Hôtel de Ville, Paris and St. Louis City Hall

One thing that annoys me about American architectural history and St. Louis architectural history in particular is that it is frequently written by people who have absolutely no background in European architectural history. Case in point, it is “common knowledge” in St. Louis that City Hall is based off of the Hôtel de Ville, the city hall of Paris. But is it really? Did anyone actually bother to look at the Hôtel de Ville to see how much the two buildings look alike?

Baldus, Edouard, photographer. Hotel de ville / E. Baldus. Paris France, None. [Between 1851 and 1870] Photograph.

The correct answer is, only kind of sort of, and then really only superficially and in their massing, which is the overall shape of the buildings ignoring ornamentation. Compare the two photos above and below, showing the Hôtel de Ville before it was burned by the Paris Commune and St. Louis City Hall before its distinctive towers were removed.

City Hall. Market and Tucker. 1931. Missouri History Museum, N02687

In reality, City Hall in St. Louis owes much more of its ornamentation to Chambord, which we looked at several days ago. Look in particular at the conical tops of the towers and the ornamentation around the dormers.

The massing of the central core of the Hôtel de Ville is totally different from St. Louis City Hall; while in Paris there are two taller flanking towers with Mansard roofs, in St. Louis, there is a single entrance pavilion.

Also, the ground floor is delineated out in St. Louis with pink granite, and in Paris there is no change in the use of ashlar stone in between the ground floor and the piano nobile, the second floor.

And that brings up another point: Paris uses a popular Mansard roof throughout the building, while St. Louis uses hipped and pyramid roofs for most of the roofline.

St. Louis also includes turrets on the ends of the wings attached to the end pavilions.

And Paris features two alternating versions of window dormers, one type made of limestone and the other of copper.

In fact, in St. Louis, the dormers, based off Loire Valley châteaux, stretch from the floor below. They have been simplified due to the deterioration of the stone.

The corner pavilions or towers could not be more different, with Paris possessing a much greater amount of ornamentation than in St. Louis.

So while yes, there is a passing, and extremely superficial link to the Hôtel de Ville, I don’t know if I would go so far to say that St. Louis City Hall is based off the former.

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