Historic Shriners’ Hospital May Avoid Wrecking Ball

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Long slated for eventual demolition, the Shriners’ Hospital building on the Washington University medical campus may have a new future. On the agenda for this month’s City of St. Louis Preservation Board agenda, an application is being prepared to have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register listing is a prerequisite for accessing federal and state historic tax credits and often a harbinger of future redevelopment.

The Washington University Medical Center Community Unit Plan dated 2007 shows nearly two dozen buildings labeled “proposed demolition”. Quite a few of these buildings are now gone, including the Ettrick Building (now BJC headquarters), Steinberg, Kingshighway and Shoenberg School of Nursing buildings (Children’s and BJC expansion under construction), and Schoenberg Researching Building (now a construction staging area).

Shriners' Hospital - St. Louis, MO

Shriners streetview

If you haven’t noticed the 1924 Shriners’ Hospital building it wouldn’t be surprising. Once a marquee corner before Kingshighway cut diagonally across this eastern tip of Forest Park, the building displaying some incredible detail is tucked away in the burgeoning medical center. And while perhaps not falling into disrepair, it, and the surrounding grounds, are a bit neglected.

We’re assuming a new use has been identified for the National Register listing effort to move forward, but have not been able to confirm if there is a specific plan or tenant in place. A new Shriners’ Hospital has been built just a block to the east from the 1924 building, which ceased operating as a Shriners’ Hospital in 1963, after a new facility was constructed in suburban Frontenac. Shriners announced in 2006 it would relocate to the Central West End medical campus.

WUMC Development Plan c. 2007

Shriners{the new Shriners’ Hospital on Clayton Avenue, one block east of 1924 building}

From the Preservation Board agenda:
The Shriners’ Hospital for Crippled Children was constructed in 1924 and expanded in 1928 with wings to house a nurses’ residence and a classroom. Developed as one of the first Shriners’ Hospitals in the country, the centrally-located facility was the largest in the Shriners’ hospital system and a major center for the treatment of crippled children and the training of nurses to work in the field. The medical “firsts” at the hospital include a successful operation to lengthen a leg in 1924 and the innovation of using skeletal traction to correct congenital dislocation of the hip in 1930.

The hospital is nominated under Criterion A in the areas of health and medicine, and also education. The period of significance begins with the completion of the original hospital unit in 1924 and extends to 1963 when the hospital was closed and all patient care was transferred to the Shriners’ Hospital on South Lindberg in St. Louis County. The Cultural Resources Office concurs that this property is eligible for listing in the National Register under Criterion A.

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  • Chris

    I am all for preserving old building but really sometimes our desire to stop all of them from being touched becomes a major road block to moving forward. Can me move past the idea that very old warehouse in St. Louis is worth saving?

    • Alex Ihnen

      Done and done. I am trying to think of a warehouse in St. Louis that should not have been saved. I’ll repeat as well that in my opinion, the much bigger issue in St. Louis isn’t what’s torn down, but what replaces it. Too often this is a parking lot, grass field, a gas station, or something uninspiring and of dubious economic or public value. If WU/BJC tears down Shriners’ and builds a gleaming new medical building I don’t think you would see any big protest. One only needs to look at all the other demo by WU too see this.

      • moe

        Maybe there should be. If BJC wasn’t given a pass every time they build, their eastern campus would not be a dead zone and a mass exodus at 5 pm every work day.

        • Brian

          Thus was it ever so for BJC’s eastern territories, or at least for the last three decades that I have been drawing a paycheck from the WUMC complex. Going back to the mid-1980’s the only business on Taylor between Euclid and Vandeventer that was open after 5:00 was Magee’s bar. The next block east was home to the Federal Pacific Electric warehouse, Jo Onder Plywood Supply Co., the PepsiCo bottling plant, and the Monsanto research facility. The block after that had a nondescript auto repair shop, firm, a lamb slaughterhouse, the PepsiCo truck facility, and the old Tom Boy Grocery warehouse. And so it continued to Vandeventer, and up to Forest Park Parkway: one- to four-story warehouses and manufacturing facilities not open to the public, which pulled down the shades and turned out the lights at 5:00.

          BJC/WUMC did not replace a vibrant, public-friendly neighborhood with a soul-crushing dead zone; they replaced a soul-crushing dead zone with a soul-crushing dead zone. Do I wish that BJC or someone had done something else with the land? Certainly I would have loved to see restaurants, stores, apartments, etc. (I do miss Magee’s, but closing it down probably saved me from being fired or becoming an alcoholic–many a lunch there turned into a 5-hour beer-soaked afternoon, returning to the office only to listen to my voice mail and turn out the lights.) However, better that they moved their laundry and back office functions from BJC proper to the Tom Boy property than move them to Maryland Heights or Affton. If, in time, the development surrounding Cortex makes the erstwhile Tom Boy property more valuable as something other than BJC’s back office, it will probably be redeveloped to fit that better purpose.

      • Chris

        Very very valid point and I share the same sentiment. But I don’t think you can completely say that Quick trip is always a bad thing. First I feel as if the central part of the city is relatively under served when it comes to fueling options. Plus many of these new gas stations also serve as community markets for neighbors that otherwise would lack an option. Sure I would rather see local small markets fill those corners but that’s not always an economic option. I would also rather look at a grass field than a dilapidated old building covered in graffiti that smells like drugs and is a facilitator for crime.

        • Imran

          Plus these gas stations serve as excellent candidates to rob and torch when you don’t agree with Grand Jury decisions (insert eyeroll). No matter how much lipstick you put on it, a gas station is not an asset to an urban neighborhood. And those grassy fields around SLU where ‘dilapidated’ urban scaled buildings once stood are not doing the City any favors either. (rant over)

  • Mike F

    Well, this is good. But I’m still annoyed that the older assemblage of CID buildings is toast.

    • Alex Ihnen

      This one is surprising to me. We’ll see if anything comes of it. The Shriners’ building sits on a lot of land and I had long just assumed it would be demo’d. Who knows with the CID buildings, if this one can find a new use, surely CID can be kept.

      • Mike F

        *Crosses fingers* (Which is oftentimes all one can do in this secrecy-obsessed town of ours).

        • matimal

          you could dig for the truth, like Alex. He can’t do it alone.

          • Alex Ihnen

            More soon…