by Michael R. Allen
When I went to Peoria over the weekend, this building was gone. (This photograph dates to June 2005.) The commercial building stood on Martin Luther King Boulevard just east of Western Avenue, on the south side of the street. Several characteristics were remarkable:
– The building was built entirely of concrete block made to look like rusticated limestone.
– The building formed a flatiron shape even though it did not sit on a flatiron lot. The shape was necessitated instead by topography. Behind the building, the land dropped off so severely that the flatiron was about all that could be built on this site. as the raised sidewalk suggests, things aren’t so great on the other side.
I liked this building because it defied the odds. This site is not “buildable” by contemporary standards; it may not have been even back in the early twentieth century when the building was built. Yet someone wanted to develop this lot, probably spurred on by Peoria’s density. When a city has a strong downtown, people build anywhere they can get in and around that downtown. Even odd lots get built out. Contrast that with today’s American urban environments, where many developers won’t even build on lots 25 feet wide by 120 feet deep. Once, land was scarce and building space abundant — now the formula is inverted. It seems that along with abdundant building space went abundant civic pride. People who don’t value land and make the most of its scarcity don’t build — or steward — great cities.
No doubt the little concrete flatiron fell prey to our perverse size mentality. People probably considered it too small for commercial use, and lacking the “yard” needed for residential. The building went empty and then it was demolished. I’ll bet that the lot remains vacant forever.