St. Louis Hills Office Center
St. Louis - south City
The St. Louis Hills Office Center (also known as the St. Louis Hills Medical Center) stands at an oddly-shaped intersection, where Chippewa bisects the standard street grid where Watson and Bancroft meet. The arrangement of the streets informs the building's basic design: its narrow front faces the main drag of Chippewa, while a long tail angles off behind it, parallel to Bancroft. The building is further intergrated into its site by its above/below-ground parking decks embedded into the slope of the site.
The building is astonishingly 1950s: orange brick. Green metal panels between stainless steel window frames, revealing a primary stair case that must have once shone like a lantern at night. Sans-serif fonts on the massive lettering announcing the building's name. Square limestone panels. Long, linear stretches of windows, framed in limestone. It is truly a relic of its age, sleek, a bit awkward, a bit beautiful.
Numerous details reveal the craft that was still applied to buildings of mid-century vintage: the curl of the staircase railing's end. An elaborate, stylized medical emblem rendered in three-dimensional stainless steel. Megaphone lamps in the stairwell. A decoratively designed metal railing outside. A geometric pattern of recessed bricks, alternating with bright blue glazed tile (now, sadly, painted over in deathly dull brown.) Another medical emblem on the door handles.
The building was condemned for structural deficiencies in 2004 and subsequently cleared of tenants. Demolition work began in summer of 2007 -- but after the initial scare that this remarkable 1950s ensemble was unavoidabley doomed, a different story emerged: the southeastern wing would indeed be torn down, but the smaller and more important section on Chippewa would remain and be renovated.
One of the building's owners contacted me to share his side of the story:
From what I've learned, the building was originally to be four stories over a below-grade lower parking garage. During construction apparently the City decided they wanted and demanded more parking and only three stories. So the street level, which was originally intended to be enclosed office space, wound up being open air parking, the second level of the parking deck.
This helped with additional parking but in the end was a fatal problem. For one thing the plumbing became problematic. Secondly it created a situation where rain year round and saltwater in the winter permeated the parking deck, eventually rotting out the iron supports, notwithstanding many attempts over the years to water seal the situation [and] hundreds of thousands of $$$ being poured into attempts to save that part of the two part building.
Regarding the plumbing, the waste stacks were then enclosed in the concrete supporting columns. Great, but every winter a good cold snap would freeze the waste stacks closed and the toilets would begin flushing out onto the floors and down through the ceilings of that east wing.
Plans for the Future
The building is actually two structures, the (west wing) which is on a good foundation and will remain and the east wing (parking garage and its super-structure) which is supported on dangerously heavily loaded iron and cement columns.
A solid masonry wall physically separates the two structures at the bend. Only a small hallway on each of the three floors is open between the two.
Bricks from the demoed part are being saved to properly finish the cutoff plane when demo is complete. Plus that spot on the building is only visible from a few acute angles.
The best of this building's 1950s architecture is to remain.
When the demo and fixing is finished the building will have it's own substantial parking lot, plus will be more manageable, hopefully more attractive & economically viable and will retain all the 1950s architecture which makes it distinctive.
...The plan for the St. Louis Hills Office center properties is to clean up what is there....ie power wash the faces of all the buildings, touch up tuckpointing and etc. where necessary. (Using as closely matched tuckpointing mortar as we can)
Then we will have code issues to work out regarding electrical, plumbing etc. When that is done the idea is to lease the buildings as they are, with the 1950s (and maybe a little earlier on the small structures) architecture unmolested.
So, while the building's exact fate remains undetermined, the picture looks much rosier than it did originally. What a rarity for an owner to stand up for Mid-Century Modern architecture!
A 1960s Neighborhood
And on that note... it's important to understand that this building is hardly out of context, The building does have a sharp contrast of scale with its residential neighbors, but stylistically it is but the centerpiece of an area that includes numerous buildings of similar vintage and style -- half a dozen within view of the intersection of Chippewa and Watson alone. They include apartments, offices, a church, houses, and more.
More on the building:
- Southwest City Journal: Aging St. Louis office center to get a makeover
- B.E.L.T.: St. Louis Hills Office Center: Tried To Save It, But Couldn't
- B.E.L.T.: St. Louis Hills Office Center: Hammer To Fall?
- Urban St. Louis forums
Gallery: Demolition, July 2007