Built St. Louis > > Vanished Buildings || Midcentury Modernism > > Busch Stadium

Gallery 1: In slumber, October 2004

Gallery 2: In death, November 2005

Busch Memorial Stadium
Location: Between Spruce and Walnut, west of Broadway
Built: 1964-66
Architect: Sverdrup & Parcel with Edward Durell Stone
Demolished: November-December 2005

There's much to say about the destruction of Busch Stadium -- it touches on aesthetics, architecture, preservation, urbanism, economics, and more.

Urbanistically, Busch Stadium was a terrible building. It was detached from the remainders of the city around it by raised terraces, platforms, and fences, an unapproachable fortress defended by busy streets and surrounded by fields of parking and a roaring interstate. Its round shape shaved odd corners off the four square blocks that it occupied (one of them cleverly filled by the Bowling Museum building). It sat at the heart of a portion of downtown that was utterly destroyed after World War II, and today remains one of the city's least inviting urban areas. On game days, the stadium itself sprung to life, with baseball fans visible climbing its many rampways; yet the remainder of the time it was silent. Hopefully the proposed Ballpark Village will begin to heal this wounded portion of downtown.

But as fireworks are fired off in celebration over the demolition of the stadium's last section, I think back to the stories of 1984, when balloons were released to celebrate one of the city's biggest architectural mistakes, the implosion of two historic office towers on the Gateway Mall. And today, I see a piece of irreplacable Modernism swept away for something new and plastic. It has been called "cookie-cutter" -- but that is because it spawned a string of immitators, in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and elsewhere... and it outlasted them all. It was tied to its place and time, with the archways of its overhang intentionally emulating the Gateway Arch which was nearing completion at the time. That same overhang made sitting within the stadium a dizzying, exhilerating experience: the same thin-shell concrete ring that hovered over your head swept around the field and encompassed every other fan as well, making the enormous space somehow united. It was a structure that defied its own size. It was crisp. It was pure. It was functional, and though its exterior was cluttered with accessory constructs and perhaps a chaotic jumble of ramps and columns, I daresay it was beautiful.

The stadium was demolished so that ticket prices could be raised (since "new" is automatically equated to "better"), and because maintenance was becoming expensive. Could it have been saved? "If we had just chosen to stay here indefinitely, Busch Stadium was going to require a huge capital infusion just to keep it the way it is," Bill DeWitt III, the Cardinals' senior vice president for development, was quoted.

Money was the issue? Oh, come on. Let's call a spade a spade. How could the costs of renovation -- even a full-scale one -- even come close to demolition and construction of an entire new stadium?

No, Busch was demolished because it was old. Not the wonderful, well-loved old of a place like Soulard or New Orleans, but the same kind of old that killed Northland Shopping Center, and is sure to kill so many other wonderful pieces of Modernism in the coming years: the kind of old that's within our lifetime, the kind that lacks the glamour of the new, and has not yet acquired the patina of age. It's a kind of old that investors and developers loathe, and opt to demolish whenever possible.

It's a trend that needs to stop if anything is going to remain of Modernism's legacy.

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