Monday, November 11, 2013

Downtown St. Louis Loses Significant Art Deco Era Storefronts

A few months ago, a friend at SLDC gave told me that he had seen a rendering showing new storefronts at the former Board of Education Building at 9th & Locust. Last week workers were busy demolishing what were the most significant and intact examples of Art Deco storefronts in Downtown St. Louis. The building, now rebranded The Lofts at OPOP, was purchased last year by Urban Street Group of Chicago as one of a package of several buildings that had been owned by the Roberts Brothers.

Evidence of the impending changes to come also appeared a few months ago when boards were placed across the opening of the recessed storefronts facing Locust Street. I contacted Betsy Bradley, Director of the Cultural Resources Office to see if the proposed alterations would be reviewed by CRO. The building is individually listed on the National Register and within Downtown's CBD Preservation Review District. Unfortunately she replied that the Cultural Resources Office would not have jurisdiction over the proposed storefront alterations.

Much of the unique storefront at 905-907 Locust has been dismantled. The removal of Vitrolite panels above storefront reveals a mezzanine space above the recessed area.

Board of Education Building Storefront
A view of the recessed area prior to being boarded up. The storefronts were not original to the building, which was completed in 1893, but were well within the building's period of significance, which extended to 1953. According to the National Register nomination form, the Art Deco style storefront alteration occurred in the 1930's, with the distinctive streamlined two-bay wide recessed area being completed in 1937. 

A closeup of the east storefront window featuring curved glazing. Storefront design in the time period from the 1920's through the 1940's was all about making the most of the exterior display windows, and often had deep recessed areas to expand the amount of display space with the intent of drawing shoppers into the store.

Debris litters the sidewalk in front of the circular Vitrolite column.

A view behind the boards reveals the once bright yellow terrazzo floor with patterns repeating the forms of the curved storefront windows.

Vitrolite panels have been removed from most of the storefronts along 9th Street as well.

The same view prior to removal of the Vitrolite.

Beside the recessed bays on Locust, the design of the two arched corner bays were the most distinctively elegant. The light band over the door and display windows was a recessed pocket for a retractable awning. A hinged decorative metal band would have covered the pocket when the awing was not in use.

Closeup of the same bay with Vitrolite removed from the lower walls.

The faded ghost of the Drosten Jewelry Co. can be seen in this view. The sign was likely cast aluminum letters that were glued to the Vitrolite similar to the small horizontal elements above.

The beautiful circular ornamental grills are now missing from both of the Locust and 9th corner storefronts. Hopefully these will be reused somewhere.

I could not find any information online as to what the new storefronts will look like, but I think it is safe to say that they will not live up to what is currently being removed.

Except for the two bays on Locust over the recessed entrance and the corner former Drosten storefronts, all the other bays had large clerestory windows to let in plenty of daylight.

Detail of the decorative stylized grilles. 

The last storefront on the north end of the 9th Street elevation. 


Chris said...

What a shame; historic styles from different periods can work together and make a harmonious whole. No need to separate them.

Anonymous said...

It could be nice to have this building 'de-muddled' especially if the new storefronts are designed appropriately.

repowers said...

Why why why why why????? What could they possibly be thinking?

Paul Sableman said...

These panels are going to the Hoover Dam per STLToday: