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Historic building is a beacon of hope

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Image courtesy of The Continental Life Building's Facebook page

Image courtesy of The Continental Life Building’s Facebook page

As many of us SLUdents do, I live in the Continental Life Building. It’s not “on-campus,” but not quite off campus either; the location is great. You might be surprised to learn you can live there cheaper than Front Door will offer. And she’s a looker, too.

The Continental is such a pretty place, I like to refer to it as “my movie star of a building.” It’s just so glamorous that even my vegan self can’t help but want to wear a fur coat and smoke a cigarette a la “Cruella de Vil” around that place.

You may have heard through the grape vine, or walking down West Pine, that the elevators are down for the count in the 22-floor building. Spending countless hours (and leg muscle) climbing up and down those daunting stairs the past few weeks has given me time to contemplate the building’s majesty.

The Continental has such a rich history. It used to be a central landmark in the happening, hurried life of metropolitan St. Louisans. Sadly, it’s become little more than a bro’s party hub, but that’s quite an improvement from where it once was.

Image courtesy of Parker Botanical Flickr

Image courtesy of Parker Botanical Flickr

Standing tall for over 40 years, the Continental gracefully scrapes Midtown St.Louis’ skyline. Construction was completed in 1930, and the Art-Deco design gives the edifice an appropriately “Gatsby” feel. Originally office space, it was the finest of it’s kind in the city. As owners and occupants came and went, the building dwindled through the decades. As old as it is, the poor thing had trouble keeping up with more modern building codes and fire safety regulations. By 1974, the year that marked the beginning of the building’s devastation, all the ceiling tiles were combustible, stairs weren’t continuous between all floors, and it didn’t even have a fire alarm system. Ultimately the Continental was left lonesome for a number of years. Utilities were shut off causing the undrained pipes to burst and ruin much of the original furnishing and decor. The outside began to suffer too. In April 2001, after 22 years of sticking out like a sore, empty, rotting thumb, renovation began as state historic preservation tax credits financed the installation of over 100 apartments.

The Continental Life Building now stands in the heart of St. Louis as a symbol of hope. Before St. Louis started to gather infamy as one of the most dangerous places in America, people thought of this city as a great place to live. That memory lies in the beautiful and sad, abandoned buildings seen in every neighborhood from Chouteau’s Landing Downtown to our next-door-neighbors in the Central West End. Also in these buildings lives great potential for the cultured, flourishing, renewed city that St. Louis could be. St. Louis is full of people who care about this place they call home; hope is alive. If a building as giant and complex as the Continental can be turned back around, any building can. St. Louis can be brought back to the splendid city it once was.

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