Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Look Back; Stadium, Gateway Arch Anchor Building Boom in Dingy Downtown

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Look Back; Stadium, Gateway Arch Anchor Building Boom in Dingy Downtown

Article excerpt

In 1929, the Landreth Building was completed at Fourth and Locust streets. It was 18 stories tall, cost $750,000 and was just the latest office tower in a bustling downtown.

But it turned out to be the last major office structure to be built downtown for 30 years.

In the 1950s, the downtown skyline was tired and dingy, the riverfront an empty expanse of cleared ground. Three-fourths of the commercial buildings were more than 50 years old.

Despite the look, downtown remained a busy place. The postwar years were the golden age for Christmas window displays at the major department stores. Families made happy pilgrimages by streetcar to see Santa.

But jobs and retail dollars were heading for the suburbs. Major landscape change usually involved headache balls.

Civic leaders promoted a campaign to wash downtown buildings of grime accumulated over decades of burning sooty coal for heat and power. More needed to be done, especially with commercial development of once-sleepy Clayton beginning to take off.

On Dec. 9, 1958, Charles Farris, director of the city's Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, proposed building a 50,000- seat sports stadium downtown as a catalyst for rebirth. The idea had been kicked around since the 1930s, but Farris' timing was right. The Chamber of Commerce jumped on the idea.

In 1959, the Civic Center Redevelopment Corp. was formed to build a new stadium, parking garages and other projects across 32 downtown blocks. That same year, the Thomas Jefferson building (now part of Drury Plaza Hotel) was completed at 14 South Fourth the first major office structure since the Landreth.

As Civic Center raised money from businesses, labor unions and ordinary citizens, the catalyst was working. The Bel Air East hotel (now a Hampton Inn) went up at Fourth and Washington Avenue. …

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