Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Best Products and SITE; The Showrooms, Part 2

As my examination of the Best Products/SITE Inc. collaboration continues, I move into one of the most productive phases of the relationship.  The late 70s and early 80s brought more commissions and more daring designs.  Best was enjoying perhaps it's most productive and profitable phase, and the creation of SITE-designed signature showrooms continued to produce thought-provoking combinations of art and commerce.

Tilt Building

Built: 1978
Location: Eudowood Shopping Center (corner of Goucher Blvd. and Putty Hill Ave.)
Towson, MD 21286

The Tilt Building, built in Towson MD (just outside of Baltimore) epitomized the faux- precariousness that SITE and Best had pioneered over the previous decade.  An engineering marvel as well as an eye-catching storefront, the tilting wall (which was about 240 feet long) was built over a massive steel frame the weighed a few dozen tons.  An early plan for the Tilt Showroom appeared in the March 1977 issue of the Architectural Record, and according the article it was originally going to be built in California.  It was eventually built as an addition to a pre-existing shopping mall in Maryland. 
The tilting wall also acted as a canopy over the entrance.

The fate of the Tilt Building

The showroom was completely razed in the late 90s.  Unlike the previous showrooms that still exist in an altered form, the Tilt Building was torn down and replaced with a Target store.  The photo below shows a contemporary view of the shopping center overlaid with an old floor plan.  As can be seen in the photo, the Target now covers the original footprint of the Best Products store.

The area that was occupied by the Tilt Building is outlined in red.

Best Antisign

Built: 1978
Location: 14190 Washington Highway (Route 1)
Ashland, VA 23005
Along with designing showrooms for Best customers, the Lewis family also contracted SITE to transform the exterior of their distribution center in Ashland, VA (the company’s corporate headquarters was located in nearby Richmond, but some offices were at the Ashland site as well).  To do this, SITE created an “antisign” that subverted the name of the company.  The word “Best” was visible on the left side of the sign but as the wall progressed towards the corner multiple copies of the letter overlapped, becoming illegible.  The sign was constructed from about 2,000 panels and covered two walls of the structure.  The panels were made from porcelain steel, an enameling process that bonds a durable ceramic material to a metal surface.  The sign was 585 feet long and 36 feet tall.  The contemporary photo below shows the enormity of the building, and really illustrates the size and scope of Best Products at the height of its success.  At the upper right you can see dozens of bays for loading trucks.

The Antisign was on the walls marked in red.
The Antisign under construction (top) and completed.

The fate of the Antisign

It was dismantled but apparently still exists in storage.  The Supply Room Companies (a firm that sells office furniture and supplies) bought the building in 2000.  According to an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch (April 22, 2000) they took the sign down but hoped that a museum or other institution might reconstruct it sometime in the future.  Even though Best has been out of business for 15 years, an old Best logo is still visible in one of the office windows (the image below was taken from Google maps, March 2013).

Rainforest Showroom

Built: 1979
Location: 5301 W 20th Avenue
Hialeah, FL 33012

The Rainforest showroom highlighted tropical trees and shrubs, fitting for a store that was located near Miami.  The rainforest section of the building was actually quite narrow, sandwiched between the inner wall of the store and an outer glass wall.  A thin sheet of running water ran over the glass wall, somewhat obscuring the view of the objects within, including the Best Products logo.  By the time this store opened, Best had adopted their new logo featuring red letters that incrementally increased in size while also becoming thinner.

The setting sun in reflected in the glass wall of the Rainforest Showroom.

The fate of the Rainforest Showroom

The rainforest elements were dismantled and the building is now an Office Depot and a mini storage facility.  In this Google Maps photo, planters that appear to be the same width as the original SITE-designed planters are visible and are still being used (although the tropical plantings placed by SITE appear to be gone).  The glass and steel structure that surrounded the rainforest had been destroyed.

Next time, the Best Products/SITE Inc. collaboration comes to an end, more showroom are torn down, but there is some hope as a SITE designed showroom finds a new sympathetic owner.


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