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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. 

Mar 23, 2022

Modernism rose to prominence as a style of architecture in the early decades of the 20th century.  One of the first buildings built in this style in the St. Louis region was tailor made for an orthodontist after the architect observed his workflow.  The result was a building that compelled Frank Lloyd Wright to stop by to see it.  Just press play to hear the whole story. ------

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Andrew Wanko, Public Historian of the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History, on 88.1, KDHX. ———

In the early decades of the 20th century, the architectural styles and traditions of the past gave way to a new design philosophy called Modernism. Modernists reimagined buildings as machines to live in. They despised gaudy ornament and small boxy rooms, instead favoring clean lines, raw industrial materials, and volumes of space flooded with daylight. ———

Local Kirkwood architect Harris Armstrong stands tall in the history of modernism in St. Louis – the Clayton office he designed in 1935 for orthodontist Leo Shanley is considered the first true Modernist building anywhere in the region.  ———

Dr. Shanley had encountered this radical new architecture at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, and decided a Modernist structure could be great for his business. He contacted Harris Armstrong, who spent countless hours observing how Dr. Shanley’s practice functioned. He used his notes to guide the building’s flowing floorplan, creating a visually restrained structure that was organized as carefully as a ballet. From the moment you stepped off the sidewalk, the Shanley Building’s whitewashed concrete forms and floor to ceiling windows guided your path. ———

Since no local suppliers offered modernist furniture, Armstrong designed everything down to the door hardware and tabletop lamps. His attention to detail even stretched into the exam rooms. There he added non-movable chairs with a direct line of sight to the patient, so helicopter parents could watch without interfering in the cleaning process. ———

Curious Washington University architecture students flocked to the radical new building, and Frank Lloyd Wright even made a point to stop by in 1937. That same year, the Shanley Building won a silver medal for architectural achievement at the 1937 Paris International Exposition. Not bad for an orthodontist’s office. ———

While development plans have threatened the small Shanley Building in the past, preservationists continue to speak out on its behalf. It is not just a beautiful building, but a great reminder that St. Louis’s architectural heritage comes in all shapes, sizes, and styles. ———

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. ———