Later this year will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the day that I received in the mail the nomination forms and instructions for nominating a building to the National Register of Historic Places. My mission was simple: get the St. Louis City Hospital listed on the National Register of Historic Places and rehabbed. My age then: eleven going on twelve.
Thus began (or rather solidified) a strange and wonderful journey into historic preservation and built environment advocacy that continues today. I ended up submitting a now-embarrassing nomination for City Hospital that received conditional approval from the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation despite the formal objection of Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. Of course, the listing languished for a number of reasons and the nomination floundered. A later nomination prepared by Lynn Josse for the Landmarks Association of St. Louis was approved and listed in 2000. City Hospital has been rehabbed -- at least the parts that weren't demolished.
Back then, I had the strange dream of rehabbing the City Hospital myself and how exciting the long days of toil and restoration would be. Nowadays, working mostly alone on a single house in Old North St. Louis, I regret the scope of that dream.
Back in 1994 and 1995, I lobbied to preserve the City Hospital, the Syndicate Trust and Century Buildings and others. I remember sending letters to Kate Shea, the Director of Cultural Resources and making phone calls to Carolyn Toft of the Landmarks Association. I remember going to Heritage and Urban Design Committee meetings, and paying attention to how the proceedings worked and the interaction between applicants and the commission. I spent days on end at the Central Library, the Missouri Historical Society Library and anywhere else I could get information on St. Louis architectural history, and taught myself. High school and college provided some break in my efforts, but the interest only grew stronger.
Flash forward now and some things remain the same but my role is vastly different. I now work under Carolyn at Landmarks, and actually have Lynn's job. I frequently am in touch with Kate and testify at the Preservation Board, successor to the Heritage and Urban Design Commission. There is a different mayor. I'm still pretty young to be involved in these proceedings.
The biggest definite change in fifteen years is that I don't feel isolated at all. There is a genuine community of people paying attention, and better than that, the members know each other well. This has come hand in hand with the narrative shift in the city's history from one of decline to revitalization. We'll see what happens in the next fifteen years. I plan to stay and continue my participation. Fifteen years ago that vow might have seemed foolish. (But fifteen years ago, and today, so am I.)