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‘Mid-Mod Quincy’ Highlights Midcentury Modern Masterpieces

Quincy, Illinois, is an architectural gold mine. According to local architect Tony Crane, the city on the Mississippi River is home to a collection of well-documented and well-maintained structures that date back to the 1880s.

“You can drive down Maine Street and look at the various styles as they go through time,” he told St. Louis on the Air.

Now a new self-guided driving tour promoted by visitors bureau SeeQuincy highlights the city’s trove of midcentury modern designs. Holly Cain, SeeQuincy executive director, detailed the new guide on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air.

“This is now our eighth driving tour. Some of the [mid-century modern offerings were] represented in our architectural tour, but as we kept driving around, there's so many more,” she said. “And I think mid-mod is something really coming back these days. You know, the clean lines, single level, open-concept footprint.”

The comprehensive "Mid-Mod Quincy” guide highlights 30 prime midcentury modern structures — including residences, businesses and religious buildings.

Quincy is full of them largely due to renowned architect John Benya. A St. Louis native, Benya moved to Quincy during the post-World War II baby boom to design new homes and schools.

“He's got buildings all over the country, about 500 of them, but so many of them right here in Quincy,” Cain said. “It was said that they were all original; he never did the same thing twice. So if you come for nothing else, come for some of the Benya properties that are represented here.”

‘Bigger-than-life personality’

Crane is now in the process of retiring, but decades ago, he worked closely with Benya, who died in 1989. Thursday would have been Benya’s 109th birthday.

“He was also a bigger-than-life personality, too. When John Benya entered a room, you were aware of his presence,” Crane said. “His collection of work as an architect in Quincy is really appreciated probably much more today than it was during his life.”

The Quincy Regional Airport is one of the first Benya designs people come across when they visit the city. Cain said she believes the final design, with its distinctive cluster of seven circles, was the product of procrastination.

“I had heard that he was running a little behind on his drawings and renderings for the airport,” she explained. “I think like the night before it was due, he was having cocktails and turned the martini glass upside down and used the rings to demonstrate, or maybe they inspired him, for these seven different patterns. So they laid out the foundation for the design that's still here.

“It's really a work of art,” she added.

Another significant Benya building is in the heart of Quincy’s downtown: St. Boniface Catholic Church. Cain said there’s a movement to make it a shrine to Father Augustus Tolton, who was ordained in Quincy in 1886 and became the nation's first Black priest. Tolton held his first public mass at St. Boniface. He is currently in the process of being canonized, which would make him the church’s first African American saint.

“We are sure hopeful that this beautiful church, built in 1962 with terrazzo floors and stone walls … becomes more than just a structure sitting empty on the corner of a very important corner in our downtown,” she said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

The only International Modernism home in Quincy features glass designed to replicate the Northern Lights as light reflects during rainfall, renovated using glass from Colorado.
Holly Cain / SeeQuincy
The only International Modernism home in Quincy features glass designed to replicate the Northern Lights as light reflects during rainfall, renovated using glass from Colorado.