By Paul Schankman
At 705 Olive Street, in Downtown St. Louis, the old Union Trust Building is now Hotel Saint Louis.
“There is something very special we are trying to tell, we are trying to evoke sort of the feeling that travelers got 150 years ago,” said Amrit Gill, President of Restoration St. Louis, the company that notably turned the old Coronado Hotel into apartments and the Moolah Temple into a theater, and now the old Union Trust into Hotel Saint Louis.
To restore the Union Trust Building took a lot of imagination.
“You don’t spend $65 million if it doesn’t need a major overhaul,” Amrit Gill said. “Everything needed to be replaced.”
After three years of hard work, Hotel Saint Louis had its soft opening at the end of 2018. The Grand Opening is in March.
When the Union Trust building opened in 1893, it housed offices, not bedrooms. So, turning it into a hotel required Restoration St. Louis to keep in mind the principle that form follows function, not just because it makes sense, but because that old adage was coined by the renowned architect who designed the Union Trust building; Louis Sullivan.
“It is a Louis Sullivan building, so I’ts intimidating,” said Amy Gill, the C.E.O. of Restoration St. Louis.
“You are afraid, and then you are relieved, and then you are afraid some more because you want people to like it,” she said.
“Everything about Louis Sullivan buildings was always very functional, and once he was sure of the functionality, then he went crazy with ornamentation,” Mr. Gill said.
The Gill’s tried to save lots of those frills and flourishes, restoring what they could and recreating what they could not. Much of the original plaster was missing, and so was most of the original stained-glass skylight, now being recreated by a local artist one panel at a time. They have also opened back up the original mezzanine, which had been enclosed during a previous remodeling job. And since the original building had a rooftop bar, they are also bringing that back.
“It is all about sense of it, not being this stodgy old historic place, but about making it exciting and fun for people,” Amy Gill said.
Along with restoring the building, the Gill’s want Hotel Saint Louis help restore the city’s image, by giving out-of-towners a uniquely local experience. The guestroom mini-bars are loaded with St. Louis-made treats including a variety of Bissinger’s candies, Billy Goat Chips, and Old Vienna’s Red Hot Riplets. Visitors are also issued metal water bottles branded with a logo for the St. Louis Water Division, to let them know the city has the best tap water in the country. There are arches made of upholstery tacks in the headboards, and the Fleur de Lis, the symbol of St. Louis, in the design of the carpeting.
The hotel’s restaurant is called Union 30, a nod to the building’s original name and its status as one of only thirty surviving Louis Sullivan buildings. The menu includes some very well-known St. Louis dishes, including Famous-Barr French Onion Soup, Mayfair Salad, and Busch’s Grove Cottage Fries, just to name a few.
The hotel’s meeting rooms also have local flair, with each named for celebrities from St. Louis including Vincent Price, Betty Grable and Maya Angelou.
“I want to tread that fine line between ‘crazy them park’ and a really beautiful hotel with really beautiful and fun things to do,” said Amy Gill.
“We are trying to tell a special story here,” said Amrit Gill.
“We are trying to tell the story of what St. Louis used to be and what it can be.”