Assessing Structural Integrity of one of North St. Louis' two water towers in College Hill neighborhood. Photo by D. Monterrey

Assessing Structural Integrity of one of North St. Louis' two water towers in College Hill neighborhood. Photo by D. Monterrey

MONTERREY--The Fight to Save North St. Louis' Iconic Water Towers

Landmarks Association Begins Structural Assessment

Debbie Monterrey
September 05, 2018 - 7:53 pm

by Debbie Monterrey, [email protected]

The two Victorian water towers in North St. Louis' College Hill neighborhood are undergoing structural assessments by engineers this week, work funded by the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, which hopes to raise enough money to repair and eventually restore the structures. Both towers, along with the Compton Hill Tower in South St. Louis, are city landmarks and on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Tree growing out of the Bissell (or Red) Tower. Photo by D. Monterrey
Tree growing out of the Bissell (or Red) Tower. Photo by D. Monterrey

"Both of these towers are still owned by the city," says Andrew Weil, Landmarks Association's executive director, "but they're not used by the water department anymore. For over a century, the water department and the city haven't needed these. They're just beautiful, excess capacity. So understandably, they haven't been major priorities for allocating repair and maintenance funds. They've got to keep the water system up and running."

Landmarks secured a grant of more than $40,000 to work with engineers and architects to conduct detailed studies of the towers' current conditions and prepare plans for needed repairs. 

Does the Landmarks Association have the money for those repairs? 

"No," says Weil. "That's phase 2. And possibly phase 3, 4, 5 and 6! We need to know how much this will cost and what the priorities are."

Entry door to "Red Tower." Hidden by a wood door for years, you can see the pigeon droppings and debris of the years at door's base. Photo by D. Monterrey
Entry door to "Red Tower." Hidden by a wood door for years, you can see the pigeon droppings and debris of the years at door's base. Photo by D. Monterrey

Designed by George I. Barnett, the first tower was built on Grand Avenue in 1871 to resemble a Corinthian column. It's usually referred to as the White or Grand water tower. In 1886, William S. Eames designed the nearby tower on Bissell and Blair to resemble a Moorish minaret. It is referred to as the Bissell or Red tower. (College Hill's Red and White towers).

Grand Avenue Water Tower in College Hill Neighborhood. Photo by D. Monterrey
Grand Avenue Water Tower in College Hill Neighborhood. Photo by D. Monterrey

The structures are actually standpipes, built to normalize the city's water pressure. Instead of building a utilitarian pipe, St. Louis, in it's architectural hey-day, turned them into beautiful structures. They were only used for about 50 years before new technology rendered the standpipes obsolete. 

The Compton Hill water tower at Grand and I-44 is the youngest of the three towers, built in 1898. It has the good fortune of a non-profit foundation, the Compton Hill Water Tower Park and Preservation Society, that maintains it and opens it to the public. A walk to the top provides a great view and fun history lesson. The two North St. Louis towers haven't been as fortunate. 

But that doesn't mean the residents of North St. Louis, particularly those in College Hill, don't care. Weil says when they're at the water towers, residents drive or walk by.

"The people that have come by have universally expressed concern that we were here to tear something down," Weil explains, "and when they hear that we're in fact attempting the first phase on the road to repair and restoration, they've all been pleased."

The "Red Tower" at Bissell and Blair in College Hill/North St. Louis. Photo by D. Monterrey
The "Red Tower" at Bissell and Blair in College Hill/North St. Louis. Photo by D. Monterrey

Weil says phase 1 is about a prioritized list of repairs to raise funds and tackle some of the major issues that threaten to turn into even more major issues.

"Then hopefully down the road, [we can] raise additional funds to do some of the aesthetic-type of restorations," says Weil.

To donate to Landmarks' fundraising efforts, click here. 

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