Architecture in St. Louis

Written by Brittany Allen

st louis architectureWhen we think of St. Louis, certain architectural landmarks immediately spring to mind. The Gateway Arch, for example, is one of the most recognizable monuments to our architectural legacy – but it’s not the only thing we have to be proud of.

Some of the most revered architects have built here. Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Russell and Ruth Clark’s house in Ebsworth Park. Theodore Link designed Union Station as well as his own residence on West Cabanne Place. Eames and Young and Thomas P. Barnett also chose St. Louis for some of their work, but St. Louis architecture is not a product of the notable and famous.

Outside of our grand landmarks, some of the styles most closely representative of St. Louis architecture were pioneered by local firms who, while largely anonymous in the big scheme of things, contributed a great deal to the unique look and feel of our city.

Design influences range from French Colonial to French Second Empire, Victorian, German, Early American, and Modern, variously representing public, commercial, and residential buildings all over the city.

St. Louis Architectural Landmarks

The Gateway Arch

We can’t talk about St. Louis without at least mentioning the Gateway Arch. Built in 1965, it was built as a monument to Thomas Jefferson. It was designed by architect Eero Saarinen, who sadly passed away before the arch was completed. And here’s a fun fact: no sitting president is allowed to ride the tram to the top of the arch as it is considered to be too severe of a security risk.

At 630 feet high and the same distance wide, forty blocks of pre-civil war warehouse space and derelict buildings were cleared to make way for the Gateway Arch. As a result, the only structures that remain from this era are those in Laclede’s Landing, now a popular spot for microbreweries, clubs, shops, and restaurants.

Public Buildings

The Old Courthouse

The Old Courthouse was the tallest structure in Missouri until 1894. Built in the Federal style, it features a cast-iron dome with a copper exterior, and it is now part of Gateway Arch National Park.

Saint Louis Art Museum

Located in Forest Park, the three-story Saint Louis Art Museum (1904) is a stunning example of Roman architecture. Designed by Cass Gilbert, with more recent additions by David Chipperfield and Michele Desvigne, it was initially built as an exhibition pavilion for the 1904 World’s Fair.

Religious Buildings

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some of St. Louis’ best-known churches were constructed.

Thomas P. Bennet designed the Cathedral Basilica (also known as St. Louis Cathedral) in the Neo-Byzantine style.

St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Church (1867) is an example of Gothic Revival. Designed by architects Thomas Waryng Walsh and James Smith, it features three towering spires and dramatic stained glass windows.

The Second Presbyterian Church (1900) is a superb example of Richardsonian Romanesque. Features of this style include large, rough-hewn stones, decorative stonework, multiple arches, and terracotta roofing tiles. The building was designed by Theodore Link, the architect also responsible for Union Station.

The Neighborhoods Of St. Louis

Historically, there has always been a strong French influence in St. Louis, which is reflected in residential architecture up until the late 18th century.

Through the 19th century, homes were built in the Greek Revival style as well as Federal and Italianate. You will also see many Victorian and Second Empire houses, especially around Lafayette Square.

The Federal-style is recognizable for its shuttered windows, brick walls, gabled roofs—occasionally with dormers—and multi-paned windows. Italianate is more ornate, featuring large, often arched windows, and corbelled brick over the windows and below the cornices.

During the 19th century, there was significant development in what was then called “Private Places,” clusters of large residential abodes in the suburbs that shared commonly owned amenities and facilities (like streets, walkways, and gardens). Not unlike today’s condominiums, these enclaves were conceived and designed by Julius Pitzman and stand today as an important part of St. Louis’ architectural legacy.

Lafayette Square is well-known for its three-story Second Empire homes, while in Hyde Park and Benton Park, you’ll find lots of two-story versions of the same.

The Neo-Gothic and Tudor Revival homes of St. Louis Hills and surrounding environs are colloquially known as “Gingerbread Houses.” Constructed in the era just before WWII, they stand in stark contrast to what was going on architecturally in the rest of the country, with their terracotta roofs, front-facing chimneys, and limestone quoins. You’ll find this style in Baden, Jennings, Walnut Park, Penrose, and Northwoods.

While this is just a cross-section of our architectural history, it illustrates how truly unique and fascinating the city of St. Louis is. If you would like to learn more about how we preserve and build on this legacy, reach out today.

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