We've Moved

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

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Drinks and Mortar Tonight

Drinks and Mortar.

Tonight. Atomic Cowboy. 7PM 'til they stop talking.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How Not to Board Up a Broken Window

Here is the entrance to the Fourth Baptist Church at 13th and Sullivan in Old North St. Louis. You can see that someone has broken the window at right, and that someone has very poorly attempted to board over the damage. Hint: If the broken area still shows, you haven't boarded over the damage.

In August 2007, someone threw a rock at the window and caused the spider-web-like broken lines. Neighbors tried to get the owner, a nearly-defunct congregation, to board up the broken window. I cut my hand taping the damage to stabilize the glass. Several Citizens' Service Bureau complaints led to the congregation's finally boarding up the broken glass. Then, this December, the other side of the doorway gets the same treatment -- from vandal and owner. Neighbors still haven't seen a full repair.

The church building itself is an important landmark, and deserves better treatment. The congregation does not have the funds to maintain the building; they vacated in 2002. Meanwhile, the building has become a nuisance to neighbors as the congregation refuses to commit to selling and won't make even small efforts to stay abreast of vandalism. The indecisiveness of the congregation is an affront to those of us with limited means who go without real dinners in order to rehab our buildings in Old North. The moral seems to be that the climate of decay was ready for a Paul McKee -- he did not create it.

Circumstances have impoverished and depleted congregations like Fourth Baptist. Yet circumstances are changing to allow such congregations to keep their old churches from blighting upward-bound neighborhoods. Hopefully Fourth Baptist will board up the broken window and sell their church to someone who will invest in the future of the church and the neighborhood.

Illinois Seeks to Get in on the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Action

On February 14, Illinois State Representative Jay C. Hoffman (D-112th), introduced a bill in the Illinois General Assembly to create a Distressed Area Land Assemblage Tax Credit for Illinois. The bill, HB 5153, takes verbatim the enacted text of the Missouri Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act.

Hoffman represents a district that includes the Metro East cities of Collinsville, Edwardsville, Maryville and Fairview Heights.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Doctors Building: An Obituary

Streamlined and sleek, sophisticated and subtle – these are attributes of the Doctors Building at the northeast corner or Euclid and West Pine. The Modern Movement medical office building has offered a hint of space age glamor to the Central West End for nearly fifty years. Nestled among elegant Renaissance Revival apartment buildings, art deco storefronts and minimalist contemporary condominium buildings, the modernist tower provided just the right balance to the mix of jazz age architecture. Think of the Doctors Building as a minor bop number in a sea of buildings that span a range of jazz period from ragtime to tonal. The Doctors Building is that smooth, modern breakthrough that plays back to its predecessors without upstaging them and that teaches its successors a thing or two.

Too bad that's all ending before our eyes. The Doctors Building is under demolition as I type. I wish I could report that the proposed replacement is worth the urbane environment of the Central West End, but that simply is not the case. We're discarding modern jazz for contemporary pop drivel.

We are losing a building that is almost a time capsule from our recent past. Some would assert that the 1950s was an age of conservatism, forced conformity or destructive Cold War politics, but that view neglects to account for the cultural production of the era. How did the Beats, jazz music, streamlined industrial design and modernist architecture fit into the rubric of Joseph McCarthy and Leave It To Beaver? The answer is "not well." More surely, the arts that persisted in the 1950s were cool and subversive of other tendencies. Artists were taking the tools of regimentation -- the straight line, the machine -- and turning them into expressive instruments. The best work of the 1950s plays on the tension between conformity and rebellion.

The Doctors Building straddles that fine line itself. After all, this is a medical office building -- a tool of discipline and science. Yet the envelope is almost sensual -- warm orange brick, window groups punctuated by aqua aluminum panels, a shiny granite base with quintessentially modern anodized aluminum details including an upward-curved canopy. Each elevation of the building is different, and on the east side wide projecting bands of brick that wrap the corners makes the wall plane sculptural. The pattern runs down the center of the Euclid Avenue elevation, marking the entrance. The tall form of the building gives way to two-story sections on the east and north, providing contrasting elements at different scales.

Of course, however attractive, the Doctors Building is no master work. It's a minor modernist accomplishment that benefits greatly from its context. As the only tall mid-century building on Euclid, the building stands out in ways it might not had further development occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. The building avoids the swagger of Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk, falling into the background. It's a really cool but not very showy B-side from an artist no one remembers no matter how many times they hear the name.

The building permit for the building is dated January 1955, with cost of the 11-story building estimated at $900,000. The architect was a little-known designer named Paul Valenti, who taught in the School of Architecture at Washington University from the 1940s into the 1960s. This author knows of no other work by Valenti, and has searched mostly in vain to glean biographical details. The two-story section on Euclid dates to a permit issued in July 1955; Wells and Wells, Inc. is listed as engineer on this section as well as the tower. The two-story section to the east corresponds to a permit issued in August 1961; E. Donald Goret was the architect. Erstwhile Millstone Corporation was the developer and builder of the building and its additions.

The building originally had that one distinguishing mid-century flaw: adjacent parking as part of the building design. The original adjacent small surface lot on West Pine took on its own life and grew as the owners tore down a few houses to make an unsightly large lot that inadvertently created a wonderful view in which one can see both the Doctors Building and that 1929 art deco landmark, the Park Plaza Hotel.

With the huge parking lot, the Doctors Building site proved irresistible to developers during the recent hyperactive swing in the market. The Mills Group proposed demolishing the elegant building and replacing it with twin 30-story towers of ridiculous bulk and exaggerated detail. Jazz would have been replaced with buildings that reminded me of overwrought sappy love ballads. Then the market downturn set in and the project fell apart. Unfortunately, another plan emerged – demolish the building and replace it with a shorter new building. The new building is best left without description -- its designers' strained attempts at referencing historic details like quoins and a clock tower would only be remarkable if not already tried on thousands of suburban branch banks around the country. Alas, we lose the Doctors Building for something that doesn't even forge a relationship with the Central West End. Sophistication falls to smugness. A minor pleasure gives way to a minor travesty. Hopefully the jazzy architecture around the new building will be enough to drown out the intrusion.

Inn St. Gemme Beauvais Survives Fire

News of the demise of the Inn St. Gemme Beauvais on Main Street in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, was premature. The historic home was severely damaged by an electrical fire on February 22, leading to reports of total destruction. However, the fire seems to have hit the interior hard but spared the shell of the building. The brick walls are intact, without any collapses, and most of the roof is intact. Windows and doors are charred or stained, and much glass has been broken, but only a few were lost completely. Overall, the exterior is remarkably intact.

The worst damage is on the rear section of the home, where it appears that the roof has partly collapsed.

After the fire, the Colonial Revival style building was boarded up. The roof condition will prevent thorough water infiltration as the owners' insurance claim is processed. The owner, Janet Joggerst, plans to rebuild and reopen the bed and breakfast.

The Inn St. Gemme Beauvais was built in 1848 by prominent citizen Felix Rozier as his mansion. The home's rear faced the Mississippi River, and the front faced to the town. Over time, this section of Main Street became commercial in character and the house remained as a counterpoint to the surrounding storefronts, shops and apartment houses.

Photograph by Lynn Josse.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Demolition Imminent at Page and Kingshighway?

On January 10, the city's Building Division issued emergency condemnation (for demolition) of the landmark building at the southeast corner of Page and Kingshighway boulevards. The Roberts Brothers Properties LLC owns the building and two adjacent two-story commercial buildings. A motorist struck and toppled the corner iron column on the building, which has been vacant for a year or two since Golden Furniture moved out. The Building Division has not yet followed up with any emergency demolition permit, although such action is almost certain. (Curious Feet St. Louis reported the news awhile ago.)

The loss of the corner column has already led to significant shifting of the building's weight downward at the corner. The brick wall shows how the bottom of the second floor is pulling downward. At the moment, this is a problem that can be corrected with a jack or another iron column. (What happened to the building's original column? Why not just re-install it?)

The situation has become one of those self-fulfilling prophecies that dampens one's attempt to be hopeful for the commercial buildings of north St. Louis. Here we have beautiful commercial buildings that define a major intersection, and which were in use until recently. A big-time owner lets leases lapse, perhaps plotting demolition for replacement with some silly strip mall like the owner's project across Page. Then, an accident happens. The Building Division steps in, goes through its procedures, while the owner does nothing. The owner does not jack up the corner with a support, which would avert further damage. The corner pulls down, triggering a major collapse. The Building Division rushes in to get demolition started. The owner sits back and lets events unfold, while hatching plans for new development. Preservation and minimal code enforcement never had chances.

This is frustrating because the building is elegant and obviously in decent shape. The Roberts brothers could view ownership of these buildings as great fortune -- they get to possess unique historic buildings at a major intersection. They get to take a step to ensure that north city retains the level of historic character that makes real estate in south city so valuable. They could renew a cultural resources and pave the way for long-term rising of real estate values in north city, instead of falling into the temptation to build a short-lived retail center with short-term pay-off.

The Building Division is not a preservation agency. Yet the Building Division could step in and make the owners put a support at the corner. After all, that's stipulated by the building code. The owners' intentions should not influence the Building Division's enforcement. Whether or not the owners want to tear down the buildings is a moot point until there is a demolition permit. Up to that point, the division should seek to force the owners to make repairs of structural necessity.

Beyond code enforcement, preservation makes sense. Page Boulevard has many threats to corner commercial buildings at the moment, and has already lost several. Kingshighway north of Delmar is likewise losing its lines of commercial buildings. Presence of anchor landmarks sometimes makes the difference between people remembering having been to a neighborhood or not. These buildings are in Fountain Park, which possesses a memorable interior. Yet its perimeter would lose a little less character with the loss of these buildings. The oval park, the famous curved storefront, the historic homes, schools and churches present a distinct and impressive identity. A corner strip mall, festooned with a developer's name, with litter blowing across black asphalt in front of squat little retail boxes demonstrates no distinct character and in fact could have a blighting effect on neighboring block that retain their character. Fountain Park is a little less remarkable with every lost landmark.

These buildings are inherently remarkable, too. Built between 1904 and 1908 from designs by architect Otto J. Wilhelmi, the group shows a mix of modern sensibility and Victorian-era stylishness. The two-story buildings are rather plain expressions of the commercial storefront form while three three-story building is a blend of stark iron storefronts, paired Romanesque windows with pronounced archivolts on the second floor and windows with terra cotta keystones and voussoirs that suggest the Georgia Revival style. Then there is the white glazed terra cotta ornament of the parapet, which draws upon Classical Revival styles and features a projecting acanthus and the corner and near the south end. The building permit for the building mentions a galvanized cornice, long-gone. All three buildings are clad in buff speckled brick prevalent in north city commercial architecture of the period. In all, the buildings are unusually eclectic for this part of north city -- and that statement means a lot. If only the owners recognized the treasures that they already have.

Defense of Mark Twain Hotel Begins My Monthly Vital Voice Column

Today the Vital Voice ran the first installment of "Inside the Metropolis," the monthly column I will write for them. The column will cover topical issues in architecture, development and historic preservation. I am excited to be part of Editor Lucas Hudson's effort to expand the coverage -- and audience -- one of our oldest and most important alternative newspapers.

Read my first column here: Mark Twain Hotel Fills Important Niche Downtown

Preservation Board Agenda Includes Demolitions of Flounder House, Building on Page

The St. Louis Preservation Board meets on Monday to consider a rather short agenda.

Notable items on the agenda include:

  • Preliminary review of an application by Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett (D-6th) to demolish a one-and-a-half-story flounder house at 2915 Minnesota Avenue. The house, built before 1884, is an example of a true flounder house. Flounder houses have half-gabled roofs with a slope from one side of the front wall to the other. Flounder houses were popular in nineteenth century St. Louis due to the speed of construction, but few survive. Many have been successfully rehabbed in recent years, and the smaller ones seem well-suited as economical alternatives to the glut of expensive, energy-inefficient multi-family conversions. Staff recommends denial of the permit.

  • Preliminary review for a new building at 1412 Mississippi Avenue in Lafayette Square. This building would occupy one of the last gaps in the street faces surrounding Lafayette Park -- the vacant lot at the southeast corner of Park and Mississippi. The Lawrence Group proposes a three-story building with heavy Romanesque massing topped by a Mansard roof with numerous dormers. The building is reminiscent of the ungainly building that houses the Soda Fountain Square restaurant. Hopefully the board and staff will provide guidance to improve the design.

  • Appeal of staff denial of a demolition permit for the building at 5100-2 Page Boulevard, subject of an earlier post in this blog. Staff recommends upholding the denial. Alderman Frank Williamson (D-26th) supports demolition.
  • Snow City

    I took this photograph yesterday evening looking southeast from the corner of 13th and Mullanphy Streets in St. Louis.

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Historic Building in Ste. Genevieve Suffers Fire

    Fire gutted the building housing the St. Gemme Beauvais bed and breakfast, built in 1848. Read more here. (Thanks to Andrew Weil for the tip.)

    Friday, February 15, 2008

    Watching and Waiting

    City of Destiny offers insightful commentary on the failure of Chicago preservation groups to reach their logical audiences and actually spotlight endangered buildings. Katherine, author of the blog, takes as her starting point the annual endangered buildings lists of Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois:

    I feel I should join both these preservation groups because I support their goals, but I'm so frustrated at how little opportunity there seems to be for interaction, for publicizing other buildings that deserve attention, for getting updates on the status of buildings they've put on the lists.

    Read all of it here: "Watching the watch lists"

    Venturo Capitalism

    Rumors are circulating that the Danforth Foundation has arrived at a surprising plan for the Arch grounds: resurrect the 1970s Venturo House by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen by placing a line of one hundred of the houses on the western perimeter of the grounds. Apparently, the Foundation's planners realized that without strong connections to a residential population, any plan to develop the grounds would fail. The Venturo House has appeal due to the shared nationality and similar last name of Suuronen and Arch architect Eero Saarinen. (In this vein, the Foundation could ask band Rilo Kiley to perform on Dan Kiley's historic modernist landscape.)

    If successful, city leaders have discussed the potential for building steel frames with elevators on several blocks of the Gateway Mall. Venturo homes could be hooked up to utilities that would run to each level of these towers. When a resident moved, that person could take their home with them and make way for a new resident.

    Accompanying zoning and code changes would allow downtown building owners to place Venturo homes or similar modular homes on roofs -- or adjacent surface parking lots. The changes would allow parking garages to be preserved and their historic architectural features left intact should they fall vacant. Venturo homes -- arranged on special steel shims to adjust for the typical garage floor slope -- will allow preservation-minded garage owners to avoid demolition.

    If true, exciting news!

    Kirkwood City Council Chamber Rehabbed in One Week

    Toby Weiss, whose day job is marketing coordinator for Mosby Building Arts, points out that Mosby has complete a whirlwind rehabilitation of the Kirkwood City Council chambers, damaged in last week's shooting. Follow along a in a day-by-day account of the project here.

    "Be Good to One Another"

    This work by prolific graffiti creator Ed Boxx can be found down near the eastern terminus of Espenschied Street, by the former Carondelet Coke plant. Who can disagree with the message? Admittedly, few will see it but perhaps those who do need the instruction more than those who won't. Such work raises questions: What does one make of positive messages inscribed on private property not being used and not likely to be reused? This "graf" graces the side of a damaged box trailer on the old St. Louis Ship property, which no doubt will be scrapped if its owner ever does anything more than let it sit and rust. Why not let one person's scrap become another's momentary canvas?

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    Feasting Fox Hosted SAH Chapter Gathering

    Marty Luepker recounts the rehabilitation of the Feasting Fox.

    On Sunday February 10, our local Missouri Valley Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians convened their annual gathering at the Feasting Fox restaurant in south St. Louis. Many people attended the gathering -- and joined the chapter -- for the first time. NiNi Harris opened the gathering with an account of the long battle to preserve the Feasting Fox, a historic tavern and restaurant built in 1913 and designed by Klipstein and Rathmann for Anheuser-Busch. Owners Marty and Sue Luepker then led a tour of the restaurant before attendees returned to the Gretchen's Inn building next door for dinner and the annual slide show.

    Attendees enjoyed fine food and drink, including scrumptious chocolate cake, before the customary slide show by chapter members. The slide show always features a wide variety of architectural topics and locations. This year's was no exception, including presentations on endangered buildings in Gary, Indiana, a Greek Revival farm house in Missouri, Theodore Link's Monticello Female Seminary campus in Godfrey, Illinois, frame homes in Tower Grove South, the Cathedral of Trash in Austin, Texas and others. In fact, the show went longer than allotted time and will be continued next year!

    The chapter is a very welcoming group and publishes a splendid newsletter filled with members' research and timely event listings; for membership details, contact Esley Hamilton at EHamilton@stlouisco.com.

    Art House Could Help Grand Center Come to Life

    Would you believe that there could be an attractive row of contemporary townhouses within a short walk of Grand Avenue in Midtown?

    Behold the oddly-named Art House, proposed for construction on Grandel just west of the perpetually-under-rehabilitation Merriwether House. Sage Homebuilders is the pioneering company daring to build actual housing in "Grand Center." Forum Studio designed the townhouses.

    So far, you can only see it in a Flash animation on your computer. Hopefully soon you will be able to walk through the completed buildings themselves and enjoy the smart views their generous windows will create.

    Despite many visible failings in historic preservation and urban planning, somehow Midtown has attained two of the finest contemporary buildings in the city, the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum buildings. Art House would add one more unique contemporary building to the confused Midtown landscape. Amid parking lots and surviving historic buildings, perhaps we will find a crop of thoughtful, elegant, humanely-scaled residential architecture. If Art House can prove its own success by selling quickly, Grand Center's longtime refusal to seriously consider the need for residents might start to wither as other developers get in line.

    As we have seen downtown, a healthy market cuts through bureaucracy pretty quickly -- and solidly on the side of more people, more buildings and more life.

    A Middle Path?

    Above is the grim scene that I encountered two weeks ago after a blustery winter storm: the vacant city-owned building at 2917-21 N. 13th Street in Old North St. Louis had suffered a roof collapse. The building, built around 1880, stands one block north from my house in the densest section of a neighborhood famed for its loss of building density. Mt neighbors and I were aghast to see what misfortune had struck a vacant building already beset by misfortune.

    The building and an adjacent building to the north form a graceful row that hugs the sidewalk line. Before, the buildings' back walls had fallen. Loose bricks on the parapet of the alley side elevation had caused the Land Reutilization Authority to consider emergency demolition, but LRA backed off after the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group reminded LRA that they were trying to market the poor buildings for historic rehabilitation.

    Now, the mansard roof with its two dormers had completely collapsed outward and the flat roof above had fallen inside of this part of the row. But again the Restoration Group acted quickly. Development Coordinator Karen Heet fended off the Building Division and managed to get the debris out of the public right-of-way (a favorite demolition excuse) within 24 hours of the collapse.

    Karen has posed a very interesting idea for reusing the buildings. A look at the rear of the row helps underscore her logic.

    Rather than try to rebuild the buildings, which have lost significant building material, Karen would like to try something else. She suggests demolishing the interiors and retaining only the front and side elevations. Inside, a developer could build a new building on the old foundations using the existing brick walls as facades. The new building could be modular and modern, allowing Old North to offer a different housing unit while retaining the impressive street face of this row. I think that idea is worth attempting.

    There are many historic buildings in the city with severe damage that are ineligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits. Some of these buildings are located outside of historic districts and are never going to eligible for such designation. Others are buildings that once were contributing to historic districts but have had so many sections collapse their rebuilding would count as "reconstruction" and not "rehabilitation" and thus would be ineligible for both state and federal historic rehab credits. Still others are badly remuddled old buildings that don't count as contributing resources in districts.

    In such cases, a straightforward attempt at replicating the old building fabric may be cost-prohibitive or simply limiting. The old Archigram concept of using masonry walls as armaments for modular housing offers an intriguing solution to situations where we have a pretty wall and little else. In other cases, more of the original building may be retained than in others. The important thing is that we don't commit to a dichotomy in which the only common form of rehab is the tax-credit project and the only alternative is demolition for new construction. There is a full spectrum of architectural options, and saving any of the embodied energy in an old building at all is far more green than starting completely fresh.

    Anyone interested in purchasing and rebuilding the buildings on 13th Street can call Karen at 314-241-5031.

    More information on the row, including earlier photographs, can be found here.

    Thursday, February 7, 2008

    Two Craftsman Buildings in Wells-Goodfellow

    While photographing a building across the street for work, I stumbled across this Craftsman gem on Ridge Avenue (just west of Hamilton Avenue) in Wells-Goodfellow. The size of the brackets on the porch end of the roof is incredible. Brackets, half-timbering and wide gable roofs were hallmarks of the Craftsman style, which was part of the revival style craze that dominated American residential architecture between 1890 and 1930. The Craftsmas style drew upon the Arts & Crafts movement as well as historic rural European vernacular styles. St. Louis has great examples in north and south city, especially west of O'Fallon Park and in Tower Grove South.

    Coincidentally, this home is only a few blocks from one of the city's most prominent Craftsman landmarks, the Wellston Station at 6111 Martin Luther King Drive.

    Photo by Rob Powers for Built St. Louis

    I don't know much about the house on Ridge, but I co-wrote the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Wellston Station. The Station was built in 1911 and designed by Martin Arhelger for the St. Louis Transit Company, the streetcar arm of United Railways. United Railways held the monopoly on mass transit in the city until 1963 when it was subsumed into the Bi-State Development Agency.

    Under its wide roof, the Wellston Station provided covered boarding, and a shelter with waiting rooms and toilets, for the first fixed-track streetcars on Easton Avenue (now MLK). Wellston Station was the destination for the last streetcar run in the city's history: the run of the Hodiamont street car in 1966. For years after that, the building served as a bus shelter, but the grandeur was out of scale with cash-strapped Bi-State. Bi-State aimed to convert the building to a farmers' market, but in 2006 abruptly turned it over to the Land Reutilization Authority. In May 2007, the National Park Service placed the Wellston Station on the National Register. That designation has not yet led to redevelopment, although a burger joint still rents the front end of the waiting room area. (The waiting room has always had a storefront at the street side.)

    Two Craftsman gabled buildings in Wells-Goodfellow -- one a domestic building, the other a remnant of a once-robust public sector economy. May they both be part of the city's future.

    Another Fine Building on Page Boulevard

    The original version of the agenda for the January 28, 2008 meeting of the St. Louis Preservation Board included an appeal of staff denial of demolition of the commercial building at 5100 Page Boulevard. This building stands just east of another building whose fate on the same agenda, 5286-98 Page. The final agenda did not include the appeal. Whether or not it returns is up to the owner of the building, Rosie Love.

    Curiosity sent me to look at the building. I was pleasantly surprised to find a sturdy three-story building with a mansard-style roof and lovely masonry details. The stepped-down parapet alongside the mansard gives the corner some pizazz, while a terra cotta cornice below the mansard has an eye-catching swag garland motif. The brick cornice on the secondary east elevation adds a less formal vertical line.

    What is perhaps most intriguing is the bricked-in storefront configuration on the east wall. Under a continuous cornice with an egg-and-dart pattern are some strange capitals; these top brick false pilasters that run vertically between the storefront opening. Looking at the painted wall closely, one can see the distinct vertical lines between the pilasters and the infill. How wonderful it must have been to have the storefront opened up to both the main and side streets!

    The building is, of course, vacant and deteriorating. It's been empty for some time. Geo St. Louis shows records of an occupancy permit for a convenience store in 1995 and a permit for a "grandfathered pay phone" in 1998.

    The front wall has some damage at the cornice line, while missing downspouts on the rear elevation has caused severe mortar erosion. Still, there are no collapsed wall sections yet. Numerous buildings in worse condition have been spared demolition by the Cultural Resources Office and the Preservation Board.

    The Academy neighborhood (and the Mount Cabanne-Raymond Place National Historic District that encompasses much of the neighborhood) needs its commercial edges to remain strong. Delmar on the south has become a lost cause, but Page retains many corner commercial buildings like this one and the one at 5286-98 Page, which bookend rows of historic residences. With its proximity to the Central West End and its largely intact building stock, this area is bound to be an emergent rehabbing neighborhood. We need to keep the neighborhood's buildings around for the new day ahead.

    Monday, February 4, 2008

    Edwardsville Plans to Restore The Wildey

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Alderman Rich Walker of Edwardsville, Illinois, has launched both a campaign to restore The Wildey theater and a public history project on the theater. The City of Edwardsville purchased the theater in 1999 and plans to raise an estimated $3 million for restoration work. It's admirable to see a city government willing to invest in its cultural resources.

    Bettis In, Stanley Out

    The Cultural Resources Office of the City of St. Louis hired Robert J. Bettis to the newly-created Preservation Planner position. Most recently working for the Commercial Development Department of the St. Louis Development Corporation, Bob worked for several years as the Certified Local Government Coordinator for the Kansas State Historic Preservation Office. I'm gratified to see Bob's experience and talent matched with CRO. Bob joins an office of experienced -- and overworked -- professionals comprised of Director Kathleen Shea, Preservation Administrator Jan Cameron, Preservation Planner Andrea Gagen and Administrative Assistant Adonna Buford. CRO once had additional full-time positions, but lost them during downsizing in 2002. It's great to have CRO regain its capacity.

    Meanwhile at 1015 Locust, Planning and Urban Design Director Rollin Stanley celebrated his last day on January 31. Stanley is off to head planning operations for Montgomery County, Maryland. No word yet on when Planning and Urban Design will begin the search for Rollin's replacement. The agency actively seeks a Community Development Research Analyst, though.

    Old Printing Building Slated for Demolition as Part of CORTEX

    Washington University recently purchased this building, located at 4340 Duncan Avenue in the central corridor. The university's master plan for the Medical Center calls for demolition as part of the CORTEX redevelopment project. Although unadorned, and perhaps a bit sepulchral, the brick industrial building possesses several unique architectural features. Built in 1936 for a printing company, the building is the work of the noted firm Mauran, Russell and Crowell. The firm employed its characteristic genius here. While the concrete-framed fireproof building appears as a four story building, the second and third floors are actually a second floor and mezzanine. This arrangement allowed for production using machinery with overhead components on the second floor and distribution on the first floor, with loading bays lining the east wall (see the photo above). The floor arrangement allowed for the building to have a smaller footprint, saving room and creating a more urban form. The mezzanine arrangement is reflected in tall exterior windows that call to mind the same firm's earlier Federal Reserve Bank Building (1924) at Broadway and Locust downtown.

    In 1946, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch acquired the building and put it to use printing its popular Sunday lifestyle magazines. The Post expanded the building in 1959. In recent years, the building housed Crescent Electrical Supply. The former owner recently began clearing the building in preparation of its impending demolition. The loss is a shame. The lack of lavish ornament no doubt seals the fate, but that same quality gives the building an appearance consistent with its original use. While not a masterpiece, the building is a handsome modern industrial composition that is an important part of the character of Duncan Avenue. Besides, the building is almost built with adaptation in mind. All we need is a little imagination -- the sort of big thinking that led our leaders to envision CORTEX in the first place.

    Friday, February 1, 2008

    Lecture About Gateway Mall on Sunday

    I will be giving the opening lecture in this year's Friends of Tower Grove Park lecture series.

    What: "Making Parks in the Central City: The Challenges of the Last 100 Years": I will discuss the history of various plans for introducing the Gateway Mall into downtown St. Louis, from the early City Beautiful-era Comprehensive Plan in 1907 to the current Master Plan. There will be many slide illustrations.

    When: Sunday, February 3 at 3:00 p.m.

    Where: Stupp Center, Tower Grove Park

    FREE. Lecture will be around one hour in length.

    Thoughts on Storefront Additions

    Sometimes I wonder if the mid-twentieth century practice of adding storefront sections to the front of historic homes is a St. Louis phenomenon. Certainly, we have many interesting examples here on major east-west streets like Delmar, Natural Bridge, Cherokee and Forest Park. These are symptoms of explosive population growth and changing land uses.

    The example shown here is located at 3808 Olive Street, between Spring and Vandeventer, in Midtown. (The Central Apartments stood across the street.) Here we have a limestone-faced Queen Anne home dating to the 1890s. The architect may be Jerome Bibb Legg, a prolific residential architect who designed the other home remaining on this desolate block; Legg's name appears as owner or architect on several building permits on this block.
    In front we have a pressed-brick storefront from the middle part of the twentieth century. A door at right leads to the original entrance of the home. This photo does not show the quirky gesture in which the builder reused stone from the porch to build a side wall that connects the house to the storefront.

    Weird? Yes. Useful? Also, yes. While not a candidate for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a 19th century house, the hybrid building offers some interesting potential for reuse. Perhaps the alteration of the house itself could make it eligible for National Register listing. What is needed is a local survey of such storefront-bearing houses, followed by national comparison. This strange building could be a treasure!