Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Demolition to Celebrate

Its a very rare occasion when a demolition in St. Louis calls for celebration, but this Friday, May 21st at 5:00 pm will mark the beginning of the end of an eyesore as a wrecking ball starts its work on one of two street bridges at the former St. Louis Centre mall that has for 25 years acted as a physical and psychological barrier along the Washington Avenue corridor and brought darkness to the block between 6th and 7th Streets.

Washington Avenue will be closed to traffic on Thursday between 6th & 7th Streets to begin staging for the work and on Friday US Bank will mark this eventful occasion by throwing the Bridge Bash from 4:00 to 7:00 pm on Washington Avenue between 8th & 9th Streets.  There will be food, beverages and yes, dancing in the street.  At 5:00 sharp the wrecking ball will start swinging.
Demolition of the structure actually began a few weeks ago, and a close look through the glass curtain wall on the west face of the bridge reveals that most of the roof, all interior partitions and sections of floor at the 4th floor have been removed.  Demolition of the remaining portions of the bridge is expected to take about four weeks.  
As interior partitions are removed, the windows of the former Stix Bear & Fuller department store building are beginning to be revealed.  While connected to the former department store, fortunately, the bridge was built as an independent structure from it and much of the facade simply remains hidden behind the mall structure.
On the mall end of the bridge the end of the glass barrel vault roof has been removed as well as the roof of the portion of the mall that extends our over the Washington Avenue sidewalk.  Along with bridge and the the white and green metal panel skin of the mall, this skinny portion of the building over the sidewalk will be removed as well.

Darkness at noon.  Even when the lights were still on, the spaces under the mall bridges were dark oppressive spaces.  Like the elevated highway structure that separates Downtown St. Louis from Laclede's Landing, no amount of lighting or artwork can make up for the dismal experience of these confining spaces.
Above the storefront windows of the Stix building are vintage retractable awnings.  These are the same awnings that are shown in the 1959 photo below from the Western Historical Manuscript Collection.  Strangely, the windows under the bridge are the only ones that retain these now rare mechanisms.  They were removed from the rest of the building longer ago than I can remember.

The view west on Washington Avenue from the soon to be demolished bridge.

The glass barrel vault of the bridge looking up at the top of the Stix building

The connections to the department store shuttered permanently in 2001 after Dillard's who had bought out Stix Baer & Fuller in 1983 closed the Downtown store which had already been downgraded to a "clearance center" in the mid-1990's.  By 2003 according to an entry in deadmalls.com, Dillards would have no Downtown locations anywhere.

A rendering by Trivers showing what the former Stix Baer & Fuller building will look like with the bridge removed and exterior restored.  The Stix building, which will be re-named the Laurel, is also starting an $80 million renovation to include a 200+ room Embassy Suites Hotel, 200+ apartments and ground floor retail.  Opening Washington Avenue will have an amazing impact in terms of re-connecting the area east of the former bridge with the rest of Downtown St. Louis.  For the first time in 25 years one will be able to stand at Fourth Street and look west down the street canyon Washington Avenue as far as the eye can see.  With this the only barrier left on Washington Avenue will be the elevated lanes of Interstate 70, which will be re-routed over the new Mississippi River bridge in 2014.  Removal of the elevated lanes would be another cause for celebration and complete the restoration of one of St. Louis' great streets.


Chris said...

I'll never forget standing on that skybridge sometime in the late 1980's and looking out at the Statler Hotel covered in layers of guano, pigoens flapping their wings from broken windows high up in the building.

Yet Another St. Louis Blog by Kevin B. said...

It really is, for people like you and me, Paul, one of the most important developments in downtown's recent past. It's not a big project by any means, but the removal of the skywalk is a correction of a BIG mistake of the past - something folks are traditionally slow to do.

I went and took my farewell glares and fist shakes at the skywalk yesterday and, surprisingly, with the panels gone it almost looks okay...comparatively, anyway. I'm excited to see if the simple removal of this barrier will spur the same Washington Ave. street-level development and foot traffic down to 4th Street. My guess -- it will.

You're next, elevated I-70. We're coming for you.

BC said...

I'm am really looking forward to the transformation of Washington Ave at this particular intersection.

It's going to feel completely different. Hopefully it'll help with the leasing of 555 Washington just to the east of the bridge.

I'm definitely going to be in attendance on Friday. I'll be glad to see the bridge go.