Built St. Louis > > Recalled to Life || Midtown > > The Continental Building

With apologies to artist Michael Merchant.

In 1928, St. Louis insurance and bank businessman Edward Mays conceived the idea of housing his two enterprises, the Continental Life Insurance Company and the Grand National Bank, in a single building. He decided not only to construct a building for his companies, but also to make the structure a grand addition to the St. Louis skyline. To design the building, he commissioned local architect William B. Ittner, noted for his numerous school buildings throughout the St. Louis area and in some 25 other states. Itner had previously designed the neo-Classical Masonic Temple a block away from the Continental site.

The building that Mays erected was a 22-story Modernistic masterpiece. Under Mays' direction, Continental Life spared no expense: the lobby was elaborately trimmed and decorated. A bright red aerial beacon glowed from the top of the building, visible for 50 miles on a clear night -- 100 from the air. A decorative metal-framed clock greeted visitors on the street.The three-story penthouse, the Continental's crowning glory, was custom-fitted for Mays with marble fountains and fish tanks, rooftop gardens and dance spaces, and unparalleled views of the city. Midtown's location at the top of a hill made Mays' new home the highest living space in the city. Novel features of the building included an early version of drive-through banking in the rear alley, a fifty-car garage in the basement, and air conditioning, the first such high rise in St. Louis.

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Union Electric Magazine, September 1929
Electricity in a Modern Office Building
...The first and mezzanine floors will be occupied by the Grand National Bank. Special lighting equipment is designed to harmonize with the architecture and dignity of the bank. Everywhere special electric circuits are provided for the operation of the many accounting machines used in getting out the daily balance sheet. A novel banking feature employing the use of an electrical push button will be provided in the alley in the rear of the bank. The hurrying business man or the late matinee attendant may drive up to the rear of the bank, press the electric button which raises a steel curtain and be face to face with a bank teller who has been located at that point in order that the busy customer may transact his business without parking or leaving his machine...

t parking or leaving his machine...