Friday, September 4, 2009

Out the 9th floor window

I've spent this week on the 9th floor of what's now the Flagstar bank building at Penn and Washington streets, in downtown Indianapolis. Great view of the city out the windows of that old building. Some amazing old buildings that I normally see from the street up please me even more from the top down. I love all the terra cotta and carved limestone decorations at rooftop level on so many of the downtown buildings. Sweet details easily missed in passing. And it'sreally great to see the Soldiers and Sailors monument from its level.

What I didn't enjoy seeing were the two recently reskinned buildings just south of Washington Street, the Broadmoor Building and whatever they are calling the building now housing Scotty's Brewhouse.

I absolutely hate what they did to the quirky but interesting zipper building (a former Merchant's Drive-in Bank constructed in 1961) when they morphed it into the Broadmoor. Ick. Although I didn't think the Zipper was a particularly significant building, it was at least fun. Kind of like a big set of dentures smiling out at the street. Its new incarnation, with its bland marble walls and that ridiculous central clock, looks like it belongs on a fake street at Disneyland. It's a sort of poor man's contemporary-Americana style. The only good thing about the view down at that building is the occasional appearance of a man in full gaucho outfit emerging from the Fogo de Chao steakhouse inside it. Only when these employees come outside to take a smoke in their puffy shirts and knickers does the building provide something to smile about.

The other recently altered building, where Scotty's Brewhouse takes up the entire first floor, has also been reskinned. This building now has walls of windows with a sort of oil slick variation in color and a weird plexiglass appearance. Are those actually glass windows? They sure don't look like it. And the mullions and muntins dividing the panes are fat and clunky, eliminating any chance that it might have had at appearing appealingly "modern." This building, which was constructed in the early 20th century, was previously altered in the 1960s into an unremarkable streamlined concrete and glass structure. Although it was unremarkable before, now it has the appearance of a Schaumburg chain store.

Not surprisingly, I prefered the old building facades of both these buildings. I wish the Zipper's new owners would have expanded the building vertically, so that it would make better use of its prime downtown real estate, making our city smarter. This blah renovation is worse than the amusing original.

As for the brewhouse building. What was was late 1960s-early 70s generic is now 2009 generic.

Not all old buildings are significant pieces of architecture. Healthy cities change; old buildings get replaced or redone. Sometimes that's ok. It seems unlikely that either of these buildings would have been candidates for the National Register before they were altered. But, changes could have made them both much more attractive and modern. But these two buildings are now suburban mall-generic, sad juxtapositions to the stylishly detailed Italianate, Art Deco, and Chicago Style buildings that surround them.

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