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The Spivey Building: East St. Louis' First and Only Skyscraper

Categories: Architecture

spivey2.jpg
Christina Rutz via Flickr
The top of the Spivey Building, showing its beautiful terra-cotta cornice.
The Chicago School of architecture, the progeny of Louis Sullivan, provided Frankl with the artistic inspiration for the Spivey Building. Sullivan, as Frankl demonstrates in the Spivey Building, sought to create a new language in architecture, emphasizing the height of new steel-skeleton skyscrapers. Strong vertical lines and elaborate but original decoration drew the eye upward to the highly decorated roofline of the building. Wimmer completed the building for his patron in 1927, just a couple of years before the stock market crash of 1929.

The first floor hosted high-end shops in a prototypical shopping mall, while the second floor housed offices of the Illinois Light and Power Company. The ten stories above that held prominent tenants such as doctors and lawyers. Marble walls, large glass display windows and elevator attendants gave the building an aura of luxury.

NaffzigerSpiveyGutted.JPG
The Spivey Building now sits abandoned and gutted. | Chris Naffziger

Sadly, he fortunes of the Spivey Building fell along with those of East St. Louis. The Journal closed, downtown began to decline, industrial powerhouses shuttered and the city's population plummeted. The history of the Spivey in the last several decades is convoluted. Targeted for redevelopment, the building was gutted, leaving it exposed to the elements. But then news reports revealed that the developer, Philip H. Cohn, had improperly disposed of asbestos removed from the building. (He eventually went to prison for a bunch of other crimes.) The building now sits idle -- too expensive to demolish, too expensive to renovate. And until East St. Louis rebounds (if it ever does) there will be the Spivey, a reminder of what could have been for a once proud city.

Chris Naffziger writes about architecture at St. Louis Patina. Contact him via e-mail at naffziger@gmail.com


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16 comments
Couch Pig
Couch Pig

like people want cheap office space in the hood...

Couch Pig
Couch Pig

The recent plans for the Spivey Building reportedly are to spend $6.2 million ($4 million of it from the city and state, not including federal tax credits) to convert the building into “high end” office space. The building now sits, desolate and decrepit, in a downtown area where all the store buildings I remember from my youth remain, but they are unused and abandoned.

John Null
John Null

I doubt all those highways tearing through its neighborhoods did much to actually help it.

Keith Richter
Keith Richter

East St. Louis was a beautiful city. Started decaying in the mid 60's.

David Biernbaum
David Biernbaum

Is the building abandoned? What was the building used for when it was built, and then later? I'm not so sure from reading the article. Thanks though, this is an interesting building to look at.

Tyrone
Tyrone

It needs long strands of weaves on the walls, a gold grille around the doorways, and more gang graffiti near the roof. 

That would help remove the last vestiges of the White Man from this quintessential  African American village. 

Come to think of it, this building does not reflect the past, it is a picture postcard of the future of what nearby downtown St. Louis and St. Louis County will be. 

Robert L Massie Sr
Robert L Massie Sr

And I'm not talking about saplings. I mean real trees! Been there a while!

Lace King
Lace King

Indeed, the Majestic Theatre. But speaking of crazy, abandoned things. SLU should be ashamed that they have left an entire college campus--from classrooms to dorms to flight simulators to everything inbetween--abandoned in Cahokia! It's fun to go to as an "urban explorer," but it's absolutely disgusting that such a rich organization would leave this huge campus derelict as a health hazard and eyesore.

jaco1175
jaco1175 topcommenter

Impressive! A little spackle and some napalm and this place would make a nice mausoleum.

Robert L Massie Sr
Robert L Massie Sr

Isn't there an abandoned ornate theater in ESL's downtown that literally has trees growing on its roof?

Saul
Saul

@wump @Tyrone  

wump ..... your choice of language reflects poorly on the urban black man. Get a dictionary you fucking mental midget.

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