In 2002, Larry Giles paid a visit to a commercial art studio in Soulard named Fishing Creek. Recently retired, I was interning there with the idea of possibly becoming a sculptor. The Fishing Creek folks were bartering with Larry for some recycled steel trusses that they used to add a second floor in one of their buildings. We had never met but I had followed his projects for decades in the newspapers.
Following that initial meeting, I got to know and become friends with Larry who was surely one of the most amazing individuals that I will ever meet. He was an architectural salvor and savior. Put simply he acquired a vast collection of the most important architectural artifacts from many of the most important buildings that were ever built in St. Louis and beyond. Eventually he consolidated his vast array of treasures at one location in Sauget, Illinois as a nonprofit named the National Building Arts Center whose mission is to educate the public on all aspects of the building arts.
I am not exaggerating to say Larry was a genius many times over. One might think that removing parts from crumbling buildings is coarse, dirty work and it is. It is also complicated, very dangerous and can be very high off the ground as well. Many of the projects that he conducted (and it was mostly him) are mind blowing in scope. Read about them on his website.
Acquiring the artifacts was just the start of the process for Larry was also a scholar. He did much research, cataloging, cleaning and protecting of all of the artifacts in his collection. He was as adept mechanically as anyone, could weld and kept his fleet of vehicles operating all the while assembling a Research Library containing over 300,000 items!
There is just no one like him. No one can replace him. He was a decent, honest and tough man. Perhaps one of the toughest I ever met. These are some of the saddest words I have ever had to write. Larry died while undergoing treatment for cancer on June 12.
It is my hope that those of us who were lucky enough to have known him can find a way to preserve and promote the work he has done.
Doug Houser June 13, 2021