The National Building Arts Center: The Legacy of Larry Giles

In Pictures

The creation of the National Building Arts Center in Sauget, Illinois is the result of a lifelong effort by a Maplewood native, Larry Giles.  Larry once told me that he lived on Bredell near Woodside when he was a young boy.  He and his friends explored the surrounding area with curiosity that was sometimes dangerous. They played on slag heaps left by some unknown industrial operation near the location of the present day Loew’s store.

Larry also explored the original mid-19th century Bartold’s Inn building once located at the Sunnen site.  By then it was abandoned and standing open.  About 1960, he found a painting of the Inn in one of the rooms there.  This same painting he gave to me to add to our collection of historic artifacts at the Maplewood Public Library.  He preserved the painting in good condition for 60+ years.

Larry also insisted that there was no cave behind the building. He said the back walls of the lower rooms were the solid bedrock of the hill. He couldn’t explain why it was called the Cool Cave Tavern in an old newspaper advertisement.

I have been informed by Esley Hamilton that the NBAC has enough funds to continue operating for a while but major fundraising will be needed in the future

If you haven’t seen my post, The Irreplaceable Larry Giles, you might want to take a look at it before you read this one.

The purchase of the former Sterling Steel Casting property by the National Building Arts Foundation was the culmination of a decades long search to find a location suitable to display and protect their very large inventory of architectural artifacts and related objects.  The administration building (seen on the far right in the painting) has been repurposed to be the foundation’s research library.

The foundation’s president and founder, Larry Giles, can be seen here while the transition of the administration building was underway.

In this image from 2018, the newly converted building was being filled with some of the many thousands of rare books and items that it houses today.

Another of the rooms in the finished library.

Just a couple of the interesting characters one might find there.

A display case filled with unusual items… all somehow related to the building arts. On the bottom shelf, among other things, are souvenir samples of some bricks and a concrete block.

Leaning up against a wall on my visit was this artist’s projection of one of the restored industrial buildings being used to display pieces from the collection.

A couple of the many repurposed foundry buildings with some stone columns in kit form (I’m joking).

A highly detailed model of St. Louis’s own, Union Station. I wonder if this was made by the architect, Theodore Link?

A decorative panel leaning against many crates full of architectural pieces.  The crates are all stenciled on the outside denoting the contents within.  Just behind the panel is one of many orange carts designed and built by Larry Giles.  They are of a solid welded construction and cleverly designed to be stackable (if you have a fork lift) when not in use.

This heavy duty easel displaying these various decorative pieces of terra cotta was also designed and built by Larry.


Decorative bricks.

Your faithful scribe neglected to record just where exactly these lovely carved stone pieces once belonged.

A large terra cotta panel from the Rivoli Theater sits behind some crated items from St. Liborius church.

Cast iron newel posts. There is no paint on these. That’s not nothing.

One of James Sutton’s daughters married a Pullis boy.

Cast iron columns.

More cast iron, probably parts of storefronts.

Ditto. Larry once told me that there were the pieces from 120 storefronts in the collection. Architectural drawings of many of them have been made to benefit researchers.

County historian, now retired, Esley Hamilton on the right, with a curious visitor.

Stone nurses from the recently demolished Deaconess Hospital.

Some of the guests at an event in 2018.

The stone nurses at their new location next to the Research Library of the National Building Arts Center.

This should give the reader an idea of what the NBAC is all about.  Of course, there is much, much more than what I have shown here.  This is an amazing, irreplaceable collection of some of the finest architectural artifacts from our city.  It was assembled by an amazing, irreplaceable fellow, Larry Giles.  He is gone.  Now it is up to us to figure out a way to protect it.

I want to close with a creation of Larry’s that is a favorite of mine.  You may have noticed a lot of very heavy stuff in the collection.  All of that stuff had to get there somehow.  Here’s how.

This is Larry’s truck.  When he got it, it was a cement mixer.  Larry converted it himself to carry a telescoping crane.  I asked him once, “What is something like that worth?”  “A couple of Porsches”, was his answer.

Doug Houser      June 22, 2021




4 thoughts on “The National Building Arts Center: The Legacy of Larry Giles

  1. Great article and photos. Larry was a true visionary and has saved so much of our architectural history that would have otherwise been lost.

  2. Thanks so much, Doug. I learned so much about Larry’s achievements from this.

  3. Very, very cool, Doug. Looks like a place where I could spend hours and hours. Only problem would be that I couldn’t buy anything.