Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Haven of Grace has again applied for a demolition permit for the house at 2619-21 Hadley Street in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. On April 9, the non-profit provider of housing for pregnant homeless women took out a demolition permit application to machine or hand wreck the venerable house that it has sought to demolish before.
The rear wall of the 1880s-era Italianate house mysteriously collapsed in February, and Haven of Grace has neither stabilized the wall nor covered the opening created by the collapse. The collapsed wall is not load bearing, however, and the roof and other walls of the house are intact.
In February 2007, Haven of Grace proposed demolishing this house and another older house at 2605 Hadley Street. Haven of Grace wanted to build three new apartment buildings on the sites to expand their ability to offer intermediate-term housing. Since the houses were contributing resources to the Murphy-Blair National Historic District, the demolition permit applications went to the city's Cultural Resources Office, which denied the permits. The Preservation Board considered the matter on appeal. The Old North St. Louis neighborhood was forced to contemplate a difficult balance between its heritage and one of its best neighbors. At the meeting hearing the appeal, Haven of Grace Executive Director Diane Berry and her architect Tom Cohen announced a compromise plan in which Haven of Grace would agree to mothball the house at 2619-21 Hadley if the board would grant the demolition application for 2605 Hadley. The board unanimously voted for the compromise proposal, and construction proceeded.
Neighbors noticed something strange this fall. Instead of three new buildings, only two were built. The house at 2619-21 Hadley was not mothballed, but left to sit. The new buildings were as sensitive to the neighborhood's fabric as their renderings suggested, and neighbors were pleased both with the design and the density. Best of all, the buildings carried the street face on that side established by the vacant house at one corner and another occupied building at the other. With just one more new building and a rehabilitation of Haven of Grace's old house, the block would be complete.
Alas, that scenario did not come to pass. Haven of Grace claims that the house is beyond rehabilitation. The third building is not under construction because the old house is viewed as a risk that could collapse onto or against the new building.
Haven of Grace decided to back away from its compromise proposal. This is despite rancorous discussion that led to Berry leaving the board of directors of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. This is despite soul-searching among the neighborhood's committed preservationists, who had vowed never again on demolition only to be faced with a terrible choice. Most of these people went against their own principles out of respect for Haven of Grace, and either endorsed or condoned the demolition of the house at 2605 Hadley Street, which had not been as far gone as many buildings that have been saved in Old North.
Meanwhile, the house is in no immediate danger of collapse. Due to the Preservation Board denial of the permit last year, the matter will have to be appealed to the Circuit Court. If last year's contest was exhausting, this one could be worse.
Is there any room for compromise this time? The only compromise would seem to be some situation in which haven of Grace would not be responsible for rehabbing the house but could also be assured that the house would be rehabbed in a timely manner. Unless Haven of Grace would sell the house, though, the matter is up to that organization -- and its wishes are clear.