Community Event set for May 19 1:31 pm from U‑Haul
U‑Haul Company of St. Louis is delighted to reintroduce a famed piece of modern art to the world by uncovering renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s illuminated ceiling at 1641 S. Kingshighway Blvd.
The Noguchi masterpiece had been hidden from public view for decades by a drop ceiling at U‑Haul Moving & Storage at Kingshighway, historic site of the former American Stove Company‑Magic Chef building.
St. Louis architect Harris Armstrong designed the building in the mid‑1940s and commissioned Noguchi (1904‑1988), an American artist admired for his sculptures, landscape architecture and furniture designs, to create the truly unique ceiling for Magic Chef’s open first‑floor lobby.
Prior to U‑Haul acquiring the iconic building in 1977, it had been used by the Teamsters Union as a healthcare facility and then sat vacant for roughly 10 years. U‑Haul tailored the six‑story facility to meet its customers’ needs through the years, including the use of a drop ceiling in the former lobby. About two years ago, U‑Haul began internal discussions regarding the upgrade and enlargement of its showroom.
“In conjunction with improving the showroom, my intention was to reveal the ceiling,” UHaul Company of St. Louis president Steve Langford said. “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.”
Langford will host a media open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the Kingshighway store. Interviews and photo/video opportunities will be available.
All of St. Louis is invited to attend a community open house from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on May 19.
The project began in November and was completed in late March. U‑Haul facility maintenance technicians did the ceiling work aside from painting, which was contracted out. The showroom expanded from 1,500 to 2,250 square feet, allowing more than 80 percent of Noguchi’s design to be visible in public areas once the drop ceiling was removed.
Ceiling work included: removing hanging florescent lights; removing grids and anchors attached to the sculpture; rerouting cables and HVAC duct work between the drop ceiling and sculpture; restoring the original recessed can lighting with new LED bulbs; and extensive patching, sanding and painting to match the original look and colors as closely as possible.
“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,'” said Genevieve Cortinovis, assistant curator of decorative arts and design at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
“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.'”
A model of Noguchi’s ceiling is in the museum’s collection and it recently was on display in the exhibition St. Louis Modern.
Cortinovis added that along with Carl Milles’ fountain for 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.
“We’re so pleased to be able to share this artwork with the community again,” Langford said.
The Noguchi ceiling repair and reveal is a credit to AMERCO Chairman and President Edward J. “Joe” Shoen, a proponent of preserving historical rchitecture in cities where UHaul executes its corporate adaptive reuse initiatives by repurposing existing buildings as U‑Haul stores. This sustainable practice enables U‑Haul to reduce unwanted blight in neighborhoods while creating jobs and offering additional moving and storage options for customers.
Learn more about how U‑Haul is getting involved in St. Louis and other communities by visiting myuhaulstory.com.