Fifty years ago, the St. Louis waterfront was one gigantic parking lot after 40 blocks of the city’s gritty industrial quarter were cleared in the late 1930s to create a site for a new Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. It took another two decades to get anything built, but on February 12, 1963, the missing slice of St. Louis began to change as ground was broken for Eero Saarinen’s famous Gateway Arch that still defines St. Louis in one dramatic gesture.
[Editor's Note: Following the publishing of this story, the Speed Art Museum and tree researchers studied the tree, determining that it was, in fact, not three centuries old, nor a Valley Oak. The tree in question is now believed to be a 60-year-old English Oak. Read the update here.]
The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, is currently closed to visitors until 2015 while a dramatic stacked-box addition is built to the north of the institution’s original 1927 neo-Classical building on the University of Louisville’s Olmsted-designed Belknap Campus. The $50 million expansion, designed by Culver City, CA-based wHY Architecture with Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects, who were later dropped from the project, will triple the museum’s gallery space and add to the already robust arts scene in Louisville.
This week, one alert writer at the student newspaper, The Louisville Cardinal, noticed something missing at the construction site: the University’s oldest tree. The approximately 309-year-old Valley Oak had been cut down when the site was cleared late last year. Only a stump now remains behind the construction fence. The author, Wesley Kerrick, noted the tree pre-dates not just the University, but the city, state, and country in which it resides, as it sprouted sometime in the late 17th or early 18th century. Kerrick expressed frustration over the fact that the tree couldn’t have been saved.
Despite once again turning out a crowd of supporters who contributed hours of impassioned testimony, many preservationists were unsurprised by an outcome that they chalked up to political determinism.
Tadao Ando’s architecture strives for perfection, with glass-smooth concrete walls nearly as reflective as mirrors, ideal proportion and geometry creating a sacred sense of space, and design details that reveal no part of a building is too small for consideration. In fact, as one story goes, Ando requested that a foot-thick concrete wall at his Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis be rebuilt multiple times since it didn’t meet his strict standards.
The Pulitzer, one of only a handful of buildings the Japanese architect has completed in the United States and the first in the US intended for public use, opened in 2001, demurely set behind a concrete wall in the city’s Grand Center neighborhood. This Friday and Saturday (February 8 and 9), the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and Washington University in St. Louis are hosting the free Building Pulitzer colloquium looking back at the four-year construction period of Ando’s Pulitzer Foundation.
Outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced recently that Detroit’s M-1 Rail project, aka the Woodward Light Rail Line, will receive $25 million in federal TIGER funding. The plans for this 3-mile long light rail system along Woodward Avenue will include 11 stops running from the city’s downtown to New Center. According to the Detroit Free Press, $100 million has already been raised of the light rail line’s $140 million price tag. Officials said the first trains could be running by the end of 2015.
The Thompson Center is an easy target. Most Chicagoans only know it as that Po-Mo Behemoth where we transfer between L lines and occasionally visit the DMV in the basement food court, perhaps the only location in America where you can get a slice of Sbarro and a new driver’s license. It’s a beast of a building—so bad, it’s almost good—and has been plagued with problem after problem, most recently the removal of the granite panels along the plaza. Tackling its so obviously deferred maintenance and adapting it for future use would be no small task. That’s why, according to the Sun-Times, the president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and a major labor chief have proposed building a casino in the lower level and first floor of the building.
When we think of downtown casinos, we think of Detroit. Look, Eavesdrop loves Detroit and is rooting for its revival on a daily basis, but Chicago doesn’t want to be using Detroit as its urban development role model. If this nutty scheme comes to fruition, there would be a casino in a building located across from City Hall, which also houses hundreds of state government employees. They better get ready to beef up their Employee Assistance Program, as the state might have a few more gambling addicts on their payroll.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced Friday that the city will close 51 parks. The Detroit Free Press’ Matt Helms has the full list of parks here, including an additional 37 parks that will receive limited maintenance.
The closures are the result of massive cuts to the city’s parks and recreation budget due to the City Council’s rejection this week of a plan to lease Belle Isle to the state. Details of the council’s decision were evidently worked out late Thursday night, so the devastating cuts came as a surprise to many residents. The move recalls closures announced, but avoided, in 2010.
A collection of strange industrial relics in St. Louis has gone the way of many before it, as the city’s last gasometer has fallen.
Gasometers are storage devices for natural and coal gas, built during the 20th century but abandoned after 2000 when underground storage became the preferred method. The Laclede Gas Company Pumping Station at 3615 Chevrolet, built around 1920, was the area’s last. Michael R. Allen wrote an epitaph for the bygone piece of infrastructure, providing a remembrance that asks, are industrial relics worth preserving?
Basically silos for gas, the structures leave behind industrial skeletons that are sometimes stunning, always intriguing — a Flickr group devoted to their documentation has more than 1,000 entries. They are more common in Europe than in the U.S., but Laclede’s St. Louis structures were the most notable on this side of the Atlantic. In Vienna they are celebrated, with four architectural teams currently converting four gasometers for new uses.
Could that hulking behemoth, Chicago’s Main Post Office, see new life at last? According to the Sun-Times’ David Roeder, developer Bill Davies is betting on it, and he has brought Antunovich Associates to the table. If talk of a downtown casino has any merit, the Post Office could be the right place for it.
The massive 1921 building (expanded in 1932) comprises 2.5 million square feet downtown, looming over Congress Parkway. Davies’ fanciful plans for the facility have grabbed headlines since 2009, when the US Postal Service first put it on the auction block. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is still pushing the state legislature for a casino license, touting the potential revenue as a much-needed influx for school construction and repairs.
Single Room Occupancy hotels are a dying breed in Chicago. Notoriously undermanaged and generally unpopular among immediate neighbors, the majority of these base-service dwellings have been condemned or rehabbed into other residential uses over the past decade.
The fate of the Chateau Hotel, one of the last SRO hotels on Chicago’s North Side, looks to be leaning toward the latter.
An artistic selection committee Thursday selected three semi-finalists for the Ohio Statehouse Holocaust Memorial in Columbus. Jaume Plensa of Chicago, Columbus’ Ann Hamilton, and Daniel Libeskind will visit the site, meet with the committee and then have six weeks to submit a proposal for review. The committee will pick the final project artist in May.
Libeskind designed Berlin’s Jewish Museum, one of the most prominent memorials of its kind. Ann Hamilton has home-turf advantage, so to speak, and is coming off a spectacularly reviewed show at the Armory, The Event of a Thread. Spanish-born Jaume Plensa’s evocative sculptures are pensive and humanistic, often involving glowing lights, and seem well suited to such a project.