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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Egyptian Temple in North City

Those who use Natural Bridge Road know that St. Louis has an Egyptian temple, adorned with obelisks, cartouche-style medallions and pagan female figures in relief. Standing out even among the showy architecture of north St. Louis -- Central High School stands immediately across the street, after all -- the temple at the southwest corner of Natural Bridge and Garrison avenues in Lindell Park never fails to catch the eye of those who pass by.

Now used as the Muhammad Islam Academy, the building at 3625 N. Garrison Avenue has housed many different churches, including the Martin's Temple Church of God in Christ. However, the builder and original occupant was not a religious order but a fraternal one: the Mt. Moriah Temple Association, an order of Masons. In 1913, the Association hired Charles Brunk, a contractor and Republican politician, to build a large and exotic Mt. Moriah Temple . Whether or not Brunck himself designed the building is questionable, since he has no comparable work to his credit and a building permit record for the Mt. Moriah Temple does not exist. The temple shows a deft and creative hand, with a stylistic program that is heavily influenced by the Viennese Secessionist movement as well as works of Egyptian antiquity.

What is not questionable is that the Mt. Moriah Temple is one of the great eclectic treasures of the city. Application of Egyptian elements in American architecture grew in the early twentieth century with the rise of Art Nouveau, Secessionist and other avant-garde influences, which coincided with American archaeological interest in ancient Egypt. However, such overt Egyptian inspiration as found in the Mt. Moriah Temple design is rare in St. Louis.

Harrison School Slated for Rehabilitation

On December 12, the Missouri Housing Development Commission approved issuance of 4% low income housing tax credits to the Harrison School Apartments project. Developer George Kruntchev's North Tower Group plans to rehabilitate the historic Harrison School at 4163 Green Lea Place in the Fairground neighborhood as affordable rental apartments.

Harrison School has sat vacant since its closure by the St. Louis Public Schools in 1996. In 2003, the building was finally put up for sale at the behest of a new majority on the Board of Education that sought to lower the district inventory. In 2007, after sitting nearly four years on the market, a developer purchased the school and secured listing in the National Register of Historic Places before selling the school to North Tower Group.

Benjamin Harrison School is a magnificent example of the earlier St. Louis Public School buildings. The basic plan comes from architect August H. Kirchner, who designed the original 1895 section of the building. (Coincidentally, Kruntchev's other school project, Grant School in Tower Grove East, also involved a Kirchner school.) That one-story, four-room section was designed for expansion. After all, the city and the Fairgrounds neighborhood were growing rapidly, and until construction of Harrison the only other school in the vicinity was Ashland School, first opened in 1870. Kirchner made attempts to overcome the limitations of previous school buildings, which were dour, crowded and devoid of proper ventilation and light. Kirchner made the classrooms large with substantial windows for light and air. His ideas would influence his successor as district architect, William B. Ittner, who expanded Harrison School with additions in both 1899 (adding additional floors to the 1895 section) and 1909 (adding the north wing).

The result of the architectural evolution is an imposing Romanesque Revival school whose brick body is articulated through buff brick and red Iowa sandstone. The design is very similar to other Kirchner schools later expanded by Ittner, including Adams and Euclid schools. One of the striking features of Harrison is a kindergarten in the 1909 addition that placed two trapezoidal bay windows on either side of a hearth, an Ittner innovation that was not repeated.

Now, over twelve years since closing, the school finally is finding a new life. That's a cautionary lesson to the Special Administrative Board (SAB) governing the St. Louis Public Schools. The SAB will be approving a facilities management plan early in the new year that will include what is anticipated as as substantial round of schools closings. Hopefully successful conversion projects like the one at Harrison will convince the board that there are many possibilities other than demolition or abandonment. I remain impressed by the wide array of adaptive reuse plans that developers have found for St. Louis schools. The again, the architecture itself, with its spaciousness and care for natural light, is hospitable to almost any human activity.

Talking About McRee Town

Jackie Jones introduces her presentation.

Yesterday afternoon St. Louis University doctoral student Jackie Jones presented her dissertation thesis, "Picturing a Neighborhood: McRee Town in Saint Louis, Missouri," to a crowd at the Royale, 3132 S. Kingshighway. The interesting venue for Jones' presentation and resulting discussion offered a relaxed setting for what remains a controversial topic: the wholesale clearance of six blocks of an urban neighborhood by the Garden District Commision and resulting replacement by new housing. Jones disavowed any stance on the clearance, instead focusing on how images were used to justify the clearance in the press -- and how other images contradict the story told by the Commission's carefully-selected images.

Here's Jones' own description of her presentation:

In 2003, the Garden District Commission demolished more than two hundred buildings on the eastern half of the McRee Town neighborhood in Saint Louis. The Commission, a private coalition headed by officials from the nearby Missouri Botanical Garden, demolished six blocks of historic brick homes and apartment buildings that housed primarily low-income renters and homeowners, relocated hundreds of residents, erected twenty-five acres of market-rate, single-family, suburban-style housing on the cleared land, and ceremoniously renamed the area Botanical Heights. This presentation explores how visual representations of McRee Town between 1998-2003 helped legitimize this urban renewal project and the dislocations it caused in the lives of McRee Town residents. It engages viewers with the photographs of burned-out, boarded-up, weed-infested buildings that populated newspaper reports and public relations documents during these five years, and juxtaposes them with photographs taken by Genevelyn Peters, a McRee Town resident prior to the neighborhood’s destruction. These images – of family, homelife, play, and community – complicate and challenge the dominant understanding of this neighborhood and its residents as criminal and atomized by presenting images that depict a vibrant neighborhood community.

People listen to Jones' making a point.

The people present included someone involved in the decision to clear the six blocks, residents of Botanical Heights (the new housing development), the area's Neighborhood Stabilization Officer Luke Reven and others. While I had to leave before discussion was over, discussion touched on the damaging impact of I-44 construction in the early 1970s, the way in which similar images as those taken in McRee Town galvanized Lafayette Square and Soulard residents to pursue preservation instead of clearance, the deceptive nature of photographs and whether or not the term "suburban" applies to Botanical Heights.

Looking west down McRee Avenue from 39th Street.

On another note, if Royale proprietor Steven Fitzpatrick Smith is attempting to revive the tradition of the discussion salon, count me in!

Historic Preservation Should Be Part of St. Louis Public Schools Facilities Plan

KWMU aired my latest commentary today, on my birthday: Historic Preservation Should Be Part of St. Louis Public Schools Facilities Plan

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

St. Louis Area Makes a List for Obama Administration

An article in the December 26 edition of the St. Louis Business Journal reported that the City of St. Louis has created a 400-page report on its federal infrastructure funding priorities, while St. Louis County has created a 200-page document of the same. The governments will deliver these reports to the incoming presidential administration of Barack Obama in response to his promise to channel federal dollars into public works programs across the nation.

The city's report outlines some big-ticket priorities: $900 million for the North/South MetroLink line, $219.5 million in streetscape improvements, $160 million in public school building improvements, $80 million in airport improvements and $59 million to implement the Gateway Mall Master Plan. According to Deputy Mayor Barbara Geisman, all of these projects are ready to start as soon as they are funded, but full funding is unlikely immediately. Still, the city's placement of MetroLink expansion at the top of its list is smart, since that is a crucial component of building a strong city economy and connecting citizens to jobs. The city's list carries some basic but crucial needs: street and transportation improvements and school renovation. (The Gateway Mall project is another story, but something does need to happen to the mall area.) These are important to stabilizing our neighborhoods, and Geisman should be commended for placing a high priority on these things.

Moving beyond the ready-to-go ideas, perhaps the city would consider a future request for an urban homesteading program. The program could find funding to stabilize and market the Land Reutiliation Authority's thousands of vacant homes across the city, generating hundreds of construction jobs and getting tax-free property back on city tax rolls where it can generate money to fund roads and schools.

St. Louis County's list starts with a $200 million, 3.3-mile expansion on Highway 141 at the top followed by the $105 million needed to retain existing Metro public transportation in the outer county. A significant and less costly item on the St. Louis County list is $24 million to fund a Midwest China Trade and Commercialization Center at NorthPark. While the China cargo hub prospect is not a done deal, it has the potential to bring more jobs to the St. Louis area in the next decade than any other prospect.

Other requests headed to the Obama administration are a predictable $510 million highway spending request from the Missouri Department of Transportation and a $66 million request to extend Page Avenue farther into St. Charles County, so that one may have a straight drive from downtown St. Louis to Mid Rivers Mall Drive. These requests are the usual pave-it-and-they-will-come junk.

Obviously, the disparate requests show the problem of regional political fragmentation. Inevitably, there will be partial funding of many requests rather than full funding of something big and transformational. Imagine what might happen if the regional governments pulled together with one request for the North/South MetroLink line this year, and further extensions in the future, rather than place the burden solely on the City of St. Louis. Imagine if the Missouri Department of Transportation put some of the needed Metro funding in its request.

Remember when we imagined that Obama could become president? Now that the dream is real, it's time to imagine other changes closer to home. Or, we can all fight over the pie for the next eight years, but it doesn't take much imagination to guess where that will get the St. Louis area.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kraushaar Brass Manufacturing Company

I frequently pass by this industrial building at 2509 N. Broadway in the north riverfront industrial corridor, and have long wondered about the distinctive stepped south elevation. On that side, the parapet steps up a full floor above the apparent building height to support a chimney. My first assumption was that the chimney was the remnant of a demolished interconnected taller building. That assumption didn't seem right, though. Time for research.

The 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map (Volume 3, page 52) shows this building alone, with no building standing to the south. The stepped section chimney is part of the building, which Sanborn shows as being a three-story section of the Kraushaar Brass Manufacturing Company. Building permits indicate that the building at 2509 N. Broadway was built in 1904 at a three story height. Since the building was part of an active brass foundry, a destruction of the top story by fire is possible. Several metal-industry related buildings in the north riverfront areas lost top floors to fire. Early processes often resulted in industrial accidents, and we know that heat rises. However, my guess is as likely as simple decapitation of a floor deemed useless for some reason.

My research on Kraushaar Brass Manufacturing is incomplete. Records show that the company was founded by Charles Frederick Kraushaar, a Prussian immigrant born in 1847 who arrived in St. Louis after 1870. Kraushaar started a brass foundry on this block (city block 330, bounded by Broadway, Warren, 9th and Benton streets) in 1873 that expanded in size rapidly. In 1911, when Kraushaar retired, he resided at 3627 California Avenue in south city. His company made a lot of light fixtures, and its products appear in Missouri state government procurement records.

One mystery solved, dozens more created...

Dapper Dan's Closes Its Doors

As Skip to the 'Lou reported, Dapper Dan's closed on Saturday. Located at 410 North Tucker Boulevard, Dapper Dan's was a downtown institution built on another's legacy. Dapper Dan's opened in 1976 in the space that reigned as the legendary Bismarck Cafe from 1923 through 1972. The Bismarck was known for turtle soup and cloaked booths where politicians, businessmen, reporters and mobsters would huddle over a meal or drinks. Dapper Dan's, as Bill McClellan described well in his column last week, was of a different era for downtown. Born at a time when fortunes were declining, it was a haven for the working class to whom the city center was left as the elite retreated westward.

I first encountered Dapper Dan's a few years ago, with the erstwhile Mickey McTague as my guide. McTague was then still working for the Sheriff's Department, whose ranks gave the bar more than a little business over the years. Mickey introduced me to Rich Dallas and his daughters, and a cast of regulars that included Jefferson Arms residents, a parking lot attendant and a many retired folks. In subsequent trips, I saw these people and others, ranging from city workers to packs of youth waiting for their favorite bands to perform at the Creepy Crawl next door. Once, my colleagues and I took a prospective co-worker to Dapper Dan's to give him an off-the-record account of what he might be getting himself into by taking a job in historic preservation. Either the drinks dulled his senses or he had a strong will; he came to work for Landmarks and remains here today.

However, never did I encounter a full Dapper Dan's. I have been at a full Maurizio's, and a crowded Missouri Bar and Grill. Dapper Dan's did not pull in as many people. I think this is because the people it pulled have spread out. Just as the businessmen and politicians moved their meetings closer to their homes and even jobs in the Central West End and St. Louis Hills, the working class spread outward. Remember, the steepest population loss in St. Louis history was recorded between the 1970 census and the 1980 census. That Rich Dallas could open a downtown business in that period and keep it alive for another 32 years is testament to his canny and his loyal customer base.

Downtown will move on without Dapper Dan's, just as it has lost many other of its hard-boiled establishments like Carl's Two Cents Plain, Jimmy's, Amitin's and a plethora of others. I regret being too ill over the weekend to pay my final respects, because there will be nothing else like Dapper Dan's with its weary, time-worn urbanity.

What becomes of the building that housed Dapper Dan's is an open question. The building, built in 1890, was once five stories tall. In the days of downtown despair, the owner of this building and its next door neighbor joined a short-lived fad of lopping "unnecessary" floors. This crude pragmatism saved the historic restaurant fixtures on the first floor, which remain pristine down to the men's room details, but gave the building an awkward, jagged crown. Still, what remains is a great turn-key opportunity for a bar and restaurant. The old truncated Creep Crawl building next door has found new life as a pet clinic, indicating that there is a market for an amputee building.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Different Washington Avenue

This photograph from the collection of Landmarks Association of St. Louis shows a section of Washington Avenue in 1978. Obviously, the photographer was intrigued by the Fire Department's activity, but ended up documenting more than just a one-alarm call. This view shows the north side of Washington from the mid-point of the 700 block east through the 500 block.

From the left, one sees Loews Theatre still in business with its marquee advertising "Greased Lightning." Then there is Unique Jeans 'n Shirts, Stan and Julio's Spaghetti House, H.R. Perlstein Furs, Amitin's Books, the Big Men's Shop and Lane Bryant. On the next block east is the Stix, Baer and Fuller Department Store, later Dillard's, long before any skybridge marred its lovely commercial facade. Beyond the department store is the old May Company Building, now 555 Washington and then home of the Dollar Store.

This retail environment was dense with stores and small-scale buildings. The 700 block, with the exception of the theater, was occupied by narrow four-to-six-story buildings. These small buildings were the lifeblood of downtown retail in the 20th century, offering low rents and lower operating costs to owners. The buildings and the shops also imprinted streets like Washington, Locust, Olive and others with architectural variety and commercial abundance.

Alas, this photograph captures that downtown street life in end times. By the time this photograph was taken, city planners had decided to smother the retail environment here with the colossal failure that was St. Louis Centre. Opened in 1985, St. Louis Centre stands diagonally across from the Lane Bryant Store here. To build St. Louis Centre, two blocks of modestly-scaled historic downtown buildings -- all with ground-floor retail -- were leveled. St. Charles Street was closed. The two giant department stores, Stix and Famous-Barr, were joined to the mall rather than being separated by a diverse array of urban retail accessed on the sidewalks.

Retailers like Lane Bryant moved into St. Louis Centre and failed. Establishments like Stan and Julio's lingered until city planners again decided to stamp unitary order onto functional, if messy, urban life. In 1989, the 700 block of Washington was seized for construction of an addition to the convention center. Some retailers, like Amitin's, moved westward on Washington, but many closed their doors forever. The buildings fell. Today, the view captured in 1978 is depressing. Where delightful urban life thrived sits the giant convention center, with its sidewalks a pedestrian danger zone of taxi-dodging. The Stix building is empty, with a giant skybridge fused onto its facade that blocks sunlight and site lines.

Fortune may lead to rehabilitation of the Stix buidling, demolition of the skybridge and reconstruction of St. Louis Centre. However, the very urban architectural and commercial character of this stretch of Washington is lost.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

If You Could Give St. Louis a Gift Today

If you could give St. Louis any gift today, what would it be?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Preservation Board Blocks NLEC Demolition Plan

Yesterday, the St. Louis Preservation Board unanimously upheld staff denial of a demolition permit for the house at 4722 Tennessee Avenue in Dutchtown. The New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) applied for a demolition permit in September, and the Cultural Resources Office denied the permit shortly afterward. NLEC appealed the denial to the board. At the November meeting of the Preservation Board, NLEC representative Jeff Schneider waved the right to a timely appeal in order to return with a stronger presentation.

Schneider failed to do so. Yesterday, he asked the board for yet another continuance despite the fact that several people, include Dutchtown South Community Corporation Executive Director Kelly Kress and myself, had already attended a meeting with prepared testimony against the appeal.

Schneider did bring engineer Michael Mahaney, who attempted to make the case that the building was structurally unsound although he has not yet been inside of the building or produced a detailed assessment.

Board member Mike Killeen made a motion to defer consideration for one month but withdrew the motion after both Cultural Resources Office Director Kathleen Shea and Board Chairman Richard Callow stated that board members, staff and citizens had as much a right to timely consideration of the appeal as the appellant. No one of the board disagreed with Shea's assessment that the proposed demolition met none of the criteria for demolition established by the city's preservation ordinance.

Alderwoman Dorothy Kirner spoke against the proposed demolition, and Kress and myself were recognized by the chairman but did not speak since the board's stance was already clear. David Richardson moved to uphold staff denial, and the board unanimously supported that motion. The matter may be far from over, though.

Also yesterday the board unaimously approved National Register nominations for the Gill Buidling, Liggett & Myers Historic District, the Bel Air West Motel and the Grand-Bates Suburb Historic District. The board unanimously granted preliminary approval to plans to build a new house at 2308 S. 10th Street in the Soulard Historic District.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Drawing the Connections

Robert W. Duffy's article "To connect the Arch to the city (and the river), find the middle" in the Beacon broadcasts the good news from this weekend: a group of concerned citizens forged a coalition to address the issue of reconnecting downtown St. Louis to the Arch grounds and the riverfront, and vice versa.

The meeting and consensus for forward movement potentially could tie together many disparate strands of thinking:
  • Former Senator Jack Danforth's call for improving access to the Arch grounds and making the setting more attractive.
  • The notion of removing I-70 downtown advanced by Rick Bonasch, myself and others, which is enabled by construction of a new Mississippi River Bridge north of downtown.
  • The National Park Service's release of a draft General Management plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
  • The call from open space advocates and preservationists to refocus public discussion from the museum prospect on connecting the Arch grounds to surrounding urban fabric.
  • The outpouring of many good ideas in the recent student charrette on the Arch grounds and riverfront.
  • Mayor Slay's recent attempt to focus planning energy on the St. Louis riverfront.
  • Chivvis Development's efforts to revitalize Chouteau's Landing.
  • Plans by Great Rivers Greenway District to develop a South Rivefront Trail that would connect to the North Riverfront Trail in front of the Arch.
  • Plans for new development at the Bottle District and a second phase of Lumiere Place north of downtown.
  • Ongoing efforts to redevelop the North Riverfront Industrial Historic District north of Lumiere Place.
  • Efforts to improve the East St. Louis riverfront, including construction of an architectural museum.

    Finally, there is the very real prospect that the Obama administration will look for an initial wave of federally-funded public works projects and will push for long-term funding for urban infrastructure projects.

    All of these ideas and plans are in various stages of reality. Most have yet to move beyond talking points and renderings. Isn't the moment ripe to link these plans together through a master vision for the central St. Louis riverfront? The people who came together on Saturday think so, and will spend the next few months trying to link the many ideas for making the city's front entrance a beautiful one.
  • Friday, December 19, 2008

    Folsom Avenue Blues - Part Two

    Here are some images showing the 3900-4000 block of Folsom Avenue in McRee Town on October 31, 2004. As the images show, the castellated two-flats were more abundant then, providing a sense of their effect on the block.

    One of the buidlings had recently experienced a suspicious fire.

    Thursday, December 18, 2008

    Folsom Avenue Blues

    The houses at 4042 and 4046 Folsom Avenue.

    The house at 4062 Folsom Avenue.

    Three houses remain on the south side of the block of Folsom Avenue between Lawrence and Thurman avenues in McRee Town. Last month there were four, until the Garden District Commission had the other one wrecked.

    As the backgrounds in these photographs indicate, these houses are survivors -- more remnants than fabric. These houses are located in the six block section of McRee Town slated for total demolition by a 2004 redevelopment ordinance, and how they survived to the present day is pure chance. These should have wrecked in the architectural massacre that played out in 2004, and should have been gone in time for the residents of the new Botanical Heights to never get a sense of the working class vernacular that made McRee Town a special place.

    Instead, the four identical two-flats remained for awhile. The flats at 4056 and 4062 Folsom had long been vacant before demolition started at 4056 Folsom last month. However, the flats at 4042 Folsom remain occupied and privately owned. The Garden District Commission intends to have all gone at some point. Of course, the architectural character of this block was once created through intense repetition. There were once 20 of these bay-fronted, castellated two story flats in a row. The effect must have been exquisite. Right across the street from the mighty Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company plant stood a row of modest rental flats whose iconography proclaimed in chorus: every person's home is his castle!

    Alas, the three remaining buildings are probably too broken-hearted to proclaim anything. Maybe there is a soft whimpering "save me," but fate is sealed. These houses are not to stand the test of time, but be replaced with new houses whose relative extravagance may proclaim exactly the same message as before, only louder and more insistently.

    Yet there is hope for other remaining sections of McRee Town: on the December 22 agenda of the St. Louis Preservation Board is consideration of the Liggett and Myers Historic District, a National Register historic district funded by the Garden District that would get the other six blocks of McRee City and related industrial property onto the National Register (again, in the case of the six residential blocks and the Liggett and Myers plant that were de-listed in 2004). The working class castles west of Thurman may get to sing for some years more.

    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    The "Mini Mansion" Over Thirty-Five Years Ago

    Here's the "mini mansion" at 1501 Palm Street in Old North in better days. Rather, here it is in slightly better days. The photograph dates to July 1972, and was taken by a volunteer surveyor working on the Heritage/St. Louis project. Heritage/St. Louis was an all-city architectural survey coordinated by Landmarks Association of St. Louis that nearly succeeded in documenting every historic building in the city (and many others) with a photograph and short evaluation sheet. Between 1970 and 1975, volunteers surveyed thousands of buildings, leading to more intensive later surveys and eventual National Register historic district nominations across the city.

    As the photograph shows, the house was then occupied and not boarded. Wooden sash are intact, as is a recessed entrance foyer. The cornice is in place, as is part of a cast iron fence. However, the surveyor who took this photograph noted that the condition was only "fair" and the future was uncertain. This was long before Paul McKee's holding company purchased the house, and even before it sat vacant for 16 years. Even while occupied, the house was not in great shape.

    The reality of the near north side sinks in: the work needed goes beyond remediation of recent dereliction. Many of these houses have been in disrepair for thirty years or longer. Most houses in Old North marked "fair" or "poor" in the Heritage/St. Louis survey are gone, and many that would have been were gone before the surveyors arrived. What we now have is a remainder of building stock, and the vacant buildings we now have require extensive repair. Fortunately, this odd little house has survived to an age where there finally is massive rehabilitation efforts underway in Old North.

    (For more information on this house, read "The "Mini Mansion" on Palm Street Needs Urgent Assistance," November 26)

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Dutchtown Center Hall House on December 22 Preservation Board Agenda

    On Monday, December 22 the St. Louis Preservation Board will again consider demolition of the frame center-hall house at 4722 Tennessee Avenue in Dutchtown. New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) applied for a demolition permit in the fall that the city's Cultural Resources Office denied. NLEC appealed the denial to the board, which was set to consider the matter at its November 2008 meeting. (See "NLEC Seeks Demolition of Frame Center Hall House on Tennessee," November 23.) NLEC obtained a deferral, and the item was moved to the current agenda.

    The Preservation Board previously denied an appeal of a staff denial in 2007. NLEC purchased the house after this denial. Alderwoman Dorothy Kirner (D-25th) is opposed to demolition, and many neighbors are opposed to NLEC's presence in Dutchtown. Seems like the smart path would be for NLEC to act on Kirner's opposition to find assistance in rehabilitating the historic house.

    At the last Preservation Board meeting, the NLEC representative who attended testified that NLEC might want to explore rehabilitation of the house. I have no knowledge if NLEC has decided to suspend plans for demolition or not. As far as I know, the Board will be considering the appeal on Monday, and citizens need to be prepared to testify on behalf of preservation then.

    The Preservation Board meets Monday, December 22 at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street downtown. Written testimony can be sent to the board via Adonna Buford, BufordA@stlouiscity.com.

    Monday, December 15, 2008

    Chuck Berry House Listed in National Register of Historic Places

    Photograph by Lindsey Derrington.

    On Friday, the National Park Service listed the Chuck Berry House at 3137 Whittier Avenue in the National Register of Historic Places. The listing is the result of the diligence of my colleague Lindsey Derrington, Researcher for Landmarks Association of St. Louis. Last year, Lindsey identified the house and its National register eligibility. She pursued the nomination against long odds -- the National Park Service has a long-standing policy to not list properties whose significance comes from association with living people.

    Lindsey demonstrated that the significance of the house lay in the work Berry wrote while living there some fifty years ago -- not recent achievement but music that has long been recognized as foundational in American rock and roll. The staff of the State Historic Preservation Office, especially reviewer Roger Maserang, joined the cause and persuaded the federal staff to review the nomination. Now the house has its official place in history, and a modicum of protection against demolition. The owner of the vacant one-story house is a holding company based in Washington state with no discernible intent to rehab the house. The next step is finding a responsible owner for the important house. Meanwhile, we can celebrate the big step taken through Lindsey's work.

    City Hospital Laundry Building Rehabilitation Moving to Completion

    One encouraging recent turn in local development is nearing completion: the start of the second phase of rehabilitation of the remaining buildings at City Hospital. Gilded Age, the developer, has embarked on a $27 million project that involves rehabilitation of the Laundry Building as an event space operated by Butler's Pantry, construction of a new headquarters for Butler's Pantry on Park Avenue and renovation of the Power Plant as a restaurant and office building. The Laundry Building is nearing completion, with the exterior sporting a cupola for the first time in decades.

    Built in 1939 and designed by Albert Osburg, chief architect for the city's Board of Public Service, the Laundry Building was once a hub of activity at the municipal hospital. The spacious, tile-walled interior housed a bustling laundry operation that kept thousands of linens used for bedding as well as staff uniforms clean and suitable for a medical environment. This efficient interior was artfully concealed behind a Georgian Revival exterior that referenced the earlier buildings of the hospital.

    The large multi-paned windows, now replicated in aluminum, have always given away the building's use. Those are industrial windows, made to light a work space. The town homes of Georgian London did not have such prosaic glazing. Here the modern meets the classical, and the Laundry Building melds the two with style. The dormers and cupola on the hipped roof add a welcome note of whimsy. While the hospital complex lost some fine buildings as part of the redevelopment, luckily the utilitarian Laundry and Power Plant buildings were spared. Buildings such as these can be hard to adapt, but when the right use comes along preservation seems completely logical. The Laundry Building will be a wonderful event space, and watching it regain its beauty is very satisfying.

    Friday, December 12, 2008

    SLU Purchases Mansion on Washington Boulevard, Plans Demolition

    The house at 4056 Washington in 2007.

    In October, St. Louis University paid $150,000 for the mansion at 4056 Washington Boulevard. The house was in foreclosure. Underneath layers of paint are the lines of idiosyncratic gilded age St. Louis architecture. Built in 1891, the house was clearly influenced by the popular Romanesque Revival style, evinced here through rusticated stone lintels and window surrounds. However, the wooden cornice has qualities of the Italianate style and the mansard roof and turreted bow evokes the French Renaissance Revival style seen in the design of St. Louis City Hall, the Frederick Judson House to the east and other buildings from the period. What a delight!

    The mansion stands just west of the University's Manresa Center, an interesting complex that originally was the site of the stately McPherson Mansion and later the Marydale convent before becoming the St. Bonaventure Franciscan friary. Since 2000, the University has owned the complex and maintained it as a retreat space. Since acquisition, the university marked the entrance with an inappropriate version of its signature gate. SLU has also purchased all lots between the Manresa Center and the mansion at 4056 Washington.

    Demolition of the Saaman-owned houses underway in April 2007.

    This block was once an elite street in the emerging Central West End, but the glory days have long since passed. Most of the block's parcels are now devoid of buildings. In 2007, Saaman Corporation infamously wrecked three houses on the north face of the block to deal a huge blow to the historic character of the street. Hopefully SLU will not make a similar move with its newly-acquired building. Perhaps the university could incorporate the house into the Manresa Center, adding extra space and helping to retain some of the center's dwindling historic context.

    UPDATE: As Vanishing STL discovered, the university applied for a demolition permit on December 4. Alas.

    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Historic Schools Given Short Shrift in Facilities Management Planning

    Over at the Post-Dispatch Eddie Roth has posted a blog entry on the short shrift that historic schools are getting in the current St. Louis Public Schools facilities management planning process. Roth quotes at length an e-mail that I sent him outlining what's wrong with the approach being taken by the district and its consultants, MGT of America.

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    Richard Moe on Obama's List for Secretary of Interior

    National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe is reported to be on a short list of candidates for the position of Secretary of the Interior in Barack Obama's administration.

    St. Louisans best remember Moe for his role in directing the National Trust to allocate New Market tax credits to the Old Post Office rehabilitation project while supporting demolition of the historic Century Building. This unprecedented move -- having the National Trust actively support demolition of a historic building against the stance of a local preservation organization -- cost the Trust hundreds of members around the nation. The National Trust has not condemned a pending lawsuit filed by the Old Post Office developers against citizen preservation activists Marcia Behrendt and Roger Plackemeier, whose own lawsuit to halt the Old Post Office project was rejected in 2004.

    Last month, Moe pleased St. Louis preservationists by sending a strongly-worded letter to Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill calling for preservation of the intregrity of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial grounds and opposing HR 7252, a bill that would have leased the Memorial grounds to a private group.

    Monday, December 8, 2008

    Illinois Hires 89 Prison Guards One Week After Closing Historic Sites

    UPDATE: The governor himself is now in jail!

    If the administration of Illinois' Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich is aiming to be the most confusing one in state history, it is doing well. Just one week after closing 12 historic sites and laying off 100 employees of those sites, the state has hired 89 prison guards for a prison transfer that may not take place. While the prison guard hiring had long been planned, the operation of the 12 state historic sites had been in the state budget as far back as 1913, when Illinois acquired Fort de Chartres. If Blagojevich seriously wanted to tighten the state's fiscal belt, he could have deferred the guard hiring to save money until the Pontiac Prison transfer lawsuit is resolved.

    In January, expect the state legislature to again find funding for the shuttered historic sites. Also expect the governor to continue to cling to the ludicrous assertion that the closures have helped balance the state budget. Meanwhile, 100 workers whose work skills are hard to place in Illinois face uncertain futures. The twelve sites face doubtful prospects of reopening. Many communities will lose tourism dollars, and many tourism-boosted businesses will face failure. Meanwhile, other states that fully invest in their historic sites will capture a healthy number of visitors and their spending dollars.

    If Blagojevich thinks the future he's setting into motion makes sense for Illinois, he has a lot of explaining to do.

    The sites that closed on November 30 are the following:
  • Apple River Fort, Elizabeth
  • Black Hawk Site, Rock Island (Hauberg Indian Museum to be half-closed)
  • Bishop Hill Museum, Bishop Hill (Colony Church and Bjorklund Hotel)
  • Cahokia Courthouse, Cahokia
  • Dana Thomas House, Springfield
  • Fort de Chartres, Prairie du Rocher
  • Fort Kaskaskia, Ellis Grove
  • Jubilee College, near Brimfield
  • Lincoln Log Cabin, near Charleston
  • Pierre Menard Home, Ellis Grove
  • Old Statehouse, Vandalia
  • Carl Sandburg Home, Galesburg
  • Relic of Early Anheuser-Busch Empire in Granite City

    Under the 20th Street viaduct bridge in Granite City, Illinois stands a reminder of previous changes within the Anheuser-Busch empire. On Adams Street is a transfer terminal for the brewer built in the 1911 before the onset of prohibition. The brewer sent train loads of beer to Granite City by rail across the Merchant's Bridge, and the trains delivered the beer to this building. From here, teams of Clydesdales and later trucks carried smaller deliveries to local restaurants, taverns and lodge halls.

    Anheuser-Busch closed the transfer terminal after World War II, when it became more feasible to simply truck the beer from St. Louis over roads. The transfer terminal remains, and is still in use as a transfer facility. Nowadays, truckloads are switched out here. At each of the four gable ends is a terra cotta medallion bearing a relief of the Anheuser-Busch eagle. The adjacent rail line does not have a spur to the old Anheuser-Busch transfer terminal. The terminal's use passed with time, then the railroad spur and finally the brewer itself.

    "Junction" Not Among Projects Recommended by MHDC Staff

    The Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC) has published staff recommendations for tax credit allocations to be made at the December 12 MHDC meeting. Noteworthy is that the Junction development in Old North ("'The Junction' and Old North's Housing Balance," November 29) is not among the projects recommended for approval of 9% federal low income housing tax credits. St. Louis projects recommended for approval are the Dick Gregory Place project in the Ville and new phases in the North Newstead Association's ongoing project in O'Fallon and Better Living Communities' project in Hyde Park.

    Thursday, December 4, 2008

    SLPS Facilities Plan Can Avoid Mistakes of Past

    After twenty-five years of vacancy, Carr School at 1421 Carr Street north of downtown is severely deteriorated. Much of the central roof has collapsed, pulling ornamental dormers out of shape. Windows and doorways are unboarded, affording access to a sea of collapsed ceilings and wooden roof members. A quarter-century has left the building in need of serious repair, and the surrounding Carr Square Village with a massive burden. The school was once a showy centerpiece and now has become a symbol of north side decline.

    The plight of Carr School is relevant now as the St. Louis Public Schools implements a Facilities Management Plan via consultants MGIT of America, Inc. The district hosting a rapid-fire series of evening meetings for public input on the plan. The schedule is online here. The meetings started last night at Carr Lane VPA and run through December 17 at schools across the city. Why the meetings are crammed into a short period during the busy holiday season is not certain. Obviously, the district is seriously seeking input to avoid prior school closing pratfalls. Hopefully the schedule and geographic range do not make the meetings difficult to attend for parents and concerned neighbors.

    The schedule lists several possible concerns that may be expressed. An encouraging sign is that "historic preservation" is prominently listed. To take that concern from the flier to the meetings, though, citizens should select a meeting or two and attend to discuss preservation issues with SLPS staff and consultants.

    While no other closed public school has sat empty as long as Carr School, others from the 1994 and 2003 rounds of closings still await certain futures. Carr School is a magnificent work of architecture, and one of architect William B. Ittner's most idiosyncratic school designs for the St. Louis district. Its plan, style and mosaic murals are unique among the schools built. Of course, all of Ittner's works are singular, as are those of other district architects like Frederick Raeder and Rockwell Milligan. St. Louis never had "cookie cutter" schools.

    While the district cannot be expected to keep all schools open or within its inventory, the district should work hard to ensure that none of the fine historic school buildings sits empty for years like Carr School. The facilities plan needs a strong, detailed preservation component. The district needs to examine alternatives to current real estate policy, including allowing charter schools to purchase or lease decommissioned public schools. Schools are the anchors of many city neighborhoods, and while they may not all be schools forever they should remain anchors through reuse. In 25 years, we should be celebrating successful preservation planning for the district and its beneficial impact on neighborhoods. To that end, city residents need to participate in the current facilities management plan.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2008

    Time for the DeVille

    With the St. Louis Archdiocese awaiting a new archbishop, and archdiocese revenue down to $160 million in 2008 (compare to $252 million in 2007), hope for the DeVille Motor Hotel at 4483 Lindell Boulevard is growing. After all, with a major leadership transition in the works and revenue down, there is a great chance to convince the archdiocese to reconsider demolition of the mid-century modern motel. The Archdiocese may find it more financially prudent to place the building up for sale to raise revenue. The land alone remains very valuable.

    Sale of the land would probably not occur until after a new archbishop is installed and after prices rise again. For as imprudent and wasteful demolition and parking lot construction is, getting a low sale price is just as bad. The Archdiocese can wait out market conditions and a change in leadership.

    Thus, preservationists have some time to thoroughly explore options that would retain architect Charles Colbert's curvaceous modern landmark. Serious thought should be given to use, conditions, cost and landmark eligibility. With creative thinking, a solid preservation plan could be on the table in time for the next archbishop to consider. Even then, the Archdiocese might not be ready to make a move -- but advocates for saving the fine building would be ready for the time when it is.

    Monday, December 1, 2008

    Arch Charrette Exhibit Opening on Wednesday

    Display board screated by the teams that participated in the St. Louis Arch Grounds / Riverfront Interdisciplinary Student Design Charrette in November will be on display at Landmarks' Architecture St. Louis gallery from December 3 through January 15. Come immerse yourself in creative options for better connecting the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and riverfront to the city fabric.

    Join us for the opening reception:

    When: Wednesday, December 3 from 5:00 - 8:30 p.m.

    Where: Architecture St. Louis, 911 Washington Avenue #170

    The exhibit will be on display at Architecture St. Louis from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday through January 15, 2009.