Mark Lamster | Essays

The Tower that Beer Built

Somewhat unwittingly, I have embarked on a series of pieces on skyscrapers born of alcoholic beverage magnates. The Seagram Building was the product of the (bootleg) whiskey fortune amassed by Sam Bronfman. In Dallas, we have the Kirby (nee Busch) Building, now a residential apartment house but originally a spec office tower financed by the St. Louis beer barron Adolphus Busch. Like the Woolworth in Building in New York, it celebrates its centennial this year.

Dallas, in its early years, was dependent on St. Louis, and that relationship is reflected in the Kirby and in the Adolphus Hotel, the grande dame of Dallas hotels, also built by and named for Busch. (It is a year older than the Kirby.) As I write in my piece on the building:
From the outset, the Busch-Kirby was conceived as a showpiece. “When completed it will be the finest office building in Texas,” contractor Louis J. Haenni, told The Dallas Morning News in September 1912. Though built on the quick, Haenni made it clear the building would be “modern in every detail” and in no way “cheap or shoddy.”

Certainly it wasn’t cheap. The steel-framed tower, designed by the St. Louis architect Tom Barnett of Barnett, Hayes & Barnett, cost about $1 million, an enormous sum for the time.

With its arrival, Dallasites could plausibly claim a place for themselves at the cutting edge of architectural design, for it was an exact contemporary of another gothic tower: New York’s 57-story Woolworth Building, dubbed the “Cathedral of Commerce” for its ecclesiastical styling. The Busch Building was somewhat less elevated in its design inspiration. As the architectural historian Paula Lupkin has noted, Barnett drew the tower’s terra-cotta filigrees and spiky battlements from Busch’s St. Louis brewery.
Dallasites are now subject to a less opaque (and more irritating) reminder of their relationship to St. Louis in the needless mini-arches installed in Klyde Warren Park, a recently opened greenspace that decks over a freeway. The park is a tremendous success, but warrants some considerable tinkering, about which more soon. 

Worth noting: the Woolworth is subject of a new exhibition at the Skyscraper Museum in New York, and there's more on the Kirby at a show on Dallas Landmarks at the Dallas Center for Architecture

Next up: the Baccardi Building?


Comments [3]

That is quite an imposing facade. Maybe you could step back a bit.
Frank de Souza

Why was the relationship between Dallas and St. Louis?
john massengale

st. louis was the regional financial/business center that capitalized the growth of dallas.
Mark Lamster

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