St. Louis Skyline and Thoughts on Modernism

During a couple recent visits to the Gateway Arch National Park, the modernist buildings that create the St. Louis Downtown skyline caught our eyes.

We took a bunch of photos of the Arch and the grounds and shared them HERE and HERE.

But the photos we took of the skyline viewable from the Arch Grounds are worth sharing and are fun to discuss.

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Like em, hate em....or just meh, the Mid-20th Century buildings that make up the St. Louis skyline are fun to debate within the context of what they replaced and how they've aged into modern times.

By my simple purview, the ideals of the time don't seem to work in cities built for density (like STL was). But, I'd be lying if I said the Mansion House towers (1965), Millenium Hotel (1966) and PET building (1969) are not familiar favorites; I like Busch Stadium-II as well...but alas, it was deemed obsolete and destroyed. You can't deny, these were built with the automobile in mind and sprawling greens...and massive amounts of parking. Spreading out and creating an urban oasis vs. respecting the street grid and fitting into tight, urban rectilinear street grids seemed to rule the day back then.

The Mansion House towers, designed in 1964 by Schwarz & Van Hoefen and completed in 1966, were among St. Louis’s first examples of the steel and glass International Style architecture, and were notable for their use of concrete structural columns, curtain walls of bronze-tinted aluminum panels, glazing and balconies. (source). The place even had a putting green, how mid-Century is that?

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New ideals and designs with the automobile in mind are easy when you have a blank canvas, and in St. Louis' case, vast swaths of the riverfront and what is now known as Downtown were cleared to make way for this "progress". The photo below pretty much sums up the thought patterns of the time...spread and sprawl.

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And as seen in a riverfront diorama at the Museum at the Gateway Arch, this is what was cleared to make way for what you see today:

The 1960's were transformational for St. Louis. Looking around the central and near south sections of St. Louis these days is exciting as well...construction cranes everywhere.

It must have been equally exciting in the 1960's when the mid-century modern boom was taking place in St. Louis. Modernism was in full swing and the skyline was dramatically changed.

Looking back, it's easy to think it was all a mistake. We lost so much of the older building stock and street grid for these newer buildings. It might feel like a Hail Mary pass to try and stop the mass exodus of population that started in the 1950's when the suburban cities in the County exploded and St. Louis withered under White Flight and Urban Clearance.

We lost a lot and as you can see in the photo below; these buildings didn't bring the renaissance that was pitched. In fact one of the most touted of the mid-century monuments was Busch Stadium-II which only lasted a mere 40 years before it was deemed obsolete and out of fashion. The Stouffer's/Regal Riverfront/Clarion/Millenium Hotel has been vacant for nearly 5 years. The scads of surface parking lots and parking garages remain.

Look at the clearance that took place for the stadium in the photo below; we bulldozed so much for it and then tore it down and replaced it a block south 40 years later.

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The PET building, one of the most handsome examples of brutalism I've seen anywhere is an important sign of the times. It's cool, it catches your eye. The building is no longer a corporate building, rather the Pointe 400 Apartments.

Lament and bemoan the loss of the old city, but the mid-century and 1980's contributions of the Deloitte building (1986) and the Hyatt Regency (1984), previously known as the Adam's Mark are what we have. It would be nice to see infill on the skyline, adding density vs. sprawl. It would also be good to see new construction eat up surface parking lots vs. tearing down the beautiful brick buildings of our forefathers for new construction.

We should respect the stamp of Modernism that remains Downtown. I hope an investor sees the potential in the Millenium and the other mid-century structures remain. If we focused on the sea of surface parking in our downtown, targeting professional jobs and residents, all of a sudden we'd have a good, vibrant mix of architectural styles. St. Louis should cherish it's Modernist contributions downtown, they shouldn't be torn down, a la Busch Stadium-II, even if they did nothing to revive St. Louis as a city or even downtown.

Back in the 1960's, George McCue, an art and urban design critic at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said about the Mansion Towers:

“Visible from points to the west, [the towers] would beckon visitors, with their bold forms by day and their lighted windows at night, to an area of revived human activities.” (source)

He's right, only people can revive a city. But, sadly the Modernist buildings did nothing to stop the great suburban run of the times. But, these buildings are handsome. Some of them are mixed-use. They fit in with contemporary glass and steel construction.

I like them. We just need 10,000 more people willing to call St. Louis home. We just need some businesses that want to be part of St. Louis, not a far-flung suburban "campus".

Let's take a look at what these building look like from the Arch Grounds in 2018.

Next post will address the skyline changes ahead of us at Ballpark Village.