Monday, September 14, 2009

In Plain Sight | Island Station

If “architectural albatross” were in the dictionary, next to the definition one would certainly find a picture of Island Station and its 200' smokestack. This coal plant was built for the St. Paul Gas and Electric Company in 1921, but it isn't on an island at all--unless you're speaking figuratively about its location in the nowhere between Shepard Road and the Mississippi River.

Designed by Toltz, King, and Day (now TKDA), Island Station never really functioned as a power plant either. Halfway through construction, the coal industry devised a more efficient method for producing electricity, thus making Island Station obsolete before it was even finished. When it was fully decommissioned in 1975, the plant had been resigned to off-peak use, meaning it operated less than 10 weeks out of the year. For the next ten years, this cavernous building would only be a storage facility for NSP.

Several attempts have been made over the years to reuse (or maybe just “use”) the property for residential purposes. In 1985, portions were converted to artist studios and a well-documented crew of scrappy houseboat dwellers dropped anchor on the riverbanks. At the height of the latest building craze, developers launched a major effort to revitalize the plant into upscale condominiums with surrounding townhomes and a private marina. This most recent proposal was designed by RSP Architects, and much of the project (along with interior photos) can still be found at the development's marketing website.

Now for sale once again is a power station that never was, on an island that isn't. So far it has only succeeded as a playground for eager developers, curious urban explorers, and albatross spotters. Can this beautiful relic have a purpose?

No comments: