Concrete Tall Office Building
The first quarter of the 20th century witnessed the rise of reinforced concrete as a competitor to the steel frame for tall office building construction. Concrete had been first used in molded blocks laid with mortar in the same manner as other masonry load-bearing materials. It had similar limitations. The structure of the concrete block building was fairly massive; intermediate supports were required at short distances and it could not be built very high before the width of the lower walls, necessary to carry the weight above, became unmanageable. Although its weight-bearing properties were excellent, concrete alone lacked the strength of steel for spanning wide areas. The development of reinforced concrete-where concrete was cast in molds or forms around metal rods or grids-combined the tensile strength of steel and the compressive resistance of concrete to create a new building material which was inexpensive, easy to fabricate and durable. In 1890, the first reinforced concrete building was completed in Paris by François Hennebique, who at the same time created the prototype of slab and beam construction which would become the model for 20th century concrete construction-where the floor or ceiling slab was actually a part of the building's structural frame, instead of simply being carried by other members.
The Lesan/Gould building, at 1320 Washington, is a seven-story concrete structure built in 1907, from the design of Mauran, Russell and Gardner. It is a particularly appropriate example of the concrete office building because its engineer was Julius Kahn, who patented a system of re-enforced concrete construction. The building is an Arts and Crafts design, with banked windows, projecting cornice with oversize brackets, and a multitude of enameled brick detail.
The 20th century witnessed a new wave of tall office buildings. Just as in the case of residential structures, Beaux-Arts designs were popular for their imposing presence and elaborate ornamentation.
The Lammert Building, at 911 Washington Avenue, was designed by the St. Louis firm of Eames and Young in 1897. The limestone fronted building is divided into three sections, (base, shaft and capital again), each delineated with a classical cornice. The first two stories, with commercial spaces, are rusticated stone, the entry deeply recessed beneath a tall arch, and large expanses of glass. The stories above are divided into three bays by four-story paired Corinthian pilasters, while bays of the top two stories are separated by smaller pilasters and contain elaborate Palladian windows. The building is a former furniture store, now converted to offices.
The Lesser/Goldman Building, at 1201-19 Washington Avenue is another example of the Beaux-Arts office building. The building was designed in 1903, also by Eames and Young. It differs from the Lammert both in material and scale: far larger, encompassing more than half a city block, the building is fronted with red brick and red terra cotta. The seven-story building displays intermediate cornices at the third, fourth and seventh floors; three-story arched window bays; and a wealth of terra cotta ornament in belt courses, brackets and spandrel panels. The original ornate cornice, over a story in height, has been removed, and the first two stories altered.
Arts and Crafts Style
The Arts and Crafts movement appeared in tall office buildings, as well as residential structures. Arts and Crafts office buildings are identified by the use of boldly simple, geometric or naturalistic patterns and varied materials and color schemes. The eight-story Arts and Crafts style building, at 1519 Washington Avenue, was designed in 1917 by Harry Roach. The red brick front facade is divided into two bays containing banks of four windows. Each bay is outlined in white terra cotta. Terra cotta panels are centered in the brick spandrels below rows of windows. The top story has a range of engaged columns between single windows, which carries an ornamental copper cornice. The building's Moderne storefront level is not original.
Late Gothic Revival Style
The Gothic Revival style had been seen in commercial structures from the 1850's (see Period II), but waned during the late 19th century, overshadowed by the popularity of Richardsonian Romanesque and later the Chicago style. During the beginning of the 20th century, however, the use of the Gothic elements in a modified form was revived for commercial design: the development of white terra cotta considerably less expensive than traditional stone, and which could be cast in varied and elaborate Gothic motives was instrumental in its rebirth. To distinguish later buildings, this newer revival is generally called Late Gothic.
The five-story Tober Building, at 1214 Washington Avenue, is a Late Gothic design, constructed in 1918. The terra cotta facade is divided into five bays; the storefront, although somewhat altered, retains its art glass transom windows. The three stories above have slender piers and square spandrels beneath the one-over-one windows. A narrow cornice of multi-colored terra cotta caps the fourth story windows and the high parapet is detailed with geometric ornament and an alternating row of merlins and crockets.
As in residential design, commercial buildings from the first two decades of the 20th century are often a mixture of stylistic elements. The building at 1517 Washington Avenue, constructed in 1909, is typical. The first story is clearly Beaux-Arts in rusticated terra cotta, the entry set within a classical enframement and ornamented with an elaborate cartouche. An intermediate cornice above is supported by ornate consoles. Above this story, however, the building becomes more restrained: it has the pronounced pier and spandrel system of the Chicago school ‚‚ although the piers are pilasters, capped with stylized capitals ‚‚ and the glazed tile decorating each spandrel contributes an Arts and Crafts flavor.
Classically-Inspired Tall Office Building
Classically-Inspired office buildings were constructed in St. Louis during the 1910's. These buildings utilized projecting cornices, heavy window surrounds, and large expanses of unbroken wall surface, usually in brick. The most prominent decorative elements are rows of multi-story classical columns at the top of the building, often highlighting elegant spaces within.
The thirteen-story University Club Building, built in 1918 from plans by Eames and Young, uses classically-derived stone ornament appliqued over a relatively simple brick tower. Heavy white stone belt and string courses surround the building at several levels. Windows of the sixth and tenth floors have sash within classical surrounds; on the eleventh, they become multi-light under fanlight transoms; otherwise, windows are without ornamentation. Dominating the building is the penthouse, with a series of engaged Ionic columns between stacked windows, and a pronounced cornice with brackets. The building was constructed for the University Club, which met in the top floor penthouse. The lower floors were rented for offices. The building is now converted to residential apartments.
Art Deco Style
Art Deco office buildings were popular in the United States from the early 1920's through the 1940's. The dominant characteristics of Art Deco design are verticality, building setbacks on upper stories, and geometric ornamentation. The buildings were usually sheathed in terra cotta or stone.
The twenty-two story Continental Building, at 3615 Olive street, constructed in 1929 from a design by William B. Ittner, is demonstrative of Art Deco design. Sheathed in glazed terra cotta, the building faces south, with the first thirteen stories divided into five bays by geometric piers which culminate in pinnacles. The next nine stories are set back in a series of stepped bays, with a monumental parapet articulated with patterned tile and spirettes. Forming pinnacles on the east and west facades are stylized human figures.
The International Style began in Europe in the 1920's; it was characterized by extreme horizontality created by intersecting boxes and planes; no ornament; and long bands of windows set even with the building surface, that appear as part of the wall surface, rather than opening into it. The former St. Louis Post Dispatch Printing Building was one of the first examples of the International Style built in St. Louis. Originally three stories in height, the limestone-fronted building is strongly horizontal, with rows of ribbon windows. The windows and storefronts of the first story are set almost flush with the exterior wall. Countering the building's horizontality, a vertical stair tower with tall narrow window is placed at the right of the front facade.
During the early 20th century, many new banks were constructed in the downtown core. Often on a relatively small scale, with the bank as sole occupant, these buildings were almost exclusively Beaux-Arts. The style's monumental classical details produced a conservative and dignified appearance appropriate to a financial institution.
The former Mutual Bank Building, at 716 Locust Street, was designed by Tom Barnett, in 1917. The white stone building has a massive porch, with two-story recessed central Corinthian columns carrying a full entablature. Corinthian pilasters mark the building corners; casement windows have transoms and elaborate window heads. An attic story has deeply recessed windows and a secondary cornice beneath a shaped parapet. The building is now occupied by a law firm.
Hotels have been built in St. Louis since the late 1830's, but all the major 19th century hotels have been demolished. The remaining hotels, all located in the downtown core, date from the first three decades of this century.
The Mayfair Hotel, at St. Charles and 8th Streets, was constructed in 1925 from a design by Preston Bradshaw, St. Louis' premier hotel architect. Similar in design to the Classically-Inspired Tall Office Building, the Mayfair's first three stories are sheathed in stone, and are capped by a dentilled cornice. The first-story is a series of large storefront windows under segmental arches. Fourth story windows have stone surrounds and decorative lintels. The upper stories of the building are delineated with a row of round-arched windows, belt courses and a narrowly-projecting cornice.
Neighborhood Commercial Buildings
Period III commercial buildings constructed in St. Louis' neighborhoods did not alter significantly in function from those of the Victorian City. They remained predominantly two stories in height, with commercial space on the ground floor, and offices or apartments above. But like most other building types, the size of these neighborhood buildings increased substantially.
The commercial block at 3900 Vandeventer was constructed in 1927. The brick building features cast iron storefronts on the first story, and offices above. This long building is in fact a row of many individual buildings with firewalls protruding through the false mansard roof in a series of stepped gables. Projecting bays on the second story, covered by pyramidal roofs, alternate with oriel windows of curved glass. Entrances to the second-floor offices are set under terra cotta arches, and a pyramidal-roofed tower is placed at the street corner. An obviously vernacular building, this storefront row yet displays the exuberance of Beaux-Art influence.
The Delmar-DeBaliviere Building, at 5642-58 Delmar, was constructed in 1928 from designs by Isadore Shank. The three-story building is heavily influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly Wright's interest in South American vernacular design. The use of red and black-glazed terra cotta sheathing makes this commercial block especially interesting. Art Deco influence is seen in the slender, geometric piers regularly spaced along the facades, rising to pinnacles on the entrance bay. Courses of red terra cotta tiles are placed above the ground floor storefronts, which are rimmed in black terra cotta panels. The basic organization of the building (its siting at a corner on a major street; ground floor commercial and upper story offices) shows that little has changed in basic neighborhood commercial design since the 1870's.
Neighborhood Bank Buildings
During the first four decades of the 20th century, downtown banks constructed branch offices to serve customers living ever farther from the urban core. Others located their primary headquarters in these residential neighborhoods. The most distinctive building of this type is the South Side National Bank Building, at the corner of Grand and Gravois. The Art Deco-inspired stone building, unlike downtown bank buildings, was not limited in its development space and could erect an expansive, three-story base from which rises a seven-story office tower. The ground floor has a row of storefront windows; above is a monumental center bay, with two-story round-arched window. Ornamentation throughout is restrained and in shallow relief.