The National Blues Museum is dedicated exclusively to preserving and honoring the national and international story of the blues and its impact on American culture. The museum, which opened in 2016, chose the Grand-Leader Building in downtown St. Louis for its headquarters. The red and brown brick commercial-style building was originally home to the Stix, Baer & Fuller Dry Goods Company department store. It was erected in two parts: An eight-story building went up in 1906 and an 11-story adjoining structure in 1920. A ninth floor was added to the original building in 1948. The lower 4 floors were remodeled in the 1980s when Dillard’s Department Store moved in. The remodel included dropping the ceilings in several locations and adding an atrium. As part of the St. Louis Centre Mall, Dillard’s operated in the building until the mall shut down in 2001. The building remained vacant until the 2011 renovation of the original 1906 structure, which made way for the Laurel Apartments and Embassy Suites Hotel which are still in operation today. Adding a hotel to the renovated 1906 structure created an ideal opportunity to incorporate a tourist-centered establishment in the 1920 structure which remained vacant. Thus, The National Blues Museum started renovations on 23,000 sq. ft. of the first story of the 11-story addition starting in 2013. Planned for this space was an interactive technology museum with artifact driven exhibits, a 200-seat theater, special event space, and classrooms.
The Grand-Leader Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. As a protected structure, several rules and regulations are in place to restrict significant alternations to the building and its infrastructure which would degrade its historical significance. These rules and regulations created a few challenges for the McClure Engineering team when designing the systems for the museum.
The first challenge was to provide spaces tall enough to support the exhibit areas. McClure Engineering coordinated multiple duct systems serving adjacent spaces with new systems serving this project to allow the required clearing heights in the exhibit spaces. This provided an infrastructure for lighting, power, and low voltage systems to support rotating and future permanent exhibits in spaces with high ceilings and decorative areas.
Once the spaces were designed, the next challenge was to ensure that sufficient air ventilation was provided for the space. Our team installed a Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) with energy recovery that supplies the spaces with the proper amount of ventilation air without using excessive energy. Proper air ventilation became especially important regarding the number of visitors the museum expected to draw each year. 11,000 people visited the museum within the first 3 months alone, which was slightly higher than early projections. The DOAS system ensured the museum would be properly ventilated regardless of how many visitors were in the space at any given time.
In addition to the permanent exhibit spaces, a rotating exhibit space was included in the National Blues Museum. The challenge for this section was to create a visual experience for visitors using an assortment of lighting fixtures. To create a design that would accentuate various exhibitions, the McClure Engineering Lighting Design team curated in-house mock-ups and aimed fixtures to create a design that would be universally appealing. Using different media on track lighting, our lighting designers were able to create a concept that accentuated the space and fit the needs of the revolving exhibitions utilizing the space.