Sunday, March 4, 2007

City Hospital Tower & Malcolm Bliss

With Bohemian Hill in the news recently with the proposal for an auto oriented shopping center and the destruction of the only remaining block of original urban streetscape along Tucker/Gravois between downtown and McNair, as well as an innovative example of contemporary residential infill in harmony with its historic surroundings, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect back on the de-urbanization that occurred north of Lafayette Avenue.

The aerial photo below from 2002 shows the City Hospital site as a fairly dense urban village with the old Administration Building along Lafayette, the 13 story Tower Building at center fronting on Carrol Street (notice how Carrol connects to the residential area to the west), and the 6 story former Malcolm Bliss Mental Heath Center along Park Avenue. In late 2002 demolition began on Malcolm Bliss and the Tower Building prior to the conversion of the Administration Building into the Georgian Condominiums by Gilded Age.
Fast forward to 2006, and you can see that the Tower Building has been replaced by a lovely asphalt surface parking lot and the Malcolm Bliss site is covered in gravel and seems to have an undetermined future. The situation is not helped by the way the Truman Parkway cuts off the site from the residential neighborhood to the west. With the new roadway and demolitions, the Georgian becomes an isolated island all by itself.
The X-shaped Georgian revival Malcolm Bliss building, designed by Albert Osburg, which opened in 1939 was the first to be demolished in early 2002 (if you look closely at the aerial above, you see the southeast wing already going down). Despite the later additions, the original building was worthy of saving and could have made great apartments or condos. Why was it demolished? The thought occurred to me that maybe people would not want to live in a former asylum, but a quick search shows that several former asylums around the country are being converted to housing and including one in New York and a massive mixed-use complex in Traverse City, Michigan. Unfortunately I did not photograph the building before its destruction, so please visit Built St. Louis for photos of Malcolm Bliss as well as the other buildings in the complex.
The Tower Building, also by Albert Osberg, was built in 1942 as part of a major expansion of the hospital. The building was a handsome structure that could be mistaken for one of the classic hi-rise apartment buildings on Lindell but for its location. At 13 stories, the building commanded amazing views in all directions including some of the best views of downtown. One can only imagine how fast upper floor condos would have sold out in this building! Once the modern ancillary and connector buildings were demolished, there was still room west of the tower and between the buildings to do a low parking structure to serve the buildings. Addtionally, as with buildings downtown, it only takes some imagination to squeeze parking spaces into basements and lower floors of existing buildings.

The Tower Building's last stand below in early 2003, with the south wings already demolished.
See stlouiscityhospital.org edited by Michael Allen and Claire Nowak-Boyd for amazingly comprehensive information about City Hospital and it's history.

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