February 12, 2001

Finding balance between old, new can be difficult

Josh Renaud

Well, they did it. They imploded Mt. Providence. I came to watch last Saturday morning. It was really a spectacular sight, certainly worth waiting through the bitter cold.

I always find it a little sad when old buildings are demolished. In so many ways, it seems like a waste. Mt. Providence was one of those buildings that I would drive by regularly, and so I developed an appreciation for it. I made a point of admiring it it every time I drove past on my way to UMSL.

I thought of Mt. Providence as an old friend. I seem to do that with old buildings. I live in Hazelwood and there's a fantastic old building that now houses the Gateway College of Evangelism. I think of that building as an old friend too.

With old buildings, it's always nice to go inside of them and appreciate their inner beauty, of course. I have been inside of the Gateway College of Evangelism and also seen its museum. Unfortunately, I was never able to find the time to look inside Mt. Providence.

At UMSL, history very rarely has been taken into account when it comes to sparing old buildings. The Old Administration Building was destroyed in the 1970s to make way for bigger and better things. It was gone long before I was born, but the photos I've seen are fabulous. Many of the wonderful old buildings on South Campus have been secularized, the religious figures and stained-glass windows stripped out, destroying much of whatever internal beauty they had.

I guess I'm quite a bit nostalgic, and that's why I love to look at these structures. I'd rather see an old building reused than see it pulverized to make way for something new.

I remember seeing a picture in The Current last year of Mt. Providence's beautiful cupola, which had been removed from the roof. In a thoughtful gesture, University officials said they were going to put it on campus as a sort of monument.

I watched the TV coverage of the Mt. Providence implosion and I was particularly impressed with one sister they interviewed who had lived there for many years. She had come to watch the implosion of a building she knew so well, a place of memories for her. She commented that the building was being destroyed so that I-70 could be straightened and made safer. The building, she said, would save people's lives by being destroyed.

In the best of both worlds, we'd be able to keep all the old buildings and monuments to the past and appreciate what they offer us, while at the same time continuously building new stuff, making progress. But that's impossible, and so the difficulty lies in finding the right balance.

I think that's true of life, too. We can't live life rooted in the past, always looking back. We have to move forward, make progress, and grow. But the most important lessons and memories of the past should never be forgotten or destroyed.

So for now, I'll forget about Mt. Providence, though I am still curious about one thing: When will they do something with that cupola?

This article was reprinted with permission from The Current.

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