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Name:  Old Custom House & Post Office
Address:  3rd & Olive
Year:  1859
Date of Demolition:  1939
Architectural Firm/Architect:  George I. Barnett
Standard Architectural Styles:  Greek Revival
Property Type Codes:  Post office
Alterations:  Fourth floor added in the 1890s.
Ward:  7
Neighborhood:  35
Money for the Old Custom House & Post Office was appropriated by Congress in 1850. It was to the largest federal building yet constructed west of the Mississippi. There was a great deal of controversy over the site selection. Three different locations were proposed, but eventually a site at the corner of Third and Olive Streets was chosen. George I. Barnett was selected as the supervising architect on the project in 1852, and the land was cleared. Submitting his drawings to Washington, D.C. for approval, Barnett received instead detailed specifications for the building from W. L. Hodges, the acting secretary of the Treasury. These specifications included not only instructions for the foundation and brick piers, and supporting arches in the basement, but for the extensive use of cast iron. Cast iron was to be used for stairs and all ornament on the building. The exterior doors were to be finished in wrought iron. The interior was also to have cast-iron columns, with their size proportional to their weight-bearing capacity, placement and purpose, and floors of iron girders held by the columms and walls, supporting cast-iron beams. This was a nearly unprecedented use of a cast iron structural system and constituted what must have been one of the earliest extensive uses of this material in a major federal building.

As Barnett was revising the plans to meet Hodges´ specifications, A. B. Young assumed the position of chief architect in the Treasury Department. By August 1853, the plans had been approved, and by January 1854 excavation of the site had begun. Barnett, however, was removed as supervising architect in 1856, amid allegations of improprieties and political intrigue.

Barnett was replaced by Thomas Walsh, one of his biggest competitors. The Greek Revival style building was completed in 1859, at a cost of $322,000. The Third Street facade was dominated by a projecting portico. The portico consisted of six two-story Cornithian columns topped by a classical entablature and pediment crowned by a balustade. The columns sat atop a heavy rusticated base interrupted by five entry arches giving the building a monumental presence.

The building housed the Post Office, Custom House and Federal Courts. It was already becoming cramped when the Whiskey Ring trials took place during the 1870s. The Custom House and Post Office housed several government offices after a new Post Office and Customs House was finished in 1884. Later it was used as a warehouse. It was demolished in 1939 by the National Park Service, despite opposition, claiming it could not save both it and the Old Courthouse [Bartley 39-41, Lowic 76-77].

Barnett, George Ingham
Hill, James C.
Walsh, Thomas Waryng

Architectural Heritage of St. Louis, 1803-1891
St. Louis Lost: Uncovering the City's Lost Architecture



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