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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Preservation Board to Consider Demolition of Unique House in "The Grove"

On the agenda for Monday's meeting of the St. Louis Preservation Board is the demolition of a unique house at 4485 Vista Avenue in "the Grove." The city's Land Reutilization Authority owns the house and is applying for demolition along with Alderman Joseph Roddy (D-17th).

Check out the last photograph on this page of a report that I wrote on the condition of Taylor Avenue, which runs to the west of the house. You'll see that 4485 Vista is a wide, symmetrical side-gabled frame home with a center-hall plan. The centered doorway is flanked by pairs of windows, with one dormer centered above each pair. This symplicity is almost rustic -- no surprise given that the center-hall house was a common choice for Midwestern farms in the nineteenth century. Very few homes of this type exist in the city of St. Louis, and no other can be found in the Grove. The date of construction is not definitive, but it's possible this house dates to the period when the Adams Grove area was subdivided as the Laclede Race Course Addition to the city in 1875.

This house is a unique home and clearly eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Hopefully, the Preservation Board will block demolition so that a respectful owner will purchase the building from the city.

Earlier, the LRA applied for a demolition permit for the house in 2004 and was denied by the Cultural Resources Office and the Preservation Board.

If you'd like to comment on the demolition, there are several ways. You can attend Monday's meeting of the Preservation Board at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room of the Locust Building, 1015 Locust. You can call the staff of the Cultural Resources Office at 314-622-3400. Also, you can send written testimony to Kate Shea, Director of Cultural Resources, at SheaK(at)stlouiscity.com.

15 comments:

DeBaliviere said...

It's a beautiful home, one of the most unique in the city, and I hope that it will be spared.

Anonymous said...

This area of FPSE is Adam's Grove perhaps, but is it really in the Gills' newly discovered "Grove?"

Oh well, move along, nothing to see here. You're supposed to let this hidden corner of the speculators' next "it" neighborhood just be quietly torn down.

Anonymous said...

Okay Michael,

Yes, these buildings are historic, or at least old.

Fine. Besides that, why do you do this? You write to save these old, unloved, abandoned, and falling down buildings.

For good reason, the alderman wants them down. LRA wants them down. Guessing here...the FPSE Development Corp wants them down.

So why should we say "preserve"? With what money?

This part of the neighborhood is not National Register listed. And even if it were, there'd still be a shortfall between market value and development cost.

Who's ready to pay their own donated funds to rescue this abandoned heap of a once-loved home?

Question for the poets here...

Speculate: How long has it been since this home was loved by one of its occupants?

Anthony Coffin said...

"For good reason, the alderman wants them down. LRA wants them down. Guessing here...the FPSE Development Corp wants them down."

Anoymous- Why do you speak as if these are the only people wo can make good decisions regarding development? Yes, there are reasons they want the building gone but I am not so sure they are "good reasons", or smart reasons for that matter.

Anonymous said...

What are some of the reasons buildings get demolished?

They are abandoned.

They are decayed.

They breed crime.

They have infeasibly high cost of rehab.

Clearing a derelict building can stimulate new construction.

To remove blight.

To improve the appearance of the block.

Neighbors agree and want to see the building demolished.

Neighbors are tired of looking at a boarded up, falling down, vacant building.

These are just a few of the reasons frequently cited to demolish an abandoned building.

Are these bad reasons?

Anthony Coffin said...

Anonymous,
Those arguments could have been, and in fact were, used against large parts of the city during the 60s,70s, 80s, and 90s. I am not saying that no demolition should take place in the city. However, do you think the city would be in a better place today if it had lost more of it's architectual stock? Consider if Soulard had been comletely demolished and done over with new construction in the 70s. My point is, historic buildings can lure in development and make an area far more desireable than any new construction in the city has been able to do. New construction is also generaly extremely low quality compared to the historic housing stock of the region, yes this is true even compared to a frame building such as the one in question.

Anthony Coffin said...

Oh I almost forgot, the buildings breed crime argument. That is my favorite. How do two buildings mate anyway? We can wipe out all the crime in one generation if we destroy the buildings before they can produce more criminals. Blame crime on the buildings it's all their fault!

Anonymous said...

Do neighborhoods not included on the National Register not deserve beauty?

What an elitist assumption: that wealthier neighborhoods where residents are more likely to pursue historic district designations should have historic buildings that last for generations while poorer neighborhoods should have vacant lots or shoddy, unattractive new construction.

Anonymous said...

^ That's an interesting point. Are you suggesting that their has been a conspiracy against poor neighborhoods to prevent them from becoming listed on the National Register?

Hyde Park is on the National Register. Part of Carondelet is on the National Register. Neith of those would be considered "wealthier" areas.

As far as vacant buildings breedin crime. Well, let's see.

I am reminded of one vacant building being used as a crack house. People have heard that term before, right? Crack House?

When I walked past it (has all the look of a vacant, abandoned building) there was the sound of vicious, barking dogs coming from inside the house.

Crack dealers like to claim abandoned houses, store their illegal drugs inside, and sometimes lock mean dogs in too, just to keep the buildings more scary and safe for their illegal enterprise.

Yup.

Anonymous said...

Reasons to remove buildings:

"To remove blight."

Yes tear down the building so you have an overgrown, trashfilled vacant lot.

"To improve the appearance of the block."

Yes those many vacant blocks of North St. Louis really help to improve the look of the neighborhood. They make the few remaining houses look odd and out of place.

"Clearing a derelict building can stimulate new construction."

The only time this ever works is when there is a plan in place to replace the house. If no plan exists, this will most likely never happen.

Anonymous said...

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

This conversation is getting ridiculous.

We can all agree it's usually best to save and rehab abandonded homes whenever possible. But that is not always the case.


Some of these arguments just don't hold water:

Re. the removal of blight:

"Yes tear down the building so you have an overgrown, trashfilled vacant lot.Yes tear down the building so you have an overgrown, trashfilled vacant lot."

C'mon folks, it's a lot easier to maintain a vacant lot than an abandoned, collapsing building. You can even turn it into a well maintained side yard for responsible neighbors. Call it "addition by subtraction".

Regarding demolition to make a block look better:

"Yes those many vacant blocks of North St. Louis really help to improve the look of the neighborhood. They make the few remaining houses look odd and out of place."

Reading some of these comments gives one the impression the people making them have never walked through a real depressed area. If you did, you wouldn't make such statements. And imagine being a young child, say 6 or 7 years old walking past these falling down vacant structures on the way to the bus stop or grandma's house. It's not all about the buildings. It's about the people.

Regarding building replacement housing:

"The only time this ever works is when there is a plan in place to replace the house. If no plan exists, this will most likely never happen."

This statement is just flat ignorant. The city is building thousands of new homes on sites of demolished, formerly abandoned and dilapidated housing units.

Michael Allen said...

This discussion is indeed getting past my point. We have a one-of-a-kind historic house, the sort that our tear-'em-down boosters also flaunt in the faces of other cities less endowed with such houses.

We have a neighborhood where a lot of reinvestment is happening based on the concentration of unique historic houses.

We have an alderman and development corporation who still believe that wholesale clearance gets good results.

The alderman and another development corporation just finished clearing over 25 lots occupied by historic buidlings. What is there now? Tumbleweeds and lost opportunities. Maybe new houses, but they don't really know yet.

The last anonymous poster is perpetuating the stereotype of an unimaginative lower middle class who see demolition as the only choice for dealing with nuisance property. That isn't the case. I *live* surrounded by vacant buildings, and my income level isn't great. Most of my neighbors are lower middle class. I rarely encounter the viewpoint that the boarded-up buildings surrounding me should be demolished. More often than not, I hear complaints that our alderwoman and LRA are letting valuable homes fall down.

Even in Wells-Goodfellow or Hyde Park I have met residents who see past the decay and the knee-jerk response of unenlightened bureaucrats to see historic buildings as a form of community wealth some peopel want to rob them of.

An old building like 4485 Vista is community wealth. Who cares if it is listed on the National Register? The National Register is a tax-credit engine these days, fraught with political compromises. There are important buildings never listed, and insignificant ones that qualify. We do need to expand National Register listing across the city as far and wide as possible, but we also need to find ways to preserve the buildings that fall through the cracks due to bad planning choices. (And, by the way, I think this house is eligible for listing.)

Anonymous said...

It could also be considered elitist for non-ward residents to cross turf boundaries in an attempt to block a demolition that neighborhood residents, the local community development corporation, and alderman all want.

That's the whole point of aldermanic courtesy: to prevent such interloping.

Michael Allen said...

^

Stop interloping.

Preserve aldermanic courtesy (talk about stuck-in-the past preservationists).

Enshrine fear and pettiness into law.

Keep the city in 52nd place!

Anonymous said...

What are some of the reasons buildings get rehabbed?

They are abandoned.

They are decayed.

They breed crime.

They are irreplacable.

Rehabbing a derelict building can stimulate new construction.

To remove blight.

To improve the appearance of the block.

Neighbors agree and want to see the building rehabbed.

Neighbors are tired of looking at a boarded up, falling down, vacant building.

These are just a few of the reasons frequently cited to rehab an abandoned building.

Now tell me what's wrong with that?

As has been said of many things in life: It is difficult to build, but easy to destroy.