Driving south along Route 63, passing the suburbs, chain restaurants, hotels, and gas stations of eastern Columbia, the skyline of downtown emerge on the horizon. Jesse Hall and its cupola, the Tiger Hotel, Memorial Union, and the city’s massive power plant take center stage, yet there is one building that surpasses the rest in height. Despite Paquin Tower not being the most visually stunning building in the city’s skyline, it is the tallest in Columbia at 172 feet, or 52 meters, and can be seen from a variety of spots throughout the city. Passing the building, it appears almost out of nowhere among the shotgun houses and abandoned beer pong tables of East Campus. For residents of Columbia, Paquin Tower is an anomaly, in that it is not only quite tall for a Midwestern college town but its residents are almost enigmatic.
Entering the building for the first time, is in effect, crossing the threshold into a discrete yet hospitable community of veterans, the elderly, and the disabled. In essence, it is similar to a small town, with a plethora of individuals who make up the unique cultural landscape up and down the 15 stories of the building. Stepping onto the elevator, you rise past floors of various residents all with their own unique stories, yet the fifth floor is home to a vibrant resident named Mike. Michael Moran, originally of Walworth County, Wisconsin not far from Chicago, is in effect one of the community organizers inside the building. Sporting a Cubs t-shirt and blue jeans, you step into his cozy studio apartment overlooking College Avenue and see a tiny black kitten, who he is sitting for another resident.
Sitting on his couch, Moran talks about two years in the complex, and his time seeing individuals enter, leave, and reenter the facility. Many of the residents are veterans of the United States military, who have been given a place to live, high above the streets. Moran, like many of the other residents, came to Paquin after military service. At one point, Moran was stationed in South Korea, helping to patrol the infamous Demilitarized Zone or DMZ along the border with North Korea. Nowadays, Moran enjoys coloring, walking downtown, and talking with his fellow residents of this vertical village.