A Preservation Plan for St. Louis
Part II:  Property Types

Period 3 - The World's Fair City & the Automobile (1904-1940)

Previous Page         Next Page

Specialized Building Types

Zoo Structures

A zoological garden had existed in Fairgrounds Park in the late 19th century; when it closed in 1891, a few of its animals were purchased by citizens and housed in Forest Park, but no zoo was contemplated until the St. Louis Zoological Society was formed in 1910. Seventy-five acres near the Flight Cage were set aside, but there was little money for maintenance or building construction until a zoo tax was passed in 1916.

The Flight Cage is, in fact, a giant walk-through bird cage, exhibited at the 1904 World's Fair by the Smithsonian Institute, and later purchased by the City for $6,000. This enormous aviary is constructed of arched metal ribs covered with screening, placed over a sunken concrete basin. The Flight Cage is 228 feet long and 50 feet high, and may be the largest in the world.

The Bird House is typical of the many zoo structures created as a result of the zoo tax funding. It is a stucco building in the Mission Revival style, but with a wealth of fanciful terra cotta ornament. The low-pitched gable roof is sheathed with red tile; a projecting gable, also tiled, contains the entry, in an elaborate surround of brightly colored tile. Low wings extend on either side, with arched, multi-light windows, and a terra cotta cornice of large sea shells.

Completed in 1919, Bear Pits were highly admired and imitated in zoos throughout the country. Cast concrete, they are remarkable for their simulation of natural environments.


Museums displaying collections of natural and human objects have existed in St. Louis since the mid 19th century. The first art museum in the City was built by the Boston firm of Peabody and Stearns, and was located at the corner of Locust and Nineteenth Streets. The St. Louis Art Museum, a Classic Revival building, was the only permanent structure of the 1904 Fair. Designed by Cass Gilbert, it was the Fine Arts Palace, and had temporary wings attached at each end and at the rear. After the Fair closed, the building was operated as a department of Washington University until the City accepted it in 1907. Constructed of limestone and Roman brick, the museum has a monumental central block with gable roof covering the barrel vault of the Sculpture Hall, 78 feet above the floor. The front facade presents a classical Corinthian portico with tripartite window set under a semi-circular arch. A heavy cornice with modillions and an elaborate frieze surround the building. The flanking end pieces display deeply-recessed, round-arched windows under pediments of the Ionic order.


Theaters for live plays and operas are one of the oldest public building types in the United States, and before the Civil War were a major cultural component of American life. The first theater in St. Louis, the St. Louis Theater, was constructed in 1837. The remaining theaters in the City date from the early 20th century. Live performance theaters were located primarily in the downtown area.

The American Theater, formerly the Orpheum, was constructed in 1917 from plans by G. Albert Lansburgh, of San Francisco, as a vaudeville house. A Beaux-Arts design, the white terra cotta front has a central entry with three windows under recessed arches, flanked by impressive sculptures of human figures by New York artist, Leo Lentelli. Corinthian pilasters between the windows are topped by a full entablature, which continues around the building, carrying an attic story. Windows and niches throughout are heavily decorated.

Movie Palaces

There were numerous theaters built in St. Louis during the 19th century. With the rise of motion pictures early this century, the buildings constructed to provide this new entertainment were of such large scale, exotic design and elaborate decoration as to constitute an entirely new building type: the Movie Palace.

The Fox Theater, at 523 North Grand Avenue by C. Howard Crane in 1929, is an exuberant Movie Palace example: its seven-story front is extravagantly trimmed with rusticated terra cotta panels and elaborate window surrounds. The dominant element is a monumental multi-story and multi-light window centered on the front facade under a shaped arch embellished with foliated ornament. The same flamboyant detailing appears as a frieze below the heavy cornice. Interior decoration is equally lavish. At one time, the theater could seat 5,060 and was the second largest in the country. The Fox was carefully restored in 1982 as a performance hall.

Neighborhood Movie Theaters

Small movie houses began to be built in outlying city neighborhoods during the 1910's. These theaters were much smaller in scale than the downtown theaters, showing second run movies after they closed at the downtown movie palaces. Many of these smaller theaters also exhibited exotic architectural designs, although decorative detail was understandably more modest. The theater at 5101 Virginia, in Carondelet was constructed in 1911. Its flatiron shape is dictated by its triangular lot, at the intersection of three streets. The dominant feature of the small brown brick building is a cylindrical domed tower, containing the entry, which is set beneath a round arch of terra cotta tiles.

Previous Page         Next Page

Was this page helpful?      

Comments are helpful!
500 character limit

Feedback is anonymous.