Architects Detroit East St. Louis, Illinois

Yamasaki, Inc. Closes

by Michael R. Allen

The Detroit Free Press reports that Yamasaki, Inc. has closed. This is the end of one of modern architecture’s most illustrious American firms. Founded by Minoru Yamasaki in 1959, the firm’s name is found on the drawings for the ill-fated World Trade Center as well as many significant modernist designs.

The firm marked the departure of Yamasaki from the Detroit-based firm Hellmuth, Yamasaki & Leinweber, which Yamasaki had founded in 1949 with St. Louisan George Hellmuth and Joseph Leinweber. The three had worked together at Detroit firm Smith Hinchman & Grylls. Hellmuth, Yamasaki & Leinweber left a tremendous impact in St. Louis, designing the terminal at Lambert Airport (1956) and most of the St. Louis Housing Authority’s projects from the early postwar era, including the Pruitt-Igoe project (1954). When the firm split, Hellmuth created the firm Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum in St. Louis, which went on to become the world’s largest architectural firm and continues to be a giant among American firms.

Adaptive Reuse East St. Louis, Illinois Events Metro East Old North

Reconsidering St. Louis: Forming a New Future

This event showcases the work of this year’s graduating master’s degree candidates from Washington University School of Architecture. This year is special because students were allowed to choose existing buildings for projects, and a fair number of students did just that. One of the sites chosen is the National City Stockyards in East St. Louis, for which Andrew Faulkner envisioned the ruins of the pens and packing plants returning to life to be part of the 21st century food chain. Come out and see that project and more.

Abandonment East St. Louis, Illinois Metal Theft Metro East

Spivey Building Secured, Damaged

by Michael R. Allen

On Saturday, the UEU 314 blog reported that the Spivey Building in East St. Louis was now sealed following what may have been a collapse of building material. Knowing that some of the parapet had already been destabilized and removed onto the rooftop, and also having heard recently that someone absconded with that terra cotta, I called up a neighbor and we drove over to the Spivey Saturday evening.

Sure enough, all access points have been closed up. The method used is quite solid, and I was reassured that the owner (Stacey Hastie of EOI) is taking threats to the Spivey seriously.

A look up at the parapet revealed further spalling at the corner where the terra cotta rib had already been removed. Many pieces of terra cotta lie in ruin at the base of the corner, along with brick and stone coping from the side parapet wall.

However, the condition of the front parapet assembly has not deteriorated significantly since I took this next photograph in September 2007.

Still, vigilance is needed to keep the thieves away from the great buildings of downtown East St. Louis. The snakes have struck before, including in March 2005 when three ornamental keystones disappeared from the Murphy Building the same weekend an out-of-town architectural salvage dealer was in town.

Demolition East St. Louis, Illinois Historic Preservation Metro East

Gateway Community Hospital to be Demolished, Hope Lingers in East St. Louis

by Michael R. Allen

Last week, cash-rich St. Clair County hired a demolition contractor to take down Gateway Community Hospital on Martin Luther King Drive for the beleaguered city of East St. Louis. This is a sad moment for East St. Louis, although I confess that it’s impossible to count such moments. One year ago, Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital shut down all but its emergency room and some services. Now, the building that houses the city’s second hospital, which closed in 1989, will come tumbling down.

Such are the vagaries of population loss, I suppose, although that does nothing to diminish the symbolic losses or apologize for the public health problems the city faces without a full service hospital. Once upon a time, the city’s leaders were able to build two hospitals: St. Mary’s, which became Kenneth Hall, and Christian Welfare, which became Gateway Community. Christian Welfare Hospital was even able to open its privately-funded modern new facility in 1940, despite the lingering effects of the Great Depression. At the time, the city had not seen a hospital as large or as well-equipped as Gateway Community. The sad fact is that this the high point of medical service in East St. Louis. No larger or more modern facility would come, although Christian Welfare Hospital was later expanded.

The closure of Gateway Community Hospital just shy of the fiftieth anniversary of its building was not a great shock. The hospital had been ailing for awhile. The demolition is not a big surprise, either, since the buildings have been left unsecured and vandalized since closing. Few windows remain, giving the large complex a foreboding and sad presence that few people would want to live near.

Still, the buildings have weathered 19 years of abandonment relatively well. I have toured the interior several times, including this February, and found little more amiss than falling ceiling tiles, stolen wiring and damaged walls. The structural condition is good. This complex surely could withstand another fifty years of use, at the least.

A developer did eye the complex for reuse six years ago, proposing conversion into apartments. That plan withered. No other plan has come since that time, and no one ever thought to nominate the hospital to the National Register of Historic Places. Urban explorers pass through the halls and post their photographs online. Former staff and patients, though, do have fond memories. My mother’s family includes several people born at the hospital.

However, city government is probably relieved that an end is in site for one of the city’s biggest abandoned buildings. History alone is little consolation to those charged with keeping a city livable. There must be something more — and there might be something good in store for East St. Louis if the city doesn’t rush to wreck again.

A Belleville News Democrat editorial (hat tip to the UEU 314) on the demolition is harsh in calling for the city to take down its other landmark buildings. Admittedly, many are vacant and derelict. However, the hope that these buildings will be reclaimed is greater than the hope that they will ever be replaced. To take away the hope of economic development from East St. Louis at this stage of its life seems cruel. Lofts in the Spivey Building would get the city a unique project and some attention. Demolition of the Spivey for a new drive-through bank — not so much.

With a historic rehab tax credit proposed for Illinois, the News-Democrat would do better to put its editorial efforts behind bills in the state legislature that would create a transformational incentive for East St. Louis. The suggestion that there should be no hope that a once-great city can save its beautiful landmarks is absurd. There are numerous developers who have been interested in East St. Louis’ unique, but many have walked away because of the lack of a Missouri-style incentive for tackling large buildings. Let’s work to provide an incentive before we throw our hands up in the air. The worst days for the city are long past. East St. Louis deserves a future.

Demolition East St. Louis, Illinois Industrial Buildings Metro East

The Pens

by Michael R. Allen

The new Mississippi River Bridge entails construction of an extension of I-70 that will run parallel to St. Clair Avenue in East St. Louis. As part of this project, much of the National City Stockyards in East St. Louis will be demolished. While the abandoned Armour and Hunter packing plants will not be disturbed, the landmark concrete stock pens will be gone forever by year’s end. The flip side is that the Illinois Department of Transportation will be conducting archaeological work on the site that will help us learn more about the history of the stockyards.

Yesterday, I led a group of sixth graders from the College School on a tour of East St. Louis. We stopped at the stockyards, and got out of the bus to look inside the long cattle pen shown above. A security guard ushered us away, and told teacher John Colbert that we should leave because the pens were about to be demolished. In fact, we were there precisely because the pens will be demolished, removing the chance for future generations to physically connect with an important part of St. Louis’ industrial past as well as a lost system of food production. While I am not prepared to strongly advocate for saving any of the ruins of the stockyards, yesterday’s tour led me to wonder how any of the sixth graders will explain what they saw to their children. Will they drive on the I-70 connector and explain that once upon a time they stood in cattle pens on that site? Will their children care about a history that has no living physical embodiment?

East St. Louis, Illinois Ghost Signs Metro East


by Michael R. Allen

On Missouri Avenue in East St. Louis stands a forlorn billboard amid many forlorn buildings. The west face of the ancient-looking, rusty and crusty two-sided board bears the numbers “1843.” The 3 is a bit crooked, and there is only the faintest outline of explanatory clues. A name plaque at the base of the sign reads “Peter Hauptmann Company,” the defunct owner of the sign.

Some people think that the numbers are the declaration of a year, which they are, but not of any year particularly momentous in the life of the city of East St. Louis. The sign, after all is an advertisement for David Nicholson 1843 Bonded Whiskey. I am amazed that a billboard would go unused anywhere. Missouri Avenue is not a slow street, since it co-exists as Illinois State Highway 15, a major path between Belleville and St. Louis. The billboard advertisement is the lowest form of commercial activity that often co-exists peacefully with prostitution and drug dealing as the last-ditch attempt to make money in a place. Why didn’t a cell phone ad replace the old whiskey sign years ago?

Downtown East St. Louis, Illinois Green Space I-70 Removal JNEM Laclede's Landing Planning Riverfront

Drawing the Connections

by Michael R. Allen

Robert W. Duffy’s article “To connect the Arch to the city (and the river), find the middle” in the Beacon broadcasts the good news from this weekend: a group of concerned citizens forged a coalition to address the issue of reconnecting downtown St. Louis to the Arch grounds and the riverfront, and vice versa.

The meeting and consensus for forward movement potentially could tie together many disparate strands of thinking:

  • Former Senator Jack Danforth’s call for improving access to the Arch grounds and making the setting more attractive.
  • The notion of removing I-70 downtown advanced by Rick Bonasch, myself and others, which is enabled by construction of a new Mississippi River Bridge north of downtown.
  • The National Park Service’s release of a draft General Management plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
  • The call from open space advocates and preservationists to refocus public discussion from the museum prospect on connecting the Arch grounds to surrounding urban fabric.
  • The outpouring of many good ideas in the recent student charrette on the Arch grounds and riverfront.
  • Mayor Slay’s recent attempt to focus planning energy on the St. Louis riverfront.
  • Chivvis Development’s efforts to revitalize Chouteau’s Landing.
  • Plans by Great Rivers Greenway District to develop a South Rivefront Trail that would connect to the North Riverfront Trail in front of the Arch.
  • Plans for new development at the Bottle District and a second phase of Lumiere Place north of downtown.
  • Ongoing efforts to redevelop the North Riverfront Industrial Historic District north of Lumiere Place.
  • Efforts to improve the East St. Louis riverfront, including construction of an architectural museum.Finally, there is the very real prospect that the Obama administration will look for an initial wave of federally-funded public works projects and will push for long-term funding for urban infrastructure projects.

    All of these ideas and plans are in various stages of reality. Most have yet to move beyond talking points and renderings. Isn’t the moment ripe to link these plans together through a master vision for the central St. Louis riverfront? The people who came together on Saturday think so, and will spend the next few months trying to link the many ideas for making the city’s front entrance a beautiful one.

  • Categories
    Architecture East St. Louis, Illinois South St. Louis St. Louis County

    Gift Basket

    by Michael R. Allen

    There are now official Board of Public Service plans for the Marti Frumhoff Memorial Garden, which will be the triangle at the intersection of Utah and Morganford. See the plans here.

    Meanwhile, Steve Smith has posted his video of an August 2007 trip into the Spivey Building in downtown East St. Louis.

    St. Louis Patina went in search of Edwin Lemp’s Cragwold estate.

    Meanwhile, Lumiere Place opened in time for the holidays. Reviews by Urban St. Louis forum members start here.

    East St. Louis, Illinois Historic Preservation Metro East

    News from Downtown East St. Louis

    E. St. Louis sees future for hotel, downtown – Doug Moore (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 12)

    City Manager Robert Betts wants to reopen the Broadview Hotel as a hotel, while considering the demolition of the Spivey Building and the Majestic Theater.

    (Thanks to Crone for the lead.)

    Abandonment East St. Louis, Illinois

    The Lights of East St. Louis

    by Michael R. Allen

    With a cool spring breeze and great jazz on the truck radio, I found myself driving through East St. Louis last night. I don’t mean driving on the highway, either — I came in from the south through Rush City on 19th Street, headed east on Bond Avenue, north on 17th Street, east on Broadway until I was on the Eads Bridge headed back home. This was around 6:30 p.m., and already the sun had set to make way for a charcoal night sky.

    While it was dark out, East St. Louis was very dark. There are several reasons, but foremost is the lack of remaining occupied houses. The loss of buildings has meant the loss of life and light, factors that keep a neighborhood from feeling like a ghost town after nightfall. There is also the lack of adequate street lighting that enhances the feeling that one is not in a city but some other ethereal place not quite settled enough to be a city but too populated to be a rural area.

    As I drove north on industrial 17th street, where almost every building, factory and lot is abandoned and there are few streetlights, I glanced eastward. There I saw the St. Louis skyline glimmering as if no ghost town at all stood just to the east. I had a strange feeling, and felt vulnerable.

    No, I did not fear any trouble at human hands. I felt a worse fear — that East St. Louis is something that has life only in the past and death in the future. The present moment is thus a terrible recognition.

    Of what? Perhaps the painful conclusion that just east of my city another city may be effectively dead — but still inhabited by people who need jobs, schools and city services that a dead city cannot provide.