Form Over Function

"Sometimes the whole picture needs to be looked at. St. Louis had a very shabby-looking living room," explains developer Steven Stogel.

Stogel and fellow developer Mark Schnuck were approached by St. Louis business leaders and politicians ready to raise the money to restore the old post office, vacant since 2000.

"It was very obvious that this was the jewel," Schnuck says.

Each floor of the post office covers about an acre.

"When General Sherman dedicated the building in 1884, he described it as an act of magnificence," Stogel says.

It was also a federal courthouse.

"Some very significant cases were decided in this courtroom," Stogel adds, citing the break-up of Standard Oil and the teapot dome case.

So when the Missouri state court of appeals agreed to move in if the building were restored, it seemed perfect. But the court and the other anchor tenant, Webster University, demanded adjacent parking, meaning the Century Building site. Existing parking lots nearby weren't good enough.

"The net effect has been to revitalize the old post office and to revitalize at least ten buildings in the surrounding area," Moe says.

But for the National Trust, the bottom line was what it regards as the greater good: a ripple strategy that now drives much of its preservation activity.

Moe adds, "Regrettably, we lost the Century. We fought hard for it, with the city, with the developer, with the tenants of the building, and we lost the argument."

The National Trust is still hoping to win the argument over 2 Columbus Circle in New York City.

It's become the poster child for the preservation battle that's shaping up over what The New York Times calls "baby boomers": post-WWII modernist buildings. Examples are Lincoln Center and the United Nations.

Edward Durrell Stone designed 2 Columbus Circle as A&P magnate Huntington Hartford's personal art museum. It has been one of those buildings New Yorkers love to hate ever since it was built in 1964.

Vacant for seven years, the city sold 2 Columbus Circle to the Museum of Arts and Design, which intends to transform it inside and out.

Holly Hotchner, the museum's director, describes the space as windowless and nasty and a place where Central Park can't be seen except out tiny, Swiss cheese windows.