01 Jun U-Haul Self Storage Facility Uncovers Historic Ceiling Art
A U-Haul self storage facility in St. Louis, Mo., has quickly become a popular destination for the area’s art community. U-Haul Moving & Storage at Kingshighway reintroduced renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s illuminated ceiling in the lobby of the building, a famed piece of modern art that has been a hidden from view for decades.
The historic site was once the American Stove Company-Magic Chef building. In the 1940s, St. Louis architect Harris Armstrong designed the structure and commissioned Noguchi—an American artist greatly admired at the time for his sculptures, landscape architecture, and furniture designs—to create a unique ceiling for Magic Chef’s first-floor lobby.
Magic Chef left the building in the late 1950s, and the Teamsters Union moved in and used it as a health care facility. The union eventually moved on, and the structure sat vacant for a decade. U-Haul bought it in 1977 and renovated the six-story building into a self storage facility, installing a drop ceiling that covered up Noguchi’s work in the former lobby.
However, it was around 2014 that U-Haul started talking about upgrading and enlarging the showroom of the building, which involved bringing Noguchi’s ceiling back into view.
“In conjunction with improving the showroom, my intention was to reveal the ceiling,” says Steve Langford, President of U-Haul Company of St. Louis. “There was a Noguchi exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum running around the time we began working on this project, so there were lots of photos to use as a frame of reference.”
In November 2015, work began on the showroom. U-Haul technicians expanded it from 1,500 to 2,250 square feet, which meant the drop ceiling was removed and more than 80% of Noguchi’s ceiling became visible to the public. Restoration to Noguchi’s work included rerouting cables and HVAC duct work that had been between the drop ceiling and sculpture, restoring the original recessed can lighting with new LED bulbs and then patching, sanding, and painting the piece to match the original look and colors as much as possible.
The St. Louis Art Museum has a model of Noguchi’s ceiling in its collection, and recently had it on display in the exhibition St. Louis Modern. Genevieve Cortinovis, Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the St. Louis Art Museum, adds that along with Carl Milles’ fountain at Aloe Plaza and Harry Bertoia’s sculpture screen for Lambert International Airport, the Noguchi ceiling is arguably the most important site-specific sculpture executed in St. Louis in the decades leading up to the completion of the Gateway Arch.
“Isamu Noguchi’s sculpted ceiling designed for the 1946 Magic Chef building in St. Louis is the last surviving of the seminal American artist’s monumental ‘lunar landscapes,’” she says.
She continues, “Visually striking and fundamentally practical, the plaster ceiling’s undulating curves, characteristic of Noguchi’s biomorphic sculpture of the 1940s, provided discreet signage, lighting, and a welcome burst of color for visitors of the International Style building by architect Harris Armstrong. Noguchi held that by lending punctuation and dimension to space, these large-scale sculptures, an extension of the architecture itself, could make people ‘feel better, feel happier to be there.'”
The U-Haul facility invited the community to see the recently renovated ceiling at an open house earlier in May.
Image courtesy of U-Haul.