Wednesday, October 8, 2008

From the Ashes: The Missouri Athletic Club

Someone once asked a prolific bank robber why he robbed banks. His response: “Because that’s where the money is.” I guess it shouldn’t be surprising then that many of the most beautiful historic buildings in downtown St. Louis got their start as either financial institutions or department stores.

Today’s focus, the Missouri Athletic Club, is no exception.

That’s because its original building on Washington once shared space with Boatmen’s Bank. The MAC opened its doors Sept. 13, 1903, probably not too long before this photo from the Missouri Digital Heritage collection was taken. (Note that there isn’t a single car in sight!)

The building, the taller one in the background on the right, opened just months ahead of the start of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The clubhouse featured a swimming pool, gymnasium, billiard room and bowling alley in addition to sleeping rooms.

That changed when the building was destroyed by a deadly fire in March 1914. (Read a news account of the blaze here. The article also features a photo of the ruins. You can only imagine what it must have been like to have been in that fire!)

Within two weeks of the fire, members were busily planning their next building. That’s the one that still stands today on Washington at Fourth Street. The Renaissance Revival building designed by William B. Ittner, opened just two years later in March 1916.

This building offers a mix of textures, shapes, and color. It's got a whole lot going on architecturally. So much so, that I almost think of this as being several buildings all rolled into one.



And the geometric pattern woven into its uppermost levels is a sight to behold, especially from afar where you can really appreciate it. The entry to the building looks altogether different and has this grand marquis.

Here's a view of the geometric pattern from Fourth Street. See what I mean about the colors and textures? It's pretty amazing.

The building was officially designated as a city landmark in October 1978 and added to the National Register of Historical Places in May 2007.
Even the cornices above the windows -- which come in a variety of styles -- keep you looking. More than 90 years later, this building can still tip its hat to a bygone era and a history filled with famous names (a virtual Who's Who of historical St. Louisans) from August Busch to Charles Lindbergh.
It's one of the few historic buildings to remain in use for the same purpose for which it was constructed.

4 comments:

Jayne said...

What an interesting building. I really like the pattern in the bricks, too. You sure don't see much of that these days.

Vicki said...

Very beautiful! I love the brick detail! And the cornices are fascinating! I could probably stare at that building all day if I were there.

NV said...

Wow! i'm glad that you're seeing what I do. I have been ashamed at how much I didn't know or hadn't seen on buildings I have walked, driven or ridden by FOR YEARS!!!!

And it's heartbreaking to find out about how much has been lost. But even the lost aren't always completely lost. There have been some cool surprises, too!

The journey continues ...

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