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5 Photos/5 Facts: The Wainwright Building

The Wainwright Building may not look particularly tall by today’s standards, but its design in 1891 changed the way architects would approach skyscrapers forever. The 10-story building in Downtown St. Louis features a timeless brown sandstone, brick and terra cotta exterior around its steel frame, and is labeled both a City and National Historic Landmark. Learn more about this masterpiece by architects Lewis Henry Sullivan and Dankmar Adler in the #mySTL 5 Photos/5 Facts building tour series.

IT WAS BUILT FOR BREWERS

The beer connections run strong in St. Louis! The Wainwright Building was commissioned by Ellis Wainwright to house the St. Louis Brewers Association, an organization he served as president of after selling it his brewery. These days the building at 709 Chestnut St. is home to state offices.

A DEFINITION FOR SKYSCRAPERS

While not technically the first skyscraper, the Wainwright Building is the “common ancestor to every tall building that followed,” said Missouri History Museum pubic historian Andrew Wanko to St. Louis Magazine. Early skyscrapers had an issue working with the height, turning to segmented models PBS explained as working like tiered wedding cakes. Sullivan used the height as the core of the design, modeling the Wainwright Building after a column.

EMBRACING THE TALL

So how did Sullivan decide upon the design that would  be used to define skyscrapers moving forward? By simply embracing the height. “What is the chief characteristic of the tall office building? And at once we answer, it is lofty,” wrote Sullivan in 1896 as reported by PBS. “This loftiness is to the artist-nature its thrilling aspect … It must be tall, every inch of it tall … It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line…” And with that, the skyscrapers we know today were born.

THE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT CONNECTION

Frank Lloyd Wright is often mentioned in articles depicting the Wainwright Building’s historical significance. While he did not work on the building itself, he was a mentee of Sullivan and once said the structure was “the very first human expression of a tall steel office-building as architecture.”

IT STILL RECEIVES NATIONAL RECOGNITION

In 2012 it was announced that the Wainwright Building was named one of the 10 Buildings that Changed America by the national PBS program of the same name. In an episode that aired the following year, it was showcased among other architectural masterpieces like Chicago’s Robie House and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Learn more about the history of other significant Downtown St. Louis buildings, like the Old Post Office and the Old Cathedral