Save the “Spaceship” at Council Plaza!

Posted on 22. Jun, 2011 by in Editorial

The former Phillips 66 at Council Plaza. Photograph by Toby Weiss, 2001.

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This week, news broke that the owners of Council Plaza plan to demolish St. Louis’ “spaceship” at Grand Boulevard and Forest Park Parkway. The architectural icon currently houses a Del Taco restaurant. On Tuesday, the St. Louis Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority approved a redevelopment plan that would demolish the building and replace it with a new retail structure. The cry of “Save Del Taco” already has been shouted widely. Modern STL emphatically opposes the demolition of the building, but we also shout “Keep Council Plaza Intact!”

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As a landmark, Del Taco is beloved and well-known, but its amazing presence anchors the larger National Register of Historic Places-listed Council Plaza. Developed between 1965 and 1969 by the Teamsters Local 688 under the leadership of Harold Gibbons, Council Plaza was a four-building project integrating two residential towers for senior citizens, a commercial block and a Phillips 66 gas station.

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The prominent firm of Schwarz & Van Hoefen designed the complex in keeping with the Modern Movement, and commissioned artists Saunders Schulz and William Severson to design the masonry murals on the end walls of the towers. The complex blends this dynamic, unusual art with the architectural practice of one of St. Louis’ longest-running and most distinguished architectural firms. Schwarz & Van Hoefen started as the firm of Mauran, Russell & Garden in 1900, and its various incarnations led to many significant buildings in St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio and other places. In the mid-century era, the firm designed esteemed modernist works that include the Engineers Club (1959), the Optimists Club (1962) and the Mansion House Center (1967).

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The towers at Council Plaza. Photograph by Michael R. Allen.

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While the Council Plaza’s towers and commercial building, now beautifully rehabilitated, demonstrate the austerity of the International Style influence, the Del Taco embodies the playful and dramatic influence of the Googie influence – named for the eclectic modernism of Googie’s Coffee Shop in Los Angeles — in mid-century modern architecture. Its tapered round form anchors the corner of the complex and offers a memorable counterpoint to the rest of the complex. Googie buildings range from animal shapes to “bat wing” gas stations and offer delight as well as smart advertising. The Del Taco building has become an enduring local example of a disappearing local style of mid-century architecture.

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In 2007, Council Plaza was listed as a whole in the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in community planning and development in the urban renewal era. The owners are using state and federal historic tax credits to revive this mid-century group, so the endurance of most of Council Plaza’s buildings is assured. However the integrity of this historic development is now threatened through plans to remove its stylish, unique corner anchor. Saving Del Taco preserves a compelling icon as well as a significant modern landscape.

6 Responses to “Save the “Spaceship” at Council Plaza!”

  1. Chris Bovay 24 June 2011 at 6:28 PM #

    save DELL TACO!!!!! it is a Saint Louis landmark!!!!!

  2. Chris Bovay 24 June 2011 at 6:30 PM #

    SAVE DELL TACO!!!!!!! BEST TACOS AND FOOD ARROUND!!!!

  3. Chris Bovay 24 June 2011 at 6:33 PM #

    Coolest building arround!!!! Has to stay up!!! Its a St. Louis landmark. You would not knock the Arch down so why would you knock this building down???

  4. gloria Neumann 4 July 2011 at 8:46 AM #

    Please, NO more destruction of buildings Like these, is a crime, is now from a decade that has little creativity but DELL TACO, HAS DESIGN there is not building like this one, Please preserve it!!!
    In New York many buildings were destroy and we still miss them, these buildings had an incredible value, but the developers only see $$$$$ and will built another
    box with glass and what color is the glass? it will be a gray sad replacement,
    PLease do not destroy it!!!!!!

  5. Joe Beck 5 July 2011 at 7:44 PM #

    Why is it that a building that was deliberately added to the National Historic Registry (http://www.dnr.mo.gov/shpo/StLouisCity.htm) many years ago and subsequently modified to suit the needs of several different entities occupying it over a period of several decades is suddenly no longer usable as it stands? I mean somebody got a ton of tax abatement for that move right? It started out as a state-of-the-art service station for Phillips 66 back in 1968 when it was built and has since been modified to work as office space, and restaurant space. The structure is in a usable condition. The structure has both historic and architectural significance. There is ample parking and access as the property is configured. And now for some reason known ONLY to either the current owners or the people is this city’s government who just don’t give a damn about the preservation of these bits of our history, this structure, which has stood not only the test of time but the test of several different internal configurations, is suddenly no longer usable or salvageable as a part of the architecture of this city?! I don’t buy it and neither does anyone else! If the owners want an excuse to get tax abatement then tell them to think outside of the box and do something truly ingenious with the structure and turn it into a modern green structure…self-sufficient using solar or some other “green” energy. Take it off the grid and let it be a model for all other retail or service-based structures as the way to take what we ALREADY HAVE and make it GREEN. It sits in the HEART of this city… let it be an example that can radiate OUT from its circular design. Let it live up to its architectural style (MODERN) and truly BE modern in its use and configuration. It will take far LESS energy to reconfigure it and I hear the tax breaks on going GREEN are substantial. Hey city government… send the RIGHT message for once tell these people to make do with what they have because there is no good reason to waste the energy of tearing down a perfectly good structure just to build another one! But you know, if you all play true to St. Louis form, you will just let it die and let the owners avoid paying taxes on it for another few years…. way to generate revenue in a city struggling to make ends meet. Leave to functioning buildings alone and worry about the ones that are actual dangers to the city and environment!

  6. Joe Beck 5 July 2011 at 7:47 PM #

    By the way, the address you are looking for in the list is 212 South Grand. The link is to the PDF of the actual NHR documentation.