Posted on November 3rd, 2009 15 comments
8230 Forsyth Boulevard
Downtown Clayton, MO
If Downtown Clayton is like a jewelry box of full of mid-century modern architectural gems, the Clayton-Forsythe Building could very well be the most beloved piece. It opened in 1954, and still broadcasts a clear Beverly Hills/West Hollywood glamour signal.
The best way to experience the allure of this 3-story building is by driving up Forsyth toward Maryland, and deep in the curve this beauty extends a languid hand to pull you in for a shoulder hug and air kisses. And the movie star buzz continues with a design that flows with the bend in the road, siting that sidles seductively into an incline, and adding an “e” to the last name it shares with the street it graces.
When it first opened, the prow of the ship shown above, was Colony Children’s Clothing, and a stroll down its geometric promenade took you past the Lazy Susan Restaurant, the Clayshire House of Beauty (which remained until 1985) and Gold’s Pharmacy, among others. All of these shops have a front, street-level entrance plus a back entrance accessed via a flight of stairs from the parking lot. Again, the designers were smart about the siting, putting the parking in the rear valley of the property, and as you drive down the ramp it feels like the building grows before your eyes.
As seen from the Forsyth street-level, the lobby remains as it was when it opened 55 years ago: understated California cool. It’s all about the blend of materials, sparse lines and abundant natural lighting, and that the public areas have remained unscathed for this long is a major miracle worthy of major gratitude.
From 1955 – 1963, the basement and top floors were occupied by physicians and dentists, and an unusually large number of architects and artists, which makes sense when you consider the freewheelin’ vibe of the building. By 1968, some intrigue entered the scene when all but one architect left and the Shane & Assoc. detective agency took over 3 rooms of the top floor.
Because of its location, the Clayton-Forsythe appears to have had no problems attracting tenants. The 21st century has shown the highest rate of sustained vacancies, and I wonder if this might have something to do with owners more concerned with the financial potential of a new building on this site rather than maintaining the building they already have.
There was talk in January 2008 of this building being torn down and replaced with a retail/condominium development, which was conveniently timed to the news of new office buildings going up in this block. But preservation’s best friend – a crappy economy – came to town, and it looks like those plans are on hold for the moment. In the meantime, even though the building’s management firm advertises it as an “enviable place to call home for your business,” they are doing as little as possible to protect their investment. Minor water damage is starting to appear and regular maintenance is being deferred, which is a classic way to repel new tenants and make the case for demolition due to deterioration.
I’m hoping the greed and laziness of a tear-down mentality is something that expires along with our country’s false prosperity. Quantity (of assumed equity for massive square footage) over quality has brought economic trauma to our country (i.e., the mortgage crises), and it goes hand-in-hand with how we now view real estate and architecture. It has resulted in the warped notion that buildings can never be as valuable as the land it stands on, so why bother with preserving or creating worthwhile architecture when one theoretically stands to gain by knocking down a building to optimize the worth of the land? But with that house of cards taken out by a few stiff breezes, maybe there will be a more realistic appraisal on the value of tangible commodities that already exist, like the Clayton-Forsyth Building.
From the late 1940s to the 70s, Downtown Clayton usurped Downtown St. Louis by creating a brand new urban density in the shortest time imaginable. It is the classic example of mid-century modern architecture symbolizing the sleek new power structures. Block after block, the Clayton business district epitomizes the strength, optimism and prosperity our country experienced after World War 2. It is the historical text book of The Good Life Through Modern Living, and that seems worthy of preserving for future generations. American cities finally saw their way clear to preserving previous high points of our evolution (in Missouri we call it the Historic Tax Credits), so there’s no reason to overlook our last best chapters, right?
Downtown Clayton has enough fiscal options that it can seriously consider holding on to some of the finer examples of its mid-century history, and time has shown that concerted preservation brings tourism dollars because Americans love their history. The Clayton History Society gets what I’m saying, as they include many important MCM buildings (both dead and alive) as an integral part of the Clayton story, so I’m not making this up, I’m just thinking ahead.
The Claytonian debate over short-sighted gain vs. long-term value could begin with the Clayton-Forsythe Building. It is too fine an example of the worth of this place and this type of architecture to be blithely dismissed. Long live this most enviable building!
.mid-century modern commercial, modern architecture, st. louis county clayton business district, clayton-forsyth building, downtown clayton
15 Responses to “Most Enviable: The Clayton-Forsyth Bldg.”
Jana Shortt November 3rd, 2009 at 10:04 PM
Thanks for another great post… this one was exceptionally good, though. Beautiful photos, well-turned phrases, excellent points made.
You just like it because it added an E to its name like Dionne Warwick(e). Seriously though, I’ve always loved this building too. It makes me feel like I’m in SoCal.
Toby, this may be one of your best posts yet. I have always LOVED this sleek, sexy building.
I think you should actually submit this post as guest commentary in the West End Word. Perhaps pre-emptive positive highlights of our existing architectural assets is the best way to emphasize their value. We must combat the ignorance and apathy when it comes to mid-century structures before the threat becomes imminent.
Seriously, this post needs to find a broader audience. I truly think your photos and commentary single-handedly add value to the building.
john ellis November 4th, 2009 at 12:21 AM
I love that area of Clayton. We used to walk to Westroads (Stix Baer & Fuller, Walgreens, etc.) on our way to Shaw Park for girl watching. I think The Posh Nosh has been there forever. The old Brown Shoe company building down the road a bit was a cool building. Some of those buildings were part deco, part space age 50s.
Ken Konchel November 4th, 2009 at 6:18 AM
What a great posting about a unique, worthy-of-being-preserved building. Your justified praise of its design & the fascinating history you shared of its tenants are all the more meaningful when you consider the hideous building across the street from the Clayton Forsyth Building.
Spencer Marquart November 4th, 2009 at 8:17 AM
Great piece, Toby! I actually worked in that building back in the early 90′s when I moved here from the Washington (MO) area. A company called “Inkwell Printing”. I enjoyed working in Clayton as it was all new to me back then. I remember thinking it was a cool building and always drive by when I’m in Clayton (which is rare these days) and I would hate to see it go by the way of some ugly new office buildings. Let’s hope not! You do great work Toby!!
Great building. Thanks for showing us the insides Toby. And this is great writing: “still broadcasts a clear Beverly Hills/West Hollywood glamour signal.”
Somebody needs to do an article about the significance of Earl’s International* where all the “big shots” of the 1970s got their hair done (and relied on Earl Roach to keep them current and colored. Think George Jones and Charley Rich style hair).
Their reputation apparently has enough critical mass from the 60s and 70s to perdure through today where someone is paying Earl Roach a license fee (or maybe his son(?), Mike Roach). Though I wonder who goes in there now. The only reason to keep the name is to attract 80-year old fossils. They still have no website, e.g. Here is all I could find online about them:
(she must have been the “hot stuff” stylist for Mr. Roach. Claims she was Schoemehl’s personal stylist):
(This must be Earl’s son:)
Earl’s was on the north side of Maryland at Topton Way, where the Bettendorf’s/Schnucks/Wild Oats all used to be.
*perhaps you and Joe Finn, our local hair experts?
Re: “All of these shops have a front, street-level entrance plus a back entrance accessed via a flight of stairs from the parking lot.” The “back-door option” hearkens back to the days of full-employment, bigger wait-staffs, less crime and a relaxed, “how’re you doin’?” informality. I love back door entrances. John Ellis will remember a few of those from Warson Village. What architect designing a strip mall today would design one? Closest thing I’ve seen is the elevator entrance to the Sports Authority on Eager which deposits you directly in the store. The area behind retail stores today is usually a no-man’s land cul-de-sac.
I’m not a fan of Clayton by any means, but I love this building.
Great post! Does anyone remember if there was a record store (circa 70′s-80′s) in this building? Danged if I can remember the name of it (if it wasn’t in this building, it was within a block or two of it) but if anyone can remember it would be much appreciated!
richard stupidhead November 5th, 2009 at 1:57 PM
it’s buildings like this that make the Ritz-Carlton so egregious
Melinda November 5th, 2009 at 8:37 PM
Keith, are you thinking of Music Village? It was not in this building, but it was, I believe, just east of there. Parked on the roof?
This building IS inspiring! We wanted to have railings like these made for our house! Fab!
Thanks, Melinda; it could have been Music Village (memory is foggy regarding names).
Mr. Kline’s Record Bar was on Brentwood, north of Forsyth, just south of Maryland, within the Clayton Triangle as is the Forsythe Building.
Brian Smith November 25th, 2009 at 4:05 PM
I have ALWAYS loved this building and it’s location. It reminds me of my childhood and how Clayton used to be very cool.
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