Moolah Temple takes center stage in the heart of St. Louis
Vacant and desolate for nearly 15 years, the Moolah Shrine Temple is once again shining brightly in the Historic Midtown of St. Louis. Built in 1912, the Temple was originally home to the Shriners, a Masonic organization formed by charter from Medinah Temple in Chicago. After 76 years of occupying the Temple, the Shriners moved to a new location in West County. Local St. Louis developer, TRiSTAR Business Communities, purchased the Temple in 1988 with plans to renovate it into office space for occupation by e-commerce firms. Plans failing and the Temple facing demolition, Moolah was bought by Amrit and Amy Gill in 2002. As owners of Restoration St. Louis, along with A & A Contracting Inc. and Checkmate Design LLP, the Gills have an astounding $100 million invested in projects that are under development in the St. Louis area. The Moolah Temple's price tag alone came to an estimated $17 million dollars.

The project, though mainly privately financed, did receive $7.5 million in State and Federal Tax Credits, along with additional funds from TIF and Browfield Redevelopment Funds. Eager and excited about Moolah's restoration, the Gills hired architectural firm Trivers and Associates, known in St. Louis for its historic transformations of Adams School, Court Square and Continental Square among others, to design their splendid vision. BSI Constructors was hired as the contractor and the 2 1/2 year restoration plan was set in motion. With over 27 different plans for the structure, the four story- 88,500 square foot building finished beautifully with a 500 seat single screen theater, a customized bar and lounge, an eight lane bowling alley and 40 spectacular loft style apartments.

Interestingly enough, the original structure was believed to be incomplete as it had no windows in its central core as well as the theater and lobby areas. The main section housed a lower level, first floor, mezzanine balcony and upper balcony sections. The existing foundation is believed to be on concrete piles with floors and balconies of reinforced concrete slab and beam construction. The roof is expanded metal fabric and concrete slab supported by structural steel purlins spanning nearly 15 feet between long span structural steel gable type trusses. Walls are load bearing un-reinforced brick masonry (URM).

The east and west wings, added to the original structure in 1931, each consist of a lower level and three elevated floors levels. The elevated floors consist of bar joists spaced 16" on center with a 3" expanded metal fabric and concrete slab. Bar joists are supported by structural steel girders and steel columns. KPFF Consulting Engineers, originally founded in Seattle in 1960, provided engineering services for the project.

Among all the carefully detailed architecture, major structural changes needed to take place. Among these were the addition of three new elevated floor levels over the theater stage for the apartment units, seismic retrofit, two elevators and a projector room on the existing upper balcony.

With renovation well underway, Restoration St. Louis faced an interesting challenge. Building apartment units above a theater venue required special attention to acoustical and sound-proofing features to prevent noise from reaching the living areas above. Spending approximately $1.5 million for state of the art acoustical features, Krieger Specialty Products was among the specialists chosen to provide acoustical doors and frames for the structure. Well known for their work on the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Kodak Theater, Krieger was a simple solution. Contracted in May of 2004 by Mechanics Planing Mill, Krieger Specialty Products provided 24 acoustical doors and 18 frames in under two months. The doors were rated STC 51/53 and fire rated 90 minutes. Priding itself on expertise, accuracy and top-quality products, Krieger came through with the project seamlessly. The doors provided were installed by an outside company with no complications. The restoration of the Moolah Temple would not be complete without embracing the technique and style of the 1900's. The exterior of the building was restored to its original Moorish and Arabic style. Even the windows were restored with incredible historic details.

The terrazzo floor of the lobby is original but has been restored. The Gills paid special attention to interior details so the overall look and feel would pay homage to the Temple's history. Upside-down fezzes serve as light fixtures and a painting of a Shriner in a miniature car hangs in the lobby. Designed by architect Salim Rangwalla, the theater experience begins in the lobby with its precise Moorish detail. The Moolah Bar is to the right when entering the lobby, with the lounge located to the left. Straight ahead is the main counter and concession stand. Patrons can bring their drinks from the bar into the theater and relax on one of the 70 chocolate leather couches in the lower level seating area. These couches can be removed for live performances or special events. The theater itself holds a single screen with wall to wall carpeting and a flat surface floor leading to the screen. Overhead, six stories high, is a barrel-vaulted ceiling decorated with chandeliers. The balcony consists of six rows of seats that span around three quarters of the room's perimeter.

With appreciation of the spectacular transformation, the Moolah Temple holds architects in awe with its unique design. Aware of the risk with a single screen theater, Harman Moseley, the largest theater operator in town, is managing the Moolah Theater and Lounge. With great promise and future for the Moolah Temple, St. Louis continues with restoration on many other buildings in the Midtown district. The theater section opened its doors December 22, 2004 with a tremendous turnout of guests. The opening of the bowling alley, along with tours of the magnificent renovation followed in January 21, 2005.
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