Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Which Of The Seven wonders Of The World Inspired St. Louis Court Buildings

One of the most well-known buildings in downtown St. Louis is the Civil Courts Building. Many people know it so well that it’s almost unnoticeable. It still stands right at the intersection between Tucker and Market. It was the first building I saw when I arrived in St. Louis in 1986. As I grew older, I realized its relationship to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. As I sat in the jury room’s mezzanine for a few weeks, it occurred to me that perhaps this was the right time to write about the masterpiece of St. Louis architecture.

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus inspired the Civil Courts Building. Although it might not be the most well-known of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient Worlds, its place in the septet is undisputed. (A few wonders have changed over time. What did it look like? Pliny the Elder’s Natural History is a detailed description of the Roman world and the conquered Greek civilization that he had seen while serving as a naval commander. This provides much of our knowledge about the Mausoleum’s appearance. Pliny the Younger recounts his tragic death while he tried to save his friends from the Mount Vesuvius eruption.

You may be asking who is buried here. King Mausolus (a vassal state belonging to the Persian Empire, which ruled the eastern shores of the Aegean sea, part of a larger Greek cultural region called Ionia). His tomb was so imposing that our modern word “mausoleum”–literally, “Building of Mausolus”–is used to designate any grand and elaborate tomb. The towering brick structure, covered in white marble and commissioned by Artemisia, was built by the top sculptors from the Greek world at the time. Vitruvius tells us it was designed by two architects, Satyros and Pythius, and a quartet of sculptors–Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas, and Timotheus–supervised the sculpting of high relief and other free-standing sculptures on the four sides of the slightly rectangular building. The mausoleum was thus made a museum for the greatest artists from the Greek world.

The mausoleum’s design reflected the spirit of internationalism at the time. It was built by the Persian Empire, which merged disparate cultures to form a central government. The mausoleum’s base was inspired by Middle Eastern tomb architecture and featured three platforms with stepped platforms that were each decorated with sculpture. 36 Ionic columns rose above the solid base, emphasizing the influence of Greek culture in the area. They also displayed the awkwardness of Ionic capitals on the corners of buildings. In a nod to Egypt’s influence, a stepped pyramid with lions rose to a quadriga, which is a chariot with four horses and holding Mausolus, Artemisia, to complete the huge composition.

We also have ancient writers like Vitruvius and Pliny, as well as the work of Charles Newton. Visitors to the Central Library in St. Louis can see a huge tome detailing his excavations. Kristian Jeppeson, a later and more scientific excavation in the 1960s provided further insight into the mausoleum. The knights who defended Bodrum against the Ottoman Empire had destroyed the august tomb. The Knights lost but the remains discovered by Newton are now at the British Museum.

One of the horse heads of the quadriga survived the fall of 100 feet and landed with its bit in its mouth. Newton also discovered a few pieces from a sculptured frieze that were being used as a drain covering. He convinced their owner to sell them for a fair price. (Personally, the Halicarnassus sculptures have been more enjoyable than the Parthenon Marbles in criminally discarded areas nearby when I visited the British Museum.

Two millennia later, the mausoleum is gone and the Midwest is where Klipstein and Rathmann are busy trying to preserve the Beaux-Arts Style in St. Louis. Their mark can be seen on buildings like the Bevo Bottling Facility at Anheuser Busch. This phase is sometimes called “Terminal Beaux-Arts” because it shows the influence of Modernism as well as Art Deco. The Civil Courts Building design, another Klipstein, and Rathamn commission were no different. The Civil Courts Building was designed by the same duo as Louis Sullivan, who had just a few blocks away created his Wainwright building. Sullivan and Dankmar Adler started with a Renaissance palazzo, stretching the middle of the piano nobile to create the Wainwright’s revolutionary design. Klipstein, and Rathmann, however, pushed the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus’ base to a height of 2,000 feet, while keeping the Ionic colonnade, and Egyptian Revival stepped Pyramid in the correct proportions.

It is the stunning, massive spina that was created for the new mall city planners had long planned for. The low-rise buildings around the intersection of Market Street and 12th Street (the future Tucker Boulevard), we’re now “obsolete” and aging. City leaders wanted to eliminate them and create a massive core that reflects the “City Beautiful.” movement.

A drawing that was created to encourage voters in favor of the bond issue shows grand plans. Only a few of these were approved. They would have transformed the city hall, courthouses, and opera house into an ensemble called the Roman Forum for St. Louis.

The new Civil Courts went beyond the ordinary and paid attention to every detail. The original revolving door is now part of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation. It gives us an idea of what such entrances might have looked like if they were invented by the Ancient Greeks. The mausoleum’s lions, which are freestanding sculptures at its top, have been transformed into a low-relief frieze along the building’s side. All interior details are carefully preserved in stern marble, stained wood, and other materials. The Law Library at the top of this building is one of the most stunning spaces in the city. It offers a breathtaking view that can be seen from every angle. The towering courthouse is completed by the two chrome sphinxes on the top. They are adorned with fleurs-de-lis.

It is worth explaining three phrases that are above the doors at the western entrance. The first one, “Let Justice Be Done Although the Heavens Fall,” dates back to the ancient world and even had a somewhat pejorative meaning. It is a symbol of a commitment to justice that withstands any backlash. The phrase “Judge Righteously every man and his brother” is in the middle, which is the King James translation from Deuteronomy 1:16. On the right is Isaiah 9:7 reworked as “May Truth, Honour and Justice Forever Reign.”

It is not because of their simplistic optimism that I am attracted to the Civil Courts Building or works of its type. These leaders were serious about the concerns of their constituents regarding how their tax dollars were being spent. It is amazing to me how much of the modern constructions are being done at public expense.

Maybe it will one day return.

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