Cass Gilbert, chosen as winner of the architectural competition for Central Library, was at the time among the nation's most famous architects: the equivalent of today’s "starchitects."
Gilbert was familiar to many St. Louisans through his prominent role in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. The most imposing of his designs for the "World’s Fair" was the astonishing Festival Hall, advertised in World's Fair flyers as containing the largest room in the United States, second in the world only to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Gilbert also designed the Palace of Fine Arts, built as the Exposition’s only permanent structure. Now the St. Louis Art Museum, that building is going through a major expansion.
Gilbert was responsible for some of America's greatest buildings during this enormously productive period in the nation's history.
At the same time he was designing Central Library, Gilbert was designing and supervising the construction of this extraordinary tower in the center of Manhattan: the Woolworth Building. The Woolworth Building was an engineering marvel, reigning as the tallest building in the world until it was surpassed decades later by the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. Considered by many as the most beautiful skyscraper every built, it is still an extraordinary sight soaring over downtown New York.
Many would say that Gilbert's career culminated in his design for the United States Supreme Court building in Washington. Central Library remains among Gilbert's best and most creative buildings, and ranks among the nation's great public buildings.
Gilbert considered Central Library among his most important works. When the St. Louis Post-Dispatch contacted Gilbert in 1908 to inquire about the status of his work, Gilbert was short: "You can't draw plans for a million-dollar building in a few days. I am taking my time." Visitors travel to St. Louis from all over the world to see the results.