Museum Holds Rich History
The Saint Louis University Museum of Art (SLUMA) originally was built in 1900 as the home of the St. Louis Club at a cost of $320,000. The St. Louis Club dated from 1886, when it was organized in a building at Locust Street and Ewing Avenue. It was probably the most exclusive club of its time and the Lindell building was expensively equipped. An architectural competition in 1896 determined the designer and style of the building, with Arthur Dillon of the New York firm Friedlander and Dillon chosen to be the principal architect.
The architects designed the building in the Beaux Arts style, which was used for prominent urban structures around the turn of the twentieth century. The building has a raised basement of rusticated limestone and a high-pitched mansard roof. The front facade has a tripartite organization (the central projecting block displays Ionic columns) and a corbelled entablature. Flanking sections have tall casement windows with limestone surrounds and ornamental wall dormers.
The idea for the St. Louis 1904 World's Fair is said to have surfaced at a dinner at the St. Louis Club, and much of the planning took place there. The club then purchased 14 paintings from among those exhibited at the World's Fair. These formed the nucleus of a collection that became one of the best-regarded private collections in the city.
For its first quarter century, the building was the center of St. Louis social life and was visited by a number of U.S. presidents, including Presidents Cleveland, McKinley, Taft, Roosevelt, Wilson and Harding. Herbert Hoover was entertained there while he served as Secretary of Commerce. During their visits to St. Louis, Taft, Wilson and Hoover were lodged in a suite on the third floor of the building.
A fire in 1925 led to the end of the St. Louis Club era on Lindell. Despite only minor damage, the building was sold. The building was used by a succession of companies over the years, until the University purchased the building in 1992 from Saint Louis University alumnus, Francis E. O'Donnell Jr., M.D. The building was the home of the SLU Graduate School and the School of Public Health and was known as O'Donnell Hall. The building was named the Doris O'Donnell Hall in honor of Dr. O'Donnell's mother, a long-time employee and director of alumni relations at the University. Designated as a historic landmark, the structure is distinguished for its architectural character, features and rich detail.