2002: The Fall of Malcolm Bliss

Header photo
Malcolm Bliss Hospital; 1962 Missouri Historical Society

Here’s an early photo from the best days of the Malcolm Bliss Psychiatric Hospital. The word “bliss” seems an interesting choice for a psychiatric health facility. As if the more you engage with the real world, the less blissful it becomes, so a complete retreat from reality might truly be “blissed out.” Then again, on first arriving in St. Louis, I thought calling a grocery store ‘schnooks’ was odd. So was ‘maul’s’ barbecue sauce and ‘bush’ beer. All part of the charm. 

2nd Photo in Essay
Aerial View of Bliss Hospital, 1947; c/o Becker Library of Washington University

Bliss builds his hospital

Malcolm Bliss (1863 – 1934) was a physician, dentist and Washington University lecturer. He was politically active, and possessed enough sway to pull support together for creation of a St. Louis psychiatric hospital, built in 1939. 

The complex was located just north of City Hospital at the corner of Park and Grattan. This is where the A.T. Still University Dental School is now. It consisted of an original six story cross-shaped central building, and an impressive 13 story tower building added later. In 1964 Bliss became a state health facility.  

3rd photo in essay
Malcolm Bliss Tower Building; 2001

Hospital administration meets federal administration

The Reagan administration did away with the Mental Health Systems Act in 1981. Over the course of the decade, 40,000 beds in state mental institutions were lost. As a result, homelessness and imprisonment both increased. Pressure for dealing with the mentally ill transferred from the US health system to the US justice system, where much of it remains today.  

Last Photo in Essay
Malcolm Bliss Central Building; 2001

The center was closed in 1991, vacated in 1996, and demolished in 2002-2003. A smaller version today occupies ground on the 5300 block of Delmar. It’s short sighted when we lose structures like this, but a good reason to cheer the saving of the old City Hospital administration building, recast as the Georgian Condominiums. It was hard work to pile up bricks like we used to, and our history suffers when these old beauties fall. 

Thanks to Vanishing STL blog and Paul Hohmann for background and a photo.

Photo of Bliss Building from 1962, courtesy of Missouri Historical Society, taken by Henry Mizuki

Overhead view 1947 – from Becker Memorial Library of Washington University 

A good treatment of the shifting responsibility for treatment of the mentally ill during the 1980s is in from Dr. E. Torrey Fuller in Salon of September 29, 2013.

Mike Jones

Managing editor of the Archives section, and a veteran of volunteer stints with the Missouri History Museum and Missouri State Archives. Constantly curious about what lies beneath the surfaces of Lafayette Square.

Posts by Date

Posts by Category