Historic Highlight: J.C. Penney Warehouse

Posted by Mark Gellman on Saturday, March 20th, 2021 at 9:38am.

The St. Louis skyline is unarguably iconic. While the Gateway Arch is probably the first thing that comes to mind, downtown has numerous iconic buildings that stand apart. One of those buildings is the J.C. Penny Warehouse or Edison Building, located at 14th Street and Spruce Street. 

The Edison Building was constructed from 1928-1929 as a warehouse and distribution center for J.C. Penney’s. The building was designed by consulting engineer John F. Miller, general contractors Starrett Bros, and St. Louis architect Tom P. Barnett. Their creation is 13 stories and encompasses 860,000 square feet. Starrett Bros also designed J.C. Penney's headquarters in New York City and later the Empire State Building. 

The structure is the second of only three historic distribution centers built by J.C. Penney Co. The other two are the centers in New York City (built 1926-1927) and Statesville, North Carolina (built 1947-1948). In its heyday, the St. Louis distribution center supplied merchandise to more than 1,000 of J.C. Penney locations in the west and southwest. The building was and still is located next to the railroad, which would transport the goods across the nation. 

J.C. Penney used the building for the next 25 years until adopting a new form of distribution, which made the warehouse obsolete. The building sat vacant for the next 10 years, until J.C. Penney donated the warehouse to the University of Missouri in 1962, to become an education center. These plans never became reality and the University leased the warehouse in 1967 to Edison Bros. Stores--a St. Louis-based apparel and footwear chain. 

In 1983, Edison Bros. commissioned Richard Haas, a New York muralist, to create a large, trompe-l'œil mural covering three sides of the warehouse. This was part of a nationwide trend in the 1970s and 1980s, when architectural murals were popular. The murals were meant to add interest and whimsy to otherwise dull and predictable modern buildings. 

Haas’ mural depicts various themes relating to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. For example, the south elevation facing Interstate 64, features King Louis IX and is based on the likeness of the statue that today sits in front of the St. Louis Art Museum. 

Just over 10 years after the mural was commissioned, the distribution center at the Edison Building had outlived its usefulness and the company closed the building. For years, the building sat vacant once again. 

Then in the late 1990s, developer David E. Breckenridge decided to redevelop the warehouse with a multi-use design by Henmi & Associates. In 2001, the warehouse opened after a $54 million renovation. The renovation was an adaptive reuse, mixed-use project with hotel suites below, luxury condos above, with a shared pool, fitness center, restaurants, and conference rooms. Breckenridge also designed a condo for himself that afforded him 270 degree views of downtown. 

Visitors today can visit the hotel lobby, restaurants, and other common areas. It's proximity to Union Station and the Aquarium, Stifel Theatre, Enterprise Center, numerous city parks, and other downtown attractions make it the ideal place to visit or live. 

The Gellman Team is currently listing 2 condos in the Edison: 

Unit 1206 

Unit 1218


Explore the 1998 National Register documentation here


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