The Bissell “New Red” Water Tower was built in 1885-86 from design plans by Deputy Building Commissioner William S. Eames, a founder of the St. Louis chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It was completed at a cost of $79,798 and was in service until 1912. Constructed from red brick, light gray stone and terra cotta, the tower stands 194 feet high and is located at Bissell Street and Blair Avenue. The interior of the tower once contained a spiral staircase that led to a balcony at the top, but that staircase has since been removed.
The tower, in the words of one writer, “exudes a kind of Victorian seriousness, lofty but solid,” and its appearance has often been likened to a Moorish minaret. Some of the residences in the circle surrounding the tower appear to have been influenced by the structure’s architectural style. When Water Commissioner Conway Briscoe suggested in 1958 that the tower be dismantled rather than spend money on repairs, he ran headlong into sentimental opposition from Donald Gunn, President of the Board of Aldermen. “I was raised within a block of that tower and used to run around it in my bare feet,” Gunn said, killing the demolition proposal and summing up the emotional attachment many neighborhood preservationists express toward the tower.
After falling into dangerous disrepair in the early 1960s, there was another attempt to tear it down. However, an investigation showed that restoring the tower would not be significantly more expensive than razing it. The Bissell “New Red” Water Tower was renovated in the 1970s with a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which was matched by the City. It has since served as an important landmark for North St. Louis.
Courtesy of the City of St. Louis Water Division
Year Completed: 1885-86
Material: Brick, stone, terra cotta
Owner: City of St. Louis