Tuesday, April 29, 2008
2915 Minnesota Avenue: Preliminary approval for demolition of flounder house granted 4-2. Terry Kennedy, Mary Johnson, David Richardson and Anthony Robinson in favor; Melanie Fathman and Mike Killeen opposed.
4477 Olive Street: Unanimously deferred until the July meeting to provide more time to explore alternatives.
4568 St. Ferdinand Avenue: Demolition permit denied. Killeen, Fathman, Robinson and Richard Callow in favor of motion to deny; Johnson, Kennedy and Richardson opposed.
Although more retail shops are opening their doors, merchants are concerned that most of the businesses currently under construction are not the type of unique specialty stores that would boost downtown's image as an eclectic, artsy shopping area.
That's strange because the biggest complaint I hear from downtown workers and residents alike is that there are not enough regular plain old businesses to meet daily needs. There is no office supply store downtown. No pharmacy. No donut shop. No general new book store.
Not sure what merchants want, but other people using downtown want it to function as a place where necessities can be procured without driving to Hampton Avenue or further west. Most people buy an imported vase once a year, if that. Everyone needs paper clips, a toothbrush or a quick meal more frequently.
I'm glad that downtown is a retail destination, but I'm disappointed that its retail options don't meet the needs of many of its daily users. While workaday shops don't make for the most exciting ribbon cuttings, they make a sustainable neighborhood.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
On Monday, the Preservation Board will determine the fate of this old city-owned flounder house at 2915 Minnesota Avenue in Tower Grove East. The 710-square-foot home lies outside of the boundaries of the Tower Grove Heights Historic District, making it ineligible for rehab tax credits without landmark designation. Clearly, the building is eligible in its own right -- there are fewer than 30 flounder houses left in the city, and the building type is indigenous. Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett (D-6th) is seeking demolition, while the Tower Grove East Neighborhood Association strongly opposes demolition. Triplett's application was deferred by the Board two months ago to provide the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) time to develop a pro forma showing that rehabilitation is feasible.
Working with developer Will Libermann, who recently rehabbed a flounder house at 3330 Missouri Avenue in Benton Park, CRO has arrived at an impressively economical budget; see its report here. Liebermann's plan would restore the derelict home to former beauty while creating badly-needed affordable fully-rehabbed, historically-sensitive housing. (His other flounder sold for $125,000.) With the neighborhood behind preservation, there should be a clear outcome but Triplett remains stridently in favor of demolition.
Should the Preservation Board approve demolition, there would be yet another decision creating a housing gap between upper-income residents who can afford fully-rehabbed historically-sensitive homes and lower-income residents who largely cannot. Here is the rare opportunity to cut against the gap. While the home is smaller than your average multi-family conversion, it is a great size for a single person or a childless couple.
The Preservation Board meets Monday, April 28 at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street downtown. See the full agenda here.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Same old story: the owner of the lovely building at 4477 Olive Street pictured here is applying for a demolition permit. The city's Preservation Board will consider the demolition on preliminary review at its regular meeting on Monday; the city's Cultural Resources Office is recommending that the board deny the application.
Next-door neighbor Youth Technology Education Center wants to demolish the building immediately for green space, but anticipates eventual expansion. (Again, same old story.) While Alderman Terry Kennedy (D-18th) supports demolition in deference to the center's laudable accomplishments, the Central West End Association is opposed to the demolition.
The Craftsman style storefront building was built in 1917 and designed by architect Edward H.A. Volkmann, who designed several other buildings in this vicinity. Several unusual elements, like the finials atop the raised parapet sections, the balcony and the former arched center display window have led to all sorts of guesses about the building's origin. One story had the building as a fire station. The truth is a bit more mundane -- the building was built for the St. Louis Cleaning Company and used as by the clothing cleaners at least through the 1930s. Cleaners were an important new business type in the early twentieth century, catering to the city's newly-mobile middle and upper classes. The Central West End has several old cleaners' buildings, with the most resplendent being the Anderson Laundry on Washington Boulevard west of Euclid.
Last year, the commercial district on Olive Street between Pendleton and Walton was added to the city's Central West End Historic District. With historic rehabilitation tax credits now available, the street is being remarkably transformed. Before that, Central West End Builders had already obtained National Register of Historic Places designation for and rehabbed the Lister Building, Taylor-Olive Building and Eugene Field School (directly across the street) around the intersection of Taylor and Olive. (The following photograph shows the Lister and Taylor-Olive buildings' proximity to the building at 4477 Olive.)
Apparently there is a developer interested in rehabbing the building, which until recently was used as storefront church. (Same old story, huh?) In the last two years, developers have rehabbed or are rehabbing almost all of the other buildings on this block, and there is even new construction including the Center. Good things aren't just coming -- they are here, and this finely-detailed building should be a part of them.
The Preservation Board meets Monday at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street downtown. The full meeting agenda is available here.
Demolition of the St. Stanislaus Kostka School at 1413 N. 20th Street is now underway (see "St. Stanislaus Kostka School Deserves a Reprieve," April 6). Aalco Wrecking is the demolition contractor and Bruce Gerrie has salvage rights.
Earlier this week, Preservation Online also covered the issue; read that article here.
Because the city is using federal funding for their redesign, a section 106 review has been triggered. Section 106 reviews, mandated by the 1966 federal Historic Preservation Act, are administered by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and serve the purpose of determining whether sites impacted by federal spending are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. SHPO's ruling here could determine what the park will end up looking like. If SHPO determines the park is eligible for listing, and advocates for its preservation can get it listed on the National Register, the city's plans could be derailed.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
This morning, St. Louis on the Air featured a discussion about neighborhood history with host Don Marsh, Lynn Josse, Andrew Weil and myself. Listen to that show here.
Your Community's History, Your Community's Future
Join your neighbors to learn about tools to explore the history of your neighborhood, and how to use that history to strengthen your community. Local experts will share their experiences in using neighborhood history to promote involvement and investment in St. Louis communities. The workshop will include a discussion of successful history projects developed by St. Louis area communities, resources available to research your neighborhood's history, and government programs and incentives to encourage preservation. Neighborhood history workshops will be offered on two dates, with slightly different information targeted towards residents of St. Louis City and St. Louis County. These workshops are free and open to the public. For more information, call (314) 516-4748 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
To download a flyer visit this page.
St. Louis City
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
St. Louis Public Library Carpenter Branch (3309 S. Grand Ave.)
St. Louis County
Thursday, May 8, 2008
126 J.C. Penney Conference Center, University of Missouri--St. Louis (One
Neighborhood History Workshops are sponsored by the Community Partnership Project of UM--St. Louis, working in cooperation with University of Missouri Extension, and by Landmarks Association of St. Louis Inc. This project is funded, in part, by the Urban Extension Program, a joint project of the University of Missouri Extension and the University of Missouri--St. Louis.
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.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The emergency order includes two two-story commercial buildings that stand east of the condemned building. These buildings are vacant and also owned by Roberts Brothers Properties, but have no structural damage that would warrant emergency condemnation and demolition under the city's building code.
The inclusion of these buildings in the demolition order brings to mind last year's demolition of the entire Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings, owned by Paul J. McKee, Jr., despite the fact that only one of the three buildings suffered enough fire damage to warrant emergency condemnation. In that case, the three buildings shared party walls, so the Building Division's action made a little more sense even if it was premature.
This time, the three buildings share no walls. There is absolutely no connection between the collapsing corner of the large building and the condition of the two neighboring buildings. Should we assume that the Building Division is willing to twist public safety laws to allow owners to clear sites for development? Or perhaps the Building Division has such prejudice for historic buildings that it cannot restrain itself faced with an opportunity to take down three buildings instead of one?
No matter what the intention, the result is that one city agency assigned to uphold public safety is thwarting any attempt to implement real preservation planning. Really, all three of the buildings at Page and Kingshighway could have been preserved. Even after the corner collapsed, the corner building was stable enough to repair. The Building Division could have ordered emergency stabilization. Although the Division can only spend money on emergency demolition, and not stabilization, perhaps it's time we changed that, A temporary corner support -- which one can buy at Home Depot and many homeowners could have installed -- would have cost much, much less than demolition and given the neighborhood more time to explore the future of the building.
Our demolition process suffers from a lack of development vision. Without meaningful citywide preservation planning, each demolition decision is made without any legal guidance. The Building Division has discretionary power that prevents careful planning. Yet even if the Division wanted to step in and try to stabilize a building, it lacks enabling authority to do so. These issues need to be resolved. Currently, only an alderman can intervene in this process and force an outcome -- and not always. We need to reform our demolition process through enactment of real comprehensive preservation planning legislation.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
The future is always doubtful to that last historic house on a block in a neighborhood whose primary land use has changed. Neighborhoods just outside of the central business district of American cities that were residential walking neighborhoods typically lost their character in the twentieth century as commercial use crept outward. Large new buildings went up on main thoroughfares, followed by mixed use and apartment buildings on other streets. Old houses became rooming houses, offices and even small factories -- until their narrow lots were added to adjacent lots to make sites for larger buildings. Secondary streets often kept much of the old housing stock, but the main streets emerged from second wave development looking more like downtown than ever.
On some blocks, like the one shown above on North Avenue just west of Milwaukee in Chicago, one will find the houses that survived the development waves. Some of these houses stand alone, adjacent to parking lots. Their futures are doubtful, since they stand apart from the historic context that would make their defense likely should a developer want to take the house and the adjacent lot and build a new building. In Chicago, tear-downs like that seem to happen weekly. The new construction is often an insipid four or five story building with street level retail and condominiums above, rendered in a bland minimalist style or a gaudy postmodernist mess.
Other survivors are more fortunate, like this old Romanesque Revival house. When the building to the right went up in the 1910s, the developer didn't need, want or buy the house. When the building on the left went up, the same story. Neighbors came down, but not the erstwhile little house. The house slipped through both times. With such a small site, and the house being so close to the neighbors, one could guess that the house has escaped demolition. Then again, in urban real estate, nothing is ever certain.
There were years in recent memory when this stretch of North Avenue were devoid of much development interest, and then things changed rapidly. Even if the market is in downturn now, that won't last forever. Some locations hold inherent value that survives the market's cycles. Some buildings do too. Is this house one of those now, by virtue of its escape?
Saturday, April 12, 2008
"One of these days the soil is going to give out," warns Eller. While the causes of much of the loss of the built environment of north city is more economic, the landscapes left behind are devoid of any clues. To the innocent wanderer, perhaps it seems that the very land on which the city is built is dead. Just as bad soil kills crops, bad land could kill blocks or neighborhoods. The difference is that the infection of farm soil is real, while the infection of our city soil comes from within us, legitimate brown fields notwithstanding. City land is as good for city life as ever. Trouble is, city land's healthful properties come not from its physical content but from how it's labeled on maps and valued by builders. An ounce of soil from a lot in St. Louis Place could be as nutrient rich as any found in Clayton, but that has nothing to do with the value of the land it composes.
Hence, the best soil for farming in the region may be in places like the floodplains of St. Charles County, while the better soil for building could be the bedrock-pinned land of north city. We don't seem to mind this absurdity as continue to build out irresponsibly. If soil affected our settlement patterns as it does planted crops, our soil would have failed awhile ago. Maybe it still will.
Monday, April 7, 2008
On March 19, the Building Division issued an emergency demolition order for the corner commercial building at 5100-02 Page Boulevard, owned by Rosie Love. Love had applied for a permit late last year, and the city's Preservation Board denied her permit in February. The building is a contributing resource to the Mt. Cabanne-Raymond Place National Historic District, hence review by the Preservation Board. Apparently, the Preservation Board made the matter only a trifle harder for Love, an investor who ownes properties across Missouri. Demolition is well underway.
Eastward, at the southeast corner of Page and Kingshighway, demolition will soon commence on a large three-story building owned by Roberts Brothers Properties. A motorist struck the corner column in the notched-out storeftont entrance, leaving the upper two floors unsupported. Rather than repair the damage, the owners let gravity do the work. Brick began falling last week, and now the Building Division has granted a demolition order. A wrecker's signs adorn the plywood fence around the site, including sections in front of two adjacent buildings that have no structural damage.
More wealth drained from north St. Louis...
Sunday, April 6, 2008
I suggest reading my previous post, St. Stanislaus Kostka: A Preface, before reading this one.
On March 18, the St. Stanislaus Kostka parish applied for a demolition permit for its historic school building adjacent to the church on North 20th Street. Since neither the City Landmark nor the National Register of Historic Places designations for the church include the school, the building falls outside of demolition review. The school is in the Fifth Ward, in which the Cultural Resources Office only has preservation review of official landmarks. Hence, the parish demolition application need only clear the Building Division before work can commence.
The sudden news shocked preservationists who had stood behind the church in its dispute with the St. Louis Archdiocese. How could a parish who had dared tell the archdiocese that it could better tend its buildings and people wish to demolish a historic building under its care?
Although the permit was a sudden development, the parish actually voted to demolish the school two years ago. And the vote was anything but unanimous, as some parishioners still have misgivings.
The trouble for the parish is that the school closed in 1964, and the parish has never found a use for the building. The first floor is still used occasionally, while the second floor is full of debris and pigeons. The parish has no plans to resume its school, and the building seems outmoded for the social functions that the parish still hosts regularly.
According to the board of the parish, repairs would cost $1 million. Board members say that schools have looked at the building, and declined interest. One wonders if the use of federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits was explored. Since state credits recoup up to 25% of rehabilitation costs and federal credits 20%, together the programs could knock $1 million down to a more reasonable $550,000.
Of course, in order to claim the credits, ownership of the school would have to be transferred to a for-profit entity. Either a new owner or a parish-led development entity could rehab the building and get tax credits, should the building get listed on the National Register.
As the photographs show, the building is entirely sound. Sure, the building has extensive interior deterioration. There are holes in walls and ceilings, the systems are shot and the second floor needs extensive cleaning. However, the structure is sound, the roof is good and historic features like millwork and even original windows are in place. Most tax credit rehab projects start off in worse shape than this.
The school building actually dates to 1896; examine the side elevations and the blind arcade running along the roof line and one sees the congruity between the school, the rectory and the church, all built in the 1890s. The school received major alterations in 1923, when the first floor windows were expanded into wide, tall modern windows and in 1930, when the stairwells were added at each end. The front stairwell gives the building its distinctive and almost foreboding Art Deco Gothic entrance.
Although this is the last minute, one hopes that the publicity surrounding the demolition might lead to some reconsideration. The parish might look outside itself and consult with preservation professionals, city officials and developers to find creative solutions to the problem of the old school building -- which might look more like an opportunity to others.
Another troubling prospect is the future of the rectory that stands between the school and the church. Already down to one priest occupant, the building faces maintenance and utility issues similar to the school. How long before the parish starts thinking that it no longer needs its own rectory? Dialogue about the school would prevent a similar crisis in the near future.
The spirit that has kept St. Stanislaus Kostka alive (and on the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) is one big enough to allow for a better fate for the school building than demolition. Finding a new future for the school isn't a battle -- it's doing the right thing with resources the parish already owns.
(All photographs used here by Douglas Duckworth.)
The backdrop is the tumultuous recent history of the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood where St. Stanislaus Kostka has been located since the church was built in 1891. After World War II, most of this neighborhood was cleared for the massive Pruitt-Igoe housing project, which entailed clearance of nearly every building between Jefferson, Cass, 20th and Carr streets save the Roman Catholic churches of St. Bridget on Jefferson and St. Stanislaus Kostka on 20th Street.
St. Stan's shared an uneasy property line with the housing project. Then came the clearance of the neighborhood across 20th street and the construction of the Vaugh Homes. The old Polish church was surrounded by dull monolithic housing towers. The gentle, humanist architecture of the church and parish buildings was in sharp contrast to the modernist developments around it. Socially, the environment was changed forever. The parish was no longer a group of people who walked to mass, sharing an ethnic identity as well as a neighborhood. Members fled the city, but not the parish. The church survived even as its neighborhood disintegrated, first with the new housing projects and later with the downfall of the same.
By the early 21st century, St. Stan's had endured so much uncertainty its members could hardly be blamed for a defensive posture. Since 1972, the cleared Pruitt-Igoe site was a desert of scrub trees and dumped debris. At one point in the early 199s, Mayor Freeman Bosley floated a ridiculous scheme to build an 18-hole gold course and large subdivision centered on the Pruitt-Igoe site. The plan could have wiped out St. Stan's, and at least would have again put its context at risk.
The golf course plan died amid political opposition, though, and a change for the better came to the area around St. Stan's. Starting in 2002, the Vaughn Homes site had been remade into Murphy Park, a successful and attractive mixed-income development. However, developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. also began buying large amounts of property around the Pruitt-Igoe site, with rumors yet another clearance scheme circulating. In 2004 and 2005, the Archdiocese closed dozens of city parishes.
No wonder many members of St. Stanislaus Kostka vigorously defend their right to hold ownership to the parish. If the entire neighborhood that once composed the parish could be cleared wholesale multiple times, clearance of the church was an easy possibility. If even strong parishes in densely-populated parts of south city could be closed, why not a parish in ravaged north city whose members mostly lived outside of the neighborhood?
No one at St. Stan's has ever accused the Archdiocese of specifically wanting to sell out the property or close the parish; the issue is more a matter of principle than fear. History set the odds against the parish surviving, and any step toward beating those odds was one worth taking -- even defiance of the Archbishop.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
The photograph above shows the state of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home today. Workers resumed masonry work yesterday and today will likely have the roof resting on a solid east supporting wall for the first time since last April.
After the south and east walls are laid in block, workers from John Smith Masonry will move to the building's north end, where another collapsed wall section remains. After that work is finished, further work -- including laying face brick and replicating limestone ornament -- will come either through a development plan or further donations.
The Old North St. Louis Restoration Group still needs donations to cover expenses related to the stabilization project. While the masons have kindly donated labor and materials, the Restoration Group continues to pay builder's risk insurance on what has been a lengthy (and risky) wall rebuilding project. Please visit SaveMullanphy.org for information on making a donation.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
On your way home tonight, be sure to drive by the Mullanphy Emigrant Home where John Smith Masonry had a crew and a crane working to install CMU block on the south wall. They're almost to the third floor now!
This is great news. This winter's cycle was so erratic that masonry work was almost impossible to schedule. Since John Smith Masonry is donating their labor on the side from paid work, getting a good day for work has been difficult. This is in contrast to last winter, with the warm streak from November through January.