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Friday, May 2, 2008

The House at 20th and St. Louis



We shall never again see this beautiful house at the northeast corner of 20th Street and St. Louis Avenue in St. Louis Place, just north of the boundary of the Clemens House-Columbia Brewery National Historic District. Wreckers took down the house last week as part of a city demolition package. The house had fallen on hard times. Vacant for years, the house lost its roof through collapse and sections of the western wall were beginning to collapse inward. Its owner was an elderly man who lived in the ruins; he was apparently on a bus downtown to try to stop the demolition when the wreckers started their work. The home was mostly gone when he returned.

Nonetheless, the beauty shone through the devastation. This was one of the few early large corner houses on St. Louis Avenue. Notice the shallow setback from St. Louis Avenue and the lack of any setback at all from 20th Street. Originally a single-family home possessing the same grandeur of its peers on the avenue, the house is resolutely urban in character. St. Louis Place had an order of fine houses, and homes on St. Louis Avenue were more prosaic than the slightly more expensive ones that lined both sides of the St. Louis Place park. Hence this house balances the expression of wealth its owners intended with a conventional placement of the home typical of the street. No one could have expected seclusion on a main thoroughfare.

What was most striking about the home was its intact features. Although derelict, the house was never painted and kept its wooden windows, the cornice, dormer, slate shingles and even its roof cresting. The eclectic mix of Second Empire and Italianate features was restrained by the purity of expression typical of its time (likely the early 1880s). The front wall was brick, the lintels simple stone arches. There was little pretense despite its stylistic impurity.

Standing vacant, the home was almost frozen in time. While the home remained immobile, the forces of water, gravity and time moved forward against the house.

[Read more about a building across the street here.]

13 comments:

Chris said...

I my God, I was just admiring that building a month ago. Did they tear down the garages in back?

GMichaud said...

This building should have been saved. I don't understand the city government, don't they see the beauty and historic significance of these structures? This one especially is unique. I have seen so much of this wanton demolition over the years I just wonder what it will take to stop it?
The brick dealers must make a lot of money. That is the only explanation I can think of, it is somehow connected to the usual greed.

barbara_on_19th said...

Yes, they tore down everything, despite the fact that the owner LIVED there and was not evicted prior to the demo. He was informed by the police on Sunday night that the city had a demo permit, took the bus downtown Monday morning where he tried to petition the building division, the Mayor's office and the city counsellor's office, but everything was gone by the time he got back -- the house with all his belongings, his money stash, a usable camper in the back, and his little black cat Betsy. Only thing he owns is a leather satchel full of his legal papers that he was carrying around downtown. The police removed him from the site and he slept on the porch of Karen House for a couple of days. He's a homeless person now.

barbara_on_19th said...

Also, where Michael correctly notes that portions of the side wall were collapsing, this was due to brick thieves that were breaking in and palletizing brick in first the attic and then the second floor while the owner was helpless on the first floor, calling the police repeatedly and sending letter after letter to the city begging for help.

Chris said...

Unfortunately, it is legal for the city to do what it did--even if it turns out stomachs. My brother was handling a case in Chicago where something similar occurred. The city can claim that it was a danger to passersby.

barbara_on_19th said...

Legal, sure. Respectful of human dignity? Not so much. How hard would it have been for someone at the city to call a social worker and ensure he had 24 hours to move his stuff and find a place in a shelter?

thoughts from south grand said...

Ten fires on the north side tonight?

That seems like a coordinated attack.

This is not good. What is going on here?

barbara_on_19th said...

Another one or more is burning right now, I think 2206 Hebert, an N&G Ventures property, next to a Sheridan place property, both Blairmont. What do you think is going on? Good old fashioned block busting. When people won't sell in the target area, you evict the tenants, destroy the neighborhood, vandalize and demolish as many homes as possible and invite the arsonists.

From my roof 2 blocks away, it is a BIG fire.

Doug Duckworth said...

The building was in a state of disrepair for many months. Yet what kind of government demolishes your home, with all possessions inside, while you aren't even home? If it has to be demolished, that' isn't the correct procedure. If someone did that to me I'd be in jail. Also what about giving the guy some healthy home repair dollars, or at least have the City meet with him and come up with a solution. This is what I hate about economic development in St. Louis. We'll subsidize the BS St. Louis Centre project, or McMillan's Walgreens, but fuck the North Side with it's mansard roofs and historic urban design. Thanks!

S Rendon said...

Mr Allen I want to thank you for your cronicles. My family has lived in the this area since the 1930's. The structural integrity of the 5th ward is being compromised by brick rustling and arson daily. The spirit and soul of our neighborhoods are challenged. However the majority of us lived and struggled through the Pruitt Igoe years. They bear witness to what it was and what it has become. Those of us who remained are fighting the same fight against indifference and disrepect today and this is very painful for us. Thank You for all that you have done and are doing.


Sheila Rendon
Neighbors for Social Justice
justice@ststb.org
314-621-6002

P.S

Thoughts from South Grand:

What is happening here is the same thing that happened there in Mcree Town. Buyouts,Holdouts Arsons,New Neighborhood. We are at the Arson part.

barbara_on_19th said...

Why is Mayor Slay tolerating this? He knows that McKee wants to redevelop the area. He agrees with that plan... OK, then please proceed in a legal, moral and ethical fashion. Why not allow the neighbors some human dignity and just apply eminent domain? At least people would get a little compensation and time to plan a move. There are city ordinances governing relocation of displaced residents that do not involve instant homelessness and destruction of one's personal possessions. If someone is killed in one of these fires or demolitions of inhabited homes, the Mayor will have a share in the responsibility.

Barbara Manzara
manzarbe@hotmail.com

Doug Duckworth said...

What brought the North Side to its current state was planned discrimination via the Team Four Plan, spatial deconcentration, and numerous federal policies which favored suburbia. I think all sense of morality was thrown out years ago. Through their actions I think it's clear that current residents are wholly unwanted.


It's beyond Mayor Slay's fetish for mega-projects and ribbon cuttings. This isn't occuring simply because leadership lacks vision. This is blatant hostility.

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