Ancient History and the Civil Courts Building

Driving around downtown St. Louis you will see lots of  interesting historic architecture. With our city being founded in 1764. it is now 259 years old. Old, but not ancient. However, some of our buildings really look like they came straight from antiquity. The ornamental detail, whether you are a fan or not, is always striking. The Civil Courthouse where the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court is one of these buildings, particularly above the 10th-ish or so floor. 

After the Chicago Columbian Exposition (also called the Chicago’s World’s Fair) in 1893, a movement began.  Chicago’s World Fair was built with the Beaux-Arts style of architecture which was based on Neoclassical ideas and used components of design from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Following the St. Louis World’s Fair, the style gained even more attention and the resulting movement was called City Beautiful. This movement was meant to counteract urban decline and to promote social reform. During this time, cities were becoming industrialized, overpopulated, and the quality of life was poor for many.  Part of the concept was that the built environment had an impact on your psyche and a return back to Neoclassical architecture, would usher in a more democratic and ordered world.  

The upper portion of the Civil Court building was modeled after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (above), which was built around 350 BC in what is modern-day Turkey. The Mausoleum was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and was designed and adorned by the best Ancient Greek architects and sculptors for Mausolus of Caria by his adoring wife. The mausoleum was destroyed by earthquakes in the 15th century and was then used for raided for building materials and subsequently built upon. Mausolus was known for beautifying his capital with public buildings and the word mausoleum actually comes from his name and this creation of tomb of all tombs. 

The St. Louis Civil Courts building is not an exact replica. Although Mausolus was known for being a tyrant, the building standing today in our city is a place of justice. The top floors of the building house The Law Library Association of St. Louis, one of the oldest libraries west of the Mississippi. In front of the east entrance stands the Freedom Suits Memorial Sculpture. This sculpture commemorates the 400 enslaved people that fought for their freedom in Missouri Courts alongside anti-slavery attorneys in the 19th century. Those attorneys famously worked without pay hoping to end slavery through the legal system and not through civil war.

The public art piece framing the Civil Courts building is "Twain" by Richard Serra built in 1981. It was created to be experiential public art. It's crazy to think that on one small location in St. Louis you can experience and learn about ancient 

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