Emmy Award

Emily Pulitzer's gift to St. Louis has arrived in a concrete box. Hidden inside: the portrait of a woman who changed the city.

Emily kept herself in the public arena, regardless of the criticism. One of her major accomplishments, and quiet successes, can be seen in the design of MetroLink.

When the plans for the light-rail system began to take shape in the '80s, Emily became intricately involved. "She was the one who almost single-handedly led the effort and said, 'If you're building this, then it could look nice, too,'" says Traurig.

Emily had to confront the intransigence, and lack of imagination, of bureaucratic skepticism. Recalls Traurig, "Bi-State kept responding, 'We want it on budget and on time,' and she kept saying, 'It could look nice, too.' She really led that crusade, single-handedly again, and said, 'If you have artists, artists can be on design teams. They can design bridges. They can design cars. They can design rights-of-ways. They can design canopies' -- things that St. Louis had never heard of and certainly, as you can imagine, Bi-State had never heard of.

Richard Serra's "Joe," commissioned for the Pulitzer Foundation: The walls fold in on each other and pull away, close then open to a center of sky.
Dirk Reinartz
Richard Serra's "Joe," commissioned for the Pulitzer Foundation: The walls fold in on each other and pull away, close then open to a center of sky.

"You've met Bi-State, I take it?" Traurig asks knowingly. "You can imagine. They had no interest in having artists on. The architects and engineers had absolutely no interest in having artists tell them what to do or how to do it. She just stayed with it and stayed with it and stayed with it and fought those battles and politically kept going to bat for the idea that artists will bring something special. And they did."

Working behind the scenes, Emily made her mark on one of the region's great success stories. MetroLink's unobtrusive color scheme of blue and gray, the recurring grid patterns, the gentle canopies at each station, the recurring Y-shaped electrical posts, the softly composed passenger cars -- the simplicity of form, line and color found in the minimalist art Emily champions is integral to the light rail's design. After 10 years, the stations and cars haven't lost their luster, and graffiti and vandalism are minimal. MetroLink works, and it looks good, too. With a stylistic sleight of hand, Emily managed to insert a touch of modernism into everyday St. Louis and, as is her way, deflected the recognition from herself.

Her next urban intervention would be much more dramatic and would inextricably be tied to her name. The Foundation's triumph now overshadows, and calls for a serious reconsideration, of the successes and disappointments of the past.

After the exhibition of the Pulitzer collection at the Fogg and SLAM in 1988, the Pulitzers came to realize that their two St. Louis homes lacked the space required to view many of the large-scale works in their possession. With this in mind, they purchased a former auto garage in Grand Center, a district of the city in which both took an active interest in reviving. Formerly the Great White Way of St. Louis, Grand Center held fond memories for Joe, who attended the theater there in his youth when the area was all aglitter.

They began the search for an architect, and Serra was the first to refer them to the work of Ando. At that time, the architect had designed buildings only in his native Japan, years before he would receive international acclaim by winning the Pritzker Award -- the pre-eminent accolade in an architect's career -- in 1995. James Wood, director of the Art Institute of Chicago and longtime friend of the Pulitzers -- he is now on the Foundation's board of trustees -- spoke encouragingly of Ando as well. The clincher was the referral of Ellsworth Kelly, who sent the Pulitzers photographs of exteriors and interiors of Ando's buildings, in one of which a Kelly painting was exhibited.

"With one voice," as Emily has said in press interviews, she and Joe proclaimed, "This is the architect we want to work with."

Ando and his wife flew from Japan to St. Louis to meet the Pulitzers; Emily and Joe met them at the airport. At the country house, Ando was captivated by Serra's "Pulitzer Piece." A sublime union of sensibilities emerged: the Pulitzers, Ando, Serra, Kelly -- modernists who still believed in beauty and its power to change lives in a world that had turned a cool postmodern shoulder to such outdated notions. They make up the least ironic group of collaborators to be assembled at the close of the 20th century.

Joe became ill and would die of cancer in 1993 at the age of 80. Emily was alone, with enormous resources and persistent responsibilities: the Pulitzer legacy. She was appointed director of the board of the Post-Dispatch. Traurig remembers that this was a difficult transition for Emily at first. "When she took on the job of going to work, she said, 'I don't know what I'm supposed to do when I go there, but I have an office with a shelf with some stuff.' But she figured it out. She had been involved. She hadn't been housewifey. She knew what the paper was about."

William Woo, whom Joe had selected as his successor as editor, gives his former boss high marks. He didn't see the uncertainty Emily masked. "She took that job very, very seriously," says Woo from his office at Stanford University, where he teaches journalism. "She was determined to be a good and competent director in her own right. She brought significant skills to the job. She brought significant intelligence to the job. She had been in a very tough world of art, with all its politics. She was certainly familiar with a large institution, which would be the St. Louis Art Museum, so she knew how institutions worked. She was bringing an individual perspective to that board.

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