Architectural hot spots in St. Louis
When thinking about St. Louis, impressive architecture does not come to mind. Sure, the Arch is a widely recognized symbol of the Gateway to the West, but beyond that, the city isn’t noted for awe-inspiring structures.
This, however, is a regrettable misconception. St. Louis holds a treasure trove of little-known architectural marvels, which are hidden away in cemeteries, on street corners and throughout the city.
Bellefontaine Cemetery, located in North St. Louis, holds some of the most magnificent tombs in the country. In 1915, the wife of St. Louis brewing magnate Adolphus Busch had an enormous tomb reminiscent of a gothic cathedral and built to house the body of her dead husband.
The granite mausoleum where Busch’s body lies almost appears to be a church for him. The single entrance mimics each of the three entryways of the famous cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, with its heavily embedded pointed arch over the door. Above the arch, 13 stone protrusions styled as gothic heads project out of the stone.
Given the overall status of the tomb as a sort of church, the allusion to Christ in the middle surrounded by the 12 Apostles is undeniable. This, again, is influenced by various Gothic churches throughout history, which often had depictions of Christ and his disciples etched in their stone.
The design of the roof, with towers at each corner, is similar to other Gothic Revival architecture, especially the Collegiate Gothic style. Graham Chapel (no, not the one at Washington University), another building constructed in this style, has small towers almost identical to the ones on the mausoleum. Extending out of the middle of the mausoleum’s roof is a green steeple, completing the resemblance to a church. While Neo-Gothic is the primary influence on the tomb, Eastern architecture also has an impact on it. On the front of the building is inscribed an ornate Islamic design often found on the walls of various mosques.
Another tomb in Bellefontaine that has overt Eastern influences is the sepulcher of Charlotte Dickson Wainwright, wife of Ellis Wainwright. Designed by Louis Sullivan, often considered the father of the modern skyscraper, the building is redolent of the famous Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Constructed from concrete, limestone and bronze, the crypt is a low-set box with a hemisphere placed on top.
This hemisphere draws the most obvious comparisons to the Dome of the Rock. The burial chamber has several rows of motifs that surround the doorway and various apertures that mimic or draw from the Dome’s elaborate exterior; both the door and the few windows into the tomb are inlaid with Islamic-influenced bronze designs that do the same.
St. Louis’ grand architecture is not limited to cemeteries, however. Notably, there exist three showy water towers built during the end of the 19th century. The first, the stone and iron Grand Water Tower, is on the corner of 20th Street and Grand Avenue. It was completed in 1871 and looks exactly like a Corinthian column, with its detailed capital decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls. The bulk of the water tower is cylindrical, which widens to form an octagonal base at the bottom.
The second water tower, built in 1886, is the Bissell Water Tower on Bissell Street and Blair Avenue. Reminiscent of a potpourri of minarets, the four-sided tower was built from brick, stone and terra cotta. The architecture of the area surrounding the tower has been influenced by its looks, with some houses and structures acquiring a Moorish accent.
The final structure, the Compton Hill Water Tower, was completed in 1898. Made from limestone, terra cotta and brick, the turret looks like a Space Shuttle about to launch. Leaf patterns and fantastical animals frolic around its walls.
These are only a few of St. Louis’ architectural wonders, which you can find if you look around. So look at St. Louis with a fresh pair of eyes, and you’ll be surprised at what you find.