Mercantile Library Building and others
AKA First National Bank in St. Louis
510 Locust Street at Broadway
Built: 1889 (original Library building)
Architect: Henry G. Isaacs
Architect: Bank Building & Equipment Corporation of America
Behind the Modernist facade stand six* separate turn-of-the-century buildings, unified in the 1950s; the old Mercantile Library Building, at the southwest corner of Broadway and Locust, is the heart of the structure.
The Mercantile Library Association of St. Louis, the oldest library west of the Mississippi, was founded in 1845. Originally housed at Main and Pine, the Library moved to this location in 1854, occupying a two story Italianate building. In 1889 that building was demolished, and a larger and more substantial replacement was erected on the same site.
The new building was a 6-story Romanesque structure in brick. The Mercantile Library occupied the entire top floor, with most of the remaing floors leased to Scruggs Vandervoort & Barney. The Mercantile Library would remain there into the 1990s.
In 1919, the building - to great fanfare - became home to First National Bank in St. Louis, created in 1919 through the merger of three St. Louis area banks (St. Louis Union Bank, whose home was at Locust and 4th; Mechanics-American National Bank, housed in the Mechanics American Bank Building on the current site of the Federal Reserve; and Third National Bank, which had erected its own skyscraper just decade prior). A fanciful rendering, published in The Bankers Magazine in 1922, shows the building with twice as many bays in both directions. Despite announcing their home in the Mercantile Library Building as temporary, the First National Bank occupied this Romanesque building for decades;
In 1955, First National Bank undertook a modernization of its building, replacing the Romanesque exterior with a Modernist facade with granite at the base, limestone panels above, and orange brick at the top. Much, if not all, of the original ornamentation was sawed off to provide a flatter surface for the new skin.
The mid-century renovation involved a massive expansion of the building as well. The new facade engulfed three neighboring structures to the west and two more to the south; the massing of these buildings can easily be read from the changes in roofline heights. Within, the old reading room on the 6th floor remained virtually unchanged, a 19th Century relic inside what was now a thoroughly 20th Century building.
First National Bank was still occupying the space in 1976. The bank constructed its own building south of the Gateway Mall in 1982 and likely moved out at that point.
The Mercantile Library left downtown in 1998 for a new location on UMSL's campus in west County, taking the oranate interiors of its beautiful reading room with it. The Mercantile Library Building has sat empty ever since. It was stripped out at the end of the 1990s to become a "telecom hotel", a plan that was presumably wiped out by the Dotcom crash of 2000. Pyramid Development took the building on next, but nothing came of it before Pyramid folded in 2008. Most recently it has come into the hands of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, developers of the MX project across the street.
As of 2015, a Google aerial view revealed its roof to be considerably deteriorated - an unsurprising circumstance for a building over 15 years vacant.
History, description and illustration of the building - a handsomely illustrated brochure commemorating the building's 1889 opening, with beautiful depictions of the library's reading rooms.
Mercantile Library Building - vintage photo from UMSL's collections
First National Bank - rendering showing the Locust-6th Street corner and making the appeal a bit more obvious. Globe-Democrat image, from the Missouri Digital Heritage collection.
Hiding in Plain Sight Part 3 - Vanishing STL post with photos of the gutted interior
*Sources vary on how many buildings comprise the modern Mercantile Library Building. One blog says it's seven; another says it's two plus a 1950s addition; another says it's six (but they're including the old Paradowski Graphics building at 303 N. Broadway, covered by the same recladding but now a separate building.) The aerial view, meanwhile, shows five components, plus the old Paradowski space.
The Mercantile Library building today - Broadway to the left, Locust to the right. The vertical black band at left marks the end of the original building; the additions are clad with ribbon windows.
Roughly the same view, seen in a rendering of the building's original 1889 design, from the building's opening brochure.
The original entryway to the library. From here, an elevator conveyed patrons to the 6th floor. Image from the library's opening day brochure.
The same entryway today, made thoroughly modern as only the 1950s could do it!
Circa 1950 view looking south along Broadway. The image shows, faintly, pre-renovation views of the two smaller Broadway buildings that were assimilated in the remodeling. Globe-Democrat photograph, from the Missouri Digital Heritage collection; original image here.
The desecration has begun in this early 1950s photograph of the building shortly before its modernization - note the sheared-off porch above the left-hand entryway and the scars along the street facade left from destroyed ornament. The building to the south (left edge of the photograph) has already been mostly reskinned. Globe-Democrat photograph, from the Missouri Digital Heritage collection; original image here.
Rendering of the proposed recladding. Globe-Democrat image, from the Missouri Digital Heritage collection; original image here.
The Locust Street facade. The Mercantile Library section is at left; two other sections stand in the foreground including a taller building at the corner.
The 6th Street facade, with the corner building and a shorter second building.