Last week I photographed the interior of the structure that formerly housed St. Louis Centre for the first time since the closure of the Pyramid Companies in 2008. I had avoided going there because I knew it would be a depressing experience, which it was. Before posting those photos, I realized that I last posted about the Centre's short lived good years. As most of you know, by the mid 1990's St. Louis Centre was on a non-stop down hill slide, never recovering from the opening of the expansion of the St. Louis Galleria in suburban Richmond Heights in 1991. The Galleria, which had opened as a redevelopment of the 1955 Westroads Shopping Center in 1986 more than tripled in size with over 100 new stores, the opening of St. Louis' first Lord & Taylor and a new flagship Famous Barr which moved from Forsyth Boulevard in Clayton. Other retailers along Forsyth similarly went into a downward spiral. In 1996 St. Louis based retailing giant Edison Brothers Stores, which was headquartered in what is now known as One Financial Plaza just east of St. Louis Centre, filed for bankruptcy. As Edison Brothers closed hundreds of stores across the country, its St. Louis Centre stores including Oak Tree, Jeans West, The Wild Pair, and 579 all closed, while newer stores at the Galleria remained open for several more years before the company was liquidated in 1999. Another major blow to St. Louis Centre was the conversion of the Dillards from a conventional department store to a clearance center. The store, which Associated Dry Goods had originally been planned for the 1985 mall opening as a completely renovated Stix Baer & Fuller with six sales floors was reduced to a three story Dillards (purchased SBF in 1984) before St. Louis Centre even opened. By 2001, the clearance center had been shrunk to the ground floor only, and closed entirely. By 2005 only a handful of retail tenants remained in St. Louis Centre, including Walgreens, Payless Shoes, GNC, T-Mobile, and a few others. The food court was empty except for the Chick-Fil-A, Sbarro and a Chinese Express. It was only a matter of time until the failed mall would be sold for redevelopment. In August 2006, Pyramid Companies finally closed on the purchase of St. Louis Centre from Barry Cohen. When Pyramid first contemplated purchasing the mall a year earlier, the head of commercial development had intensions to demolish the building and start over. I convinced him that the structure of the building, which was barely 20 years old was not only sound, but that the 30 foot by 30 foot bays and 15 foot ceilings, made the building very flexible for a variety of new uses. And thus began a two and half year merry-go-round ride of looking at several different condo schemes, a residential tower addition, a new theater for the Black Rep, and the last stop in early 2008, a 40,000 s.f. ballroom for the America's Center. These photos were taken a few weeks after Pyramid Companies closed the mall permanently on September 15th 2006, just one month after its 21st birthday.
Vanishing STL was created to illustrate the continuing loss of irreplaceable architecture from landmark buildings to ordinary homes due to demolition, abandonment and neglect. Often I write about structures threatened with demolition to bring awareness of the situation and promote preservation as an alternative. All photos are by Paul Hohmann unless noted otherwise.