Demolition Downtown

Lost: Herkert & Meisel Building

by Michael R. Allen

The building in 1977. Source: Landmarks Association of St. Louis Archive.

The stately Herkert & Meisel Building (originally built by the Semple, Birge & Company Company as a warehouse) was built in 1874 and is depicted in Compton and Dry’s noted 1875 Pictorial St. Louis. In the last two decades of its life, the building stood as the only documented building depicted on the atlas standing in the downtown commercial core save the nearby Old Post Office and the Old Courthouse. (A small storefront building at Locust and 10th streets may date to the 1860’s.) The building stood as a remnant of St. Louis’s 19th-century wide use of the Italianate style for commercial architecture, a trend that was dwindling even by the time of this building’s construction. As such, it was an exceptional building in the downtown core that deserved careful preservation. However, exceptional commercial buildings have not fared well downtown.

The building’s most well-known use was as headquarters and factory for the Herkert & Meisel Trunk Company, a luggage company that used the building for almost 80 years until its demolition.  The bay window had been added to the building, but largely it was in original condition.

Rear elevation, July 1998. Source: Landmarks Association of St. Louis Archive

The demolition of the Herkert & Meisel Building drew little protest. In fact, many of the proponents of demolition were purported preservationists working for the development company HRI, which sought demolition of the building for construction of a parking garage and ballroom building to serve the historic Statler and Lenox hotels that the company was renovating. Once again, the false ideal of “progress” won out, and the building was sacrified for preservation of supposedly more significant buildings nearby. What an odd foreshadowing of the demolition of the Century Building three years later, except this time the later building died and the building depicted on Pictorial St. Louis was the avowed cause of death.