The author took all of the photographs used here on June 19, 2006.
by Michael R. Allen
This summer, St. Louis lost a building designed by noted architect Preston J. Bradshaw, and no one turned out to mourn its passing. In June, wreckers began dismantling his Carpenters Building (1930) at the southwest corner of North Grand Boulevard and Cozens Avenue. By this point in time, few observers could recall the glory days of this building as the home of the Carpenters’ District Council, now located in well-known quarters on Hampton Avenue. Few historians who may have noted the building’s pedigree passed by the building in recent years, and it largely went unnoticed. (No biographical sketches of Bradshaw note the Carpenters Building.) The building’s new owners didn’t care to study its history; they wrecked the building to build another section of the ungainly strip mall that is MLK Plaza.
Yet, once upon a time when Grand Avenue was a bustling thoroughfare, trade unionism was strong and architects of Bradshaw’s ability took commissions of all sizes, the Carpenters’ Building came to stand here. The union council built the building in 1930 for the cost of $50,000, which was substantial then. The design by Bradshaw is typical of the idiosyncratic Renaissance Revival style he employed frequently in the 1920s and early 1930s for hotel, apartment and office buildings. There is an abundance of buff terra cotta ornament at the base and crown of the building, while the shaft is an unadorned plane of brick. Here, the building is two stories, so the effect of this ornament program is quite different than on taller buildings that Bradshaw designed. Rather than accentuating height, here the design accentuated the width of the primary elevations, giving the building a stately presence worthy of one of the city’s most prominent thoroughfares. The abundance of terra cotta, manufactured by the Winkle Company of St. Louis, makes the short building project a message of abundance and tradition that suited the unions of the day. As with many of Bradshaw’s designs of that period, here he masterfully balances the Renaissance Revival idiom with a modern emphasis on form.
Bradshaw (1880-1949) designed many famous local buildings, including the Chase Hotel, Paul Brown Building, Coronado Hotel and, late in his career, the modernist Ford Apartments. He came to St. Louis in 1907 after having studied architecture at Columbia University and having briefly worked for McKim, Mead and White. He became known for his prowess at designing hotel and apartment buildings, and was among the best-known St. Louis architects of the first half of the twentieth century. His works are expressions of the optimism of the growing city as well as explorations of the possibility of modern architectural forms. Many of Bradshaw’s are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and have been restored in recent years.
The Carpenters Building is not among those that will be so cherished.