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Richard Nickel Died 40 Years Ago

April 13, 2012 Books, History/Preservation 6 Comments
ABOVE: Cover of book on Richard Nickel's photography, click image to see book info on Left Bank Books website

One Chicago resident was obsessed with photographing, stopping demolition of and lastly saving pieces from buildings designed by Louis Sullivan.

Architecture photographer Richard Nickel spent years with his camera, documenting — and arguing against — the demolition of buildings in Chicago. Thirty-five years ago this month, Nickel died trying to document the demise of a building designed by Louis Sullivan, whose architecture helped define the Chicago cityscape.

In the ’60s and early ’70s, Nickel watched the demolition of so many of Sullivan’s buildings — and buildings created by other turn-of-the-century masters — that he wrote, “I look forward to the day when I never have to enter a wet, charred, smoky building again.” (NPR)

He died 40 years ago today inside one of those buildings.

Nickel was killed on April 13, 1972, while attempting to obtain more items for SIUE, when a stairwell in the Chicago Stock Exchange building collapsed on him. He is buried in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, not very far from where Sullivan is buried. He died without completing his great collection of photographs of Sullivan’s work, but Nickel’s black-and-white photos have been displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago and elsewhere. The Richard Nickel Committee and Photographic Archive is a non-profit organization devoted to preserving the photographer’s work, and holds the copyrights for most of his pictures. (Wikipedia)

Some items previously salvaged by Nickel had been purchased by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). Some are on display in the The Louis H. Sullivan Collection in Lovejoy Library.

Nickel would be 83 if he were alive today.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. GMichaud says:

    Richard Nickel took great photographs, he was involved in the buildings closely and it shows in his photographs. Of course that is why he died too. Many great buildings have been demolished, in St. Louis too. The destruction continues. What kind of city was Nickel talking about in his photo’s? 

  2. Bill Zbaren says:

    Excellent post Steve _ thank you ! 

  3. moe says:

    I agree with both, but let me pose a question:  Would you say people like Bob Cassily is/was a preservationist or a destructionist?  For instance, I know that many pieces he “saved” came from places soon to be demolished, so would one consider him saving pieces or by taking pieces, contributing to their downfall?  And not just him mind you, but others just like him.  Look at the stores selling stained glass, mantles and the like.

    • GMichaud says:

       You make it sound like Cassily was causing the destruction of old St. Louis. Demolition is primarily called for by institutions and corporations: you know the City of St. Louis, SLU, various developers and so on, not by those salvaging architectural history.  Cassily is an artist, I think Cassily’s view of the city was to proclaim that art. I’m not sure preservation or destruction is a concern when making art.
      Certainly demolition is considered an industry in St. Louis. I’m sure there are no plans to eliminate this industry any time soon.
      There is a whole question of policy decisions, why they are made, who are they made for? What is the saying “Waste not, Want not”? St. Louis is in a definite wasting of resources phase, but, to me, what is most criminal is the lack of public discussion on what St. Louis should look like in 20 or 30 years from now.
      But thanks for the question, I’m sure Richard Nickel would support discussions about the city and its architecture.

  4. moe says:

    Well you raise some good points GM, I would differ on the preservationist.  One only needs to look at the antique and stain glass stores to see St. Louis’s history being dismanteled bit by bit.  And just look at the brick thieves…..well it is easy to blame the Biggies…SLU, St. Louis City, various developers, etc. it is the “mom and pop” that is destroying the City brick by brick, piece by piece.

  5. GMichaud says:

    The biggies authorized the demolition of the Pevely Building. The biggies authorize all demolition. Oh I see, by some great leap of logic “brick thieves” and “mom and pop” are the culprits for the dismantling of St. Louis.
    That’s a great solution, lets blame everyone but the people who refuse to be accountable.
    You are defending the people who have overseen the 50 or more years of decline in the City of St. Louis. If you want to do that, then find, have at it, I know I am tired of waiting for change. Blame the peasants though, yeah that’s a real answer.
    When I said I was sure Richard Nickel would support discussions about the city and its architecture, I didn’t mean ridiculous assertions like “mom and pop” have destroyed St. Louis.
    Your idiocy is so unbelievable it is really hard to understand. Are you doing this on purpose? Try asking your self who grants demolition permits. Who requests them? I’ll guarantee you that its not the peasants.


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