by Michael R. Allen
On Thursday, January 20, 2005, acting East Saint Louis City manager Alvin Parks ordered the demolition of the Spivey Building (designed by Albert B. Frankel, completed 1928). Prompting his decision was a recent incident in which around fifty bricks from the roofline fell onto the street below during a gust of wind. A similar incident in July 2004 led city officials to condemn the building and erect a fence around the sidewalk surrounding it.
Parks did not specify how the city government would pay for demolition.
Yet a February 16, 2005 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the building’s owner, Phillip H. Cohn, objected to the forced demolition and promised the city government that either he or a prospective buyer would make necessary repairs within the near future. Parks accepted this promise and is holding off on demolition — for now.
St. Louis developer Cohn had purchased the Spivey Building for $75,000 in 2001 and sucessfully sought its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Cohn started removing asbestos-laden insulation illegally, having workers throw unsealed debris from the building’s windows. Neighbors complained to the city government about their exposure to the hazardous debris. The federal government has charged him with several federal crimes, including violations of regulations on asbestos removal. Work on the Spivey stopped in 2002.
The last tenant, State Community College, left the Spivey nearly twenty years ago. However, the building once was a prominent address in downtown East St. Louis, home to the old Metro Journal newspaper founded by publisher Allen T. Spivey, who built the building. For years, it housed many doctors’ offices that brought much of the city’s population through its doors. Its Sullivanesque ornament and stature make it a striking regional landmark. As the tallest building in Illinois south of Springfield, its significance echoes beyond East Saint Louis.
Saving the building is a great challenge, but one that the Saint Louis region should accept. Losing the Spivey would rob East Saint Louis of the chance to rebuild its downtown as a complementary urban district near re-emerging downtown Saint Louis. Let’s hope that the Spivey Building soon reopens and stays open.