It’s silly to get sentimental about an old building, especially one that has seen as much misery as this one.
But ever since the packing started in earnest in the newsroom of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which is leaving its downtown building and heading two blocks east to smaller digs, I’ve been having flashbacks.
I remember walking into the imposing six-story, brick-and-stone building as a 21-year-old intern.
Like many visitors, I paused to read the Pulitzer platform, engraved into the stone lobby wall. Joseph Pulitzer, whose family still owned the paper when I got here, wrote it on April 10, 1907: “I know that my retirement will make no difference in its cardinal principles, that it will always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”
It all looked grand to my young eyes. On the fifth floor, there were rows of Atex computers with reporters crammed into the newsroom. Surrounded by grizzled editors and veteran reporters, I got a crash course on breaking news and making deadline. It was amazing, but I didn’t plan to stay. I had lived in the largest cities in America, and I had no intention of coming back to this random, small town in the Midwest.
I was hired back as a news reporter two years later.
This time, I walked through the front doors more confident in my Express business jacket. I figured I would stay a couple of years and move on. I was set up on a blind date with my future husband right around that two-year mark. When we met, he had worked at his current company for 10 years. I gave him a look.
“That’s weird. No one stays at the same place that long,” I said.
This is my 21st year walking into this same building. I’ve spent nights here and worked every single holiday shift in those early years. In the meantime, I’ve gotten married and had two children, who first visited the newsroom as babies in strollers and now could drive here. A colleague who worked the weekend general assignment shifts with me reminded me about the time an editor wanted to send me out to cover a biker gang rally when I was nine months pregnant.
There have been people shot in the close vicinity of this building, a former colleague carjacked in the parking lot, and people trapped in the elevator on more than one occasion. Those breakdown-prone elevators provided an adventurous start to each day, and the dark walk to the far parking lot after each shift was a daring way to end it.
I’ve wandered every floor of this space, from the presses in the subfloor basement to the executive suites at the top. Packing up my desk was like excavating the past: old notebooks filled with interviews. A paystub from 2004. A pin-back button a reader made featuring a phrase from a column I had written. A stack of thank-you notes from students I had led on a tour of the place. A picture of my daughter with her elementary school newspaper club when they visited. A note she had written on a scrap of paper and left inside my desk, likely on one of the days when school was out or a babysitter couldn’t make it.
At least 23 of my former colleagues have since died. Dozens have taken buyouts, others have been laid off. I’ve spent more time in this building than I did in my childhood home of 18 years. I’ve been tied to this place longer than I’ve been married. Many of my co-workers and I -- those who remain -- we’ve grown up here. We have covered major events that happened around us and did our best to share them with our community.
It makes sense that we develop an attachment to familiar places filled with memories, especially one with as much institutional history as this place. I could have filed this column from home, but I wanted to come to the newsroom on its last day at 900 N. Tucker Blvd.
I ate a bag of Cheetos and fruit snacks the marketing department gave us in our moving bags, a few gummy bears from a fellow columnist’s desk and a piece of blueberry cake an editor had made. I wrote a sentimental farewell to a crummy old building that I loved despite its dangers, its moody air conditioning system, stained carpet and dingy stairwells.
I felt like lingering at my desk, but it was time to move on.