Century Building Demolition Downtown

Demolition of the Century Building: One Month In

Photographs by Michael R. Allen

Century Building Demolition Downtown Salvage

Salvaging the Century Building

by Michael R. Allen

The silver lining to the Century Building demolition is that salvage rights belong to the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation, the non-profit set up by salvage expert Larry Giles to create a museum of American architecture. Not only will the Century’s unique marble and iron pieces be used for educational purposes, but also they will be removed by someone who has the experience, knowledge and love of the building to ensure that we won’t lose anything important.

Right now Larry and his crew are at work dismantling the entire Ninth Street entrance to the building — a massive undertaking that is a race against the wrecking ball.

Demolition Fox Park LRA South St. Louis

Commercial Building at 2652 Geyer Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

The impressive mixed-used commercial building at 2652 Geyer (at Ohio Avenue) in Fox Park was recently demolished. Owned by the City of St. Louis’ Land Reutilization Authority in recent years, the building has long been vacant. The building’s three-story height and rounded corner made it unusual for the neighborhood, while its Romanesque Revival traits place it in a common and significant local stylistic tradition.

The building was indeed derelict, with a collapsed roof, broken windows and deteriorating floor joists. Yet its distinctive presence and solid brick walls were intact enough to convey a sense of elegance to its corner, which was otherwise surrounded by two-story flats. The building’s corner storefront was framed with lovely cast iron columns. The building had a narrow interior light shaft running north-south down its middle. Its five apartments were spacious, and its yard ample. In short, it was ripe for reuse as a vital component to the restoration of the Fox Park neighborhood.

Alas, I walked down the street to catch only part of the rounded corner still remaining and most of the building’s western wall gone. The eastern bays were intact enough to convey some sense of the building’s appearance from Geyer Street, but the elegant corner was torn away above the first floor, and the western bay was completely missing save the first floor corner and part of the second story elevation wall on Geyer.

Colorful pieces of linoleum and 1970s wallpaper littered the ground. A crew of workers was busy making up pallets of bricks, which they would sell to suppliers for $20 per pallet. (The suppliers will sell the pallets to projects for $170 or more each.) One man was breaking apart portions of the fire escape for sale as scrap iron.

Geyer in Fox Park lost a lot of buildings to the construction of I-44 in 1960 and still others to senseless demolition plans that have left vacant lots. Three out of four corners are vacant lots at the next intersection west of Geyer and Ohio, Geyer and California. This is a street that has many dedicated residents but suffers from the disruptive energy of I-44. It certainly does not need the additional problem of demolition, especially of its few hybrid buildings. Surely, another vacant lot here could cause harm — although a shoddy replacement structure may be on the way. Now the street is further damaged and a building has been destroyed without substantial documentation.

Photograph by Robert Powers on October 30, 2004

Photographs by Michael R. Allen on October 31, 2004

Architecture Historic Preservation Illinois

More Demolition at Manteno State Hospital

According to The Manteno Project, wreckers demolished the Todd Cottages at the Manteno State Hospital last month. The Manteno State Hospital is a former mental hospital located in Manteno, Illinois, about one hours south of Chicago, Illinois. The Georgian-Revival-style hospital was constructed in 1928 and is a unique example of the cottage-style mental hospital popular after the more-famous Kirkbride style fell from favor. The cottage-style plan placed patients in small cottages — Manteno had 38 — located away from larger administrative and medical buildings. The State of Illinois favored this construction plan after the state prototype, the Bartonville State Hospital in Peoria, received much renown.

The northern half of the Manteno complex was converted into an Illinois State Veterans’ Home years ago, while the southern half was left empty longer. This part has been undergoing a steady transformation in the last three years, with many of its old buildings being converted to business use and new homes constructed around the complex. Sadly, some its abandoned buildings have been demolished recently. In June, Manteno lost a major structure, the Mechanical Shop.

Fortunately, we visited Manteno State Hospital in May and photographed the Mechanical Shop and both the interior and exterior of Todd Cottage. Still, the demolitions leave major holes in this impressive campus.

Chicago Hospitals Uncategorized

Cook County Hospital

by Michael R. Allen

Chicago’s venerable Cook County Hospital seems to have escaped the wrecking ball, but that doesn’t guarantee any particular future. The 1910’s-era Beaux-Arts-style landmark, designed by Paul Gerhardt and Richard Schmidt, stands empty and motionless on Harrison Street, slowly recovering from nearly 90 years of intense service but still seeming to call out for re-dedication to its original purpose. Replaced by a mediocre (now awful) new county hospital building in 2002, the old hospital visually embodies all of the characteristics of public architecture that are so refreshing to an age in which health care has drifted into commodity status and the design of public buildings crudely mirrors the already-crude design of private buildings.

Cook County Hospital is such a wonderful building that one has to wonder why Chicago planners have not made it a top priority to demolish it at all costs, so as to begin the process of erasing public history that is necessary to their plans to privatize every aspect of life in the Midwestern metropolis. Nay, one wonders why there has not been an intervention by the Bush administration to eradicate the hospital from its site.

The Cook County Hospital building is a glaring sign that the United States of America now neglects and actively opposes health care for all of its citizens, by sadly reminding those of us with enough education to know that health care almost became a right that the infrastructure of public health care still exists. All that has changed is the willingness of our government to provide health care; the buildings and people and needs remain.

I get a chill even writing these words because I fear that someone with the power to do something about the hospital may read them and begin to transmit the apparatuses of state power in the forms of wrecking balls and dynamite to the beautiful Chicago hospital. Yet I think that this reflection on Cook County Hospital can offer great hope to dissident students of architecture and public services, and provide a chance to appreciate a very real accomplishment of local government some years ago: the construction of a beautiful hospital that, albeit with many problems, provided a space in which any person could come and claim her right to be healed.

One hesitates to even attempt to describe the awesome eight-story front facade of the hospital. This hesitation comes from the intense visual imposition of the mass of the front elevation’s huge block of buff-gray brick and terra cotta, which defies any passer-by to even forget about it. The building forces one to enter into an immediate relationship with it; even an attempted glance will lead one to freeze for some amount of time longer than originally intended. Yet the immediate intensity of the mass of the front elevation is only the first part of the hesitation, as the mass gives way to a plethora of lovely details that at one compose and undermine the largeness of the hospital.

The details invite careful study, and one who has been struck with the building’s initial invitation to gaze will not be able to escape lingering looks at the hospital’s many anachronistic cartouches, decorated cornices, graceful Ionic columns, captivating faces and yellow terra cotta spandrels. The level of detail is staggering, especially when one considers the very basic function that the hospital was designed to serve. Today, such decoration is rare even on buildings designed to house art museums. In the lifetime of the Cook County Hospital, architectural detail has declined to the point where it is now rarely used even if elaborate private construction. Once, a hospital for poor people could look like Cook County Hospital. Now, a hospital for poor people, if built at all, looks like a cheap warehouse while a hospital for rich people looks like a cheap warehouse with air conditioning.

Looking at the hospital building, one begins to sadly mark the passing of time and values. Unfortunately, the value of ornamentation and careful design has passed from a goes-without-saying public demand to an ethic of a small group of possibly naive intellectuals, myself included. Yet the ornamentation is also hopeful, because it suggests that care is possible in the worst political circumstances. 1914 wasn’t exactly a great year for the average American: the Wilson administration was building up military intervention on behalf of Eastern financiers, civil rights for anyone except well-off white men barely existed at all, industrial employment was repressive but necessary, etc. One wonders how such an institution as Cook County hospital managed to get built at all.

The hospital demonstrates the genuine care that architect Gerhardt must have imparted to this hospital. No one could have designed this building without caring about the effect of aesthetic detail on the lives of ordinary citizens at the moment in which they seek medical care. One should try to make that statement about the new Cook County Hospital building without being embarrassed.

Chicago Demolition

Lost on Leavitt in Wicker Park

by Michael R. Allen

Currently I am living in Chicago over in Humboldt Park. I frequently wind my way through Wicker Park to catch the CTA Blue Line El at the Damen station. Recently I spotted a lovely two-story two-flat at 1423 N. Leavitt being prepared for demolition.

The two-story house had fine details of the Italianate style that prevailed in the neighborhood in the 1870s. The details are all still intact: the wooden cornice with its brackets, the etched shaped stone lintels over the windows and the courses of decorative brickwork running near the tops of the windows. While these are common attributes of Chicago’s 19th century vernacular buildings, here they form a unique composition.

The side has the typical Chicago common brick showing the yellow Wabash clay of eastern Illinois and western Indiana. The sloped parapet is also a familiar site in Wicker Park, albeit one that is disappearing amid taller, boxier new buildings. On October 23, I took the photographs here.

On November 1, I returned and the building at 1423 N. Leavitt was gone.

Century Building Demolition Downtown

R.I.P. Century Building

See our photos of the Century Building demolition.

Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: October 2004

Photographs by Michael R. Allen taken on October 31, 2004

New Construction Area: Blaine between Lawrence and 39th

More demolition between Lawrence and Thurman

North side of the 4000 Block of Lafayette Avenue (between Lawrence and Thurman)

Century Building Demolition Downtown

Century Building Demolition Begins

Images from October 29-30, 2004

We visited the Century Building roughly one week after demolition work began. These photos depict the building with its corners destroyed beyond repair, its solid form marred forever. The last two photographs show cast iron spandrel panels removed for safekeeping by the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation. The Building Arts Foundation is also removing the full assembly of the Ninth Street entry arch.

Clearance Crime Fire McRee Town

More Fires in McRee Town

From the October 26 St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“3 suspicious fires hit McRee Town” [link defunct]

“Suspicious fires were set in two vacant buildings in McRee Town early Monday and in a third building nearby, authorities reported. The fires were in the 4000 block of McRee and Folsom Avenues in McRee Town and a three-story multifamily building at 39th Street and Shaw Boulevard.

“All the fires were discovered between 3 and 4 a.m., and police bombing and arson squad detectives presume all three were set by the same person. McRee Town was beset by a rash of fires in December, but until Monday the area had had just one fire over the past six months.”