Monday, March 26, 2007

Will the Switzer Building meet the same fate as the Bronson Hide?

The Switzer Building at 612-624 N. 1st Street was built in 1874, the same year that its neighbor the Ead's Bridge was completed. For most of the building's life it housed the Switzer Candy company, and as the landmark sign painted on the south side of the building touted, it was home to the famous Switzer Licorice and Cherry Red candy. Empty since the late 1970's, the building's roof and interior suffered from exposure to the elements resulting in the collapse of the floors of the rear portion of the building into the basement. Front of the Switzer Building (photo from Laclede's Landing Merchants website)

The interior collapse left the rear portion of the building's masonry walls unbraced, and during the major wind storm last summer, resulted in the collapse of the rear and part of the south exterior walls of the building. Now eight months later, as reported recently in the Post, the developers who had intended to restore the building are considering demolishing the majority of the structure. More photos of the Switzer may be found on Built St. Louis

Storm Damage (photo from the National Weather Service website)

With the exception of Chouteau's Landing, Laclede's Landing is the only surviving portion of street grid remaining from the original settlement of St. Louis (about 40 blocks were demolished in 1940 to clear the site that would become the Arch grounds). The surviving buildings were constructed between 1844 and 1905, when commerce in St. Louis was still firmly based along the river. As the graphic below show though, about half of the buildings of Laclede's Landing have been lost and are now parking lots, a garage and vacant lots.
The most recent building demolished (shown in orange above) was the Bronson Hide Building at 806-808 N. 1st Street in 1997. A small portion of the rear wall had collapsed a few years prior to its demolition
Progressive photos of the demolition of the Bronson Hide can be seen on Ecology of Absence

As mentioned in my last post, there are many examples of buildings in the condition of the Switzer that have been successfully rehabbed. Below are a few more photos of the Lister Building as it's interior was reconstructed. Note in the first photo clear sky visible through the 4th floor windows, new floor joists looking in 2 & 3, and the massive debris pile from the collapsed floors in the first floor retail space.

Another building that had suffered what would appear to be catastrophic damage and was resurrected is the M-Lofts. in 1999, the former factory building of the International Shoe Company had seen better days. Almost 30% of the floors of the building were collapsed in the basement, and about 80% of the roof structure had fallen to the floor below, meaning that the remaining floors would not last much longer.
The west elevation of the building - before
looking into the debris pit

Floors bending down into the hole
Much of the roof and clerestories on the floor below
Re-building begins from the first floor up after debris removal

Massive new timbers imported from CanadaThe completed building

All of work was eligible for historic tax credits because it involved re-building the original fabric of the building. An alternate to re-building the original structure of a building that could be considered in an extreme case as the Switzer is the concept of preserving the front facade or a portion of the front of the building and building a larger new construction behind. This concept has occurred in many cities across the country (often with buildings in perfectly good shape) as a compromise between preservation and the pressures of denser development. Below is an example in Washington DC (center of image). Apparently this was also considered by another developer for the Switzer as seen posted last year on Urban St. Louis. This type of approach however would not qualify for historic tax credits.

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