It’s hard to imagine now how fast tall buildings went up back in the day when labor was relatively cheap and huge forces of men could be thrown onto a project. The year 1929, which as we all now know went bad in a hurry after October 29, was looking pretty good in September when this article was published in the Clarion-Ledger. Three fast concrete pours were going on almost simultaneously in Jackson when not one, not two, but three high-rise buildings were under construction: the building known as the Plaza Building, then occupied by the Standard Life Company; the building then known as the Tower Building, now known as the Standard Life (I know, it gets confusing); and the building known as Merchants Bank until the bank went bankrupt in 1932, then known for a long time as the Deposit Guaranty Building, and since the early 2000s, a succession of bank names ending with Regions.
All three were started in 1929 and basically finished by the end of the year, becoming the #1 and #2 highest buildings in the state. Those two tall ones, the Tower and the Merchants Bank, struggled because of the Depression, but made a rebound by the end of the decade. All of these buildings are concrete-framed structures, rather than steel structures, for reasons outlined in this detail-packed article. I love this unsigned article for a lot of reasons, including the sense of wonder about architecture that shines throughout, but perhaps foremost are the frequent digressions, throwaway sentences that give us insight into the highly industrialized and competent building practices of the late 1920s, down to the slightly snarky wording of the Plaza Building’s construction sign and the listing of different types of craftsmen on the Tower Building project.
Jackson Tower Building Breaks World’s Record for Fast Concrete Work
Since Jackson’s trio of new downtown business buildings have been begun, two world’s records for rapidity in pouring forms in all-reinforced-concrete construction have been lowered.
First, the Plaza building broke the record when 12 floors, 80 by 150 feet in area, and of bar joist construction with Steeltex, were poured in seven weeks, three of the floors being poured within a period of one week.
The world’s record, according to “The American Contractor,” authority in the building trades world, published by F.W. Dodge Corporation at Chicago, fell with this feat, but it was soon to fall again.
On June 13, the first floor was poured on the Tower building here. On August 20, two months and a week later, the nineteenth floor was poured, shattering the record made by the Plaza building. The Tower building at foundation is 90 by 100 feet. The nineteenth floor marks the beginning of the modernistic setback or offset style that gives the Tower building its name, the succeeding floors jutting back in parapet style after the nineteenth. The structure, 263 feet and six inches in height, all told has only 23 more feet to go, the twenty-first floor being poured now. The main body of the Tower building is 47 by 108 feet.
The Tower building has another distinction, says “The American Contractor,” who sent Esther Lowther here to write up construction, in that it is the third tallest all-reinforced concrete structure in the United States and said to be one of the eight tallest of the type in the world. In this country, only the Master Printers’ building, New York City, 277 feet high, and the United Brethren building, Dayton, Ohio, 274 feet high, overtop the Jackson Tower.
In the course of the next few days, a flag will be raised on the Tower building to spear the sky with acclaim of “Mississippi’s tallest building.”
The tower of the Tower building will enclose two large beacon lights, one a great aerial directional beacon set towards Jackson’s airport. The other will be a revolving beacon it is claimed will be seen 50 to 60 miles by a person in direct line with the focus of the rays. The latter light will operate similar to the one on the Jung hotel in New Orleans. The automatic revolving beacon, it is foreseen, will be a great advertisement for Jackson.
About 200 men are or have been employed on the Tower building, subdivided as follows: 40 bricklayers; 40 carpenters; 60 laborers; 20 plasterers; 20 plumbers; 15 electricians; and superintendents and other supervisors. Plastering is now to the fifth floor and interior partitioning to the tenth. Brick work, of unique design, is to the top of the windows on the fourteenth floor. Brick laying was started July 15 and work on the construction job April 22.
The contract calls for completion by January 1, but it is now anticipated that the rush work done will enable completion by December 15, half a month early. O.M. Gwinn Construction company of New Orleans, has the contract, and C.H. Lindsley of Jackson is architect, with R.W. Naef of the firm supervising. William Jamieson is contractor’s superintendent.
The 12-story Plaza building, whose name has been changed to Standard Life Insurance building, is slated for completion by October 1. Garber and Lewis of Jackson are contractors with E. Pankey superintendent. N.W. Overstreet of Jackson is architect.
Brick work has reached the top of Standard Life Insurance building and finishing touches are now being made.
The 12-story Merchants Bank & Trust company building, on which much difficulty was encountered in the foundation, is scheduled for completion March 1. Structural work has reached the third floor now. Foster & Creighton, of Nashville, are contractors. Wyatt C. Hedrick, Inc., Fort Worth and Houston, Texas, is the architect.
A total of 490 concrete piles with an average length of 30 feet were used on the Tower foundation and 401 on the Merchants Bank & Trust company building, the Standard Life Insurance building resting on a spread-concrete-footing foundation instead of on piles.
“The American Contractor,” in its article carries pictures of all three buildings under construction and of various scenes showing work being done and Mr. Jamieson, O.M. Gwin and Mrs. Naef are shown in a group pictures at the Tower job.
A sign on the Standard Life building announces, “Owned by Jackson People, Designed by Jackson Architect, Built by Jackson Capital, Constructed by Jackson Contractor with Home Labor, Financed by Jackson Banks.”
“One reason given for the extensive use of concrete in Jackson,” says “The American Contractor” in its article entitled “Speedy Concrete Work in Mississippi,” is the proximity and hence the cheapness of aggregates and cement, as well as the cheapness of labor for the accompanying class of work, and the reduction of steel cost as a result of the recently abandoned “Pittsburgh plus” freight charges on structural steel, according to R.W. Naef.
“Birmingham, Ala., about 250 miles from Jackson, is a steel center and supplies considerable structural steel for that territory, although structural steel from Indiana mills is also being shipped in.”
Thus, within the span of the next five months, Jackson will see three large business buildings opened here, all of magnificent design and appointments and the peer of their type practically anywhere in the world. Three elevators, with a speed of 800 feet per minute, will service the 22-story Tower building.
For side humor, the old story about the plumber’s helper leaving his tools behind, is taboo on the Tower building for selfish reasons if no other, as at present workmen on duty at the top of the structure must clilmb the 21 stories now poured, by stairway as there is no elevator in use as yet except as dummy shaft for conveying material, which even workmen are not allowed to use. Thus, one forgetful experience, and a trip 21 stories down and back up, will help the memory greatly.
And, strange to say, probably [no] one on the job has a harder task than the water boy, who must constantly weave up and down the 21 stories serving aqua vitae to the thirsty workmen. Mountain climbing is adjudged tame beside his routine with a bucket of water in either hand, as one bucket would soon be emptied.
Clarion-Ledger, Sept. 10, 1929, p.10
Luckily for us, these built-like-a-rock buildings survived the vicisitudes of the Depression and continue to be major landmarks in downtown Jackson. The Plaza Building has been well-maintained for most of its life, was an early preservation rehab in the 1980s, and continues to provide offices space above and restaurants on the first floor. The Deposit Guaranty Building (as I still think of it) had a nice addition put on in the 1950s to the designs of Jackson architect R.W. Naef and was used almost continuously until Regions moved out a few years ago. Since then, it has sat vacant, but I continue to hear that it will be converted to apartments soon. Meanwhile the Standard Life Building/aka Tower Building sat underused for many years until it was renovated and converted to apartments as part of the larger King Edward Hotel preservation project that has revitalized the west end of downtown Jackson.
P.S. Keep an eye out for American Contractor magazines for 1929!