ST. LOUIS – The City of St. Louis is taking drastic action to save the former Famous Barr building downtown, days after a frightening fire in the building, FOX 2 News has learned.
All the boards that wrap around all four sides of the building, covering up street-level windows, will be replaced with metal plates.
Wooden boards on both sides of the southeast corner of the building went up in flames on Friday. The cause of the fire is still unknown, but a fire department spokesman says it’s clear the fire started inside the building.
“It was shocking. There’s no telling what else is going on… on the inside,” said downtown resident Harry Rogers. “Every day that I walk by here, the boards are torn down on one side (of the building) or the other.”
Fabrication and welding contractors were circling the building on Monday, taking measurements and mapping out a plan to cover the street level and the windows right above it.
FOX 2 has documented repeated efforts to secure the building only to have looters cut through the boards to get inside and take wiring and other metal for scrap, leaving the former Famous Barr-turned-Macy’s department store in ruin 10 years after it closed for good.
The building, known as the Railway Exchange Building, is 110 years old and is beloved for its terra-cotta exterior and its ornate Christmas displays.
“One of the best times I had was during Christmastime,” said Margaret Rogers, who was visiting her brother, Harry. “Famous-Barr’s windows were filled with the Christmas spirit. The trains and everything. That was something I looked forward to every year. “We’ll never get back what we had 50, 60, 70 years ago, but it would be good to do something with it and not just let it go to waste.”
“Beautiful architecture. The history is fantastic. This is a (essentially) national monument. They need to preserve it,” Harry Rogers said.
The building’s Florida owners are being sued for allegedly defaulting on a loan to buy the building in 2016. FOX 2 has documented repeated police and fire department sweeps of the building to thwart potential dangers. A fire department canine named Balko fell to his death during a search last winter.
The City of St. Louis authorized nearly $38,500 for the March demolition of a pedestrian bridge squatters were using to breach the building. The city has now authorized a $245,000 emergency expenditure for the metal plates with hopes of recouping the money from the building owner.