A historic photograph of the original St. Nicholas Hotel, built in 1893. It was one of three buildings built in St. Louis by architect Louis Sullivan. Unfortunately, much of the hotel was severely damaged by a fire in 1905.
The 800 block of Locust Street, circa 1970. The Victoria Building is on the far right. By this time in St. Louis history, urban decay was beginning to set in, and many structures downtown were being vacated or destroyed. Although preservationists were able to protect the nearby Old Post Office, the Victoria Building and several of the others on this block had no such luck. By 1974, the Victoria was demolished and converted into a parking lot.
St. Louis’ Brownfields Program got involved with the site in the mid-2000s, serving as the vanguard for plans to create the Old Post Office Plaza. After conducting subsurface investigations of the parking lot, petroleum hydrocarbon contamination was discovered in the soil, caused by a leaking underground storage tank (UST). In addition, buried demolition debris contained asbestos from old flooring material. The St. Louis Brownfields Cleanup Fund awarded a subgrant to Downtown Now!, the new owner of the future plaza, to help with the cleanup.
The redevelopment of the Old Post Office Plaza involved many vital public and private partners. Downtown Now! displayed this sign highlighting its collaborators during its groundbreaking and throughout the project’s construction.
The Old Post Office Plaza as it nears completion. This aerial shot provides a good view of the architectural and landscape features that would come to define the new public space. Next door to the Plaza is a separate project: the Tower at OPOP (formerly known as Roberts Tower). Having been completed in 2014, the Tower at OPOP is the first major residential development in Downtown St. Louis since the 1960s.
A ceremony was held for the completion of the Old Post Office Plaza in April 2009. The design of the plaza was meant to evoke the public space and art of ancient Greece. The new civic square would serve as a venue for public events. A shallow water basin surrounds the event space on two sides.
A view from North 9th Street, overlooking the Old Post Office, to which the Plaza owes its name. Five cities were chosen after the American Civil War for the construction of grand federal buildings to accommodate federal offices during post-war Reconstruction. These five cities – St. Louis, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati – were chosen because they were the fastest growing cities in the nation at the time. After opening in 1884, the Old Post Office was not only a main hub for correspondence and commerce, but also housed the Federal 8th Circuit Court. With a jurisdiction spanning 10 states, 4 territories and 11 million people, the 8th Circuit was the largest court in the nation by 1891. The Old Post Office building is now the only one remaining; the federal buildings in the other four cities were destroyed by 1942. The creation of the Plaza follows massive preservation and renovation efforts of the Old Post Office. The Plaza and its federal neighbor serve as catalysts for urban revitalization and the promise of a future St. Louis.