Built St. Louis > > Recalled to Life > > International Fur Exchange Building

Above: the American Zinc Company building.

Above: The Jefferson before and during its abortive demolition.

Above: the Fur Exchange, prior to exterior demolition work.

International Fur Exchange
In 1997, exterior demolition work began on the International Fur Exchange building, and its two neighbors to the south. A surface parking lot was slated to take their place.

Standing just two blocks west of the Gateway Arch grounds, the Fur Exchange constitutes the only tangible link to St. Louis's long history as a fur trading post. It is the only pre-World War II building left on the south side of the Gateway Mall for many blocks. And its stately presence adds an appropriate sense of history to the view of the Arch from the west.

Doomed along with it were the Jefferson, an unremarkable 1950s office building, and a small, stunning Modernist jewel of a building, the American Zinc Building, designed by Hellmuth, Obata, & Kassenbaum. Gutting and asbestos removal had begun on the three by spring of 1997.

The demolition looked to be an urbanist's and preservationist's nightmare. Three buildings in the heart of downtown, two of them quite sizable, to be replaced with a parking lot. Oddly, the developers in question also planned to take down the building behind the Fur Exchange at some point in the future, and put up a new tower in place of all of them.

Predictably, the developers were from out of town. It's a common problem of a global-scale economy: buildings that matter to the local life of a city are mere commodities to distant owners, to be traded or destroyed based on numbers rather than on their role as part of the city. This fact has not, of course, prevented local owners from destroying buildings as well, but it certainly tends to exacerabate the problem.

Initial demolition began in early 1997. Holes were punched in the front walls of the Jefferson and the Fur Exchange; the latter's ornate terra cotta lion heads were removed, along with its pillastered faux balconies (many of them destroyed in the process) and entryways. Then, in May, demolition was halted.

The owners, reported to have been considering "options", halted the demolition work at the behest of developer Charles Drury. After eyeing the buildings for some time, Drury -- spurred on by the incipient demolition -- stepped up to save them with tasteful plans for renovation as a hotel and two restaraunts.

Were it not for Mr. Drury's efforts, the buildings would be long gone by now. As is, they have been put back into use and, in some ways, look even better than they did before.

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