Oh, Forest Park Hospital.
The amount of times I’ve gone out of my way to drive across the city just to look at property practically teasing myself and any other St. Louis interested urban exploration is probably far more than I would like to admit. I’ve gone with friends to take exterior pictures, talked with various people online to get them to tell me how to get inside the hospital, and have seriously considered hopping the fence during the initial stages of demolition just to get a peak inside. Getting caught wasn’t a problem to me, because I quite literally just wanted to see the inside of this place being kept up so nice.
For some reason, I have been highly attached to Forest Park Hospital (formerly known as Deaconess Hospital) since before I moved to the St. Louis area. It was in February of 2013 that I accidentally came across this hospital when visiting. Kid you not, I fell in love right then and there. For those remaining four months between the time I saw the hospital and the time I actually started living in St. Louis, it was a high priority goal to get into this place. I mean, like, it was a big deal for me.
You have to understand that I was in a hurry to get inside this hospital.Forest Park Hospital shut down in May 2011, almost three years ago, and it sat vacant until the St. Louis Zoo purchased it in 2012. Since then, the zoo had been keeping the physical appearance of the property kept-up, cutting the grass often, planting flowers, etc. Eventually, the zoo began putting up signs alongside the gated fence keeping people out, noting of their plans to move forward with their zoo extension (and hospital demolition). Demolition began in August of 2013, with the clear office building going down first. However, the property is 567,000 square feet, and for obvious reasons, has taken a long while to fully come down.
One night in October, I was eating dinner around the area, and decided to drive by in hopes of finding some contact information of the construction company tearing these buildings down. I got their number and website, and promptly emailed the president of the construction company. He forwarded me to the site manager, who unfortunately, I was unable to get a hold of until one month ago. Despite months of trying (and months of not trying), I was given permission to go inside, and finally did so last Wednesday afternoon.
All day long, literally, it was raining. Pouring rain. Skies were dark and moody, flashing the ambience that follows along with heavy rain storms. And yet, this city full of people all of the sudden seemed much more quiet and peaceful. It felt genuinely nice to just take a walk around the absurdly nice part of town that this is. And it was because of all these factors that I smiled, thinking how of oddly perfect the weather was for what I was doing.
Wednesday was my first, and last, time in Forest Park Hospital.
“I’m walking up,” I tell the man I’m meeting on the phone.
“Come on in,” he laughed, “If you don’t mind stepping in puddles all day.”
Despite my nervous excitement for the day, there was one thing keeping me from getting as excited as I could be: restricted access to inside the building. At least, that’s what I was told beforehand. Because of this, I was genuinely expecting nothing more than to walk outside the remaining ten story building, and then leave.
Admittedly, the inside was not as spectacular as I wanted it to be, but I wasn’t totally surprised. A week before, he had informed the interior was all demoed, which basically strips each floor back to its roots of various wires hanging everywhere (and cement). That said, I got in. Again, I was not expecting that to happen.
While inside, this man tells me about everything there is to know about the process of demolition. Hearing all that goes into this is very, very cool, and actually changed my perspective a bit on just what it takes to tear down a building and leave the property nothing more than dirt and rubble.
There was no rush while inside, and basically, he followed me wherever I went, warning me of places to avoid, telling me about the history of the building, and so on and so forth. I learned of the ‘six foot rule’, too! Basically, stay six feet away from the edge of an area being demolished to avoid falling, or slipping, or otherwise hurting yourself in some fashion.
At one point, he asked me, “Wanna take a hike up to the roof?”
Now, I’ve already talked about my newly-found love for rooftops. The last thing I was even expecting for the day was to go on top of this ten story building, and overlooking Forest Park and the skyline of this beautiful city. And the fact it sprung on me like a loose tiger completely just made this experience that much more worth it.
Again, I fell in love with St. Louis. There is something to be said about standing so tall over everyone else, standing in awe and smiling like an idiot. While I understand urban exploration is not necessarily for everyone, I feel standing on top of roofs of very tall buildings is a universal enjoyment. (Do it sometime. Seriously.)
There was another small area to climb up, via ladder, but he unfortunately said no to going up just a bit higher. I was upset, but there was the other side of the roof I had yet to see, so it made it all okay.
Walking back down the stairs, there was an absurd amount of shattered glass, flooded out steps, fallen off wall tiles and broken bulbs just resting, sporadically, all up and down the ten flights. For those who don’t know, interior demolition essentially leaves the property to act as if a nuclear bomb imploded.
While coming down, he receives a call and tells me that one the workers messed up on his work, so we only had about fifteen minutes left to do this before he has to go inspect whatever it was that happened. “Fuck,” I tell myself, but continue down the stairs, eventually finding what was once the main entrance, wrecked and sad.
We continue outside. The front looked like another nuclear bomb detonated out front. By this point in time, the front that was once green and lively, was nothing more than wet dirt, wet rubble, with freakishly tall machinery ruling the land. Of the entire time I was there, this was the only time I genuinely felt weird, because of the condition it was in. It hit like a slap in the face that, within a month, this building (along with the untouched power plant in the back) will no longer exist. It will no longer be that shining beacon on a hill resting over Forest Park. Like the lot across the street, this will be flatland, and it will be nothing more than what was.
For a reason I’m still unsure of, this was particularly hard to take in. As I’ve already mentioned, this place means a lot to me, despite it being closed well before I even thought of moving to St. Louis. Call me weird or call me what you like, but I am sincerely going to miss seeing this place once it’s gone.
We hurried through the remaining outside area, and to the parking garage currently being renovated for the future zoo expansion. I took a couple of pictures, but they all turned out horrible (thanks, low light!), but there wasn’t much of a point because, well, it’s going to be reused in about three months.
With that, I returned all the safety equipment leant to me before I started, thanked the man plenty of times (more than I should have) for the opportunity, and made my long walk back to the Forest Park MetroLink station. I could list all my thanks to the construction company who let me do something I’m sure they thought was incredibly odd for days, but instead, I just want them, and you, to know how eternally grateful I was to do this. For the longest time, I joked how this was ‘legal urbex’, which is something a lot of people in the urbex world try to avoid. But, it felt right and it was a blast. So for that, I couldn’t be any more happy.
Rest in peace, Forest Park Hospital.