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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Apr 4, 2022

Thought to be ugly, and mocked by many, The Fagin Building had a relatively short lifespan. But, in hindsight, many now consider it ahead of its time, and that it foreshadowed modernism. Just press play to hear the whole story. ———

Click on search links to see if there are episodes with related content: Andrew Wanko, Architecture, Business, Landmark Locations, ——— 

Podcast Transcript: I’m Andrew Wanko, Public Historian of the Missouri Historical Society, and here’s history, on 88.1 KDHX.
St. Louis has certainly been blessed with architectural beauty, but not every building to rise in our city has been greeted with open arms. When completed in 1888, Olive Street’s ten-story Fagin Building was so shocking one national critic branded it “the most discreditable piece of architecture in the United States.” ———

St. Louis architect Charles P. Clarke was probably caught in a hard place with the Fagin Building’s design. The client was his eccentric millionaire father-in-law, who had some offbeat ideas about style. The Fagin Building featured pencil-thin stacks of granite boulders and columns that jutted outwards. Between them, vast bay windows popped out almost randomly. Topping everything was a bulbous granite tower that looked like a mashup between an ancient temple and a log cabin. ———

From the sidewalk, the building’s vertical expanses of glass and looming, heavy peak created the optical illusion of tipping forward. St. Louisans refused to walk in front of it, and its storefronts and offices sat unrented for years. In the April 1893 issue of Architectural Record, the poor Fagin Building was roasted in front of a national audience. The writer disparages it as an “atrocity” and an “aberration,” “staggeringly drunk,” and in “disregard of decency.” ———

Looking back, some historians think the Fagin Building perhaps wasn’t so ugly, but just a little too far ahead of its time. Just a few decades later, vertical glass walls and inventive shapes would sweep America’s cities in new architectural styles collectively called “Modernism.” If it was around today, the Fagin Building might be celebrated as one of Modernism’s earliest experiments. ———

We’ll never know - after years of financial disaster, in 1895 the Fagin Building’s bizarre front was ripped down and replaced with a conventional brick façade. Life filled its once-empty spaces until 1918. That year, it was torn down for the Arcade Building, a structure that remains one of Downtown’s most undeniably beautiful.  ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri Historical Society and KDHX. I’m Andrew Wanko and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis.