by Michael R. Allen
Imagine a strange dream-world. You are in a room, surrounded by shiny glass walls painted with wild ancient Egyptian motifs. A large sun-like disc descends as a chandelier. People of the ancient civilization seem to come back to life on the walls around you. There are lotus-stalk-shaped columns. Walls are inscribed with hieroglyphics. You hear a ding sound, and all of a sudden elevator doors open and office-workers stream out. They pass you and head out a glass door, through which you can see brick wholesale warehouses, office buildings and hotels.
The intact lobby on July 9, 2004.
Can you imagine this scene? Good. That is all you will be able to do to reach the former glory of the lobby of the Hadley-Dean Glass Company building at Eleventh and Lucas in downtown St. Louis, where the dream-world was reality for 76 years. This world, created through the art glass called Vitrolite, was shattered in September 2004 to make way for a restaurant space.
The Hadley-Dean Glass Company built their functional, neoclassical building in 1903 from plans by noted architect Isaac Taylor and draftsman Oscar Enders. Yet the building didnâ€™t acquire its most significant feature, its marvelous lobby, until 1928. The company wanted to demonstrate the decorative potential of the Vitrolite that it sold, and it could not have made a more impressive demonstration. The Marietta Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis, Indiana manufactured the glass, technically called Sani-Onyx glass, while Hadley-Dean distributed it in St. Louis. Designed by Oscar Enders, the lobby became an instant attraction, and remained so for decades. Locals would tell each other of the odd “Egyptian office building” in the middle of plain-old downtown St. Louis.
The Hadley-Dean Building on August 1, 2005. The colorful awnings are part of the Mosaic restaurant’s decor.
A renovation in the 1980â€™s by McCormick Baron greatly altered the lobby by moving parts of it to a different part of the building. The original lobby featured an open, two-story space with a mezzanine and staircase while the new space was one story. Later, in 2002, owners further removed parts and sold some works through eBay. Still, much of the original lobby remained, creating a fusion of wildly modern space with a stoic facade.
Sadly, new owners adapted the lobby for a restaurant oddly-enough called Mosaic by removing the best parts of the lobby. A few panels remain on doors an in the women’s restroom. Workers destroyed much of the lobbyâ€™s Vitrolite through crude removal attempts, but the intrepid salvagers and art deco experts of Broadway Moderne managed to purchase of the mostly-intact great features, including the columns pictured above and the chandelier. Some of those pieces will end up in Miami’s Wolfsonian-Florida International Museum and the proposed National Architectural Arts Center in St. Louis.