When Ed Mays tapped William Ittner to design his building for the Continental Life Insurance Company and Grand National Bank in Midtown/Grand Center, he wanted it to be visible for miles and reflect the style of the time. When completed in 1930, the Continental Life Building was modern and filled with amenities of the day. Today, we know the building by it's Art-Deco style. Ittner designed the building to have multiple set backs and straight vertical lines to accentuate the height of the structure even though it is only 286FT tall. Despite is shorter height, the building is seen from a ton of places throughout the city, which can be attributed to the high land it sits on.
At night, the white terra cotta is lit up and the spire lights up multiple colors. The building stands out among the cluster of buildings in Midtown and is part of the original Midtown core that wasn't entirely demolished as a result of the 1960s "urban renewal" efforts. From the 30s up until the 70s, the Continental Life Building stood as a beacon to the progress of St. Louis and as Midtown's premier office building. But lack of maintenance, low occupancy and an on going flight of businesses and people form the City made the Continental Building subject of abandonment. By the late 80s and early 90s, the building was in distress. Vandals took their toll on the building and nature was moving in. Water was ravaging the structure on the upper floors the once proudly lit beacon lay dormant, dark and rusty, visible to all who drove through St. louis.
The image was bleak, and so the city set out to demolish the building but preservationists rallied to save it. A more quiet factor that kept the building from demolition as the large amount of asbestos within the building. Asbestos removal would've cost too much, so the city gave up the demolition effort. Redevelopment plans came and went and by the late 90s, local developer Steve Trampe had enough and bought the building and set out to redevelop it. The $25 Million redevelopment project was completed in October 2002. The conversion from office to 100 apartments was innovative and has been successful since reopening. To this day, the Continental Life Building stands as not only a symbol to Midtown and Grand Centers rebirth, but also the entire city.
On this cloudy day, I decided to contact the Leasing Office at the Continental Life Building for a tour, since I was curious about the condition of the apartments after nearly 17 years of usage and I wanted to see the interior of my favorite building in St. Louis. Property Manager, Bridget Dolbeare, took me on the tour. I was surprised to learn that the Sansone Group runs the apartment aspect of the building despite Steve Trampe's Owen Development owning the building.
I entered the building through the door situated to the right of the entrance to the old Grand National Bank. Today, that space is filled with a clinic for the VA System. Upon walking in, a vestibule greets you with detailing on the ceiling and a green colored granite. The granite is a common feature through the lobby area and the stairwell leading up to the second floor. The main hallway, in front of the elevators, has a highly decorative ceiling with gold and silver paint which is exactly how the lobby used to look prior to abandonment.
Even the elevator doors have a touch of Art Deco in their design. Meanwhile, the Continental Life Building directory has been restored too and includes the names of businesses and people that once called the building home. Two other boxes are also on the wall, one being a US Mailbox and the other being appearing to be a former Key Box. Both shine bright.
A few things to note in the lobby, the building once had 5 elevators. Only two are in operation but the third elevator is visible by the black paint on the wall. Behind that wall lies an unused elevator shaft. The other two shafts have been completely removed and can be seen by the odd doorway openings close to Olive Street in the second photo. In between the doorways of the old elevators lies an odd wooden thing on the wall, that used to be the elevator call button back when the building utilized mechanical elevators.
After looking around the lobby, I headed up to the second floor leasing office to begin the short, but interesting, tour.
11th Floor, 2 Bedroom Apartment
There are not many units left to lease out in this building, but that may change if current residents, mostly college aged, choose not to renew their lease. We checked out a two bedroom unit on the 11th Floor and the views are quite amazing despite it being 12 floors down from the Penthouse.
The images I took make it seem as though the unit is quite small, but it really isn't. There is only so much you can catch in a photo from an iPhone. The unit was airy and was fully carpeted, with the exception of the bathroom and kitchen. The kitchen was very simple with white appliances but blended well with the brownish color on the walls and beige colored carpeting. The washer and dryer are in the kitchen as well.
The sitting area is a decent size and the large windows look out to the South. Your view is slightly obscured by SLU's Jesuit Hall a block South, but you will still get a decent view of the city, neighboring buildings and Midtown's interesting architecture. This particular floor plan is dubbed, "Moolah Theater" and ranges in size from 737SF-797SF. Rent, per month, ranges from $1050 to $1100 respectively depending on floor.
Next up, we headed to one of the rarer apartments in the building, the three bedroom, bi-level penthouse on Floors 21 and 22.
This was Ed Mays home for many years and offers the most stunning views in all of St. Louis. What makes it a rarity is because of how the penthouse unit just became available to rent, and is undergoing renovation in anticipation of the next tenant. For $4000 a month, you can have this apartment high above Midtown and Grand Center. Unobstructed views in each direct, two terraces, a grand stairway entry and a plethora of high end finishes makes the $4000 a month seem like a steal.
We came up the elevator to a rather simple floor that was a simple foyer for the units. There were three doors, as is the same for floors 17-21 each symbolizing an apartment. The central door leads to the penthouse which takes your breath away the moment you step in. Upon stepping in, a grand stairway greets you as well as a ton of natural light from the North facing windows. A chandelier will also be lit at night. After walking upstairs, a second stairway is visible, which takes you to the roof underneath the spire, but we didn't go up there today.
Once up on the 22nd Floor, the main floor of the Penthouse, you are drawn to the windows to look at the views. Because no buildings obstruct your view in any direction, you have clear vistas. Corner windows also allow you to see the terra cotta detailing up close. The sitting area, which is behind the second staircase, is quite large and has three large windows, with curved tops, facing South which present the best views in the entire building. These windows are the same as those on the North facing side.
To the left of the sitting area was the kitchen and dining room. You can tell just from looking that this apartment has higher end finishes than the apartments on the lower floors. Stainless steel appliances, new cabinetry, hanging lights and black countertops give it a very high-end feel. The light gray paint contrasts nice with the entire apartment as well. You can’t ignore the windows which just flood the apartment full of light. It’s shocking that this much light is present in a building of this age. Another part to note is the high ceilings in the penthouse. The ceilings make the space feel that much better.
Off of the kitchen lies the Southeastern Terrace. I stepped out onto the terrace and got views that were amazing. The views were of Downtown, SLU and beyond. You can also see the beacon/spire on the roof from this vantage point. When walking back into the Penthouse from the terrace, you walk to the other side of the apartment for 2 of the bedrooms. All are fairly large and have views facing North, East, South and West. The units on the Western side face all directions but East. This is also where the second terrace is. Views from here allow you to see all the way to Clayton.
Both terraces are great features to have in an apartment like this as they can become your go to outdoor place for dinner or to enjoy a nice summer night. Their views will surely leave guests stunned. It really is hard to put into words the views from up there but I won’t forget them.
The apartment also features multiple walk in closets and 2 large bathrooms with what appeared to be marble flooring.
After touring the penthouse, we went down to the first floor and walked down a few stairs to the large fitness center.
The fitness center is quite large. The soaring ceiling and skylight give you that openness feeling but the nitty gritty of the place really make it seem as though it was made for a fitness center. It’s also bright in here from the large skylight and multiple florescent lights on the ceiling. The skylight looks up at the back of the building.
As for a pool, there is one, but it was closed this day. The pool, and amenity deck, is located on top of the neighboring parking garage. No photos of the pool were taken today.
If you want a Penthouse unit, you are out of luck. Two people have their eyes on the Penthouse and one of them is expected to sign a lease on the unit. But there are other units available, just not penthouse level or three bedrooms. For a 100 unit building, only 9 are up for lease and will go quick. That’s 91% occupancy! But in all seriousness, the Continental Life Building fulfilled my expectations for what a historic building renovation should be. Maintenance has been top notch to keep everything in working order and the Art Deco accenting hasn’t lost its shine.
The Continental Life Building is a place that if you are a college student who is looking to rent a place, look here. Especially if you are a SLU or Harris Stowe Student, look here. If you have friends, you can all split rent. But, it’s not solely student housing. People older than college aged students can live here too but it’s ultimately up to the potential tenant.
If you want to know more about the apartments at the Continental Life Building, please visit continentallifeapartments.com. The contact form works along with the phone number. If you prefer to show up, the building’s address is 3615 Olive Street. Utilize the callbox by scrolling to “office” and calling.