We've Moved

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

Sunday, April 29, 2007

SkyHouse Raising Issues

The proposed SkyHouse project at the southwest corner of 14th and Washington raises interesting issues. On one hand, we have a 22-story condominium building with a thoroughly contemporary design. While the details of the design aren't evident in published renderings, the overall streamlined appearance is attractive if not original. This is the sort of building that gets built several times a year in Chicago, and has not been built in St. Louis' downtown in forty years.

On the other hand, the project would entail demolition of two historic but remuddled buildings: a two-story corner storefront known best as the home of Ehrlich's Cleaners, and a one-story building to its west. Both buildings have had been clad in stucco, and historic appearance is weak. The corner building does still display the shape of its parapet and its beautiful cast-iron storefront. The buildings join other, more intact buildings around the intersection in proving traces of the sort of scale of commercial buildings that were mostly lost in the twentieth-century building and later parking lot booms. These building set a nice counterpoint to the six- or ten-story wholesale buildings in Washington Avenue and create openings within the street canyon for nice urban views.

The SkyHouse would dramatically alter the feeling of this site by introducing a very different size of scale to Washington. The tall modern mass would also create visual variety and perhaps serve as a more hopeful symbol of the street's stability than two badly-altered smaller buildings. Certainly, preservation of the two historic buildings is unlikely.

However, whether or not SkyHouse gets built, the proposal should be the start of serious discussion about how we should make the kinds of choices downtown new construction will force. There are many smaller historic buildings, some lacking any official landmark status, whose demolition might create larger sites for bigger development. Yet their loss could also destroy the visual variety and differences in height and building size that make downtown an attractive place. One SkyHouse is great, but ten similar buildings grouped near each other seems a rather gloomy prospect.

Chicago has never really established a cultural preservation plan that leads to comprehensible choices. That city has let developers run cultural preservation policy by default, with mixed results and a rise in visual homogenization. Other cities, like Minneapolis and New York, have found better ways to retain the architectural qualities that define places as special. St. Louis is gifted with a great historic architectural stock, and decisions about its conservation need to be made carefully.

(As usual, there is lively discussion about this project on the Urban St. Louis form. Read it here.)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Clemens House Still for Sale

The James Clemens, Jr. House is still for sale, per a judge's order from February 2006. (Back story here.)

Look in the Mirror

Yesterday, Mayor Francis Slay endorsed the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act in the State of the City address. What do we do today?

First introduced in February, the legislative proposal is just over two months old. In two months, a lot can be done. People can identify problematic legislation, lobby for amendments and work to secure major changes -- or defeat. Obviously, though, people working alone or in small groups do not effect such changes. People need lobbies or organizations to catch the attention of elected officials.

With the Distressed Areas tax credit, a whole host of issues was raised. Land use, displacement of low-income owners and renters, historic preservation and the use of government to benefit single developers all came up. There are numerous advocacy groups doing work in these areas, but none took the tax credit proposal or Paul McKee's north side project seriously enough to invest in a formal position.

Here we see the inherent inaction in the local political culture. Rather than risk losing a political fight, the guardians of the establishment would rather resign themselves to fatalism than make a decent effort to invest in an issue. Fatalism, after all, is intellectually respectful (and profoundly lazy). No one ever lost a bet by promising to do nothing.

Clearly, the location of McKee's project enables the culture of complacency. The middle and upper classes of the region have long forsaken north St. Louis, or outright supported its annihilation. This attitude has enabled decades of decline then blamed upon stereotypical poor and African-American people willing to hold neglected areas together. These same classes control the organizations that could have provided a voice on the tax credit issue. The apathy is thus not surprising.

Those who have participated in organizations before who might recognize the urgency of the tax credit issue are elsewhere. Leadership in St. Louis is unsustainable, and new voices are quickly recuperated into the morass of complacent inaction or rejected outright. Those who are new to the game find little guidance and support and much cynicism here.

Meanwhile, the failure of political leadership leads to neighborhoods left undefended, people left without advocates, buildings left wrecked and a city ultimately cast into middling status by default. We can blame Mayor Slay or Lewis Reed for bringing us down all we want, but their victories are symptomatic of a culture of apathy everyone seems to cultivate. They are easy scapegoats for the self-righteous, and ascribing to them and their minions unlimited powers helps us feel better about not taking responsibility or aiding our friends who are trying desperately to create change.

If the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act is an inevitable legislative proposal, that means that we have taken the last two months and wasted opportunities to form a coalition to change the proposal into one more appropriate to St. Louis. Of course, accepting the inevitability of the proposal still does not excuse further inaction. However, from the Century Building battle on back to the Gateway Mall we see a string of isolated instances of activism where the leadership on the issues withered away and critical mass was fleeting. The irony is that these battles have reinforced the point that sustainable long-term vision and strong organization is needed to even get a seat at the decision-making table, let alone change the discourse of the establishment so our ideas are truly considered.

What do we do today? A better question may be what can we do? The need to create sustainable organizations related to urban development issues is crucial. The need to foster progressive political leadership is essential. Are these things within our grasp? Do we want them to be?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Mayor Slay Supports Landbanking Tax Credit, Other Incentives

From the State of the City speech by Mayor Francis Slay:

I strongly believe that we have to be prepared to provide incentives to spur development in our more challenging neighborhoods. If the private sector was going to invest in those neighborhoods without assistance, it already would have done so. We must find ways to jump start that development.

There are three specific ideas that, working together, will do just that.

First, I have made passage of state legislation to establish a tax credit to assemble land for new development in low-income neighborhoods one of our highest legislative priorities.

Such a credit would make it much more likely that neighborhoods that cannot attract new investment on their own will see the same new life that trendier neighborhoods are already enjoying.

Second, we have set aside nearly $2-million dollars in Community Development Block Grant funds to spur neighborhood development in challenged neighborhoods in north St. Louis. Now that elections are over and all of you are firmly seated, Barb [Geisman] will be working with you to see that these funds are put towards uses that have long-term impact.

Third, I intend to work with you and President Reed to continue to use tax increment financing to attract private investment to those City neighborhoods where it is most needed and where TIF will work. And he and I will oppose any blanket policy that seeks to ban or restrict residential TIFs.

Praising Pius XII Memorial Library

Last week The University News, St. Louis University's campus paper, published a letter to the editor that I wrote about proposed changes to Pius XII Memorial Library, a stunning work in the Modern Movement style.

Here's the link: Architectural Historian Praises Pius

Built St. Louis and B.E.L.T. have extensive photographs of one of the region's best mid-century university buildings.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mayor's Campaign Website Polling on Landbanking Tax Credit

The Mayor Francis Slay's campaign website now features a "mini poll" on the current session of the Missouri legislature. One of the questions is interesting:

A bill being considered in the Missouri legislature would establish a tax credit to assemble large tracts of land for new development in low-income City neighborhoods. Is this a good idea?

Here are the choices for answers:

_ Yes, spurring large-scale development in City neighborhoods that have seen years of disinvestment is a good idea
_ No, the tax credit idea is fine, but the scale of the new development worries me
_ No, it's just wrong to use public incentives to encourage private development

See it for yourself here. Perhaps the mayor's stance will be influenced by the result of the mini poll.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another Bill Containing Landbanking Tax Credit Now In Joint Conference

Meet HB 327, which "modifies provisions of certain Department of Economic Development programs."

This is yet another Missouri legislature bill in which one finds the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit. When in doubt, place your language in as many bills as possible -- especially those that other people want for less controversial reasons. The difference is that this bill has proceeded to joint conference today, and has seen a lot of action in the Senate and House, making it the most likely avenue of passage for the large-scale landbanking tax credit.

St. Louisans on the joint committee are Sen. Harry Kennedy and Rep. Fred Kratky.

More later.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Duffy on the Lambert Terminal Renovations

Robert Duffy, formerly critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has a commentary on the proposed Lambert Terminal renovations in the March-April issue of the Landmarks Letter, the newsletter of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

Read the commentary here (in PDF format).

Bill With Landbanking Credit Provision Moves Forward in State Senate

Today in the Missouri Senate, SB 282 (Now described as "Modifies provisions of certain Department of Economic Development Programs"; formerly the Quality Jobs Act) was placed on the informal calendar for perfection. The bill includes the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, the program backed by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and reportedly sought by developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. that would provide tax credits for land assembly projects of 75 acres or greater.

Proponents of the land assemblage credits have cited north St. Louis as a good place for its use. Residents of north St. Louis and urban design critics have voiced opposition based on the effect that large-scale programs would have on disruption of architectural fabric and displacement of residential populations as well as the secrecy associated with the bill and its support from the office of Mayor Francis Slay. Through chief of staff Jeff Rainford, Slay has indicated support for the bill although he refuses to make public statements on the controversial "Blairmont" acquisition project Paul J. McKee began in 2003 in north St. Louis -- and publicly denied until this year -- long before the tax credits were proposed. Residents of Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou have long complained about the neglect of property, questionable tactics of real estate agents and negative impact on revitalization the "Blairmont" project has created. Furthermore, the City Counselor's office is currently investigating the code violations associated with the over 637 properties acquired by McKee's companies in north St. Louis.

While McKee created and implemented the "Blairmont" project, the tax credit law could encourage similar attempts to amass property in north St. Louis. As McKee's project shows, such attempts are messy and potentially could discourage people from wanting to live in targeted areas during long acquisition phases.

The Senate could consider making the bill more appropriate for use in urban areas by
- limiting the size of eligible projects to a maximum of forty acres
- inserting stricter limits on acquisition of owner-occupied units
- reducing the amount of credits that can be applied to occupied housing units purchased for projects
- requiring that eligible parcels are up to local codes
- prohibiting use of the credits on liens and bills for maintenance from local government
- requiring projects pursue historic preservation planning

You can contact the St. Louis senators and offer your views on the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act. (Senator Maida Coleman represents the area where McKee's companies have acquired property.) When the bill is on the floor of the full senate, any senator can offer an amendment -- and vote against the bill. Senator Smith's commentary on the bill, "How to Turn a Bill Into a Christmas Tree," suggests that he might oppose the final version.

St. Louis Senators' Contact Information

Sen. Maida Coleman (D-5th)
(573) 751-2606
(314) 535-5999

Sen. Harry Kennedy (D-1st)
(573) 751-2126
(314) 481-5857

Sen. Jeff Smith (D-4th)
(573) 751-3599
(314) 361-4333

Monday, April 23, 2007

In Fifteen Years

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.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Breaking the Tamm Avenue Bridge

People watching crews breaking up the Tamm Avenue bridge over Highway 40 just minutes after wreckers exploded the bridge piers. Taken Friday, April 20.

Preservation Board Meets Tomorrow to Consider Modern Houses on Westminster, Other Items

The city's Preservation Board meets tomorrow. The agenda is available with full reports. The agenda features the usual preliminary review of new construction in historic districts, another case of vinyl windows being installed without a permit and several nominations to the National Register of Historic Places (including two on which I am coauthor with Carolyn Toft). There are no demolition permits on this month's agenda.

Perhaps the most interesting agenda item concerns 4257 and 4263 Westminster in the Central West End, where architect and Preservation Board member Anthony Robinson seeks to build two very modern houses.

The meeting begins at 4:00 p.m. in the offices of the Planning and Urban Design Agency, 1015 Locust Street on the 12th floor.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Cook Avenue Survivor Falls

The Romanesque Revival house at 3658-60 Cook Avenue, the subject of an article on Ecology of Absence last year, is slated for demolition. The house and a connected house to the east were architecturally similar and jointly made a strong impact on the streetscape. I can think of few interconnected buildings in the city that were so compatible and whose existences seemed so deeply intertwined.

In late August 2006, a fire struck both houses and led to the demolition of the city-owned half of the pair. The other house remained in place, against the odds of reason, time and condition. Brick rustlers made quick work of the rear elevation, leaving gaping holes and revealing whole rooms. That uncertain state is now over.

The Building Division has apparently issued a permit (Geo St. Louis shows a permit application), and a wrecker's sign now hangs on the front elevation.

While photographing the doomed house this week, I met a neighborhood resident who asked me why I was photographing the building. (Some of these photographs will be posted on EOA at some point.) I offered that the building was special, and he asked me again why I was there and whether or not I would buy it and fix it up. I told him about the demolition, and he was amazed. A house like this won't ever be built again, I said and he nodded.

The other, newer ballon-frame houses on the block will blow over in the next tornado, according to this man. Seeing how beautiful and sturdy this house was even after a fire underscored his point well.

Mullanphy Emigrant Home Effort Unveils Website

The Historic Mullanphy Alliance today unveiled its new website with background in the buidling, information for making donations and updates on the work of the Alliance. The next time someone asks you what happened or why this is important, you can refer them to this wonderfully-designed compendium. (The designer of the site is Old North web whiz Nate Sprehe.)

One of the best features of the site is the graphic used here that shows the progress made in fundraising. Through the site, one can get not only the message but proof that progress is being made.

Here's the address for the site: SaveMullanphy.org

(Image above from SaveMullanphy.org.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

When Have You Been to Laclede's Landing?

Walking to Laclede's Landing today on business, I wondered when exactly was the last time that I was there to do anything other than photograph a building or lead a tour group. I was drawing a blank until I remembered an art opening there recently and shows at the shuttered Missisippi Nights, the one venue that seemed to bring any locals not looking for straight-ahead drinking to the Landing.

I'm sure that others have similar difficulty remembering when they have been to Laclede's Landing. The disconnect between the charming, historic and architecturally splendid district and the rest of downtown is huge, and not simply physical. The longer that disconnect perpetuates, the more missed opportunities for the city to celebrate its waterfront heritage and the related great architecture.

In many cities, this would be a premiere residential district. The proximity to the river and the iconic Gateway Arch create commanding views that -- unlike most here -- include the Mississippi River. How much more unique character could one find here? Laclede's Landing is a cultural asset whose fortunes seem lost -- for now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Requiem on Washington

Demolition of the three houses at 4011-21 Washington Boulevard owned by Saaman Development is well underway. See my April 9 post for details and, better yet, see the destruction in person. Then try to tell me that our city's preservation review ordinance is functional.

On April 11 Paul Hohmann posted photographs of the demolition and insightful commentary to Vanishing STL: Demolition of 4011-21 Washington Proceeds

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Richard Nickel, Thirty Five Years After Death

Chicago salvager, photographer, historian and activist Richard Nickel was killed thirty-five years ago on April 13, 1972 while salvaging at the Chicago Stock Exchange Building. Thirty-five years later, Nickel's legacy is evident in the contemporary preservation movement. Today architectural salvage, systematic photographic documentation, appreciation of commercial and industrial buildings and concern for the effects of widespread demolition are widely understood as important components of historic preservation -- even if not as widely implemented as they should be.

Edward Lifson, himself an interesting interpreter of architectural history, commemorates the anniversary of Nickel's death and celebrates the new book Richard Nickel's Chicago in a segment from NPR that ran earlier this week.

Although not as famous as many contemporaries, Nickel sparks an intensity in people as they consider his haunting images, fiercely-argued writings and the awareness he kindled in people still alive today. Years later, for American historic preservation, Nickel stands as a pioneer whose accomplishments have not been fully considered (or even recorded) and whose ideas will provoke our minds for generations.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Mullanphy Effort Hits the Royale on Thursday

The Historic Mullanphy Alliance raised over $12,000 at its fundraiser on Saturday at the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood. Keep the momentum going -- here's your next chance:

Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, Claire Nowak-Boyd and Michael Allen
and the Historic Mullanphy Alliance

invite you to the

to benefit the effort to rebuild the historic Mullanphy Emigrant Home
and for informal conversation on urban issues

featuring music by DJ Akita San

Thursday, April 197:00 - 9:00 PM
The Royale, 3132 S. Kingshighway


The Historic Mullanphy Alliance will be collecting donations toward stabilization of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home, and the Royale is graciouslydonating $1 from every purchase of a Schlafly product to the effort. Cometogether with fellow citizens to help an important effort and for informaldiscussion on architecture, history, politics and anything else on your mind.


The historic Mullanphy Emigrant Home in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood endured more storm damage on March 31. The building wasbuilt in 1867 as a home for newly-arrived immigrants who settled in St.Louis and points westward. The building is an important part of ourcity's immigrant heritage, and architecturally-significant landmark and an important part of the future of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. Thebuilding is owned by the nonprofit Old North St. Louis Restoration Group,which is trying to raise funds needed to repair the storm damage.

More information is online at SaveMullanphy.org.

If you can't attend, send a donation of any amount to:
Mullanphy c/o
Old North St. Louis Restoration Group
2800 N. 14th StreetSt. Louis, MO 63107

If you have questions, contact Michael Allen at 314-920-5680.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Creating a Preservation Fund

In a post entitled "A Dedicated Fund For Historic Preservation In STL?" at STL Rising, Rick Bonsach raises the point that St. Louis lacks a dedicated emergency historic preservation fund. The existence of such a fund would have aided Old North St. Louis with stabilizing the storm-damaged Mullanphy Emigrant Home (pictured above in the "better" days of December 2006).

Bonasch suggests that the topic be discussed among those who attend tonight's fundraiser for the Mullanphy (at the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood from 5-7:30 p.m.; details here).

The discussion should continue past tonight. With rising interest in historic preservation in north side neighborhoods hampered by strong weather, arson and metal thieves, such a fund could establish a sustainable effort to ensure that some funds are available for emergency stabilization. Such a fund could empower neighborhoods who might otherwise consider demolition as the only practical option. Many neighborhoods on the north side are far from having strong markets for historic buildings, but with assistance will undoubtedly reach that point.

The first response to Bonasch in his comments section is dismissive and seems to presuppose government footing the bill for the fund. Bonasch replies that he envisions the private sector administering the fund. After all, the Mullanphy effort has yet to collect a dollar of city money -- and probably will not. The momentum is building regardless.

(Some have joked that instead of a preservation fund what is most urgently needed is an advocacy group against our new forms of severe weather.)

Bonasch's post raises interesting questions:

Does St. Louis have the energy and vision to continue working for emergency stabilization efforts after the Mullanphy is rebuilt?

Can we sustain the effort foe years to come?

Can we successfully collect money for the effort in the absence of a targeted project like the Mullanphy?

Are there existing organizations or people who may have established a suitable foundation for such work?

Should city government be involved?

Would St. Louisans be willing to have any tax money go into the creation of such a fund?

Are their existing municipal funds that could be used for stabilization instead of demolition?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Even a cat can do it

I am reminded on a daily basis that StL's bus system needs to be more user-friendly. Even bare bones schedules and maps at every stop would go a long way, as would running buses more than every 500 years (erm, 30 minutes).

But still, I have heard some funny excuses over the years for why folks don't climb aboard.

Next time I get an earful about how trying [just once!] even the straightforward, straight line, eponymous, every-10-minutes Grand bus is mysteriously "too hard," I believe I will have to let the person know that even a cat can figure out a bus system.

Behold!: Mystery cat takes regular bus to the shops

....thanks to Jesse Swoboda for the tip!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Landbanking Bill Also Pending in the House

Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton is the sponsor of HB 991, the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act. The bill is identical the Senate Committee Substitute section of the same name in SB 282 introduced Senator John Griesheimer (R-26th). The bill has been scheduled for a hearing by the House Special Committee on Job Creation and Economic Development. (SB 282 awaits a vote by the full Seanate.)

Read the full text here.

Recall that the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act creates a $100 million tax credit program for redevelopment projects of at least 75 acres in federally-certified distressed areas, administered by the Missouri Department of Economic Development. The program was first proposed in February by Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, who stated to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that sections of north St. Louis resembled Berlin after Word War II and needed such a credit for urgent revitalization. Both Kinder and Griesheimer have admitted that developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. wants to use the credit in conjunction with his controversial north St. Louis project commonly known by the name "Blairmont."

As with the senate version, the credits are available to any applicant who is appointed redeveloper by a municipal authority or any applicant who has already incurred expenses and assembled parcels meeting the requirements of the bill. McKee almost definitely would qualify for the credits even if St. Louis city government does not appoint him redeveloper of the area in the St. Louis Place, Old North St. Louis and JeffVanderLou neighborhoods where he owns at least 637 parcels through holding companies. Also note that the tax credit application does not require any redevelopment plan beyond site assembly, meaning that even if a parcel remains vacant in ten years an applicant will be able to get the tax credit up front.

Among the co-sponsors of HB 991 is Representatives Rodney Hubbard (D-58th), whose district includes most of McKee's holdings. Other city Representatives listed as co-sponsors are Thomas Villa (D-108th), Connie Johnson (D-61st), Robin Wright-Jones (D-63rd), Rachel Storch (D-64th), Fred Kratky (D-65th), and T.D. El-Amin (D-57th). Kratky and Hubbard are the only St. Louis representatives on the Special Committee on Job Creation and Economic Development.

Four city representatives are not co-sponsors: Jamilah Nasheed (D-60th), whose district includes the remainder of McKee's holdings, Jeanette Mott-Oxford (D-59th), Mike Daus (D-67th) and Michael Vogt (D-66th).

Contact information for state representatives can be found here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

This Week in Architectural Education

On Wednesday, Landmarks Association of St. Louis presented a version of its What Are Buildings Made Of? (WABMO) program to 25 students of Ranken Technical College.

After an introduction from co-worker Susan Tschetter, I gave a 20-minute slideshow talk with short histories of common local historic and modern building materials as well as some discussion of how the use of each material influenced and enabled different common building forms. Landmarks staffer Doug Johnson followed with a presentation of actual building materials, and finally we screened the ever-relevant ...It's Just One Building to make its subtle and effective case for sound preservation planning.

The highlight of any WABMO program is the walking tour, and despite windy weather the tours went well. Richard Mueller, Karen Halla, Susan and I served as guides for one-hour walking tours of the eastern section of downtown. The Ranken students were lively, engaging and attentive -- an ideal group. I knew I was in for a good time when one of them pointed at the Arch and shouted "Look, there's Union Station" but then proceeded to listen attentively to my explanation of the role of the Old Courthouse and the long-gone Merchant's Exchange in pulling commercial St. Louis westward.

My tour's stops ranged from the Adam's Mark Hotel (the epitome of bad 1980's architecture and an example of a terrible re-cladding of an older building) to the Old Post Office, and included spirited conversation. When I offered the students the chance of leaving the tour at the designated end time or continuing to see a few more things, they all stayed on the tour.

The challenge with architectural education again seems not to be finding a convincing message and compelling information but rather getting the message to the public. Our city’s great architecture is an "easy sell" in many ways. People can’t help but notice the wonders of the built environment here, even if they have not yet encountered encouragement and explanation. The more we provide that encouragement and explanation, the stronger our cultural appreciation for architecture will become.

Media Recognizing Mullanphy Effort

Yesterday, KMOV Channel 4 ran a lengthy segment on its 6:00 p.m. news report. Watch it here: Group hopes to restore historic building, revive declining neighborhood.

In the last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has published both a news story and a commentary:

Efforts to save 1867 building are dealt extra blow by recent storm - Tim O'Neil (April 9)

Mullanphy Emigrant Home welcomed and helped our ancestors - Sean Thomas (April 10)

Monday, April 9, 2007

Done Gutting for Now

On Saturday came the last anticipated removal of a plaster ceiling at our house. We have long decided not to extensively gut the house. For one thing, the plaster is remarkably intact and has escaped the major water infiltration that typically dooms it to to the wrecking bar. For another thing, the amount of waste created by gutting gives us pause. Without a clear need for gutting save perfection, the whole deal seems wasteful. Hence, we have only removed three historic plaster ceilings. Season rehabbers can probably guess where these three ceilings are located: under each staircase.

With staircases, gutting is necessity. The bowing of masonry walls leads to the movement of stair stringers tied into those walls. Inevitably, the shims keeping treads and risers tight in their pockets fall and the stairs begin to creak, moan and slip. The only option decades later is to remove the ceilings below and undertake extensive staircase repairs involving shimming the stringers to tighten up the pockets, and then fitting the treads and risers with new shims to keep them snug.

With the first staircase, we had to remove every tread and every riser to rebuild. With the other two, we anticipate easier jobs without as much work. Later, I will post details of the work. For now, rest assured that part of me is ecstatic to have done the final gutting of a plaster ceiling here. Gone are the inevitable scrapes of skin quickly filled with stinging lime; gone are the particles that get past even the best respirator. Gone too is the quick swig of beer to force dust into the digestive system and out of the respiratory.

At least, such moments are gone at this building. With every pry of a lath comes the maddening delusion that the work isn't so bad and that one can do it again and agian until the whole city is rehabbed.

Demolition Likely to Proceed on Three Houses on Washington

Word on the street is that demolition is proceeding on the three houses owned by Saaman Development on the 4000 block of Washington Avenue. Read more on Urban Review here in a blog entry from April 2006.

The houses are located in the city's Eighteenth Ward, represented by Alderman Terry Kennedy, who is also a member of the Preservation Board. Kennedy has opted not to include his ward in the voluntary ward-by-ward preservation review program that ensures that buildings like these receive review for reuse potential.

The houses are also located in the Central West End neighborhood, renowned for its historic architecture and high residential density.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Historic Mullanphy Alliance Forging Ahead

Since the Mullanphy Emigrant Home in Old North St. Louis endured further storm damage Saturday, its supporters in the Historic Mullanphy Alliance have intensified their fund raising and awareness drive.

Despite overwhelming difficulties and the lack of a model for dealing with emergency building stabilization, the alliance is not shying away from the daunting task of securing an estimated $350,000 for stabilization.

The Alliance announced today an emergency fundraiser next Saturday, April 14, at the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood. (Details at the new SaveMullanphy.org site.)

Also in the works are a fundraiser at the Royale on April 19 and a benefit concert at Christ Church Cathedral sponsored by Landmarks Association of St. Louis on May 16.

Yesterday, KWMU radio's Matt Sepic noted the damage and fundraising effort in a story summarized online.

The Historic Mullanphy Alliance is chaired by Old North residents John Burse and Claire Nowak-Boyd.

District Closing and Selling Five Schools, Selling Six More

The St. Louis Public Schools will be closing and selling five more schools and selling six others. (Post-Dispatch coverage is here.) These are the first closings since 2003, when the district closed 17 schools.

Schools to be closed and sold:
Ashland Branch, 4415 Margaretta Avenue
Euclid Montessori, 1131 North Euclid Avenue
Lafayette, 815 Ann Avenue
Turner Branch, 4235 West Kennerly Avenue
Webster Middle, 2127 North 11th Street

Additional buildings to be sold:
Central High, 3616 North Garrison Avenue
DeAndreis, 4275 Clarence Avenue
Gardenville, 6651 Gravois Avenue
Lexington, 5020 Lexington Avenue
Marshall, 4342 Aldine Avenue
Marshall Branch, 4322 Aldine Avenue

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Haven of Grace Expansion Moving Forward

By March 22, Haven of Grace had demolished the house at 2605 Hadley Street in Old North St. Louis -- a building counted as a contributing resource to the Murphy-Blair Historic District. Last month, the Preservation Board approved the demolition permit for the house at its February meeting. (Read more here.)

Haven of Grace originally had applied to demolish that house and another one at 2619-21 Hadley Street that is also a contributing resource to the district. At the Preservation Board meeting, Haven of Grace announced its withdrawal of that application and its intention to rehabilitate the building for use as offices.

The demolition of 2605 Hadley makes way for a three-story addition designed by architect Tom Cohen, who is also preparing plans for the rehabilitation of the remaining historic house. The addition will create apartments that will allow Haven of Grace to expand its social services to homeless pregnant women and their children by offering more substantial transitional housing. Haven of Grace is a part of the Grace Hill Settlement House.

The expansion plan increases building density on the block, even though it entailed demolition of a historic house that was not beyond repair. On the whole, this is a good project for an important institution that does difficult work. Many neighborhoods would likely turn Haven of Grace away.

However, Old North St. Louis cannot afford to loose another historic building. This is an exception brought about through compromise -- not a precedent.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

McKee's Acquisitions Slowed in March

In March, companies controlled by developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. slowed their acquisitions of north St. Louis real estate, spending $716,850 to acquire 13 parcels in the Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou neighborhoods.

Among the properties are owner-occupied houses in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood on 20th Street as well as three buildings counted as contributing resources in the Murphy-Blair national historic district. While a public statement by McKee issued in February claimed that his assembly activity had stopped due to backlash from critics, and several of the properties closed in March had earlier contract dates, several had contract dates as recently as March 20.

The companies buying property are Dodier Investors LLC, MLK 3000 LLC and Sheridan Place LC. Sale prices ranged from $5,000 for a sheriff's sale to $149,500 for the houses on 20th Street.