It has been nearly 15 years since Lawrence Group acquired the Security Building in downtown St. Louis and renovated it as our corporate headquarters. Being a native St. Louisan (and one to never turn down the opportunity to hear a good story), I’ve enjoyed learning about the role the Security Building played in St. Louis history. Some of the stories are verifiable, but some of the best ones are not: Charles Lindbergh signed the financing deal for his historic transatlantic flight in the bar of the Noonday Club on the tenth floor (or did he?); the Security Building actually bests the Wainwright Building as being the first steel frame high rise in St. Louis (or are the dates on the Security Building construction drawings somehow misleading?).
One great story, though, turns out to be true. Shortly after we renovated the building, we were contacted by a former owner who, like us, had been a tenant in the building and put together a group of investors to buy the building and help save it from the wrecking ball. His tenure was the 1970’s or so. The aforementioned Noonday Club, one of the original building tenants, had occupied the tenth floor since the building opened in the early 1890’s until the Club moved out in the early 1960’s. Our restoration restored their main lobby space and barrel vaulted ceiling. He told me, though, that in addition to the structure, stained glass and other details that we restored, there used to be an original landscape mural at each end of the barrel vault painted by some artist with ties to Principia College in Elsah, Illinois. He told us that one mural was salvaged and Principia has it, while the other mural was destroyed during a salvage attempt. I filed this morsel away in the back of my mind for about 10 years until recently when we were visited by a group of Principia College alums.
As I was telling them about the building, I recalled this story. Several in the group immediately knew what I was talking about and, indeed, one later shared with me the photos you see in this blog.
The artist, Frederick Oakes Sylvester (1869-1915), taught at Central High School in St. Louis. In the early 1900’s, he became the first art director at Principia College. He maintained a studio in St. Louis as well as a studio on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Fascinated with the river, he painted it, photographed it and also published two volumes of poetry about it. Two of his paintings can be seen at the Central Library in downtown St. Louis.
That history is boring is a concept that has never made any sense to me. Reading books, watching Ken Burns, and visiting places where history happened, all help provide context to our existence. The best history, though, is first hand oral history. Those stories your parents shared ad nauseam growing up become so precious as you yourself get older and experience your own life, building your own personal collection of stories to annoy your own children and acquaintances. Listen to those stories. Remember them. You never know, some of them may actually be true.David Ohlemeyer