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Reviving History, Crafting Luxury: The Remarkable Transformation of 21c Museum Hotel ST. LOUIS

St. Louis’ newest destination hotel – 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis officially opened its doors to visitors in August 2023. Situated in the vibrant Downtown West district of the city, this one-of-a-kind, 10-story boutique hotel combines high-end hospitality with a contemporary art experience. 

The hotel’s distinct features include: 

  • 173 guest rooms decorated with exclusive artwork created by Missouri-based artists. 
  • 14,000 s.f. of museum exhibition space.  
  • 18 suites including two multi-story 21c Suites and a Library Suite. 
  • Unique dining options including Idol Wolf, a chef-driven, Spanish-influenced restaurant and bar, and Good Press, a café. 
  • 10,500 s.f. athletic and wellness center, Locust Street Athletic Swim Club – an ode to the structure’s past as a community recreation center.  
Multi-story 21c King Suite (photo credit: 21c Management, LLC)

To truly appreciate what the stunning structure is today, it’s important to look at where it started.  
The Renaissance Revival-style building was originally constructed in 1926 as a YMCA. For over 90 years the Downtown YMCA operated out of the building before relocating to the nearby MX Building in 2016. The property was selected for 21c Museum Hotel’s first St. Louis property and eighth property overall. 

The owner selected architectural firm Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaf + Goettel, and interior design firms Bill Rooney Studio and Hufft to design the hotel and Russell as the construction partner to bring their vision to life. Preconstruction efforts, led by Russell, began in October 2018 with initial demolition and abatement beginning in 2019. After years of planning, construction officially began in May 2021. 

The transformation of the 1920s-era YMCA building into a modern boutique hotel was not without its challenges.  

The scope of the project required a significant amount of reconstruction of the existing space, including:   

  • Demolition and reconstruction of 3,100 s.f. of concrete structure to create a cohesive first floor elevation. 
  • Demolition of the second-floor concrete structure to create a two-story main bar. 
  • Removal, infill, and relocation of an existing main stair tower to accommodate guestroom floor programming. 
  • Removal and replacement of existing clay tile stair and elevator shaftwall throughout the building.
Main bar before and after (photo credit: 21 Management LLC)
  • Incorporation of new MEP systems within spaces with existing historic walls and ceilings requiring precision demolition and finishes reconstruction. 
  • Extensive historic façade restoration and structural repairs to the brick, terra cotta, and limestone facades. 
  • Integration of a new spa into the existing pool area requiring structural demolition and replacement along with historic finishes replication. 
  • A mixture of restoration and replacement for all existing historic windows throughout the building, working with historic review agencies to provide custom applications to match existing window profiles. 
Pool before and after
  • The existing building was constructed atop demolished brick row houses, the remaining walls and foundations of these structures resulted in several obstructions to work through for all below grade MEP and utility work. 
  • Installation of micropiles at the sub-basement level, needed for construction of expanded elevator shaft structure, required mobilization of equipment two-stories below grade with logistically challenging conditions. 
  • Existing structure was variable from floor-to-floor and contained unique structural conditions and elevations throughout the building. This required extensive surveying and building scanning to coordinate and facilitate the buildout. 
  • Installation of new elevators within an existing hoistway presented significant challenges with the variability of the existing structure and integration of modern elevator systems. 
Grand Ballroom before and after

The extensive modifications and inconsistencies of the existing structure required precise reworking and coordination of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection (MEPF) designs led by Russell’s Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) team who played a pivotal role in this process offering a platform to resolve clash detections, adapt designs, and facilitate cost savings.

Preserving the building’s historical integrity

Meticulous efforts were made to preserve the building’s architectural integrity, allowing visitors to step back in time, while indulging in the contemporary ambiance of the hotel. Since the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the design and construction had to adhere to requirements set by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the U.S. National Park Service.  

This involved an in-depth process of samples, mockups, and integration of historic replica materials, such as replica tiles, marble, plaster, woodwork, windows, and façade elements – which demanded precise coordination. Melding new high-end finishes with existing substrates became an art, requiring on-the-spot solutions and real-time adjustments. 

Some of the key historical features that were preserved include: 

  1. Pool Tile– In addition to building infrastructure to bring the historic pool area up to code, 1,900 s.f. of tilework – including walls, floors, and the pool itself – were restored or replaced. Samples were taken from the existing building and used to create custom replica tile and glaze work to recreate the unevenness, cracking, and crawling of the original tile so new, repaired, and original areas are seamless. 
  2. Wood Flooring – The original wood floors in the gymnasiums, which are now the Jr. and Grand ballrooms, and the racquetball courts, now King Suites, required a significant amount of live figuring, repurposing original material, restoration and blending in of new material.  
  3. Plaster – Existing plaster ceilings in the historic Billard’s Hall, Café Library, Lobby, Grand Stair, and Second Floor Art Gallery areas required detailed plaster restoration and replication. The restoration of the water damaged 1,000 s.f. coffered plaster ceiling in the art gallery required creating and pouring new plaster into silicone molds and reconstruction of the existing ceiling to bring the historic finish back to life.   
  4. Wood Paneling – Existing ornate ceiling and wood panel walls in the Lobby, Billiard’s Hall, Café Library, and the Library Suite required restoration, refinishing and replication to integrate new layouts while maintaining historic finishes throughout these spaces.  


The vision of 21c Museum Hotels and Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel combined with the dedication and craftsmanship of the Russell team and our trade partners resulted in a stunning and unique destination hotel.