The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Stubborn rubble

Posted by Ron George on August 22, 2010

Coliseum construction

Memorial Coliseum: Workers made it happen (Source: Caller.com)

Workers built it more than a half century ago, laid every brick, set every bit of reinforcing steel, poured every cubic yard of concrete. It was an emblem of civic pride and an expression of sorrow and gratitude for those who had lost their lives in war. Now the brick, concrete and steel lie like broken bones and teeth amid patches of grass and palm trees lisping in the wind. No one will know or care 50 years from now that Memorial Coliseum in Corpus Christi, Texas, was an architectural marvel let go to ruin by sheer neglect and indifference; and that, finally, it fell victim to our churlish politics. Our city ought to be ashamed.

I know a man with big hands and a good heart who often visits cities where he oversaw major construction. My guess is that every builder knows the pride and passion of this man, who sees that these great marks he’s left upon the earth will benefit the common good long after he’s gone.  For centuries, generations of working folk have gone to their graves in the shadow of some great cathedral or hall that they, their fathers and their children had labored upon, secure in the knowledge that they had been part of the solution by the skill of their hands.

Sure, there’s a lot of egotism and hubris in the making of monumental buildings, but how much vanity can there be in the simple pleasure of knowing – and being able to tell your children and their children – yeah, I laid those brick, I set that steel, I poured that concrete, and let me tell you how it was. Then comes the story, one of many perhaps, and though youngsters may roll their eyes, they won’t forget, and they’ll ask to hear the story again, someday, so they can pass it along.

Wood-brick pile

Demolition debris: Imbued with human energy (Photo: Ron George)

Tearing down a building blows a hole in the community’s narrative about itself, because all those family stories go up in smoke. They’re lost, and the fabric of our common life is worn thinner. If we must tear down the old to make way for the new – and in this case, there was no good reason for it – then let’s at least remember that nothing is built solely of brick and mortar, that human flesh and blood, the worker’s stock and trade, makes it happen. We should honor that. I don’t recall its being a factor in debates about what to do with Memorial Coliseum.

That’s the poignant wonder of the rubble: It is redolent with human genius and industry. The doomed structure struggles to stand against the amorphous, even as heavy equipment tears into its vital organs. It’s as though something’s at stake, something human. The invested energy of those who built it imbues every piece of fallen debris. It fights to the finish, parts of it remaining to a bitter end, the final, total erasure of all that once was glorious and new. Demolition demands total victory and unconditional surrender, but the doomed structure will have none of that. Bring it on, it seems to say. You’ll have to take me down. I will not give up without a fight.

Defiance breathes through the rubble of the defeated Memorial Coliseum – a staircase`, a handrail, a section of stubborn, toppled brick and even a few of those deep-seated, concrete footings that once supported the coliseum’s magnificent roof. Defiance, however, is foolish after all, even though we may admire the courage of a last stand. Finally, there is nothing and, eventually, no memory of it – not of the building itself, not of those who built it, not of the welling of our civic pride and gratitude. As a wise man once said, when we’ve lost our memories, we’ve lost our minds. Our instinct, though, is to deny our madness: Let’s be rid of the offending structure, lest it remind us of our neglect and our lack of creativity and heart to save it from oblivion.

Henge

Big foot: Down, but not without a fight (Photo: Ron George)

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the late 1980s, city leaders wanted to demolish another building on the Corpus Christi bay front, the former USO building that had become the city tax office. A formidable woman artist and a committee of like-minded, well-connected friends saved the building and transformed it into the Art Center of Corpus Christi, a lonely jewel enhancing the city’s civic life on Shoreline Boulevard. It was the right thing at the right time supported by people willing and capable of pulling it off. It is sad that no such stars aligned for the coliseum, though some tried.

Such is life: Some ideas have legs, some don’t; some win, some lose. There are plans afoot, funded by anonymous interests, to make all things new on the bay front. I hope the plan succeeds and that something worthy comes of it, something as worthy as an architectural achievement that fills us with civic pride and gratitude, something worthy to rise where once lay the stubborn rubble of Memorial Coliseum.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Stubborn rubble”

  1. Charles R Shamel said

    Good words, couldn’t agree more. Why is it European society can preserve and use or at least venerate architecture from hundreds, even thousands of years ago and we can not maintain a useful monument and an architectural singularity in memorial to our WW II veterans? There has to be some politicians out to make points.Or kickbacks? or what? Is that a difference between socialistic democracies and capitalistic kleptocracies?

    Chuck

  2. Jim A said

    Ron,
    Just read this, and then went back to the post about the dock.

    Yes, sadness does not diminish beauty, but it is still sadness.

    Peace – Jim

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: