Cupples Station Building 7 In Context

by Michael R. Allen

Cupples Station Building 7 before the barriers went up.

This week started with the city’s Building Division moving ahead to surround Cupples Station Building 7 at 11th and Spruce with barriers to protect the public from potential collapses. Spruce Street between 10th and 11th streets is partially closed. This jarring reminder of the old warehouse’s rough condition was followed by owner Kevin McGowan’s statements that he will not preserve a building that he has owned — and let deteriorate — since 2004. The building’s condition is not yet dire enough to demand a death sentence, of course.

Spruce Street closed. View east from 11th Street. Cupples Station Building 7 is at right.

McGowan can pursue an emergency demolition permit if he wishes, or he can apply for a standard demolition permit. Either way, according to Mayor Francis Slay, the permit will go to the city’s Cultural Resources Office and likely to a public hearing at the Preservation Board. Preservationists are wondering if this will be a battle similar to that waged on behalf of the Century Building, of if McGowan will be led to the light of second chance emanating from a certain flying saucer. Either way, the fate of Cupples Station Building 7 will be a serious civic question, and the Mayor’s investment in the question is coming early.

Cupples Station Building 7 at right.

What is at stake is not simply a fine warehouse with gloriously sculptural masonry details, designed by the esteemed local firm of Eames & Young and completed in 1907. The quality of the remaining built environment of Cupples Station, diminished now to nine buildings, lies in the balance. So does the pedestrian quality of downtown south of Walnut Street. This area has long been isolated from the humane scale of north downtown, due to the Gateway Mall and the presence of several hostile 1980s skyscrapers on Market and Chestnut streets. Both the new Busch Stadium and Citygarden have softened the transition from parts of downtown that are pleasant to walk and this neglected zone, and rehabilitation projects at Cupples have populated the area with office workers and a few restaurants and bars. Now is not the moment to reverse that momentum.

View southwest toward Cupples Building 7. The Robert A. Young Federal Building, currently undergoing major rehabilitation, is in the background.

Furthermore, the block of Spruce on which Cupples 7 sits is the last place where there are Cupples warehouses present on both sides of the street. Until very recently, when another Cupples warehouse was foolishly lost in 2004, both faces of the block had two majestic red-brick buildings apiece. Even without one, the set is impressive, as is the visual line of brick on the south side leading to Busch Stadium’s Cupples homage.

Detail on north elevation of Cupples Station Building 7.

On the western end of the block, Building 7 and its earlier neighbor across the street, built in 1900, anchor the corners. Here the genius of Eames & Young’s plan is evident in the convergence of scale, height and materiality contrasted ever-gently with variations in window proportions, cornice profiles and bay divisions. These buildings make a fine set in which no one of them is identical to any other. That variety is irreplaceable, and currently the backbone of any hope there is to build out south downtown with more architecture of this quality. Cupples Station Building 7 must be saved.

View east down Spruce Street toward Busch Stadium. Cupples Station Building 7 is at right.

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7 Responses to Cupples Station Building 7 In Context

  1. Anonymous says:

    It clearly can be saved and should be saved. St. Louis has lost too many treasures. Remember the fallen wall at the Sun Theater in the Grand Center? It has been rebuilt. The “leaders” can rebuild it if they care too, of course they feign inability. You are correct Micheal, they will never replace buildings like these, they are a great scale for the area and superb architecture. It is a shame they have allowed others to be demolished. It would not be difficult to assemble a team to put the building back together if the current leadership is incapable of doing the work. This type of work has been done many, many times in St. Louis.  There is an abundance of expertise that can make this building successful. Or will it become the latest failure by the leadership of the City of St. Louis? I find it hard to believe it has been allowed to fall to its current state unless it was intentional.

  2. richard stuupidhead says:

    I like your work, but I wish there were more photos of the street level, not the cornices. I think the challenge is to convince restauranteurs, retail and other storefront type businesses in the value of the location. they are beautiful, it is a brilliant collection and on game days there’s a strong customer base. When the high-paying tenants are interested the developers might get their act in gear and fix the upper floors whether apartments or offices. of course in this economy it’s just a dream.

  3. eric says:

    Yes it should be saved. No brainer. Thanks, Michael, for the info.

  4. AmyH says:

    I saw yesterday that vandals have started peeling parts off the building. Specifically, the gutters on the back side are now missing.

  5. Erin Cromer says:

    I grew up in the County and my mom would always take me downtown to show me how wonderful St. Louis is, namely Cardinals games.  I started reading this blog because I love Cherokee Street and can’t wait to live there when I graduate from Ball State University and head to graduate school.  I was shocked when I read this and realized THIS is the building I always point out and drool over every time I go to a Cardinals game.  Could Kevin McGowan release a price for sell?  I’m a college student on financial aid, but still…  Can’t wait to live in the city and start making a difference!

  6. Ed Golterman says:

    Had Kiel Opera House been freed, reopened as the magnificent downtown performing arts center it is, and restricted to banquets and weddings it would have:
    already have saved Seven & catalyzed rebirth of the municourts building. That’s what these places-historic or brand new do-and have done over the last 25 years. With the Abrams building’s use in support of kiel and the hockey arena blocked by vince schoemehl, Cupples 7 would be serving 4 or 5 resident performing companies- offices, marketing departments, rehearsal halls and rooms, set design and building and costumes. This is how it is done in real cities. Because your world operates in fear, you did not celebrate the saving of the opera house as the most significant preservation victory, the media killed the history, particularly the last 15 years and this allowed the Fox to kill it again. You had the victory model but you looked away. Seven is gone, our civic center is still a dead-zone, and Union Station has no chance. That the McGowans could not see beyond sports, didn’t help. How much has the Westin lost, the Sheraton Civic Center, and Jefferson Arms is nowhere. Connect the dots. St. Louis was recently named the second worst destination in the Country. Very easy to understand why.

  7. Ed Golterman says:

    There was no will to save this building. There was no will to save the Avalon which was in as good a shape as the Sun. You dont understand who controls St. Louis. There is no leadership, just control

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