Landmarks Association of St. Louis

Future of AAA??

 AAA Building at 3917 Lindell

On July 6th, 2011, the St. Louis Planning Commission passed a 5-3 vote in favor of a proposed zoning change for 3917 Lindell Boulevard, the location of the AAA Building.  The passage of the zoning change, which Mayor Slay urged the commission to deny, gave the green light for the demolition of the building for a new CVS store.  Due to the uproar of opposition created by the proposed demolition of the 1967 former Del Taco building one month prior, the likely razing of the contemporarily designed AAA Building received similar attention.  To discuss the future of the AAA building, a group of individuals composed of two representatives from each Block Unit closest to the site was created.  Landmarks wanted to attend the ongoing review meetings to report the matter to the general public.  However, our organization was discouraged from doing so by 18th ward Alderman, Terry Kennedy.  Currently, it is unknown what the future of the AAA Building entails.

If you live in the 18th ward, where the AAA Building is located and are interested in attending the review meetings, contact Terry Kennedy and let him know.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) Building was designed in 1976 by internationally known architect W.A. Sarmineto. A native of Peru, Sarmiento graduated from the National School of Engineering in Lima in 1946.  Immediately after graduation, Sarmiento gained employment as a draftsman with Oscar Niemeyer in Brazil.  During his tenure with Niemeyer, Sarmiento's employer was executing plans in partnership with French architect, Le Corbusier, for the design of the United Nations Building in New York City.  The shapely designs and the use of many curves in the work of Le Corbusier and Niemeyer directly influenced Sarmiento, which can be seen in the AAA Building.

 Sarmiento (center) at the Pheonix Financial Center in 1967

While visiting his sister-in-law in St. Louis in 1950, Sarmiento had a minor car accident with architect W.G. Knoebel.  Discovering they were both in the same profession, Knoebel invited Sarmiento to meet his employer Joseph B. Gardener, President of the Bank Building and Equipment Company (BBEC).  Soon after the meeting with Gardener, Sarmiento was offered the position of chief designer for the BBEC, headquartered in St. Louis.  During his ten year employment, Sarmiento designed a large number of banks across the nation.  His designs included First Security Bank Building in Salt Lake City, Utah (1955) which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  His cutting edge design philosophy was to create a new architecture for the 21st century that reflected the evolution of art and engineering rather than the revision of historical themes.  He became a driving force behind revolutionizing the look and feel of bank buildings constructed in postwar America between 1952 and 1964.  At the end of his tenure with the BBEC, Sarmiento started his own firm and remained in St. Louis until 1978 when he relocated to California.

The AAA Building employs a short-lived architectural style known as New Formalism.  The style emerged in the late 1950's as a reaction to the strict and rigid confines of the International Style.  New Formalism attempted a return to classical architectural aesthetics, such as symmetry and proportions, combining modern technology and popular contemporary elements.  New Formalism typically consists of a single volume building with a large colonnade, using a grand axis and symmetry to achieve a monumental aesthetic.  The style was applied mainly to banking institutions and public buildings.  Some of the best examples are found on college campuses and public buildings such as auditoriums, libraries and museums. Examples of small scale commercial buildings using New Formalism, such as the AAA Building, are rare nationwide and especially uncommon in St. Louis.

Due to the rarity of the architectural style and the international influence of its designer, not to mention the dwindling concentration of mid-century buildings along Lindell, the loss of the AAA Building would be a travesty.  The AAA Building can be easily retrofitted to house a chain store while retaining the architectural integrity of the building.

Again, if you oppose the proposed demolition of the AAA Building contact 18th ward Alderman Terry Kennedy and Mayor Slay.