The Wainwright Building is among the first skyscrapers in the world—built in 1891 and designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan in the Palazzo style. It is a 10-story red brick office building at 709 Chestnut Street in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. It was named for local the brewer, building contractor, and financier Ellis Wainwright.
The building, listed as a landmark both locally and nationally, is described as “a highly influential prototype of the modern office building” by the National Register of Historic Places. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright called the Wainwright Building “the very first human expression of a tall-steel office building as Architecture.”
In May 2013 it was listed by a PBS program as one of “10 Buildings That Changed America” because it was “the first skyscraper that truly looked the part” with Sullivan being dubbed the “Father of Skyscrapers.”
Aesthetically, the Wainwright Building exemplifies Sullivan’s theories about the tall building, which included a tripartite (three-part) composition (base-shaft-attic) based on the structure of the classical column,and his desire to emphasize the height of the building. He wrote: “[The skyscraper] must be tall, every inch of it tall. The force and power of altitude must be in it the glory and pride of exaltation must be in it. It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line.” His 1896 article cited his Wainwright Building as an example. Despite the classical column concept, the building’s design was deliberately modern, featuring none of the neoclassical style that Sullivan held in contempt.
Unlike Sullivan, Adler described the building as a “plain business structure” stating:
In a utilitarian age like ours it is safe to assume that the real-estate owner and the investor in buildings will continue to erect the class of buildings from which the greatest possible revenue can be obtained with the least possible outlay…The purpose of erecting buildings other than those required for the shelter of their owners is specifically that of making investments for profit.
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 and the St. Louis Landmarks Association, in one of its early victories, is credited with having rescued the Wainwright Building from a construction project.
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