by Michael R. Allen
Washington University recently purchased this building, located at 4340 Duncan Avenue in the central corridor. The university’s master plan for the Medical Center calls for demolition as part of the CORTEX redevelopment project. Although unadorned, and perhaps a bit sepulchral, the brick industrial building possesses several unique architectural features. Built in 1936 for a printing company, the building is the work of the noted firm Mauran, Russell and Crowell. The firm employed its characteristic genius here. While the concrete-framed fireproof building appears as a four story building, the second and third floors are actually a second floor and mezzanine. This arrangement allowed for production using machinery with overhead components on the second floor and distribution on the first floor, with loading bays lining the east wall (see the photo above). The floor arrangement allowed for the building to have a smaller footprint, saving room and creating a more urban form. The mezzanine arrangement is reflected in tall exterior windows that call to mind the same firm’s earlier Federal Reserve Bank Building (1924) at Broadway and Locust downtown.
In 1946, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch acquired the building and put it to use printing its popular Sunday lifestyle magazines. The Post expanded the building in 1959. In recent years, the building housed Crescent Electrical Supply. The former owner recently began clearing the building in preparation of its impending demolition. The loss is a shame. The lack of lavish ornament no doubt seals the fate, but that same quality gives the building an appearance consistent with its original use. While not a masterpiece, the building is a handsome modern industrial composition that is an important part of the character of Duncan Avenue. Besides, the building is almost built with adaptation in mind. All we need is a little imagination — the sort of big thinking that led our leaders to envision CORTEX in the first place.