THE GUTH COMPLEX PRESENTED A HUM-DRUM façade to central St. Louis for the past hundred years. Its four buildings, once painted white, had faded to a dingy gray. For most of its 100-year history, the complex was surrounded by similar operations: warehouses, workshops, and small factories.
But times had changed for the area. By 2004, the factories had closed and the warehouses had been converted to night clubs. When many of the buildings were converted into residential units, the area picked up the nickname the Loft District. Suddenly a new sort of lifestyle was springing up—one of young people eager for fun, vibrant places to live.
So when an eagle-eyed developer seized a golden opportunity, the Guth complex became the G.W. Lofts. And one day, all the white paint was stripped away to reveal a glittering gold gem of a building—underneath the white coat was glazed terra-cotta brick in a vivid goldenrod yellow.
Now, G.W. Lofts includes 60 one- and two-bedroom units ranging from 771 square feet to 1,865 square feet; the one-bedroom units are loft-style with open floor plans while the two-bedroom units have enclosed bedrooms. Rents range range from around $670 to $1,650 per unit.
HIDDEN TREASURE The 61,000-square-foot Guth complex in St. Louis included four large buildings built in 1907, plus several annexes connecting the structures built in 1962. But in 2004, the company was purchased and the buildings put up for sale. Nat Walsh, developer and founder of St. Louis-based McGowan & Walsh Historic Renovators, immediately saw the opportunity the building presented for multifamily housing, since the surrounding area had experienced a recent boom in loft conversions. Further, the property's location on the corner of Washington Boulevard and Jefferson Boulevard was a draw. “Washington is the main loft drag, and Jefferson provides access to both highways coming into downtown,” Walsh says. “So it's got a great location and good access—what more could you want?”
Assembling the financing required obtaining private funding from the Royal Banks of St. Louis. The newly dubbed G.W. Lofts received both state and federal historic tax credits. In addition, Walsh worked with the city to set up a tax-increment financing (TIF) district for the site. (St. Louis allows TIFs for individual properties, not just districts.)
Meanwhile, architects at St. Louis-based Rosemann & Associates, went to work on the design. As part of the site assessment, the team chipped away the dingy white paint on the largest of the four buildings, revealing the golden brick that inspired the project's design.
No one knows why the original owners would have picked such a bright color only to cover it up, but the team had immediate ideas about what to do with such a find. Project architect Gary Rogowski, AIA, LEED AP, says, “Light bulbs immediately went off.”
After removing all of the paint, the other three buildings were painted cool green, blue, and brick red, giving the site a South Beach, Miami-inspired look. “It was such a fluke that we scraped off the paint and found this beautiful gold brick,” Rogowski says. “But it inspired the rest of the design.”
POLISHING IT UP One challenge of the renovation was the varying construction techniques used in the four buildings. One building was made of poured concrete and three were of wood. The wooden structures were in many ways easier to work with—at least it was possible to open up the walls to see what was behind them. Without the original plans for the concrete structures, designers had to make their best guess about the location of pipes and reinforcements within the walls. “It's tricky, and you have to be sensitive where you align stacks of bathrooms or kitchens and where you have systems communicate from floor to floor,” Rogowski says.