Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sightseeing I: St. Louis

I thought it might be interesting to start creating posts about the non-Silsbee architecture that I typically seek out when I get a chance to take a vacation or travel outside of Chicago.  It is not surprising that I am typically drawn to work that is contemporary with Silsbee's and I that am also drawn to work with a high degree of art in it: carving, art glass, terra cotta and wood and stone work.  I do not get the time to research this work as much as I would like but hopefully you will enjoy the pictures anyway. 

This past weekend, I spent some time in St. Louis.  I had visited there when I was a teenager but didn't have much of an interest or knowledge in anything specific when it came to architecture.  On this trip, I had a short list of buildings I wanted to see.  Actually, I had a long list but time constraints required me to cut it down a bit.   At the top of the list were buildings by Louis Sullivan, followed by works by George Mann while Harvey Ellis was in his office. 

At the top of my list was the Wainwright Building.  It is a seminal skyscaper designed by Sullivan.  It is a beautiful red brick and terra cotta building with remarkable form and detailing.  It was built in 1891.

A lesser known cousin to the Wainwright is the Union Trust Company Building, a couple blocks away and also designed by Sullivan.  For my money, this is a much more interesting building with much more to see and discover.  The building is not as "clean" as the Wainwright but the overall form seems unique for Sullivan.  Many of his better-known buildings turn the light court toward the inside of a city block or an alley.  This structure has its light court facing a main street.  The overall coloring of the building also seems unique. 

The detailing is also pretty fantastic.  In addition to Sullivan's signature ornament, the heads of dogs and lions grace the corners and bases of the top windows.  At one point, the corner of the ground floor had gigantic lions flanking the corner.  Another unique feature were giant round windows above the store fronts.  An earlier photograph depicts these features.  This building was completed a couple years after the Wainwright.

Harvey Ellis' legacy in St. Louis, because he was such an enigmatic figure, is a little more difficult to ascertain.  There are many published renderings that Ellis completed for architect George Mann as well as some for his own firm.  Local guides point to three well-known structures that Ellis had a hand in.  The first and most prominent is St. Louis' city hall.  Mann one the competition for the St. Louis City Hall in 1891.  The design is chateauesque and is modeled after the Paris City Hall.  It has a steep hipped roof line punctuated with tall ornamented dormers.  The upper floors are made of a buff colored Roman brick.   
The detailing on the building is exquisite.  Stone accents are carved into a variety of abstracted traditional forms.  Many of the window heads are rounded as are pilasters that run up the side of each dormer. The cornice is layered with a series of molding types as well as a carved bas relief balustrade.  Though the overall form refers to traditional French architecture, the detailing is quite unique.   

Another of design that Ellis had a hand in was built five years after the drawings were made.  The tower at Compton Hill Reservoir is a very unique structure with Romanesque and Gothic features combined in an unexpected composition.  The base has almost severe lines with its strongly angular stairway and landings.  It is emphatically banded with rough-carved stone placed in alternating courses of large and small pieces.  

The final Ellis structure I visited was the gate at Washington Terrace.  The gatehouse was designed in 1892.  I haven't seen anything quite like this stretch of St. Louis elsewhere in the country; a series of private streets, each with its own gatehouse and closed off to the public.  The practice seems to be both charming and odd but the architecture of the gatehouses that line Kingshighway Boulevard is nothing short of remarkable.  I believe that the Washington Terrace gate is the most striking.         
The design, like the City Hall, is a unique use of French antecedents to create a unique new structure.  The structure is also very interesting because it uses a wide variety of materials to create the overall form.  The main structure is made from brick but stone and terra cotta accents are also used, along with elaborate ironwork and a dramatically placed clock and fountain.  

I am sure I will return to St. Louis to check out more of its architecture and hopefully I will have the time to dig a bit more beyond the surface.  If structures like these are so easily found, it is hard to imagine what a little digging would uncover.   

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