St. Louis Army Ammunition Plant
Location: Goodfellow at I-70
Built: 1940 and later
Status: Demolished in February 2006.
It was a giant of a building, a looming landmark on the freeway and in the surrounding neighborhoods, made all the more impressive by its height above the sunken Interstate. Like City Hospital before it, it intrigued me as I zoomed past on the freeway. With its purely functional and low-budget design, its rusted corrugated metal siding and broken windows in deteriorating frames, it was not pretty by any means -- but it sure was impressive.
The main building, with its familiar hooked roofline, was only one of eight buildings that comprised the ammunition plant, spread over a 26-acre site. The plant had its origin shortly before World War 2; it produced small arms ammunition for that war, then converted to Howitzer shell production for the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. The plant ceased production in 1989 and was totally vacated in 1998.
The site stood empty and abandoned for nearly ten years, massively contaminated with explosive residue, PCBs and heavy metals. I have heard second-hand tales of urban explorers entering the main building and feeling ill within minutes.
The City of St. Louis petitioned the Department of Defense for cleanup funds and has been working toward redevelopment of the site; an RFP went out in 2004 and a development team has been selected. From an urbanist perspective, I can't say I think much of the proposal for a Home Depot on the site; in a neighborhood that is already a brutal environment for pedestrians (Goodfellow is a nightmare to cross on foot), a big box store will exacerbate the problems.
I don't view it as a crisis of architecture or a devastating loss, but I have to say I will miss this mighty building now that it's gone. It was a true landmark for the city, far more than whatever takes its place is likely to be. I perversely wonder if the main building could have been abated sufficiently for Home Depot to move into it - the world's most grandiose hardware store.
Gallery: May 2005 (Aerial photo from July 2003)