ST. LOUIS – A signature building in downtown St. Louis is now a danger to the public. The Railway Exchange, a 110-year-old architectural gem and former home of the Famous Barr department store, now has wide open points of entry with no security presence after sitting empty for nearly a decade.
Along with names and logos from the likes of Purina, KPMG, and AT&T, a new moniker is part of the city skyline: YAKSAP, one of the many graffiti “tags” painted atop the building.
From the ground, it’s easy to see how vandals get up to the roof. They can simply walk through shattered storefront windows or yank down plywood boards and take the stairs.
A City of St. Louis code enforcement team and a police officer inspected the building on Tuesday. They found open access to stairways with open points of entry into the structure on all four sides of a building that occupies an entire city block at 7th and Olive Street.
“It’s a shame,” said Karen Mienheartt of Arnold, who works downtown. “The architecture is amazing, just amazing. It’s just going to waste. This building is beautiful. You don’t know what’s in there, though. People break out the windows, slide in between those boards. You can’t walk the streets of downtown anymore. I remember when you could.”
Mienheartt said she can remember when there were toys and the latest fashions in those storefront windows. The elaborate toy train displays were mainstays of the St. Louis holiday tradition.
A long-time resident who used to work in the building for Famous Barr said she was writing St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones about her concerns.
“If this would catch on fire, you would have a firestorm, nothing but air and oxygen coming in,” she said. “That’s scary.”
St. Louis police confirmed recent arrests of wanted felons inside the building.
The City of St. Louis Building Division has now posted notices of condemnation, saying the building owner, Hudson Holdings of Delray Beach, Florida, is subject to fines of up to $500 per day as long as the building remains out of code and unsecured.
Greater St. Louis Inc., which works to grow the economy in the St. Louis area, sent out the following statement from its Chief Downtown Officer, Kurt Weigle:
“Ensuring downtown is the safe, walkable, and vibrant neighborhood at the heart of our metro is critical to the growth and success of the entire St. Louis region. The people who did this should be held accountable. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of property owners to maintain the safety and security of their property. When those property owners are derelict in their responsibility, the city must hold them accountable.”
The building remained open with no security Tuesday night.
There was no comment from Hudson Holdings.