Central West End Chicago Historic Preservation Hospitals Mid-Century Modern The Ville

Diagnosing the Future: Modernism, Medicine and Historic Preservation

by Michael R. Allen

Prentice Women’s Hospital, ready for demolition.

Last week, the Chicago Commission on Landmarks for the second time unanimously voted to rescind the landmark designation for Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital (completed in 1975). The vote essentially dooms the innovative concrete-shell modernist hospital building to demolition whenever owner Northwestern University decided to tear it down. Additionally, the vote is an odd smack-down of preservationist pragmatism. Preservationists were not insensitive to the programmatic needs of Northwestern University, and did not hold fast to a you-can’t-touch-this absolutism, but instead started embracing the defiant modern design of our time. Alas, what might have been an outstanding moment for solving a tough preservation problem is now just fodder for preservation theory books. Chicago will not be building on precedents that include an unfairly understudied example from St. Louis, where the Washington University School of Medicine demonstrated how important architectural modernism could be preserved amid shifting programmatic needs.

Fire Hospitals South St. Louis

St. Mary’s Infirmary

We were saddened to get the news this morning that the historic St. Mary’s Infirmary suffered a three-alarm fire last night. Perhaps the most significant association of the building is its connection to African-American history. The hospital entered an important new phase in 1933, when it became the city’s second African-American hospital with the city’s first-ever racially integrated medical staff. Later that year, the Sisters of St. Mary also opened a nursing school for African-American candidates, creating the city’s second school of nursing open to African-Americans and the nation’s first Catholic nursing school that admitted African-Americans.

Here we are posting the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the complex, written by Michael R. Allen.

Central West End Hospitals Mid-Century Modern

Queeny Tower (1965 – ?)

by Michael R. Allen

Upon completion in 1965, the Queeny Tower at Barnes Hospital — located in the northeast corner of Kingshighway’s original 90-degree bend — was the city’s third tallest building. The 19 stories of the proudly modern high-rise stood at some 97 meters, slightly taller than the Park Plaza Hotel (1930; Schopp & Baumann) to the north, which is 94.4 meters tall. The Gateway Arch had yet to top out, so the two tallest buildings in 1965 remained the Southwestern Bell Tower at 1010 Pine Street (1926; Mauran, Russell & Crowell), 121 meters, and the Civil Courts (1930, Klipstein & Rathmann), 117.6 meters. Nowadays, the Queeny Tower is the twelfth tallest building in St. Louis, if the Arch is included, so the achievement of its construction may be somewhat lost. Yet at its completion the city had few tall buildings, and the most recent in the range of Queeny were already 35 years old. (An interesting illustrated chart of St. Louis building heights can be found here.)

Thus Queeny Tower was a milestone in the rise of Barnes Hospital, which today is corporate amalgam BJC and remains a prolific builder of tall buildings at its Central West End campus. Again, the escalation of ability to finance and build large, tall buildings means that Queeny Tower has become less than a star attraction at the hospital. Plus the current trend in hospital architecture is to treat all buildings, even those designed by revered masters, as simple machines to be discarded upon obsolescence. Shall Queeny somehow be exempt from the race to replace? Not likely. Queeny, which replaced an older medical building itself, was born from the economy that will eventually destroy it.

Central West End Hospitals Preservation Board

BJC Seeking Demolition of Jewish Hospital Nursing School Building

by Michael R. Allen

UPDATE: The Preservation Board unanimously voted to deny the demolition on a preliminary basis.  Board Member David Richardson made the motion to deny, and Melanie Fathman provided the second.  Anthony Robinson voted “aye” and Chairman Richard Callow abstained from voting.  Mary Johnson arrived after the vote.

At the meeting of the Preservation Board today (Monday, July 26), the board will consider preliminary approval of demolition of the College of Nursing Building at the Washington University Medical Center. BJC Healthcare is requesting preliminary approval so that it can demolish the building for open space until it is ready to build a new building on the site.

Built in 1926, the College of Nursing Building is a sturdy, attractive flat-roofed building with a limestone base and red brick body. The building is fine, but not very significant, as a work of architecture. What makes the building significant is its original use as the Training School for Nurses for Jewish Hospital. The building is sound and human-scaled on a campus suffering from undistinguished giantism in recent construction. Besides, BJC has no immediate plan for redevelopment. By ordinance, presence of a redevelopment plan is a key consideration in Preservation Board determination of whether preliminary approval of any demolition is appropriate.

The city’s Cultural Resources Office rightly is recommending that the Preservation Board withhold preliminary approval at this time. The Preservation Board meeting is at 4:00 p.m. at 1015 Locust Street, 12th Floor. Written testimony may be submitted to the board via Secretary Adona Buford,

Adaptive Reuse City Hospital Historic Preservation Hospitals South St. Louis

City Hospital Laundry Building Rehabilitation Moving to Completion

by Michael R. Allen

One encouraging recent turn in local development is nearing completion: the start of the second phase of rehabilitation of the remaining buildings at City Hospital. Gilded Age, the developer, has embarked on a $27 million project that involves rehabilitation of the Laundry Building as an event space operated by Butler’s Pantry, construction of a new headquarters for Butler’s Pantry on Park Avenue and renovation of the Power Plant as a restaurant and office building. The Laundry Building is nearing completion, with the exterior sporting a cupola for the first time in decades.

Built in 1939 and designed by Albert Osburg, chief architect for the city’s Board of Public Service, the Laundry Building was once a hub of activity at the municipal hospital. The spacious, tile-walled interior housed a bustling laundry operation that kept thousands of linens used for bedding as well as staff uniforms clean and suitable for a medical environment. This efficient interior was artfully concealed behind a Georgian Revival exterior that referenced the earlier buildings of the hospital.

The large multi-paned windows, now replicated in aluminum, have always given away the building’s use. Those are industrial windows, made to light a work space. The town homes of Georgian London did not have such prosaic glazing. Here the modern meets the classical, and the Laundry Building melds the two with style. The dormers and cupola on the hipped roof add a welcome note of whimsy. While the hospital complex lost some fine buildings as part of the redevelopment, luckily the utilitarian Laundry and Power Plant buildings were spared. Buildings such as these can be hard to adapt, but when the right use comes along preservation seems completely logical. The Laundry Building will be a wonderful event space, and watching it regain its beauty is very satisfying.

Historic Preservation Hospitals South St. Louis

St. Mary’s Infirmary for Sale Again

St. Mary’s Infirmary at 1528-36 Papin Street is once again for sale. The hospital complex is listed for $1,450,000.00. The buildings previously were under contract, and had sold to the current rehab-planning owners in 2003, but apparently no one can get anything started there.

Demolition Hospitals South St. Louis Southwest Garden

Truman Restorative Center Demolished

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: 5700 Arsenal Street; Southwest Garden; Saint Louis, Missouri

In 2003, the city of St. Louis decided to close the Harry S. Truman Restorative Center, a public nursing home that was the last surviving remnant of the city’s direct provision of healthcare services. The Truman Restorative Center was the successor to the old Chronic Hospital, and the Center’s building opened as an addition to the Chronic Hospital. The Chronic Hospital itself was the successor to the old St. Louis County Farm, or Poor House, and was plagued by an archaic and ill-defined mission. While providing a place for the city’s sickly and elderly poor to convalesce was a noble goal, the goals of the Chronic Hospital were uncertain. Was it a nursing home? A shelter? An infirmary?

As the Chronic Hospital clanked along, the city redefined it by successfully passing a $4 million bond issue in 1955 that led to the construction of a new wing in 1965. This wing operated as a modern nursing home, but the city was slow on transferring patients there from the old Chronic Hospital — although attrition was high and the number of patients was lower each year. The city closed the older parts of the Chronic Hospital in 1968, consolidating the operation in the new building and renaming the hospital the “Harry S. Truman Restorative Center.”

Yet times had turned against even a well-defined public nursing home. Federal subsidies through Medicare and Medicaid shrank from generous to insufficient from the 1960’s into the 1990’s, and the city’s mayors moved policy away from direct provision of health care services. The Truman Center ended its days with a small number of elderly residents and an overhead too high to be met by a changing government.

No one tried to save the Center from closing, and no one tried to save its fine cast-concrete-frame building from demolition. Like many of its residents, the Center died quietly and soon will be forgotten. The building is currently under demolition for a new residential development similar to the one that surrounds it, which was built on the site of the old Chronic Hospital, also lost.

More information

  • The Hill: Institutions from Norbury Wyman’s History of St. Louis Neighborhoods
  • St. Louis City Revised Code Chapter 12.20 (created Harry S. Truman Restorative Center)
  • Categories
    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.

    Hospitals Peoria

    Bartonville State Hospital

    by Michael R. Allen

    LOCATION: Bartonville, Illinois (directly south of Peoria)
    OTHER NAMES: Peoria State Hospital for the Incurable Insane; Illinois General Hospital for the Insane; Peoria State Asylum/Hospital
    DATE OF CONSTRUCTION: Existing buildings, 1902 – 1948

    Aside from some well-told ghost stories, the history of the shuttered Bartonville State Hospital (BSH) near Peoria, Illinois has not attracted much research. This is a shame, because BSH has a significant role in the development of the Illinois state mental health system. The State of Illinois built the original mental hospital here, the Peoria State Hospital for the Incurable Insane, in 1887. The first building — which resembled a castle and was built on the Kirkbride model — ended up never being used. Built over a mine shaft, the building began sinking upon completion and eventually collapsed. The state cleared the land in 1897 and, under the direction of Superintendent George Zeller, began construction of a new hospital that opened in 1902. Zeller called for a radical re-dedication of the hospital plan: housing patients in 33 individual “cottage” buildings with administrative, medical and kitchen services centrally located. This “cottage plan” (also called the “segregate plan”) replaced the old ideal of the singular, self-contained asylum championed by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride in the nineteenth century with a campus that suggested free and open living for the patients.

    Whether or not Bartonville lived up to Zeller’s ideal is uncertain. While Zeller refused to use restraints at Bartonville, there are numerous tales of abuse of patients. Yet the state was convinced of the success of the new form of mental hospital and later employed it in design of the Alton State Hospital, which opened in 1914 and the Manteno State Hospital (located south of Chicago in Manteno), which opened in 1929.

    Bartonville’s own campus contains diverse architectural styles and sits on hilly ground, so it avoids the linearity of Manteno and other hospitals. The centerpiece of BSH is the severe Bowen Building, designed in a rare Italianate style that is executed in rusticated limestone. The Bowen Building housed the nursing staff quarters and administrative offices. Nearby stand the tile-roofed, Arts-and-Crafts kitchen and dining buildings. Farther behind these is a later powerhouse. Surrounding all of these large structures were the many Georgian Revival, one-story patient housing buildings and lots of open land. There was a farm and four cemeteries for patients, which are still extant on the grounds today.

    The state of Illinois closed Bartonville in 1973 and auctioned its grounds to local developer Winsley Durand, Jr., who failed to do anything with the property. The city of Bartonville acquired the hospital land in 1986 and began redeveloping it as the “Bartonville Industrial Park.” While a few of the former cottage buildings saw reuse as warehouse and office space, most ended up demolished and replaced by new, bland one-story metal frame buildings. Fortunately, the city has never torn down the landmark Bowen Building or the nearby dilapidated dining and kitchen buildings. Thus the ground retain some invocation of mystery and historical dignity with the presence of these buildings, which were the most unique at BSH. Yet the kitchen and dining buildings are in various states of collapse and the Bowen Building has suffered decay recently and the loss of many dormers and cupolas as well as its three-story porch structure in an earlier remodeling.

    More information (Note: While we don’t share the conclusions of the ghost sites on this list, they over invaluable anecdotal history of BSH.):
    Historic Peoria: Bartonville State Hospital
    Illinois Trails History and Genealogy: Bartonville State Hospital
    Bartonville State Hospital
    Illinois EPA: Former State Hospital Site Sealed, Secured
    Prairie Ghosts: Bartonville (Peoria) State Asylum
    The Shadowlands: Famous Hauntings

    Images from May 2004: