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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

McEagle Applies for $410 Million TIF for NorthSide Project

On May 27, McEagle via Northside Regeneration LLC submitted its tax increment financing (TIF) application to the City of St. Louis. The requested amount of TIF is $410,000,000.

That application is online here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

French Introduces Bill to Place 21st Ward in Preservation Review

Today Alderman Antonio French (D-21st) introduced Board Bill 78 to make his ward one of the preservation review districts governed by the city's preservation ordinance. Preservation review allows the city's Cultural Resources Office to review demolition permits in the ward and deny them based on the architectural merit and reuse potential criteria established by the ordinance.

The 21st ward is one of nine city wards that are not preservation review areas. Here is a map showing the distribution of wards that do not participate (in white):

This map shows that the area covered by the McEagle NorthSide project (mostly the 5th and 19th wards) is not included in preservation review. Neither is most of the north city swath in which Urban Assets and other holding companies are buying buildings and land.

A ward's lack of preservation review enables demolition on a wide scale -- not necessarily all at once, either. The conditions of many wards without preservation review have deteriorated through the loss of one building at a time for decades. Loss of buildings means loss of residents, loss of job and loss of a sense of community -- adding up to conditions that make wards vulnerable for land-banking. Preservation review is not designed to keep every old building standing forever, but to create a mechanism for careful decision-making about the physical resources of our neighborhoods.

Alderman French has a great ward with a largely intact building stock. Placing the 21st ward under preservation review will help keep the 21st ward in good shape for generations to come. By making the move to place the ward under such review early in his tenure, French shows that he will be working to protect and strengthen the neighborhoods he already governs, rather than jockeying for the big development that can shatter communities.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Benton Park Building With Storefront Addition Wins Award

When Landmarks Association of St. Louis awarded its annual Most Enhanced Sites awards on may 15, it included the building at 1814 Sidney Street in Benton Park. Besides receiving a major overhaul and sensitive rehabilitation, the building sports a storefront addition! The house dates to 1884, with the addition built in 1912.

David Rothschild, Vice President of Rothschild Development, purchased the building in 2006 and embarked upon rehabilitation in 2007. With masonry and mansard roof restoration as well as storefront reconstruction, the building looks much better now. Perhaps other buidlings with storefront additions will follow.

Read more about the Most Enhanced Sites here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"NorthSide": Historic Preservation

Pay careful attention to these two slides. The first slide shows existing buildings in gray:

The second shows buildings proposed for preservation in black. Planner Mark Johnson at Civitas calls these buildings "legacy properties." The three buildings at left (a house on St. Louis Avenue, Greater Bible Way Church and Crown Candy Kitchen), strangely, are not owned by McEagle. Crown Candy Kitchen is not even included in the project area. There was no discussion of preservation strategy beyond the promise that every building that could be saved would be saved.

McKee and Johnson both talked about how the warehouses between Delmar and Martin Luther King, including the GPX building, should be demolished because they wall downtown off from north St. Louis.

More slides available online here.

"NorthSide": Phasing and Ownership

This slide shows the possible phasing of "NorthSide, " from A (first) to L (last). This slide shows that the first projects will be "employment centers" on the vacated 22nd Street ramps west of Union Station and at the head of the new Mississippi River Bridge. McEagle estimates that the project could take as long as 15 years to reach the final phase -- a conservative estimate, in my opinion.

This slide shows ownership. McEagle holdings and proposed holdings (including currently-occupied homes and businesses and the Mullanphy Emigrant Home) are in purple, with public lands in blue. Paul J. McKee, Jr. promised that no property will be taken through eminent domain for any purpose other than creation of an employment center.

More slides available online here.

"NorthSide": Wards Involved and Approval Timeline

Reader Sara Collins shared with me her photographs of the slides shown by McEagle at last week's public meeting at Central Baptist Church. I am sharing them to help readers who were not present get a better sense of the project scope.

This slide shows the ward boundaries and project outline:

This slide shows the proposed timeline for approval of tax increment financing and a redevelopment ordinance (a pretty fast track):

More slides available online here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Looking Back at Gateway Village

To some people, the current discussion about McEagle's "NorthSide" project has roots in a project proposed for the same area 13 years ago: Gateway Village. Like "NorthSide," Gateway Village involved a close relationship between a mayor and a private developer from outside of the city, proposed massive demolition, proposed eminent domain and large public subsidy. Unlike "NorthSide," however, Gateway Village never moved close enough to reality to disrupt the section of St. Louis Place it would have wiped out.

In 1996, Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. unveiled his grand plan for revitalizing north St. Louis: a 180-acre golf course and subdivision called Gateway Village that would use the Pruitt-Igoe site as well as the western part of St. Louis Place. The boundaries were Martin Luther King Drive on the south, 20th Street on the east, St. Louis Avenue on the north and Jefferson Avenue on the west. The plan called for building 781 new homes (priced out of range of most St. Louis Place residents) and a 9-hole golf course (designed by renowned designers Don Childs Associates) platted for very low density at odds with surrounding historic city fabric. Going against neighborhood sentiment in an area where he had tremendous political support, Bosley supported the acquisition of 209 residences and six businesses to clear the project site.

The developer behind the project, whose identity was unveiled after the first announcement, was Waycor Corporation of Detroit. Waycor's president was Don Barden, a wealthy Detroit businessman who has since gone on to become a major casino owner. At the time, Barden was the owner of television stations who had never developed a project on the scale of Gateway Village. Also in 1996, the Federal Election Commission determined that Barden has co-signed an illegal loan to a Detroit Congresswoman.

Whatever his inexperience and lack of ties to St. Louis, Barden gained the confidence of Bosley, Jr. and Maureen McAvey, the director of the St. Louis Development Corporation. Unlike today, where McEagle is unveiling its own plans, in 1996 Bosley and McAvoy did the public relations work for the developer. In August 1996, McAvoy released a study by Don Childs Associates that predicted that Gateway Village would be feasible and successful. The city paid the architects $38,000 for a study that championed a project in which they had a financial interest.

The study predicted that Gateway Village would precipitate "a return to living in major metropolitan cities" and that it would "act as a catalyst to revitalize the area." The Greater Pruitt Igoe Neighborhood Association, which is now defunct, rose up against the plan to safeguard the 209 homes sought for condemnation and demolition.

In October 1996, the city government requested a $8 million grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development toward the project. The total project budget was $127.5 million, an amount fairly low for such a large area. The low cost was indicative of low density construction and low construction standards. Of course, $8 million was not the only handout sought by Waycor. Waycor wanted an additional $35 million in public financing. Waycor would not commit any of its own capital unless it could secure public money first -- also different than the current situation.

The feasibility study commissioned by the city outlined the path toward development, with step one beings "complete agreement with Waycor." That step was removed after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch discovered that the city had commissioned a development feasibility study that not only recommended a certain developer but indicated that an agreement was already being created.

The Greater Pruitt Igoe Neighborhood Association sent a letter to HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros asking that he deny the $8 million grant request. Shirley Booker was one of the authors of the letter and very active in organizing St. Louis Place residents. Vernon Betts was one of a few St. Louis Place residents who gave favorable comments about Gateway Village to the press, but the majority of residents were opposed.

Bosley's response to the Greater Pruitt Igoe Neighborhood Association's letter is classic and timely: "It's unfortunate that a small group now want to try and thwart the one thing that can work."

In development, there always seems to be "the one thing that can work" -- what the person using that phrase wants to do.

An aldermanic election for the Fifth Ward, where the project was located, came in spring 1997. Veteran Alderwoman Mary Ross was retiring. In the race to succeed Ross, Democratic candidates April Ford-Griffin and Loretta Hall supported Gateway Village, and John Bratkowski was adamantly opposed. Ford-Griffin, whose support was for the project was not staunch, won the seat. At the mayoral level, Bosley lost the Democratic primary to Clarence Harmon.

Even before he took office, Harmon announced his plans to pull city government out of the Gateway Village project. On April 4, 1997, the Post-Dispatch published an article entitled "Harmon: 'Dead Stop' for Golf Course Plan," that covered the mayor-elect's opposition to a project that would lead to the dislocation of city residents. McAvey retorted that the project would bring the middle class back as well as retail for low-income residents.

Harmon's move coincided with HUD's denial of the city's request for funding. Shirley Booker explained neighborhood opposition well. Residents wanted development, she said, "just not a golf course. We can't keep existing with all this vacant land. The Lord didn't mean for it to be like that. It's a waste."

McAvey clung to Gateway Village, though, telling the press that no one would be able to develop St. Louis Place without large public subsidy and amenities provided. Her tenure would end shortly thereafter. Ford-Griffin learned a few lessons from Gateway Village and spearheaded an often rocky but productive community-based planning process leading to the Fifth Ward Master Plan, published in 2000 although not fully adopted by the Board of Aldermen.

Harmon, of course, showed little leadership on development issues, but his decision to pull the plug on Gateway Village allowed for the kindling of small-scale development on the near north side. Many leaders learned very little from the Gateway Village experience and continued to bemoan the lack of a large scale plan for the area around Pruitt Igoe. Bosley, Jr. himself is now a backer of the McEagle project, seen occasionally accompanying Paul J. McKee, Jr. at meetings.

One of the problems with the Gateway Village debacle and the resulting Fifth Ward Master Plan is that there was no strong legislative result. The threat of a large-scale plan in the Fifth Ward remained because there were no basic protections against that mode of development. Zoning and land use recommendations were never implemented as law, historic districts and sites were not identified and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and redevelopment zones that would have broken the ward into smaller pieces were not created. The Fifth Ward's biggest problem in recent years is the large amount of vacant city-owned land -- quite a big prize to lure developers. Without safeguards against large scale projects, the ward has been left vulnerable to the supersized visions that Gateway Village illustrated.

North Side Aldermen Should Be Wary of Urban Assets

This magnificent house at 4200 Cook Avenue in the Vandeventer neighborhood attracts the awe of architectural enthusiast and neighborhood resident alike. Standing in the street and taking its photograph, several people commented to me that the house was a great one and hoped that I was there to buy it and repair it.

No dice, even if I wanted to. The house is owned by Urban Assets LLC, the new Harvey Noble-fronted holding company that is buying out north St. Louis. This is one of about 180 historic buildings that they have purchased since September 2008. Their purchase of the property is particularly disappointing because there once was a great plan to bring this house back to its former glory. All things pass, especially plans. Yet when the long-lived resources of a neighborhood pass, the chance for a sustainable future often goes with them.

The house dates to 1892, when Richardsonian Romanesque had architects under its sway. This house employs many Richardsonian tendencies, like the Roman arch window facing Cook Avenue, the bow-front facing Whittier Avenue and the snug fit into the urban lot. This is a splendid house that may very well disappear. Critics can retort that the house was already well on the way to disappearing, which is true, but they would miss the real problem: no one else will have the chance to pull the house back from the ravages of fate. No human presence will be found at this corner for an indefinite time -- no eyes or ears directed at the street, no kindness directed at adjacent residents.

Th acquisition pattern of Urban Assets LLC is highly troubling from a preservation perspective, but the bigger threat is spreading the neighborhood social disintegration that the McEagle acquisitions accelerated into more densely populated parts of north St. Louis. If the problems that land banking entailed in JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place are cause for alarm, the effect west of Grand Avenue could be much worse.

Aldermen whose wards are infected with Urban Assets' property (1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 18th, 19th, 21st, 22nd, 26th) need to find out who is behind the purchasing and take the steps needed to safeguard their neighborhoods. This city doesn't need another Blairmont -- and I don't mean in terms of political hoopla, but actual deleterious effect on the city's people. Aldermanic leadership now can head off a potential development problem.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Eat Your Future

One of the greatest scenes in David Byrne's film True Stories is the dinner scene in which Spalding Gray's character illustrates his jobs-centered development using the food from the meal. Thanks to Keith Marquand for drawing the connection between this scene and current events.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Long Lost House on University Avenue

Dentist William J. Swekosky spent his lifetime taking photographs of St. Louis' historic architecture. Often, Swekosky took photographs of doomed buildings, and his images are the only known remaining photographs. Swekosky's work began in 1930 and continued until 1964, when he passed away.

Among his hundreds of photographs is the one shown here, of a fine Italianate town house at 2505 University Avenue in St. Louis Place. The house is noteworthy for the finely detailed stone front, elaborate continuous cornice and the "widow's walk" cresting above the mansard roof. Like other buildings, this one fell not long after the dentist took its photograph around 1965. Today, the house site is occupied by a vacant Section 235 home owned by a McEagle holding company.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Video from Last Night's Meeting on the McEagle Project

Seth Teel captured video at last night's public meeting on McEagle's "NorthSide" project and posted it to YouTube.

Here are some of Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin (D-5th)'s opening remarks:

Here is the talk by Paul J. McKee, Jr. in several short segments:

Here is the closing address by Alderwoman Marlene Davis (D-19th):

Here is the closing statement by Alderwoman Ford-Griffin:

NorthSide Media

I am not surprised that one of the first things to come out of last night's public meeting on the McEagle NorthSide project is a new blog on the project. Rick Bonasch was at the meeting and took it on himself to launch NorthSide Blog for citizen discussion of the project. This probably won't be the last. Paul J. McKee, Jr. promises that a YouTube video and interactive website sponsored by McEagle are in the works for the next few weeks. Certainly others who attended the meeting will take to and create new media to broadcast their thoughts and concerns. The more discussion, the better!

One Block Times One Hundred

2611 Howard and 2615 Howard (McEagle-owned)

2621 Howard Street.

2625 Howard Street (McEagle-owned) and 2623 Howard Street (privately-owned vacant building).

Here is one side of the 2600 block of Howard Street in JeffVanderLou. The block face is missing a few buildings (one fell in 2006) but is still retains five solid, sound historic buildings. As you can see, this is not an easy block to overlay within a large new development. This block needs strategy for resident retention and home repair, historic preservation and building stabilization awaiting eventual development of the vacant properties.

Take this block times one hundred and one sees the difficulty of trying to make development sense of St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou -- and how much potential there is if the existing neighborhood is enhanced rather than supplanted. This is a huge challenge requiring smart planning. The starting point is a redevelopment ordinance that makes as much sense for blocks like this as it does for the wide expanses of Pruitt-Igoe. Is that ordinance possible?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Historic Tax Credit Compromise Celebrated

Yesterday the Missouri Coalition for Historic Preservation and Economic Development sent a press release celebrating the legislative compromise reached in the Missouri Senate at the end of the session. The compromise language is included in an economic development omnibus bill awaiting signature by Governor Jay Nixon.

Here's a summary of the compromise:

* A per-project residential cap of $1,000,000 in qualified rehabilitation expenditures (QREs) for owner occupied single family homes.

* A small project exemption for projects with $1.1 million in qualified rehabilitation expenditures (QREs) (these do not count toward a cap).

* $140 million cap on historic tax credits (existing projects do not fall under the cap).

* An effective date of January 1, 2010.

Private LRA in the Works Across North St. Louis?

The house shown here, located at 4448 Athlone Avenue in the O'Fallon neighborhood, is just one of the 225 vacant properties purchased by a holding company named Urban Assets LLC in the last six months. The spending spree has attracted the notice of neighborhood leaders and elected officials across north St. Louis. Urban Assets has purchased across a wide swath of north St. Louis, mostly between Delmar Boulevard on the south and Natural Bridge Avenue on the north -- all of the way from Grand Avenue on the east to the city limits on the west.

Here is a crude map of the holdings made by this writer using Geo St. Louis:

The holdings are spread across nine wards and include 120 vacant lots and 85 buildings, mostly historic. The wards and number of properties are as follows: Ward 1 (7), Ward 3 (4), Ward 4 (64), Ward 5 (5), Ward 18 (39), Ward 19 (11), Ward 21 (4), Ward 22 (64) and Ward 26 (27).

There are distinct concentrations in the Ville and Greater Ville neighborhoods as well as the Wells-Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods. There are a handful, like 4448 Athlone, standing alone far from other holdings. Urban Assets began aggressively purchasing properties at Sheriff's tax sales in September 2008. Most of the holdings come from tax sale purchasing, with prices often less than $2,000 at auctions with no other bidders.

This purchase pattern is reminiscent of the start of purchasing by McEagle holding companies like the infamous Blairmont Associates LC -- and the same real estate broker is making the purchases for the parties behind the holding company.

On June 6, 2008, real estate broker Harvey Noble of Eagle Realty incorporated Urban Assets LLC online. The incorporation filing and the registered agent listing on the Secretary of State's website misspell Noble's name as "Nobel" and incorrectly state that the zip code for Noble's office is 63102.

On the record with KWMU and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Paul J. McKee, Jr. denies any involvement with Urban Assets. Examining the acquisition patterns of Urban Assets, one sees that there is no overlap with the McEagle project and a few intense concentrations that suggest efforts to buy out other areas. Whoever is behind Urban Assets could very well soon be in competition with McEagle for the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act.

While Urban Assets seems to be buying whatever it can acquire in certain small areas, generally the company seems interested in vacant property in as much of north St. Louis as possible. The acquisitions almost seem like a private land bank like the city's Land Reutilization Authority.

The only apparent incentive to this type of far-flung land banking, however, is the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit. In order to receive that credit, a developer must be appointed redeveloper by the Board of Aldermen. Redevelopment rights don't necessarily mean that a developer will clear-cut a redevelopment area. Those rights fundamentally mean that a developer acts as gatekeeper for all investment within a redevelopment area -- allowing some in and keeping others out.

Is Urban Assets seeking to become a gatekeeper for north St. Louis, or is their acquisition simply a land-banking scheme?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Urban Character of Eastern JeffVanderLou

Looking east toward the Pruitt-Igoe site on James Cool Papa Bell Avenue.

One of the characterizations often raised about the area of north St. Louis included in the McEagle project is that it is "urban prairie" where few houses remain. The area is marked by only a handful of historic buildings, vacant land, and people who are unseemly and whose eviction will only benefit the area. There are many vacant lots and houses (too many) and a few bad apples, but by and large the persistence of these neighborhoods is contrary to the word on the street. The worst parts happen to be very photogenic examples of disinvestment, but the best parts show resilience and an urban character impossible to recreate.

St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou are amazingly rich with fine architecture, caring residents and many efforts at neighborhood improvement. These neighborhoods could use a boost -- the bigger the better. However, that boost must complement what is already there.

Here are photographs of the rich architectural character of the part of JeffVanderLou just west of an admitted urban forest, the site of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project. These photographs show that historic preservation and sensitivity to existing residents must be part of the McEagle plan -- there is critical mass here.

2713 and 2715 Mills Street

2834-42 Gamble Street

2820-34 Thomas Street

2700 Block of James Cool Papa Bell Avenue

2623 James Cool Papa Bell Avenue

2627-31 Madison Street

2626-28 Howard Street

2946 & 2950 Thomas Street

2703 and 2707 Stoddard Street

These houses date from 1870 through 1910, and span a wide stylistic range. There has not yet been a comprehensive architectural survey of the area, but a cursory examination shows much remaining building stock with strong significance. The building density in JeffVanderLou is higher than that of Old North St. Louis -- there is tremendous opportunity for preservation-oriented development. Many individuals and the St. Louis Equity Fund have invested in historic buildings, but a lot of work remains. Listing as much of the neighborhood as possible on the National Register of Historic Places would help bring economic development incentives and recognition of the unique architecture that remains.

Of course, photographs only tell part of the story. In JeffVanderLou, one also can find the photographs that would prove an "urban prairie" theory. The truth is complex, and best experienced in person away from the manipulations of photographs and aerial plans. One will find a neighborhood -- flawed, deprived, lively and urban. New investment must face this reality and work with it.

Old Chair Factory Stands in Path of New Bridge

The old Heller & Hoffman Chair Companies factory at the northeast corner of Howard and 8th streets will be demolished for the new Mississippi River Bridge. The bridge will claim these buildings and a few others, as well as the site of the "big mound." Believe it or not, the bridge path has been significantly changed to make the path less invasive to the built environment. The Missouri and Illinois Departments of Transportation made these changes to keep costs down, not to save buildings, but the result is a net benefit to the North Broadway industrial corridor. Still, we will be losing a few solid historic buildings.

The city issued a building permit to Heller & Hoffmann Chair Company on September 14, 1881 for the purpose of building a four-story factory at 715 Howard Street. The company estimated the cost as $10,000. At the time, the neighborhood was a patchwork of tenements, corner saloons and growing industrial operations. One of the largest companies in the vicinity was the Luedinghaus wagon company located to the immediate north. The chair factory fit in well. Its mill method construction, plain brick walls and bays of wooden windows set in segmental arch openings were traits of many contemporary industrial buildings in the North Broadway area.

Heller & Hoffmann manufactured everything from stock dining room chairs to fancy upholstered parlor chairs, and their ware enjoyed some popularity at north side furniture stores. On October 3, 1894, the city issued another permit for "repair of a four story brick factory" with a cost estimate of $3,000. This permit apparently accounts for the interconnected northern building that is now two stories tall. The 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map indicates that both sections were four stories tall and in use by the Mound City Chair Company. The original corner building is labeled "putting together" and the northern building is labeled "varnishing and polishing."

When the buildings lost their upper floors is uncertain. However, such alterations are very common in St. Louis industrial architecture, especially with mill method buildings. Many extant 19th century warehouses and factories along North Broadway has lost upper floors to fires in the days before our modern fire code.

Intact or not, the factory buildings stand right where the overhead ramps connecting the bridge to I-70 will be built. The neighbor to the north, M & L Frozen Foods, is already scouting sites for relocation. The old Heller & Hoffmann buildings are still in use, doing just fine with their current users, but their survival seems improbable. Could the bridge coexist with these buildings? Probably, but that takes a level of preservation planning (and small business promotion) that we don't have in St. Louis.

Meeting on McEagle North City/Downtown Project Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night, there will be the big truly public meeting on the McEagle north side/downtown project. Here are the details:

Time: 7:00 p.m. Thursday, May 21
Place: Central Baptist Church Educational Center, 2837 Washington Avenue (across from the church)

While open to the public and the press, Tim Logan of the Post-Dispatch reports that organizers (it's unclear is that means McEagle or elected officials) have aimed this meeting toward 5th and 19th ward residents. Apparently, every 5th and 19th ward registered voter was supposed to receive a mailer about the meeting, but as of mail time yesterday residents whom I know had not received any such thing.

Realtor Myrtle Bailey is serving as "public engagement coordinator" for the "North City Development Project" (for whom she works is unclear) and told Logan that 5th and 19th ward residents will be given the first crack at asking questions.

I understand the aim at the 5th and 19th ward residents, but according to McEagle this project will include a large section of the 6th ward as well as parts of the 3rd and 7th. Outreach ought to be aimed ward-wide, and all elected officials who represent those wards engaged in the first and last public meeting before McEagle plans to submit a blighting study to the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority on May 26.

Realistically, the project transcends ward boundaries. The project will be one of the largest in the city's history, may include unprecedented tax increment financing and sale of hundreds of acres of city-owned land. If this were a simple matter of a private developer developing land that he owned on his own or with moderate incentive use, the aldermanic system could handle the deal. However, this project falls outside of the aldermanic system -- or severely overloads it. Every city resident and alderman has the right to be part of the process.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Corner Storefronts Are Important to Building Community

The corner storefront at the northeast corner of 25th and Howard streets dates to 1920.

What's a neighborhood without a corner commercial storefront?

What's a corner commercial storefront without a neighborhood?

These questions are pertinent to the fate of the building pictured above, located at the northeast corner of 25th and Howard streets in the southwest end of St. Louis Place. This lonely building is one of three remaining on its block, which is surrounded by blocks of similar low density.

Many do not realize that the forlorn appearance of this "urban prairie" is the result of city policy. In 1973, under Mayor John Poelker, the city identified this six-block area north of the Pruitt Igoe site bounded by Cass on the south, 22nd on the east, Madison on the north and 25th on the west as ripe for industrial expansion. In fact, the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority began buying up land there, while the Planning Commission urged clearance of these blocks. Speculators moved in, arsons were common, and people were pushed out. With Pruitt-Igoe gone, city planners figured that large vacant site and these emptying blocks were a perfect area for a large-scale industrial park.

Looking north from Howard Street just east of 23rd Street

Yet, thankfully the industrial park project never happened. The city wasn't able to push out all of the residents -- nor were city government or the area's alderman willing to invest in rebuilding the area. In 1996, Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. revived the idea of using this area for something big. Bosley's administration created the ridiculous Gateway Village golf course subdivision plan, which was shelved by Mayor Clarence Harmon during his first week on the job.

The urban prairie was left behind, with residents, businesses and churches spread out across a quiet pocket of the neighborhood. Many people love living in that area and hope to stay for the rest of their lives. When developer Paul McKee Jr. began purchasing land, many speculated that his intention was to combine this area with Pruitt-Igoe for a massive commercial development. However, the plan that his representatives showed residents last week showed commercial development confined to the Pruitt-Igoe site and the six blocks platted with high-density residential development much like what was once there.

What that means for remaining buildings and residents is unclear. The plans unveiled last week are not detailed enough for further assumption. How the corner commercial building at 25th and Howard, built in 1920, managed to survive is pure luck -- and solid construction. This building is in great condition, and was occupied by a tavern only a few years ago before McKee's holding company Sheridan Place LC purchased it in 2006.

Sure, there might be retail at Pruitt Igoe, but great urban neighborhoods do not cluster retail into centers. Neighborhoods like St. Louis Place have always had their main streets and their corner bars and stores. The less concentrated commercial activity is located in a neighborhood, the more people will be able to walk to buy a carton of milk or meet friends for dinner.

Preservation is not simply a matter of saving pretty buildings (which this one is) or keeping buildings from the landfill (which is important if we want "green" to be more than a catch phrase). Preservation fundamentally is about maintenance of the relationships between people and place that foster a high quality of life. Having a corner storefront increases a neighborhood quality of life, provides a place for social interaction and gathering and encourages people to experience their neighborhood on foot -- where they will meet more people doing the same.

Architecture is fundamental to building and sustaining community, although other factors are also fundamental -- some more so. If McEagle is serious about building community in north St. Louis, its principals will do more than just calculate the future of a building like the corner storefront in dollars and sense. The project must build up from what is already in place -- buildings and people. The intrinsic connection between architecture and community comes from daily human action. After all, the corner bar stayed open even after the loss of most of the rest of the block and the industrial park never got built!

If this storefront is lost in the development to come, that will be a shame. However, if the neighborhood mode of life is lost, that will be a tragedy. Architecture should never come at the expense of community.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lindell Boulevard Mid-Century Modern Tour Tomorrow

Landmarks Association of St. Louis concludes Preservation Week with:

This was the Future: Mid-Century Modern Architecture on Lindell Boulevard

Sunday, May 17, 2009 -- 10:00 a.m.

Begin inside the Chase Park Plaza Cinema, 212 N. Kingshighway

Have a mid-century modern morning in May! A screening of a new version of the new short documentary San Luis: This Was the Future tells the story of the threatened San Luis Apartments. After the 10 minute film, Toby Weiss of beltstl.com and Michael Allen will lead a walking tour of the many mid-century treasurers along Lindell Boulevard, where modern design flourished between World War II and the 1970s. The walk will run from the Chase Park Plaza Hotel to Vandeventer and back, so be prepared for serious walking.

Aldermen Talk About McEagle "Concept"

Yesterday the Beacon published an interesting article on the McEagle project by reporter Dale Singer. The article is relevant because it includes the most substantial remarks by aldermen April Ford-Griffin (D-5th) and Marlene Davis (D-19th) on the plan that I have read. Oddly, the article makes no mention of Alderman Kacie Starr Triplett (D-6th), whose ward includes a substantial part of the project's southern end, where development will likely begin.

The article also mentions the date and time of the next meeting on the plans, but does not indicate that the meeting will be open to the public or the press -- just a "wider audience."

That meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 21 at Central Baptist Church (2842 Washington Avenue).

Storefront Addition With Grain Elevator

To me, the contrast between the house with storefront addition at 4052 Forest Park Boulevard (house, c. 1890; addition, 1917) and the towering grain elevator is beautiful. Both buildings are testament to the results of flexible zoning and the spirit of commerce. No subsidy or master plan could produce any architectural contrast like this -- this is the work of people shaping the built environment to their needs.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Missouri Senate Passes Economic Development Bill That Includes Historic Tax Credit Cap

Last night, after a long impasse, the Missouri Senate passed a Senate substitute to economic development bill HB 191. The bill reflects a legislative compromise reached on historic tax credits: the state's first cap on the program.

HB 191 places a $140 million cap on the annual issuance of historic tax credits, but exempts projects with qualified rehabilitation costs of $1.1 million or less -- the majority of projects -- from counting toward the cap. The figures will not be indexed to rise with inflation. The new rules won't go into effect until January 1, 2010. Honestly, I don't think that these changes will make much of an impact on the program.

The compromise was made possible when Senator Jason Crowell (R-Cape Girardeau), a staunch opponent of the program in the past, switched his position and began speaking in favor of the program on the Senate floor. Crowell and Senator Jeff Smith (D-St. Louis) worked with leadership and erstwhile historic tax credit foe Senator Brad Lager (R-Savannah) to forge an acceptable compromise. Without Crowell's switch, a compromise may have been impossible.

The bill now heads to the House for final approval.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Go, Urban Studio Cafe, Go!

This video from the St. Louis Beacon makes my head spin at the potential for community-building across the city. Person after person here declares their support for opening a coffee shop in Old North St. Louis, the Urban Studio Cafe. We have residents, their children, their alderwoman, their friends, the people who work in their neighborhood businesses and their fellow city residents from across the city. Each person in displaying faith that an old city neighborhood that has experienced massive population loss and disinvestment can and should support a gathering place.

Read the accompanying article to see what the cafe project is all about. This is a project that comes from the social roots of the neighborhood -- roots that extend deep and wide, intertwined with roots of other neighborhoods. The Urban Studio Cafe is the sort of project that really makes a difference in sustaining a community. The storefront itself is well-suited to the cafe, and the location adjacent to Crown Candy Kitchen generates enough foot traffic that chance encounters occur frequently here. The space is cool, but people make it come to life.

$5.3 Million in Block Grants Coming

A blog entry on MayorSlay.com reports that the city of St. Louis expects to receive $5.3 million in additional Community Development Block Grant funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and that there is a May 22 deadline for applications. Apparently, the city received a notice from the Department of Housing and Urban Development on May 6. The funds are prioritized for "hard development costs" associated with infrastructure activities that provide basic services to residents or activities that promote energy efficiency through rehabilitation or retrofitting of existing buildings.

The link to the application forms is here.

These funds can do a lot of good for the city, especially because they are expressly available for existing buildings. Hopefully neighborhood organizations are ready to jump at this chance!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's in the McEagle Plan?

KMOX reporter Kevin Killeen has some information in this story.

Front-Addition Houses Part of the St. Louis Place Legacy

Planner Mark Johnson from Civitas has had a major hand in developing McEagle's plan for north St. Louis and western downtown. On Monday night at Central Baptist Church, Johnson used the phrase "legacy properties" to describe the historic buildings that McEagle is contemplating including in the project. I have no idea what criteria Johnson or McEagle has use to define "legacy property," but when I heard that phrase I started thinking about houses like the one showed above at right, located at 2552 North Market Street in St. Louis Place. (The house at left, at 2548 North Market, is quite a looker itself -- check out that entrance arch!)

Readers might recall last week's post "Brick Thieves Return to St. Louis Place" that showed how a house at 2543 Maiden Lane was damaged by criminals earlier this month. That house is just east and south of the ones shown above. All are highly visible from Jefferson Avenue.

Why do I think that the modest house at 2552 North Market is so interesting? Well, the house is one of a few remaining frame houses that have brick front additions. If that doesn't make sense, take a look at the rear of the house.

The rear is a one-story gabled frame home, with one room in front and a small addition at the back. This house dates to the 19th century. The front brick section, with one room on each of two floors, dates to a building permit issued on May 22, 1915. The cost of the addition was $500 to owner William Duerdick and his builder J. Scaumel. The result of the addition was a handsome, two-story brick front to match those of neighboring houses.

As St. Louis Place developed into a high-density, middle-class enclave, many early frame houses were absorbed into the emerging urban (brick) fabric through front additions. Simple frame houses could be concealed behind fronts as refined as those of any neighbors' houses. A new look and more space arrived, while the usable original house was retained instead of being wrecked. What great architectural economy for growing families on a budget!

The 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the footprint of the little frame house before expansion. That house is numbered 1, while the brick two-story house at 2548 North Market is numbered 2 and the flounder house at 2543 Maiden Lane is numbered 3. Frame is colored yellow, and brick is pink.

One can see that this area was not typified by any one form of house or method of construction. There are even a few vacant lots. Architectural diversity like this as historically common as the more regular patterns found in other parts of the city.

Lest I throw out my appreciation without offering any idea for how a developer like McEagle could reuse a quirky "legacy property," I have a great example from another block in St. Louis Place. Here is the house at 1871 Madison Avenue, built first in the mid-19th century and given the brick front treatment in 1890. The style is different, but the form is the same.

The owners purchased this house from the Land Reutilization Authority, spent their own time and money on rehabilitation and ended up with a cozy homestead. The frame addition was in shambles, so they rebuilt it and finished it in earthen stucco. The roof on the frame section is a long-lasting metal roof, while the windows and doors are mostly recycled elements purchased at the ReStore and other places. A solar collector is on top of the flat roof of the brick front. Inside, the house makes great use of its small size with an open layout and a sleeping loft. The house uses stove heat in the winter, made possible by the small size.

While not historically accurate, the rehab of the house on Madison is inventive and green. The front-addition form is versatile and adds small-house options to the neighborhood for those who want to own a house but keep costs and house size down. the home on North Market Street is ripe for rehabilitation. The mansions of St. Louis Avenue tell one part of the St. Louis Place story, but that story is incomplete without the other parts. We can't preserve everything that is left, but we should ensure that we preserve an architectural cross-section of a living, economically diverse neighborhood -- so that we encourage that diversity to be part of the future as well as the past.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DALATC and the McEagle Project

Now that McEagle Properties has started to reveal its plan for north St. Louis and downtown, let's review the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act. Last night at a meeting, Bill Laskowsky from McEagle and planner Mark Johnson from Civitas revealed that McEagle hopes to submit a financial proposal to the city of St. Louis' Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority by May 26. That proposal will accompany a request for redevelopment rights and tax increment financing. Various government entities will consider the proposal and make recommendations to the Board of Aldermen.

According to Laskowsky and Johnson, a redevelopment ordinance ideally would be in place by the end of the year so that an application for the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit (DALATC) can be made. The DALATC will allow McEagle reimbursement for 50% of land acquisition costs and 100% of maintenance

While the redevelopment agreement with the city will have its own rules, the DALATC brings its own rules.

Here are a few key provisions to keep in mind:

The DALATC will reimburse McEagle for 100% of demolition costs.

Under DALTAC, "acquisition costs" are defined as the purchase price for the eligible parcel, costs of environmental assessments, closing costs, real estate brokerage fees, reasonable demolition costs of vacant structures, and reasonable maintenance costs incurred to maintain an acquired eligible parcel for a period of five years after the acquisition of such eligible parcel. Acquisition costs shall not include costs for title insurance and survey, attorney's fees, relocation costs, fines, or bills from a municipality.

The DALATC will reimburse McEagle for half of the cost of mowing lawns and boarding up windows.

"Maintenance costs" are defined in DALATC as the costs of boarding up and securing vacant structures, costs of removing trash, and costs of cutting grass and weeds.

The DALATC is authorized under Chapter 99 of Missouri law.

Under Chapter 99, a redeveloper must follow a certain process to have an area declared blighted by municipal authority; that process is detailed online here. Eminent domain power will reside with the city's Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, not McEagle.

Less than five percent of the acreage within the boundaries of the eligible project area shall consist of owner-occupied residences which the applicant has identified for acquisition under the urban renewal plan or the redevelopment plan.

Let's make it clear: eminent domain can be used by McEagle in this project. There just happens to be a reasonable limit to its use, and parcels acquired by eminent domain can't get the DALATC.

No city-owned property is eligible for the DALATC.

McEagle won't be able to get DALATC for purchase of the hundreds of city-owned parcels it requires for this project. Does that mean that the city will convey the land for a token amount to help the deal move along? Or will the cash-strapped city hold McEagle to the same standards as anyone else who seeks to purchase city-owned land, and charge the typical "full price" for each parcel?

No more than seventy-five percent of the urban renewal area identified in the urban renewal plan or the redevelopment area identified in the redevelopment plan may be redeveloped by the applicant. The remainder of the urban renewal area or the redevelopment area shall be redeveloped by co-redevelopers or redevelopers to whom the applicant has assigned its redevelopment rights and obligations under the urban renewal plan or the redevelopment plan.

McEagle will be working with co-developers. Who are these partners? What area non-profit development organizations are likely to get on board?

The redevelopment agreement shall include a time line for redevelopment of the eligible project area.

The DALATC requires a redevelopment time line be submitted to the city. What is unclear is whether that time line is binding, and what enforcement mechanisms the city or state can implement to ensure completion of the project.

The DALATC sunsets in 2013.

Any attempt to receive all $95 million has to start soon to beat the sunset.

McEagle Shows the Plan

Yesterday evening at Central Baptist Church, Aldermen Marlene Davis (D-19th) and APril Ford-Griffin (D-5th) held a meeting on McEagle Properties' large-scale redevelopment project centered around St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou. McEagle's representatives made a presentation, including slides showing proposed land uses, before taking spirited questions from the crowd.

The bombshell dropped was that McEagle plans to submit a financial plan and tax increment financing plan to the city by May 26, and hopes to have a redevelopment ordinance approved by the Board of Aldermen by the end of the year. This project is on a fast track all of a sudden.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an account here: "Residents get briefing on developer's long-awaited plan"

I'm going to withhold comment now and turn this post over to readers and people who attended last night's meeting.

What are your thoughts about the McEagle project, the proposed timeline and the forthcoming request for more public incentives?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tonight: Lecture and Book Signing on the Houses of Missouri

This evening, learn about the houses of Missouri at one of Missouri's most important historic homes:

Lecture and Book Signing: Houses of Missouri, 1870-1940
Monday, May 11, 2009
7:00-9:00 P.M.

Carol Grove and Cydney Millstein's Houses of Missouri, 1870-1940 is the first comprehensive account of the development of residential architecture in the state. With nearly 300 archival photographs, drawings, and original floor plans, the book offers an intimate tour behind the facades of 45 purely American houses ranging from pastoral retreats to mid-century modern mansions. The authors will discuss the book project at the historic Chatillon-DeMenil House, with a reception and signing to follow. Copies of the book (retail price $65) will be on sale, but the reception is complimentary.

The Chatillon-Demenil House is located at 3352 DeMenil Place.

This event is part of Preservation Week, a whirlwind of exciting events offered by Landmarks Association of St. Louis. Come out this week to learn and celebrate our region's great architecture!

Speaking of historic houses, my talk yesterday at Architecture St. Louis on the James Clemens, Jr. House drew a spirited crowd of people who learned about the history of the house, its namesake, and the current threat to the house and its attached buildings. This was a great kick-off to Preservation Week! Hopefully one year from now I can report back with good news about the Clemens House. Meantime, expect an update based on the talk here.

Reconsidering St. Louis: Forming a New Future

This event showcases the work of this year's graduating master's degree candidates from Washington University School of Architecture. This year is special because students were allowed to choose existing buildings for projects, and a fair number of students did just that. One of the sites chosen is the National City Stockyards in East St. Louis, for which Andrew Faulkner envisioned the ruins of the pens and packing plants returning to life to be part of the 21st century food chain. Come out and see that project and more.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

How Brick Thieves Do It

This Pub Def video features Alderman Sam Moore (D-4th) explaining how brick thieves do their work. This first appeared in August 2007, but it is relevant this summer as the streets of north St. Louis gear up against this wave of criminal activity.

Moore's comment that "somebody is doing it from the inside" of the Building Division still rings loud and clear. Has the Building Division ever investigated links between thieves and its demolition staff? If not, Alderman Moore and his colleagues on the Board of Aldermen should.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tax Credit Action in the State Legislature

Yesterday the Missouri House of Representatives passed the House Committee Substitute (HCS) to Senate Bill 377. Now included in the bill is a $150 million cap on the historic tax credit with a $250,000 (in credits issued) exemption and a $250,000 (in credits issued) per-project cap on residential rehabs. The $150 million cap might not have much impact with healthy "micro" exemptions like these. The question: Is this a good enough micro exemption to keep present level of tax credit activity going?

Meanwhile, Representative Tim Flook (R-Liberty) offered an amendment to the HCS for SB 377 that, among other things, changed the language of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit (DALATC) to allow issuance of up to $20 million per year instead of the current $10 million. On the House floor, Rep. Flook stated that a group of representatives had met with developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. to see his plans for north St. Louis, and that those plans needed an extra boost during this session. Of course, McKee still has to be designated redeveloper by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in order to apply for the DALATC. Since the DALATC credits must be spent on development within the project area, the higher issuance could mean more immediate development activity after McKee receives the credits.

Flook's amendment passed.

Legislature Gives Metro $12 Million

The St. Louis Beacon reports that the legislature passed a stimulus bill that contains $12 million for Metro (actually still named the Bi-State Development Agency but doing business as Metro). This is a one-time payment, of course, and short of the $20 million that Metro estimates it needs to restore all service cuts made in March.

Governor Jay Nixon, often silent on state-funded programs that support St. Louis, actually has expressed support for Metro. However, the $12 million request came from Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, not Nixon. If the governor signs the bill, Metro will be able to restore Call-a-Ride and some bus routes -- for one year.

Realistically, the stimulus money is a small stop-gap. What is needed is a regional taxing district. Senator Robin Wright-Jones introduced a bill in this legislative session to allow such a district to be created, but the bill remains on the Senate's informal calender.

No matter what the fate of the stimulus funding or Wright-Jones' bill, Metro has a lot of work to do right now to build a strong case for its support. The longer the agency waits to start building public support, the longer people are stuck without transportation -- and the longer cities that have regional investment in transportation will surpass our ability to attract new residents and jobs. We can't have a hand-to-mouth transit system if St. Louis is going to be a competitive American city.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lecture: The James Clemens House: Past, Present, Future

Volunteers for the Landmarks Association of St. Louis standing on the porch of the James Clemens, Jr. House in 1960.

"The James Clemens House, Past, Present and Future"
When: Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 2:00 p.m.
Where: Architecture St. Louis, 911 Washington Avenue #170

Join Michael Allen, Assistant Director of Landmarks Association, as he offers a look at one of the most significant endangered houses in St. Louis. Built in 1858 for James Clemens, Jr., the house at 1849 Cass Avenue is one of the few remaining antebellum mansions in the city. Later life included expansion of the house and use as a convent and several ministries. For the last decade, the fate of the vacant complex has been uncertain. Collapse of a chapel wall last year sent shock waves throughout the preservation community. Explore the fascinating history of this St. Louis landmark and discover what hope remains.

Lecture is free and open to the public, but reservations are requested, please call 421-6474.

The lecture is part of Preservation Week, a week-long series of events centered on historic preservation. The full schedule is online here.

St. Louis Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians Unveils Website

Courtesy of Michelle Kodner, the St. Louis Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians has a lovely new website. One of the best features of the site is that most chapter newsletters back to Fall 2004 are fully published in PDF format.

Those familiar with the plethora of online content on St. Louis architecture may not be familiar with the chapter's outstanding newsletter of original research, edited by Esley Hamilton. Read through some of the newsletters and you'll see why I look forward to seeing the newsletter in the mail every quarter. Chapter membership includes a newsletter subscription and is an astounding $10 a year!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Illinois' Ten Most Endangered -- And the Chicago Landmark Ordinance

Landmarks Illinois has released its ten most endangered places list for 2009; the list and information about each site is online here. There are no sites in southwestern Illinois near St. Louis, although a few southern Illinois sites are included.

Here's the full list:

1. Arcade Building (Riverside)
2. Archer House (Marshall)
3. Aurora Masonic Temple (Aurora)
4. Chautauqua Auditorium (Shelbyville)
5. Davenport, Rock Island and Northwestern Depot (Moline)
6. Lewis Pharmacy Interior (Canton)
7. Michael Reese Hospital Campus (Chicago)
8. Porthole Barns of Greene County
9. Prentice Women's Hospital (Chicago)
10. Shawneetown Bank (Old Shawneetown)

A special eleventh spot is included for the Chicago Landmark Ordinance. On January 31, an appellate court ruled that the criteria for landmark designation under the ordinance was vague and sent the ordinance to trial court for review. The outcome of that review could nullify the ordinance, removing legal protection for 277 landmark sites and 51 historic districts designated under the powers of that ordinance.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Brick Thieves Return to St. Louis Place

By March 2009, things were not good for the unusual two-and-half-story flounder house located at 2543 Maiden Lane in St. Louis Place. The house was sporting a small hole at the base of its west wall as well as a major stress crack. The hole was strange because there was no apparent structural problem causing it. Urban Solutions, the consulting firm performing maintenance on behalf of owner McEagle Properties, placed one of its orange construction fences around the building in response to the conditions. Then the building just sat, with most window and door openings unsecured.

On April 2, the Building Division condemned the house for demolition, but so far has not placed the demolition out to bid.

The house stands out not only for a height rare for a flounder house, but also because it actually faced out toward Maiden Lane, an east-west street that is almost alley-like. The flounder sits on the north end of its lot, directly on the alley between Maiden Lane and North Market. The one-story flounder addition in front is a unique feature as well. The east side contains a gallery porch with access to the two flats inside of the building.

The north face shows the full height of the house, as well as some original six-over-six wooden window sash.

Last week, I noticed that the hole had grown bigger, with a pile of bricks at the base covered in lime mortar dust. I wondered if recent windy days had taken their toll until today, when I realized that a more common culprit is at work here.

That's right, the brick thieves are back in action. They have made short work of the one story addition, and have made the hole in the main house bigger (although their clumsy methods have broken many bricks).

The tire tracks running through the high grass on the vacant lot next door provide clear evidence of thievery.

Strange that the thieves have evaded detection here -- the west wall faces out at busy Jefferson Avenue, not far from the police station. I'm also perplexed by the fact that of all of the brick buildings with wall damage in this vicinity, the thieves have struck this one. Is the recent condemnation for demolition a prompt? Perhaps the thieves saw the building on a demolition bid list.

In the middle of a flagging economy, brick theft could be elevated this summer. It's time for all of us to get tough -- city government, police and neighbors. If you see people removing bricks from a building and there is any suspicion of theft, call 911. If you have the constitution, take photographs of the activity and wait for police to arrive. Unfortunately, police will not always respond seriously to a brick theft call. A legitimate wrecker with demolition rights will be able to show police a demolition permit.

Let's hope this summer does not see a wave of destruction like the ones that hit the north side in the past two years.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mid-Century Modern Preservation in Grand Center

Grand Center, Inc., deserves recognition for a small but important step toward preservation of our mid-century modern architecture. Earlier this year, Grand Center completed renovation of the Loyola Building at 3840 Washington Boulevard just west of Vandeventer. This playfully articulated two-story building and a one-story wing to the west were designed by architect Isadore Shank and completed in 1958. Built as offices, Loyola Academy across the street once used the two-story section for classrooms. The one-story section was owned by a church group. The building is part of a row of modern buildings all enjoying the same setback; see Toby Weiss' post "Mid-Town Washington Boulevard" on B.E.L.T for more information.

The crisp modern lines are drawn here through smooth limestone. However, there is textural depth added through the patterned brick spandrels and what seems to be a painted wooden spandrel at the main entrance (at left) that reminds me of a patterned fir applique on Shank's Miller House (1963).

The detailing here is not as extensive as on Shank's elaborate DeBalieviere Building (1927) at Delmar and DeBaliviere, but it has similarities. The introduction of wall texture through patterns is similar, as is the breakdown of the potential monotony of repeated patterns through the articulation of the fenestration. This is a cool little building, and not well known among Shank's work.

Grand Center has recycled this office building as artists' studios and the home of the Pace framing company. The redevelopment organization could have done no better -- the Loyola Building did not need a lavish rehab. A little repair and painting renewed the mid-century strut, and all is well in the world.

Second Night of Chautauqua Art Lab

Tonight is the second night of the Chautauqua Art Lab, of which I am proud to be a part. Check out the details:


Map the multi-verse with controversial artists/speakers, pots and pans music makers, and film bricoleurs constellating for the temporary art and technology project co-organized by Eric Repice, Sarah Paulsen, and Emily Hemeyer. The series of nightly collaborative educational gatherings is inspired by the historical Chautauqua adult education movement in the US and features participatory panels, music soundscapes, and video screenings .

When: May 3-7th each night, 6:30 PM -10:00 PM

Where: Fort Gondo, 3151 Cherokee Street, St. Louis, MO, USA

Why: Learn, Include, Collaborate, Constellate (L.I.C.C.). “Chautauqua is the most American thing about America”-- Theodore Roosevelt

Monday, May 4: “Local Go-getters and How I Started My Space.” Public Forum Q & A with Matt Strauss (White Flag), BJ Vogt (MAPS), Juan William Chavez (Boots Contemporary), Nita Turnage and Hap Phillips (Artica), David Wolk (Cranky Yellow& Crammed Organisms), Stephen Brien (All Along Press), Firecracker Press, Open Lot, Luminary Center, and APOP.

Tuesday, May 5: “Personal and Collective Practices that Investigate Notions of Space, History, and Public Goods.” Demonstrations and discussion highlighting mapping, tagging, blogging, virtual studios, and YouTube as art spaces. Featuring Eric and Michelle DeLair Repice (Wash U), Michael Allen (Ecology of Absence), Ben West (WASABINET), Jordan Hicks (Open Lot), live animation by Sarah Paulsen and music by Macro Meltdown

Wednesday, May 6 : “Artist Viewpoints: Innovations and Boundaries in Community Art Practice.” Works and commentary by Cindy Tower, Lyndsey Scott, Keith Bucholdz, Peat Wollager, and Maya Escobar.

Thursday, May 7:“Exploratory Film Night:Time based art/video shorts exploring the use of found/appropriated images, collage and archives.” Including films by Jodie Mack (Chicago) Yard Work is Hard Work, Ken Brown and Tom Bussmann (Germany and Stl) Beyond the Crisis in Art, Emily Foster (San Francisco) Snowfakes, Mike Pagano (Stl), Jeremy Kannappell (Stl), Emily Hemeyer and more. Music by Kevin Butterfield. Opening Music, Flowers. All donated proceeds benefit CAMP (Community Arts and Media Project).

Contact : Press- Emily Hemeyer ghostsihavebeen@gmail.com

Sarah Paulsen pintorasp@hotmail.com

Eric Repice erepice@gmail.com

Where Ed Box and Peter Kinder Meet

The Suave House at 2512 Palm Street in St. Louis Place has been adorned by both the graffiti artistry of Ed Box and the political signage of Peter Kinder. The fact that's it is owned by a Paul McKee, Jr.-controlled holding company (N & G Ventures) creates a strange political triangle of sorts. McKee owns many of the vacant buildings of St. Louis Place, Box tags them and Kinder posed himself as a gatekeeper of north St. Louis' future by championing a tax credit that could help McKee make sense of his holdings.

Someday MetroLink may run down Palm, which merges into Natural Bridge. There are pockets of storefronts like this one on Natural Bridge west to the city limits. Unlike Martin Luther King Drive, Natural Bridge largely passes through areas of high population density, making it a natural commercial thoroughfare for north St. Louis. In fact, on the block just west of the Suave House there already are popular small businesses in sidewalk-fronting buildings. The area already functions as a commercial gathering spot, but it needs enhancement. Of course, commercial districts on public transportation corridors don't work well if they are not densely built out, and buildings like the Suave House indicate the density and building form that is needed to build up Natural Bridge in the future.

McKee would be wise to think about this northern edge of St. Louis Place, where Palm meets Natural Bridge, and its relationship to other neighborhoods west of here and the future presence of light rail. This is a seam, not an edge. This eastern end could be the gateway to a renewed Natural Bridge Avenue commercial district. The Suave House is a welcoming building that defines this block not as a marked boundary but as the face of one side of a street that laterally connects the entire city.

Of course, MetroLink itself could be a boundary of sorts if Metro insists on building out a light rail line like the ones it currently operates. The drawings for the north extension show many streets crossing Florissant Avenue, Palm and Natural Bridge that would not go through due to the placement of contained tracks in the middle of those major thoroughfares. That could hurt the tremendous potential of these streets to sprout more pedestrian-oriented commercial areas. A less invasive light rail system would be better -- how about a street car? Meantime, let's protect future building blocks like the Suave House.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lost: Lucas Avenue Warehouse Meets the Dart

Photograph from the collection of Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

Following through the recent downtown demolitions with some link to the Miss Hullings Building tragedy, here are photographs of the slender commercial building that once stood at 1427 Lucas Avenue just a block north of Washington and a block east of the City Museum. The link to Miss Hullings? This building was also designed by prominent architect John Ludwig Wees. The visual link to Miss Hullings is clear: a tripartite division into ornamental base, a more prosaic center and a crown featuring an arcade of Roman windows beneath a brick cornice.

Sure, these weren't the buildings that Wees put in the front of his portfolio, but they were hardly throwaway designs. Every architect has a way of designing when the budget is lavish, or when it's severely restricted. Where the architect's hand comes through the most is in the middle -- the work that he or she designs day in and day out. Wees certainly gave his commercial buildings a strongly modern sensibility, meted through a classical screen. The first two floors -- the public interface at the sidewalk -- exhibits a restrained classicism through a limestone surround, a central cast iron column with Corinthian capital, lion heads inside of wreaths above each storefront and an egg and dart cornice in the limestone surround above the whole assembly.

Photograph from the collection of Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

The egg and dart is every building's sad nod toward fate. That pattern enshrines the life cycle of creation and death in a succinct, poetic metaphor. Egg brings life. Dart takes it away.

Alas, the dart of death frequently comes in the form of heavy metal. The wrecking ball took down this splendid essay in commerce around the last months of 2000, when St. Louis Auto Sales successfully obtained an "emergency" demolition permit from the Building Division. A building that once housed Continental Shoemakers and countless dry good companies ranging from leather wholesalers to garment retailers met the dour economics of parking. Not quite an egg there, eh?