The Spivey Building: East St. Louis' First and Only Skyscraper

Categories: Architecture

Christina Rutz via Flickr
The top of the Spivey Building, showing its beautiful terra-cotta cornice.
The Chicago School of architecture, the progeny of Louis Sullivan, provided Frankl with the artistic inspiration for the Spivey Building. Sullivan, as Frankl demonstrates in the Spivey Building, sought to create a new language in architecture, emphasizing the height of new steel-skeleton skyscrapers. Strong vertical lines and elaborate but original decoration drew the eye upward to the highly decorated roofline of the building. Wimmer completed the building for his patron in 1927, just a couple of years before the stock market crash of 1929.

The first floor hosted high-end shops in a prototypical shopping mall, while the second floor housed offices of the Illinois Light and Power Company. The ten stories above that held prominent tenants such as doctors and lawyers. Marble walls, large glass display windows and elevator attendants gave the building an aura of luxury.

The Spivey Building now sits abandoned and gutted. | Chris Naffziger

Sadly, he fortunes of the Spivey Building fell along with those of East St. Louis. The Journal closed, downtown began to decline, industrial powerhouses shuttered and the city's population plummeted. The history of the Spivey in the last several decades is convoluted. Targeted for redevelopment, the building was gutted, leaving it exposed to the elements. But then news reports revealed that the developer, Philip H. Cohn, had improperly disposed of asbestos removed from the building. (He eventually went to prison for a bunch of other crimes.) The building now sits idle -- too expensive to demolish, too expensive to renovate. And until East St. Louis rebounds (if it ever does) there will be the Spivey, a reminder of what could have been for a once proud city.

Chris Naffziger writes about architecture at St. Louis Patina. Contact him via e-mail at

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