Two venerable old office buildings in downtown Wilmington are being repurposed, or trying to be repurposed. Not enough companies want the traditional offices anymore.
The first is the Hercules Building, once the headquarters of the Hercules Chemical Company. The other, the newer one, is the Du Pont Building, once the headquarters of the Du Pont company. Those two were largely the reason Wilmington was known as “the chemical capitol of the world.”
I understand that even the most seemingly enduring companies go out of business and merge with other companies. Change is the American way. But this change is more fundamental. The very concept of an office has changed.
I’m talking about the traditional office we are all familiar with: The boss’s office with adjoining open space for his secretary, her desk and a filing cabinet or two. Corporate presidents, vise-presidents and directors with their own suites with an outer lobby manned (or, more accurately, “womaned”) by a receptionist/secretary. Support people with degrees in individual offices lined up on either side of a hallway. Lower support people grouped together in a larger room divided into cubicles. Nearby restrooms, vending machines, and a lobby with a receptionist and perhaps a cafeteria on the ground floor. Below that, underground secure parking.
Private restrooms for upper management had already disappeared by my time. Sometimes in our shared restrooms, I saw more than I wanted to see, and wished they had their own restrooms back. No one wants to see the boss’s package.
All gone. Business is not done that way anymore. The boss is no longer isolated in his own office (he was always a “he”). He is now one of the boys, working where they work. It is now a world of break rooms, shared offices, private areas (where the boss can reprimand an employee), playrooms (can you believe it?), and computer terminals everywhere within reach. The office, itself, is no longer in center-city, accessible by public transportation that no one uses anymore. but in a leased one-story building in the suburbs, surrounded by a huge parking lot. Much more convenient for everyone.
I think this new office system is just a fad that will have a short life. In a few years I expect people will be clamoring for a return to the old offices. But, who cares what I think? I am a known fuddy-duddy, resistant to change.
Do you have any ideas for an obsolete downtown office building? A dog run, perhaps? Indoor tennis courts? Many people are looking for suggestions.