Spring was in town last week flirting as she is wont to do. With winter at our backs and lurking still on the horizon St. Louisans gratefully took what Spring briefly offered, knowing that she’d return before long to stay. The most quixotic season in St. Louis, we never know how much we’ll see of Spring, whether it will last for one month or three; whether the daffodils and magnolias will bloom to perfection or be nipped in the bud by a final burst of winter. And so we savor her fragile beauty.
I captured these images of the two seasons we were experiencing last week, and was reminded of how much l love Post Office Square – the emerging heart of the downtown neighborhood. Winter’s snow is comfortably viewed from the warmth of the Cafe Cioccolato where native St. Louisan, David Salvato, has carved out a niche in the Paul Brown Building that’s as soothing and deliciously aromatic as it is chic.
Entrepreneurship suits Salvato who’s enjoyed being on the cutting edge since he quit working for other people in 1990 and struck out on his own – first in Soulard Market where he kept a stand and became known as “the miller” for the flour he “ground on the spot”* and second, in the Delmar Loop where he grew Salvato’s Cafe and Deli Market to the point where he was consumed with the very intensive labor of running a restaurant. He wanted to try something different while building upon the experience he’d acquired.
Salvato got the idea for opening a fine chocolate shop from the Food Channel. He wanted to become part of the emerging downtown market in a way that would be “unique, sophisticated, marked by high quality and inspired by European culture. A combination a la New York, a la San Francisco.”* His first choice of location was the Chemical Building at 8th & Olive but when the northeast corner of the Paul Brown Building became ready he opened there instead and created an ambience that is inviting and relaxed, a perfect respite from city noise and traffic.
Art gallery, event space and gourmet chocolate shop today the Cafe Cioccolato seems to have met most of the goals David Salvato set for himself when he left U. City’s Loop. Accidentally, or providentially, he finds himself doing business just a couple of shops away from where his Grandfather Salvato owned a haberdashery, polished shoes and blocked hats, two generations ago.
I’ve been in love with the Arcade Building and its Gothic cathedral windows since childhood. Whoever digs in and completes its renovation will lay claim to one of The Lou’s architectural jewels. Imagine the views of downtown St. Louis from the elegant windows of the sixteenth floor! Waking up to snow falling on the Old Post Office across the street or the sun edging its way up Olive and illuminating the fine lines and terra cotta details that Louis Sullivan rendered for the Union Trust Company and Henry Ives Cobb for the Chemical Bank.
If you’ve never been inside the Arcade-Wright Building (actually two skyscrapers skillfully blended into one: Eames & Young – 1907 and Tom P. Barnett & Fred C. Taxis – 1913)** it’s hard to imagine the wonders it holds. Think Hogwarts Castle on a modest scale with Diagon Alley thrown in for good measure!
A grand, two-story arcade runs the entire length of the building from Olive to Pine Street that was once home to two hundred shops, and an early prototype for the indoor shopping mall. There’s access at ground level to the Eads Bridge tunnel. Combined with upper story apartments there are tremendous possibilities for living, shopping, dining and performance spaces.
The 16th story windows allow glimpses of Gyo Obata’s artistic salutes to Louis Sullivan on Convention Center, the gleaming lines of the Roberts’ Tower rising above Alfred Mullet’s granite fortress (familiar to St. Louisans as The Old Post Office) and Daniel Chester French’s, “Peace & Vigilance”. Now bare, the little trees along Olive Street will soon be covered with blossoms as will those that line Locust Street on the opposite side of Post Office Square.
But this is not only an architecturally rich pocket of the city – it is the ultimate in convenience: two blocks from Citygarden, a department store and book shops; one block from the Metro Station, with a public library and full-scale grocery store across the street. Dry cleaners, theaters, sports stadiums, clinic, dentistry, banks, the Marquette Building Y, and numerous restaurants within easy walking distance. There’s even a museum in the neighborhood unlike any other museum on the planet.
Most importantly this downtown neighborhood is filling with residents: old and young, couples and singles, retirees and young families with toddlers in tow. Shopping for groceries, walking their dogs, jogging or strolling, returning home from a long day at the office or heading out for a night on the town. Anyone who’s looking for a place in the city with tremendous views as well as convenience will surely find it in The Lou’s Post Office Square.
* David Salvato, ** St. Louis: Landmarks & Historic Districts – Carolyn Hewes Toft with Lynn Josse, Landmarks Association of St. Louis, Inc., 2002.
Photo Credits: Maureen Kavanaugh, the author of this blog.