The Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch sits in an entire square block of downtown St. Louis: between 4th Street and Memorial Drive, Market Street and Walnut Street. It’s only blocks from the Mississippi riverfront and the Gateway Arch. In the early 1900s, this area was professional office space and industrial or manufacturing warehouses. Today, this commercial area blends new construction with historic buildings that date back to the 19th century.
By the 1990s, many of these old warehouses were scheduled for demolition. In 1997, Drury Hotels saved three buildings from the wrecking ball: the International Fur Exchange Building, the Thomas Jefferson Building and the American Zinc Building. These buildings were carefully renovated into one: the Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch. During renovation, all three buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The International Fur Exchange Building at the corner of 4th Street and Market Street was built in 1919. It was the world’s largest fur trading auction floor in the 1920s and 1930s. The seven-story building was designed by St. Louis architect George W. Hellmuth and boasted the latest electric lighting technologies to highlight the sales floor. Furs were traded in the building until 1956.
Next door, the Caradine Hat Company occupied the ten-story Thomas Jefferson Building. When fur trades ceased, the hat manufacturer acquired the International Fur Exchange Building and leased a portion of the space to Southwestern Bell.
In 1967, a four-story concrete, stainless steel and glass building was built at the corner of 4th Street and Walnut, known as the American Zinc Building for its original owners: a lead and smelting company. Compared to its ornamental brick neighbors, the modernist American Zinc Building is a stark contrast: small and understated.
Drury Hotels began renovation of these three buildings after demolition had already started. The brick and plaster exteriors of the International Fur Exchange and the Thomas Jefferson Building were restored, and the Thomas Jefferson Building brick was refinished to match the International Fur Exchange. Today’s hotel lobby and front desk reception area repurposes the original imported Italian marble and granite from the Fur Exchange. Common architectural features of the time are found throughout the hotel, like handcrafted millwork, crystal chandeliers and light fixtures. The upper floors of the Fur Exchange and the adjacent buildings are used for guest rooms and meeting spaces, with first-floor space in the American Zinc Building occupied by retail and fine dining.