Friday, April 17, 2015

Requiem for Rubble

Nearly gone: A sliver of The Press building is all that was left at this writing. The top floor had been sheered off. The remnant of the floor below, including the Editorial Department, was where I worked. (Photo courtesy of the 'Mudge')
Copyright © Edward Riojas

Sniff. I can be such a sentimental guy.

For nearly 30 years I worked as an illustrator/designer in The Grand Rapids Press building on Michigan Street in downtown Grand Rapids. A few years ago the operations in that building were parceled out to different nearby locations in efforts to streamline the company and make it more relevant to industry needs. I now work in a pleasant-enough office space that was reclaimed from a giant Press truck garage, and I’m still doing pretty much the same thing. Sort of.  But now the old Press building is coming down.

Partly because other folks have written their memorials for the facade and partly because I’m so darned attached to hideous buildings, I’ve decided to offer my insincere condolences to those who also walked the not-so-hallowed halls of tasteless architecture.

As soon as I heard the site was being sold to the MSU medical school, I knew the building was toast. A handful of silly people surmised the building might be reconditioned to fit the needs of a medical research facility. Wrong. Imagine a three story, split-level structure designed for one purpose, and on prime real estate acreage. Now imagine it with 1960s architecture. Imagine it with green copper exterior crap and a decidedly “avocado” finish that would have matched your fridge – you know, the one  you hauled to the dump 30 years ago? Yeah, that one. The Press building was designed to be dozed.

Like many neighboring structures, the old Press building was erected using 1960s urban renewal mentality. If you like Kleenex boxes – green and tan and brown Kleenex boxes – then you like the architecture. But you should probably know that tissue boxes are designed to accommodate nasal mucus and not much else.

I find it a little strange that folks get so nostalgic when facades like this come down. Every sentence begins with “Do you remember when...” I was in one of the last groups to finally vacate the building, so my sentiments go something like this: “Do you remember when the ceiling tiles got stains on them, and when they bulged under the weight of leaking water, and when they were taken out and not replaced, and when wires were left hanging down?” “Do you remember when the office seemed like a set for some post-apocalyptic movie about zombies?” All we needed were 50-gallon drums with fires to warm our fingerless gloves, and maybe an ax or two.

A coworker recently reminded us all that, “According to a 2012 environmental site assessment, the 4.3-acre site includes concentrations of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium, silver, zinc, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(a,h)anthracene, fluoranthene, fluorene, naphthalene and phenanthrene.” Nice. And I felt bad whenever I got a spot of India ink on my desk top.

The Press building, once vibrant and supporting 800 or so employees, then forlorn and rotting, is now being pecked apart by heavy equipment to make way for something new. The old Press building’s soul – the one that worked there and was offered buy-outs; the one that was laid off; the one that was divided and was told to report elsewhere – left years ago, and is now in a better place.

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