Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Board member David Richardson moved to uphold staff denial. Board members John Burse, Melanie Fathman, Mike Killeen and Anthony Robinson joined Richardson in voting for his motion. Board members Mary Johnson and Alderman Terry Kennedy (D-18th) voted against.
The next step may be Circuit Court, where any appeal of the Board decision would land.
Fate of Building at Page and Union Deferred Again (January 9, 2008)
Confusion at Page and Union (November 27, 2007)
Meanwhile, Curious Feet notes two impending demolitions: a large storefront building at Page and Kingshighway in St. Louis and an old bank building in downtown Granite City.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
The ordinance date sto 1968 and has led to local landmark status for 255 buildings and 49 historic districts. Yet recent decisions by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to allow such travesties as the demolition of the landmarked Farwell Building and the reassembly of its facade on a new, much taller building call into question the level of protection the ordinance provides.
Rounding out the list are the American Book Company, Grant Park, the Devon Avenue commercial district, the Daily News Building, the Booker Building and Norwood Park. The full story is available here.
Monday, January 28, 2008
On Friday, January 25, the Architectural Museum at the City Museum opened its new exhibit Elmslie and Sullivan to a packed house. Architectural Museum founder Bruce Gerrie curated the exhibit. While featuring terra cotta ornament from the buildings of George Grant Elmslie, once Louis Sullivan's chief draftsman, as well as those of Sullivan himself, most of the exhibit incorporated ornament from the Morton and Thomas Alva Edison public schools designed by Elmslie that were built in Hammond, Indiana during the 1930s. The Hammond school district demolished these schools in 1991, but recovered much of the terra cotta. Some of the terra cotta ended up in use in new school buildings, but most has ended up in storage under the city's ownership. The last exhibition of the terra cotta in the region was in 1998 when University of Illinois professors Paul Kruty and Ronald Schmitt organized an exhibit at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The highlight of the evening may very well have been Tim Samuelson's rousing welcoming speech. Tim is the Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago and one of the leading scholars of Sullivan and the Prairie School. He also is a gifted orator with a compelling imagination. Tim Samuelson feels architecture, and he has that rare gift of being able to articulate that feeling. His talk began with a summary of the architectural theory of Louis Sullivan and led to a celebration of Elmslie, a quiet man who was the subject of somewhat disparaging remarks in Frank Lloyd Wright's autobiography. Wright was Sullivan's chief draftsman before Elmslie, and the two shared an office for years. Seems that Wright didn't see much beneath Elmslie's cool exterior. Fortunately, Tim does and shared with the crowd his understanding of Elmslie's singular vision -- a vision powerfully manifest in the Hammond schools and one on par with Wright's.
Elmslie's unique terra cotta designs show a mind engaging both Sullivan's principles and the machine age architectural principles of the Art Deco style. And Elmslie's buildings reveal the conscious effort of one designer to reconcile organic lines with geometric mass. Some of Elmslie's work, like the Old Second National Bank (1924), almost heads off the rise of Art Deco by creating an American alternative firmly rooted in both the ideals of modernism and Midwestern regionalism.
In all, the opening demonstrates the strong continued interest in the work of Elmslie and the Prairie School as well as the large audience for architectural programming in St. Louis. While the exhibit opening was supposed to last until 9:00 p.m., people were still viewing it and conversing with each other until well past 11:00 p.m.
The exhibit will be on display through December 2008 to anyone purchasing a City Museum admission ($12). More information here.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Installation of the letters is part of the rehabilitation of the building being undertaken by the Pyramid Companies. The building and its neighbor to the west are being converted into condominiums. Paul Hohmann, chief architect for Pyramid Architects, is the designer of the Dorsa project who has diligently worked to renew the appearance front elevation.
The Dorsa Building facade -- literally, this is a facade -- dates to 1946, when the Dorsa Dress Company hired architect Meyer Loomstein to modernize the front elevation of their Classical Revival building, which had been built in 1902 from plans by Eames and Young. Loomstein and sculptor Sasch Schnittman devised a streamline slipcover, with a striking green terra cotta base under a cream stucco body that terminated with elegant fluting at the top. The designers further adorned the building with a large recessed terra cotta "spider web," the stylized brass lettering and three brass fins above the building's understated entrance.
The result was a true rarity for downtown -- a stunning work of Art Moderne commercial architecture that was as colorful as it was smart. The building turned many heads and sold many dresses. Inevitably, the Dorsa fell into disrepair. The upper two fins disappeared, perhaps taking a trip to the scrapyard. In the 1980's and 1990's, owner Larry Deutsch removed the spiderweb and later the letters.
Here is a photograph of the letters in 1984 submitted to EoA by Walt Lockley:
Here are the new letters close up (never mind the clashing lamp post):
Now the building's fortunes are better, although the fate of its sumptuous interior is uncertain. (Read more about the interior in Toby Weiss' 2006 blog entry "The Dorsa, 'The Ultimate in Mode Moderne.'") The new letters are slightly more shallow than the originals, and Pyramid has opted not to return the spiderweb because they need to utilize the natural light that a large glazed opening provides. However, the return of the letters and fins (due to be installed in a few weeks!) at all is laudable. After all, rehabilitation tax credit programs don't demand that elements of the building missing at the time of rehabilitation be returned. (Witness all of the rehabbed loft buildings whose owners have not returned long-gone cornices.)
The Dorsa was fortunate to have a caring architect. The energy of Loomstein's design was apparent even before the return of the letters, but not realized so fully. The Dorsa building wanted to sing its name, and had no voice. Now its melody saunters up the facade in modern splendor.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Feel free to discuss the rules in the comments section here. I will be posting my analysis in February.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
The demolition is part of a campus expansion plan that hinges on zoning overlay legislation sponsored by Ald. Joseph Roddy (D-17th).
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
The scene was a reminder of some harsh realities of this city. Northside laborers, even with skills, are far more likely to find work tearing down their own neighborhoods than rebuilding them. Our city is one of many American cities who renamed a downtrodden thoroughfare for one of the greatest Americans to live, and then did nothing to staunch the decay that dishonors the name on the street. Our city's leaders, black and white, found time on the holiday to pander and squabble while many citizens were busy earning money for food and shelter.
Further west on the street, past Kingshighway, I encountered the relatively vibrant street culture of the Wellston Loop. People were out walking, traveling from store to store. A barbeque restaurant was crowded, with patron's cars spread out over an adjacent vacant lot. New sidewalks were in the middle of construction, and several buildings were amid major renovation projects. That's reality on MLK, too.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Thursday night marks the first anniversary of Drinks and Mortar, the monthly gathering of people who like to talk about architecture. The gathering began after a group of people who were discussing simple and sustaining ways of connecting those interested in historic preservation, urbanism and architecture decide dto do something to get the ball rolling. For a long time there was no name to the event. One year later, there is a name, a Myspace website, a dedicated coordinator (Claire Nowak-Boyd) and a throng of regulars.
Hope to see you there!
When: Thursday, January 24 from 7:00 - 10:00 p.m.
Where: Grand Hall Lounge, Union Station, Market & 18th streets
More information: Drinks and Mortar
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The lovely urban setting shown here (in a photograph contributed by Anthony Coffin) will soon not exist. Shown here, looking south, are the northeast and southeast corners of the intersection of Glasgow and St. Louis Avenues in the city's JeffVanderLou and Lindell Park neighborhoods. The west corners are occupied by historic houses, creating a contrast that is visually arresting without being jarring. The east corners are marked by these commercial buildings -- the iconic, turreted flatiron and the imposing three-story stone-faced mass across the street (subject of a July 2007 blog entry of mine).
Adjacent to the three-story storefront building is an elegant stone-faced tenement building with mansard roof. Behind the storefront building is a flat-roofed two-story alley house -- a vestige of the neighborhoods' historic density. The group is a complementary group of particularly refined examples of old-school St. Louis vernacular forms. Across the street, the flatiron building is almost unparalleled among surviving commercial buildings in north St. Louis. Both the shape and the metal-clad turret (with surviving detail!) are singular. While beautiful in itself, the corner building is dramatized by the fact that it bookends a largely intact row of residences. Whoever designed the corner building understood how to finesse the dynamics of its lot shape and location.
Obviously, the corner and the neighborhood have seen better days. Three out of the four corners here are vacant and owned by holding companies controlled by Paul J. McKee, Jr. After McKee bought these buildings, trouble set in. Last year, knowing that the consequences in north city are low, brick rustlers ravaged the alley house and tenement on the southwest corner. Perhaps the bricks went to a larger brick yard just a few blocks away; perhaps they went to the county. We can be sure that the bricks have long left the city and the state, and that the buildings have since suffered partial collapses.
On December 21, the city's Building Division ordered emergency demolition of the tenement, alley house and storefront at the southeast corner. On December 26, the Building Division ordered demolition of the flatiron and the attached city-owned house to its east. One can see that the tenement was severely damaged and that the alley house was indeed in danger of collapse. But the emergency situation of the two storefront buildings seems to be that they are near the other buildings and the Building Division needs more buildings to demolish.
Sure, the flatiron building has some brick spalling evident, mostly on its St. Louis Avenue elevation where thieves stole decorative brick awhile ago. But where are the public safety issues with it and the other commercial building? Did inspectors go inside of these buildings and find hidden conditions necessitating demolition? Or are we seeing the careless attitude that continues to render north side residents second-class citizens when it comes to historic preservation?
Looking at the details of these fine buildings is heartbreaking. The flatiron's storefront, with corner entrance to store and punctuating brick arched entrance to the stairs, is odd. The metalwork on the turret shows sharp detail over 100 years after fabrication and painting. The slight height difference between the other commercial building and tenement along with the tenement's setback accentuates the corner building perfectly. Intact wooden cornice details on this pair draw the eye upward. One could spend hours looking at these buildings -- and must do so soon. These photographs date to last week; the alley house is completely gone as of this writing. Your tax dollars are, as they say, at work.
Here are links to the demolition permits:
2845 St. Louis Avenue (flatiron)
2854 St. Louis Avenue (tenement)
2858 St. Louis Avenue (commercial building and alley house)
(All photographs by Anthony Coffin; more here.)
While there are numerous structural flaws with DALATC, and while 40 acres is still a fairly disruptive project size for urban areas, Wilson's proposal is a step in the right direction.
Perhaps not coincidentally, reforming the DALATC is one of the planks in the 2008 Missouri Public Policy Agenda for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
The schools proposed by district staff for closure are Mitchell School, 955 Arcade Avenue; Gundlach School, 2931 Arlington Avenue; Lyon School, 7417 Vermont Avenue; Mark Twain School, 5316 Ruskin Avenue; Meramec School, 2745 Meramec Street; Shenandoah School, 3412 Shenandoah Avenue; and Simmons School, 4318 St. Louis Avenue. The closures are evenly split between south and north city.
Carver School, 3325 Bell Avenue in north city, and Roe School, 1921 Prather Avenue in south city, would reopen.
This comes on the heels of last year's round of five closures, which has left several historic school buildings vacant. The district has yet to market some of the closed schools from last year's round. Hopefully the district will develop a policy for swift disposition of closed schools that includes provisions for timely reuse as well as preservation. The district would do well to seek National Register of Historic Places designation for any closed school not already listed, so that the buildings are "tax credit ready" at the time of sale. While the district may elect to retain several buildings for future use, it already possesses a long roster of vacant buildings and needs to continue to be mindful of the impact of school closings on neighborhoods.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The downside is that navigation can be confusing or misleading. The site's place-based directories don't reference any blog entries, which in some cases are lengthier than what appears on the site. (In other cases, a place appears only on the blog.)
What I desire is an integrated website that can be accessed through the blog or the indices in a sensible manner. Most of all, I want to continue to emphasize the links between buildings and places that appear in different parts of EOA. The separation between the parts of EOA is hampering its ability to fulfill its mission.
Hence, I issue a call for assistance. I don't have the website skills to make my vision of the project real. Anyone who does should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But it was! The downtown Macy's indeed was playing Joanna Newsom's "Sadie." I came down from the dour second floor into the bright tall-ceilinged first floor full of the feeling that song can bring -- a feeling that the time is made up of a succession of small miracles and that the world is comprised of millions of beautiful things. At the downtown Macy's!
After the song ended, the music returned to a string of bad covers. I lingered, hoping to get another unexpected song. Had one played, I would certainly not have had such a good lunch break, because the singularity of "Sadie" was far more impressive than a string of such gems would have been. Needless to write, I returned to the office in unusually high spirits.
There are other ways that the art work conjures Maplewood's past. The typeface used is borrowed from the long-shuttered Maplewood Theater's sign. Like a theater marquee, the letters of the sign are outlined in light at night -- a great decision. The materials used to comprise each sign, not especially evident on a drive-by visit, are bits from two historic homes demolished in 2006. The idea of having the place name literally created by pieces of the lost past is profound, and need not be smothered by my analysis. Go drive, walk and stand by Zweig's work, and then think about it.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
The Metro East city of Venice is continuing to demolish its historic public school campus. The 1917 Venice High School has been gone for a month now, while the adjacent 1938 addition partly remains. Once the Tri-Cities of Granite City, Madison and Venice were thriving cities with populations of workers in the numerous steel mills and metal fabrication shops of the area. Things have been different for awhile now, and Venice's population hovers at about 2,500.
Still, the section of Broadway where the public schools buildings stood features many well-kept homes on whose lawns children play. With a moribund downtown and few noteworthy employers, though, Venice's chief assets may be its location and its stock of small frame homes. The city has a lot of potential.
The demolition of the schools, though, erase some of that potential. The buildings are among a handful of historic landmarks. These were solid buildings with adaptive reuse potential, standing right off of the newly-reopened McKinley Bridge. New use may have been just a few years away.
As of last weekend, when I took these photos, the 1938 addition retained its basic form enough to demonstrate how pointless its loss is. The building features a restrained art deco program of ornament, executed in polychromatic geometry that is gorgeous. The basic body of the building is unadorned machine-raked brick in different shades of brown and red. The bow-truss gymnasium at rear relieves the boxiness of the school building, providing some variation in the form.
Alas, by now the building is further diminished and reuse is a lost dream. Like its earlier neighbor, the building departs the real world to live only in the fickle realm of public memory.
As the Metro East adapts to its post-industrial and decentralized life -- a process that will continue and accelerate once the new Mississippi River Bridge is built -- we will continue to watch such losses. Without economic hope, there will be no concerted effort at cultural resource planning in the Tri-Cities or East St. Louis. Time is money, after all, and planning takes a lot of time. And money. What incentives exist in the Metro East for careful planning and historic preservation? Few, so long as Illinois remains one of those states without a historic rehabilitation tax credit.
(Kudos to 52nd City, Curious Feet, St. Louis Patina and Metropolitan Rural for covering the Venice High School demolition earlier.)
Friday, January 11, 2008
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
At Monday's meeting of the St. Louis Preservation Board, the Board voted 3-2 to defer consideration of an appeal of the staff denial of a demolition permit for the building at 5286-92 Page Boulevard. The applicant is the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church; background on the permit can be found in a post that I made in November. While the November meeting of the Board that considered the matter was packed with congregation members, this month only attorneys William Kuehling and Robert Kinney from Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus appeared to present the church's case -- and yet another rendering of a supposed new building that will replace the existing building (but for which no funds or construction blueprints exist).
Voting to defer the matter were Anthony Robinson, who wanted to hear from the Academy Neighborhood neighborhood association on the proposed new building, Mary Johnson and Ald. Terry Kennedy. Voting against deferral were Mike Killeen and David Richardson. Consideration of the new building is not germane to the Preservation Board's consideration, which legally applies only to the demolition itself. The building is not located in a local historic district with design guidelines. Instead, it is part of a national historic district where the Board can review demolition permits alone.
Among those who testified in opposition to the demolition was historian Lynn Josse, who wrote the National Register nomination for the Mount Cabanne-Raymond Place Historic District in which this building is a contributing resource and visual anchor. Her words appear here:
By way of background: In 2000, the City of St. Louis funded a National Register nomination in order to protect the Mount Cabanne/Raymond Place Historic District and to encourage the reuse of its valuable historic buildings. The district is listed not only for its architectural merit, which is obvious in this building, but as an example of a compact walkable neighborhood with a distinctly Orthodox Jewish character. The congregation of the B’Nai Amoona synagogue at Academy and Vernon had to live within walking distance of where they worshipped because of Sabbath restrictions, so there was a higher than average concentration of Jewish households and businesses. In most ways though, the neighborhood was like other streetcar neighborhoods of the time. Raymond Place had most of the amenities families needed for daily life within easy walking distance. The building that you’re considering today, by the 1920s was the home of grocery stores, drug stores, a medical office, and a delicatessen - all of which would be vital to the daily life of the neighborhood.
In a district like Mount Cabanne-Raymond Place, it is all too easy to allow the commercial edges to erode and slip away. In this district, we’ve lost at least one of the commercial buildings on Delmar since the listing in 2002. But historically, it is the commercial buildings like this one that made the residential life in the center of the neighborhood possible. Raymond Place boasts a really great collection of architecturally interesting houses, but without the context provided by important commercial buildings like this one, it is just that: a collection of dwellings. Cities are more than that; they are a complex system of people and jobs and transit and housing and recreation and institutions and services and retail. We are doing a good job encouraging reuse of housing, but the neighborhood doesn’t make historic sense and may be less sustainable in the future if you allow the destruction of the small-scale retail spaces that historically have connected people.
Part of what the ordinance directs you to consider is the contribution to the streetscape. This building is the streetscape. For over a hundred years it has defined the corner of Page and Union. Its loss would cause a major gap at the northwest corner of the historic district. Replacing this building with a surface parking lot would be a terrible disservice to the neighborhood. It’s a bad use of land and a terrible waste of an important building that should, according to all of your legal criteria, be preserved.
Each company's portmanteau deed is for the same amount, $3 million and granted by the Corn Belt Bank & Trust Company of Pittsfield, Illinois. Two years ago, Corn Belt granted a loan of $2.8 million to McKee's Allston Alliance for the purchase of the vacant Cass Avenue Schnucks store.
Each company's deed was signed by Paul J. McKee, Jr. in capacity as manager of the other limited liability companies that act as sole members of the holding companies. Blairmont Associates's sole member is BMA Partners, VHS Partners' is Vashon Developers, Noble Development Company's is NDC Venturers and N & G Ventures' is NGV Partners.
Under the terms of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, a land assembler is eligible for up to 50 percent of the purchase costs of land. At the maximum eligible amount, these recent deeds of trust would entitle McKee's companies to $6 million in tax credits.
(Extensive background on McKee's project here.)
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Christian's latest effort is an online auction of books to benefit the garden project; check it out here. Right now, there are some cool cookbooks and even some cooking accessories up for grabs. Bid now, and keep checking back for new books to be added. Out-of-print art and gardening books will be auctioned in the next few weeks.
Friday, January 4, 2008
Two of the agenda items are repeats of demolition permits:
- 5286 Page Boulevard. The Berean Seventh Day Adventists' appeal of staff denial of a demolition permit for this two-story commercial building was continued due to the church's presentation of new evidence in November. The Board continued the hearing of the appeal in order to afford Board members and Cultural Resources Office staff more time to review the evidence. (Read more here.) Staff still recommends upholding the denial. The church has no good case for removing the last historic building at the important intersection of Page and Union -- a building structurally sound and listed as a contributing part of a National Register historic district.
- 2217-19 Olive Street. The owners of this building want to demolish it for a parking lot. The two-story commercial building is a contributing part of the newly-listed National Register district called the Olive and Locust Historic Business District. In September 2007, the Preservation Board unanimously rejected the appeal of a staff denial of a demolition permit. (Read more here.) Now the matter is back as a "New Application" because the applicant is not the owner but the Building Division, which claims that building is in danger of collapse. Swayed by the evidence, the Cultural Resources Office is recommending approval of the demolition permit.
The agenda begins with three preliminary reviews of new construction in the Benton Park and Lafayette Square local historic districts.
The meeting takes place on the 12th floor of the Locust Building, 1015 Locust Street downtown. Testimony may be submitted in writing via email to Adonna Buford at BufordA@stlouicity.com.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
This is the diminished state that has led developers to take other blocks in the Gate District and transform them into unrecognizable mixes of old buildings and large platform-framed homes that seem more appropriate to Wildwood than the near south side. Without any historic districts in the Gate District, there is neither incentive for historic rehabilitation work nor mandates for new construction. The area reflects its lack of any legal design framework. Fortunately, on the 2800 block of Lafayette, developer Cheryl Walker of Obasi Enterprises is taking vacant land and doing something that provides new market-rate homes while adding a new and compatible character to the neighborhood.
The project is called Vivienne on Lafayette, and it entails the construction of four adjacent homes. The two that are complete are show here. HKW Architects designed the homes; that firm has done extensive design work for Restoration St. Louis including the rehabilitation of the Moolah Theater building.
One is immediately struck by how different Vivienne is from its contemporaries. The houses actually look like original designs! There is absolutely no quotation of historic architectural styles here. Nor is there imitation of historic styles of cornices, brackets, balustrades, window sills or other building parts. The designers instead very earnestly engaged the project location and standard available materials to produce homes that are urban and attractive.
The front walls of these homes are brick, with some rowlock courses as sills and headers on each metal-framed window. The basements are high, which is one nod to historic tradition that make the homes taller than other new infill houses. The side walls are clad in stucco, indicative of the fact that these are not authentic masonry buildings. The builders could have used some sort of vinyl or board siding, but chose something more compatible with brick. The roofs are flat -- something that minimizes the home volume and allows for potential greening.
The homes are not quite perfect in design; I think that a monotone brick color would have made each better, and that the stucco color is a bit bland. Some more play with masonry details could have added interest. The homes could be placed closer together. Still, such concerns are minor. The homes at Vivienne Place offer sorely-needed innovation in infill housing in St. Louis, where too often we have settled on worse than mediocre design that offers an unpleasant contrast with our excellent historic building stock.
In neighborhoods with challenging conditions, where historic fabric is spotty, homes like these make a lot of sense. They maintain the traditions of density and best use of widely available materials that typifies our neighborhoods without denying us the chance to leave our own mark in time.