We drove by that vacant Modernist glass box on South Grand for years, hoping a brave soul would resurrect it from years of decay and dirt. Fortunately, Dave Bailey — the owner of a small empire of St. Louis’ favorite dining spots, including Bailey’s Chocolate Bar, Bailey’s Range, Rooster, Bridge, and Small Batch — could see past the crumbling brick and nasty carpet to envision a second location of Rooster. Dave enlisted us (*fist pump*) to transform this unassuming former bank into a restaurant, complete with a large patio, commissary kitchen and bakery, two dining rooms, and a bar. Thanks to Dave’s foresight and ambition, his newest restaurant has won a Landmarks Association’s 2015 Most Enhanced Award.
We’ve always loved that little building, but it wasn’t until we got our mitts on the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form that we really understood the historic and architectural significance of it. Turns out, this simply-designed building really is a big deal. Hat tip to Michael Allen of the Preservation Research Office and Lynn Josse for doing the heavy research and authoring such a compelling — nay, downright enjoyable to read — application. The building highlights below are summarized from their 32-page document.
You’ve heard of the baby boom, right? Well, there was a big banking boom happening at the same time. Banks saw returning World War II GIs as a new customer base, so financial institutions started opening additional locations like gangbusters. Many banks favored modernism because it had a more welcoming appearance than traditional architectural styles, and bankers thought it epitomized a progressive spirit. As was the local taste, St. Louis was riddled with “modernist-lite” buildings that were a loose, eclectic take on the International style. However, no bank quite embodied the pure, Mies van der Rohe brand of modernism like this, the Hamiltonian Federal Savings and Loan Association.
One of the defining architectural features of this 1962 building is the glass curtain wall. Curtain walls are non-structural thin exterior walls made of either metal-framed glass, stone veneer, or other panels made from a variety of materials, like fabric, wood or metal. Just before the Hamiltonian was designed, it was illegal in the City of St. Louis to use curtain walls. (Really.) St. Louis building codes defined ratios of solid to void on exterior elevations, and masonry construction was required. This in and of itself would have prevented any building from fully embracing the true Modernist glass box. However, in March of 1961, Mayor Tucker signed Ordinance 50502, which finally permitted the construction of glass curtain walls in the city. This allowed the Hamiltonian’s architects, Winkler & Thompson, to design the glassy Modernist beauty you see today.
As well-executed as the design is, you would think Winkler & Thompson belted out slick Modernist buildings by the dozen. Not so. The Hamiltonian was an anomaly in their portfolio. Outside of Thompson’s design for portions of YMCA’s Trout Lodge, the firm appeared to create buildings Ben Franklin would have been at home in. Responsible for a number of graceful Colonial Revival homes in the St. Louis suburbs as well as the Reliance Life Insurance Company Building in Webster Groves (home of the original Robust Wine Bar, one of our first restaurant clients), Thompson & Winkler were perhaps most skilled at giving their customers exactly what they wanted. In the case of the Hamiltonian Federal Savings and Loan, they gave its trustees the thoroughly modern building they believed would help attract new customers.
The building remained a bank through the 1990s, and it was temporarily leased to the St. Louis Public Library to house the Carpenter Branch while that library was renovated. When work began on Rooster, it had been vacant since 2003.
The design of the renovation strove to honor Winkler & Thompson’s original design by maintaining a transparent and airy feel. Interior partitions and finishes that had been added over the years were removed to create an open floor plan. The original aluminum and glass storefront glazing were preserved. The main entry stairs were reworked to accommodate ADA accessibility requirements. Paint colors enhanced the building: columns, fascia, and the stone cladding were given a darker color, which further enhances the original concept of convergence of contrasting materials while bringing consistency to the space.
The rear addition is compatible with the original design, and there is a clear visual distinction between old and new. Its simple brick pattern was inspired by other nearby Mid-Century Modern buildings, including the Missouri School for the Blind at Magnolia and Grand. The structural bay and mullion spacing are consistent with original building. The overall parapet height of new addition is lower than original building. The new patio adjacent to the existing building was held below finished floor elevation to maintain the existing plinth (the concrete base of the building) which gives the building a light, almost floating, appearance. Careful placement of rooftop units, street sight line studies, building sections, and cost analysis were used to determine the ultimate parapet/building height. A metal panel was introduced into the project initially to reduce the cost of construction; however, by integrating the material as a primary element of the building design, the overall project was enriched.
We love repurposing and reimagining old buildings, and it was a joy to work on this one. If you haven’t been to Rooster yet, you need to get down there, grab one of their amazing crepes, and experience this historic space. Scroll down for more images of the renovated restaurant.
Rooster South Grand
3150 South Grand
St. Louis, MO 63118
All “after” photos by Aaron Bunse.