Wainwright Building

Wainwright Building - Wainwright State Office Building - St. Louis, MO
Wainwright Building – Wainwright State Office Building – St. Louis, MO

The Wainwright Building, also known as the Wainwright State Office Building, located in St. Louis, Missouri, is considered one of the world’s earliest skyscrapers.  It is also referred to as being the first successful utilization of steel frame construction.  At 10-story high, it is over a hundred years old and is a landmark for both the city and the county.  The Wainwright Building is named after Ellis Wainwright, a brewer, building contractor, and financier from St. Louis who lived from 1850 to 1924 and commissioned the historic building to be constructed in his name.

History of the Wainwright Building, St. Louis, Missouri

Ellis Wainwright himself commissioned the structure to have available office space for the St. Louis Brewers Association, for which he had a large part.  In the late 1800s, it was only the second major commission for a tall building to be made.  Between 1890 and 1891, the Wainwright Building was constructed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan.  It was designed in the Palazzo Style.

The first floor of the 10-story Wainwright Building was made to house street-accessible shops.  On the other hand, the second floor was made with many accessible public offices, fulfilling Ellis Wainwright’s purpose for the structure.  The first and second floor of the Wainwright Building was created using brown sandstone, whereas the higher eight floors were created with continuous brick piers.  The higher floors of the building were made for “honeycomb” offices.  The tenth story is a frieze of intertwined leaf scrolls framing circular windows and is capped with Sullivan’s characteristic overhanging roof slab.  Upon completion, the Wainwright Building received a favorable, positive response from both residents of the St. Louis area, fellow architects, and critics.


Adler and Sullivan designed the Wainwright Building with a very modern design.  Being one of the tallest buildings of its time, the Wainwright Building was constructed with a tripartite composition which helped to emphasize the height of the building.  Though some features of the Wainwright Building were derived from classical architecture, the design is very modern, featuring no neoclassical stylings.


The Wainwright Building was designated to be a National Historic Landmark in 1968.  Though much smaller than skyscrapers today, it was one of its kind at the time of creation.  For that, it is celebrated for being a game-changer in architecture.

In 1972, St. Louis also celebrated the Wainwright Building, designating it to be a city landmark.  It is also now included in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, making it a local and national monument.

In 2013, the Wainwright Building received the honor of being named one of the “10 Buildings That Changed America” by PBS in a special that aired during May.

Possible Demolition

At one point, the Wainwright Building was scheduled to be demolished.  Thankfully, the National Trust for Historic Preservation saved the building from being destroyed, keeping its history intact.  Following this, the Wainwright Building was then purchased by Missouri and used as a state office complex.

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