Granite City Steel Building
Downtown Granite City, IL
Architect: Sverdrup and Parcel
One of my companions described it as a second-rate Magic Chef Building, referring to Harris Armstrong's long-mangled masterpiece on S. Kingshighway in the city. And though I will admit that I find the color palette a bit questionable -- removing any one of the dark brown, tan, or blue might make it seem less dated -- the details of this building are magnificently fine and amazingly intact.
The form of the building is a stock 1950s formula -- a long horizontal box faced with metal panels in two tones of blue floats on piers above a transparent ground floor, and is intersected by a vertical brick tower containing elevators and services. A one-story wing that till recently contained a bank juts off perpendicular to the tower.
A small bank building on the site, operated by Union Planters Bank, is hemmed in by the two wings of the building and appears to be a slightly later addition; it features elements more common to the 1960s: rough-hewn stone on its elevations and even the drive-through columns, and a palette strictly of white and brown. Its stark white painted concrete is an unfortunately harsh contrast with the softer tones of the larger building behind it.
From what I could observe, the details of main building are refined throughout; indeed, the architects seem to have gone to lengths to use every trick in the late 1950s book. The windows are framed in stainless steel that still gleams like new. The metal panels and window mullions at street level are offset in a varied pattern to create visual interest; these patterns are echoed in the stair railings. Geometric patterns in brick climb the tower and reappear on a screen wall at the walk-up banker's window. Crisp, clean lettering announces the building's title on its eastern face. Planters faced with black polished stone mark the entryway, and are neatly filled in with pebbles and decorative rocks. Triple stainless steel round tube columns support the canopy around the bank wing. The interior of the one-story bank wing features a pristine tellers' counter, and a row of small stained glass windows done in the same chunky rough-cut style common to churches of the period such as St. Clement of Rome.
But it is the interior of the lobby that truly elevates the building to magnificence. Stainless steel panels face the walls around the elevators, contrasted with a textured metal screen below. The panels gleam in the open, airy lobby space.
On the elevator wall is also attached a series of abstract Googie blobs in shades of turquoise that reflect the building's own colors. Nearby, a series of waiting room chairs is upholstered in a textured 3D checkerboard pattern in shades of blue and white.
I was so dumbfounded by these last two details that I still can't decide: were they original pieces that went in when the building was new? Would anyone actually have done something so archetypally Googie in real life?? How could it have survived so long? Or was it, along with the matching furniture, installed more recently -- and if so, how the heck did they find someone so astonishingly sensitive to the building's style and period, let alone actually let them have their way?
The company that paid for this remarkable building has roots going back to the 1850s and has operated factories in Granite City since the 1890s, providing the impetus for most of the city's growth. Granite City Steel became part of National Steel Corporation in 1971; National went bankrupt and was acquired by U.S. Steel in 2003.
Today, the Granite City Steel Building houses the offices of the company's Granite City Works, which still operates enormous mills just south of downtown. The bank wing, under Union Planters Bank / Regions Bank, closed down on September 30, 2005.