by Michael R. Allen
Unfortunately, wood is both a common architectural material and highly combustible. These traits were apparent Wednesday when the beloved Carondelet Park bandstand, which was built after 1916, was destroyed by fire. All that remains of the bandstand are the concrete piers, ash and charred pieces of the historic structure. The bandstand was totally lost. Or was it?
The Parks Department is proposing that the structure quickly be replaced by a “fire resistant”” version of what was lost. The phrase “metal and fiberglass that looks like Victorian-style structures” even appeared in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article this week, followed by the notion that other wooden structures in Carondelet Park be coated with fire-proofing.
Certainly, the way forward is a dual look at the past and the future, but the Parks Department is looking the wrong ways. For starters, the lost bandstand built in St. Louis’ fruitful City Beautiful period and fifteen years after Queen Victoria’s death is far from a “Victorian” structure. The bandstand was an elegant, purposeful and picturesque structure set deliberately into Carondelet Park’s romantic landscape. The landscape was developed starting in 1876 following principles of landscape architecture that were indeed Victorian, but the bandstand came in the era of City Beautiful park planning and was a monument to St. Louis’ early 20th century development of public amenities and park improvements following the publication of our first Comprehensive Plan in 1907.
Thus the bandstand married the ideals of its time with those of earlier era. That is exactly what its replacement should do. A good architect will be able to join the setting in Carondelet Park with the needs of a 21st century bandstand as well as the aspirations of St. Louis today. The Parks Department should be looking for that good architect instead of rushing to build a replacement structure that would be hasty and anachronistic. Few people’s depiction of the modern character of this city would include the words “fiberglass” or “Victorian.”
As for fire-proofing other wooden structures, that is a troubling proposal. Coated wood may not burn easily, but it will trap moisture that will lack a way out. The parks department might find that flash fires are not as expensive or common a problem as slow rot of wooden structures coated with inappropriate and impermeable materials. After all, the Carondelet Park bandstand – may it rest in peace – stood strong for over 90 years.
This post appeared yesterday on MayorSlay.com.