The Wainwright Building
By Mary Miller Cullins
Working downtown, I see the Wainwright Building almost everyday, I never knew it was the world’s first skyscraper.
Located at 701 Chestnut Street the Wainwright Building was designed by notable architects Adler and Sullivan in 1891. The building is credited for being the first successful utilization of steel frame construction. It was named for local brewer, building contractor, and financier Ellis Wainwright. Wainwright needed the office space to manage the St. Louis Brewers Association.
The first two floors are faced in brown sandstone, the next seven stories rise in continuous brick piers. Terra cotta panels of ornate foliage relief’s decorate each floor. The tenth story is a frieze of intertwined leaf scrolls framing circular windows, and is capped with Sullivan’s characteristic overhanging roof slab. The building was considered the first skyscraper to forgo the normal ornamentation used on skyscrapers at that time. Adler described the building as a “plain business structure”, stating that “in a utilitarian age like ours it is safe to assume that real estate owner and investors in buildings will continue to erect the class of buildings from which the greatest possible revenue can be obtained with the least possible outlay”.
Upon its initial completion the Wainwright Building was “popular with the people” and received “favorably” by critics. In 1968 the building was designated as a National Historic Landmark and in 1972 it was named a city landmark. The Wainwright Building was initially rescued from demolition by the National Trust for Historic Preservation when the Trust took an option on the structure. Later, it was acquired by Missouri as part of a state office complex.
“The very first expression of a tall steel office-building as Architecture.”
Frank Lloyd Wright
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