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Exhibit brings back St. Louis' lost buildings

Many of St. Louis’ buildings have been lost to time, disaster, or destruction. It may seem like an inevitable byproduct of progress, but what do we lose when we lose a historic building? 

“Sometimes what we lose is so much more than the physical structure, it’s our collective, shared memory,” said Andrew Wanko, public historian at the Missouri History Museum, in a conversation with “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday.

"Lost Buildings of St. Louis" is a new exhibit at the museum that shares the stories behind many of St. Louis’ lost buildings.   

The exhibit features 61 lost buildings, selected from the museum’s collection of more than a million photographs.  

The featured buildings range from restaurants and theaters to residences; from lighthearted places like Sportman’s park to controversial ones like Pruitt-Igoe.

There are some one-of-a-kind oddities in the collection too, such as the Coral Court Motel on Watson Rd., which was built in the heyday of Route 66 and was known as a “no-tell motel,” complete with private garages for guests to keep their cars hidden.

While it’s important to preserve the past, sometimes progress means that new buildings must replace old ones, and Wanko admitted that the issue of losing buildings can be complicated.

“We want to save these stories from our history, but if you think about a case like the William Bixby mansion, it came down and we lost that story, but without it coming down, we would have never had the Chase, which is an incredible historic resource,” he said.

Yet, many buildings have been victims of nothing more than short-sightedness, Wanko pointed out, citing the destruction of the ten-story Marquette Hotel on Washington Avenue in 1988 for a 75- space car lot.    

“So many fascinating stories have long since been lost from our physical environment. The buildings are no more, so the stories fall to the wayside. We want to reacquaint people with these stories and get them to revisit places that can’t be visited anymore and think twice about the built environment that surrounds them.”

“Lost Buildings of St. Louis” will run until July 19th. More information.

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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