Preserving the Glory: Restoration of St. Louis’ Masonry Heritage

April 2, 2013

St. Louis is a city of masonry treasures. Built brick by brick and stone by stone, most of these beautiful creations were constructed in the late 19th- and mid-20th centuries when the city’s Downtown was a vigorous center of commerce and industry.

These well-known historic structures are famous for their rich detailing and solid construction, which reflect the creative vision of the architect and the well-honed skills of the union craftsman. Working together, these professionals produced a remarkable variety of masonry landmarks that continue to set the standards for architectural beauty.

Over the years, however, these architectural gems have been exposed to harsh attacks by the environment. Smoke and soot, heat and cold, hail and driving rain have all taken their toll. Inevitably, some of these buildings need restorative care to regain their former beauty.

That’s where restoration specialists come into play. Through decades of past experience, they are able to erase the damaging effects of time and nature, returning buildings to their former strength and beauty so that succeeding generations can continue to enjoy the enduring glory that is St. Louis’ masonry heritage.

Generations of St. louisans have grown up with the Robert A. Young building, more commonly known as the Mart building. Tens of thousands of residents have taken advantage of the government services crammed into the 20-story Downtown landmark at the corner of Spruce and Tucker. The building is packed with the government’s famous alphabet offices. The FBI is here. So are the GSA, OSHA, DNR, and the IRS. The offices of Homeland Security and Immigration are readily available, as are Public Housing, the VA, and the four branches of the military. Considering the building’s long relationship with area residents, it’s an integral part of the area’s fabric. The building dates back to 1931, when St. Louis was the second largest rail center in the world.

It originally was constructed as a trade center and warehouse for the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis. In 194, the building was transferred to the US. Army, then changed ownership again when the GSA bought it in 1961. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan renamed the towering structure in honor of US. Congressman Robert (Bob) Young, originallya St. Louis union pipefitter [Local #562], and a well-known proponent of local public works projects.

This massive L-plan creation, designed by architect Preston Bradshaw, contains 25 acres of floor space. Its highly visible north and east elevations are Art Deco in style. The ascendant, full-height stepped piiasters between window bays at the building’s north and east elevations are an Art Deco feature. At the northeast corner of the building these pilasters continue upward along the sides of its 20-story tower, with massing setbacks that further emphasize its vertical orientation. Decorative white terra cotta blocks with abstracted acanthus foliage designs crown the tower and its setbacks.

By the 2007 economic downturn, the building was in need of restoration and high on the GSA’s shovel-ready to-do list. Before beginning the physical restoration process, the agency commissioned Superior Waterproofing & Restoration Co.
to perform a thorough examination of the building’s masonry related issues. To clarify the extent of the masonry work required, Superior cut out the window heads to View the steel lintels, examined the terra cotta attachments, and
analyzed the condition of the brick.

“The government got a very good feel for what they were up against before they started so it was well worth the money spent,” said Tom Schmitt, Superior’s owner and president. In April 2010; Superior began work on the extensive restoration project itself, a task that included tuckpointing the brick, replacing and reflashing the steel lintels, rebuilding the parapets and corners, installing helical anchors and seismic pinning, and cleaning and sealing the facades.


Although no one expected the job to be easy, its difficulty surprised even Schmitt. “In my 35 years in the business, I don’t know if I’ve experienced that many (challenges) on one job,” he said. Harsh weather conditions such as storms and strong straight-line Winds were just a small part of the problems faced by the crews. The greatest hurdle turned out to be a surprise decision by the GSA.

Approximately two weeks into the job, GSA officials in charge of the project told Schmitt that his company’s constant noise was upsetting for many in the building and that the crew’s Work schedules would have to be switched to nights. This was a move Schmitt considered “a real game changer.” Problems with logistics and equipment became much more difficult to solve. “If equipment breaks down at 3am, who do you call? The shop’s closed!” Schmitt said. As a result of the switch to nights, keeping the Workers motivated and maintaining production levels quickly jumped to the fore as Superior’s biggest challenge.


While frame scaffolding was used from the 12th floor up, mast climbers were used for the lower stories. Over-andunder-platforms were used on the same mast, with each platform self-sufficient. Approximately 40 craftpersons were working at any given time.
To ensure a dust free environment, platforms were enclosed and special vacuuming systems installed to control dust and debris from the grinders and chippingAhaInmers. Portable restrooms were added to keep the small army of Workers, members of Bricklayers’ Local #1 of Missouri and Mason Tenders from the Eastern Missouri District Council, from using the restrooms inside the building. “They didn’t have any reason to come down Within the work period,” said Schmitt.


Given its Downtown location, working on the project was very much like working on a skyscraper in Chicago or New York, where parking around a building is nonexistent. Absent a loading Zone on the ground, Superior used the roof of the 11th floor for storage and setting up power sources. “Site management was key with daily truck deliveries, getting [equipment and materials] up to what little storage area was available,” said Schmitt.


While finding redbrick for the rear of the building was easy, finding replacement brick for the iron spot units that make up the tower and front of the building proved to be almost impossible. Superior checked with suppliers from Kansas City to Minnesota to Wisconsin before locating a reasonably close match on a brick building being torn down in Iowa. Superior ended up creating a blend that worked well by staining the used brick when necessary. “The average person driving by—including myself—would be hard pressed to find where the brick have been replaced,” said Schmitt.


The original plan was to remove each piece of terra cotta and order replacements only for the units that were broken. However, the existing units were mortared into place rather than attached by mechanical anchorage, rendering it virtually impossible to safely remove them for examination. Since GSA was constantly emphasizing the necessity for speed, simply replacing all the existing terra cotta made the most sense.

Despite facing exceptional challenges, Superior successfully wrapped up work in mid—November 2011, the building’s masonry rejuvenated and ready for another half century or more of service. “It all worked out and we got it done,” Schmitt said. “GSA is very happy and their building’s in good shape for many, many years to come.”
Using government alphabet-speak, that’s what we would term A-OK!