Louis has set its sights on brightening the night by lighting the
city’s historic art and monuments.
By Tom Kaczkowski
St. Louisan recently praised the “wonderful lighting of the new
structure at Interstate 44 and Grand Avenue.” That “new” structure
is the Compton Hill Water Tower, more than 100 years old and only
While Paris will always be the “City of Lights,” St. Louis nights
have brightened considerably in the last few years as many of
the city’s historic monuments and architectural landmarks have
been thoughtfully revealed after sunset with carefully crafted
St. Louis has a tremendous heritage of architectural landmarks
and monuments, which are frequently overlooked by day. Nightfall
presents an opportunity for the landmarks to shine with less visual
competition and more contrast and drama against the night sky.
Landmarks, which blend in by day, become prominent “beacons” by
Floodlighting presents a unique opportunity to render a building
or structure in a manner in which it has never before been viewed.
Local architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc. has
a dedicated group of lighting specialists who have been at the
forefront of this resurgence in lighting St. Louis landmarks.
The city’s three remaining water towers, built in the late 1800s
and once used to regulate water pressure for sections of St. Louis,
are among seven of their type still standing in the country. The
154-foot Grand Avenue (White) Water Tower at East Grand Avenue
and 20th Street, and the 195-foot Bissell Street (Red) Water Tower
at Bissell and Blair Avenue, were re-lit in 1998, illuminating
the Grand Avenue Tower’s stuccoed brick white Corinthian column
and the incredible brick detailing of the Bissell Tower’s upper
round balcony. The 179-foot French Romanesque Compton Hill Water
Tower on South Grand between I-44 and Russell Boulevard, was lit
in 1996. All three have been listed on the National Register of
Historic Places since the early 1970s and recently received awards
from the local Landmarks Association for site enhancement.
Compton Hill Water Tower was lit in 1996
Another newly-lit monument is the majestic Old Courthouse, site
of the first two trials of the Dred Scott case in 1847 and 1850,
and where Missouri’s women’s suffrage movement leader Virginia
Minor’s case for a women’s right to vote came to trial in the
1870s. Floodlighting was designed to have a minimal impact on
the Courthouse’s historic fabric and facilitate ease of future
maintenance. At midnight, timers extinguish all floodlights except
two cross-aimed from opposite courtyards to illuminate the American
Lighting design is far from an exact science. The design process,
which involves trial and error, can sometimes be as rewarding
as the end result. The Compton Hill Water Tower neighborhood viewed
a floodlighting test and voted on their favorite light source,
ironically ended in a tie. Long-term maintenance issues swung
the decision to “yellow” high-pressure sodium lighting due to
their greater longevity than the alternative choice, “white” metal
halide light sources.
Neighborhood residents also attended the mockups for the Red and
White Towers and provided input for the selection of each monument’s
Advances in Lighting Technology
Advances in lighting technology have given lighting designers
a much broader palette of lighting equipment to use. Yesterday’s
broad washes of short-lived incandescent light fixtures are today
complemented by long-lived high intensity discharge light fixtures
capable of delivering extremely precise “beams” or “shafts” of
light tailored to each application.
“Coloring” light using glass filters or colored light bulbs is
a floodlighting technique that can further celebrate a building
and its community as illustrated in the floodlighting of the historic
1930s Civil Courts Building on the Gateway Mall.
The floodlighting systems include interchangeable color filters,
which can be installed to celebrate St. Louis sports teams and
holiday seasonal colors. Installation of the lighting system took
place in June.
St. Louis Heritage – Forest Park
Historic Forest Park is the site of many new lighting developments.
The park was dedicated at a public ceremony on August 24, 1876,
and continues to play an important role in the life of the St.
Louis metropolitan area. Its 1,300-plus acres remain one of the
largest urban parks in the country.
Statue of King Louis IX
Left: Statue of Francis Preston Blair Jr.
Right: Statue of General Franz Sigel
The floodlighting of the Statue of King Louis IX, atop Art Hill,
north of the Saint Louis Art Museum, was also unveiled in June.
A mixture of white and yellow light illuminate the dark bronze
material of this recently restored statue.
The World’s Fair Pavilion was built in 1909 by the Louisiana Purchase
Exposition Committee as a shelter and refreshment stand for the
benefit of the public, and was a gift to the city as part of a
pledge to “fully restore the park” following the 1904 World’s
Fair. Located on top of Government Hill, it offers some of the
most beautiful views in Forest Park.
World's Fair Pavilion
Its recent restoration included new lighting, which made the monument
visible and comfortable to view at night from a distance and still
contribute to night event celebrations. Below-grade light pits,
lights tucked under the eves of the building’s overhangs, and
lights concealed in the non-public balconies create the pavilion’s
Lighting historic buildings and monuments usually involves a conscious
effort to conceal the light sources. Occasionally, the light fixture
itself becomes inspirational. New twin-headed light fixtures recently
installed in Forest Park around the Missouri History Museum and
Pagoda Circle in front of the Muny Opera have been well received
by St. Louisans. The HOK Lighting Group worked closely with the
Forest Park Steering Committee to create a light fixture appropriate
for the character of the park by day and at night. The new Forest
Park “Twins” design was inspired by St. Louis’ rich history of
decorative street lighting, some of which still survive in limited
areas throughout the city.
Sometimes we look to the past for floodlighting inspiration. The
Continental Building in Mid-town/Grand Center is slated for renovation
by Owen Development. The building’s signature red neon beacon,
long since removed, will potentially be recreated by state-of-the-art
fiber optic technology, capable of changing colors at the flip
of a switch.
1930 Vintage photograph of the
Continental Life Building
At the heart of this lighting resurgence is St. Louis’s renewed
sense of civic pride in its architectural heritage and efforts
to reinforce the St. Louis region as an active, thriving and
safe metropolis by day and by night.
Lighting of St. Louis’ many landmarks and monuments restores
historic memories, instills civic pride and uplifts the spirit
by making a positive impact on the visual environment of St.
ABOUT THE ARCH?
Arch symbolizes St. Louis as a crossroads for travelers – the
threshold where East transforms to West. Yet, it does not beckon
the traveler at night as it does in the day – its symbolism
is lost to the night. “I think about it every time I fly into
St. Louis at night and strain my eyes to make out the Arch in
the blackness below” says Douglas R. Martin, executive vice
president of the St. Louis Chapter, National Electrical Contractors
Association (NECA). “To see the Gateway to the West glimmering
from afar would add so much to the city’s storied place in the
building of this country.” NECA partners with IBEW Local #1
to form the St. Louis Electrical Connection. Back in the early
1980s NECA and IBEW Local # 1 teamed with Sachs Electric Co.
and first approached the National Park Service about lighting
the Gateway Arch.
time, we were exploring the potential of lighting the Arch as
a gift to the city to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the
IBEW,” says Robert G. Miller, business manager of the IBEW #1.
“The Coast Guard objected, because it feared the glare from
the Arch would hinder the navigation of barge traffic,” Miller
notes. “There were also concerns about vandalism and cost.”
the issue to the forefront again in January of last year, when
it flooded the Arch with lights to use as a backdrop for their
coverage of Pope John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis.
Kaczkowski would like to see the Arch lit at night but acknowledges
the aesthetic challenges. “The mirror-like qualities of the
Arch that make it so striking and kinetic by day work against
lighting at night as the Arch reflects most direct light,” Kaczkowski
says. “Controlling the light reflections from key viewing positions
to the Arch will be critical.
design, funded by Gateway Foundation and designed by Randy Burkett
Lighting Design Inc. has been developed, according to Ken Schaefer,
deputy superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
“Up to 40 lights would be housed in trenches on either side
of the Arch legs. The trenches would be covered with a screen
to prevent visitors and trash from falling into it.”
targeting the base of the Arch would have to cast a wide, low-intensity
beam,” says Terry Lewis, project manager for Sachs Electric.
“As you move up the legs of the Arch and away from the lights,
the beams would have to become more intense and focused.” Lewis
suggested the very top of the Arch might have to be lit with
Schaefer estimates the total installation cost to be between
$500,000 and $1 million and annual cost of power would range
from $10,000 to $15,000. “Since the Park Service is under a
federal mandate to reduce energy costs, some other agency would
have to foot the electric bill,” Schaefer says.
be lit? Schaefer says that architect Eero Saarinen, who designed
the Arch, was silent on the issue. If the idea is to go forward,
it faces a stringent compliance review, beginning with the Missouri
State Historic Preservation Office and including the Advisory
Council on Historic Preservation in Washington D.C. and the
National Park Service.
Tom Kaczkowski, AIA heads HOK’s Lighting Group, which has
designed illumination for other key buildings and monuments
in St. Louis including America’s Center, Metropolitan Square,
Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse, the Missouri Historical
Museum Expansion, the Saint Louis Art Museum main facade, and
many notable Forest Park monuments.
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