by Michael R. Allen
LOCATION: 5700 Arsenal Street; Southwest Garden; Saint Louis, Missouri
DATE OF CONSTRUCTION: 1966
DATE OF CLOSURE: 2004
DATE OF DEMOLITION: August 2005
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.