by Michael R. Allen
The City Hospital has reopened, but without two important elements: Its front steps, and its front gates. (Or its original cast-iron cupola framing, made locally by Banner Iron Works. But that’s another story.)
The gates are in the middle of one of the ugliest new developments in the city, The Gate District. The city removed the gates around 1994. They sit on Park Avenue west of Jefferson, framing an ugly and useless lawn that now sits sun-baked.
The gray Maine granite steps are in the City Museum, having been removed by Bob Cassilly in 1997 along with other items from the front entrance, including a terra cotta arch and a transom window bearing the hospital name. While the future of the hospital was bleak at this stage, demolition was not scheduled and salvage bids were not being taken.
Why anyone would rob an architectural landmark of defining features is beyond comprehension. Then again, in 1997 believers in the future of the City Hospital were in short supply. Alderwoman Phyllis Young was seeking demolition in coordination with the redevelopment of the Darst-Webbe housing project, and Mayor Freeman Bosley’s office concurred. While these instincts proved wrong, and some of the hospital buildings ended up being renovated, what sort of pessimism would lead the city government to allow the removal of the gates and steps?
The bigger question is why the city under different circumstances years later did not try to return the gates.