A Preservation Plan for St. Louis
Part II:  Property Types

Period 1 - The Walking City (1820-1869)

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Commercial Structures

Business District Commercial Buildings

There are few commercial buildings in St. Louis that date from the Walking City period. Almost all of the earliest commercial structures were demolished with the construction of the Gateway Arch. What remnants remain of St. Louis' first commercial district, which was almost entirely east of 4th Street, can be found in Laclede's Landing.

The earliest commercial structures are three to four stories tall, and built of brick. Typically, the first story contained a storefront, with offices on the upper floors, a pattern that has been used from the early 19th century to the present. Examples of this commercial type are 721 North 2nd Street and 801-805 North 2nd Street. They date from the middle 1850's.

The example at 721 North 2nd Street is four stories tall, with two sets of paired doors and transoms. The front facade is separated with pilasters into three bays. Windows on the second and third stories are two-over-two, with narrow lintels. The fourth story windows are also two-over-two, but are set beneath pointed arches; a detail from Gothic Revival architecture. The building has been restored; the brick walls have been painted.

The row at 801-05 North 2nd Street is four stories tall. The first story contains tall narrow openings separated with brick piers, containing either paired doors or shop windows. The upper stories have double hung windows with multiple lights under flat lintels, the windows of each story decreasing in size from that below. A simple cornice with brick dentils marks the parapet above.

Cast Iron Buildings in the Business District

An important innovation during this period was the advent of cast iron in commercial storefront design. Cast iron provided greater structural strength, allowing for wider first story openings, while easily supporting the weight of the masonry above. Larger shop windows could be created, letting more light into the building and providing additional display space. Iron could be cast in a variety of designs. Use of the material became so prevalent that ultimately entire cast iron facades were constructed.

An example of the early use of cast iron in a commercial structure can be seen at 723 North 2nd Street. Originally the building was four stories in height; the top floor has been removed. The upper stories of the front facade are carried by a large iron lintel above the storefront windows. The columns separating each bay of the storefront are slender compared to the heavy masonry piers of the building to the left.

Neighborhood Commercial Buildings

Neighborhood commercial buildings were built to serve people in areas removed from the center city. These buildings were smaller in scale than those found in the city's business district. The early neighborhood commercial structures were designed with commercial space on the ground floor, with residential units above.

The earliest commercial/residential structures left in St. Louis are not unlike the Federal town houses of the period. They display the same proportions of windows and the same simple corbelled brick cornices. In fact, the earliest stores were located in houses, or in buildings whose exterior appearance was indistinguishable from them. As time went on, commercial design adapted to expanding merchant demands, and shop buildings came to be constructed with larger entry doors to accommodate patrons and deliveries; windows were enlarged for the display of goods.

One example of such an early commercial building is the row of storefronts at 1908-14 Cherokee Street. The first story entry, with transom and sidelight, is considerably wider than the traditional Federal doorway, which can be seen at 1910 and 1912 Cherokee. A detail of another commercial building of similar date, 1911 Cherokee, gives a clearer illustration of the design of these early storefronts.

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