Built St. Louis > > Vanished Buildings > > Switzer Building

Above: Summer 2004, with the south wall and its painted sign intact. Photograph courtesy of James Thompson.

Above: painted sign on the north wall, Summer 2004. Photograph courtesy of James Thompson.

Switzer Building
Built: 1874
Demolished: 2007

The Switzer Building stood in Laclede's Landing, the last surviving portion of St. Louis's original street grid and commercial development. A brick building with cast iron facades at street level, it was typical of its time and place, but in modern times, it was a rare survivor.

The building dated from 1874; it was built for a manufacturing company and later occupied by the Switzer Candy Company. The building's south face carried their painted sign long after they'd left: "Home of Switzer's Licorice and Cherry Red Candy". Switzer vacated the premises in the 1970s, and the building stood empty for the rest of its days, even as the district around it began its transformation into a tourist and nightlife hot spot. The Switzer Building began conversion to lofts and commercial space in 2006.

The eastern facade, long deteriorating and visibly unstable after decades of abandonment, suffered a massive collapse on July 21, 2006 in the intense storms that blew through St. Louis. Winds of over 90 mph scattered bricks and debris across a vacant lot and the adjacent Eads Bridge. Emergency scaffolding was raised to protects the bridge, while the remaining wall was shored up by struts anchored against the Eads Bridge.

There was no word on the status of the project for almost a year afterwards, as observers speculated that the building remained salvagable. In March 2007, however, a Post-Dispatch article reported that the owner's revised plans call for demolishing the building down to the second floor and adding new construction above.

The bulk of the building was demolished in May of 2007.

Link: Switzer Building demolition continues at Ecology of Absence.

On Laclede's Landing
The neighboring buildings of Laclede's Landing show the scale and character of the riverfront and its adjacent blocks before most of the area was declared blighted and wiped out in the 1940s. Modern ideas of historic preservation were in their infancy then; the notion of preserving an entire district was utterly unheard of. Furthermore, many of the buildings had entered that most deadly period of age, around fifty to eighty years -- the point at which they are viewed as "obsolete", are taken for granted as commonplace, and quietly obliterated without protest.

St. Louis might have an entire core of such buildings today, had a confluence of factors not conspired to wipe it out a generation ago. Views and spaces such as the bottom photo (immediately west of the Switzer Building) might have been around every corner, instead of being unique. St. Louis might have had a downtown to rival the delights of Boston, a downtown as charming and thriving as Soulard. It is an invaluable lesson for the leaders who are working to redevelop the city today.

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Gallery: September 2006

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Gallery: March 2007