So long and thanks for all the free fish.
Unsurprisingly, given our predilection for urban decay, some morbid humor has seeped into our lexicon. “Preabandoned” refers now to a promising site in rundown condition that is, alas, still occupied or inhabited. Vulturelike as the sentiment can be, I thought I could present a more positive alternative today: postabandoned. Sure, “renovated” or “restored” works too, but I’m working within a theme here. Anyway, St. Louis’ main rail station, built a hundred years ago in an age when every city contended to build the grandest rail palace as a show of civic pride, is a splendid example of the concept. By the seventies, time and a decline in rail travel had reduced the station to less than grand status.
The terminal has since been completely renovated. Though Amtrak still utilizes a sliver of the property, most of the building is a mall, with the canopied railyard now a parking lot. The area around the old station’s grand hall is now a hotel, with the hall itself restored to its Art Nouveau glory as the lobby/lounge. We stayed here because the price and location were right, and really, how could we not?
On a rough clearing ringed by a fence keeping the surrounding thicket at bay stands this menacing building. Two smokestacks flanking it like minarets, it rises into the sky like a grim temple.
Prayers raised from within the cathedral-like interior unto a mad, deaf god go unheeded.
On one’s approach, the vast, rotting campus of the Armour plant seems a lost Shangri-La. The twin smokestacks are the guiding beacon, the buildings themselves being lost from view in the foliage. When the factory walls finally loom into view, crowded with trees and mad with ivy, the entire edifice seems like a ship lost in storm, slowly being dragged under by the verdant waves.
From inside, one is a witness to a shipwreck, albeit one unfolding in glacial, almost epochal, time, though no less sure of its final destruction for its torpor.
“…I dissolved again into that native infinity of crystal oblivion from which the daemon Life had called me for one brief and desolate hour.”
H.P. Lovecraft, Ex Oblivione
Mere minutes away from the everpresent Arch, in an overgrown neighbourhood of East St. Louis dotted sporadically with industrial sites of unknown purpose, peeking out over the dense grove of trees that seem to guard it on all sides, stands this massive, crumbling brick edifice. Shuttered since the waning days of the Eisenhower administration, this plant was the focal point of our trip to St. Louis, and would not prove disappointing. We arrived at sunrise, partly for the complementary light, and partly in attempt to avoid the rumoured self-appointed neighborhood watchman of the place who might try to chase us off. The purported do-gooder never appeared, and we plunged into the brush to find our way in. Soon after, the morning light broke over the treetops and flooded the plant with gold.
The church we came across on St. Louis’ north side was quite a find to stumble upon. There is no feeling quite like your first time walking onto the floor of a crumbling church. I say this even as a lapsed Catholic and present atheist. The architecture of churches inherently inspires awe and piety, but when abandoned and crumbling, the formality of a church seems stripped away and all one is left with is the feeling of reverence upon entering. Reverence towards what? I ask myself, but sometimes it’s better to shut up and take pictures.
Moving along from the Candy Factory we don’t really know where we’re going, only that we seek the places shut away, forgotten and ignored. There is an idea of where a location might be but in the course of looking for it we see something irresistible.
Tabula Rasa’s term for a building like this is “catnip”, as we’re like a pair of curious, playful kittens when presented with a building of this nature and apparent quality.
Old, stately, a lot of intact glass and tightly sealed doors. However despite the impending rain the sun was metaphorically shining on us as we found an easy point of entry and shimmied our way in to a little room. The age and neglect of the building was obvious as the odor of mold and wood rot was everywhere. Upon entering the sanctuary we were awed into silence. This is what we were hoping to find.
A very cautious climb up the stairs gains us the balcony, above that we feared to tread due to the amount of rot all the wood seemed to be suffering. The balcony itself was risky enough for the both of us and view it provided was well worth that risk.
Before we move on to the next site on our photographic trail of tears, some shots of the parts of town that are not decaying. These shots are nothing special, but I love night photography. It’s always a little thrill to see a long exposure, which seems to light up the darkened scene you were looking at. This is the old courthouse, which faces the Arch from the west.
And here, a couple buildings downtown. I’m guessing 1880’s era, with art nouveau details. (This is just a guess, any architecture geeks out there are welcome to correct me).
And finally, the Grand Hall of the St. Louis Union Station Hotel. The center of the hall is a rather large lounge with bar which I highly recommend having a drink at.