The Beaux-Arts style in St. Louis has had lasting effects on the built environment, and perhaps there was no other family more responsible for that than the Barnetts. I looked at the founder of this dynasty last year, George Ingham Barnett, who set the standard for high-quality, classical Greek- and Roman-based architecture in St. Louis in the early 19th century. But his two sons, George Dennis and Thomas P. Barnett, would continue in their father’s footsteps, assuring that St. Louis would continue to have a distinctive classical architectural style. But like all Beaux-Arts architects, such as Cass Gilbert, the Barnetts would work comfortably in other revival styles in St. Louis and elsewhere across the United States.
George Dennis was born in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, and would attend CBC before joining his father’s architecture firm in 1880. But in 1885, he began working as a draughtsman for the City of St. Louis, before forming his own firm with his brother-in-law John Ignatius Haynes in 1889.
Meanwhile, George’s younger brother Thomas, who often went by Tom, was born 1870, graduating from Saint Louis University in 1886. At first, the elder George tried to dissuade Tom from joining his brother in the field of architecture, but finally acquiesced, and in 1895 the iconic firm of Barnett, Haynes & Barnett was created. Later, George Dennis Jr. would join his family’s enterprise in 1912, taking over for his uncle Tom.
Tom would lay down the philosophy of his architecture in the following quote:
“I firmly believe that no architect can break away from traditional style. I do not believe it is possible to do anything original in architecture and yet, I do believe that a man can build his own individuality into his work, even though he builds through the traditions of other ages.”
Perhaps that statement is a bit cringeworthy today, but at the time it was logical to a group of architects such as Barnett, Haynes & Barnett. With the rapid changes in society—the steam engine, industrialization, electricity, flight—there was a certain comfort in the architecture of the past informing the trends being expressed in the new buildings rising in the strongholds of the wealthy and powerful in St. Louis. But at the same time, Tom and his partners were not exactly keeping to his own philosophy; his own architecture was not simply an individual expression of past traditions. In many ways, he was creating original and interesting new precedents in his commissions.
Robert Henry Stockton House
Before Tom even joined the firm, one of the most notable—and now largely forgotten—houses design by his brother George and John Haynes is the Robert Henry Stockton House, on what is now a quiet street to the east of Powell Hall in Grand Center.
At the time of its construction in 1890, at 3508 Lucas (today’s Samuel Shepard Drive), the area was a flourishing upper-class neighborhood of townhouses and mansions. Designing for Mr. Stockton in the Romanesque Revival (the nearby Samuel Cupples House on the campus of Saint Louis University is another example of this style) George and Haynes create a unified composition that mixes different cuts and treatments of limestone. Rejecting the bright painted wood details of earlier styles in St. Louis, the house points to future styles of architecture in St. Louis in the 20th century.
Later, when brother Tom joined the firm, in 1900, a large addition was built off the back. This created an even grander house, with a sweeping, massive side tower and porch held up by grand columns. The Stockton house is a survivor, and thankfully, as so many houses like it in the Central Corridor are long gone.
Kingsbury Place Gates
Commissioned from the firm in 1902, the elaborate gates for Kingsbury Place facing Union Boulevard are a perfect example of the Beaux-Arts style’s synthesis of Renaissance and even Baroque elements in a new design. Out of all the private streets in St. Louis laid out by Julius Pitzman, Kingsbury Place’s gate is the most elaborate with a fountain and a bronze sculpture by Clara Pfeiffer Garrett.
Garrett had studied in St. Louis, and after completing The Awakening of Spring as the centerpiece for the Kingsbury Gates, she left to work in Paris. What is striking about Garrett’s work is its conservative composition, showing the influence of the French Academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau, who is now largely forgotten despite being one of the most prominent artists of the 19th century. The gates are supposed to express strength and tradition, not progressivism, and they succeed in doing so.
The New Cathedral
After a successful stint on the committee for the World’s Fair, designing the Palace of Liberal Arts, and winning the commission for Temple Israel, Tom Barnett and his colleagues secured one of the most prestigious religious buildings in St. Louis: the new Roman Catholic cathedral on Lindell Boulevard in 1912. Described as Romanesque Revival and Byzantine Revival in most accounts, the reality of the composition of this massive and beautiful building is much more interesting. While indeed the exterior of the cathedral shows obvious influences of the Romanesque style, particularly in the famous churches of Cologne, Germany, the front portal and towers are anything but that Medieval style. Likewise, from the outside, the great dome over the crossing is more akin to the influence of an Italian Renaissance cupola, not the Byzantine as seen in Hagia Sophia in what is now modern-day Istanbul. Inside, the interior’s rich gold mosaics are a reminder of the grandeur of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. It is an extraordinary and wholly original building.
Article originally posted by STLMag