretched the entire width between the building’s outer piers. Up above, the step in at each side of the parapet is a deft touch.

Of course, we don’t know much about that first floor storefront since the owners have bricked it in with a motley tapestry as well as concrete block surrounding a plain steel door. At least the filler brick in the second floor matches the buff color of the original face stock, because that first floor grabs the eye and tried to keep it from finding the beauty here. We do know that the buidling dates to 1929, and its first tenant was Peter Blumenschein’s shoe repair shop.

The blunders down the street are nearly forgiven two (long) blocks west of the old Blumenschein shop at the home of Droste Heating, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning at 4956 Natural Bridge. Sure, the storefront openings have been changed, and two of the four upper windows have lost original steel sash for glass block, but at least the openings aren’t closed up to light completely. Of course, the big draw here is the stylized sheet metal sign, with its delightful fonts. Droste and Rockel, tinners, built the building in 1937 and have remained here ever since. Apparently the company is proud of its presence on Natural Bridge, a commercial thoroughfare that can take every bit of pep that old sign provides.

Architecture Lindell Park North St. Louis

The Egyptian Temple in North City

by Michael R. Allen

Those who use Natural Bridge Road know that St. Louis has an Egyptian temple, adorned with obelisks, cartouche-style medallions and pagan female figures in relief. Standing out even among the showy architecture of north St. Louis — Central High School stands immediately across the street, after all — the temple at the southwest corner of Natural Bridge and Garrison avenues in Lindell Park never fails to catch the eye of those who pass by.

Now used as the Muhammad Islam Academy, the building at 3625 N. Garrison Avenue has housed many different churches, including the Martin’s Temple Church of God in Christ. However, the builder and original occupant was not a religious order but a fraternal one: the Mt. Moriah Temple Association, an order of Masons. In 1913, the Association hired Charles Brunk, a contractor and Republican politician, to build a large and exotic Mt. Moriah Temple . Whether or not Brunk himself designed the building is questionable, since he has no comparable work to his credit and a building permit record for the Mt. Moriah Temple does not exist. The temple shows a deft and creative hand, with a stylistic program that is heavily influenced by the Viennese Secessionist movement as well as works of Egyptian antiquity.

What is not questionable is that the Mt. Moriah Temple is one of the great eclectic treasures of the city. Application of Egyptian elements in American architecture grew in the early twentieth century with the rise of Art Nouveau, Secessionist and other avant-garde influences, which coincided with American archaeological interest in ancient Egypt. However, in the early nineteenth century, architects had also developed a “Egyptian Revival” style, evident in such works as William Strickland’s Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee (1848). Such overt Egyptian inspiration is rare in St. Louis.

Architecture Industrial Buildings North St. Louis Riverfront

Kraushaar Brass Manufacturing Company

by Michael R. Allen

I frequently pass by this industrial building at 2509 N. Broadway in the north riverfront industrial corridor, and have long wondered about the distinctive stepped south elevation. On that side, the parapet steps up a full floor above the apparent building height to support a chimney. My first assumption was that the chimney was the remnant of a demolished interconnected taller building. That assumption didn’t seem right, though. Time for research.

The 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map (Volume 3, page 52) shows this building alone, with no building standing to the south. The stepped section chimney is part of the building, which Sanborn shows as being a three-story section of the Kraushaar Brass Manufacturing Company. Building permits indicate that the building at 2509 N. Broadway was built in 1904 at a three story height. Since the building was part of an active brass foundry, a destruction of the top story by fire is possible. Several metal-industry related buildings in the north riverfront areas lost top floors to fire. Early processes often resulted in industrial accidents, and we know that heat rises. However, my guess is as likely as simple decapitation of a floor deemed useless for some reason.

My research on Kraushaar Brass Manufacturing is incomplete. Records show that the company was founded by Charles Frederick Kraushaar, a Prussian immigrant born in 1847 who arrived in St. Louis after 1870. Kraushaar started a brass foundry on this block (city block 330, bounded by Broadway, Warren, 9th and Benton streets) in 1873 that expanded in size rapidly. In 1911, when Kraushaar retired, he resided at 3627 California Avenue in south city. His company made a lot of light fixtures, and its products appear in Missouri state government procurement records.

One mystery solved, dozens more created…

Architecture Central West End Demolition Historic Preservation Midtown

SLU Purchases Mansion on Washington Boulevard, Plans Demolition

by Michael R. Allen

The house at 4056 Washington in 2007.

In October, St. Louis University paid $150,000 for the mansion at 4056 Washington Boulevard. The house was in foreclosure. Underneath layers of paint are the lines of idiosyncratic gilded age St. Louis architecture. Built in 1891, the house was clearly influenced by the popular Romanesque Revival style, evinced here through rusticated stone lintels and window surrounds. However, the wooden cornice has qualities of the Italianate style and the mansard roof and turreted bow evokes the French Renaissance Revival style seen in the design of St. Louis City Hall, the Frederick Judson House to the east and other buildings from the period. What a delight!

The mansion stands just west of the University’s Manresa Center, an interesting complex that originally was the site of the stately McPherson Mansion and later the Marydale convent before becoming the St. Bonaventure Franciscan friary. Since 2000, the University has owned the complex and maintained it as a retreat space. Since acquisition, the university marked the entrance with an inappropriate version of its signature gate. SLU has also purchased all lots between the Manresa Center and the mansion at 4056 Washington.

Demolition of the Saaman-owned houses underway in April 2007.

This block was once an elite street in the emerging Central West End, but the glory days have long since passed. Most of the block’s parcels are now devoid of buildings. In 2007, Saaman Corporation infamously wrecked three houses on the north face of the block to deal a huge blow to the historic character of the street. Hopefully SLU will not make a similar move with its newly-acquired building. Perhaps the university could incorporate the house into the Manresa Center, adding extra space and helping to retain some of the center’s dwindling historic context.

UPDATE: As Vanishing STL discovered, the university applied for a demolition permit on December 4. Alas.

Architecture Demolition Housing LRA North St. Louis O'Fallon

Lost: Tudor Revival Apartment Building on Warne Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

The other day, I passed the southwest corner of Warne and Greelea avenues in the O’Fallon neighborhood and noticed that the apartment building once on the site was gone. The photograph above shows that building, whose address was 4225 Warne, in August 2005. The Land Reutilization Authority wrecked the building in August 2007. Vacant since 1991, the building deteriorated badly under the ownership of Jourdan and Jo Ann Jordan who finally defaulted on taxes, although the couple took out small building permits for work in 2004. Once LRA obtained the property, the roof was missing over half of the building, with massive water damage inside.

So went one of the city’s most picturesque multi-family buildings. The Tudor Revival building had a sense of whimsy, as evidenced by the irresistible small turret and the crenellation. The differentiation of setbacks also showed a smart sensibility on the part of the architect. From among a cluster of modest frame buildings arose this masonry jewel on Warne Avenue. Just west, on the opposite side of the street, is Harrison School. Just north is the commercial strip on Florissant Avenue with its southern dip down Warne. This building clearly intended to line up alongside the fancy commercial buildings and hold its own architecturally. For many years, it did.

Architecture Downtown Streets

Locust Street Canyon

by Michael R. Allen

The view east from 11th Street of Locust Street in downtown St. Louis is encouraging. The differentiation of building heights, materials and styles gives the scene a truly urban complexity. Changes are in store as the Roberts Brothers prepare to rehabilitate two buildings (913 & 917 Locust) and demolish two buildings (921 & 923 Locust) in this scene. On the site of the demolished buildings will rise an addition to 917 Locust that will be part of a Hotel Indigo. How will their new building fit in this scene?

Architecture Downtown Housing

Roberts Tower Rising Downtown

by Michael R. Allen

On one hand, we have what could be the start of a major economic recession. On the other hand, we have the first high-rise residential building in 40 years currently rising downtown. On one hand — there is no other hand! We are left with an encouraging contradiction: as the economic news consistently drags us down, the Roberts Tower rises up from the ground on Eighth Street, tempting us to likewise raise our hopes to the sky.

Many developers talked about building new downtown residential buildings. Famously, we had the SkyHouse project on Washington, Daniel Libeskind renderings of Bottle District condominium towers, homes overlooking the baseball game at Ballpark Village, Park Pacific and Port St. Louis. Not one of these projects is under construction. Some are gone forever, in ways that are depressing. For instance, Park Pacific’s undulating Tucker Boulevard face won’t get built, while a plain0jane parking garage will be.

Amid the general atmosphere of hype of the last five years, we’ve had out-of-towners (SkyHouse, Ballpark Village) tempt us with the siren call of tall residential buildings downtown. Whoever did not get a tingle of excitement when hearing about the sundry proposals has never entered Chicago, New York or any other high-rise metropolis and been swept away by the tempting poetry of a sense skyline. We all fell for the idea that St. Louis was soon poised to proclaim its renewal as a great place to live through a boom of skyline construction.

Again, such a thrilling vision is far from reality. However, two tall buildings are reality — the Four Seasons Hotel at Lumiere Place, completed, and the residential Roberts Tower, under construction. The Roberts Brothers took three years to break ground, and may very well have slid the way of the other also-rans, but they broke ground this year on a $70 million 25-story modern high-rise residential building.

The design is sleek, but not showy (at least, now that the giant letters spelling “ROBERTS” don’t appear in renderings). The steel building fits into a small spot between the Mayfair Hotel and the Old Post Office Plaza, creating a narrow body whose main articulation is a sweeping glass south wall. The other walls are to be cast concrete, and the ground floor will open onto the sidewalk and plaza with a restaurant space. The building is solidly in good taste, unlike the Four Seasons.

The Roberts Tower design is also smart. The developers are seeking Gold LEED certification, and plan on many green technologies. From the south wall’s ample glazing to recycled materials going into the walls, carpets and counters, the building is ecologically progressive. The technologies used have not been used on such a scale in the city before.

With 55 units on the fourth through 25th floors — the lower floors will be conference and fitness space shared with the Mayfair — the building won’t put a glut of new units on the market. I have no idea how sales are going for the units, or how closely the finished building will resemble the rendering prominently displayed on the site. I do know that the Roberts Tower is a great idea and its construction could not come at a better time.

Architecture Art Downtown Events

Architecture St. Louis’ First Exhibit Opens on Friday

Following the launch of educational programs at its new downtown home, Architecture St. Louis, Landmarks Association of St. Louis hosts its first public exhibit opening at the new space this Friday, October 10.

In conjunction with the American Institute of Architects – St. Louis Chapter and the chapter’s Young Architects Forum, Landmarks presents After Hours, a juried student drawing competition shown alongside assorted work (furniture, photography, collage, painting) produced by young architects either unlicensed or within ten years of licensure. Subjects range from St. Louis architecture to nature to modern furniture.

Opening: Friday, October 10 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. (Work will be on display 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday – Friday for the subsequent two weeks.)

Where: Architecture St. Louis, 911 Washington Avenue #170 (located in the arcade of the Lammert Building)

Architecture Mid-Century Modern St. Louis County

Valley Park’s Modern Post Office

by Michael R. Allen

Valley Park, Missouri has a little Modern Movement United States Post Office that packs a large architectural wallop. Located at 305 St. Louis Avenue, essentially the building is a one-story brick box. There are no frills. The building’s only attempts at style come through function — namely, windows and doors, which every building must have.

Three tall, Roman-arched entrances on one side, trimmed in thick projecting limestone bands that reach up from the ground to form full surrounds. Two windows on the other side, also trimmed in limestone, create a lop-sided counterbalance. Inside of the mightly, heavy Roman arches are upper blinds filled in with small blue tiles whose delicacy contrast pleasantly with the stone surrounds. Power and grace balance each other as a solid doorway to enter the post office also provides the eye with a small delight on entrance.

Much modernism fails at such small but important gestures. This post office does it well, without pretending to be more than what it is — a small, small-town post office. This is the side of modern architecture that pulled the human scale out of minimal expression. After all, buildings are for people. essentially, those which are most functional should be — but rarely are — the most humane. Count the Valley Park Post Office among those that manage to be both.