Original lobby ceiling design
Courtesy U-Haul Original lobby ceiling design

A 1940s-era architectural work by artist Isamu Noguchi is now back in the public view. Noguchi created a plaster and glass lobby ceiling for the American Stove Company-Magic Chef building in St. Louis, designed by architect Harris Armstrong. The Saint Louis Art Museum, which holds a model of the ceiling in its collection, explains the design: "The free-form contours functioned as recessed light fixtures, but they also transformed the ceiling into a sculpted landscape that guided visitors through the lobby, making them 'feel better, feel happier to be there.' "

Courtesy U-Haul

After Magic Chef departed, the Teamsters Union came in for a bit before the building sat empty for a decade. U-Haul, the ubiquitous moving and storage company, entered the building's narrative in 1977, and covered the lobby with a drop ceiling, burying Noguchi's work. This month, the company is unveiling a restoration of the Noguchi ceiling.

Genevieve Cortinovis, one of the curators of the recent exhibition "St. Louis Modern" at the Saint Louis Art Museum, explained the significance of this Noguchi ceiling to St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Joe Holleman:

"Cortinovis said the Magic Chef ceiling is one of three panels Noguchi created as 'lunars,' with the moonscape feel inspired in part by Noguchi’s time in 1942 at a Japanese internment camp in Arizona. The others were a ceiling at the Time-Life Building in New York and a wall for the S.S. Argentina ocean liner.

'This is the only surviving of the three,' Cortinovis said."

In addition to removing the drop ceiling and other fixtures to the Noguchi work, the company also updated the original recessed lighting with LEDs, and had the work patched and painted. The ceiling spans the company's showroom, an elevator area, and offices. U-Haul is hosting a "community open house" on May 19 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Courtesy U-Haul
Courtesy U-Haul