By. Chris Stritzel
Long before East St. Louis began to rot away and before the Coal and Manufacturing Industry left East St. Louis, it was a boom town. The population approached and topped off at 82,000 people in 1940 with estimates of the population skyrocketing to nearly 200,000. In the 1920s, Civic Leaders in East St. Louis wanted to give the City a skyline to show its "wealth" as growth seemed inevitable. Out of this $4 Million plan came the Majestic Theater, Murphy Building, Broadview Hotel, First Bank Building and the Spivey Building. The Spivey Building was named after Allen R. Spivey, the owner of the East St. Louis Journal (Newspaper) at the time. The Spivey Building would house the East St. Louis Journal and Printing room. The neighboring Journal Building was constructed in 1936 to be additional office space for a Newspaper that continued to grow.
The building was opened in 1929, just a few years before the Stock Market crash. At the time, Mr. Spivey himself saw lofty goals for East St. Louis and a Downtown that would forever grow. The building itself was situated in the best location in all of East St. Louis. It was close to a theater, shopping and everything East St. Louis had to offer at the time. The upper floors of the building was office space. The offices included lawyers, doctors and dentists and it remained that way to the building's closure in 1980. According to people whose doctors were in the building, "the lobby was nice and included some terra cotta accenting". "There would always be a man waiting outside the elevator to take you up since it was manually controlled". "There was a cigar cart located just outside the front door". "When you would walk in, the elevators would be to your left, but if you walk past them and turn right, you would be in the "Journal" offices".
According to sources who would like to remain unnamed, the last tenant to leave the building was a dentist office who moved to nearby Belleville. After the Spivey Building closed in 1980, it sat vacant while vandals removed the copper wiring, smashed windows, graffitied it up and squatted in there. It has also become a common place for Urban Explorers to explore. In recent years, developer have come and gone with their plans to restore the building. I the early 2000s, a developer by the name of Phil Cohn bought the building and planned to make it high end office space and street level retail. Several tenants were lined up to move in but Mr. Cohn was caught disposing of Asbestos the wrong way and caught in a corruption case which ended up having him thrown into jail. Since then, the building has remained a shell where pieces of the roof have fallen off and crashed to the ground causing nearby business owners to call for the Spivey Building's demolition.
Because of the calls for demolition, the Spivey building has been placed on the "critically endangered" list of buildings in the St. Louis area. It is at the top of the list. Last month, I posted a photo of Facebook that went viral, in some cases, which was practically an "in memoriam" for the building. After being seen by nearly 16,000 people. a developer came along and is continuing to contact the City of East St. Louis and St. Clair County Illinois to prevent the demolition. Scottie Porter, who owns Historic Restoration LLC of Birmingham, wants to save the building by securing it of vandals, adding new windows into it, cleaning up the façade, restoring the terra cotta accenting and holding it all in place so no more will fall off. While the exterior is being dealt with, the interior would be cleaned up and new elevators would be installed. Following this, the building would be marketed but as what remains a mystery.
No matter what happens, the Spivey Building will remain a symbol of the East St. Louis oft he past and one of the future, if it comes back to life. The Spivey is East St. Louis' icon like the Arch is to St. Louis.
The Spivey Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 2002.