Washington Avenue: From Warehouses to Lofts and Nightlife

The Eads Bridge across the Mississippi River anchors one end of Washington Avenue.

 

When you’re in St. Louis, you’ll be staying on beautiful Washington Avenue (if you picked up a room at the Renaissance Grand Hotel). St. Louis’ now-hopping nightlife and loft district (which will be the site of the conference pub crawl) was once known as the garment district. After the nearby Eads Bridge opened in 1874, the area became known as a home of fashion design and manufacturing. Factories and warehouses for clothing, shoes and hats filled the street.

In addition to the garment companies,  a couple of journalistic enterprises were tenants of Washington Avenue: Superior Typesetting Company and Drygoodsman, a clothing magazine.

By the 1970s, the area had declined and Washington Avenue was mostly abandoned. More recently, however, the street’s old buildings have been renovated into lofts, offices and retail space. The growth was spurred by historic preservation tax credits and an influx of people moving into downtown St. Louis. The streetlights along Washington Avenue between Tucker Boulevard and 14th Street were created to signify the stitching and buttons on a shirt, in a nod to the district’s past.

Bee Hat Lofts

After the building’s renovation, steam comes out of the lion mouths on the side of the Bee Hat Lofts.

One building to note is the Bee Hat Lofts (1021 Washington Ave.), which was renovated so that the pipe system blows steam from the mouths of lion heads situated around the second story of the building.

Also on the street is the conference site, the Renaissance Grand Hotel. (Learn more about its history and find out how to book a room if you haven’t reserved yours yet.)

The City Museum (701 N. 15th St., where SND STL’s opening reception will be held) is housed in the former International Shoe Co. building. Spiral shoe shafts that were once used to bring shoes down to the loading dock are now used as slides in the Enchanted Caves portion of the museum. (One is a 10-story spiral slide!)

The St. Louis Transit Co. building (1601 Washington Ave.) opened in 1903 and contained the power plant for one of the city’s first streetcar lines. It now houses Windows on Washington, a venue space for receptions and events.

Merchandise Mart (1000 Washington Ave.) was built in the 1880s and covers an entire city block. After the warehouse was abandoned in the 1990s, it was reopened as the Merchandise Mart Apartments.

Another of the warehouse-to-loft buildings is Fashion Square (1307 Washington Ave.). This Gothic-style warehouse was originally built to showcase clothing and hat wholesalers. It now houses the Fashion Square Lofts.

A number of other prominent companies were housed along and near Washington Avenue. The Stix, Baer & Fuller department store (625 Washington Ave.) was big in local retail. It became a Dillard’s department store when that company bought Stix, but the store closed in 2002. Today’s Terrace Lofts building (1300 Convention Plaza) was originally built as the world headquarters for 7UP. The former Missouri Pacific Railroad headquarters has now been converted into ParkPacific Apartments (1226 Olive St.).

A short distance from Washington Avenue is the 1931 building that most-recently housed the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (710 N. Tucker Blvd.). It ceased operations in 1986. And just down from that is the current home of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (900 N. Tucker Blvd.). The old Post-Dispatch building (1139 Olive St.) is also nearby and housed the paper beginning in 1917. The paper had fully moved to the former Globe-Democrat building (the Post-Dispatch’s current location at 900 N. Tucker Blvd.) by 1960.

Also of note is the Missouri Athletic Club (405 Washington Ave.). The club originally opened just before the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, though the present building was opened in 1916 after a fire destroyed the original. The club boasted 3,500 members in the early 1920s, including honorary member Harry S. Truman. Charles Lindbergh’s nonstop flight to Paris was financed by MAC members. Today, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Missouri Athletic Club

The current Missouri Athletic Club building dates to 1916.

Today, in addition to the strip’s bars and restaurants, you will find a number of one-of-a-kind shopping experiences, including:

  • Levine Hat Co. (1416 Washington Ave.) has been in the community for more than 100 years. The store doesn’t manufacture many hats anymore, but it is the place to go for hat customization. (A few of you hat-loving folks might be especially interested. You know who you are.) Hours:  9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday
  • Levin’s Clothing Store (1401 Washington Ave.) is another one of the last traces of the garment district to be found on the street. Its storefront has changed little over the years.
  • Eve’s Apple Vintage (1136 Washington Ave.) offers vintage pieces for men, women and children. Hours: noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, noon to 8 p.m. Saturday
  • American Institute of Architects St. Louis Bookstore (911 Washington Ave.) features books, artwork, cards and gifts with an architecture focus. Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday
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