We've Moved

Ecology of Absence now resides at www.preservationresearch.com. Please change your links and feeds.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Joke Gets Funnier Every Day

The new "old" curbs are in, the sidewalks are being paved and the vintage light standards are up at the Old Post Office in St. Louis. One thing is clear: there will be no on-street parking on the Old Post Office block when the renovation is done.

Really, for a project whose backers are so paranoid about insufficient adjacent parking, it's a huge embarrassment that there is no actual street parking on three sides of the Old Post Office block itself. Such parking would be convenient to people wanting to stop in at one of of the Old Post Office shops and would form a protective buffer between sidewalk diners and through traffic on Olive, Ninth, Locust or Eighth streets. Assuming any of those people ever show up.

Model Slums

Model Railroad Slums

Prepare to be amazed. I used to build urban model railroad neighborhoods like this myself, but with slightly less ability than this young man. Once I built a model of an entire section of downtown St. Louis, including Busch Stadium, from cardboard and file folders. Nothing like the model shown here, though. (Thanks to Sarah Weeks for the link.)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Too Much Parking Around 900 Block of Locust

"Viable real estate development in the Midwest depends in large part on the availability of parking. This is convincingly demonstrated in the Frisco Building, which has been beautifully rehabilitated but has enjoyed less than 50% occupancy since its completion -- parking is the missing ingredient for success."

So wrote Barbara Geisman, St. Louis Deputy Mayor for Development, in an August 29, 2002 letter to Carol Shull, Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, opposing the National Register listing of the Century Building.

This statement came to mind as I thought again about the problems faced by the 900 block of Locust, which contains one of downtown's largest parking garages and is just west of the one of the largest surface parking lot areas in the downtown core. If parking was the ingredient for success, the block would be thriving. The new Renaissance Grand Parking Garage opened in 2003 and the last building standing in the middle of the surface lots on the 800 block of Locust fell in 2002, creating more spaces. Yet the block is regaining health only with new residents and a new business that will have no reserved parking spaces.

I'm no deputy mayor but I think the abundance of parking areas actually hurt the block by eliminating businesses that were located in storefronts cleared to make so much parking. The Ninth Street Garage that is replacing the Century Building on this block is a setback. Parking does nothing to create life on a block.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

900 Block of Locust on the Rebound?

I have worked inside of the St. Louis Design Center Building at 917 Locust (built 1913, designed by Harry Roach) in downtown St. Louis for a few months now. First I worked at Art St. Louis and now I work at Landmarks Association. During this time, the building and its block has been rather gloomy: few tenants remain in the Design Center due to a forthcoming renovation planned by owners The Roberts Companies, the lobby is dark and cavernous from a 1980's rehab and there has not been a single occupied storefront on this block of Locust. Add to this the ongoing demolition and construction morass at the Century Building site across Locust, the closure of 9th Street since last September, the butt-ugly Renaissance Grand Parking Garage on this block and the ugly empty parking lot nearby that stretches from 8th to 9th along Locust, and the 900 block of Locust has been a fairly dispiriting place to work this year.

Until now, hopefully. Residential tenants have been moving into the rehabbed Board of Education building at 911 Locust since the spring, and a first-floor tenant seems to be preparing to open. More immediate to my concerns, Heuer Hardware and Locksmith is moving from the Louderman Building into the empty storefront downstairs at the Design Center. The block may be coming to life again! Perhaps next Gus Torregrossa will think about developing the shuttered four-story commercial building at 919 Locust and a buyer can be found for the stucco-covered 1860's storefront building at the corner of 10th and Locust.

Density is life!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chicago's Uptown Theatre Faces Uncertain Future

A discussion thread about Chicago's endangered Uptown Theatre on the website Cinema Treasures includes some distressing information about the removal of terra cotta ornament in the last two months.

One poster shared a segment from the e-mail newsletter the Uptown Advisor, which is put out by the Friends of the Uptown group that is trying to get the theater reopened:

The ABCs of 'What is going on with the UPTOWN'

Reportedly, the current status of the UPTOWN THEATRE is, in brief:

A. The work, fences, scaffolding and barricades that you see today are part of the continuing exterior stabilization effort. In order to begin remedying the building's deferred maintenance, many bricks and pieces of ornamental terra cotta must be removed and stored for safekeeping. Where parts of the building's facade are removed, the area is strapped and bagged to hold it in place -- and covered to weatherproof it.

B. The work is being done by an engineering firm and a masonry contractor. The project is being overseen by local officials, a circuit court judge and the court-appointed receiver.

C. The privately owned UPTOWN THEATRE building remains closed, vacant, secure and in serious need of significant private investment for it to be renovated as an entertainment venue. No definitive plan or project for the building has been announced. The search for a viable entertainment prospect continues. Several state and local incentives are available—including city tax-increment financing—for a feasible plan that meets civic criteria and expectations for the multi-venued Uptown Square National Register Historic District. Serious inquiries (only) should be directed to local officials, including the alderman, the city planning department, and UPCORP.

Yet another old building suffering through the thoughtless development program of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's administration.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Century Building Lawsuit Update

From Roger Plackemeier:

A number of people recently have been asking me how my lawsuit of the Century is going, so I want to give all who are interested a quick update. I disclaim upfront that I am not an attorney and so my legal vocabulary might not be perfect.

First a sentence or two of background. In 2004 Marcia Behrendt, Marti Frumhoff and I took legal action regarding the demolition of the Century Building. The Century Building is gone. Earlier this year the defendants in our lawsuits....MDFB (state), LCRA (city) and the two development firms (Stogel and Schnuck)....filed a malicious prosecution suit against Marcia and me (Marti's case is still a live one so she was not included). They're suing us for $1.5M+.

Two hearings have been held in front of Judge Steve Ohmer of the 22nd Judicial Circuit. The first was a month or so ago. The plaintiffs in the malicious prosecution case filed a motion to have our attorney, Matt Ghio, disqualified from the case. Judge Ohmer has not yet ruled on this hearing.

The second hearing was this morning. Marcia and I filed a motion for summary judgement. My non-legal explanation is that if the judge rules in favor of our motion, he is saying the case should go no further. I don't know when he'll rule on this hearing, but I can't imagine it'll be quickly given the amount of work he has in front of him.

If anyone is interested in my opinion on how the case is going, feel free to contact me privately. If you're interested in how the plaintiffs think this case is going, read the Business Journal. In the meantime, I presume your tax dollars are paying for some rather hefty legal fees for the state and city.

[Roger can be reached at placker@excite.com.]

Century Building demolition: One year ago today

Demolition of the Century Building at the behest of a determined group of anti-urbanists began one year ago today. At least, the ceremonial wrecking began. The developers of the Old Post Office project that claimed the Century ordered their wreckers to gouge out parts of the building's corners the night prior to a hearing on a restraining order against a demolition.

I'm sure readers know the story, but the loss of the Century Building and the ongoing attack on civic participation, tacitly endorsed by the Slay administration, still hurts pretty badly. Although I have to say that many good people opposed to the demolition met each other and made lasting and creative relationships through it. The opposition has taken the death and made life from it, while the other side is mired in the quicksand of destruction. We have celebrations and friendships, and they have that hideous sinking parking garage with the cheap, cheap, cheap stucco and granite cladding so offensively displayed at Ninth and Olive. To say that they "won" would be very difficult indeed.

I should also note that our blog is one year old this week, as more testament to the fact that very good things were emerging when demolition began.

The Red Car Drives Away

The little red car behind the cinder block house at 4467 Norfolk in the Adams Grove section of Forest Park Southeast left yesterday, according to neighbors. It first appeared behind the house in August, and would still be there had someone not contacted Neighborhood Stabilization Office head Joe Thele, who actually worked diligently to get the car removed.

Officials of the Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation are on a listserv on which the red car was discussed. Not one of them posted a comment on the car or made an offer to use their clout to resolve the matter.

I guess removing the red car wouldn't further the agenda for Adams Grove: suspension of city services, landbanking and wholesale clearance for new homes built by a suburban-minded developer. Now it's gone, though, which is a small victory for the good people who are still trying to make Adams Grove a liveable part of the neighborhood.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Remember the St. Nicholas?

I just found this article in the online version of the May-June 2005 issue of the newsletter of the Antique Doorknob Collectors of America:

Louis Sullivan and the St. Nicholas Hotel, St. Louis, MO by Patty Ramey

It's heavy on doorknob information, which is good because most people probably don't know much about Sullivan doorknobs.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Brick Thieves Strike 914 Madison Street

Over at 914 Madison Street in the eastern reaches of Old North St. Louis (which the city officially considers the "North Riverfront" neighborhood), a crew of brick scavengers recently pulled down the exterior walls of the last remaining residence on the block, a building recent damaged by fire. The interior walls and floors are collapsing slowly, forming a shape reminiscent of a pine tree burdened by heavy snowfall. The building is owned by Carlos Johnson. Thankfully, I photographed the building over the summer.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Coolidge coming to town

Thanks to Larry Giles for the heads up on this. We met Coolidge in Chicago last year and were very impressed with his work, which corresponds nicely to our own.


Looking for St. Louis

Matthew Coolidge, founder of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, to explore St. Louis urban landscape Oct. 26-29

Oct. 12, 2005 -- Forget purple mountains and fruited plains. The contemporary American landscape is more typically composed of parking lots and shopping malls, factory towns and industrial developments, argues Matthew Coolidge, founder and director of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) in Los Angeles. Later this month, Coolidge will host a series of events investigating St. Louis' urban landscape.

The visit -- co-sponsored by the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University -- comes as part of "Unsettled Ground: Nature, Landscape, and Ecology Now!" a yearlong series of lectures, panel discussions, artistic interventions and workshops exploring the intersection of contemporary architecture, art, ecology and urban design.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, Coolidge will lecture on "Interpreting Anthropogeomorphology: Programs and Projects of the Center for Land Use Interpretation." ("Anthropogeomorphology," a phrase Coolidge coined, refers to the landscape as altered by humans.)

The talk is free and open to the public and takes place in the Sam Fox School's Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, located near the intersection of Forsyth and Skinker boulevards.

On Thursday and Friday, Oct. 27 and 28, Coolidge and Washington University students will examine a variety of "unusual and exemplary" St. Louis sites through a series of workshops collectively titled "Looking for St. Louis."

On Saturday, Oct. 29, workshop participants will in turn lead additional volunteers over "routes" established by Coolidge.

Events conclude from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday with a special, one-night-only exhibition, also titled "Looking for St. Louis," at the Sam Fox School's Des Lee Gallery, 1627 Washington Ave. The exhibition will include images, texts, artifacts and diagrams drawn from the workshops.

For more information, call (314) 935-9347 or email samfoxschool@wustl.edu.

The View from the Roof

Our new house was built in two phases, with the original part being three stories and the addition being two stories. There's another two-story bathroom addition, built much like an elevator shaft on the side of the two-story addition, but its roof is joined seamlessly into the two story roof.

From the second story roof, I can see the lovely Old North St. Louis neighborhood with more arched limestone lintels than I can count on two hands. At night, I can see the lights of the skyline through trees. The Gateway Arch comes into view when I walk to the eastern edge of the roof.

The third story roof provides and even more awesome view: a full 24-hour view of the downtown skyline that is becoming fuller as trees start to drop their leaves; a northern view that includes all three trusses of the McKinley Bridge; more of Old North St. Louis.

As a rooftop view fanatic, this house is nearly perfect for me.

Forest Park Southeast Car Show

Update on the stolen red car at 4467 Norfolk: Neighborhood Stabilization Office head Joe Thele and his staff have applied for access warrants to tow this car and others like it all over town. The hold-up? A city judge has yet to sign the warrants!

In the meantime, a crafty FPSE resident found a stolen streets department easel-style road block and erected it behind the car. It's about time to put up some ornamental corn and carved pumpkins, and then some Christmas lights (which often stay up even longer than this car has been around -- a perfect match).

Friday, October 14, 2005

Adams Grove

A message from Kim Jayne, president of the Forest Park Southeast Community Council (the neighborhood group in FPSE):

"It is very clear what is going on in Adams Grove. If you have not been over here lately, please drive through (don't walk) especially the 44xx and 43xx blocks of Vista, Norfolk and Swan. You will see the lack of City services, the land banking/hoarding, the fear and the desperation of the people who live here.

"Many people attended the last security meeting. We turned in addresses where derelict, probably stolen, cars remain after numerous calls to the police department were made. One remains in the alley behind my house - there have been at least 4 calls and the address was given to the security meeting. Do we have to find a child in the trunk before someone will take the cars out? They are being stripped a little more each day. [Ed.: The car Kim mentions is located at 4467 Norfolk and was the subject of my post from September 16, "Everyone loves a sporty red car, right?".]

"Men regularly carry out central air conditioning units, hot water heaters, gutters, and yes, I have seen kitchen sinks, go down the street on shopping carts. I don't know if these are "gang bangers" but I know this is the kind of crime that would be addressed if our Alderman or doctors from Wash U lived here.

This is deliberate underdevelopment."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Bleeding Red

Some people look at the red-dyed water in downtown's fountains this week and see the color of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, currently ending its last season is lovely old Busch Stadium.

Others swear that the red in the fountains comes from deep within the city, and that it may be the blood of the wrecked buildings that once stood where the fountains now jet. Does that red water in the US Bank plaza at Seventh and Locust not look like the life-stuff of the fallen Ambassador Building?

Friday, October 7, 2005

Cold Nights

Cold nights in St. Louis are here.

There is a small apartment fire being put out in the 4500 block of Swan in the People's Republic of the Grove as I type.