The Railway Exchange Building, completed in 1914, is a 21-story building occupying an entire city block at 600 Locust Street in downtown St. Louis, MO. It was designed in 1912 by the St. Louis architectural firm of Mauran, Russell & Crowell and constructed in 1913 in the Chicago architectural style. It was the tallest building in the city at the time it was constructed, and contained 31 acres of floor space. Originally, its most prominent tenant was the Famous-Barr Dry Goods Company, which occupied the lower 10 stories. It was also the headquarters of the May Department Stores Company, of which Famous-Barr was a part. Despite the presence of the department store, the building’s official name was derived from the many railroad company tenants that originally occupied it. Although currently vacant, it is historically significant in both the areas of commercial history and engineering and architectural history. In 2009, the building was entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
At the time of its construction, the Railway Exchange Building was St. Louis’s largest commercial and office building. However, as stated in its NRHP nomination form (2008), the building’s rich history was built more on the shoulders of the companies it was designed to house than the structural supports and ornamental flare it boasted in its design. Chief among those companies was the enormous department store Famous-Barr. William Barr & Company opened as a drygoods store before the Civil War, in 1850. Famous Shoe and Clothing Company began in a small building on Franklin Avenue about a quarter century later, in 1873. In 1911, the two venerable stores merged and became part of the May Department Store company. The company moved into its new home in the summer of 1913. The store included two restaurants, three-level escalators, four elevator shafts and seven stories of retail commercial space. To quote the NRHP nomination form, Famous-Barr is an excellent example
of a local company that encouraged the national department store phenomenon by
marketing the consumer experience to women shoppers as a leisure and social