Some photos of concrete grain elevators taken from the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER) in the Library of Congress.
There's something about grain elevators that lend themselves easily to adaptive re-use. If we were to hear that some of them have been turned into urban lofts and business offices, or even into a Midwestern palatial homestead for a Hollywood mogul who has grown tired of Montana ranches, we wouldn't be surprised.
If we see them converted into megachurches, we wouldn't be surprised as well. For anyone who has ever driven by a rural town, grain elevators appear like cathedrals, rising above the Great Plains, imposing and majestic.
Hearing that one has been recycled into a cultural center, we'd say that it's probably symptomatic of the current vogue in the industrial sublime. We would then wait for someone to fill the gutted, cavernous interior of a silo-turned-museum with another, though smaller, grain elevator as an art installation.
Another peculiar thing about these buildings is how they can play multiple symbolic roles. They are industrial objects, for sure, but they are also intimately connected to the land and to its seasonal cycles. Able to evoke the romantic rural life as well the gritty realities of contemporary urban living, they wouldn't look out of place in a John Ford or an Elia Kazan movie.
For anonymous government bureaucrats, they must seem like potent propaganda tools, a uniquely American object signifying economic vitality and national progress. To see one is to see a future full of promise. It would not surprise us to see them in a New Deal-era documentary or in any one of the political ads presently proliferating exponentially before next month's U.S. mid-term elections.
On the hands of an auteur, however, they will be used to set the mood for a nice Kubrickian dystopian epic. Or maybe Gattaca II.
Finally, they may be pure, simple, strikingly graceful on the outside, but these interior shots tell a different story.
Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER)
Grain Elevators by Lisa Mahar-Keplinger