Friday, June 24, 2011

St. Louis History: The Mark Twain Hotel

Hey, I know that building! The second I saw this postcard, a wave of familiarity coursed through me. Turns out I was right –it just wasn’t the building that immediately jumped in my head. My initial thought was that it was an early photo of this building – the Delany Building.
There are lots of similarities, but the Delany is smaller (five stories versus eight), older (1899 vs. 1908) and a few blocks away. As soon as I brought the photo of the Delany up, I knew that wasn't it. I Googled “Maryland Hotel” and found the Mark Twain. Yes, of course!

From the building’s National Register of Historic Places’ application:
The former Maryland Hotel is an eight-story commercial building located at 205 North Ninth
Street at the northwest comer of Ninth and Pine Streets in St. Louis, Missouri; it was designed in the Classical Revival style by St. Louis architect Albert B. Groves in 1907.

I quickly produced this photo of the Mark Twain that I had snapped last spring.

The elaborate upper cornice is missing as are the narrow second-story balconies above the doorways. But I was more shocked by what was missing in the old photo: the towering Frisco building (which you can clearly see to the right in my shot). If the Mark Twain (formerly the Maryland and later the Baltimore hotel) didn’t go up until 1908, where in the hell is the Frisco Building?! It should be there; it was built in two phases between 1903 and 1906. Perhaps it was nothing more than a case of 20th Century Photoshop …

Unlike many downtown buildings that have made the century mark, this one has maintained constant use for the purpose it was designed: a hotel. It opened Oct. 3, 1908, with the majority of its 250 rooms available at rates ranging from $1 to $2.50 a day. Can you even imagine?! Today, it is a residential hotel, not a temporary stop for weary travelers, mostly salesmen, heading west.

And it has been home to a variety of retail establishments and eateries on its first floor. According to the NRHP:

The lobby of the Maryland Hotel has been remodeled, covering up original marble floors with
carpet, marble and mahogany walls with a laminate, dropping the original 14.5' ceiling to about 8', and partitioning it into smaller spaces.

Oh dear Lord! That made my heart jump – and not in a good way. But then I read on …

The current owners are in the process of uncovering the original flooring and walls where possible, and removing the acoustical tile ceiling and some partitions; the lobby is and will remain about half its original size. Marble steps inremarkably good condition leading upstairs and down to the basement are still in use, marble baseboards are still in place in the lobby, and brass handrails are still in place on the basement steps. These will all be retained.

Whew! What a relief. I was about to go cardio for a minute. People do some really horrible and stupid things to glorious old buildings. I’m glad to see that some of the sins of the past are being rectified here…even if there have been some egregious losses:

The most prominent alteration to the Maryland Hotel was the removal of the terra cotta cornice. There are currently no plans to restore it. Balustrades that formerly crowned the bays windows at the eighth story have been removed. At the second story, a small terra cotta balcony in the center of each of the two ornamented elevations has also been removed.

Boo!! Hiss!!! But, for all those losses, the building has retained so much of its original ornamental detail in rather stellar condition.

Take a look at these bays!

Gorgeous, aren’t they? Can you imagine something like that falling to a wrecking ball? Shudder...

And I absolutely adore these griffins. They are just above street level. Real eye-catchers, no?

But there are even more details as you climb the bays to the top. There are cherubs with a compote and what looks like, to me anyway, dueling genies!

This is the kind of building that could give you whiplash as you jerk your head here and there, trying to take in all the mostly preserved details. So here she stands more than 100 years later in almost all her glory. And, please, let's keep it that way!



Kristy said...

How cool is that?

Shaniqua17 said...

I love the Mark Twain Hotel! I am so glad they decided to uncover all the old items. Did you also notice that the gutters have been changed at the very top of the building? They replaced the old draining system with a new one years ago. We visited during the remodel. It isn't really visible from the photographs, but if you go up to the roof you can tell it has been modified. Thanks for the post, I loved it!

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