by Michael R. Allen
Following through the recent downtown demolitions with some link to the Miss Hullings Building tragedy, here are photographs of the slender commercial building that once stood at 1427 Lucas Avenue just a block north of Washington and a block east of the City Museum. The link to Miss Hullings? This building was also designed by prominent architect John Ludwig Wees. The visual link to Miss Hullings is clear: a tripartite division into ornamental base, a more prosaic center and a crown featuring an arcade of Roman windows beneath a brick cornice.
Sure, these weren’t the buildings that Wees put in the front of his portfolio, but they were hardly throwaway designs. Every architect has a way of designing when the budget is lavish, or when it’s severely restricted. Where the architect’s hand comes through the most is in the middle — the work that he or she designs day in and day out. Wees certainly gave his commercial buildings a strongly modern sensibility, meted through a classical screen. The first two floors — the public interface at the sidewalk — exhibits a restrained classicism through a limestone surround, a central cast iron column with Corinthian capital, lion heads inside of wreaths above each storefront and an egg and dart cornice in the limestone surround above the whole assembly.
The egg and dart is every building’s sad nod toward fate. That pattern enshrines the life cycle of creation and death in a succinct, poetic metaphor. Egg brings life. Dart takes it away.
Alas, the dart of death frequently comes in the form of heavy metal. The wrecking ball took down this splendid essay in commerce around the last months of 2000, when St. Louis Auto Sales successfully obtained an “emergency” demolition permit from the Building Division. A building that once housed Continental Shoemakers and countless dry good companies ranging from leather wholesalers to garment retailers met the dour economics of parking. Not quite an egg there, eh?