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The Arcade Building from the north, with the Old Post Office in the foreground - 1997

The Wright Building, southeast corner - February 1997

Arcade Building
Architect: Tom Barnett, 1913

Wright Building
Architect: Eames and Young, 1907

Abandoned since the 1980s, the Arcade-Wright Building is downtown St. Louis's most visible emblem of decay. This pair of conjoined office towers, standing in the very heart of downtown St. Louis, was once a major shopping destination and a prestigious office address. As of 2010, it has been abandoned for over two decades. In those years, plans for demolition and renovation have come and gone, but this lovely building has remained incomprehensibly unused.

The Arcade comprises two structures: the smaller, plainer 1907 Wright Building, and the larger, Gothic-styled Arcade Building of 1913, which wraps around the Wright on two sides (and in two parts). The eponymous arcade is a block-long, 2-level passageway running north to south, from Pine to Olive. Styled in the same Gothic dress as the building's facades, it is an utterly gorgeous space.

The Arcade is part of St. Louis's greatest ensemble of pre-World War II skyscrapers, a group without peers in most cities. The group is ranged around the 1870s Old Post Office, and includes the Chemical Building, the Railway Exchange, the Frisco Building, the Syndicate-Trust, Louis Sullivan's 705 Olive (formerly the Union Trust Building), and the Mark Twain Hotel. The Century Building stood here as well until its 2004 demolition.

All of these strikingly handsome buildings feature street-level retail space. By rights, this should be a center of shopping and business in St. Louis. Instead, it was a ghost town in the 1990s, and remains underutilized today - the path back to urban vitality has been a long and slow one. Many of these beautiful office towers were willfully neglected for years by owners who sought no loftier goal than to destroy them to make way for parking lots (the marble-clad Century was obliterated to provide room for a garage.) The remaining buildings are facing a brighter future today; with a wave of residential conversions during the 2000s, only the Arcade remains empty today.

Impressive though this group of buildings is, they are in truth only a small fraction of downtown's architectural past. Most of that past has been brutally scraped away in the name of progress: 40 square blocks wiped clean for the Gateway Arch and its grounds; a linear path bulldozed for Highway 40; still more buildings demolished for the Gateway Mall; numerous individual edifices scattered throughout the downtown area. Thus is the importance of this surviving group magnified. The Historic Downtown tour gives a more complete overview of the disintegration of downtown's remaining historic fabric.

Arcade Building off-site links:

  • National Register of Historic Places nomination form
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