Look Up: Stories Behind St. Louis Architecture
By Suzanne Vanderhoef
When most people think about St. Louis architecture, they think of the Arch …and that’s about it. But from a historical perspective, there’s so much more rising from the native clay bricks and limestone used to create it.
The Wainwright Building, on the northwest corner of Kiener Plaza, was designed in 1892 by Louis Sullivan, one of the most important architects in American architectural history, and it’s his most important building. It’s also considered the world’s first skyscraper, not because it was the tallest building at the time, but because its form could be stretched another 80 stories and still maintain its basic silhouette –a radically different design in the 1890s.
Another historically important St. Louis building is the Old Post Office. It was designed in the 1870s right after the Civil War, as one of several built around the country by the federal government as a show of might. Of the six that they build, this is the only one that’s left.
The person who designed it is an architect named Alfred Mullet and it’s one of only two examples of his work still standing: one is the Executive Building in Washington, DC and the Old Post Office is the other, listed as one of the 10 most significant buildings in the country.
But it might not have ever been built, due to some unexpected challenges.
“When they were building it, when they sided the building and they started excavating to put this building on the site, not too far down they ran into a big area of quicksand, and they had to adjust for that,” explained Amanda Clark, Community Tours Manager for the Missouri Historical Society. “And the way they did that was they sunk over 4,000 pine logs into the quicksand to get a firm base, poured concrete on top of that, and the building has not moved since.”
Soulard Market, one of the most famous places in St. Louis also has an interesting history that most native St. Louisans don’t even know about. The land was donated to the city of St. Louis in the early 1800s by Julia Soulard, with the caveat that it will always be a public market. All these years later, it is still up and running, making it one of the oldest markets west of the Mississippi.
However, the site that it’s on was hit by an F4 tornado in 1896, flattening the market and buildings around it and had to be rebuilt. But many of the original residential buildings in the area –many predating the Civil War– managed to survive and are still standing today.
“I love to encourage people to walk the neighborhoods, said Clark. “Even if it’s not your neighborhood, walk it, look at the buildings and think about the people that built them –we have so many buildings built by hand—and look at the legacy left behind by those artisans. But don’t forget to look up!”