After standing more than a century, the historic water towers in north St. Louis are starting to show their age.
The two stone structures, located just a few blocks apart in the College Hill neighborhood, were built in the late 1800s to regulate the city’s water pressure. Although the towers show visible signs of deterioration, until recently, assessing their overall condition was largely guesswork. Now, a report from the Landmarks Association of St. Louis has found the two towers need significant repairs.
In September, the Landmarks Association of St. Louis commissioned an engineering firm to assess the structural integrity of the towers and identify the most pressing repair needs.
Andrew Weil, the organization’s executive director, said it was “quite a task” to closely inspect the two towers.
“By their very nature, they’re these straight up vertical shafts and they don’t have good interior access to get to the top,” said Weil.
As part of the assessment, a team of engineers used a 185-foot lift to inspect the exterior masonry of the towers and collect small samples of the mortar for analysis.
They also noted areas where the towers were deteriorating and spots in need of pigeon-proofing.
One of the most pressing needs, according to the report, is cleaning and repairing the masonry on both towers.
Previous attempts to clean the exterior of the white water tower on East Grand Blvd. appear to have damaged the exterior brick and removed its protective moisture barrier, said Weil.
The cast iron capital on top of the white tower, which is beginning to rust, will also need to be repaired and sealed.
A few blocks away, the red Bissell Street Water Tower has its own set of unique repair needs.
Many of its nooks and crannies have collected dirt and pigeon droppings over the decades, providing places for tenacious plants to take root.
Weil said the engineering assessment is a necessary first step in developing a roadmap to restore the historic towers.
“Without this assessment, any kind of talk of repair needs was just speculation,” he said. “Now that we know what needs to be done, it’s easier to speak in concrete terms.”
Funding for the assessment, totaling roughly $50,000, came from a private foundation that wishes to remain anonymous.
The Landmarks Association has shared the report with city officials, including the St. Louis Parks Department, Water Division and Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office.
The organization now plans to bring together stakeholders and develop a plan to raise the money needed to restore the towers.
“These are utterly unique pieces of St. Louis’ architectural heritage,” Weil said. “It’s really important to hold on to landmarks like these to retain our identity.”
For more on the history of the St. Louis water towers, read our previous coverage.
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