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.
Reflecting its Jesuit heritage, values and traditions, aesthetic enrichment is an important component of a Saint Louis University education. The arts introduce us to myriad cultures and diverse interpretations of human life, the beauty of nature and the presence of God in all things. Through the arts, we have the opportunity to develop intuition, appreciation, imagination and insight.
The Saint Louis University curricula are designed to assure that formal study in the fine and performing arts complements study in the humanities and the natural physical sciences. The education of our students is further enriched by the University's art collection and its four other museums and galleries, and by the University's location in Grand Center, the city's arts and entertainment district.
The Saint Louis University Museum of Art (SLUMA) enriches the aesthetic component of a SLU education through the display of diverse cultural worlds and the sponsorship of educational programs related to the arts.
The museum is a regional venue for scholarly presentation of works of historical art and artifacts and also is a venue for exhibitions of work by students, faculty, staff, alumni, benefactors and friends of the University. It brings together the University's permanent art collections with traveling exhibitions in an inviting setting which is available and accessible to the community, the region and the world.
Distinguished by its Jesuit-based tradition and successive achievements in the aesthetic transformation of its urban campus, Saint Louis University has opened a facility that will develop into one of the nation's top university museums. The central location in Midtown St. Louis, as well as in the heartland of America gives the Saint Louis University Museum enormous potential in its ability to both become a premiere gallery, as well as an educational center for historical research in art history and cultural expression. The Museum will present the University and public communities with items relevant to the Jesuit educational philosophy and ideals, the history of the surrounding area, and the works of local, national, and internationally acclaimed artists.
The Jesuit tradition lends itself to the contemplation of objects of culture in relation to its educational institutions. From its very conception in the 16th century, the philosophy and focus of the Society of Jesus have been centered upon education of the whole person. University of San Francisco arts educator and artist Thomas Lucas, S.J., comments on the fundamental role that art has played in the foundations of Jesuit formation and development:
Ignatius understood and trusted the power of the human imagination. He shaped his "Spiritual Exercises" around its careful and attentive use as means of finding God in all things. Moreover, he saw the products of the imagination, as vehicles that transport us to an understanding and experience of higher realities in ways that linear discourse cannot carry us. He loved music, built and restored beautiful churches, and allowed and even encouraged the performance of plays in his schools. Jesuit schools and institutions became flourishing artistic centers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe and also in Jesuit missions around the world.
Liberal education in the Jesuit tradition flourishes with the visual stimulation triggered by the images of the society surrounding the individual. Art reflects society, and hence, it enriches cognitive thinking and development of social expression. The long-standing history of Jesuit participation and leadership in the arts -- both their spiritual pursuits and also their work in educating the students and local community -- will be strongly supported by the addition of Saint Louis University Museum. The Museum represents a critical step in realizing the University's mission, advancing St. Ignatius' ideals, as well as increasing the overall exposure of society to the arts.