Natural Bridge Avenue Institutions

Just northwest of the intersection with Grand Boulevard, Natural Bridge Avenue has a series of St. Louis institutions, each of a different variety. The first one, the old Fairgrounds Hotel, once housed Cardinals and Browns players who played at Sportsman’s Park a mere four blocks away. Stan Musial even lived there for a time, but the hotel declined after the Cardinals moved downtown. It is now an apartment building.

Update: This was originally the Sixth Christian Scientist Church, one of many that were built in the early Twentieth Century in St. Louis. I went back and revisited it in the late summer of 2021.

Below, this church, built in the Beaux-Arts style, sits along the avenue as well; built in 1923, it sits amongst parking lots and vacant lots.

Update: I went back and photographed Beaumont extensively in the late summer of 2021. It closed in May of 2014 after 88 years.

The grand edifice of Beaumont High School, featured in a movie about integration, is now on the way to closing in its current iteration.

Built in 1925, during an era where the belief was that great architecture actually inspired people (now a quaint and “old-fashioned” idea), it dominates this stretch of Natural Bridge across from Fairground Park.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. samizdat says:

    I don’t know that the word inspired is precisely the one you may be looking for to describe how buildings affect(ed) people. One thing I think we all notice is that the older styles have a number of details throughout the building mass which show the respect the architect and the builder–in addition to the commissioning agent, be it a school district or a manufacturer–had for the nearby residents, and the students, teachers and workers within. (In most neighborhoods, all of them were one and the same). Even with International style, and Modernism, the very best of these (and there are many, many examples) showed detailing and craftsmanship which illustrated the inherent humanity of the structure, as being designed by a human. And this made people feel good, not only about themselves, but about their society and their fellow humans in general. There’s a Catholic school near Oak Hill, a few blocks off of Arsenal, which has at least six different brick bonds composing the facade, in addition to the terra cotta appointments. As this area was home to the Winkel Terra Cotta Co. and other clay tile and brick cos., it’s obvious that it was built as an homage not only to the employers in the area, but to the workers and parishioners themselves. That kind of love for the humanity of the populace is often absent contemporaneous construction.

    Most building these days often seem to have a more utilitarian nature, built more for the benefit of the institutional or corporate brand rather than the human beings who occupy them. Nearly all industrial buildings have been stripped of anything remotely resembling detail, beyond that which can be done with fenestration and cladding. This is true of tilt-up, steel, and CMU construction, nothing more than boxes for stuff. And the management of these companies and institutions match the soullessness of the buildings they occupy. Case in point: I’ve been a fairly regular visitor to the Center for Advanced Medicine over the last few years. Nice enough building, and I actually worked for the company responsible for the nice cherry wood veneer panels throughout. However, the exterior looks just like most of the other newer buildings in the complex. A bland, baby-puke cladding surrounding an unremarkable shape. And though the main areas feature nice terrazzo and wood floors, the remainder of the building features vinyl floors and carpeting, which, ironically enough, are manufactured from, and off-gas some of the most carcinogenic compounds known to science. And the administrators? I was there just last week, and got into a conversation with on of the staff, while she was processing my procedural ‘paperwork’. Somehow, the subject of the management at BJC came up, and she related the story of a co-worker who complained to an administrator about some thing or another (pay or benefits), and the administrator said, “Well, quit then, we’ll be able to replace you within the week”. Devaluing human life is the main goal not only of a building, but of the administrators. As the kids these days note, it’s a feature, not a bug. And that goes double for for-profit organizations.

    We look at a building like Beaumont and we feel good, almost to the subconscious level, and we can’t quite figure it out. Maybe we look about and feel the oppressiveness of stucco- and vinyl-clad banality, and remember when Cost was not the only criteria by which we were judged. And judge others.

    IDK, maybe it’s just a pretty building, eh?

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      I agree; great architecture really can inspire, just as bad architecture can do the opposite.

  2. Tom Maher-Kirkwood says:

    More memories about the old Fairgrounds Hotel at Grand and Natural Bridge – from the ’40s and early ’50s…
    That was where many of the “out-of-town” Cardinals and Browns players stayed during the season – the salaries were not astronomical in those days, so they economized where possible.
    It was actually a pretty nice place, located specifically because of the ballpark, because it was just three blocks away.
    Many out-of-town fans stayed there as well; great location, streetcar lines in front to take them wherever after the games.

    ANYway, if the games ended early enough, we’d troop up to the hotel and wait for the players to arrive (walking, of course!), just to snag autographs.
    Most players who stayed there were younger and had no cars (!), so we got quite a few “good ones.”
    Some of the “poorer” clubs also quartered the whole team there, so the autograph possibilities were enormous.

  3. Bryon says:

    Inspiring? Na. Informative. I don’t look at any non colossal structure and feel inspired. I do look at old banks and think “That looks like a bank” or an old school and think “That looks like a school”. Mostly this has to do with my age. I am old enough to have traveled to many places and seen many more in movies. I have a pretty large mental catalog of architecture in memory (even if I don’t know what each is called I still know what they denote).

    In London or Oxford the 16-18th c structures paint pictures for informing you as to what they contain. Once we here carried on that tradition. Today, modern bank buildings look like they could be the corporate headquarters for a soap company and schools look like over sized credit unions. Case in point: Washington DC. Think of all the Athenian influences that scream “Law” or “Logic” at your eyes. Modern government buildings look more like penal institutions than something that should house a museum of antiquities or statue of a diety holding a scepter.

    Beaumont, to me, resembles an upscale west country / welsh manor house. 100 years ago that connotation meant something to people right here who were still being influenced by those societies across the pond. Back then there was an implication that “This is a building to be respected” but today people just don’t get it, they have no means of making the connections! Those psychological societal influences don’t exist in most of the population now like they once did. Sure the Harry Potter films try to keep it alive to some extent but without the magical elements the structures in those films only lend a quaint contrast to anything kids are familiar with. Would the average 20 year old even be able to point to Oxford or Caernarfon on a map? Most likely not. But, 100 years ago, most could and more than that they could recognize those locations in a film without the names being printed on screen. Same thing goes for the Athenian influence. Without Greece being in the news lately most teen to twenty somethings probably couldn’t point to it on a map and some might not even know that it is in Europe.

    Art has been mimicing life here for quite a few years now. Most of us feel generic, act generic and think generic. So should it be surprising that architects are prone to falling into step with that trend? Not when being unique gets more expensive and less relative by the day.

  4. Andrew says:

    I don’t know about inspired, that’s an awful high bar to set. A building is there to serve a purpose after all.

    The building where I work is as nondescript as it gets: corrugated aluminum and mostly windowless. I wouldn’t call it inspiring but I appreciate it for what it is: all business, just like I try to be. It’s a place to get work done, you don’t need to look pretty doing it. But, it would be a bit silly for a bank to have similar architecture.

    1. samizdat says:

      There is considerable scientific evidence which indicates that natural light, and good air circulation, do in fact produce a happier and more effective (efficient) worker, so you should care about that. Buildings are more than just piles of stone, brick, steel, and concrete or wood. To me, they indicate how a society values itself and those who populate it. And to my eyes, current American society places little value on the lives of the humans who populate it. And this devaluation is apparent in the increasingly poor design and materials choices in ‘architecture’ in our era.

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