Arcade-Wright Building
Saint Louis, MO

Below the Tudor arches and wood-framed transoms, silence darkens the shadows of empty shop windows.

IN a country where the shopping mall has succeeded the town square, what does it mean to be in such a dead place? Well, for the sake of argument you and I shall pretend it’s simply asleep.

Many of the higher floors were more or less demolished--usually more. These would have been condos had 'The Arcade' project come to fruition. Now there are simply wide open floors punctuated only by pillars and meaningless hallways.
Many of the higher floors were more or less demolished–usually more. These would have been condos had ‘The Arcade’ project come to fruition. Now there are simply wide open floors punctuated only by pillars and meaningless hallways.
The Arcade itself, a predecessor of the indoor mall. Don't you love those arches?
The Arcade itself, a predecessor of the indoor mall. Don’t you love those arches?

The indoor arcade is the refined, wealthy and tasteful ancestor for the modern shopping mall, where well-clothed well-to-dos would stroll under electric chandeliers along marble staircases to window shop on rainy afternoons. Most arcades emphasized natural lighting, but this building was different in few ways.

First, it’s not entirely accurate to call ‘The Arcade’ simply that—it’s the Arcade-Wright Building. Not named because of particular company or partnership, but because it is really two buildings, the Arcade Building and the Wright Building. The Wright was built in 1906 at the impressive height of 18 stories, followed in 1919 by the Arcade. The Arcade was originally meant to be 12 stories, but it was finished as 16 to add value.

Financiers of the Arcade were lucky that their construction project was even allowed to go on; if their principle contractor was not simultaneously completing government contracts the Arcade might have been halted altogether. Around that time the federal government was shutting-down projects that required a lot of steel to preserve the war effort during World War I. When the Arcade was finished,it wrapped around and through the Wright Building in a spectacular way, and they still stand under the name Arcade-Wright as one of St. Louis’ best examples of a gothic revival skyscraper.

Made by the Mergenthalen Linotype Company of New York, this model series (300) was introduced in 1960 and boasted a 12-line-per-minute reproduction rate.
Made by the Mergenthalen Linotype Company of New York, this model series (300) was introduced in 1960 and boasted a 12-line-per-minute reproduction rate.

For reasons that still remain unclear, the building was abandoned in 1978. Inside, many of the former tenants left their businesses as if they had stepped out for lunch; coffee mugs sit on the office desks in a plush corner office while half-ground lenses in an eyeglass maker’s shop wait to be finished. The most interesting room, though, is the former Missouri Court printing office, still littered with case papers between the linotype machines and pancake presses.

Sometime soon, maybe in early 2016, someone will have this view from their office or condo.
Sometime soon, maybe in early 2016, someone will have this view from their office or condo.

In 1989 the owners filed to demolish Aracade-Wright, but the City of St. Louis denied them the permits…

…and since then a remodeling effort has come and gone to convert the building into shops, offices and apartments. If you’re in St. Louis’ downtown, I recommend driving by and seeing the beautiful exterior… if you’re a developer or venture capitalist, I recommend filling that exterior. We live in a country that too often favors demolition over restoration,and that’s robbed many great American downtowns with blank spots in their skylines, and history. This does not have to happen to you, St. Louis—keep on fighting.

2015 Update: The building is under construction again. Cool!