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Discover the 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis, which was once the home for a local branch of the YMCA in St. Louis. 

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21c Museum Hotel St. Louis, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2023, dates back to 1926.   


A member of Historic Hotels of America since 2023, the 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis has deep connections to the Young Men’s Christian Association. The Young Men’s Christian Association—normally referred to as the “YMCA”—had emerged as one of the most influential social clubs in St. Louis by the height of the Gilded Age. Numbering in the hundreds, the organization provided welfare to urban men who had become disadvantaged from industrialization. Members of the St. Louis YMCA specifically received access to all kinds of support, including religious sermons, recreational activities, and even employment services. For years, the YMCA operated out of a “Central Branch” building in downtown St. Louis, which featured many amenities ranging from classrooms to a gymnasium. Unfortunately, an on-site accident rendered the structure unsound in 1920, displacing the group. But thanks to a wealthy donor’s generosity, the local YMCA was able to secure a plot of land at the intersection of 16th and Locust Streets for the creation of a new home. The organization then began reviewing building plans in partnership with two noted St. Louis-based architects: Louis LaBeaume and Eugene S. Klein. However, the arrangement had an important caveat—the designs required the input and approval of the national YMCA’s Building Bureau. Akin to an internal design firm, the Building Bureau was formed amid efforts to instill architectural uniformity for every official YMCA location constructed at the time. 
The Building Bureau necessitated that LaBeaume and Klein incorporate mandatory areas into their blueprints for amenities like athletics and short-term housing. The agency instructed LaBeaume and Klein to make the whole layout resemble an elite hotel, too, in order to convey a sense of elegance and luxury. Despite those stringent requirements, the Building Bureau still gave the two men the ability to exercise their creative energies wherever possible. LaBeaume and Klein thus personalized many of the building’s intricate details, using their own unique take on Renaissance Revival architecture to guide their work. Together, LaBeaume, Klein, and the YMCA Building Bureau ultimately constructed a gorgeous ten-story edifice that quickly became a cherished local landmark upon its debut as the “Downtown YMCA Building” in 1926. In fact, most of the members believed the site perfectly embodied the Building Bureau’s architectural vision for the entire YMCA. In addition to its brilliant appearance, the location also endeared itself to many of St. Louis’ residents for the effective social programs it provided. Perhaps the greatest service the Downtown YMCA Building offered was access to Jefferson College and its extensive educational curriculum. Located on the second through fourth floors, the school gave much-needed vocational training to male workers left unemployed by the Great Depression. Jefferson College subsequently excelled in its mission, leading to its formal collegiate accreditation in 1940. 
While Jefferson College vacated the premises during World War II, the Downtown YMCA Building continued to be a popular social gathering spot in St. Louis for generations thereafter. Indeed, internal reports revealed a healthy membership base of some 5,000 highly active members at the start of the 1950s. The heightened participation even encouraged the YMCA to further expand the building’s available programming, which included hosting a series of new youth sporting events five days a week. But even though the Downtown YMCA Building remained a communal fixture, some of its floors—notably the temporary apartments—were not used often and gradually fell into disrepair. Unfortunately, finding funds for potential repairs became increasingly difficult, and the local YMCA eventually relocated to a different site. Its fate uncertain, salvation thankfully arrived when entrepreneurial real estate developers began renovating the structure into a hotel and museum in 2018. The architects spent months transforming the building’s footprint to accommodate a series of exquisite guestrooms, as well as other venues like a fully functional art gallery. They also endeavored to preserve the Downtown YMCA Building’s architectural integrity, ensuring that its heritage remained well intact for future generations to appreciate. Now saved, the structure is slated to open as the “21c Museum Hotel St. Louis”. This spectacular destination is certain to entertain countless guests in its new role as both a luxurious historic hotel and fascinating cultural institution. 

  • About the Location +

    Long ago, the site of present-day St. Louis was once inhabited by Native Americans of the ancient Mississippian culture. Due to the area’s proximity to both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, thousands of indigenous people frequented the location for generations. The locale held spiritual significance among the Mississippians, who constructed dozens of earthen mounds as religious monuments. Known as the “Cahokia Mounds,” the earthworks were one of the most enduring geological features in the region. Indeed, the formations even gave St. Louis the moniker of “Mound City” during its formative years. (Unfortunately, most were destroyed as St. Louis expanded in size throughout the 19th century. Only a small segment survives as the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.) Nevertheless, St. Louis itself first came into existence when two French fur trappers—Pierre Laclede Liguest and his stepson, Auguste Chouteau—opened a trading post in 1764. While the area was no longer under French control, Liguest proceeded to develop his small community via a land grant given to him earlier by King Louis XV of France. He subsequently began creating the village a year later, naming it after another French monarch, King Louis IX. Over time, settlers from Canada and France began to arrive in St. Louis, who were attracted by its vibrant local fur trading industry. 
    St. Louis and the surrounding countryside only to returned to France during the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. (It had originally lost it to Spain in the wake of the Seven Years’ War.) But St. Louis then became a part of the nascent United States after Napoleon sold the surrounding area to the Jefferson administration via the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It immediately assumed great strategic importance to President Thomas Jefferson, who used it as the final launching point for the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition. St. Louis remained a gateway into the American West for many years thereafter, attracting scores of migrants from across the country over the following decades. Their numbers were supplemented by thousands of European immigrants, specifically Irish and German settlers who wished to create their own communities out on the frontier. Even though a majority of the settlers merely used St. Louis as a springboard to go further west, quite a few stayed in town and made it their home. St. Louis thus underwent unprecedented growth as its population swelled in size. In fact, the settlement had rapidly transformed into a city mere decades after the American Revolution. St. Louis continued to expand throughout the rest of the 19th century, with its residents voting to establish a home-rule charter during the Gilded Age.   

    The city remained a nexus for travel toward the Pacific coast in the early 20th century, although its status as middle America’s preeminent transportation hub had been supplanted by Chicago. However, St. Louis still prospered, thanks to the emergence of largescale industrialization. Perhaps the greatest symbol of St. Louis’s economic success was the renowned Eads Bridge, which helped ship countless manufactured goods all over the nation. Its rising prestige even got it to host two major international events in 1904--the St. Louis World’s Fair and the Summer Olympics! But the city’s prosperity came to an end unfortunately, as it entered a period of decline after World War II. Undeterred, a coalition of local civic leaders and businesspeople sought to reverse St. Louis’ stagnation. Beginning in the 1960s, those concerned citizens launched dozens of construction projects that revitalized downtown St. Louis. Some of the greatest plans led to the creation of well-known landmarks like the ceremonial Gateway Arch and Busch Memorial Stadium, home to the city’s iconic St. Louis Cardinals. The redevelopment efforts worked brilliantly, which resurrected St. Louis’ identity as one of America’s leading cities by the century’s end. St. Louis is still an influential metropolis that now attracts cultural heritage travelers from across the world year after year. 

  • About the Architecture +

    Renaissance Revival itself architecture—sometimes referred to as "Neo-Renaissance”—is a group of architecture revival styles that date back to the 19th century. Neither Grecian nor Gothic in their appearance, Renaissance Revival-style architecture drew inspiration from a wide range of structural motifs found throughout Early Modern Western Europe. Architects in France and Italy were the first to embrace the artistic movement, who saw the architectural forms of the European Renaissance as an opportunity to reinvigorate a sense of civic pride throughout their communities. As such, those intellectuals incorporated the colonnades and low-pitched roofs of Renaissance-era buildings with the specific characteristics of Mannerist and Baroque-themed architecture. Perhaps the greatest structural component to a Renaissance Revival-style building involved the installation of a grand staircase in a vein similar to those located at both the Château de Blois and the Château de Chambord in France’s Loire Valley. This particular feature served as a central focal point for the design, often directing guests to a magnificent lobby or exterior courtyard. But the nebulous nature of Renaissance Revival architecture meant that its appearance varied widely across Europe and eventually North America. Historians today sometimes find it difficult to provide a specific definition for the architectural movement. Regardless, Renaissance Revival architecture remains one of the world’s most enduring, appearing in countless places across the globe.