The first "skyscraper" in St. Louis was the six story Barnum's City Hotel which was built in the early 1850's. It was designed by George I. Barnett, who was also the architect of the first Merchants-Exchange on Main Street, built after the Fire of 1849. The maximum height for downtown buildings was about eight stories until 1890, when a wave of tall building construction began, made possible by widespread use of elevators and development of steel construction. The first steel frame structure in St. Louis was the famous Wainwright building designed by Louis Sullivan in 1891. The architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan of Chicago was also the designer of the present 705 Olive building and the St. Nicholas Hotel (later Victoria building), both in 1893. Completion of the present Old Post Office in 1884, led to a westward trend in office building construction as far as Tenth Street by 1907. In that year, Scruggs' department store made what was then considered to be a daring move into the newly completed Syndicate Trust Building. It was thought to be too far west for a major store. The year of 1907 also saw the completion of several large office buildings, including the Pierce, International, Federal Commerce Trust and Mississippi Valley Buildings. In 1914, the Boatmen's Bank building and the block square Railway Exchange building were completed. For many years the latter structure was the City's largest and tallest building. After 1890, the wholesale dry goods houses began to locate along Washington Avenue west of Seventh Street, moving west from Broadway and Fourth Streets.
In the early years of the twentieth century, newer and larger hotels were built to replace the fine hostelries of earlier days. As the center of the business district moved westward away from the Old Courthouse, the principal hotels in that section were closed. The Southern's long career came to an end in 1912 and four years later its famous neighbor, the Olympic Theater, closed its doors, as did Tony Faust's famous restaurant. The distinguished old Planters Hotel ceased operating in 1922 and was converted into an office building. Its place as the city's largest hotel was taken by the Jefferson, which was opened in 1904, at the~western end of the business district on Twelfth Street. The Statler (now Gateway), built in 1917, was the first hotel to be built in what later became the center for large downtown hostelries. It was followed by the Mayfair in 1925 and the Lennox in 1929.
The theatrical district was centered around Sixth and Walnut Streets in the 1890's. This area gradually turned into a district of warehouses and parking lots and finally became the site of Busch Memorial Stadium. The first large theater built downtown in the later period of development was the Orpheum in 1917, which is now known as the American. The original American Theater was located in the American Hotel at Seventh and Market Streets, which was built in 1907 and razed in 1954. The largest theaters downtown are Loew's State and the Ambassador which were erected in 1923 and 1926 respectively.
1920's Boom Period
Another boom period for downtown construction occurred in the 1920's. This actually started with the erection of the Arcade building in 1919, and reached its zenith in 1926, when the Bell Telephone, Shell, Landreth (now demolished), and Ambassador buildings were completed. Later, major structures of this period were the Missouri Pacific building, finished in 1928, and the Mart building in 1931.
While the 1923 bond issue led to important street widenings and connections in the downtown district, including Market, Olive and Twelfth Streets, and also electrification of the street lighting system, it was the Memorial Plaza project which had the greatest influence on downtown. Finally completed in its present form, as far as Fifteenth Street in 1937, the Plaza project created such important public buildings as the Civil Courts (1930), Kiel Auditorium (1934), Soldiers Memorial (1936). These structures added to the public building nucleus of earlier structures such as the City Hall (1904), the Municipal Courts (1909), and the Central Public Library designed by Cass Gilbert in 1912. The bond issue also was the source of the Police Headquarters (1927) and the Municipal Service building and garage. The U.S. Government has erected several buildings in this vicinity beginning with the Federal Courthouse in 1933, the Post Office in 1937 and 1975 and the Federal Office building on Market Street in 1960. Construction of the Plaza served to further the westward trend of the business district, chiefly for wholesale, office and hotel construction.
A long desired civic improvement opposite Union Station was the Aloe Plaza and Milles Fountain, which removed an eyesore at the City's railroad entrance for visitors. The Aloe Plaza was later joined to the Memorial Plaza ln a continuous park mall from Twelfth to Twentieth Streets.
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and the Gateway Arch
In an effort to stabilize land values in the downtown area, it was felt that a major civic improvement was needed along the riverfront. This movement led to the promotion of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in 1935. After many years of planning, demolition and litigation, including a lengthy controversy over the relocation of the riverfront elevated railroad tracks, the park construction began in 1961. The national park, with its Gateway Arch concept, followed the winning design by Eero Saarinen and Associates in a 1948 architectural competition. Following completion of the Arch in 1965, the project is slowly proceeding toward completion. Recently completed is an underground Museum of Westward Expansion, with a grand staircase up to the Arch from the levee and extensive landscaping remaining to be accomplished.
The foremost project which can be attributed to the Arch is the Busch Memorial Stadium and its adjacent garage structures. Developed by the Civic Center Redevelopment Corporation, the 51,000 seat stadium fulfills a long.felt need for adequate local sports facilities.
These two projects have sparked an unprecedented amount of new downtown construction including such buildings as Gateway Tower, the Equitable building, Pet Inc., 500 Broadway Building, Stouffer's Riverfront Towers and the Mansion House complex.
Following approval by the City electorate in November, 1972, a $25,000,000 bond expenditure for a new Convention Center was authorized. This project, which was completed in 1977, is bounded by Seventh, Cole and Ninth Streets and Convention Plaza. An adjoining redevelopment area is to include hotels, offices and parking facilities.
Private projects of the 1970's were inaugurated in 1972 with announcement of Mercantile Center, a six-block redevelopment bounded by Broadway, Eighth, Locust and Washington. The 35-story Mercantile Tower opened in 1975, and the May Company proposes construction of a three-level retail mall, 900-room luxury hotel and 800-car parking garage on three of these blocks between Famous-Barr and Stix, Baer & Fuller, whose stores will be joined by the mall and by skywalks across Locust and Washington.
Major office projects of the current decade include Boatmen's Tower, the new headquarters of the General American Life Insurance Company and the 900,000 square-foot First National Bank Building on IBM Plaza now under construction.
Spurred by the Gateway Arch and the Convention Center, the building boom of the 1970's includes major hotels: a second tower at Stouffer's in 1975, opening of the Breckenridge Pavilion in 1976 and completion of the Sheraton St. Louis in 1977.
A unique new project is the rebirth of Laclede's Landing, an old riverfront warehouse district between the Eads and King bridges. Millions of dollars are being spent to renovate its old structures and environment to create a bit of the past in a modern setting of new offices, restaurants and shops.
Image - View of the Gateway Arch from Illinois
Image - Arial view of the arch grounds
Image - Busch Stadium