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National Guard Armory

Most people have seen the old National Guard Armory on the south side of Highway 40 along a desolate stretch of far west Market Street. I searched for any information on this building, that looks like it dates from the 1920’s or 1930’s, but can’t seem to find much information on it.

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Apparently there was a Grateful Dead concert back in 1968 in the armory, and you can actually buy a ticket from the concert.

Also apparently it was the site of tennis matches, according to the Post Dispatch, and also supposedly softball games.

You can see a satellite image of the building here. It’s a magnificent building, with a nice combination of cut stone and tan brick. Sadly, the location is really terrible; you have to turn down a narrow street and then Highway 40 is looming above you. The area looks like it will remain industrial for the near future, and there’s more than enough concert venues around town. Perhaps it would be a good place for “adventure” sports, such as rock climbing walls or other things that highly active people do.

21 Comments

  1. I stumbled on this page by pure luck. I can vouch for there being softball played there because the one and only time I was ever in the building was for a softball game. I was a child at the time. Not sur ehow old…..maybe 12ish? Which would’ve made it about 18-20 years ago. The field was laid out a little strangely because the interior was oblong. Left field was a relatively normal distance away as was center field. Right field was very short and there was a “home run porch” made by an overhanging seating area.I’ll have to ask my parents if they ever saw the Grateful Dead there. They were bigtime Deadheads back in their day.Ed

    • Left field was 250′, right field 150′. The Grateful Dead did play, as well as concerts by Edgar Winter, and Otis Day and The Nights. I lived there for ten years in the 80’s-90’s

  2. My dad worked in this armory from 1956 – 1963 as training officer for the 138th Infantry Division. I was a small boy and remember it vividly. There was a swimming pool in the basement that we used on a regular basis, also every year the floor was converted into a multi lane bowling alley for a large tournament of some sort. All the vehicles including tanks were parked in the basement. The building was pristine, with highly polished floors and was immense to a 7 year old.

  3. I’ve driven by the building so many times but finally pulled over to take a better look. You can tell it really used to be stunning – and still is magnificent, just not well maintained. Searched the history museum’s online archive and came across this photo of it from the ’30s: http://collections.mohistory.org/photo/PHO:35594. It clearly used to be on a main drag – the highway blocked it off.

    • Ashlyn, yes from what I understand that was actually Market Street, which turned into Manchester Road.

    • The building’s cornerstone was laid in 1939, so this photo is probably from the early 40’s. I lived there for ten years 1984-1994.

  4. My dad was a Captain in the 138th at the Armory from 1941 to 1945.
    I used to go down with him all the time and can remember much about it.
    Huge drill floor, swimming pool Officers club etc, There was a full compliment of men (several hundred) that were to old for the draft or had some kind of deferment and wanted to contribute something to the war effort. I remember he had to go to camp for 2 weeks every summer (Troy Mo.) for training.
    I still have a picture taken on the drill floor of my father standing below a enormous captured German flag that was draped from the balcony and on display and give the feeling that we were defeating the Axis! It was busy place.
    In 1943 when they had the race riots in Detroit. The Armory was put on alert because many people thought it was going to spread to St Louis. I can remember like yesterday the 3 huge brass front doors locked and behind them 3 manned machine guns pointed directly at the doors. There was a real fear that the blacks were going to “storm” the Amory. Sounds silly today but this was war time and everybody was on edge.
    Between the Armory and the Grand Ave. viaduct was a dirt field where the blacks played professional base ball. You could stand on the sidewalk and hear the crack of the bat and the ball popping in the catchers glove. They could easily played the Cardinals and given them a run. But that was never going to happen, not in those days.
    PPG had their offices and warehouse down the street, a new building with glass blocks that look very modern for the day. Market St was a very busy thoroughfare in those days and through the 60’s.
    War time in St. Louis was quite a place

  5. I was at St. Louis U from 68-72 and went to a huge frat party in the gymnasium of the Armory in the fall of 68. Doug Clark and His Hot Nuts were the entertainment, oh, and plenty of kegs! We all just walked to the Armory from the campus. What a great building.

  6. I’ve been in the building since 1984…….still here. So sad to see the deterioration this magnificent building has experienced. Hoping against all odds that someone with the financial means will save it before it’s too late.

      • Hello Mr Bilbrey, This is Frank I’ll preface this by saying that in the twenty plus years since the building was sold by the state to the present owner, I have had numerous inquiries concerning the building. Unfortunately, most of the interested parties have turned out to be simply curious individuals wanting to look inside the building and have basically waste my or the owner’s time. I decided to at least have a conversation before relaying things to the owner.
        I have been in the armory since 1984. I lived there for ten years in a five room apartment that was used as “home” for a permanent caretaker, usually an Army Staff Sargeant, for twenty-four hour security.
        The armory was vacated by the US Army Reserve in 1969. The building was given to the City of St Louis. The city’s plan to demolish the building and redevelop the land was abandoned when the lowest bid to take down the building was over $6 million. The city then deeded the building to the state for $5. The state did nothing with the building until is was sold by auction in 1986.
        Starting in 1983, my brothers, a friend, and I worked to convert the assembly hall (gymnasium) in to an indoor soccer facility, and later repurposed it as an indoor softball stadium. We ran that business until about 1990.
        The first time I walked into the armory I was completely taken in by the building. My first thoughts, and they ring true even today, was that the building was possibly the best piece of real estate in St Louis to redevelop as a gated community. The cost to do something like that was well, well beyond our means. It took a while, and an immense amount of work. We repaired the roof, resurfaced almost all the doors that had been smashed, and eventually laid Astro-turf on the 40,000sqft assembly hall floor.
        The building is a total of approximately 210,000sqft. The main hall is centered in the building, and on the perimeter are two floors of approximately 900sqft rooms. Some of these rooms are larger. The main hall has a clear span height of 49′. There are no vertical columns in the main hall. The total height to the peak of the ceiling is 75ft. The basement is a parking garage with storage room on the perimeter. There is also a private parking garage off the main garage area. The basement also houses an indoor five lane 25 meter pool. There is also a lower boiler room level, that has two regulation handball courts that are glassed in with viewing stands. The pitched roof is surrounded by a flat roof that could be developed into tennis courts and/or basketball courts, with a running track. The area I presently occupy are the two original shooting ranges on the basement level.
        The building is concrete frame construction, and is sound. The bad news is that, as evidenced by it’s outward appearance, the building is in dire need of everything. The pitched roof basically needs to be completely replaced. The flat roof also needs to be resurfaced. The building needs some tuckpointing, and of course replacement of the 4’x8′ windows (I believe there are approximately 200+) The plumbing needs to be completely redone, as well as the electrical systems. Over the past two decades, vandals and salvage criminals have stripped most nearly all the plumbing. I have not had water there for six years now, and most the drains barely work, many, not all.
        There is a tremendous amount of renovation to be done, but I still consider this one of the most amazing buildings in the city.
        I will try to email you some photos of the inside.

        • @ Frank –
          Thanks so much for the information about this grande dame!
          I spent two years there from ’67 through ’69. Many of my 880th Combat Engineers from JB and the storied 128th Field Artillery from its Grand Ave. armory were morphed into the XXth MP BN in 1967, and were based there.
          My company, the 1135th MPCO, was ostensibly a POW unit, but the only training we ever received was in riot control. After the Detroit riots in 1967, MO decided to make a riot control unit in (at least) St. Louis, but not publicly acknowledge its purpose.
          While Kansas City erupted in a deadly riot in April of ’68, cooler heads prevailed here; while we were activated and spent a few days at the Armory, we did not have to hit the streets.
          This was a good thing, as my platoon (I was the Platoon Sgt) was supposed to “control” Skinker East to Kingshighway and Lindell North to Easton (later MLK Blvd.). What a joke – 30 soldiers with M1’s in a few jeeps and M37’s against possible snipers in multistory buildings and with a simply huge area to boot!
          When my six years were up in ’69, I left.

          I’ve digressed… I spent many free hours exploring that wondrous building – even swam in its pool and used my M1911 in the firing range. I think every exploration revealed another “secret” room.
          If you ever decide to give tours…

          • Hi Tom, The building is in major disrepair, The owner does not want anyone in there. I have to respect his wishes.
            If circumstances change, I will let you know.

            fgp

        • Dear Frank,

          Thanks so much for the review of this building. I often shop at the Goodwill Pound store across the street and wonder each time I’m there about this old building. If it isn’t too much trouble would you please email me some the photos that you mention in your note?

          graymace@hotmail.com

          Thanks again for the history lesson

          Gary

  7. Frank

    Thanks for your insights on the building. I agree that this building needs a new life. If you have any interior pictures can you please send them via email.

    noelfehr@gmail.com

    Thanks
    Noel

  8. I used to have baseball practice during the winters inside this building when I was a youngster, 2nd-3rd-4th grade timeframe, mid-80s. So the size of the interior field seemed huge to us at the time. I loved going to practice there each week because it was the closest I would ever get to playing in a “dome” and the only time we would play baseball on astroturf like the Cardinals did back in that time. I totally forgot about my experiences until driving by this place the other night heading to IKEA. I wish they would restore and make something of this building and other buildings such as this from that era.

  9. I am Frank’s nephew and lived there on the weekends from 1987 through 1993. I absolutely love this building and was glad to hear that there are plans to revitalize it and make it an event venue. I cannot wait to go back inside and see what the new owners do with it.

    I remember when my dad and uncles built the indoor soccer field in there. I only played one season of soccer there only because I was a terrible soccer player. I would roller skate on the wood floors around the perimeter of the soccer field while games were being played.

    I was very excited when they converted the building to indoor softball and named the business Gateway Indoor Sports. Baseball was a much better sport for me.

    I was lucky enough to help them remodel the bar area that looks over the field. I learned a lot that summer.

    I used to drive down to the Armory on Friday nights and clean field, the bar, and the lobby after all of the games were finished. I also was up early on Saturday mornings to umpire the little league baseball games.

    I had a love/hate relationship with the building. I loved the building but hated having to down there just work. It was a sad day for me when theyou decided to close the doors on the indoor softball complex.

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