The International Office

In the earliest days of the organization, the “office” of Optimist International was literally carried around in a man’s pocket or housed in one drawer of his desk. In 1919, the first “headquarters” was established in the secretary’s office at 824 N. Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thirty months later it moved to the Indiana College of Music and Fine Arts at 1410 N. Delaware Street in that same city. When the 1922 convention elected a San Francisco Optimist as president, the International Office was moved to his office at 354 Pine Street in that city. Before the year was up both he and the office moved to 58 Sutter Street.

Delegates to the 1923 convention saw the impracticality of a headquarters office that hopped around the country every year or two. They also realized the need for a professional secretary to devote full time to the needs of the organization. They created a permanent office at 816 Olive Street in St. Louis and hired the first paid secretary (forerunner to today’s executive director), Thomas B. Elliott. This one-room office was used for about a year by Elliott before the headquarters was moved to the Railway Exchange Building, a structure that was to accommodate a constantly growing staff and its steadily enlarging facilities for the next 40 years.


Employees hard at work to serve Optimist membership.

By 1955, with more than a thousand Optimist Clubs and nearly 50,000 members, it became obvious that the International Office couldn't function much longer in a series of rooms scattered through several floors of an office building. Unfortunately the building housed other tenants as well and it was not possible to always secure adjoining or even abutting rooms. The need for its own building, designed and constructed for the purpose, was growing greater. At the March 1955 meeting of the International Board of Directors, a fact-finding committee was formed to investigate the possibilities of a new building. The 1957 convention in Philadelphia saw the first positive step taken when delegates approved a permanent headquarters building fund into which every Optimist would pay 50 cents semi-annually from January 1, 1958, until September 30, 1966.

A committee headed by William H. Pierce of Dallas, Texas (who later became International President) spent two years surveying several cities in the United States and Canada that had been proposed as possible sites for the new building. The committee finally settled on the city where the Office had been for nearly 40 years, St. Louis, Missouri.

On Lindell Boulevard—long known as St. Louis’ “Fifth Avenue,” and in the early 1900s the most exclusive residential area in Missouri—a site was selected. Two handsome old mansions built in the 19th century were purchased and razed. On the 170-by-213-foot lot, Optimist International built its first International Office building. The two-story building provided 18,000 square feet of floor space, including a room for the Board of Directors to meet in.

An official headquarters office was necessary to meet the needs of the growing organization.

On February 26, 1962, after weeks of preparation, the staff of Optimist International moved into its first permanent home. The Board of Directors held its first meeting there the following month. Everyone felt that the new building, constructed at a cost of $350,000, would provide ample space for the next 25 to 30 years. But just seven years later, at the International Convention, delegates voted to reactivate the building fund and assess each member 50 cents a year for the purpose of securing additional office space sometime in the future to accommodate the ever-growing organization’s needs.

On a cold December day in 1968, a tangible symbol of Optimism was unveiled in front of the new International Office. An 8.5-foot-tall, six-ton granite sculpture depicting Optimism’s “Symbol of Service” made its first appearance. Sculptor William Conrad Severson’s concept was of an interlocked “O” and “I” that was to be “an expression of the dynamic forward-thinking group called Optimists.”

In 1974 the building committee began in earnest to look positively at future needs. It was obvious even then that the rapidly growing organization would need more room for its headquarters and the necessarily larger staff. Every possibility was explored. The idea of selling the present building and constructing a new and larger one in another location was given considerable consideration. Proposed sites were visited. Existing structures up for sale were inspected.

After months of deliberation, the committee came forth with a definite proposal that was adopted immediately by the organization. A new three-story tower, adjacent to and connected to the present building, would be built on the lot used for staff and visitor parking. As designed, the addition would add approximately 15,000 more square feet of office space.

Dedication of the $1.2 million addition was held on July 28, 1978. By late 1983—less than five years later—the organization had paid off the cost of the building, and the special building fund assessment of $1.50 a year that all members had been paying was reduced to 50 cents.

A ceremony was held to commemorate the opening
of Optimist International.