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Critics Say National Trust Helped Doom Renowned St. Louis Building

Demolition of the Century Building

A postcard of the Century
Images Courtesy Michael Allen

Critics of the National Trust for Historic Preservation say it supported the demolition of St. Louis’s 108-year old Century Building in order to save the city’s Old Post Office Building. The Century, located across the street, was torn down to make room for a parking garage in February.

The 10-story, marble-clad Century Building was promoted as “the only marble office building in the West” when built in 1896. In addition to offices, the Beaux Arts structure also contained a 1600-seat theater. The Old Post Office, a National Historic Landmark, which dates to the 1880s, had for years been considered for a major renovation and adaptive reuse. After reviewing multiple parking options, the post office’s tenants and developers fixed on building parking on the Century Building site. The National Trust, wanting to be involved with the Old Post Office project, chose to favor the project in early 2002, with the demolition of the Century Building as part of the package.

The National Trust Community Investment Corporation, a for-profit subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, allocated an $8.7 million tax credit to the Old Post Office project. The Landmarks Association of St. Louis contended that, through that credit, the Trust essentially funded Century Building’s demolition. It filed four lawsuits against the project before the Century Building demolition proceeded.

But the Trust says it only helped fund the $45 million post office project. Before demolition of the Century Building began, Richard Moe, president of the Trust, said, “Demolition of the Century would be an unfortunate but necessary tradeoff for the long-term benefit of the Old Post Office and its neighborhood.”

The Association’s nomination of the Century to the National Register of Historic Places was accepted by the Interior Department in October of 2002. But that designation was not enough to stop demolition, and the parking structure is soon to be completed.

John E. Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA