Big Brothers Big Sisters Building in Grand Center

501 North Grand – formerly the Woolworth Building – located next door to the Fabulous Fox Theater

 

In our new welcoming headquarters, volunteers, children and families gather to learn, celebrate and strengthen their relationships. The modern, efficient work environment empowers staff to do their best work on behalf of the young people, volunteers and families we serve. The building conveys stability, strength, collaboration and a permanent commitment to meeting children’s needs. The cost of renovating the 24,000+-square-foot space of the Woolworth Building in Grand Center, inclusive of interior finish, integrated technology and all furnishings was approximately $4 million

 

The Woolworth Building – Its History and Its Significance
In 1993, Post-Dispatch newspaper articles encouraged City dwellers to “hurry in to smell the popcorn, tap at the goldfish and admire the rainbow racks of yarn” before the St. Louis Woolworth Stores close.

The building, which was the only freestanding Woolworth store still remaining in St. Louis, was vacant since its closure in 1993, but the memories of the Woolworth store have not faded.

The Woolworth store was built after the Old Beers Hotel was destroyed by fire. In newspaper accounts, the new building would be constructed to allow thirteen (13) additional stories to be added at a future date. The plans called for a “modern design with bold horizontal lines.” The original building was built with only two stories, but in 1950 a third floor, a pair of new escalators, new terrazzo floors, modern lighting fixtures and air conditioning were added to make for a newly remodeled F.W. Woolworth store, but the rehab also included segregated lunch counters for blacks and whites.

Starting in 1959 and continuing through the turbulent 1960’s, the Woolworth store was the site of several protests and peaceful sit-ins. In 1959, members of Local 88 of the Meat Cutters Union began picketing three Woolworth stores. The picketing was in response to “low wages paid by the Woolworth chain.” According to the accounts of many eye witnesses and several former employees, the separate lunch counters gave rise to several peaceful sit-ins.

In 1963 with the Birmingham arrest of Dr. Martin Luther King, three Woolworth stores in St. Louis were picketed by integrationist groups. The primary picket activity was at the Grand Avenue and Olive Street store as the pickets included the Teamsters, the electrical workers, the St. Louis Division of Negro American Labor Councils and the NAACP. According to some, the Olive at Grand Woolworth store is probably one of the three or four most important picketed and protested desegregation sites in St. Louis.

The Neighborhood
The Woolworth Building is located in the Grand Center area of the City of St. Louis. Grand Center is located between two major highways – I-64/Hwy 40 to the south and I-70 to the north. St. Louis University is located directly south of the Woolworth building and is considered a significant stabilizing force for the neighborhood.  

Grand Center and the surrounding neighborhood can be described as diverse, vibrant, “on the mend” and disenfranchised. According to information from the City of St. Louis’ Community Information Network, the surrounding neighborhood’s total population is approximately 11,000 individuals. 72.82% of the population is African American. There are approximately 4,325 households; only 28% are married households with the remaining majority being female households with children under the age of 18. In the population of 25 year olds, only 22.41% are high school graduates or an equivalent. According to income statistics, 38.67% of the households make less than $10,000 annually and an additional 12.72% make between $10,000 and $14,999 annually. 

In contrast to the above, the area hosts the heart of the City’s art and theater district. Located next to the Woolworth building is the Fabulous Fox Theatre which was restored to its full majesty in 1981. It is also surrounded by Powell Symphony Hall, home of the world class St. Louis Symphony, Sheldon Concert Hall, Contemporary Art Museum, Pulitzer Art Foundation and a host of other notable institutions.

Grand Center can also legitimately claim its commitment to diversity. The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, one of the largest affiliates in the nation, is located approximately 2 blocks from the Woolworth building. Also making their home in the area is Harris-Stowe State University, St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre, Cardinal Ritter High School, Loyola Academy and Portfolio Art Gallery, all of which are highly respected African American institutions. The In Unison Chorus, a 110 member African American church based group and the African American Chorus are also located in Grand Center. Big Brothers Big Sisters is fortunate to call many of the institutions and groups existing supporters and partners.

The Woolworth Building Transformed
After four years of planning and months of construction, Big Brothers Big Sisters has brought the Woolworth building back to life. Once the site of historic pickets and protests, the building is now transformed into a site that welcomes, embraces and serves boys, girls, men and women of all races. Our building offers new employment opportunities to a population and area that desperately needs economic activity and promise, while lighting up the streetscape and bringing together the many diverse neighbors, patrons and institutions.

The Woolworth building is made up of three floors totaling approximately 60,000 sq. feet, including the lower level. The building’s first floor has 18’ ceilings, second floor has 15’ ceilings and the third floor and lower level have roughly 10’ ceilings.

Basement Floor Plan

First Floor Plan

Second Floor Plan

Third Floor Plan

The Rooftop Garden
The rooftop garden will be the first of its kind in the Grand Center area. Whether you enjoy watching people on the move as far south as I-44 or taking in all the excitement of theater goers attending the Fox Theater or Powell Symphony Hall, the view is spectacular. The rooftop will be made up of approximately 2,000 square feet of entertainment space surrounded by grass and flowering containers. The rooftop garden is accessible by stairs or a handicap lift. The garden will be available to the community for special events and will also play host to many Big Brothers Big Sisters celebrations and volunteer recruitment events.

 

 

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© 2008 Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri
501 N Grand Blvd, Suite 100, St. Louis, MO 63103
 
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