Downtown (C.B.D.)

Locale & Topography

The earliest history of the downtown area of St. Louis is synonymous with the beginnings of the City itself, as the original village of St. Louis was contained within the present limits of downtown along the riverfront. It was on the site of the present Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The location was chosen by Pierre Laclede, the City's founder, because it met his requirements for a fur trading post site that was not subject to flooding and was near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The present downtown riverfront area then consisted of a high limestone bluff about forty feet high, which began to rise north of the mouth of Mill Creek and extended northward about two miles. Behind this bluff the land sloped westward in two terraces, which were covered by a growth of timber as far west as the present Fourth Street. Westwardly, beyond that point, a broad rolling prairie with infrequent clumps of trees reached to the horizon. Mill Creek, called La Petite Riviere by the French, flowed across this prairie through a wooded valley.

Early Village of St. Louis

As laid out by Laclede, the village consisted of three principal north-south streets which are now First, Second and Third Streets. There were several narrower east-west streets and separate squares were set aside for the Government House, the Church and a Public Place. A fort was built on the hill overlooking the town at the present intersection of Fourth and Walnut Streets. Although named after King Louis IX of France, the settlement was called "Laclede's Village" by its inhabitants. The first structures erected were the fur company's post house, cabins for the villagers and a storage shed. Those buildings were built of logs which were stood on end in the ground. Later, a large stone house was erected to serve as Laclede's residence and headquarters for his fur company. Several other stone houses were built by the wealthier settlers. The first church was built of logs and was located on the same block as the existing Old Cathedral.

West of the village two large tracts were platted, separated by a line paralleling the present course of Market Street. The tract to the north became the village's commonfield farming area, while the one to the south was set aside as Laclede's property. This was later known as the Chouteau Mill Tract after a mill and dam were built on the creek forming Chouteau's Pond.

The post's expansion into a village occurred when the news arrived that France had transferred its lands on the east side of the Mississippi to Great Britain and French settlers in the east bank villages migrated to the west side settlement. By 1766, St. Louis had a population of about 300 and 75 buildings. Four years later it reached 500 persons and had grown so that the Rue des Granges, now Third Street was built up. At the time of the Louisiana transfer in 1804, the village contained 180 houses with a population of 900. There were no legal boundaries and property lines were in doubt because of conflicts in recording land grants. The new American Government appointed a special board to ascertain and adjust property ownerships.

The village presented a rather rural appearance in 1804 as the village blocks had been divided into only four lots each by the French. These lots were bounded by low stone walls and contained the owner's house, out buildings, garden and orchard. The architectural style was French Colonial with covered verandahs surrounding the houses on two or more sides. The one story houses had a loft above and steeply pitched tripped roofs. Most of them were about twenty by thirty feet in size divided into two or three rooms with rough hewn floors and heated by a fireplace in each room.

With the influx of American settlers, after 1804, the mode of building changed, with frame houses becoming fashionable. The first brick home was built in 1813 by William C. Carr. As the village grew into a city during the first half of the nineteenth century, the old French style houses gradually disappeared from the local scene.

The nucleus of the ultimate commercial character of the downtown area was begun by numerous village merchants who conducted their business from their homes in the village of 1804. The few stores of the time included a bakery, two taverns, three blacksmiths and two mills. No street fronted on the river and rear yards of houses on the east side of First Street extended to the edge of the bluff. By 1809, when the "Town of St. Louis" was incorporated, there were two roads descending from the bluff to the river at Market and Oak (now Morgan) Streets. Fourth Street south of Elm had only two or three houses at that time.


The first addition to the town, west of Fourth Street, appeared in 1816. It was called "Lucas Addition on the Hill" and reached west to Seventh Street from St. Charles to Spruce. J. B. C. Lucas, who purchased this part of the old Commonfield, set aside the present block now occupied by the Old Courthouse as a public square. He also donated a space for a public market along what is now Twelfth Street between Olive and Chestnut.

Subdivision activity "on the Hill" increased appreciably after St. Louis became a city in 1822, when land owners such as Lucas, William C. Christy and Jeremiah Connor platted new additions. Connor acquired a long narrow strip 380 feet wide from Fourth Street to the western limit of the Commonfield at what is now Jefferson Avenue. Along its center he laid out the present Washington Avenue with 150 foot deep lots on each side, but with no provision for cross streets. Later these were cut through by condemnation. Lack of regulation led to many irregularities in street locations and block sizes in these early subdivisions creating traffic problems to be corrected by cut-offs and street widenings in later years.

However, the streets "on the Hill" were wider than those in the old town and by 1829 several had been paved and the limestone bluff had been graded to provide access to the river. About this time, the main roads from the town became better defined. These included what is now Broadway, south to Carondelet and north to the village of North St. Louis. Westwardly, Market Street, Olive Street and the road to St. Charles came into general use. Better access to the river led to the erection of the first warehouses on Front Street along what later became the levee. Main (First) Street began to assume a commercial character by 1830 when several stores supplanted the old French houses, whose owners moved out because of space limitations. They relocated in country places west of Twelfth Street. Thus began the process of decentralization in the City.

The industrial revolution, which had arrived in St. Louis with the arrival of the first steamboat in 1817, was now in full swing. Steamboats lined the levee and steam was in use to propel machinery in many mills and factories in the City, as coal supplanted wood as fuel.

The City in 1830

While St. Louis began its boom town period after 1830, it still lacked many necessary amenities. In 1836, with nearly 15,000 inhabitants, the City had no public schools, bank, park, theater or library of its own creation. There was no hotel, store or saloon west of Fourth Street, nor any house more than two stories high. The St. Louis Theater was finished in 1837 on the southeast corner of Third and Olive Streets and in 1841 the City's first large hotel, the Planters House, was completed on Fourth Street north of the Courthouse. Charters for St. Louis banks, railroads, chamber of commerce, gas company, and insurance companies were granted by the Legislature in 1837. The downtown streets, which shed their old French names in 1822, were now numbered for the northsouth thoroughfares and named for trees for the east-west streets after the plan used in Philadelphia.

Residential Relocation

With the gradual change of the area from residential to commercial, the location of the City's finer residences and churches moved west of Twelfth Street after 1850 when Lucas Place became the fashionable residential street. During the 1870's the center for such elegant living moved westward toward Grand Avenue and crossed Grand Avenue after the development of Vandeventer Place.

Commercial Development

The City's business life centered along Main (First) Street between Walnut Street and Washington Avenue, until about 1840, when it began a gradual westward expansion. This movement was accelerated by the Great Fire of 1849, which burned out most of the area east of Third Street between Walnut and Locust. The City's earliest surviving buildings, largely of brick or wood frame construction, were destroyed in the fire. This presented an opportunity to rebuild on more substantial fireproof lines. The new structures in the riverfront district were generally four or five stories in height with heavy brick walls faced with stone or cast iron facades. Most of these were razed in 1940 for the riverfront memorial park. The levee declined in importance with the lull in steamboat traffic following the Civil War and the downtown commercial axis had reached Fourth Street by 1870. During the period preceding and immediately following the War, this street contained the City's principal hotels, office buildings and stores.

The chief hotels of the period were the Southern at Fourth and Walnut, the Planters House at Fourth and Chestnut, the Everett House on Fourth near Locust and the Lindell at Sixth and Washington. The office buildings were concentrated near the Old Courthouse, which was the focal point of the City's life at that time. The retail shopping center was at the upper end of Fourth Street near Washington Avenue, where such stores as Scruggs and the Barr Dry Goods Company were located. Banking activity centered on Olive and Locust Streets near Fourth. The principal theaters were the Olympic and the Grand Opera House located near Broadway and Market Street. Until the early 1880's, the western fringe of the present business district was residential as far east as Ninth Street. Broadway succeeded Fourth Street as the business axis in the period between 1885 and 1895. Indicative of this westward movement was the removal of Barr's store to Sixth and Olive Streets in 1880 and that of ScruggsVandervoort and Barney to Broadway and Locust in 1889.

Early Skyscrapers

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.

Memorial Plaza

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.

Aloe Plaza

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.

Busch Stadium

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.

Recent Projects

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.


The downtown area was the locale of the beginnings of most of the religious denominations in St. Louis and several prominent churches still survive within its boundaries. The oldest of these is the Old Roman Ca,tholic Cathedral, which was constructed in 1834. It is the fourth church structure to be built upon the block which was set aside for church purposes by Laclede. This beautiful old Greek Revival edifice now occupies an important position adjacent to the riverfront park. Another cathedral downtown is that of Christ Church Episcopal at Thirteenth end Locust Streets. This Gothic structure was begun before the Civil War and was finally finished in 1867. The tower was added in l91O. This church was organized in 1819 and;met in a house at the corner of Second and Walnut Streets. It was disbanded in 1821 and reorganized in 1825, meeting in a Baptist Church until its own building was finished at Third and Chestnut Streets in 1829. The congregation occupied a larger building at Fifth and Chestnut Streets in 1839, which served until the removal to the present building.

Among other downtown Episcopalian churches was St. Paul's organized as a mission in 1839 at Fifth and Wash (Cole) Streets. In 1859, it moved to its own building at 17th and Olive Streets, but this was sold to satisfy a debt and the congregation merged with Christ Church. St. John's Episcopal, Church was organized in 1841 on Second near Plum Street. Later it had churches on Spruce Street at Fifth in 1843 and at Sixth in 1853. It moved to Hickory and Dolman Street in 1872 and is now located on Arsenal west of Grand. Other Roman Catholic churches downtown besides the Old Cathedral were St. Francis Xavier, the College Church for St. Louis University, which was built in 1842 at Ninth and Christy (Lucas) Streets. It was used until the church and college moved to Grand and Lindell in the late 1880's. St. Mary's German Catholic Church was built at Third and Mulberry Streets in 1843 and is now known as the Church of St. Mary of Victories.

While St. Louis was predominantly Catholic in its colonial times, Protestants from the east coast began to arrive here during the time of the Spanish Commander Trudeau, who allowed them to hold services in their hdmes provided they did not call it a church or attempt to christen children in any other faith but Catholic. Any non-Catholic worship was forbidden by law. After the Louisiana Purchase, Protestants arrived here in greater numbers. The earliest attempt at church organization was made by the Baptists who built a log church on Fee-Fee Road near St. Charles Road in 1807. Their first church in the town of St. Louis was organized in February 1818 at the southwest corner of Third and Market Streets. It was said to be the only building on the south side of Market from the river to Fourth Street at that time. The First Baptist Church became extinct in 1833 when it was transferred to the Second Baptist, which started in 1832 on Market below Second Street in rooms of a house. It occupied the former Episcopalian Church at Third and Chestnut in 1839. A larger church was built at Sixth and Locust in 1848, and was used until 1872 when it moved to Locust and Beaumont.

The Third Baptist Church had its beginning in 1850 on Market Street, near 13th. It built a church at 14th and Clark Avenue in 1854 and occupied it until it moved to its present location at Grand and Washington Avenues in 1885. Presbyterians were first organized here by Rev. Salmon Giddings in November 1817, in a schoolroom opposite the Courthouse. The First Presbyterian Church was erected in 1825 on the west side of Fourth Street near Washington Avenue. The congregation erected an impressive Gothic edifice in 1855 at Lucas Place and 14th Street. It was said to have the tallest steeple in the city. This structure was abandoned in 1889 and was converted into a theater. First Presbyterian moved to Sarah and Washington in that same year. The Second Presbyterian Church was founded in October 1838 in temporary quarters at Fifth and Pine Streets.

A large Greek Revival structure was occupied in 1840 on the northwest corner of Fifth and Walnut. Following the same westward trend practiced by most churches of the time, a move was made in 1870 to a large Gothic structure at 17th and Locust. The Washington Avenue Church was organized in 1844 in a tobacco warehouse at Sixth and Washington and occupied its own building in 1845 up the way at Eighth Street. In 1853, it moved to 11th and Pine and changed its name to the Pine Street Church. Soon thereafter, it merged with what later became Westminster Presbyterian Church, which dated back to 1846, and had a church at Fifth and Locust after 1848. The combined churches used the Pine Street building until 1880 when they moved to a chapel at Grand and Washington. The Central Presbyterian Church began as the Fourth Street Church in 1844 and acquired its present name in 1846 when it met in a small building at Sixth and St. Charles Streets. In 1849, it moved to its own building at Eighth and Locust where it remained until 1873, then moving to Lucas and Garrison Avenues.

The First Methodist Church South was founded in 1821 in a house on Fourth Street near the Courthouse, moving in the next year to a frame chapel at Fourth and Myrtle (Clark) Streets. In 1830, it became known as the Fourth Street Church, when it occupied a church at Fourth and Washington. In 1854 it was located at Eighth and Washington and in 1883 moved to the former Y.M.C.A. at Eleventh and Locust, finally leaving the downtown area in 1884 when it relocated at Glasgow Avenue and Dayton Street.

Centenary Methodist was organized in 1839 and erected its own church at Fifth and Pine Streets in 1844. The church's present home at Fifteenth and Pine was occupied in 1870. Its nearby neighbor, St. John's Roman Catholic Basilica dates from 1858. Another early Methodist church downtown was the Union Church, which was an outgrowth of the Ebenezer Chapel which began in 1845 on Washington near Seventh. It closed 1861 because of dissension over the slavery ilssue, but reopened in the following year as Union M.E. Church in the former Union Presbyterian Church at Eleventh and Locust Streets. This was sold to the Y.M.C.A. in 1882, when Union Church moved westward to Lucas and Garrison Avenues.

First Christian Church was organized in 1840, meeting in various locations until it located at Sixth and Franklin in 1845 and in 1852 on Fifth near Franklin. In 1863, the church purchased the former St. Paul's Episcopal Church at 17th and Olive Streets.

The present Union Avenue Christian Church began in 1871 in a hall at 14th and St. Charles Streets, relocating in 1875 at 23rd and Washington. It was then known as the Central Christian Church, acquiring its present name in 1904.

The Congregational denomination began in St. Louis as an offshoot of the Third Presbyterian Church in 1852, then on Sixth Street near Franklin. A new church at Tenth and Locust Streets was started in 1855 and named the First Trinitarian Church. This was occupied until 1879 when a westward move was made to a chapel at Grand and Delmar.

German Evangelical churches began here in 1834 when the Church of the Holy Ghost was organized. The church at Seventh and Clark was used jointly with the Lutherans until 1842 when the congregation began worshipping at the Benton School building on Sixth near St. Charles. Two churches were built by the Evangelical denomination in 1845, these were North Church (later St. Peter's) at Sixth and Franklin and South Church (later St. Marcus) at Jackson and Soulard Streets. The Independent Evangelical Church of the Holy Ghost began in 1834 in the Methodist Church at Fourth and Washington. After several moves, it moved into its own church at Eighth and Walnut, where it remained until 1898 when it moved to Grand and Page.

The Lutherans organized their first church in St. Louis in 1839, when they were invited to worship in Christ Episcopalian Church at Fifth and Chestnut Streets. In 1842, they occupied a chapel on Lombard between Third and Fourth Streets, naming the Church trinity Lutheran. They relocated at Eighth Street and Lafayette Avenue in 1865.

The first Jewish congregation in St. Louis, that of the United Hebrews, was formed in 1837 in a house on Locust Street near Third. In 1848, they located on Broadway near Lucas and in 1859, on Sixth Street between Locust and St. Charlles. They moved to 21st and Olive in 1880 and to Kingshigway and Enright in 1903. Their present temple on Skinker near Wydown was occupied in 1926.

The Congregation Shaare Emeth or Temple of the Gates of Truth was organized in 1866 and occupied their temple at 17th and Pine Streets in 1869. They relocated at Lindell and Vandeventer in 1895. The B'nai Amoona congregation was founded in 1882 at Ninth and Washington, moving in 1884 to 11th and Franklin, and in 1888 to 13th and Carr. After merging with the Scheerith Israel Congregation, they moved to Garrison and Lucas Avenues in 1906.

The Unitarian Church of the Messiah was organized in 1834 in schoolrooms on Market Street opposite the Courthouse. Their first services were held on the third floor of the Masonic Halll at Main and Locust Streets. In 1837, they built a church at Fourth and Pine and moved in 1851 to a large Gothic ediface on the northwest corner of Ninth and Olive Streets. Due to the commercialization of the area at Ninth Street, the church was sold in 1879 and converted into Pope's Theater. When the Century Building was built on that corner in 1896, the Century Theater was located on the same site. The Church of the Messiah moved in 1880 to a new stone church at Garrison Avenue and Locust Street.

The First Church of Christ Scientist was founded in 1894 in the Beethoven Conservatory at 1603 Olive Street and in the following year constructed a church on Pine Street east of Leffingwell.

Mormons came to St. Louis while on their quest for the promised land in 1831, after the church's founder had a revelation that they must "go speedily to a place called St. Louis.'' Some stayed here and established a church for their flourishing local colony. After meeting in homes and rented halls for some years, the Mormons (or Latter Day Saints) rented a former Methodist church at Fourth and Washington in 1854. The church went into a decline after the Civil War and did not revive sufficiently to reestablish a regular meeting place until 1916, when a church was purchased on Maple Avenue. The present church in St. Louis Hills was built in 1949.


The need for public education in St. Louis became quite apparent during the 1830's when the streets of the rapidly growing city swarmed with idle children! As a result of legislative action in 1835, authorizing the sale of the City Commons, one tenth of the proceeds were to be used for the support of public schools. Two small two story schools were built and opened in l838. One was at Fourth and Spruce Streets and the other at Broadway and Cherry (Franklin) Street. There were about 350 pupils in the two schools. The Benton School was completed at Sixth and St. Charles Streets in 1842 and this school is also notable as it housed the first high school classes held in St. Louis in 1853. Other schools near the downtown area that were opened before the Civil War were the Clark School at Seventh and Hickory Streets in 1846, the Laclede School at Fifth and Poplar Streets in 1850 and the Eliot (later Eads) School at 15th and Pine Streets in 1851.

The City's first high school building was opened at the northeast corner of 15th & Olive Streets in 1856 and was used until 1893, when the high school moved to a new building on Grand Avenue and Windsor Place. Sumner High School for Negroes began in 1875 in a building on 11th Street near Spruce and was moved in 1897 to the former Eliot School at 15th and Walnut Streets, where it remained until the present Sumner High School was opened in 1910.

When the section of the downtown area west of Ninth Street was still residential, it wis served by the following grade schools: Benton at Ninth and Locust, 1870 to 1892; Franklin at 18th and Lucas, built in 1857; the Eliot School at 15th and Walnut Streets, 1868-96; and the Eads School at 15th and Pine Streets. A newer Laclede School was built at Sixth and Poplar Streets in 1870.


The public library system in St. Louis had its beginning in the Public School Library which was opened in 1860 at Fifth and Olive Streets, with about 600 volumes. By 1874, when it contained over 25,000 books, the library was moved into the Polytechnical Building at Seventh and Chestnut Streets. This structure, which was completed in 1867, also housed the offices of the school board and a branch high school. When the present Board of Education Building at Ninth and Locust Streets was completed in 1893, the library moved there and became a free public library for the use of the citizens of St. Louis. The Central Public Library at 13th and Olive Streets was completed in 1912 on the site of the old Exposition Building.

The Mercantile Library, which was opened to the public in 1846, was the first of its kind west of the Mississippi. After several years in various quarters, the library moved into its own building at Fifth and Locust Streets in 1851. This structure had a large hall on its upper floor, where concerts and lectures were given. The library now occupies the top floors of the building at the same location. This building, built in 1889 and since remodeled, houses the First National Bank on its lower floors.

University Beginnings

Both of the major universities in St. Louis were originally located in the downtown area. The oldest of these is St. Louis University, which was founded by Bishop DuBourg in 1818 in a rented stone house on Market Street near Second. In 1820, a two story brick building was erected for the college south of the old log church. Due to pastoral duties, priests were unable to devote time to teach classes and the college had to be discontinued in 1826. In 1828, Fr. Van Quickenborne began the task of establishing a new college. A lot on Ninth Street and Christy (now Lucas) Avenue was given over to the college by Bishop Rosati. Subsequently, a block long frontage on Washington Avenue was added. The first building, three stories in height, was ready for occupancy in late 1829, with another finished three years later. The college was incorporated in 1832 as St. Louis University and graduated its first class in 1834. A chapel was established in a building finished in 1835, on Washington Avenue and in 1842 the newly formed medical school occupied a building on Washington west of Tenth.

The college church of St. Francis Xavier was consecrated at Ninth and Christy in 1843. The main college building was built on the corner of Ninth and Washington in 1855, while the last structure on the downtown campus was finished in 1864. The college purchased a farm on Bellefontaine Road, 3 1/2 miles north of the city as a new campus site in 1836 at a place called College Hill. Construction work was suspended when the contractor died, and was later abandoned. However, the farm proved to be a good investment and made possible many improvements. Portions of the farm were sold and subdivided in 1855 and in 1858 a theology school was opened in a building on the site. In May 1867, the college purchased the nucleus for its present campus at Grand and Lindell, although it did not relocate there until 1888.

Washington University was founded as Eliot Seminary on February 22, 1853, and received its present name in 1854 at the insistence of its president, William G. Eliot, because it was chartered on Washington's birthday. At first called Washington Institute, it became a university by legislative action in 1857. The first school opened on its downtown campus at 17th Street and Washington Avenue was the Smith Academy in 1856, soon followed by the buildings for other departments. Eventually, college buildings were erected near by for Mary Institute and the Manual Training School. The art department opened in 1880 in a school and museum building donated by Wayman Crow at 19th and Locust. In 1882, the university comprised six departments including the law school and the polytechnic institute. The Medical school was organized in 1899 and construction began on the present campus soon after the 1904 World's Fair, as the new college buildings were leased by the Fair for various uses.

Department Stores

In colonial times and for a few years after the Louisiana Purchase, the business life of St. Louis was conducted from homes of merchants. The earliest record of the existence of separate stores is from ads in the Missouri Gazette which dates from 1808. These were apparently variety stores handling foodstuffs, hardware and dry goods.

A large influx of business and capital came into St. Louis after the War of 1812, when merchants such as John O'Fallon, the Lindell brothers, Henry Shaw and George Collier, arrived here. After 1820, business began to become classified and dealers appeared in separate lines of merchandising, laying the foundations for the large mercantile and department stores of today. A business crisis was precipitated here in 1842 with the failure of Illinois banks and a general stagnation of Western business. Economic conditions improved by 1845 and a steady growth was maintained for some years thereafter.

Downtown was the principal center for retail business during the rest of the nineteenth century and for the first half of the twentieth. The two major downtown department stores now are Famous Barr Company, which has occupied the lower floors of the Railway Exchange Building since its completion in 1914, and Stix, Baer and Fuller, which built its present store on the site of the old Lindell Hotel in 1907. Founded in 1892, the Stix store, popularly known as the Grand Leader, had been located at Broadway and Washington since the late 1890's. Famous-Barr is the result of a merger of the Famous (May Company) store and the William Barr Dry Goods Company in 1913. Barr's, which was founded in 1849, had occupied its own building on the eastern part of its present site, since 1880. Downtown lost its other major stores due to economic conditions; Nugent's closed during the depression in 1933, and Scruggs, Vandervoort and Barney closed its main store in 1967. Such old familiar names as Kline's, Sonnenfeld's, Busy Bee Candy Company and Weil's Clothing Store have also gone out of business in the last two decades. However, a downtown fixture since 1865 is the Union Market. Its present building, completed with bond issue funds in 1924, has been leased by the City to its merchant tenants since 1967.

Industrial & Railroads

Industrial activity near the downtown area has been concentrated along the railroad yards of the Mill Creek valley. The earliest railroad construction here was the Pacific Line which ran westward from a station at Seventh and Cerre Streets. It was constructed through the valley area in 1853 after the drainage of Chouteau's Pond, which stretched west as far as the site of Union Station. Other lines were built north and south along the river before the Civil War. Railroad activity increased considerably with the opening of Eads Bridge and its tunnel in 1874, followed by the First Union Depot at Twelfth and Poplar Streets in 1875. Another rail link was forged in 1889 with oompletion of the riverfront elevated railroad to Merchants Bridge. The old Union Depot was replaced by the present Union Station in 1894. The area which is now covered by the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park was formerly a warehouse and industrial district. It was active as such from about 1840 to 1890 when its decline began with the cessation of steamboat traffic on the Mississippi River.


The first regularly scheduIed public transit line to be operated in St. Louis, a horse drawn omnibus, began operating in 1844 from the National Hotel at Third and Market Streets to the north ferry landing. It afforded a rough ride on cobblestone streets. Horse car lines on rails came into existence in 1859, when the first tracks were laid on Olive Street from Fourth to Twelfth. This gave a smooth ride and decreased the strain on the horses pulling the car. However, derailments were commonplace in the early days. By the 1870's downtown was interlaced by horse car lines operated by many different companies. A major breakthrough was the introduction of cable cars in the 1880's, followed by electric trolley lines in the nineties. The competing companies were eliminated by consolidation into the St. Louis Transit Company at the turn of the century. This merger ppovided for universal free transfers and coordinated schedules. The downtown transit picture changed again after World War II with the gradual disappearance of streetcars in favor of motor buses. By 1966 the last streetcar line had disappeared. Bus operations began in 1921 with a single line on Washington Avenue which was unsuccessful. Regular bus lines were begun by the Peoples Motorbus Company in 1923. They operated double deck buses downtown during the twenties and thirties until the company's routes were coordinated with those of the Public Service Company in 1934. All transit lines are presently operated by the Bi-State Development Agency, which bought out the Public Servlce Company in 1963.

Land Use Changes

The downtown area has experienced many changes in its transition from the open country of the 18th Century to the complicated urban scene of today. In going through successive land uses from residential into various stages of commercial occupancies, the area has undergone a series of build-overs on various blocks.

The Old Courthouse

The only surviving public buildings downtown from the period preceding the Civil War are the Old Cathedral and the Old Courthouse. The site for the courthouse was designated by J.B.C. Lucas in his addition to St. Louis in 1816. The earliest legal proceedings here were conducted in a wooden structure in the old town, dating back to Colonial times. A brick courthouse was completed on the present site in 1828, occupying the space now covered by the east wing of the present Old Courthouse. The brick building was integrated into the newer structure after construction began in 1839. It was demolished to make way for the east wing in 1851.

The present Old Courthouse was constructed by stages from 1839 to 1862, when the dome was finally completed. One of its courtrooms was the scene of the first decision in the well known Dred Scott Case, which defined the legal issues leading to the Civil War.


The street arrangement has seen few changes, except for conversion of the narrow streets to one way traffic and widening of Olive and Market Streets through 1923 bond issue funds. Twelfth Street from Chestnut to St. Charles owes its unusual width to the former presence of the Lucas markets in its center; the widening extensions beyond that were also accomplished with bond funds. Street changes have been made as part of the Stadium, riverfront park and Convention Center projects. Major aids to traffic movement have been the recent completion of expressways such as U.S. 40, and interstate highways 44, 55, 64 and 70. Access to Illinois has been materially aided by completion of the Poplar Street bridge in 1967 and earlier by the Veteran's Memorial (now Martin Luther King) bridge in 1951.

Present Conditions

The downtown area is beset by concurrent and opposing trends. The business decentralization process, which began in the 1950's, is still in effect but is counteracted by a favorable trend evidenced by record levels of new public and private construction.

It is hoped that a continuing business revival can be accomplished through the increasing importance of downtown as the center for the entire metropolitan area. The City's current Downtown Plan, adopted in 1974, describes both the remarkable accomplishments to date and the many exciting projects to come.


City Plan Commission - Downtown Plan, 1974.

Compton and Dry - Pictorial History of St. Louis, 1875.

Dacus and Buel - A Tour of St. Louis, 1878.

Hogan, John T. - Thoughts About St. Louis, 1854.

Lange, Dena - History of St. Louis, Public School Messenger, Board of Education, St. Louis, 1931.

Scharf, J. Thomas - History of St. Louis City and County, Louis Everts Company, Philadelphis, 1883.

Shepard, Elihu - Early History of St. Louis and Missouri, 1870.

Stevens, Walter B. - St. Louis the Fourth City, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., St. Louis, 1909.