We've Moved

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lost: Claes and Lehnbeuter Mfg. Co. Building

Photograph by Cindi Longwisch for Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

The Claes and Lehnbeuter Manufacturing Company Building stood at 2128-30 Washington Avenue from construction in 1891 through demolition in March 1997 (just a month after the Miss Hullings Building). Claes and Lehnbeuter manufactured store, office, bank and saloon fixtures. According to E.D. Kargau's Mercantile, Industrial and Professional St. Louis (1894), the company was founded by Caspar Claes and Joseoph Lehnbeuter in 1861 and the company's first home was on the south side of Market Street between Second and Third (inside of the present boundaries of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial). After moving to a large home on Seventh Street between Walnut and Clark, the firm built its own "massive building" where over 300 workers were employed.

The site is now a vacant lot.

Lost: Miss Hullings Building

Steve Patterson's post "Stealing a Sidewalk" shows how the parking lot at the northwest corner of 11th and Locust streets invades the public right of way by paving over what legally is sidewalk space. The post takes me back to the doom and gloom days of the mid-1990s, when the so-called Miss Hullings Building at that site fell to the wrecking ball at the hands of owner Larry Deutch.

Here's a photograph of the Miss Hullings Building in February 1997, a few weeks after demolition started, taken by Lynn Josse.

The four-story commercial building dated to 1905, and John Ludwig Wees was the architect. The second and third floors' robust window grid was softened by a more traditionally Romanesque third floor window arcade and corbelled cornice. The scale of the building was a nice complement to the taller buildings on the other three corners of the intersection -- the Alverne, Louderman and 1015 Locust buildings.

Miss Hullings operated a famous cafeteria in the building from 1931 through 1993, when Larry Deutsch sought a demolition permit. The staff of the city's Heritage and Urban Design Commission (now the Cultural Resources Office) first denied the permit, but on appeal to the Commission recommended approval. Commission staff member Jan Cameron laid out reasons for original denial, but added that the building was not among Wees' finest. Deutsch proposed leaving the first floor walls of the building in place to screen the parking lot!

At a September 22, 1994 meeting, the Commission voted 4-3 to deny the appeal. Commissioners Karl Grice, Fred Andres and Jeff Brambila spoke strongly against demolition. Acting Chairman Susan Taylor joined these three to vote to deny the appeal. Voting against denying the appeal were Sarah Martin, Renni Shuter and Brad Weir.

Brambila said that "this building has a very definite presence and its context to me is extremely strong." Andres reminded his fellow commissioners that "the [1993] downtown plan specifically says that there should not be further surface parking lots in the core of downtown." Reading the transcript from this meeting, one finds many quotes that could have come out of the recent Preservation Board meeting on the Robert Brothers' plan to demolish two buildings that stand two block east at the corner of 10th and Locust. There are great arguments about context, the importance of adhering to downtown planning documents and the imbalanced trade between building space and car space.

The owners next filed suit against the Commission. On December 13, 1995, Circuit Court Judge David Mason ruled in favor of Deutsch's company, citing the statements by the Commission staff that the parking lot plan met their criteria for redevelopment and that the building lacked sufficient architectural merit for staff to recommend denial of the appeal.

According to Judge Mason's ruling, "[the building] by virtue of HUDC staff's representation to the HUDC, had no architectural merit, had an acceptable development plan, had no neighborhood effect nor reuse potential and had no urban design effect."

The good sense of the Heritage and Urban Design Commission was overturned. Later appeal of Judge Mason's decision by the Commission was denied, and demolition commenced in January 1997. Years later, we are still living with the court ruling against common sense.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bohemian Hill Walgreens Will Sit on Sidewalk Line

Residents of the Georgian Condominiums at City Hospital report that Koman Properties unveiled plans for the new Walgreens on Lafayette Avenuye last Thursday night at the residents' meeting. The store will come up to sidewalk on Lafayette, with a corner entrance at the northeast leading both to the street and a parking lot to the east. The front of the building will be designed to appear as a two-story Georgian Revival commercial building. Walgreens won't release plans for "unique" stores like this one, so we don't have any images of the store.

The store's parking lot will connect to an access road leading eastward to 14th Street. There are no immediate plans to build out the rest of the proposed retail development on Bohemian Hill. While the Walgreens will be fairly urban, Gilded Age says that they can find no grocery store willing to locate in a store built up to the sidewalk line on Lafayette. The developers should keep looking and wait for the credit crisis to diminish -- there are plenty of chains, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, that have built urban stores without parking in front. If Walgreens can do it, so can others.

The Bohemian Hill retail development remains a great case for a form-based zoning code. There would be no doubt that the site plan would be appropriate for the location if the zoning mandated urban placement. Retailers wouldn't be able to drive a hard bargain for parking in front if they were constrained by zoning laws.

Shifting the Balance in Hyde Park

Blue Shutters Development has ambitious plans for the Hyde Park neighborhood. Eventually, the developers would like to rehabilitate dozens of historic buildings in the neighborhood, including the damaged Nord St. Louis Turnverein on Salisbury Avenue. So far, the firm's efforts have been concentrated on the 2000 block of Mallinckrodt Street. Two homes, shown here, have been fully rehabilitated and offered for sale at market rate.

The house on the right is a great project because it's the type of house many developers would write off -- it's frame, it's small and it has a limited return on investment. Blue Shutters and its principal Peter George deserve credit for preserving it early on.

This work would be impossible without the state's historic rehabilitation tax credit. Relatively small projects like these would have a tough time competing for credits if there was a blanket cap on the program.

Hyde Park often seems like a world of bad news, but a few projects lately have slowly shifted the balance. Let there be more.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Never Built: Million-Dollar Hotel

This rendering for a "$1,000,000 Hotel" at the corner of Maryland and Kingshighway appeared in the Realty Record and Builder in 1906. The architect was Isaac Taylor, whose already-wide renown grew even wider after his stint as Director of Works for the World's Fair. The design is noteworthy for its exotic classicism, seen especially in the central dome crowning the enormous building.

Never built, the site is today occupied by Straub's grocery store. An even larger hotel, the Park Plaza, would be built by 1929 across Maryland.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Illinois Historic Sites Reopened Today

Scenes like these captured at Fort de Chartres this fall will return to Illinois' closed historic sites. Today the sites, closed by former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (Delusional-Chicago), opened once again.

This is good news for the entire state of Illinois as well as St. Louis. Fort de Chartres, the Pierre Menard Home and the Vandalia Statehouse are within 100 miles of St. Louis. They bring tourism dollars into the wider regional economy.

Planning a celebration with a friend whose husband is returning to work at one of the sites, I was happy to hear that Saturday might be a tight fit because he'll be back at work -- on the weekend, with beautiful weather and plenty of visitors!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Still Trying to Make Sense of the Gateway Mall

The western end of the Gateway Mall in 1970.

This week Landmarks Association presents a lecture and a tour related to the impact of the City Beautiful movement on downtown park space:

Lecture: "Making Parks in the Central City: The Evolution of the Gateway Mall"
When: Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.
Location: Architecture St. Louis, 911 Washington Avenue, Suite 170

Michael R. Allen will give a provocative illustrated lecture on the evolution of the Gateway Mall, the never-finished downtown park mall. Starting in the early 20th century with the local City Beautiful movement and the idea of creating parks in the crowded central city, the mall project moved through various plans, revisions and missed opportunities. The city's 2007 Gateway Mall Master Plan is only the latest attempt to make sense of an idea gone astray in its implementation. Recent discussion about "activating" the Arch grounds renews attention on downtown's park problem: more open space than activity. Free.

Walking Tour of Memorial Plaza
When: Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.
Location: Meet at East entrance to the Civil Courts Building, 11th and Market streets.

Envisioned as a monumental civic center, the city's Memorial Plaza area contains a distinguished group of grand public buildings, including the Civil Courts, former Federal Courthouse, City Hall, Municipal Courts, Kiel Opera House, Soldiers Memorial and the Central Library. Led by veteran downtown tour guide Richard Mueller, our tour will cover the buildings and parks that make up the plaza area, with planned stops inside some of the buildings. Reservations requested: 314-421-6474. Free.

This program is part of "Architecture Weekends," generously funded by the Whitaker Foundation.

Vintage Old Cathedral View

This 1950s-era postcard view of the Old Cathedral is intriguing. Most of what is seen here around the cathedral is gone: the small buildings on Third Street seen at left, the Pierce Building in the background (well, it's now reclad as part of the old Adam's Mark Hotel), the Merchant's Exchange, the residence next door and the free-standing column in the foreground (from the United States Courts and Custom House, already demolished). I wonder where that column went!

What is also missing is the free connection between downtown and what would become the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. That row of buildings at left is right across the street from what was then the mostly-cleared site. People working, shopping and eating in those buildings had great views of the new Memorial site. Could we ever rebuild that western edge to be so urban? Not without removing the interstate highway first.

Governor Nixon Speaks on Historic Tax Credits

Today, Democratic Governor Jay Nixon visited the Missouri House of Representatives today where he voiced support for a "soft cap" on historic rehab tax credits that would apply to larger projects. We were wondering what Nixon thought about the future of the state's best tax credit program.

Anyone who wonders what Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder has to say about historic rehab tax credits can check out a new video on the reborn Pub Def posted this morning. The video features interview footage with Kinder, Senator Jeff Smith, Amy Gill and Eric Friedman on the struggle to retain the historic tax credits.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Board of Aldermen Back in Session With New Faces

Today, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen convened for the first time since the general election. New members Antonio French (D-21st), Joe Vaccaro (D-23rd) and Shane Cohn (D-25th) joined 11 re-elected incumbents and 14 members whose terms do not expire until 2011. The board approved several consent resolutions and had first reading of 25 bills, including several to vacate streets and alleys.

Shane Cohn and Antonio French are young, neighborhood-oriented aldermen whose reputations as activists precedes their efforts at electoral politics. In Dutchtown, Shane has been part of an emerging renaissance of the business district around Meramec and Virginia. Shane is also the first openly gay member of the Board of Aldermen. Coming from the heart of south St. Louis, that is a great accomplishment.

Through Pub Def (reborn today), Antonio has kept the flame of intelligent political advocacy journalism alive in St. Louis. His prior campaign for the Board of Education showed that he is willing to act on his principles. In the six years since that run, Antonio's work has only gotten better. One of his strongest traits is his penchant to build coalitions around issues he cares about -- sometimes drawing together people who otherwise would not talk. He's also been an ambassador to other cities, attending the Great Lakes Urban Exchange conferences to represent the great things happening in St. Louis to young people from the broader region.

Readers of this blog will take heart that both Shane and Antonio are preservation-minded. In fact, Antonio ran on a platform centered on re-directing block grant money from new construction to existing housing where constituents need home repairs. Both represent areas densely populated with abundant, aging stocks of historic buildings -- pivotal wards for the future of preservation in the city.

I don't know what Vaccaro will do in terms of preservation and development, but I have no reason to be alarmed.

Some may still mourn the lack of competition for Room 200, but I'm overjoyed that we elected two young, progressive aldermen this year. Change starts at home, not the executive office. Few call the mayor when they want the vacant house next door torn down -- they call the alderman.

St. Louis Public School Closings on NPR's "All Things Considered"

KWMU reporter Adam Allington's story on St. Louis Public Schools closings was carried today on NPR's "All Things Considered." NPR's website features a gallery of photographs of schools closed in the current round. The story will air again tonight at 6:40 p.m. on 90.7 FM, and the audio file will be posted online after 7:00 p.m.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spivey Building Secured, Damaged

On Saturday, the UEU 314 blog reported that the Spivey Building in East St. Louis was now sealed following what may have been a collapse of building material. Knowing that some of the parapet had already been destabilized and removed onto the rooftop, and also having heard recently that someone absconded with that terra cotta, I called up a neighbor and we drove over to the Spivey Saturday evening.

Sure enough, all access points have been closed up. The method used is quite solid, and I was reassured that the owner (Stacey Hastie of EOI) is taking threats to the Spivey seriously.

A look up at the parapet revealed further spalling at the corner where the terra cotta rib had already been removed. Many pieces of terra cotta lie in ruin at the base of the corner, along with brick and stone coping from the side parapet wall.

However, the condition of the front parapet assembly has not deteriorated significantly since I took this next photograph in September 2007.

Still, vigilance is needed to keep the thieves away from the great buildings of downtown East St. Louis. The snakes have struck before, including in March 2005 when three ornamental keystones disappeared from the Murphy Building the same weekend an out-of-town architectural salvage dealer was in town.

Rehabbing Resumed on Bohemian Hill

In recent weeks, the four-family at 1714 S. 13th Street on Bohemian Hill has received a lot of rehab work. Krystal Group LLC purchased the building in November 2008. While I am no fan of the single-pane windows the investors installed in place of one-over-one windows that had been there, I am glad to see rehab work on Bohemian Hill.

The remaining houses on Bohemian Hill have been under threat of eminent domain for the past three years, and the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority had started buying houses on this block in 2007. Gilded Age Development is building a retail project named "Georgian Square" to the west on cleared land, and had originally discussed acquisition of the two blocks east of 13th Street. Those plans now are scuttled.

Meanwhile, Georgian Square is now under construction. At least, the Walgreens store is under construction on Lafayette Avenue across the street from City Hospital.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lost Neighbor to House on Farrar

Following up on Monday's post on the house at 2521 Farrar Street in Hyde Park, I combed my photographic archive. I found this photograph that I took on March 18, 2005 showing the house with its next door neighbor. That house would last another 18 months before the Land Reutilization Authority demolished it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Kennedy Out as Public Safety Chair, Preservation Board Member?

Word from the Board of Aldermen this week is that Alderman Terry Kennedy (D-18th) is out as Chairperson of the Public Safety Committee, to be replaced by Alderman Phyllis Young (D-7th). Kennedy is supposed to chair the Transportation Committee instead.

This move is significant to historic preservation because the chair of the Public Safety Committee by ordinance has a seat on the city's Preservation Board. The chairperson can take that spot himself, as Kennedy did, or appoint a proxy member of the Public Safety Committee. No news yet on Young's intentions.

Terry has been a thoughtful member of the Preservation Board, often raising issues of class, race and public policy that no one else would. While more often than not we have been on opposing sides of granting demolition permits, I have always appreciated Terry's principled voice and willingness to discuss -- and find solutions to -- deep divides between preservationists and communities.

San Luis: This Was the Future

In early March, I received a call from Jeff Vines. He was part of a team that entered a documentary film competition, and they had been fortunate enough to draw "history" for their topic. You know what that meant -- a chance to celebrate the DeVille Motor Hotel! Jeff's team included familiar faces -- his brother Randy, filmmaker Carson Minow, editor Jon Swegle and musician Brian Wiegert. Toby Weiss and I were interview subjects for what turned out to be a smart, cool little film. Check it out!

Friday, April 17, 2009

SLPS Deed Restrictions Out

From the St. Louis Public Schools:

ST. LOUIS, MO, April 17, 2009 – The Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools voted unanimously (3-0) in closed session last evening to remove the deed restriction clause currently included in all property sales contracts. This policy goes into effect on June 30, 2009, to allow the district ample time to evaluate the facility needs for the upcoming school year in light of several new academic initiatives presented at the meeting by Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams.

Among those issues are:

· Assessing the required classrooms and schools needed for initiatives, such as pilot independent schools, before and after school programs, and alternative education programs which are included in Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams’ academic plan for the district.

· Providing alternate school sites for buildings undergoing lead paint abatement during the summer of 2009.

"We have worked with our elected leaders at the state capital in resolving this issue, and we appreciate their support in finding a resolution where we can enhance the education for all of our City students," said Rick Sullivan, President & CEO of the Special Administrative Board.

The deed restriction has been a long standing issue from past school boards, and it was determined by the Special Administrative Board to be in the best interest of student education in St. Louis to revisit and revise the policy.

State Representative Tim Jones (R-89) said, "I appreciate the willingness of the St. Louis Public Schools to revisit this policy. I believe that by working together, we have reached a solution satisfactory to all parties for the betterment of education for the children in the City of St. Louis."

State Representative Chris Carter (D-61) added, "I support the Special Administrative Board in this decision that will help make our neighborhoods stronger. This decision allows the St. Louis Public Schools to do what it believes is in the best interest of all the students in the City of St. Louis."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Celebrate: Illinois Historic Sites Reopening!

If you ever doubted the power of one person in elected office to mangle sensible public policy, the saga of former Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was a sobering lesson. A more hopeful lesson comes from current Democratic Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who has gracefully built consensus to quickly reverse Blagojevich's cuts to state government agencies.

Great news came yesterday when Quinn announced that Illinois' 11 shuttered historic sites are reopening. Thirty-three laid-off workers have been recalled to duty on April 22.

According to the Associated Press:

The closures cost the state tourism revenue and Quinn said he's not going to "squeeze a nickel and lose half dollars."

Right on! Illinois' return to sanity in state government is welcome.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Roberts Tower Rising Higher

The Roberts Tower on Eighth Street downtown has reached the eleven-floor mark. The last downtown structure to reach eleven floors was the Ninth Street Garage in 2006. Before that, there was the convention hotel addition (completed in 2003) and the Federal Courthouse on Tenth Street (completed in 1999). To find the most recent office building downtown that is eleven floors or higher is One Metropolitan Square (completed in 1989). The last high-rise residential buildings to meet this size were the towers of the Mansion House Center (completed in 1967 -- quite awhile).

How long will it be before the next new downtown building reaches eleven stories? Soon, according to developer Kevin McGowan.

Storefront Addition to Flounder House

Just west of the Pruitt-Igoe Nature Reserve at 2719 James Cool Papa Bell Avenue in JeffVanderLou is this fine storefront addition dating to 1912. Now used as a residence, the structure is attached to a two-story flounder house! No attempt to match that house's dentillated cornice was made by the builders of the addition.

Monday, April 13, 2009

House on Farrar Could Be Saved

At first glance, the vacant house at 2521 Farrar Avenue in Hyde Park offers familiar signs of distress in the built environment: Boarded first floor windows. Missing glass and mangled sashes in the second floor windows. A layer of siding over the original slate roof. Missing guttering stolen for scrap value. Red paint suffocates historic masonry.

However, the house has an unmistakable charm. Details cry out from beneath decay to remind us that the beauty never left -- it just got covered and distorted. Owned the city's Land Reutilization Authority, the house has been vacant for a long time but has the potential to be transformed using state and federal historic tax credits. Houses like these -- vacant, but sound by public safety law and ripe for redevelopment -- have prompted Alderman Freeman Bosley (D-3rd) to repeatedly state on the record that he will no longer support demolition in Hyde Park.

Bosley, alderman for the area since 1979 save for one four-year period, has watched a lot of architectural beauty depart from the neighborhood. In many cases, he has supported demolition. However, renewed interest in the area's historic architecture and the sheer volume of building loss have led Bosley to become a proponent of saving historic buildings and creating new historic districts within his ward.

The trouble with the house at 2521 Farrar is that there is a developer who has used historic rehab tax credits interested in the property. The Irving School Partners, led by Michelle Duffe and Ken Nuernberger, has transformed many historic houses and Irving School into showpieces. Their efforts have been as remarkable to watch as the Crown Square project in Old North. They are taking on more historic buildings this year, including Eliot School in the north end of the neighborhood.

However, the developers want to demolish the house on Farrar for new housing. They have applied for preliminary review from the Preservation Board, and the matter is on the board's April 27 agenda. A preliminary review gives a developer a sense of what the Board will allow.

Although I will support the work of the Irving School Partners, and have even once supported a demolition for new construction that they sought, I think that the house on Farrar deserves to be spared. Perhaps if full rehabilitation is too costly, the developers might consider mothballing the building for future development. The developers wish to strengthen the Irving School project by redeveloping the rest of the block -- a laudable goal. However, preservation will be the best long-term investment here.

Hotel Bourbon, Sitting Vacant by the Tracks

Over the weekend, I passed through Bourbon, Missouri and saw the old Bourbon Hotel. The abandoned railroad hotel apparently dates to the 1890s and served some time as a hostel before closing in the late 20th century. Many cities along the Frisco line had hotels like this one, with wide front porches facing the tracks. As passenger rail service declined, so did the economic life of these hotels.

There are no buildings in Bourbon listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and only five sites in all of Crawford County are included in the National Register. The Bourbon Hotel easily could be the sixth. My hosts did not know who owned the hotel, or what plans -- if any -- exist for preservation.

A short, spirited history of Bourbon (including origin of the name) can be found here. The conclusion is quite a treat: "Bourbon has never aspired to be a big city, with a cold, business-like attitude. Instead, Bourbon's businessmen and civic leaders strive to keep the friendly, neighborly manner that has long been an Ozark tradition. Bourbon people are just plain folks, who like to make friends and make you feel at home."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Storefront Additions: 21st Ward Edition

In honor of Tuesday's election of Antonio French as 21st ward alderman, here are two storefront additions found in the 21st ward. While I can't claim that French shares my enthusiasm for these strange and often-awkward works of architecture, I have to say that his preservation-minded platform hints at great things to come in the 21st ward over the next four years.

The storefront addition at 4218 Lee Avenue just west of Harris Avenue might be the ugliest one featured in this blog to date. The brick addition, built around 1920, blocks the view of a frame house dating to 1896. Later parging and permastone application don't help matters. Still, the small commercial space created by the addition could be an office, small shop, studio or other use. The house/storefront combination could be made more attractive and the building repurposed as live/work space.

The storefront addition at the corner of Penrose and Fair is very discreet, almost blending seamlessly into the four-family dwelling to which it is attached. The storefront dates to 1920, and the parent building to just a few years before then. Thus, the architectural vernacular of the residential building -- since obscured by replacement of the original parapet materials -- was still in vogue when the addition went up, making a harmonious match easy.

Again, the modest scale cries out for reuse as the home of a human-scaled enterprise. Located at a fairly busy corner, this could be a sandwich shop, ice cream stand or any number of things.

Both of these buildings are owned by the Land Reutilization Authority. There is no coincidence in the fact that both Lee and Fair avenues had streetcar lines in the 20th century; these additions lie near intersections where the cars would have stopped frequently throughout the day. Perhaps these hybrid buildings will be ripe for 21st century commercial revitalization. The streetcars are gone, but the population density of the ward remains high, and the future is looking good.

Capping the Missouri Historic Rehab Tax Credit Would Benefit Wealthy Developers

My latest commentary for KWMU is online here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

After Late Night, Missouri Senate Still Hasn't Passed Economic Development Bill

While debate went until well after 3:00 a.m. in the Missouri Senate this morning, the chamber did not pass an economic development bill that included a $75 million cap on the state's historic rehabilitation tax credit program. Senator Jeff Smith (D-4th) deserves a lot of credit for his strong advocacy for the credits. Smith is a master of using an inquiry to block negative changes to the program, and his spirited efforts are helping grow support for the credit in the Senate.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Detroit City Council Members Play Structural Engineers

If you think that the preservation system in St. Louis city government is screwed up, count your blessings. In Detroit, the City Council just passed a resolution calling for the emergency demolition of the landmark Michigan Central Station. The resolution comes after the council has done the following: not conduct a structural assessment of the building; not consult the building's owner about plans for redevelopment; not implore the building owner to redevelop or sell to someone who will; and, most important, only get interested in the building's plight after the mayor made a move.

Strange priority for a City Council that is having a hard time dealing with a $300 million municipal budget deficit.

Although the building is owned by billionaire developer Manuel Moroun, Mayor Ken Cockrel, Jr. had requested federal stimulus funds for demolition work that could cost around $3.6 million. Since Michicagn Central is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, federal funds for demolition will entail a Section 106 demolition review that could complicate the mayor's plans. (Michigan Central Station dates to 1913 and was designed by Warren and Wetmore with Reed and Stem.)

The Council's resolution directs the owner to pay for an emergency demolition, attempting to use a 1984 ordinance that gives the council discretionary power to take down "dangerous" structures. Council President Monica Conyers, perhaps America's most self-serving urban politician, opines that the building should have come down years ago. Despite years of decay, Michigan Central Station is not unsound and clearly not dangerous in any legal sense. Check out Forgotten Detroit and see for yourself. The old station has great reuse potential!

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has never passed a similar resolution, despite its many redevelopment ordinances that override preservation review. Then again, the St. Louis of today is a city where many aldermen are often the first in line defending the economic value of our landmarks. Thank goodness for the Missouri historic rehabilitation tax credit and the paradigm shift it allowed!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Refaced House on James Cool Papa Bell

This small refaced house at 2911 James Cool Papa Bell in JeffVanderLou attracts my attention. (The fact that it is owned by one of Paul McKee's holding companies doesn't hurt.) Although the new jack-arched window opening is a bit small, the polychrome brickwork is done well. There is even a recurring pattern in the bond found at the roof line and on each side of the window. There are many examples of historic houses being refaced with inappropriate materials, covered with paint that damages the face brick and partly relayed with new brick that doesn't match. Then there are houses like this one, built in 1890 and refaced after World War II, where the changes add a new and interesting dimension. Perhaps my outlook reflects the fact that I read How Buildings Learn long before I read the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. So be it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gateway Community Hospital to be Demolished, Hope Lingers in East St. Louis

Last week, cash-rich St. Clair County hired a demolition contractor to take down Gateway Community Hospital on Martin Luther King Drive for the beleaguered city of East St. Louis. This is a sad moment for East St. Louis, although I confess that it's impossible to count such moments. One year ago, Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital shut down all but its emergency room and some services. Now, the building that houses the city's second hospital, which closed in 1989, will come tumbling down.

Such are the vagaries of population loss, I suppose, although that does nothing to diminish the symbolic losses or apologize for the public health problems the city faces without a full service hospital. Once upon a time, the city's leaders were able to build two hospitals: St. Mary's, which became Kenneth Hall, and Christian Welfare, which became Gateway Community. Christian Welfare Hospital was even able to open its privately-funded modern new facility in 1940, despite the lingering effects of the Great Depression. At the time, the city had not seen a hospital as large or as well-equipped as Gateway Community. The sad fact is that this the high point of medical service in East St. Louis. No larger or more modern facility would come, although Christian Welfare Hospital was later expanded.

The closure of Gateway Community Hospital just shy of the fiftieth anniversary of its building was not a great shock. The hospital had been ailing for awhile. The demolition is not a big surprise, either, since the buildings have been left unsecured and vandalized since closing. Few windows remain, giving the large complex a foreboding and sad presence that few people would want to live near.

Still, the buildings have weathered 19 years of abandonment relatively well. I have toured the interior several times, including this February, and found little more amiss than falling ceiling tiles, stolen wiring and damaged walls. The structural condition is good. This complex surely could withstand another fifty years of use, at the least.

A developer did eye the complex for reuse six years ago, proposing conversion into apartments. That plan withered. No other plan has come since that time, and no one ever thought to nominate the hospital to the National Register of Historic Places. Urban explorers pass through the halls and post their photographs online. Former staff and patients, though, do have fond memories. My mother's family includes several people born at the hospital.

However, city government is probably relieved that an end is in site for one of the city's biggest abandoned buildings. History alone is little consolation to those charged with keeping a city livable. There must be something more -- and there might be something good in store for East St. Louis if the city doesn't rush to wreck again.

A Belleville News Democrat editorial (hat tip to the UEU 314) on the demolition is harsh in calling for the city to take down its other landmark buildings. Admittedly, many are vacant and derelict. However, the hope that these buildings will be reclaimed is greater than the hope that they will ever be replaced. To take away the hope of economic development from East St. Louis at this stage of its life seems cruel. Lofts in the Spivey Building would get the city a unique project and some attention. Demolition of the Spivey for a new drive-through bank -- not so much.

With a historic rehab tax credit proposed for Illinois, the News-Democrat would do better to put its editorial efforts behind bills in the state legislature that would create a transformational incentive for East St. Louis. The suggestion that there should be no hope that a once-great city can save its beautiful landmarks is absurd. There are numerous developers who have been interested in East St. Louis' unique, but many have walked away because of the lack of a Missouri-style incentive for tackling large buildings. Let's work to provide an incentive before we throw our hands up in the air. The worst days for the city are long past. East St. Louis deserves a future.

Spring Rehabbing in Old North

Take a walk, bike ride or drive through Old North St. Louis these days and you might be tempted to ask "what recession?" The hardy north side neighborhood continues to be a construction zone, with activity all over the neighborhood.

Obviously, the Crown Square project (known to most as the "14th Street Mall" project) is moving along swiftly, with most buildings either fully rehabbed or nearing completion. Here's a look at some of the other activity around the neighborhood.

Up at 1517 Palm Street, a mansard roof long devoid of its original dormers is being restored by a new owner. This house was once owned by the Land Reutilization Authority.

Adjacent to this house is the "three walls" house documented thoroughly by its owners on this website.

On the south end of the neighborhood, Dan Schuler is overseeing rehab of a house on the 1400 block of Monroe Street that has seen a hard life. A lot of the work is happening inside of the house, but the emerging transformation is big.

The Gallery at 1318 Hebert, a unique project involving creative reuse and new construction, is approaching completion. Watch for a post on this project soon.

Across the street from the gallery, the former Ames Elementary School kindergarten building has received the attention of a couple who have spent the last few years doing major masonry work, cornice repair and interior rehabilitation.

See all of the progress for yourself: the Old North St. Louis House & Community Tour will take place on Saturday, May 9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Advance tickets are $10 and can be picked up in person from the ONSLRG office (2800 N. 14th Street at St. Louis Avenue) or at Crown Candy Kitchen. On the day of the tour, tickets will be available at the registration area at $12 each. As a bonus, Crown Candy once again will offer free ice cream on the day of the tour to all ticket-holders.

University City Votes Should Vote NO on Proposition U

by Lindsey Derrington

Tomorrow University City residents will have the opportunity to vote either for or against Proposition U, a $53.6 million bond issue for the University City School District. If passed, this bond issue will fund the district's proposed facilities plan which entails the demolition of Pershing (1920) and Barbara C. Jordan (1951) Elementary schools -- the former designed by Ittner himself, and the latter designed by William B. Ittner, Inc. Both of these schools currently provide healthy, functioning educational environments and both have shown the most improvement within the district in recent years. If failed, property taxes will drop in University City and the district will have a community mandate to rework its plans to improve educational achievement amongst its students, one which would focus less on facilities and more on the teachers and students themselves.

A vote for or against Proposition U is not a vote for or against the students within the UCSD, but one for or against a facilities plan which fails to address the real needs of the district.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Illinois Legislation Would Enact Historic Tax Credit Modeled on Missouri's

Rick Bonasch at STL Rising wrote a post today asking for more information on a proposed state historic rehabilitation tax credit in Illinois.

Representative Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) filed HB 469 on February 4, Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago) filed HB 586 on February 6 and Senator Dan Kotoski (D-Park Ridge) filed SB 1366 on February 10. The similar bills would enact a state historic rehabilitation tax credit modeled on Missouri's tax credit. All bills have had a first reading and remain in committee.

While Missouri inexplicably debates the future of its model tax credit, other states are looking at copying ours. What a strange reversal of regional dynamics if Illinois had an uncapped historic rehab tax credit and Missouri did not. The tax credit would be a boon to Alton, Belleville, Granite City and other east side communities that are interested in downtown revitalization.

Hartmann to Serve Up to 24 Months in Jail for Mortgage Fraud

One of Doug Hartmann's wrists will sting -- the city's most prolific con artist has pled guilt to federal charges and heads to sentencing on June 23. At sentencing, Hartmann will face a maximum sentence on 24 months in prison and up to $1.25 million in fines. A press release from U.S. District Attorney Catherine Hanaway, who negotiated the plea bargain details more of Hartmann's antics that were previously not publicized. The plea arrangement sounds like quite a bargain for Hartmann, who left in his wake over 100 historic buildings in various states of vacancy or incomplete rehabilitation across the city and numerous investors defrauded of their money and, in once case, a house.

One of the Hartmann properties owned under "DHP Properties" was the Nord St. Louis Turnverein in Hyde Park. After Hartmann's ownership led to continued deterioration of the historic turner hall, the buidling suffered a severe fire in July 2006. Developer Peter George has since purcahsed the building and is trying to rebuild it.

Hanaway promises more prosecution of mortgage fraud artists like Hartmann. However, the light sentence may not send a very strong message to others. One could get more time in jail for possession of a small amount of crack.

The Buildings that Stood on the Old Post Office Plaza Site

Today at 4:00 p.m. the Old Post Office Plaza will formally open. (More on the design later.) Located on the 800 block of Locust, the site was most recently occupied by surface parking. Yet there was a building standing there as recently as 2002, when demolition commenced on the building shown at right in the photograph above. The photograph, taken by Landmarks Association of St. Louis in 1980, shows that the block facing the Old Post Office was once typified by relatively narrow, short commercial buildings -- exactly the kind of buildings that allowed small business to thrive downtown. The view above is looking west toward Locust's intersection with Ninth Street.

These buildings were not celebrated like their larger, more obviously important brethren. The Old Post Office, Arcade Building and Century Building are household terms to preservationists, but few chronicle the lost small buildings that gave downtown variety in architectural style, form and scale of commerce. In 2009, we have so few left that many people can't remember days when even streets east of Tucker had many great small buildings. These were reminders of downtown's own rise from the heart of a small city to the center of a metropolitan region.

When I first started coming downtown as an adolescent in the early 1990s, I remember small buildings on Market, Locust, Clark, Washington and other streets, occupied by small businesses ranging from high-volume fast food restaurants to dusty bars. These gave downtown a character that unitary visions like tall office buildings and plazas have erased. While the Old Post Office Plaza takes no buildings down directly, it does take away a site where new commercial infill could have been built. Alas, we also are still taking down small downtown buildings, too, as the Hotel Indigo project one block west of the Old Post Office Plaza illustrates.

On the other end of the block, toward Eighth Street, stood the St. Nicholas Hotel. Built in 1893 and designed by Louis Sullivan, the hotel was not a small building, but it was no giant compared to later downtown hotels. The St. Nicholas met a strange fate when it was remodeled into the Victoria Building, an office building, in 1903. Eames and Young redesigned downtown's third Sullivan masterpiece, creating a hybrid building that historian David Simmons and others have praised as a noteworthy work in its own right. Whatever one thinks about the alteration of the hotel, we all can agree that its demolition in 1974 was a senseless loss for downtown. During plaza construction, debris from the hotel's demolition was unearthed, reminding us of the plaza site's history.

There are merits to the Old Post Office Plaza, and the site will enter into a new life. Erasing surface parking downtown is always an improvement. Yet the plaza is another reminder of the lionization of large scale projects over preservation of the small things that make downtown a pleasant living environment.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Missouri House Speaker Won't Accept Historic Tax Credit Cap Under $150 Million

According to the Post-Dispatch, Missouri House Speaker Ron Richard (R) won't accept a cap on the historic rehabilitation tax credits less than $150 million. That's great news. As Democratic Governor Jay Nixon maintains his silence, we have a prominent Republican come forward with some support for one of the state's most effective and democratically available economic development tools. Former Governor Matt Blunt (R) was a strong supporter of the historic tax credit, as is Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder (R). While the attack on the program is coming mainly from Republicans using typical conservative anti-city rhetoric, other prominent conservative Republicans support the program (and, admittedly, some others of dubious utility).

While a $150 million cap could still cause a competitive environment in which big developers will have an advantage over homeowners, it's a better stance than silence. State Senator Jeff Smith (D) has raised the stakes by calling for a cap no less than $170 million, the amount of credits issued in 2008, and Speaker Richard says that there is room to negotiate with his figure and Smith's. That is an encouraging dialogue, although the need for any cap has not been adequately justified by its proponents, whose arguments are more arguments against the historic tax credit itself.

Speaker Richard told reporters that "I will have the last word on tax credits." I wish that were true, but the last word comes at the desk of the governor when he decides whether to veto or approve an economic development bill sent to him by the legislature. What will the last word on historic tax credits be? Nixon has provided few clues.

A St. Louis Public School Not Designed by Ittner or Milligan

The large vacant brick building at 5234 Wells Avenue in the Academy Neighborhood bears a sign reading "St. Louis Public Schools / Area 1 Offices." The imposing Jacobethan building has the symmetry, grace and quality of construction that is consistent with the stock of the St. Louis Public Schools, but it really does not resemble the buildings designed by William B. Ittner or Rockwell Milligan. Stylistically, there is some connection, but the plan, siting, lack of ornamentation on the side elevation and detailing is different. The massive terra cotta heraldic shield that caps the central entrance bay as well as the cartouches under the flanking window bays are clearly the work of another architect.

There's a good reason for this: the building was not built for the St. Louis Public Schools. The Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church built this building in 1928 as a private religious school (cost was $40,000). Architect Albert Meyer designed the building, likely trying to match the renowned architecture of the public school district. Eventually, however, the congregation moved west and the closed school met the needs of an expanding St. Louis Public School district. Yes, the district expanded to the point of buying other school buildings within the lifetimes of many living city residents.

The Mt. Calvary school became Wells School and then Emerson Branch School. The last use was as the Area 1 Offices, housing regional administration for the Northwest, Soldan and Southwest high schools. The district closed the building in 1995 and sold it in 2006 to Grizzly LLC, a St. Charles-based firm. Today the building sits empty with no plans for reuse.

MGT of America recommended that the St. Louis Public Schools consider selling the downtown headquarters building and reusing existing schools for offices. This building, already converted, would have fit the bill. Its small size would also have made it a suitable alternative school. Too bad the district sold it.

Area 1 Offices building in September 2006.

Area 1 Offices building in May 1988 (photograph by Landmarks Association of St. Louis).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wild Style: Near-Twins on Wyoming

The flowering of Bradford pear trees on Wyoming Street is a good opportunity to showcase the cool, strange buildings at the northeast corner of Wyoming and Minnesota in Benton Park West. These two four-family buildings were built in 1896 by one D. Steimke for the cost of $3,700. A lot of construction was underway in Benton Park West at the time, although the July 1903 Sanborn fire insurance map page that includes this block shows more vacant than built-upon lots in the vicinity.

Now the area is one of the city's most densely built-out and populated areas with a racial diversity unmatched in the city. The blocks upon blocks of brick buildings, the prevalent pedestrians of all walks of life, the playing children, the street trees -- this adds up to city life at its best. Back in 1896, this big picture was still a handful of pieces, and the flats at 3023-25 and 3029-31 Wyoming were among the most unique pieces. They still are.

These regal buildings are twins in plan, mass, fenestration pattern and setback. The differences show a colorful architectural imagination at work. The corner building takes the plan and emphasizes horizontal lines with stone belt courses, flattened segmental arches and a dentillated cornice underneath a shaped parapet. A front porch forms a balcony. The windows on the front elevation probably have no twin anywhere else in the entire city.

The inner building takes the plan and goes upward with verticality noted in each gesture. False pilasters with inset bricks of a different color rise up to robust Roman arches on the second floor windows. The shaped parapet forms bases for four urns topped by heavenward-directed finials. Here the center porch repeats the Roman arch shape in its curve and rises to form a tower that terminates in a conical turret. For the porch assembly alone, this house earns its rank as one of south city's most unique.

These two homes are fine illustrations of the late 19th century drive to experimentation in St. Louis residential architecture. Their eclectic classical revival style shows a wide range of influences and forms greatly enabled by the use of varied masonry units. Throughout the city, builders, draftsmen and architects of the period were crafting a turn-of-the-century sensibility truly unique to the city.

Missouri Senate Now Considering $100 Million Cap on Historic Tax Credits

Yesterday, the Missouri State Senate took a few steps toward passage of the Quality Jobs bill favored by Governor Jay Nixon. The new version of the bill, which stalled but indicates the direction the Senate is heading, includes a $100 million cap on the state's historic rehabilitation tax credit, an amount $70 million less than the figure for credits issued in 2008.

Floor debate lasted until well after 11:00 p.m., with several amendments offered. Two good amendments adopted were one by Sen. John Griesheimer (R) to remove language that would subject tax credits to appropriation by the General Assembly and another offered by Sen. Brad Lager (R) to remove prohibitions on layering different tax credits. Lager had written that prohibition but offered the removal as a compromise.

Lager, one of the most ardent opponents of the historic rehabilitation tax credit, stated yesterday that $100 million was the highest cap on the historic tax credits that he would accept.

Keep calling and writing your senators, representatives and governor. Governor Nixon has yet to make any promise to support the historic tax credit. Nixon's influence could prevent a cap from being included in the final version of the bill.