Going to the mall in the olden days was a completely different experience than going to the mall today. Back around the turn of the 20th century, when “shopping arcades” were just starting to catch on in America, people would dress up and stroll down ornately decorated isles while perusing selections of pricey jewels, hand crafted watches and other ostentatious finery. Women wore elegant dresses, men wore suits and they addressed each other as “ladies” and “gentlemen.” Now days, when you want to go to the mall, you text your friend something like, “sup bitch, you wanna go to the mall and get a boobs mug at Spencer’s Gifts?” (That is actually a thing I’ve done, I’m not proud of it. I also don’t know if Spencer’s Gifts is a thing anymore, I haven’t been to a mall in many a year.)
One of the earliest forms of the indoor shopping mall was Trajan’s Market in Ancient Rome, built circa 100-110 AD, but the American shopping mall didn’t come around until 1890 when the Cleveland Arcade opened in Ohio. Early shopping malls favored Victorian and Gothic architecture and catered mostly to the wealthy. The suburban hell holes we shop in today didn’t begin until 1950.
The Arcade Building lies smack in the middle of downtown St. Louis, Missouri. Constructed in 1906 and 1919, it’s more accurately (but less commonly) known as the Arcade-Wright buildings. (Many sources have different dates, but I’m going to go with the St. Louis cultural resources office’s info. Usually conflicting dates just mean the beginning of construction vs opening to the public.) The two buildings were conjoined, beginning with the Wright and followed by the Arcade, which wrapped around the Wright on two sides like partial architectural Russian Doll.
The Wright building stands 18 stories high and the Arcade at 16. When operative, the bottom levels were the mall stores and the top levels were various offices ranging from jewelry appraisers to a radio station and a court document printing company. The building was abandoned in 1978 or 1980 (again, conflicting dates) and was made a city landmark in 1980. As of June of this year, Dominium Development announced plans to convert the building into apartments, commercial space and a parking garage.
I kept the history of the Arcade Building brief because there isn’t all that much to it without getting into the history of malls, and that’s a topic I’m saving for a post about an ill-fated trip to the (active) Mall of America. While reading about malls, I lost three hours down the research rabbit hole just so I could type that one sentence about the first mall in Ancient Rome and now I know a lot of useless facts about malls and no one even likes them!
Jewelry appraising offices on the upper floors.
The best room in the building housed the Missouri Court printing office, where multiple, giant linotype machines still reside. This method of printing was replaced in the 60′s and 70′s by offset printing and computers.
The court printing room is still scattered with newspapers and court documents, but we were pressed for time and couldn’t spend all afternoon sorting through old papers, which is one of my favorite things to do while pretending I can’t hear my exploring pals telling me to hurry up already.
It took me awhile to remember what this photo was, it looks like a hallway, but it’s an elevator shaft. But not the one connected to these old elevator doors.
To see more photos, go to the Arcade Building Flickr set
Disclaimer: If any information on this post is incorrect, if you have more info or would otherwise like to tell me something, feel free to contact me.