Thursday, January 31, 2013

Last Gasp for Gasometers in St. Louis

On Sunday I found this video of the Shrewsbury gasometers taken shortly before they were demolished in 2009 but never posted due to the low quality. The video was taken from the window of the Metrolink blue line on a rainy late afternoon. After re-discovering the video, I was thinking I should head up to Natural Bridge and photograph the last one of these structures left in St. Louis. Then Tuesday I saw the Preservation Research Office post announcing that the last one is currently being cut up into small pieces.

One of first posts on Vanishing STL back in January 2007 was about the gasometer at Chouteau & Newstead that was taken down that May. Currently a complex of very bland apartments that look like they belong in Ballwin are going up on that site. In the 2007 post I featured an example of four historic gasometers in Vienna, Austria that have been rehabilitated with new structures built within.
This past August, I had the pleasure of visiting Gasometer City in person! The exterior brick shells combined with new contemporary structures built within is quite pleasing. 


I was unable to see the residential floors as they are secured for residents only, but was able to view them through giant skylights at the first level.

The first floor spaces resembled an american shopping mall with a series of retail spaces encircling center atria and connected together with glass bridges between the gasometers. The end closest to the U-Bahn station had three levels of commercial space with a mix of retail, restaurants, fast food and a small grocery store. 

One of the retail spaces at the tri-level end of the complex.

Two of the retail atria at the other end of the complex that was completed between 1999 and 2001 however resembled an american dead mall with completely empty storefronts.

The fourth atrium retail area which is closest to the tri-level end is currently being completely remodeled into music themed spaces. 

Flanking the re-purposed historic gasometers on one side are a series of odd green colored housing blocks scattered randomly on re-clamed industrial land. The lack of good urban design surrounding the gasometers is disturbing and along with the isolated inward facing design, could help explain the lack of life at the commercial level.

On the other side is a giant movieplex with large blank walls facing the streets. While the  re-use of the beautiful historic brick gasometers is highly commendable and seemingly successful from the residential standpoint, the failed mall and surrounding areas show that European cities are not immune from the planning mistakes that are so common in the US.

Back here in the Brick City, our gasometers were made of steel instead of brick, so no shells existed to insert new structure within like what will need to be done in order to save Cupples Warehouse #7. The steel frame of our gasometers was structured to carry only the weight of frame members above and the thin walls of the giant segmented tanks which would rise and fall with the pressure of gas pumped into them, but not to help carry the weight of a new structure within. This does not mean that the structures could not be incorporated in new development, but the assumption was made with three different locations here that no one would want to bother.

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