Demolition Downtown Mid-Century Modern

Busch Stadium, 1966 – 2005

by Michael R. Allen

The much-publicized demolition stunt at Busch Stadium yesterday was as uninspiring and uninteresting as the new stadium itself. At 3:00 p.m., the first swing of the wrecking ball occurred. Yet it was swung from inside of the stadium, on which demolition really started ten days prior, and could not be seen from sidewalk level anywhere nearby. The only visible damage seen was the demolished mezzanine ramp, which had come down prior to yesterday (although few fans seemed to notice.) A small cheer started to rise up from the crowd long after the first swing, at about the moment when most people realized that wrecking had commenced. But it died as quickly as people started walking back to work.

Soon to be gone forever is one of the city’s most popular landmarks and one of its most successful works of mid-century modern design. The design itself is testament to the civic fortitude of a past generation: upon seeing Sverdrup & Parcel’s truly bland U-shaped stadium design, Howard Baer urged his fellow leaders to make something lovelier. The leaders brought in iconoclast Edward Durrell Stone, who redesigned the stadium as a round structure with a thin-shell concrete roof that repeated the curve of the new Gateway Arch. When the Arch was completed in October 1965 and the new Busch Stadium opened the following spring, Durrell’s genius was evident. The stadium and the Arch were inseparable works of modern design, and quickly became the symbols of new St. Louis.

Today’s civic fortitude and care for design must be hiding under the drive to enhance private reception of baseball in luxury boxes. Even the old love for putting on a show for the whole public seems dead. In the old days, wreckers like Spirtas would have done something dramatic. The Cardinals cancelled an implosion when they fell ahead of schedule on completion of the new stadium, a decision that will save money and avoid spectacle. Nowadays, even the passing of a landmark like Busch Stadium is treated like a neutral even by city leaders. The suggestion the Cardinals propaganda makes is that the demolition is a non-event that will be over before we realize it is going on. They promise the noise and dust won’t be too extreme, the season will start on-time at the new stadium and nothing will be out of the ordinary. The new stadium itself is almost a non-building, with its trite, neutral appearance.

Demolition, however, is very much out of the ordinary. The psychological impact of seeing a landmark destroyed is big, and once there is a huge pile of rubble where Busch Stadium once stood the spin will be hard to justify. There will be a disruption.

The Stadium will be gone, and a scar will be left in its place. At the rate it will take the Cardinals to redevelop the old site, the city and its residents will be faced with that scar for a long time to come.