- Dorsa Lofts
- MLS® #: 20068819
- 1015 Washington Avenue 202
- St Louis, MO 63101
- 2 Bed, 2 Bath, 1,619 SqFt
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Sitting squarely between 10th and 11th on the northside of Washington Avenue is Dorsa–– a building with nearly double the years of history as the St. Louis Arch. While today it may house a sushi restaurant on the first floor and lofts on the second floor and up, it once served as a national fashion icon for junior women’s clothing.
As aptly put by the Riverfront Times, “if Washington Avenue is a family reunion of stately Chicago School-style buildings, then Dorsa sticks out like a flamboyant Great Aunt.”
The Dorsa was designed by Eames & Young and built in 1899. At the time, it was just another red-brick warehouse, but in 1946 it was bought by the Dorsa Company who commissioned the architect Meyer Loomstein to give it a sexy makeover.
The results of that makeover are mostly intact today, with the most prominent being the emerald-colored tile facade on the front of the first two stories of the building and the brass abstract letters that spell “DORSA.” Amongst the other features built in the 1940s was the interior space of curvy walls, a windy staircase to the lower level, and an auditorium on the lower level–– all of which set the tone for a modern, cutting-edge fashion hub.
As body types began to transition from the plump, curvy Victorian-era woman to a slender, flat-chested flapper in the 1920s, fashion began to transition too. In 1929, a Kline’s manager in St. Louis by the name of Irving Sorger went looking for clothes to fit this body type but he came up short. So he consulted the fashion design students at Wash U to help him conceive the idea of “junior” size clothing.
From there, the junior women fashion industry in St. Louis took off. The number of women’s clothing manufacturers in St. Louis tripled between 1934 and 1939. Total sales went from $20 million to over $80 million. St. Louis was the city for women’s junior fashion at the time. In 1942, LIFE magazine declared that St. Louis gave “young US girls just the kind of dress they wanted.”
So it made perfect sense for the Dorsa Clothing Company to invest in a building four years later on Washington Ave–– a block that came to be known as the Garment District and was lined with the city’s premiere junior-size dress makers. This is when the building became the Dorsa and when Bessie Recht, the head of Wash U’s Design Department, first sketched the junior dresses for the Dorsa Clothing Company. Inside the auditorium, which still stands today, was a salon and a stage where fashion shows were held.
By the 1950s, St. Louis was number one for women’s fashion. So what happened to St. Louis’s booming fashion industry?
By the 1960s, not only were women beginning to wear pants rather than junior dresses, but a number of other factors challenged the St. Louis economy in a way that the Garment District simply couldn’t survive. Be it because of the non-unionized workforce building competing industries outside St. Louis or because technology was beginning to change the fashion industry in a way St. Louis couldn’t keep up, the city soon lost its influence in fashion.
So the Dorsa Company was no more and the building became vacant all the way until the early 2000s. It sat on Washington Ave dilapidating for nearly 40 years before it was finally bought and redeveloped.
By the mid-2000s, Pyramid Development had renovations underway of 52 lofts across the top seven floors of the Dorsa building. Each loft reveals remnants of the old building with exposed brick, operable warehouse windows, and concrete floors.
These gorgeous lofts nearly never have vacancies and tend to sell at market price or above. And after a quick look around the lofts, the building, and Washington Avenue, it’s not surprise why. This building not only charms with its history and significance in Downtown St. Louis, but with the architecture and fusion of the old with the new.
Though it may have sat vacant for 40 years after what many would call the highlight of the building’s history, the future for Dorsa is looking up. Plans are currently underway to revitalize St. Louis’s Garment District thanks to the St. Louis Fashion Fund. With $100,000 invested in the long-term project, could the Dorsa again be restored as a place for fashion? Only time will tell!