By Jane Linders
Tucked away in the tiny village of Sauget, Illinois , a short drive from St. Louis, you’ll find the largest collection of architectural artifacts at National Building Arts Center. Sauget, Illinois is home to sewage treatment plants, strip joints, chemical companies and only 250 people. The environmentally irresponsible Monsanto company was the largest producer of PCP’s in Sauget and the EPA designated the aptly named Dead Creek a Superfund site just down the street. I found it odd to house such an important museum in the midst of this toxic wasteland, but after walking around, the serene beauty of the open space was enchanting. I spent an afternoon strolling around the 15 acre National Building Arts Center with founder, Larry Giles, who has been collecting American architectural artifacts for decades. When a St. Louis building falls to the wrecking ball, you can be sure Larry Giles will be there saving a piece of St. Louis architectural history one brick at a time.
Rows and rows of crates and bins contain iron work, friezes, bricks, statues and terra cotta all salvaged from buildings St. Louis has recklessly torn down. St. Louis was once the largest manufacturer of brick and terra cotta in the world as vast deposits of high grade clay, cheap skilled labor and a means of transporting the product made St. Louis known as “brick city.” All of these architectural details from salvaged buildings are housed in a former foundry called Sterling Steel Casting Company.
I was surprised to stumble upon the iconic State Bank of Wellston sign propped up in a field as I had visited the bank one month before it was demolished. Larry Giles told a fascinating story on how he salvaged that giant sign and had to close down the highway to transport it to the museum.
The National Building Arts Center is an out of the way gem that few people discover. If you are interested in architecture, this center is a must see for architectural and history buffs alike.