an except from the book “The Street – Washington Avenue Loft District – St. Louis”
published in 1991 by the City of St. Louis – Vincent C. Schoemehl – Mayor the St. Louis Development Corporation – J. Christopher Grace – Executive Director
In 1764, Pierre Laclede officially founded St. Louis as a fur trading post. Native Americans originally occupied this area and due to their earth constructions, St. Louis’ sobriquet was “Mound City.” Initially the City of St. Louis did not extend as far west as the existing Washington Avenue Loft District; this area was occupied by common fields. At the peak of the common field system, around 1790, these fields had spread over five tracts of land known as the Petite Prairie, the Grande Prairie, the Cul de Sac Prairie, the Prairie des Noyers and the St. Louis Prairie. The Washington Avenue Loft District occupies part of the St. Louis Prairie. Soon after 1822, this common land was divided into private land grants. Landowners such as “J.B.” Lucas, William C. Christy and Jeremiah Conner platted their new additions of land. Connor acquired a long narrow strip 380 feet wide from Fourth Street to what is now Jefferson Avenue, laying out the present Washington Avenue at its center with 150 feet deep lots on each side. The present cross streets were later cut through by condemnation. Over time, this district was constructed with a combination of low-rise, high density residential and business buildings. The development of Lucas Place was typified by single family houses from 14th to Jefferson Avenue and the Campbell is the only surviving example of that type.
Towards the middle of the 19th century, Washington Avenue was the site of two major educational institutions. In 1842 the newly-created Medical School of St. Louis University occupied a building on Washington Avenue west of 10th Street. The first of Washington University’s schools, Smith Academy, was located at 17th Street and Washington Avenue. The first Mormon church in St. Louis was established in 1854, in a former Methodist church at Fourth and Washington Avenue. This is the present site of the Missouri Athletic Club. Speculation and commercial development flourished along Washington Avenue in the latter part of the 19th century. Several fine examples of this robust urban architecture remain. The buildings were designed by a number of prominent architects of the period, including Isaac S. Taylor and Eames and Young, who employed different styles and materials such as red brick, limestone, granite, and terra cotta. By the mid 1920’s the District was fully developed.
Collectively, the buildings with their heights of 10 to 15 stories and their ornate facades lining the street edge due to the building code regulations of the time, created a cohesive early 20th century urban landscape
Fine examples of this era which remain include the Merchandise Mart (1889), the Lammert Building (1898), the Bee Hat Building (1899), the Swift Building (1901), and the International Shoe Company Building (1910). The Merchandise Mart was built for the Liggett and Myers Tobacco Co. from plans by Isaac Taylor at the time when Washington Avenue became a warehouse district. A bold construction of red brick and massive pink granite, the Merchandise Mart was a modern wholesale center with house manufacturers’ headquarters, shoe distributors, fixture firms and occasional trade shows. The Lammert Building, at 911 Washington, is a superb example of the Richardsonian/Romanesque tradition which displays delicate brick and terra-cotta ornamentation, was designed by Samuel Sherer, later the Director of the St. Louis art Museum. Located at 11th Street and Washington Avenue is the Bee Hat Building designed by Isaac Taylor with red brick piers topped by a terra cotta frieze of sphinx-like maidens. The Swift Building, also designed by Samuel Sherer, is exemplary for its finely detailed brickwork and gabled architecture typical of the domestic style architecture of
the time. The International Shoe Company, designed by Theodore Link and built in 1909 is located at the corner of 15th Street and Washington. Capturing the spirit of Louis Sullivan’s Wainwright Building in its composition is the former headquarters of the Roberts, Johnson and Rand Shoe Company.
During the 1940,s, Washington Avenue became a renowned national fashion center largely due to the development of the fashion concept of the “junior dress” by the St. Louis fashion industry. As a consequence, Washington Avenue was known for several years as “The Street”. Numerous apparel and shoe companies occupied space on “The Street” at one time or another, including Bridal Originals, Claire Tiffany, and Edison Brothers Shoe Stores. From this high point in the 1940’s, Washington Avenue maintained a relatively constant level of activity until a gradual decline began in the 1970’s. Today, even though commercial activity has waned, the Washington Avenue Loft District of St. Louis is nationally acclaimed for its architectural merit and urban quality.