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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Moderne No More: Industrial Building's Renovation Begs Question about Mid Century Modern Preservation

What do you think of this building, located in the southern reaches of Tower Grove South, at 4110 Beck Avenue?

The picture above, showing the long and deep structure's two public elevations, is from a Cultural Resources Office staff report dating to September 2009. 4110 Beck is something of a classic industrial "Art Moderne" building. Built in 1951, it displays a bold, yet repetitive modern spirit as it emphasizes its horizontal sprawl. A rounded corner entry allows it some visual prominence and breaks up two very long and identical facades. Back in 2009, the party that had recently purchased the building decided to use it as storage. In the process, they proposed a renovation that they felt would make the structure less visually monotonous.

Because 4110 Beck is located within a Preservation Review district, and because the new owners sought to build projecting elements off of the building into the public right of way, the Cultural Resources Office had to first review the proposal. Click here for the staff report. Ultimately, it was decided that the Cultural Resources Office had no purview over the design of alterations in the case of 4110 Beck (the purpose of Preservation Review districts, after all, is to review proposed demolitions, not alterations). This case was a Board of Public Safety referral and, apparently, adding brick pilasters to a building does not create an immediate safety hazard to pedestrians. While Cultural Resources declared the proposed alterations "unfortunate", it is clear now that the owner's plans were not derailed on account of a design that compromised the industrial minimalism of the building.

Walking by the site earlier today, I snapped a cell phone picture of the ongoing work:

The pale tan bricks of the original structure have been painted over with a cool green. The proposed brick pilasters have been added at equal intervals, as have new entrances and lighting. The domineering corner remains, at present, untouched, but that is all.

The alterations to 4110 Beck make us examine our collective attitude about buildings built within the modern era (roughly defined as 1945-1975). Was the Swing-A-Way Manufacturing Company building above a repetitive bore of a building--one whose renovation/makeover as shown above is probably a good sign for the neighborhood? Or was this a considerable loss to our city's mid-century modern architectural heritage?

I suppose, in order to answer this question, we have to generate yet more questions. How visible is this building to the traveling public? Beck (and its intersecting street, Holt) are fairly quiet streets here, but there is a surrounding residential context to the north. Was the building National Register eligible? The Cultural Resources Office believed it to be so. Do the changes make the building look better? In this blogger's opinion, the structure now has an un-charmingly awkward look to it.

As our city continues to age, our modern era buildings will likely continue to see such attempts at making them more "personable". I, for one, hope we can develop an appreciation for the best of our well-designed mid-century housing and commercial stock--and I think 4110 Beck is, or was, a member of that club.

What do you think? Who cares--the building is still there? Like the alterations?


Christian Herman said...

Matt, you beat me to a post about this building thanks for saving me an hour!

Of course this would have been tagged 'hooiser rehabbing' on my blog.

Yep: Unfortunate.

Daron said...

that's uh, eye catching.

Chris said...

This makes me want to cry.

samizdat said...

Ugh, I see this "style" endlessly repeated in commercial crap-itechture all over the area: hotels, strip malls, etc. A hideous shame of an update. Who can I line up against one of those stucco-covered walls and shoot? said...

Noooooooooo! What have they done?!?!?!?!?!?!

I'll have to post some photos of it when it was handsome. Now it's redneck tacky.

What was the point? What are they hoping to accomplish? Couldn't they have done something else with that money?

samizdat said...

Well, with the cheap labor on stucco, and the cheap materials, I guess actually doing right by the building by cleaning and repointing the brick would cost more. Oh, and the BRANDING. Mustn't forget to make this storage store look like all of the other stores in in this cos. portfolio. D-g, I loathe marketers.

Anonymous said...

why? I mean if they had made serious extensive alterations I could sort of understand it, but... why?

oh and BTW: holy shit I coulda sworn Charles Moore was dead, which I guess explains the graceful hand of rigor mortis in this design.

samizdat said...

"graceful hand of rigor mortis" Win!

Scott said...

I'm surprised they didn't try to hang up some plastic shutters too! Also, if you go to all this trouble to "spruce up the building" (sic) then why don't you cut the grass and maybe hit the hardware store for some weed killer. Hoosier indeed!

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