Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tearing Down Buildings, and Priorities

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tearing Down Buildings, and Priorities

Article excerpt

TAKING unseemly delight in the misfortune of others is an unattractive human response. Nevertheless, Schadenfreude is so exhilarating that some of us go out of our way to experience it. This writer, for example.

Several times over the last couple of months I adjusted the route of my Friday check-depositing journey downtown for the specific purpose of watching and glorying in the amount of trouble one old building could create for a great big bank.

The building on the northwest corner of Eighth and Locust streets downtown was the Ambassador Theater building, and it stood on that corner for 70 years. For the last decade, it has had that doomed look that buildings get when they seem to know, right down to their boilers, that they are goners. The Ambassador, you see, needed to be torn down for all sorts of Byzantine economic reasons, but the one being used as the rationalization, or as the scapegoat, is that the bank needs a snazzier entry and a contemporary front yard, or plaza, in front of the front door. For Mercantile Bank to get what it wanted, the long-neglected but perfectly usable Ambassador Building had to go, just as the Buder, the Title Guaranty, the International, the Veterans Administration, the St. Nicholas Hotel, the Children's Building, all had to go, for this reason or that. Usually, in St. Louis anyway, it's a simple matter to destroy old buildings such as those, even old buildings with potential for adaptation and reuse, in order to build parking lots or plazas of a less-than-a-mall variety. The Ambassador resisted, however, and resisted with the kind of muscle that often is not associated with the old, the worn out, the washed up. When I heard in the summer that the Ambassador was putting up a fight worthy of John Wayne, I began to go by every now and then just to see how much trouble it was causing the bank. The impediment to destruction was that they built them back then like they don't build them anymore, and that is to last. The Ambassador was supported by enormous and almost indestructible concrete- filled trusses. Getting rid of them required more than the usual engines of destruction. In fact, a 250-ton crane had to be brought in especially for the Ambassador. The razing took months longer than anyone had planned. Schadenfreude, or in simple English, ha ha. When the trouble was discovered, I heard of a scheme that might have saved the bank, its customers and stockholders some money and probably would have provided some good publicity. That was to incorporate the huge trusses into the design of the new piazzetta, a sort of monumental, modern system of arches. You needn't be a prophet to imagine hearing the exasperated sighs of the front yard's architects had the notion been advanced seriously. The sighs, of course, would have been drowned by the emphatic and less well-bred "No" from the bank, had such an idea been presented to them. …

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