Industrial Buildings Kosciusko Mid-Century Modern South St. Louis Urban Renewal Era

The Nooter Corporation Building: Urban Renewal, Atomic Power and Mid-Century Modernism

by Michael R. Allen

Looking at the Nooter Corporation Building from the south.

Some of the context for the history of the Nooter Corporation Building is found in my earlier article “A Brief History of the Kosciusko Urban Renewal Area” (June 19, 2011).

The modest two-story modernist office box located at 1400 S. Third Street south of downtown doesn’t evince its deep and important connections with historical forces as powerful as the development of atomic energy in the United States, St. Louis’ postwar effort to retain its manufacturing workforce and the mid-century modern architectural practice of a renowned engineering firm. Yet the red brick Nooter Corporation Building marks the intersection of these forces, at least through the administration of a company at the forefront of them. Here was the building that housed not the fabricators but the conjurers — those who dreamed of fitting an old boiler company into the mid-century mission of transforming America into modern nation.

View southeast toward the building in 2007. The Nooter Corporation lettering has been removed.

Following World War II, the Nooter Corporation entered into a rapid period of growth through involvement as a supplier and erector of process vessels to the emergent nuclear power industry as well as the established chemical, petroleum, food and defense industries. Nooter embarked on a major expansion of its plant in 1947 and by 1957 the corporation decided to build a new corporate headquarters suitable for its prominence. In 1959, administrative and engineering offices moved to the building.

From this office, engineers devised plans for the construction of a reactor vessel for the world’s first atomic energy plant and the world’s first use of titanium, tantalum and zirconium in reactive vessel construction. From 1964 through 1973, Nooter successfully applied for 13 patents, marking a major period of invention for the company. Nooter had not applied for a patent since 1954 and would not apply again until 1978. So the harmless little building in a tired old part of an ancient American city was actually an intellectual powerhouse from which ideas about new ways to make energy were born. Perhaps that is not surprising, since our buildings are often quiet keepers of great stories that may not initially seem to be linked to our own daily lives.

Kosciusko LCRA South St. Louis

A Brief History of the Kosciusko Urban Renewal Area

by Michael R. Allen

In 1947, the City of St. Louis published as a guiding document a Comprehensive Plan that called for bringing the city’s land use and zoning codes up to then-modern standards. Among the recommendations of the plan were the clearance and rebuilding of several large, older sections of St. Louis, including most of the historic Soulard and Kosciusko districts just south of downtown. In 1951, the Board of Aldermen took a dramatic step toward large-scale urban renewal projects by creating the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) “to undertake the acquisition, relocation, demolition, and site improvements of the urban renewal areas. . . which needed Federal assistance.”

The C. Hager & Sons Hinge Company Buildinga at 139 Victor Street, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, are among the few buildings not demolished as part of the Kosciusko clearance project.

Governed by a five-person board appointed by the Mayor, LCRA became the means for a variety of ends in redevelopment. At the end of 1953, LCRA attracted a new Executive Director, Charles L. Farris, former Deputy Director of the Federal Slum Clearance and Urban Redevelopment program, Housing and Home Finance Agency, Washington D.C., Farris previously had been appointed by LCRA Board of Commissioners on the recommendation of new Mayor Raymond R. Tucker.

Kosciusko around Russell Boulevard with Broadway and the Soulard neighborhood at left. View is looking north.

Under Farris, LCRA moved rapidly to implement the redevelopment recommendations of the 1947 plan. One endeavor was the clearance of the Kosciusko district, which city planners envisioned as an appropriate district for industrial expansion. Kosciusko was a dense, somewhat-rundown assembly of 19th century brick commercial buildings and tenements as well as industrial facilities that had sprung up on the riverfront and expanded into the neighborhood. Kosciusko had many social and physical ties to the adjacent Soulard area, and, in fact, architecturally was greatly similar. Like Soulard, the 2,941 residents of Kosciusko were predominantly poor. The housing stock was substandard, and the industries were land-locked with little alternatives except moving out of the district.