Paul Brown Building
818 Olive Street
Architect: Preston Bradshaw
On the west side of Ninth Street between Olive and Pine streets stands one of downtown’s latest early office buildings, the Paul Brown. Named for a banker and vice president of the Mercantile Trust Company, the Paul Brown Building was completed in 1926 from plans by architect Preston J. Bradshaw. The building was a speculative project, and it replaced older buildings on the site including the Odd Fellows Building at the corner of Ninth and Olive (1888). One of the tenants in the Odd Fellows Building, the Christian Science Reading Room, ended up being partly responsible for the Paul Brown’s design when the tenant won a court injunction against relocation. Bradshaw had to redesign the building to utilize the base columns and first floor of the older Odd Fellows Building. Given the inferior older structure of that building, Bradshaw reduced the height of the Paul Brown at the north from sixteen to twelve stories to avoid overloading the older building’s base.
Upon completion, the Paul Brown Building was still testament to Bradshaw’s imagination. Although the essential form of the building is a brown brick-covered steel frame, the intervening belts of buff terra cotta resplendent with foliate patterns drawn from the Italian Renaissance add a striking contrast. The Paul Brown’s terra cotta base includes large round arched entrances and second floor bay windows on the Olive Street facade that carry the bay pattern of the neighboring Arcade Building (1919). The Paul Brown’s L-shaped coffered lobby was rich with marble flooring and wall cladding, and created a small retail arcade once connected to the adjacent Arcade. The Paul Brown closed in 1996 but reopened as apartment housing in 2006 after being renovated by the Pyramid Companies. The building avoided the deterioration and loss of architectural elements that has plagued other buildings, and retains an almost fully-intact historic appearance today. The Odd Fellows Building’s granite piers are even exposed at the Paul Brown’s northwest corner.
Isaac T. Cook & Company published the building brochure ahead of completion in 1926, which was printed by Simmons-Sisler Company. This publication included the vital information for potential tenants: the ground floor plan, a sample upper floor plan, rent rates, utility and alarm service information, elevator service and other information. Additionally, the text is thoroughly persuasive in tone, with fairly typical poetic hyperbole. “Tenants Are Chosen” is one of the choicest headings, implying almost that a factor other than the ability to pay rent would go into a lease agreement. One possible error can be found: the text states that “[t]he Paul Brown Building is of simple but very pleasing architecture.” The Christian Science Reading Room’s members and Preston Bradshaw both might have disagreed with the descriptor “simple.” Among the illustrations are page corner vignettes of other notable city buildings and landmarks (including unbuilt designs), implicitly stating that the Paul Brown belongs in league with Cass Gilbert’s Central Library (1912) or Isaac Taylor’s Municipal Courts Building (1911).
This page was written by Michael R. Allen with Laurel Morris.