We've Moved

Ecology of Absence now resides at www.preservationresearch.com. Please change your links and feeds.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Here is a blog devoted to the progress of rehabbing one home in Saint Louis:

1411 Hebert

I don't know of another blog that tracks a specific building's changes. I recommend this one highly. It's of special interest because the subject home is one of many rehabs that constitute an exciting "first wave" of intensive rehab activity in the Old North Saint Louis neighborhood.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Sewers in Japan

From the Infiltration listserv comes a link to impressive photos of a Japanese sewer.

That's all we know since no one one the listserv can translate.

Terror on Ninth Street

I visited Saint Louis last week, and spent some time in the Century Building. Yes, I was inside of the remains of the grandest marble building ever built. The experience was chilling, bizarre and intense. It would have been even more intense if I had made the visit with my colleague Claire Nowak-Boyd, but she had obligations that kept her home in Chicago while I went ahead with a truly terrible trip.

Last Wednesday morning, I was downtown in St. Louis, walking without an umbrella in the near-freezing rain to go to the Century. No one was there to let me in, so I wandered around and come back in an hour via MetroLink. As I ascended from the Eighth and Pine station, I heard a crack overhead and suddenly a light shower of glass mingled with the rain literally falling around me. I saw a set of vertical blinds flying in the strong wind many stories above. My first thought is that the workers at the Paul Brown Building had knocked their boom crane against the Arcade Building, causing a window to break. Then, a quick glance above revealed that a window had broken out in the Laclede Gas Building above.

A worker walking by turned to me and said, "That's the problem with those windows. They don't open and close, so they make a vacuum and the wind just sucks them out."

Right on. Needless to say, the window now sports a plywood bandage.

I kept walking and, a few moments later, was inside of the fence at the Century Building, meeting up with salvager Larry Giles to get my hard hat. Then I went inside of the gruesome wreckage of the old gem. I watched as Larry and his two workers desparately began assembling bracing for the Ninth Street arch that he is trying to preserve in its entirety.

Water dripped consistently above the spot where Larry and his workers were working. The roof was removed weeks ago and there are some holes in the second floor due to the wrecking activities. Otherwise, the structure is fine even if slightly weakened. I believe that one could devise a workable plan to rebuild the building even in this late stage of demolition. The street frame with its exterior concrete piers is holding up well, as is the facade. Demolition of the corners has not damaged the intergrity of other spots in the building. Oh, well.

(The next day, another worker headed to the Board of Education Building rehab walks by and states to me that he thinks that the Century Building could be saved as-is if demolition stopped, and glass structures were built to encapsulate the corner areas and roof. Hmmm.)

At any rate, Larry informed me that the wrecking plan was altered to accomodate complaints from the Bell Lofts at Tenth and Olive; now, wrecking has to proceed from Locust to Olive, catching the arch in the middle. The original plan called for wrecking the corners first and then wrecking the building from the Syndicate Trust Building wall eastward toward the Ninth Street elevation. The arch would have been in the last area to be wrecked.

Hopefully, though, the salvage efforts will be completed without interference. Saving the entire arched entrance ornament system is a remarkable achievement that could only be bested by saving the entire building on-site.

Wednesday's weather escalated into snow by mid-day, so the wreckers and Larry's crew both stopped work after lunch.

When I returned to the site on Friday, the weather had improved and both operations were back in action, as they had been on Thanksgiving (hopefully Saint Louisans are thankful that Larry and his crew have been working seven days a week on this important and grueling task). I was able to take many good photographs that I will share on the EOA site later this week.

While the work was going on, I shuffled around the columns, open elevator shafts -- some still framed with original Winslow Brothers cast iron framing -- and piles of debris from the upper floors (the whole building is considerably smashed and somewhat unstable). The old Walgreens' store space still sported macabre signs, one almost reading "BEAUTY" but missing some letters because the wall had been smashed out. The upper floors have been thoroughly gutted, but the ground floor's shops paces are still full of furniture and a few old computers, buried under debris.

Being inside of the Century Building during demolition was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It was plainly terrible to observe the signs of structural ingenuity exposed before destruction in addition to seeing the decorative beauty trampled. As the building continues to fall, more of the things that made it great are exposed in a grim irony.

As I said to Larry Giles while looking up through the archway at the Old Post Office as snow fell, this view never existed before and it's beautiful as much as it is gruesome. But I never, ever wanted to even know that such a view existed.


COMING LATER THIS WEEK: I will have an article on the significance of the Century Building demolition in The Commonspace and we will post images of the Century Building to EOA.

JUST UPDATED: We have posted a haunting postcard image of the MacArthur Bridge.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Good: It seems that the Preservation Board spared the House of Deliverance church last night, despite my pessimistic handicap.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Northside congregations that hate their buildings

From Steve Patterson's Urban Review of St. Louis & Region comes this sad alert:

Church wants to raze eight properties in Hyde Park Historic District

No doubt the Preservation Board has approved demolition of the House of Deliverance as I type. I can't wait to return to St. Louis in February and help stop the ever-continuing tide of destruction.

One church that we can save is the nearby Bethlehem Lutheran Church (from 1895), abandonded by its congregation since 1987. The building sits empty and decaying, but it still stands--and the congregation lost an earlier fight to tear it down. The pastor has stated that if anyone stepped forward with a viable resue plan, he would welcome it. If preservationists work to find a plan, Bethlehem Lutheran won't become the next northside church that no one knows about until it's up for a demolition hearing.

Daley's admin cuts already insufficient police coverage of Chicago Housing Authority projects on the South Side.

According to the November 17-23 issue of Streetwise, City Hall has decided to cut back police service to Chicago Housing Authority housing projects. They plan to create an 80-officer special response unit. The remaining 141 officers will be reassigned from specifically covering CHA homes to covering districts that have CHA homes in them.

Daley says the goal is to integrate services so that nearby, non-CHA residents get more coverage, and that CHA residents feel more like a part of the neighborhood because they take their complaints to the district commander, just like everyone else. Terry Peterson, executive director of the CHA, agrees with him on this. Daley also points to the effectiveness (he claims) of targeted special units in reducing gang violence.

CHA residents, though, aren’t so confident about this one. One resident interviewed in the article says that they should wait until the CHA’s redevelopment plan is finished before removing police coverage. He worries that if the redevelopment project fails, reduced police coverage could mean crime levels in CHA projects returning to the horrifying levels they reached during the 80s and 90s. Melvin Johnson, executive director of the Teenage Basketball Association, also points out that CHA projects just need more police coverage than other areas do. He suspects that this is simply a cost-cutting measure, though Daley denies it.

Of course, even the extant, not-yet-reassigned police coverage for the CHA is far from being sufficient. In the July/August issue of The Chicago Reporter, Brian J. Rogal and Mary C. Johns interview a number of CHA residents and found numerous complaints against the Chicago Police Department’s coverage of CHA developments. Most frequently, residents complain that police sit in their cars in front of developments rather than walking around, talking with residents, building trust, and actually stopping crimes. Several residents said it’s common for police covering a CHA project to stay in their cars even when visible drug dealing is taking place within their sight, or when there are radio orders for them to do a building walk-through. Other times, police randomly bother CHA residents (most frequently black males) in the name of stopping crime, rather than bothering to track down the actual criminals. I highly recommend reading Rogal and Johns’s article, "Lack of force", to learn more about this and read the CHA residents’ specific stories of police neglect and abuse.

So, service is already insufficient, and the Chicago Police Department and the Daley administration are cutting it way back. Particularly notable is that they’re only doing this on the south side, using it as a test to see if this program is okay to try on projects in the rest of the city. Streetwise lists the projects receiving cuts as “Robert Taylor homes, 4429 S. Federal; Stateway Gardens, 3653 S. Federal; Hilliard Homes, 2013 S. Clark; Ickes, 2326 S. Dearborn; Ida B. Wells, Pershing Road and King Drive at 39th Street; LeClaire Courts, 4843 W. 44th St.; Altgeld Gardens, 922 E. 131st St.; and Dearborn Homes, 2840 S. State St.” This smacks of Spatial Deconcentration, the planned removal of services from urban areas populated heavily by poor blacks, with the goal of making those areas dangerous and unpleasant places to live and forcing poor blacks to move out into other areas where they will be out of the way, living at lower densities, robbed of the geography of their history, and (in the minds of the arbiters of Spatial Deconcentration) less likely to organize politically. Once poor blacks (or other minorities) are removed from an urban area, rich whites then landbank the areas and make huge amounts of money from demolition, planning, and rebuilding—“urban renewal.” Another facet of Spatial Deconcentration that I frequently see in action is that certain neighborhoods are allowed to become so dangerous (again, by planned removal and restriction of critical services like police and fire protection) that the city outright blames it on the residents of the neighborhood in question and forces them to move elsewhere, like the city of St. Louis is doing right now in the McRee Town neighborhood. The cuts in police service specifically to South Side projects seems like it fits right into this.

When the city selected sites for CHA high rises in the 1950s, they chose broad strips of land which cut through the city and often broke up healthy communities. The projects were designed within these strips both to be isolated from surrounding neighborhoods, and to divide and isolate the neighborhoods from each other. The city’s placement of the projects and the city’s placement of new expressways that were being built at that time were both targeted to isolate poor, heavily black neighborhoods and communities, and to reinforce extant patterns of spatial segregation in the city. The city’s placement of the projects and the expressways are two of the major reasons why even today, fifty years later, the South Side of the city is still predominantly black and poorer, while the North Side of the city is still predominantly white and wealthier. The administration of the city of Chicago’s latest cuts in already insufficient police coverage of CHA projects specifically on the South Side is one more little sign that Daley and the city admin fully intend to continue using public housing in Chicago as a mechanism of discipline, control, and segregation, rather than as a tool of welfare, caring, and positive change.

If you know any more about the reassignment of CHA police, please let us know. I’ve not been able to find much about it, which scares me, because this is a really big deal and people need to hear about it. Once again, Streetwise picks up an important story that everyone else seems to be neglecting.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Chicago's Riis School threatened with demolition

We just added a page on Chicago's Jacob Riis Elementary School, which the city plans to demolish soon. The Chicago Public Schools closed Riis in 2001. Riis School is a sturdy and remarkable example of early Chicago Public Schools architecture, which diverges dramatically from St. Louis' older schools by William Ittner and Rockwell Milligan. Riis is rather boxy and strictly symmetrical, but is nonetheless a striking visual anchor in the Taylor Street area.

Why is Riis being demolished? To make way for a wholesale condo-and-apartment development that will replace the ABLA Homes, one of Chicago's oldest public housing projects. This development's impact is projected to include a huge population boost necessitating the opening of another public school in the area.

That is, if the new development allows families to come back to the area. Perhaps an influx of childless Loop office workers will permanently displace the working class families of Taylor Street. After all, the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago has already decimated the historic African-American Maxwell Street area for a similar bland world of one-brick-thick boxes.

Maxwell and Taylor Streets once were the scene of economic diversity and use diversity. People can still see some of that world remaining on Taylor, where add-on storefronts abut row houses next door to apartment buildings and the public library. This mixed-use area is vital and active, but for how much longer will depend on the whims of the city development agencies as they import the suburban single-use zones under the guise of New Urbanist styles.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Interpreting the land

On Friday, we attended a slide show presentation by Matthew Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), held at Chicago's outstanding community space Mess Hall. Suffice to say that Coolidge presented a strange array of odd places that his organization has interpreted through documentation and -- ah! -- creative interaction. CLUI aims to reveal the strange contradictions that our landscape presents to us as well as seeking how social use inscribes these contradictions. Coolidge's slide show covered many parts of the West, a decaying model of the Chesapeake Bay, roadside curiosities and such. These are only the strangest of the strange places CLUI engages, since we have seen short films of theirs that cover the whole country.

CLUI aims to open up museums in each of the seven "interpretative units" of the USA that they have designated, so they are doing more than taking their findings back to their L.A. headquarters. Coolidge stated that they are still seeking a Midwestern location, since talks with an owner of an abandoned Ohio amusement park are falling apart. St. Louis, anyone? We mentioned the Carondelet Coke Plant to him after his talk, and offered to take him there should he visit St. Louis in the future.

Coolidge is smart, likable and exults in the delightful paradox of joy and sadness that careful investigation of the US landscape brings. Like us, he knows that revealing the landscape's alterations could be a step toward transformation. I recommend that everyone look into CLUI and its exciting work, which may be the most important geographical research going on in North America.

Also about the Cubs.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has put ads on its trains that pose the riddle, "What do Cubs and Sox fans have in common?"

The answer that the ads supplied was "The Red Line," because both teams' stadiums are located along the CTA's Red Line.

One summer day, when my friend Alma and I were riding the Red Line, we noticed a copy of the ad that had been altered by a grafittist. Just above the CTA's dull answer to "What do Cubs and Sox fans have in common?" was scrawled a replacement answer:


DJ Spooky in the Windy City

DJ Spooky will be giving a talk on music, urban space, & architecture:

6:00pm, Wednesday November 17th

University of Illinois - Chicago Department of Performing Arts
1040 West Harrison, Room 1286

Wrigley Field steals the sidewalks

Today, the Tribune Company reports in its newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, that has come up with a new plan to expand its stadium in Chicago, Wrigley Field. The plan entails moving walls ten feet outward into current sidewalk space along Sheffield and Waveland Avenues. The plan eliminates unsightly columns that would have punctured these sidewalks, but it manages to do worse: the sidewalks will only be 12 to 16 feet wide after the walls are moved out!

The Tribune Company's spokesperson states that this is no big deal because these streets proper are closed at game time, and can be used by pedestrians who cannot fit on reduced sidewalks.

This ignorant statement demonstrates a total lack of concern for the people who live in the neighborhood and good urban design. Ideally, sidewalks should be at least 30 feet wide to accomodate foot traffic and other uses (children playing). At a location as busy as the area around Wriglet Field, such space is certainly needed even when the stadium is closed. Twelve to 16 feet of space is insufficient at this location, as it is in any location (although I realize most places don't have even that much sidewalk width).

Does the Tribune Company want to turn Chicago into Wilmette or Schaumburg?


Friday, November 12, 2004

Good news for Penrose Park and for bicyclists

From today's St. Louis Post-Disptach comes a good story:

Local bicyclists get wheels turning to restore Penrose Park velodrome

The long-abandoned velodrome in Penrose Park will probably reopen next year due to the efforts of dedicated cyclists, bringing more people through one of north city's most revitalized neighborhoods. No credit goes to the self-defeating Parks Department, whose officials still think that there are too many parks in the city for its current population, when in truth there is about enough for today's population and certainly not enough for the St. Louis peak population of 856,000.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

St. Louis Public Schools administrators get even more money

An article in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out: High-paying salaries triple in district.

As the article states: "In fact, St. Louis' top administrators seem to be far above nationwide averages when it comes to pay."

In light of the 23 lost accreditation points, perhaps the School Board should compare these administrators' salaries against those earned by their higher-performing predecessors rather than against other cities' payrolls. St. Louisans have an annoying tendency to compare their city to others before actually improving it. The schools crisis demonstrates just how foolish this tendency can become. Few people, aside from St. Louis Schools Watch publisher Peter Downs and his writers, are actually comparing past performance with current performance in order to find solutions rooted in the actual history of the district.

Finding solutions through review of actual history is difficult because history shows that no one has been a certain hero in the schools crisis, and that the Alvarez and Marsal year has been one of the worst in district history--and not simply for ideological reasons. The School Board majority as well as the district administration is too invested in covering up their own mistakes to admit failure.

Detroit: Old, dirty and green

The Greening of Detroit

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

More demolition at Manteno State Hospital

According to The Manteno Project, wreckers demolished the Todd Cottages at the Manteno State Hospital last month. The Manteno State Hospital is a former mental hospital located in Manteno, Illinois, about one hours south of Chicago, Illinois. The Georgian-Revival-style hospital was constructed in 1928 and is a unique example of the cottage-style mental hospital popular after the more-famous Kirkbride style fell from favor. The cottage-style plan placed patients in small cottages -- Manteno had 38 -- located away from larger administrative and medical buildings. The State of Illinois favored this construction plan after the state prototype, the Bartonville State Hospital in Peoria, received much renown.

The northern half of the Manteno complex was converted into an Illinois State Veterans' Home years ago, while the southern half was left empty longer. This part has been undergoing a steady transformation in the last three years, with many of its old buildings being converted to business use and new homes constructed around the complex. Sadly, some its abandoned buildings have been demolished recently. In June, Manteno lost a major structure, the Mechanical Shop.

Fortunately, we visited Manteno State Hospital in May and photographed the Mechanical Shop and both the interior and exterior of Todd Cottage. Still, the demolitions leave major holes in this impressive campus.

Two sides to urban life in St. Louis


Remember the Century (formerly Save the Century) has posted demolition photos from November 1 - 7 at the Century Building.

...& GOOD

Steve Patterson's blog Urban Review of St. Louis is a great addition to the ever-growing sea of St. Louis blogs. His writing is trenchant and unfliching, and he covers things that we can only wish to have time and energy to cover.

Monday, November 8, 2004

Resistance in St. Louis

In today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Catholic parishes fight draft closure list

Do you think that your neighborhood is safe? (Call for submissions)

Do you think that your neighborhood is safe?

We want to know what you think about where you live. Please tell us, in as many or as few words as you think are necessary, if you think your neighborhood is safe and why (or why not). We aren’t looking for any specific type of answer; we just want you to be honest.

Please send in answers by January 31, 2005. We will publish your response and all the others in a zine (a handmade magazine). If you include your contact information, we’ll send you a copy of the zine when it’s finished.

Send responses to eoa@eco-absence.org, or (if you prefer hand-writing and manual mail) to Neighborhood Safety Zine, c/o Claire Nowak-Boyd and Michael Allen, 1310 N. Artesian #2R, Chicago, IL 60622, USA.

If you know anyone else who’d be interested in responding to this, please let them know about it. Feel free to repost this notice elsewhere (politely).

Thank you for your time!

Name (Pseudonyms are fine. We will print whatever name you give us here.):
My area is (choose one): Rural Urban Suburban Other
How long have you lived there?:
Do you think your neighborhood is safe? Why or why not?:

Abandoned hospital as an unexpected spokesmodel (Harvey, IL hospital on TV)

While channel surfing around 4pm the other day, I came across something I'd never expected to see on television: The abandoned hospital in Harvey, Illinois. Harvey is a rusty southern suburb of Chicago, populated primarily by working-class African-Americans. It's known to many abandonment enthusiasts as the home of the Dixie Square Mall, the abandoned mall where a scene in Blues Brothers was filmed in 1979. The mall is still abandoned, sagging in the middle of a cracked, weedy parking lot spotted with signs that allege that the Harvey Police use it as a helipad, and therefore you ought to stay off. Despite this, the mall still gets fairly regular visitors, several of whom claim to have heard or seen wild dogs living there.

The old hospital, though, doesn't get much attention. (In fact, I couldn't find a single image or page about it on the web to link to in this entry.) It sits big and empty and sad in the middle of a fenced-off field of overgrown Queen Anne's Lace on 147th street, where rushing cars pass it by the hundreds. Across the street is an empty, boarded gas station. On one side of it sit several homes and a school. On its other side, seemingly occupying what used to be part of the hospital complex, is the City Public Auto Auction. The Auto Auction was the subject of the half-hour-long infomercial that I saw the other day, the reason for the old hospital making it on Chicago television. Various spokeswomen stood next to cars and proclaimed "City Public Auto Auction! This white 1997 Grand Prix for only fifteen hundred dollars! City Public Auto Auction! City Public Auto Auction! On Sibley Street in Harvey! City Public Auto Auction!" over and over for dozens of cars, and each time the program cut to a new car you could get a slightly different glimpse of the hospital. Always it was just a vague, dark red, dark-windowed form in the background, but occasionally you could see more, the fence or its tall, simple early modernist entry area. These were just little glimpses, but they were enough to make me watch the entire program.

Abandonment is everywhere if you keep your eyes open.

* For the curious, this program was on 4pm Central on Thursday, November 4 on channel 34 in Chicago. I don't know if it'll be on again next Thursday, but if I'm home then I plan to check.

Relevant links:

Harvey's Dixie Square Mall on Dead Malls dot Com

The City of Harvey Website gives a more positive look at the city (as you'd expect it to). While this doesn't relate directly to the abandoned hospital and to blight, I think that many of us who are interested in blighted communities could use an occasional reminder that there's more to these places than just abandonment, poverty, and crime--people do live there.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

The silver lining in St. Louis

I would like to thank the voters of the city of Saint Louis for soundly deafeating the charter alteration amendments on Tuesday. I wasn't sure how these would fair, and admit being surprised at the resounding defeat. This makes me hopeful.

I am surprised and disappointed that Green Party Sheriff candidate Don DeVivo only received slightly over 10% of the vote against the corrupt and unpopular incumbent Jim Murphy. Even the Post-Dispatch would not endorse Murphy in the primary, but the paper went on to completely ignore the race -- and the race for Public Administrator -- entirely. At least the Arch City Chronicle cared enough to endorse DeVivo.

The city will never change if even the worst Democrats aren't effectively challenged.

At this rate, Slay is a shoo-in for a second term.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Another story from Detroit.

In today's issue of the Detroit Free Press comes this article: Finding Beauty Among Ruins: Explorers brave danger inside abandoned urban buildings.

The article uses the term "urban spelunker" in place of the more widely prevalent term "urban explorer," but otherwise does a good job of profiling young people from Detroit who explore abandoned and restricted places.

I'll refrain from my usual critique of the "urban explorer," but suffice to say that while I explore abandoned places, I do not see myself as an "urban explorer." Read my essay Narrating Abandonment for my position.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Before you even get a chance to catch your breath: The likely demolition of Detroit's Statler Hotel

What's happening with the Century is by no means an isolated incident.

In downtown Detroit, the stately and finely designed Statler Hotel, which dates from 1915, is probably about to be demolished. Its most likely replacement is--say it with me now--a parking lot. People cite civic improvement, especially in the name of improved image and improved parking for the upcoming 2006 Superbowl. Apparently, having a few more parking spots and one less abandoned building in a city known for abandonment during one lousy, one-day one-time football game is more important than the PERMANENT loss of history and architectural beauty. That ain't comin' back folks. That hole in the ground is forever.

Read more about it and sign the petition at Save the Statler.

The Statler Hotel page at Forgotten Detroit has an excellent history of the Statler, along with comprehensive photos.