The old Jewish Hospital at Forest Park Avenue and Kingshighway certainly is a landmark in St. Louis history; read this article to get a sense of that.
But I can’t say that I am terribly enamored with the architecture of the old building. While it won awards for its modernity in 1927 when it opened, the building as it exists today is a troubling, muddled composition largely forgotten because of its now unpropitious location at the corner of two major automobile thoroughfares. The old residential neighborhood that surrounded the hospital is now completely annihilated, replaced by the Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex.
While the street along Parkview Place is beautiful, it is used by no one except for smokers stepping outside of the entrances to the various hospital facilities.
Perhaps what I most dislike about the old Jewish Hospital’s composition is its lack of a true grand entrance; sandwiched between two wings facing Kingshighway, the original, mediocre entrance was replaced in probably the 1950’s with lounges, that project out the front, ever more robbing the building of a commanding presence.
Likewise, the building seems almost embarrassed of its classical ornamentation, instead embracing shallow relief details that do not capture the beauty of their classical roots.
The Modernist expansion out the back represents for me what can go wrong with that style of architecture; stained and crumbling, it is the very opposite of what Modernism is supposed to espouse: clean lines, fresh materials and inventive use of new construction. It does none of those things, and while certainly the layers of filth clinging to it could be removed, it just looks run-down in a bad, dated way.
The Shoenberg Pavilion, photographed here earlier this summer, is now missing its windows as of late August; certainly demolition has already begun. It likewise lacks really memorable detailing or form, and likewise the heavily trafficked Kingshighway rendered the practical use of its somewhat elegant front porch untenable.
I know I am being harsh in my judgment of these buildings, but they are really not worth the impassioned fight other great buildings that have been saved. Devoid of any architectural context, buffeted by the busiest surface street in the city, they lack the visual interest to gain my impassioned pleas for retention. The fond memories that all the patients and employees of the old Jewish Hospital will live on, and should be cherished, but their buildings should not.
Update: A friend and MD, Dr. Imran Hanafi, writes an excellent counterargument for demolition, which coincidentally came out today. Read it here.