Later the Merchants-Laclede Building
408 Olive Street
Architect: Hatch and Miller
Today the Merchants-Laclede Building seems small by comparison with nearly everything around it, but in its day it was groundbreakingly large, a pioneering modern office building that was the predecessor to several dozen high-rise buildings that sprouted in downtown St. Louis in the following decades. It set the template for greater height, fireproof construction, larger floor plates, generous windows and natural light, and finely appointed interiors.
Transitional design elements can be seen in the Merchants Laclede: the beginnings of vertical expression, the larger window area, the restraint of ornament to selected key points, and a move away from historic revival elements all point towards the modern design schools. The corner turret (and its lost conical roof) as well as the heavily rusticated base draw more on Romaneque and Queen Anne modes of thinking.
The design came from the office of New York architect Stephen D. Hatch, who was also one of the building's developers; Hatch's associate L. Cass Miller oversaw the construction. (PD Mar 20 1892). Hatch and his Chicago partner A.J. Cooper began planning for a large building at 4th and Olive Streets in 1885; they got as far as putting in the building's foundations before the money ran out. Amid lawsuits and contractor liens (PD Jan 21 1887), Hatch and a variety of local entrepreneurs bought out Cooper's contract and got construction rolling again in 1887, mostly adhering to the original plans. (PD Feb 03 1887)
Before construction was even finished, the building snagged a major tenant, the Laclede National Bank, many of the bank's trustees also having invested in the new building. (PD Nov 27 1887) Move-ins began in mid-1888; other original tenants included the Elks Club, who took finely appointed quarters on the 8th floor, (PD Aug 26 1888) and the Missouri State Stenographer's Association. The building's pull was great enough to help establish 4th Street as the center of finance in St. Louis.
In May 1895, the Laclede National Bank merged with another local concern, the Merchants National Bank; the merged banks began operation in June, consolidating in the Laclede Bank's old space. The building took the firm's new joint name: the Merchants-Laclede Building. The bank shared the ground floor with the Postal Telegraph-Cable Company. (PD Aug 19 1906)
The building underwent a major remodeling inside and out in 1906, designed by Eames and Young, literally smoothing out some of its rough edges by grinding down rusticated stone blocks on the first two floors, installing larger windows at the street level and closing the corner entrance in favor of a new, more Classically-styled one on Olive Street. The ground-floor banking space was remodeled in a more modern mode.
The eponymous bank went out of business in 1929; the Merchants Laclede Building remained a popular spot for legal firms and other prestigious businesses (ref).
Occupancy - and the state of the building's repair - declined into late 20th century; it was sold in 1994, again in 1998, and third time in 2001 (ref). Under the new ownership of Drury Development (then fresh off the renovation of the International Fur Exchange buildings), the Merchants Laclede was slated for a new life as a 195-room hotel. Interior demoltion work began in 2001, but the work stalled by the end of the year. Plans were finally brought to fruition in early 2005. The renovated building opened as the Hilton St. Louis. Many features of the lobby were retained, including marble floors and twin bank vault doors.
National Register nomination form for the Merchants-Laclede Building
The Merchants Laclede Building, March 2001.
A rendering of the Laclede Building as originally constructed. Features lost include the origial corner entrance, the turret cap and left-hand bay gable roof, and the original configuration of the first two floors of windows. From Shewey's Pictorial St. Louis, Past and Present, 1892.
The 400 Olive Street entrance, added in 1906.
The former main entrance at 4th and Olive.
The 4th Street facade, March 2001. A 2nd-floor window chute for demolition debris remains in place from an aborted hotel scheme that would eventually evolve into the Drury-funded 2002-05 renovation.