“If you have the chance to interview Isaac S. Taylor (the well-known architect), make sure you are strong and courageous before you send in your card. Otherwise, you might feel like a huge structure falling on you. Isaac Taylor sat down on his throne, in all of his glory, and looked over his glasses at the writer.
The profile of St. Louis’s architectural titan began in a St. Louis Star and Times published in 1911. The article described Taylor as intimidating at first glance. But when he settled down with his visitor, Taylor was much more like a teddy bear. He laughed when he was asked what he did for entertainment outside of his architecture practice.
“What are my pleasures?” It’s safe to say that a good meal is one of my enjoyments.
Taylor’s humor aside. His contributions to St. Louis architecture are still relevant 100 years later. Taylor’s plans to add the Civic Center to his interview were made two years prior. This was part of an architectural contribution from several architects who were inspired by the City Beautiful Movement. It added Beaux-Arts classes to otherwise basic buildings. Over his long career, Taylor would work alongside, learn from, and inspire many of St. Louis’ most prominent architects. Unfortunately, Taylor may also be the architect with the most prominent buildings that were demolished in the past 50 years, contrary to his prolific output.
Taylor was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1850. He attended Saint Louis University and graduated in 1868 (some sources claim 1869). After graduating, Taylor joined the George I. Barnett and worked there until 1881. Barnett’s two sons would be prominent architects and contemporaries. Taylor was an architect for the older Barnett. However, Taylor also designed the second Southern Hotel after the first was destroyed in 1877. The design of the elder and younger architects reflected the refined tastes and sensibilities of St. Louis during the Civil War years. The hotel looks like an Italian Renaissance Palazzo and is both massive and elegant. It has marble and the most modern technology. Unfortunately, the hotel was destroyed in the 1930s.
Planter’s House Hotel
Taylor began to get his commissions soon with his firm. The third Planter’s House Hotel was located one a block north of Old Courthouse. The Planter’s House was built in 1894 and seems to have ignored the revolutionary designs by Adler and Sullivan’s Wainwright and Union Trust building just a few blocks to the west. The hotel was constructed in a Romanesque Revival style and featured 400 rooms. Many of the rooms had sweeping bay windows. The building’s upper floors were covered in rusticated stone blocks and decorated windows. This gave it a strong presence in the center of the city. The fortunes of the Planter’s House, just like the Southern Hotel’s, faded and it was turned into an office building. In 1976, it was demolished.
Municipal Courts Building
Taylor, along with his Barnett Family colleagues, shifted to the Beaux-Arts style as the 20th Century dawned in St. Louis. He was an official for the World’s Fair and designed many of the enormous temporary buildings that sprouted up in Forest Park’s western reaches. After the Fair’s ephemera was gone, Taylor started to get commissions to design permanent buildings. This included the former Municipal Courts Building at 13th and Market just west of City Hall. The demolition of old buildings was a common occurrence in the construction of a Civic Center. However, the Municipal Courts Building and its matching, now demolished City Jail, proved that even the most mundane functions of government can be beautiful. Another Beaux-Arts civic commission was also his, and he appeared in a group photograph at the ceremony when it was officially handed to the City. Fourth from the left, the famed architect could boast of having the largest head in St. Louis with a hat of 8 3/4 inches.