Urban Exploring » St. Louis Transit Company Electrical Substation

4,000 horsepower. Yep, that was a 4 with three zeros after it.

Get your attention? The building just west of us at 1711 Locust was the St. Louis Transit Company’s Electrical Substation, and for the uninitiated, “electrical substation” translates to “big giant battery” for the trolley system. It was supposedly the largest in the world at the time, and 4,000 horses was how much two floors worth of batteries held. The St. Louis Transit company bought the property in 1903 and built this structure to house an intricate system of batteries and seven transformers to create and store the electricity needed to support the trolley system in time for the increased traffic during the World’s Fair in 1904.

On two separate visits, Pat McKay of Hilliker Corporation was nice enough to meet us over there to babysit supervise us while we gleefully inspected the years-vacant building whose sole purpose was that of the substation. It’s old and dilapidated, but it was beautiful. Take a look for yourself:

The space is beautiful with magnificent natural light, but clearly it’s in need of a lot of TLC. The two basements that housed the battery units were downright chilly on the 80º morning we visited, and the group’s consensus was that it would make a perfect brewery or wine cellar. If you want to give Campbell House a dangerously-close watering hole, the historic building — complete with 35′ ceilings and almost 35,000 square feet of space — can be yours for a piddly $245,000.

To learn more about the history of the building (including the people who lived in the Lucas Place home that occupied this spot before the substation was built), you can read Tom’s research notes here:
(Note: In the body of the notes, it mentions the building was used as a nightclub in the 1990s. We could see no evidence of this.)

1711 LUCAS PLACE

Charles Frederick Bates (b. 24 Nov 1853 – d. 05 Jul 1936) (1889 – 1895)

– St. Louis city directories list Charles F. Bates at 1711 Lucas Place beginning 1889 until 1895. Prior to this, in 1888, he was listed at 1012 Dolman. In 1896, he is listed at 4325 Westminster Place. Classified ads started in 1896 referencing 1711 Locust St., indicating it was now being rented to boarders.

– Charles F. Bates was born 24 Nov 1853 at Erie PA. He came to St. Louis in the latter part of the 1860s and was engaged in the tobacco manufacturing business. The St. Louis city directories list him as bookkeeper with the Catlin Tobacco Co. He married Ann “Nancy” Beale Maffitt (b. 03 Sep 1857 – d. 03 Jul 1928) on 15 Jan 1889. They were the parents of William Maffitt Bates, who married Frances Garneau; Julia, wife of Arthur C. Hiemenz; and Nancy Maffitt Bates (b. 15 Dec 1895 – d. 22 Jan 1969), the wife of William Geoffrey Kimball (b. 08 Sep 1888 – d. 05 Nov 1958).[1]

– January 1889: Charles Bates was married yesterday to Miss Nancy Maffitt, youngest daughter of Mrs. Julia Chouteau Maffitt, the ceremony taking place last evening at the elegant Maffitt mansion, on Lucas Place. The Maffitts are prominent Roman Catholics, but Mr. Bates being a Protestant this could not be a church ceremony, though the parish priest, Father Brady of St. John’s Church, Sixteenth Street, officiated, the marriage taking place at 6 o’clock, with only the family and relatives in attendance, followed by a reception from 6:30 to 10 o’clock, to which about 300 guests were invited. The house was elegantly decorated with plants, the splendid spaciousness of the halls and departments permitting the free use of luxuriant tropical plants with graceful results. In the music hall, which is of the noblest proportions, palms and dwarf orange trees with the golden fruit hanging on the glossy boughs, were effectively disposed in the spaces between the buffets and cabinets, the hall rack and settees that are part of the furnishing of this baronial-like hall whose glories are partially reflected in a great mirror under the stairway. Rare bric-a-brac and beautiful pictures brighten the walls, and the four richly draped doorways open into the spacious apartments on either side. The marriage ceremony took place in the long drawing room on the west side, the bridal party standing within the leafy recess formed by palms and rubber plants at the north end, with the lace curtained windows and the mirror between as a background. The bride had but one attendant, her niece, Miss Jane Maffitt, and Mr. Bates was attended by Mr. Duncan Mellier. The bride’s gown brought from Paris, was of white satin, as rich as the loom ever produced, with a luster as of silver in the gleaming folds of its plain falling skirt and sweeping train, flecked with the light shadows of priceless point lace, its designs as delicate as frost work on cobwebs. The bodice made in the high French fashion for wedding gowns, was also trimmed with the beautiful lace, and the bridal veil of tulle was deeply bordered with point lace, wondrously fine and proportionately costly. The bridal bouquet was of white orchids and roses. Miss Jane Maffitt, the bridesmaid, a daughter of Mr. Chouteau Maffitt and not yet a debutante, wore a very simple dress of white tulle over a slip of white silk and carried white roses in her hand. Mrs. Maffitt, in plain elegant black toilet. Miss Emily, gray brocaded satin with long train, round cut bodice with white silk pleated full corsage, with beautiful point d’Augleterre lace… Mrs. Henry Hitchcock chaperoned her daughter, Miss Hitchcock, the debutante, in white and lavender gauze… The supper, served by Spilker, was elegant, and the profusion of finest roses in every nook and corner and in all apartments was remarkably noticeable. The mantels were banked with roses and fringed with grasses and ferns. Mr. and Mrs. Bates will not go away but take possession at once of a charming residence contiguous to the Maffitt place, which has been lately remodeled and elegantly furnished for them.[2]

– 10 Feb 1889: Mrs. Charles F. Bates gave an informal reception yesterday afternoon, the first entertainment in her new home on Lucas place.[3]

– July 1936: Charles F. Bates, retired businessman, died of the infirmities of age yesterday at the summer cottage of a daughter, Mrs. Arthur C. Hiemenz, at Atlantic City NJ. He was 82 years old and had gone there Tuesday, intending to spend the summer. Born at Erie PA, where he was educated at a private academy, he came here as a young man to work for a cousin, John J. Roe, president of the old National Bank of Missouri. Later he was connected with the merchandise firms of Henry Bell & Son and Sam C. Davis & Co. In 1879, at the age of 25, he came treasurer of the Catlin Tobacco Co., a position he held until the company was merged with the American Tobacco Co. in 1900. For the next two years he was an officer of the American Tobacco Co. and thereafter retired from active business. However, for some time he held directorates and other interests in various concerns. He was married to Miss Nancy Chouteau Maffitt in 1889. She died [03 July 1928]. Lately he had resided at 4399 McPherson Avenue. Surviving are a son, William Maffitt Bates, 5915 Lindell Drive, a former State Senator, and two daughters, Mrs. W. Geoffrey Kimball, 11 Lenox Place, and Mrs. Hiemenz, who resides on Ladue Lane, Ladue. The funeral will be at 9 a. m. tomorrow at the son’s residence, with the Rev. John W. MacIvor of Second Presbyterian Church officiating. Burial, which will be private, will be in Calvary Cemetery.[4]

Boarding

– May 1901: The pupils of Miss Louisa L. Dieter gave a recital at No. 1711 Locust Street, Tuesday, May 7.[5]

– 08 February 1903: For Quick Sale – We can sell the property 1711 Locust St., 100 feet west of Seventeenth St., lot 50X155, at a bargain if sold at once – Call and see us – Mississippi Valley Trust Co., Fourth and Pine Sts[6]

– 15 February 1903: The Mississippi Valley Trust Co. also reports the sale of the property known as 1711 Locust Street, fronting 55 feet on the north side of Locust Street, by a depth of 155 feet, the property being sold to William M. Horton, consideration being $20,000.[7]

St. Louis Transit Co. Electrical Sub-Station 
(1903 – ?) (building still extant)

– This building was constructed in 1903 as a power substation for the St. Louis Transit Company, one of the major operators of the streetcar system. The architect is unknown, but Martin Arhelger was the contractor. The building was recently auctioned and bought by 1711 Locust LLC. The building has substantial damage to its roof; it is not known what, if any plans the current owners have for the property. Containing a single soaring story, this building possesses an immense and dramatic interior space that could be suitable for many different uses. Paradowski Design’s superlative rehabilitation of a similar building serves as an example of how a former generator building can be repurposed in such a way that takes advantage of the open space.[8]

– A former electrical substation, generating power for streetcars, with fantastic brickwork and what must be an impressive single space within. Last used as a nightclub in the 1990s, today it’s falling apart, with severe deterioration of the roof. It was sold in 2007 with the intention of renovation, but nothing materialized; a sale at auction in 2010 has left its future up in the air.[9]

– June 1903: Great Storage Battery for St. Louis – Transit Company to Install Immense Electrical Reservoir to Hold Surplus Current for the World’s Fair Traffic – As part of the preparation for the extraordinary traffic expected during the World’s Fair, the St. Louis Transit Co. is arranging to install a monster storage battery. This battery bears the same relation to the generators supplying power for driving the trolley cars that a reservoir does to the large pumps at the waterworks. By this it is meant that the battery can receive the surplus electricity generated by the machines when it is not needed by the cars, and then when the current required by the cars is more than the capacity of the machines, the battery can make up the difference until it is emptied. This method of using storage batteries in connection with trolley roads is not new, but it has remained for the St. Louis Transit Co. to install the largest one of these batteries now in service anywhere in the world. This battery is known as the “Chloride Accumulator” and will be installed by the Electric Storage Battery Co. of Philadelphia in a sub-station to be erected by the transit company on Locust Street, near Seventeenth Street. In this position it will be close to the greatest number of cars, which of course are congregated on the downtown streets, and thus being near the load which it has to carry it can relieve the generating station to the best advantage. It will be in service this fall, so that the effect of it will be noticed on the cars next winter. Mr. DuPont of the company believes that with the help of this battery there will be no shortage of power on the system during the coming heavy winter loads, nor for the heavy loads of the World’s Fair. The capacity of this battery in electrical terms is 5000 amperes at 600 volts. This means, as the electrical engineers say, 3000 kilowatts. A horsepower is equal to just about three-quarters of a kilowatt, so that 3000 kilowatts is equal to 4000 horsepower. This is about the power taken by 100 cars. Of course if the battery is called upon to deliver this power continuously it will become exhausted, but in railway work it fortunately happens that the load fluctuates so that the battery can give, and take, and thus add this capacity to the system, practically continuously. In every city a great many more people ride at certain hours that at others, and this produces an extraordinary demand for power at those times. Thus in St. Louis the travel to the center of the city in the morning produces an increase in the load between the hours of 7 and 9. In coming downtown the travel is much more distributed than in the evening, when the people are going home. They do not all come downtown at the same time, but pretty nearly everybody goes home between 5:30 and 6:30 o’clock. In order to meet this demand the transit company is obliged to run during these hours very many extra cars, a number of which make only one trip. It is this short demand for extra power which the battery is so well adapted to supply. If the battery is not installed, enough generating machinery, including engines and boilers, would have to be put in the power station to carry this maximum load without the help of the battery. These machines, of course, would be able to give this power throughout the entire day, and, there being a demand for it only during one hour, the machines necessarily would be idle the rest of the day. Again, this may be compared to the waterworks. If there was no reservoir it would be necessary for the pumps to pump just as fast as the people used the water. It has been found by experiment that this varies greatly through the different hours of the day, and on the different days of the week. It will be clear at once that on Monday more water is used than on almost any other day, and also it is found that on every day much more water is used during those hours immediately following the meals than at other times. By the use of the reservoir the pumps are enabled to work along at a steady rate, pumping the water into the reservoir from which it is drawn at a varying rate, according to the demands of the people for water.[10]

– December 1903: Unique Organization is the St. Louis Transit Company – Remarkable Growth of a St. Louis Street Railway Company from a Bob-Tail Concern to One of the Greatest Surface Systems in the United States – In a number of respects the St. Louis Transit Co. is the most unique organization in the United States. It new repair shops are, in many ways, the most complete and practical ever put in operation by a street railway company. Its transfer system is more elaborate and extensive than any surface road west of New York City. It storage battery in the new power house on Locust near Eighteenth Street is the largest in the world, having 588 cells of 77 plates each, with 13,000 horsepower. The capacity of the old powerhouse at Broadway and Salisbury Street is 10,000 horsepower… Fifty-four years ago the first street railway tracks were completed on Olive Street from Fourth to Twelfth streets. From that time, 1859 to 1886, the bobtailed car, with its old Missouri mules and horses, held sway. Then came the first cable road, which was built by the St. Louis & Western Co., now the St. Louis & Suburban Co. In 1887 the Citizens’ Railway Co. began the cable service. The Missouri Railway Co. next made the change, in April 1888, and the People’s and St. Louis companies changed shortly afterward. In 1888 there were eighteen distinct railroads in St. Louis… It was not until 1890 that the first cars were operated by electricity, when the Union Depot Railroad Company installed that system… While in 1903 there were [ ] independent companies operating lines in St. Louis, today there are but two, the St. Louis Transit Co. and the St. Louis & Suburban Street Railroad Co… The Transit Company is just completing the erection of a building for a sub-station and storage battery on Locust Street near Eighteenth. The building is two stories below the street level and tow stories above the same. The two stories below the street level will contain the largest storage battery in the world, having 588 cells of 77 plates each. The object of the storage battery is to store electricity at the time of day and night that there is no great load on the power houses and using the same during the morning and evening rush hours of the day. The storage battery will be in use before Christmas. The story of the building on the street level is to be used for wires, air ducts and repair shop. In the second story above ground will be located seven transformers and rotary machines to convert the alternating current electricity purchased from the Union Electric Light and Power Co. to current suitable to street railway use. There will also be located two boosters, the object of which is to charge the storage battery at street railway voltage. The capacity of the machines and storage battery in this building will be 13,000 horsepower, being 3000 horsepower larger than the power station at Broadway and Salisbury Street.[11]

– December 1903: The substation at No. 1711 Locust, known as the “booster” station, is not yet in working condition. It is in emergencies of this kind that the “booster” station is expected to be of most value. Its ordinary purpose will be to help out whatever line is in need of current.[12]

– March 1904: During the year the expenditures for these purposes have aggregated $1,868,931, of which the most important items are the Locust Street sub-station, costing $273,522…All of the new power plants have been completed with the exception of the auxiliary station at Seventeenth and Locust Streets, which will be finished and in operation about April 15.[13]


[1] Information from the Calvary Cemetery website

[2] St. Louis Republic, 16 Jan 1889

[3] St. Louis Republic, 10 Feb 1889, part III, pg 18

[4] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Charles F. Bates Dies at Atlantic City NJ,” 06 July 1936, p6A

[5] St. Louis Republic, “Musicals,” 12 May 1901, part II, pg 2

[6] St. Louis Republic, real estate ad, 08 Feb 1903, part IV, pg 6

[7] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Mississippi Valley Trust Co.,” 15 Feb 1903, pA9

[8] Landmarks Association of St. Louis, Inc., list of Most Endangered Buildings, 2010

[9] BuiltStLouis.net website

[10] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Great Storage Battery for St. Louis,” 14 June 1903, pg 4B

[11] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Unique Organization is the St. Louis Transit Company,” 13 Dec 1903, pg 6

[12] St. Louis Republic, “Neglect May Have Caused Explosion,” 23 Dec 1903, pg 2

[13] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “M’Culloch to be Manager of Transit Lines,” 08 Mar 1904, pg 1

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5 thoughts on “Urban Exploring » St. Louis Transit Company Electrical Substation

  1. Amy Brennan says:

    this is so great- thanks for sharing. I used to work at 21st and Locust and took many pictures of the exterior of this building, always wondering what was inside. Jealous you got to explore! 🙂

  2. Megan says:

    That is wonderful. I love the idea of exploring downtown. Great pictures, and fabulous research also!

  3. […] Exploring 2.0: Museum Building at the Missouri Botanical Garden After the overwhelming popularity of the post on our recent trek through the St. Louis Transit Company Electrical Substation, we’re going […]

  4. Great pictures on substation. Thanks a lot for sharing this.

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