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Monday, April 6, 2009

Gateway Community Hospital to be Demolished, Hope Lingers in East St. Louis

Last week, cash-rich St. Clair County hired a demolition contractor to take down Gateway Community Hospital on Martin Luther King Drive for the beleaguered city of East St. Louis. This is a sad moment for East St. Louis, although I confess that it's impossible to count such moments. One year ago, Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital shut down all but its emergency room and some services. Now, the building that houses the city's second hospital, which closed in 1989, will come tumbling down.

Such are the vagaries of population loss, I suppose, although that does nothing to diminish the symbolic losses or apologize for the public health problems the city faces without a full service hospital. Once upon a time, the city's leaders were able to build two hospitals: St. Mary's, which became Kenneth Hall, and Christian Welfare, which became Gateway Community. Christian Welfare Hospital was even able to open its privately-funded modern new facility in 1940, despite the lingering effects of the Great Depression. At the time, the city had not seen a hospital as large or as well-equipped as Gateway Community. The sad fact is that this the high point of medical service in East St. Louis. No larger or more modern facility would come, although Christian Welfare Hospital was later expanded.

The closure of Gateway Community Hospital just shy of the fiftieth anniversary of its building was not a great shock. The hospital had been ailing for awhile. The demolition is not a big surprise, either, since the buildings have been left unsecured and vandalized since closing. Few windows remain, giving the large complex a foreboding and sad presence that few people would want to live near.

Still, the buildings have weathered 19 years of abandonment relatively well. I have toured the interior several times, including this February, and found little more amiss than falling ceiling tiles, stolen wiring and damaged walls. The structural condition is good. This complex surely could withstand another fifty years of use, at the least.

A developer did eye the complex for reuse six years ago, proposing conversion into apartments. That plan withered. No other plan has come since that time, and no one ever thought to nominate the hospital to the National Register of Historic Places. Urban explorers pass through the halls and post their photographs online. Former staff and patients, though, do have fond memories. My mother's family includes several people born at the hospital.

However, city government is probably relieved that an end is in site for one of the city's biggest abandoned buildings. History alone is little consolation to those charged with keeping a city livable. There must be something more -- and there might be something good in store for East St. Louis if the city doesn't rush to wreck again.

A Belleville News Democrat editorial (hat tip to the UEU 314) on the demolition is harsh in calling for the city to take down its other landmark buildings. Admittedly, many are vacant and derelict. However, the hope that these buildings will be reclaimed is greater than the hope that they will ever be replaced. To take away the hope of economic development from East St. Louis at this stage of its life seems cruel. Lofts in the Spivey Building would get the city a unique project and some attention. Demolition of the Spivey for a new drive-through bank -- not so much.

With a historic rehab tax credit proposed for Illinois, the News-Democrat would do better to put its editorial efforts behind bills in the state legislature that would create a transformational incentive for East St. Louis. The suggestion that there should be no hope that a once-great city can save its beautiful landmarks is absurd. There are numerous developers who have been interested in East St. Louis' unique, but many have walked away because of the lack of a Missouri-style incentive for tackling large buildings. Let's work to provide an incentive before we throw our hands up in the air. The worst days for the city are long past. East St. Louis deserves a future.


Tyson Blanquart said...

Yeah, I found it sad and irresponsible that the BND would call for the demolition of buildings along Collinsville Ave. As a servant of the community, shouldn't they be advocating actions that would bring life back to the city? They could get behind rehabilitation. It should mean new jobs created, new economic stimulation and the start of attempts to re-beautify the blighted downtown area.

Chris said...

Yet another example--just as with SLPS--of acting like an undertaker instead of a paramedic with the community's buildings.

gabby_g said...

Do you know when this building will be demolished?

Doug Duckworth said...

A paramedic can't fix systemic cancer.

Shawn Gipperich said...

Hi There, This is Shawn. First of all I am a electric meter collector. I scour the st louis area for old historic abandoned buildings so I can collect the electric power meters from them. I have several meters including the one from the old blues arena on skinker ave, Hamilton elementary school on clemons ave, the old Franklin school, the old avalon theater, the armor meat packing plant, our old busch stadium, City Hospital and Malcom Bliss Hospital on Grand Ave,the old Noah's ark restaurant and hotel in st charles, and many more including the ones from this building here GATEWAY COMMUNITY HOSPITAL. I had a chance to go there in November of 08, and get them, since then I have fell in love with this building. I have been back 3 more times and have found an old x-ray machine in one of the radiography rooms, and I took it home and to my wildest dreams I was able to get pieces to repair it and make it work. I plan to also go and get that unit thats hanging from the ceiling in that one room in your 3rd picture, and I am still trying to figure out what this piece of equiptment is called, it might be some sort of dental x-ray unit, or an examination light unit. I have found many of old medical equiptment pieces at gateway, and have taken them home and i am in the process of restoring it and preserving it. Every time I step inside this building I get goose bumps followed by a sudden sadness after seeing what used to be. This hospital is a symbol of the early 80's which I was born, I was born in 1980. It just makes me sick to see this building and all it's mechanical equiptment rotting and rusting away. Back at that time in the 80's, medical equiptment was built so good it lasted forever it seemed, not only that but the world in general was a great place. I have came up with a few ideas for use of this building. I lost a friend to AIDS yrs back, and I have thought this could be a great St.Louis AIDS resource center, which could offer help to those in need, not only those with AIDS, but the homeless as well. This building could also serve as a school or college remote satellite campus building. I have walked the halls many of times and the floor plan would be great for this idea. How about making it into another hospital for free or reduced cost health care. Heck I was so happy to see the old City Hospital on Grand Ave get restored into loft units. This building might not be set up for that, but it can still be repaired. I myself would be willing to help, as I am an electrician, and Heating /cooling person. I can make this building tick again. If they decided to demolish it can you get me a date, so I can be there to take pictures? Also anyone thats interested in rehabing the building let me know as I am willing to help with it. I know this is a long post, but maybe someone will read it and it might make a difference. Also do you know who currently owns it? Is it the LRA? If price is right I might be willing to buy. Thanks and good luck from Shawn.

Anonymous said...

Is everybody aware that there are large amounts of damaged asbestos containing materials in this building. It is very dangerous to enter the building with out proper protection. And even if you wear respratory protection you risk bringing asbestos home to your friends/family.