We've Moved

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Dart Veers North

Check out dArt St. Louis: 100 people threw a dart at a map of the city of St. Louis and photographed the spot where their dart landed.

Looking through the photographs, I am struck by how many were taken in North St. Louis. While I was not present to watch the dart throw -- perhaps the north end of the map had some kind of advantage -- I think it's great that the interesting and varied locations of the north side received so much attention. By my count, at least half of the photographs come from the northern half of the city.

What will be interesting is to re-photograph those locations in 25 years. What will these places look like then?

Monday, June 29, 2009

City Hall Asking Right Questions about McEagle Project

Friday's St. Louis Business Journal carried two stories on McEagle's NorthSide project that quoted Deputy Mayor Barbara Geisman and Mayoral Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford. (Articles are available online only to subscribers.) The primary article, "Will Paul McKee and City hall bond?" dealt with the developer's request that the city guarantee via general revenue half of the $410 million in tax increment financing bonds sought. From the comments in the article, it sounds like City Hall is not ready to roll over on the request.

Rainford says that Mayor Francis Slay is skeptical on the city backing the bonds, and that Slay will only do so under "extraordinary circumstances." Rainford acknowledged ongoing negotiations between the mayor's office and McEagle, but the article did not elaborate on what "extraordinary circumstances" would be.

Deputy Mayor Geisman went further, stating that the city doesn't know enough about the project yet to consider a request for general revenue backing. The article ends with a frank -- and encouraging -- quote from Geisman: "Lots of people ask for lots of things; it doesn't mean they're going to get it."

While there is much to admire in the scope of McEagle's vision as it has been laid out, the TIF request is abrupt and based on unsubstantiated financial information. The size of the request alone raises questions, but the push for city backing is premature. As the Business Journal article notes, the only three times when the city backed TIF bonds -- St. Louis Marketplace, the convention hotel and Pyramid's acquisition of One City Center -- the city has ended up on the hook for failed or troubled development projects. McEagle has yet to demonstrate that its project would be any different.

I am heartened that City Hall has shifted gears from largely favorable comments to on-point comments. Hopefully this indicates a stance of tough bargaining, because a city that is eliminating jobs and implementing furloughs cannot afford to throw the treasury open for an untested vision.

That said, the second article, "McKee eyes land swap with MoDot for first phase," showed some of the possibilities of the McEagle development. McEagle wants to eliminate the 22nd street ramps and use that site for new office development, and it seems that City Hall favors that approach. Readers know how much I want City Hall to support eliminating needless highway components, so I am glad that Geisman seems positive about removal of some of the most useless highway infrastructure in the region.

I have little to complain about the 22nd Street part of the McEagle vision: it removes useless and divisive infrastructure, adds density, does not affect any houses, businesses or historic buildings and it could result in a termination of the visually-challenged Gateway Mall other than a chain link fence. McEagle wants this to be the first phase -- why not separate this area out into its own redevelopment area with its own enabling legislation?

One major problem with the McEagle project has been the lack of public-side planning. If city government was vigilant about setting and enforcing urban planning goals, the McEagle project would conform to those objectives and not be as problematic as it has been. Barring real planning, City Hall ought to use its powers to make sense of the project for the benefit of the city. Beyond the TIF deal, City Hall should look at the possibility of breaking the project down into smaller redevelopment areas, creating real historic preservation planning and placing the promises unveiled on May 21 into an actual contract between the city and the developer. A good deal is possible, and City Hall is at the center of that.

McEagle Releases First Video on "NorthSide"

The McEagle NorthSide vide channel can be found here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Taxes and Urban Rot

The following essay by W. Philip Cotton, Jr. appeared in the volume "Laclede's Landing" Area, published by Landmarks Association of St. Louis in 1968. When I first unexpectedly found this essay tucked in a booklet on Laclede's Landing, I was impressed by Phil's astute observations on taxation policy and its relationship to preservation of historic neighborhoods. In 1968, in the era of wide admiration of singular works of architecture, this line of preservationist thought was truly progressive. Phil's words on the use of government incentives are prescient. Yesterday, at a memorial service, we celebrated Phil's work and contributions. I wish to again state that his legacy is worth the consideration of today's preservationists. -- MRA

Taxes and Urban Rot
by W. Philip Cotton, Jr.

Wrong methods of taxation are a fundamental cause of urban decay. One might ask what taxes have to do with landmarks? For landmarks thought of in the narrow sense of isolated buildings the question is not so significant, but for landmarks of the urban environment, districts and sections which are the essence of a great city, taxes are highly significant. It is necessary, at times, to go beyond the confines of a specific concern or interest to get at fundamental components or problems.

The first sentence above states that "wrong methods" of taxation are a root cause of decay and slums in cities. The principle word is "methods." The amount of taxes is not necessarily the determining function, but, rather, the way they are raised profoundly affects the state of health of the city. The old tax on windows in England had an obvious effect on the number of windows in a building. It is easy to picture that this method of raising the necessary revenue had at some point a deleterious effect on public health, as many habitations would be without sufficient light and air.

Our present policies of taxing land and improvements (with the greater portion derived from improvements) have recognizable effects: slums are the most profitable housing investments, not because of any inherent attractiveness of slums but because of tax policies. For letting buildings decay one is rewarded with lower taxes; on the other hand, improvements are penalized with higher taxes. Decay spreads faster than we can treat its symptoms, which we usually do with one or more government programs. There is little chance of fundamental improvement or reform from within our government; it can come only from an aroused citizenry which is aware of the fundamentals of cause-and-effect economics as distinguished from social-reform economics.

Another great obstacle in the way of fundamental reform of taxation is the implicit belief in the Eleventh Commandment, "Thou shalt not rock the boat." -- even if by rocking, the boat be saved from sinking. For many this is a greater imperative than the other ten.

As long as slums provide a higher economic return on investment than well maintained housing, the various government appeasement offerings serve only to reward the slum owners and temporarily pacify slum inhabitants. "More than fifty years ago Lloyd George warned the British Parliament that 'low rent public housing bills will never be effective until you tackle the taxation of land values.'"* In 1960 the Mayor’s Special Committee on Housing in New York City reported, "The seemingly unstoppable spread of slums has confronted the great cities of the nation with chronic financial crisis ... The $2 billion public housing program has not made any appreciable dent in the number of slum dwellings ... No amount of code enforcement ... will be able to keep pace with slum formation until and unless the profit is taken out of slums by taxation."*

The idea of taxing land values and not taxing improvements is neither new nor untested theory. Where it has been fairly tried it has produced effects which can readily be observed and evaluated. Brisbane, Australia has not had taxes on improvements since 1896; it taxes only the unimproved value of the land. Colin Clarke, economist at Oxford University, who lived in Australia for twenty years writes of Brisbane that it is "the only great city in the world without a slum."*

The restraining effects of taxes on improvement in St. Louis are so great that to stimulate major new construction in the city it is necessary to use the Missouri Redevelopment Act making it possible to give a near exemption from property taxes for a decade or two. This subsidy at the expense of all other property owners (and taxpayers in general) is necessary to attract new investment in improvements. Why not give, in effect, a subsidy to all who improve and maintain their properties by untaxing improvements and taxing only the value of the site location which is created by public improvement and population rather than giving the subsidy to a few?
Private enterprise cannot solve the housing problem and other problems of the urban environment as long as the profit motive is harnessed backwards. Until there are financial incentives for improving and maintaining property and thus, in effect, penalties for decay and rot, there is no hope for substantial improvement.

The fundamental answer to the problem is not charity without tax reform. Winston Churchill writes, "...a friend of mine was telling me the other day that, in the parish of Southwark, about 350 pounds a year was given away in doles of bread by charitable people in connection with one of the churches. As a consequence of this charity, the competition for small houses and single-room tenements is so great that rents are considerably higher in the parish! All goes back to the land, and the land owner is enabled to absorb to himself a share of almost every public and private benefit, however pitiful those benefits might be." So the rot was then and so it will remain until we stop subsidizing slums and penalizing well maintained property by out ill-conceived tax policies.”

* "Taxes and the Death of Cities" by Perry Prentice. Architectural Forum, November 1965.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Testimony on the DeVille Motor Hotel

Here is my testimony from Monday's Preservation Board consideration of the preliminary review of the Archdiocese's application to demolish the DeVille Motor Hotel (San Luis Apartments) at 4483 Lindell Boulevard and build a surface parking lot in its place.

The Board approved the application by a vote of 3-2, with Board members Richard Callow, David Richardson (who is Missouri adviser to the National trust for Historic Preservation) and Alderwoman Phyllis Young voting yes and members Melanie Fathman and Anthony Robinson voting no.


In regard to the legal standards that bind the Preservation Board's decision today, I think that members will find the ordinances quite clear: the Archdiocese's plan meets neither the standards established by the Central West End Historic District ordinance nor the demolition review criteria in the city's preservation review ordinance. The Board should deny both parts of the proposal and uphold our city's preservation laws. The Preservation Board has no legal authority to make decisions based on the institutional parking requirements of the Archdiocese or Rosati-Kain, but only on the explicit criteria of the two applicable ordinances.

While the Central West End Local Historic District standards do not expressly forbid the construction of surface parking lots in the district, they are only allowed in areas with commercial zoning (zoned F or H). The DeVille parcel is zoned E (Multiple Family Residential), which is governed by the residential standards of the local district.

Even with a zoning change for this parcel, the parking lot proposal does not meet the commercial standards of the district, which I quote:

All off-street parking shall be located behind or to the side of commercial structures. Where visible from the street, screening with visually opaque landscaping or 5' minimum high masonry or concrete wall shall be necessary.

The current proposal fails to meet this provision because the parking lot will occupy the entire parcel, not adjacent to a building, but rather in the plain view of two streets, an alley and even from the sidewalk a great distance to the east. While the proposed screening may meet the standards, the standards disallow construction of a parking lot that is not adjacent to a building. The proposed parking lot requires a variance from the standards that I think is unwarranted.

Furthermore, the district standards explicitly safeguard the architectural characteristics of block faces. Again I quote the standards:

Developers, therefore, shall demonstrate compliance with exiting scale, size and proportion… Visual compliance shall be judged on massing and detail in addition to size and scale.

The parking lot does not meet the "visual compliance" standard established here. The current face of this block is a symmetrical arrangement, with the large Cathedral and DeVille buildings serving as book ends on either side of the Chancery. While the architectural character is varied, the urban forms that give the block face harmony are dependent on the balance of large, taller buildings on each corner. The parking lot removes one of those buildings, creating an imbalance that clearly does not maintain existing scale, size or proportion. Plus, the stark exposure of the alley and utilities from Lindell will create a visual problem for pedestrians.

Note that Central West End residents have successfully blocked development projects in the past by filing lawsuits to uphold enforcement of these standards. These standards enjoy widespread and passionate support in the neighborhood, not simply because they enshrine common values but because they are an effective and clear legal tool for protecting the urban character of the neighborhood.

Beyond the local district standards, the current proposal also fails to meet the standard criteria of the preservation ordinance. (I will not address financial hardship, which is clearly not at issue in this matter.)

A. Redevelopment Plans

There is no approved or proposed formal redevelopment plan for the DeVille site.

B. Architectural Quality

The DeVille Motor Hotel is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places for its local architectural significance. (More on that in a moment.) Under the Preservation ordinance's definition, the DeVille is thus a High Merit structure. (“High Merit”partly is defined as "deserving of consideration for single site historic or Landmark Site designation.")

This criteria is one of the primary reasons why the Board has authority to deny the demolition of the DeVille. Under the preservation review ordinance, the Board must act to protect all Merit and High Merit structures . The State Historic Preservation Office's statement of eligibility for single-site listing is cause for treating the DeVille as a High merit structure at the present moment.

C. Condition

The DeVille building obviously requires repairs common to buildings of its age, but it is sound under the ordinance and apparently safe enough that the Archdiocese maintained it as a residential building until 2007.

D. Neighborhood Effect and Reuse Potential

The Central West End Association and many neighborhood residents have offered the opinion that the surface parking lot has an adverse neighborhood impact.

As for reuse potential, we have only a report prepared by the architectural firm hired to design the parking lot. There has been no independent analysis of reuse potential. However, given the successful rehabilitation of the Hotel Indigo to the west and the former Days Inn downtown, reuse potential of mid-century motels for original or adapted uses now has been demonstrated in the city.

E. Urban Design.

The preservation ordinance reiterates the principles of the Central West End local historic district ordinance regarding integrity of block face as well as the impact on "significant character important to a district, street, block or intersection." Clearly, the proposal is detrimental to its block face, but also it is detrimental in a larger architectural context along Lindell Boulevard. This brings me to the issue of National Register of Historic Places eligibility.


Because of the DeVille's unique architectural quality as well as its contributing role to a significant group of Modern buildings on Lindell Boulevard, the State Historic Preservation office has determined that the DeVille is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Not only do we have that hopeful determination, but also on May 1 the Keeper of the National Register listed Lindell's other mid-century motel: the Bel Air Motel at 4630 Lindell, built between 1958-1961 and beautifully rehabilitated as the Hotel Indigo. (The Preservation Board approved the Bel Air nomination last year.)

Also, in the past two years, I have written or co-written two other successful National Register nominations of mid-century buildings in the city built within the past 50 years -- the Plaza Square Apartments downtown and the Nooter Corporation Building at 1400 S. Third Street. In these cases, the opinions of the State Historic Preservation Office and the Keeper of the National Register were aligned: if the buildings were eligible for the National Register at all, waiting until the "50 year mark" to pursue listing was unnecessary and arbitrary. In fact, at a 2007 workshop hosted by the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office, National Park Service historian Dan Vivian relayed to Missouri preparers of nominations that the practice of waiting for a property to reach 50 years of age before listing was based on myth and not actual Park service policy. Vivian urged us to nominate eligible buildings in accordance with National Register Criterion Consideration G -- a consideration that ensures that buildings less than 50 years old have attained exceptional significance worthy of inclusion in the Register.

Our knowledge of the eligibility of modern buildings has grown over the past three years, and the Bel Air Motel nomination allowed greater exploration of a context in which the DeVille plays a major role. As part of the Bel Air nomination, Karen Baxter and I conducted a survey of the mid-century modern resources of Lindell between Grand Avenue and Kingshighway. Lindell long was the main connection between downtown St. Louis and Clayton, and attracted commercial development as the city resumed developing itself after the slowdown of the Great Depression and World War II era. The aging mansions offered large lots well-suited for new commercial buildings.

In the Lindell survey area, 36 buildings were constructed and two others were re-clad in a building boom between 1945 and 1977. Of these, 34 were built in the styles of the Modern movement. Only one of these buildings has been demolished. The range of design quality, height, material use and stylistic influences is wide among these buildings, yet they have an indelible impact on Lindell. In my opinion, one can say that modern commercial architecture is as much a part of the definitive character of Lindell as is the earlier revival-style residential architecture.

Historically, the unique Mid-Century Modern grouping on Lindell is by far the city's most significant Modern commercial development. The development of Mid-Century Modern architecture on Lindell Boulevard precedes major downtown urban renewal projects that also used the style (including the iconic Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium). Lindell's modern buildings demonstrate that St. Louis after World War II was a city deftly remaking itself through bold modern buildings. The concentration includes very significant buildings to the development of Modern Movement architecture in St. Louis. Three of these buildings even achieved early recognition through inclusion in the 1967 edition of George McCue's The Building Art in St. Louis.

Not surprising, however, is the finding that most of the modern buildings on Lindell were designed by local architects or draftsman, many of little renown. There are strong supporting buildings and a few obvious architectural stars, like the Archdiocesan Chancery, the Lindell Terrace, the Engineers Club and the DeVille, designed by Charles Colbert of New Orleans (1963). Four of the modern buildings have out-of-town architects, but of those four, only Colbert has what can plainly be called a national reputation among architectural historians. While the Bel Air Motel is a fine building that merits National Register listing, the DeVille has greater significance through its more original design, form and massing as well as its association with Charles Colbert.

Demolition of the DeVille would result in the removal of one of Lindell's finest modern buildings, a clear negative urban design impact on one of the city's most prominent thoroughfares. So far, the only lost mid-century building on Lindell has been the Cinerama at 4218 Lindell. On Lindell, we have an unparalled nearly-intact document of our city's triumphant attempt to reclaim its future amid declining fortunes and suburban growth. Ironically, these buildings took the place of others that we all now recognize as worthy of preservation. Proposed demolition of the DeVille raises the issue of whether we are about to embark upon renewing the unsustainable cycle of demolition and replacement that this city infamously embraced in the late 20th century.

The Preservation Board can break the cycle by upholding the laws we developed in response to the demolition cycle that once plagued our city. Members should deny the proposed parking lot and demolition of the DeVille Motor Hotel since each action certainly fails to meet the criteria of the ordinances under which today's action will be taken.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Preservation Board Grants Preliminary Approval DeVille, North Grand Demolitions

Last night, the Preservation Board voted 3-2 to grant preliminary approval of a surface parking lot and demolition of the San Luis Apartments (formerly the DeVille Motor Hotel). I'm on my way out of town today so I will offer thoughts when I return. For now, I should point out that five out of nine Preservation Board members were present, while 20 citizens testified against demolition. While this ration is unusual, it shows the discrepancy between citizen interest and Preservation Board member interest in one of biggest urban design matters this year.

Alderwoman Lyda Krewson (D-28th) tipped the balance by coming out in favor of approval at the end of the meeting. Her remarks were a roller coaster ride of what side she would take, but when she came back to the issue of Archdiocese parking needs (politically germane, but beyond the legal scope of the ordinances governing Preservation Board action) hearts sank. Frankly, she might have done better for herself had she not spoken at all instead of aligning herself with the surface lot plan that even she admits is not appropriate for that corner.

While my colleagues will be writing about the DeVille over the next few days, I want to point out that another demolition was approved by the Preservation Board yesterday in a questionable manner. When I arrived at the Board meeting, I found preliminary review of the demolition of the commercial building at 3501-9 North Grand Avenue was on the agenda. This matter did not appear on the agenda posted online a week before the meeting, nor did it appear in any special notice sent within 24 hours of the start of the meeting.

The public, including residents of the area around the building (intersection of Grand and Hebert), would never have known this matter was on the Board agenda. Most people probably still don't.

Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr. (D-3rd), often a preservation-minded alderman, had the item placed on the agenda and was the official applicant. However, building owner Darryl Mitchell appeared to announce that he had already applied for a demolition permit and that he was the applicant. The Preservation Board changed the record to reflect this testimony, which may or may not be allowed under Preservation Board procedures.

Perhaps this matter is irrelevant given that the Board granted preliminary approval 4-0 and only two people from an audience of more than 40 testified, but I think the procedure followed was wrong. If an actual demolition permit was on the table, then it cannot be considered as a preliminary review. The Cultural Resources Office staff had not reviewed the permit yet, so the matter certainly was not an appeal.

Since this was a preliminary review, the Board can bring the matter back and give the demolition permit its appropriately-announced legal hearing. I hope that the Board does so.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

McEagle North Side Project in the News


Developer Paul McKee pushes city, state officials to grab stimulus funds - Bill Lambrecht, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 21.

And national:

The New Neighborhood - Miriam Moynihan, The Architect's Newspaper, June 18.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Daily DeVille #5

Architect Charles Colbert imparted to the DeVille Motor Hotel the geometric exuberance of the most interesting American modernism. There are many fine modern buildings on Lindell Boulevard that are derivative of the International Style, but there are a few truly original compositions. The DeVille is one of them.

Friday, June 19, 2009

One of the Central West End's Parking Lots

The 1.48-acre parking lot on the southeast corner of Euclid and Delmar is a great reason not to allow construction of another parking lot in the Central West End.

In the late 1970s, the non-profit Union-Sarah West Economic Development Corporation demolished a row of vacant commercial buildings here to build the lot under the guise that the parking lot was necessary to serve the renovated Euclid Plaza Building. Today, the lot sits vacant. Not only is the lot closed off to public use, it is never used at all. The parking lot is weedy and blocked off. The Roberts Companies have proposed new construction on the site, but nothing is current in the works.

While the fate of this lot and the fate of any lot built by the St. Louis Archdiocese cannot be compared -- the Archdiocese will be a good steward of a new parking lot, I am sure -- this lot raises a planning question. Does a neighborhood with so many underutilized surface parking lots at prime corners need another?

Planning Commission Overturns Two Preservation Board Decisions

On June 3, the Planning Commission unanimously adopted a resolution to grant demolition of the corner commercial building at 5286-98 Page Boulevard if owner Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church met several conditions. Those conditions are completion of permit-appropriate construction drawings for the proposed surface parking lot within 30 days and securing of construction financing within 90 days. If those dates are not met, the permit stands denied and the church will have to appeal the denial to the St. Louis Circuit Court.

How did the demolition permit end up at the Planning Commission, and why would that body approve demolition for a parking lot? In January 2008, the Preservation Board upheld Cultural Resources Office staff denial of the demolition permit by a vote of 5-2. Per city preservation law, Berean appealed this decision to the Planning Commission. The next step in the appeals process would be court. The Planning Commission has authority to review and "modify" decisions of the Preservation Board, which is what the June 3 decision is considered. (Note that the Planning Commission does not typically solicit or accept citizen testimony, although the public may attend its meetings.)

At the behest of the Planning Commission, the Berean church worked with Dale Ruthsatz at the St. Louis Development Corporation to improve the original plan for a parking lot. The new plan calls for "green" features such as permeable paving and landscaping. Parking entrances have been moved off of Page and Union and onto the alley, so that pedestrians on these streets won't be bothered by traffic. Eventually, the church wants to build a community center on the site. Planning Commission members expressed the sentiment that they wanted to exercise leverage over the parking lot design rather than let the matter go to court where the city might lose its case and its design review.

Back in April, the Planning Commission also overturned -- or, rather, modified -- the Preservation Board decision on a certain house at 2619-21 Hadley Street. The back story is slightly complicated. Suffice to say that the Haven of Grace, a shelter for homeless pregnant women, wanted the old house gone -- after it had resolved to rehabilitate it in order to secure a demolition permit for another historic building.

The Haven of Grace pursued demolition relentlessly. After the Preservation Board in August 2008 reaffirmed its original decision, the organization appealed to the Planning Commission. The legal strategy of the Haven of Grace was effective enough to lead to the Planning Commission's vote to overturn the Preservation Board decision, but not enough to do so without penalty. The Planning Commission stipulated that the Haven of Grace must pay $25,000 to city that will be used for building stabilization by the Cultural Resources Office.

While there are few chances for the city to secure $25,000 for stabilization, the Planning Commission action may be a dangerous precedent. My hope is that it is an isolated instance of such a questionable outcome. It's certainly better than a victory for demolition with no trade-off.

The house on Hadley Street is now gone. Watching the demolition, it was clear to me that the house was in much better condition that I had assumed. The floors looked sturdy, original millwork abounded and even the plaster walls looked to be in fair condition. An expenditure of $25,000 could have mothballed this house for better days.

The Planning Commission's compromises demonstrate the flaws in our current system or preservation review and planning. In fairness to the Planning Commission, the city lacks progressive ordinances here. I understand the inclination toward meting out compromise rather than take matter into lengthy circuit court battles. However, if the Preservation Board's decisions on these matters were made fairly and by wide margins of voting members, they should be upheld on appeal.

The Planning Commission should not feel trapped. The Preservation Board should not be rendered powerless because an applicant (or elected official) has the money and time to make things difficult for the city. We need better design ordinances and city agencies empowered to do more than just say "no." Ultimately, we need a better framework in which to make planning decisions.

Daily DeVille #4

Cultural Resources Office Director Kathleen Shea has now posted her recommendation to the Preservation Board for the demolition of the former DeVille Motor Hotel and its replacement by a parking lot. Shea seems ambivalent about the Archdiocese's proposal. Meanwhile, opposition to the demolition grows.

Since the DeVille's architect was Charles Colbert of New Orleans, the New Orleans architectural community is stirred up. The Board of Directors of the New Orleans chapter of the American Institute of Architects sent a plea to the St. Louis Preservation Board. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is also opposed. Long engaged in the struggle, Landmarks Association of St. Louis sent a note to members this week urging them to send letters to the Preservation Board and Alderwoman Lyda Krewson (D-28th).

Fliers are circulating around the Central West End with information about the demolition. Many Central West End residents oppose the demolition, while many also simply object to the proposal that a prominent corner in the city's poster neighborhood for urban living be occupied by a parking lot.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hogan Street, Then and Now

Here's a 1960 view of Hogan Street looking north from Madison in St. Louis Place. The density of brick houses is striking. Also notable is the open-work sandstone spire on St. Liborius Roman Catholic Church, which would be removed in 1965.

This is the same view today. The house at the corner and its stone wall remain, as does St. Liborius church. The brick houses and tenements are gone, replaced by new houses and (not visible here, but adjacent to the church) the New Roots Farm.

Daily DeVille #3

Demolition of the former DeVille Motor Hotel, 4483 Lindell Boulevard, will be on Monday's Preservation Board agenda. Read more here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

W. Philip Cotton, Jr. (1932-2009)

Today's passing of W. Philip Cotton, Jr. marks the end of an era. Phil -- born in Columbia, Missouri as William Philip Cotton, Jr. -- was one of St. Louis' early preservation pioneers. An architect by training, Phil became a tireless advocate for historic architecture out of the necessity of his times. After graduating from Princeton in 1954, Phil moved back to St. Louis in time for the urban renewal years.

In 1966, Phil wrote the National Historic Landmark nomination for the Wainwright Building. He also was active in efforts to get Lafayette Square designated as a Historic District in the National register of Historic Places. The 1969 listing of the Square helped prevent plans for a highway that would have destroyed the eastern end of the neighborhood. In this time, Phil was also an outspoken advocate for the reform of city tax laws that rewarded owner inaction in maintenance and discouraged investment.

In 1969, Phil was part of a group of architects, historians and planners that created Heritage/St. Louis. Heritage/St. Louis is one of the early advocates' greatest gifts to future preservationists: a citywide architectural survey conducted by volunteers between 1969 and 1976. Although documentation was simply a photograph, address and short assessment of buildings, the survey allowed for thousands of buildings to be documented -- many for the last time. Heritage/St. Louis' inventory of images from north St. Louis grows valuable every day. Sponsored by the Landmarks Association of St. Louis (on whose board Phil once served) and the City Plan Commission, Heritage St. Louis' daily operations were oversaw by Executive Director Cotton.

The aim of the project, a 500-page book on the city's architecture to be published in the bicentennial year, was never realized. However, the survey sheets -- now in the archives of Landmarks Association -- are a civic treasure. Alongside this work, Phil also saw that architectural drawings for many major St. Louis buildings were microfilmed. One of Phil's greatest contributions to preservation was his understanding of the value of thorough documentation.

Alongside this work in the city, Phil also was active in the county (producing the survey 100 Historic Buildings in St. Louis County in 1970) and the state of Missouri. In the mid 1970s, Phil Cotton drafted the outline of the statewide preservation organization later to become Missouri Preservation. He remain a counselor to that organization until his death.

Phil also championed the city's official landmark program, and nominated the first 35 sites, structures and buildings to receive that designation. The city landmark program granted more than symbolic value or financial aid for preservation, but legal safeguards. Knowing Phil, I am not surprised that he sought the highest protection for the landmarks he valued the most.

Of course, throughout his service to the city and state as an advocate, Phil was an active preservation architect. Among his many restoration projects are the Piper Palm House in Tower Grove Park, the Mark Twain boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri, the Collins House in Collinsville, Illinois, the Gittemeier House in Florissant, the Saline County Courthouse in Missouri and others. Not surprising, also, that Phil Cotton was an organist and aficionado of classical music whose knowledge was revered by his friends. Phil's interest in architecture seemed to stem from a larger concern about the legacy of culture we all share and must steward.

In recent years, Phil remained as persistent as ever -- even in the face of illness. He continued his service as a trustee of the Steedman Architectural Library of the St. Louis Public Library. He was named to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 2002. When I first met Phil a few years ago, he was hard at work on editing a reprint of John Albury Bryan's Lafayette Square, published in 2007. Dogged and principled, opinionated and generous, articulate and fastidious, Phil Cotton left us a legacy to admire and emulate.

(A copy of Phil's 1978 essay "Architectural Space of St. Louis" is online here.)

Springfield's State House Inn: Another Successful Mid-Century Motel Renovation

Photograph from the Historic Sites Commission of Springfield website.

The first motel in Springfield, Illinois was the State House Inn at 101 E. Adams Street in the heart of downtown. Built in 1961 and designed by Henry Newhouse, the State House Inn is a contemporary of St. Louis' threatened DeVille Motor Hotel.

However, the State House Inn is celebrated by its city and has received the benefit of a historically-sensitive renovation. In 2003, the motel reopened after a three-year, $8 million renovation. Today, the motel's guests enjoy lovely modern lodgings just a short walk from Springfield's major attractions as well as the Amtrak station.

Could the DeVille be the beneficiary of a similar renovation? While not downtown, the DeVille is a short walk from some of the city's attractions -- the Cathedral, Forest Park -- and near light rail that connects to our Greyhound/Amtrak station. The Central West End stays open later than downtown Springfield, too, with many restaurants and bars within a short walk of the motel. With the same applied imagination that the State House Inn received, the DeVille could be one of St. Louis' coolest places to stay.

Daily DeVille #2

Demolition of the former DeVille Motor Hotel, 4483 Lindell Boulevard, will be on Monday's Preservation Board agenda. Read more here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Daily DeVille #1

The DeVille Motor Hotel viewed from the corner of Taylor and Lindell. Oh mighty modern motel, how you soar!

Monday, June 15, 2009

One Cool Garage

Walking around Grafton recently, I noticed this garage on First Street. Our Lady of the Waters, what a fine building! The walls are built entirely out of structural clay tile, with a lovely tapestry of mixed colors. The corners and edges around the doors and windows are even bull-nosed. I have little else to add save that one does not find clay tile buildings like this often in the St. Louis region. Yay!

Help Stop a New Parking Lot on Lindell

Graphic by Kara Clark Holland.

The day has arrived: On next Monday, June 22, the St. Louis Preservation Board will consider the demolition of the DeVille Motor Hotel (recently the San Luis Apartments) at 4483 Lindell Boulevard. The Archdiocese of St. Louis has asked the Board to conduct a preliminary review of its plan to demolish the mid-century motel and build a surface parking lot. As a preliminary review, the issue is not tied to an actual demolition permit. However, if the Board grants preliminary review, the city's Cultural Resources Office must approve the demolition permit (after any stipulations placed on issuance have been met). If the preliminary review ends up with a denial, the Archdiocese will have to return to the Preservation Board with a new plan.

While some have said that this is a "done deal," that is not true. The Preservation Board can block the demolition next Monday. However, your help is needed -- the Board seeks direction not only from the applicant and preservation professionals, but from the wider public. Central West End residents especially should chime in.

I should also note that those who don't particularly like the DeVille but loathe the urban design travesty of a surface lot on Lindell Boulevard will be best served by board denial of the current proposal. Once the parking lot is approved, the idea of a new building on the site is at the Archdiocese's discretion. Don't hold your breath.

Please send your written comments, no matter how brief, to the Preservation Board by submitting an e-mail to Board Secretary Adonna Buford at BufordA@stlouiscity.com. You might consider copying your letter to Alderwoman Lyda Krewson (D-28th), who represents the DeVille site and whose leadership on this matter would be helpful.

You can also send a letter via postal mail to:

Preservation Board
c/o Cultural Resources Office
1015 Locust Street, Suite 1200
St. Louis, MO 63101

If you would like to present your comments in person, the Preservation Board meeting is at 4:00 P.M. on the 22nd at 1015 Locust, Suite 1200. There are several items on the agenda before the San Luis, so the meeting may be long.

Everything you need to know about the issue is online at No Parking Lot on Lindell!.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lost: The Mercantile Club

Recent discussion about development around the intersection of Seventh and Locust streets -- prompted by a plan to convert St. Louis Centre into a parking garage -- brings to mind one of that intersection's lost landmarks. The Mercantile Club stood at the southwest corner of that intersection, where now there is a parking lot.

The illustration here appeared in the Northwestern Architect in December 1891, showing the successful entry by Isaac S. Taylor in the Club design competition. Completed in 1892 according to the plan shown here, Taylor's design beat the work of other architects, including Louis Sullivan. (Had Sullivan won, Seventh Street would have been home to three of his works, with the Union Trust Building directly adjacent to the south.)

Taylor's design clearly was influenced by the Romanesque Revival architecture of H.H. Richardson as well as the architecture French Renaissance, which favored high-pitched roofs and turrets. The base of the building was Missouri granite, with brick above punctuated with terra cotta ornament.

The site had been occupied by the town home of Henry Shaw, which was relocated to a site on Tower Grove Avenue at the Missouri Botanical Garden. In 1891, the Mercantile Club was a rising and successful group consisting largely of downtown businessmen, and the site chosen for the club home was in the heart of members' commercial interests.

Later known as the Compton Building, the Mercantile Club fell in the early 1970s for the current surface lot.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Preservation of Police Headquarters

Picking up on the Downtown St. Louis Business blog's post: St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Daniel Isom wants an overhaul of police headquarters, and one option he will present to the Board of Police Commissioners is demolition of Police Headquarters and replacement with a new building. The other options are renovation (sensible) and relocation into new quarters (perhaps most expensive).

The Police Headquarters Building, built in 1927 and designed by Mauran, Russell & Crowell, is an integral part of our civic buildings group. Losses in the past twenty years of the Kiel Auditorium, Police court, Board of Elections, Jail and the Children's buildings have already diminished that group. The Headquarters and the adjacent Police Academy, built in 1928 and also designed by Mauran, Russell and Crowell, form a distinguished if austere pair.

The Police Headquarters is not a City Landmark, is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places and sits in a ward (the 7th) that lacks preservation review of demolition permits. All of those statuses should change, but National Register listing could be the most beneficial for the department to come up with a financially feasible plan for rehabilitation. Our ancestors had a knack for building great public buildings, and we have a knack for rehabbing them for original or new uses. Chief Isom and the Board of Police Commissioners can count on a lot of help -- and creativity -- preserving Police Headquarters.

A Hebert Street Story

Our story starts in the heat of the summer, 2007. Two one-story shotgun houses sit on a block of Hebert Street between 25th Street and Parnell in St. Louis Place. Both houses have sat side by side since 1895, when they were built. On the left, 2530 Hebert Street is occupied by a family. On the right, 2532 Hebert is boarded up and has been owned by a holding company called N & G Ventures since December 2005. The overgrowth is evident, with tall woody growth and mosquitoes presenting a nuisance to the family next door.

Draw back for a bigger picture, and we see that the two-story house to the east of the occupied house is also vacant and boarded. A company called MLK 3000 purchased that house in March 2007, requiring that its owner evict the tenants before the sale closed. We see that other buildings have fallen vacant and been demolished on this block, leaving vacant lots in varying degrees of maintenance.

The family living at 2530 Hebert Street have lived through tough times that got worse. In 2007, the identity of the holding company owner became public knowledge. McEagle Properties was buying land and buildings in north St. Louis for a large development. Details of the plan were unknown.

In May 2008, a string of arson hit this area of St. Louis Place. Ten vacant buildings went up in flames within a three day period. Police arrested a suspect who was released uncharged. No one has been charged with the arson. However, off the record officers say that the arsons were connected to the brick theft that has plagued north St. Louis for years and has escalated in St. Louis Place since 2006.

Perhaps it is not surprising that our family on Hebert Street sold their home to a McEagle holding company, Union Marin, in July 2008, for $75,000. Who else would have paid the family that much to relieve them of living on what had become a desolate block? They could have sold directly to McEagle for a decent price, or to one of the middle-man speculators who would have paid them $50,000 and sold to McEagle at $75,000.

Let's move forward a year and see what happened to the houses on Hebert Street.

Ah, the brick thieves struck the fine little homes! On May 25, 2009, not only was 2532 Hebert Street reduced to a foundation, but the house that had been occupied less than a year earlier was down to three walls. That's what happens when there are no eyes and ears on a block to watch out for criminals.

The brick thieves have been striking this area for years, often taking their bricks to nearby dealers around 25th and University streets. The thieves work in broad daylight and on weekends, and yet few ever get caught by police.

No matter -- this week the house at 2530 Hebert Street is down to fewer than two full walls. The scene is garish, with the well-painted front doors and their decorative surrounds leading into a wrecked home. The water runs in the basement, where a washing machine can be seen. The sagging floors are ready to collapse any day now.

Next door, the formerly-solid two-story house has now been hit. The thieves have struck this house since May 25, because there was no damage evident then. What sort of city lets this sort of crime happen so brazenly? That's a question for another story.

Perhaps none of this matters at all: on the slides that McEagle showed at a meeting on May 21, this block was part of a large "employment center" where many extant historic buildings were replaced by large new ones. If the city assents to this plan through a redevelopment ordinance, many other buildings will disappear. However, the shocking and illegal campaign of brick theft is not a fair or civilized way to prepare the development area.

I hope that our story ends with the arrest and conviction of the thieves who destroyed the house son Hebert as well as the dealers who fence brick knowing the illicit source. In fact, a happy end would have the larger penalties assessed against those who profit the most from brick theft -- not the poor guys with pick axes, but the people who sell the brick out of town to build the McMansions of the Sun Belt. Then, we would have an open conversation about historic preservation and the McEagle project, reach consensus, watch a great project get built and all would live happily ever after.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Six Ways to Remove a Freeway -- How About Seven?

Six Case Studies in Freeway Removal is a an excellent overview of successful efforts to eliminate interstate highways in urban areas that created barriers. While there are examples from large cities like San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver where one might expect progressive government, there are also studies from Milwaukee and Chattanooga where advocates for reconnecting the urban fabric faced greater odds.

There are constant themes in each project profiled in Six Case Studies in Freeway Removal: beautification and functionality were major goals of cities that removed freeways or freeway sections, spillover traffic was absorbed without major new congestion and freeway removal almost always lead to higher property values. St. Louis leaders contemplating the mess at the western edge of the Gateway Arch grounds ought to consider the findings of this study, and commission one aimed at the particular local problem that I-70 poses.

One of my first reactions to the case studies from other cities is that the I-70 problem is not that big. Taking the logical dimension of removal from the Poplar Street Bridge on the south to Cass Avenue on the north, one sees that we don't have as long or as vital a stretch of highway as other cities removed. What we will have in a few years, after the new river bridge opens, is a redundant second section of an interstate highway that disrupts the connection between downtown and the riverfront.

Is St. Louis ready to join the ranks of the cities that have found the leadership needed to think big? A few months ago, I might have been pessimistic. Now, I see that City Hall and many leaders are willing to take a major urban planning risk with McEagle Properties' NorthSide project. Putting aside the details of NorthSide, that project takes a leap of faith -- the scope is vast, the cost great and the potential for changing the central city tremendous. Part of the project even involves removing interstate highway infrastructure, the 22nd Street ramps connecting to Interstate 64. The project aims to capture southbound I-70 exit traffic and send it onto Tucker Boulevard, not eastward toward Memorial Drive. That flow could lessen traffic volume on the old I-70 and Memorial Drive.

Is there a connection between NorthSide and removal of I-70 downtown? Not yeat, but there is a binding tendency in each project: big-picture economic development planning. While NorthSide's proponent is its developer, proponents of removing I-70 are citizens who see tremendous development opportunity along a human-scaled street. The removal of I-70 would weave the riverfront back into downtown, and it would create acres of land ripe for transformative downtown development. Like NorthSide, the process could take decades, but the results would be redevelopment on a scale beyond our wildest dreams. Add in the Chouteau Greenway project, and in thirty years Downtown could be ringed not by bleak interstate, asphalt parking and towing lots and vacant buildings but by connections to exciting new projects and renewed old neighborhoods.

Other cities took the leap of faith needed to set this level of vision into motion. Will St. Louis?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Realizing the Potential of a Mid-Century Motel

On May 1, the National Park Service listed a mid-century motel on Lindell Boulevard in the National Register of Historic Places. This recognition went not to the much-celebrated, threatened DeVille Motor Hotel, but to its predecessor one block west, the former Bel Air Motel at 4630 Lindell Boulevard.

Along with the National Register listing, the Bel Air has received a $9 million renovation by the Roberts Companies and rebranding as the Hotel Indigo. Although not yet open, the spiffed-up modern motel has attracted a lot of positive attention. Central West End residents can't believe their eyes when they look at what was recently a run-down Best Western. Others have taken notice, too: last month, Landmarks Association of St. Louis bestowed upon the Roberts brothers one of the Most Enhanced Sites awards, further recognizing the mid-century renovation.

The motel's streamline frame has been cleaned and repainted a crisp white (the previous colors were black and pink), the obnoxious canopy rebuilt in a manner sympathetic with the motel's design and the interior updated. All in all, the Hotel Indigo is a shining, clean, cool testament to the power of imagination and rehabilitation. The place hasn't looked this great since opening day in 1958!

That opening day was a big event itself, since the Bel Air was the city's first motel. The motel (short for "motor hotel") style of lodging dated back to California in 1925. Motels before World War II tended to be "motor courts" like the celebrated Coral Court where rooms had separate exterior entrances and often private garages facing out on a court or central driveway. In St. Louis, a few of these courts were built in St. Louis County and in Illinois on Route 66. The city had its large, fine hotels with lodging, dinner and dancing all under one roof.

Developer Norman K. Probstein thought that the modern motel and the city hotel could be melded into a form new to St. Louis, the urban motel or motor lodge. In 1957, Probstein hired Wilburn McCormack to design a two-story motel for a site on Lindell. construction was underway that year. McCormack's design was spare and used the principles of the International style. Rooms were accessed both by interior hallway. Some rooms have balconies facing a courtyard. Parking was underneath the motel. There was an outside swimming pool and an inside restaurant, expanded later in 1961. After opening, the Bel Air had so much business that Probstein added a third floor (designed by Russell, Schwarz, Mullgardt & Van Hoefen) in 1959 to bring the motel to a grand total of 198 rooms. Later, Probstein opened a downtown Bel Air East at Fourth and Washington (now the Hampton Inn), and dubbed the original Bel Air the "Bel Air West."

Here is what the Bel Air looked like in 1979, with the Doctors Building visible in the background:

Over the years, the motel's luster was lost through changes in ownership, interior decoration and exterior painting and signage. The Bel Air lost more of its historic character than the DeVille Motor Hotel has, yet it retained more than enough beauty to attract the interest of a developer and get listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Roberts Companies purchased the motel in 2007 and worked with Killeen Studio Architects to develop a thoughtful, respectful rehabilitation plan. Karen Bode Baxter, Tim Maloney and I wrote the National Register of Historic Places nomination.

The exterior is back to near-original condition, with a few changes like the glass block entrance. Inside, where fewer details remained, the style is more contemporary than retro but a few historic elements can be found. One of the coolest features is the etched brick wall in a third floor suite:

One of the fundamental elements of the design of the Bel Air is the contrast between the white-painted concrete piers and caps and the red brick. The rehabilitation revives this stark and magnetic element on all sides. Here's a look at the rear courtyard:

The renewed Bel Air Motel shows us that mid-century motels can be rehabilitated beautifully and that developers are interested in tackling these buildings. While many of the city's modern motels are lost or reclad, those that are left could very well follow the path that the Roberts Companies has wonderfully shown us is possible.

(Contemporary photographs courtesy of the Roberts Companies.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Post-Dispatch Covers Urban Assets Early, And Hopefully Often

Tim Logan has a good article on Urban Assets LLC in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

If only the daily paper had published a story like this when Blairmont Associates LC et al started buying...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Community Benefits Agreement Discussed at NorthSide Meeting

Photograph by Jeff Vines.

Yesterday was the occasion of the latest City Affair, a monthly discussion forum on urban design issues. The discussion topic was the McEagle NorthSide project and how to build a consensus agenda for meaningful public involvement. The 42 people who attended included a cadre of Washington University students, residents of the project area, preservationists, architects and an editorial writer for the daily newspaper. Discussion was lively and thorough, focused largely on the problematic process through which the project's ordinances are being proposed. People wished that the open discussion format would have been great for the May 21 meeting at Central Baptist, and many expressed concern that there will be no more chances to ask questions of McEagle team members or the aldermen in a public setting before there is a redevelopment ordinance drafted.

Most in attendance agreed that while the NorthSide project was not ideal as proposed, it's not too late to create a role for public input that will make changes. Some expressed the sentiment that the scale of the project will doom it, or that the plans as presented by Mark Johnson of Civitas was a smokescreen for a larger north side project or commercial development. People talked about the benefits of form based zoning, preservation review, incremental sale of city-owned property to guarantee development occurs in each zone, and the need to create mechanisms for removing existing residents and businesses from the authority granted to the developer. The ideas of private transit and power districts as well as property assessments worried many people who attended, who thought that those are already functions of government. There was discussion of development inequity between north St. Louis and the rest of the city, and how much north St. Louis needs the amount of investment that McEagle proposes.

The meeting concluded with discussion of the merits of crafting a form-based zoning code and a community benefits agreement (CBA) to ensure high-quality development and a contract between all stakeholders in the project. The idea of a CBA, which could be inclusive of the goals of diverse stakeholders (including McEagle), gained a lot of positive feedback.

A CBA an expansion of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's idea of an advisory council for the project. It would also place all of the promises made by Paul J. McKee, Jr. and his team at the May 21 meeting into a real agreement between the developer and the project's many stakeholders. On May 21, McKee listed promises that included saving buildings that can be saved, keeping existing residents in their homes, not moving a single job out of the area, including minority-owned businesses in the project and building urban and respecting the street grid. While the audience at City Affair was critical of some aspects of the project, by and large people expressed support for these promises -- a critical starting point for consensus.

Kiel Opera House Will Be Under Construction Again

Photograph of a scale plaster model of the Kiel Opera House, courtesy of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation.

This morning, by a vote of 25-1 the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved the redevelopment plan for the Kiel Opera House proposed by SCP Worldwide and McEagle Properties. This action green-lights a swift rehabilitation plan that will have the grand opera house reopened by Christmas 2010. While the redevelopment terms may not be ideal, they are an improvement over the years of city inaction and political hostility to the opera house.

The Kiel Opera House opened in April 1934 as Municipal Auditorium and Opera House. The Municipal Auditorium was a true people's palace, designed to bring citizens in touch with art, music, culture and ideas. Designed by LaBeaume and Klein, the building combined classical formalism with modern, Art Deco sensibility -- a perfect balance of restraint and exuberance that captured the spirit of a growing city. The later namesake, Mayor Henry Kiel, strongly backed the construction of a tremendous public resource forsaken by a later generation. However, construction came about through a bold financing move -- inclusion in the $87 million series of bond issues voters approved in 1923. Construction was an extraordinary and visionary act by city government. (The full history is available in Lynn Josse's excellent National Register of Historic Places nomination for Kiel.)

The current rehabilitation plan should not have been extraordinary or visionary, because essentially Dave Checketts is simply reopening a facility for its original purpose. How that reopening ever became a controversial move is unfathomable, and rooted in a pervasive local mercantilism. (Read more in Steve Sagarra's "Personal Politics: Revitalization of the Kiel Opera House".)

Sure, Checketts' company and McEagle are putting up little of the total project cost of $73.5 million themselves, but the details of the financing are not surprising. The city will issue $29 million in bonds financed by the $1.5 million in entertainment taxes generated -- a deal that the St. Louis Cardinals already enjoy. (If the owners fail to generate those tax revenues, they are on the hook for the annual amount.) The use of historic rehab tax credits on the project is conventional. All in all, the deal is not a big risk for the city, and it invests the city government in the future of a public asset that the city has stewarded poorly for the past eighteen years.

For nearly two decades, Kiel Opera House has sat empty for no good reason. The facility is actually in good shape, with the interior largely intact and few significant maintenance problems. Civic leadership has been completely lacking. Kiel for the Performing Arts, Russ Carter, "Kiel Man" Ed Golterman and other activists kept the faith for years as two mayoral administrations studied various plans to gut the opera house to the private benefit of other parties. In fact it has taken a relative newcomer to city politics, Dave Checketts, to force the city to do something with the old people's palace. The tenacity of McEagle Properties -- subject of much of my recent writing -- is a good match for this project, and has certainly helped move the plan to reality.

It's unfathomable that the issue of competition would even be a major deterrent to reopening the Kiel, and that the owners of the Fox Theater would demand and obtain concessions regarding show booking and other details. If St. Louis cannot support two great live performance venues, we might as well hang up our claim to being a major city. Who wants to live in a one-theater town?

At any rate, in honor of the redevelopment, I am posting construction photographs from 1932 courtesy of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation.

Here's a shot from April 1932 showing the cleared area and the beginning of construction:

Later in 1932, Mayor Victor J. Miller and others set the cornerstone at 14th and Market streets:

Construction of the foundation was progressing by the November date of the cornerstone laying. The following photographs show the temporary stands erected for viewing the ceremony:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Happens to Hopmann Cornice?

Hopmann Cornice is a family-owned business located at 2573 Benton Street in St. Louis Place, between Parnell and Jefferson. Hopmann Cornice has been manufacturing tin and copper cornices, gutters and downspouts since 1880, and has been housed in the larger building here since 1883 (the house to the west was subsumed into the operation later).

Hopmann is an inspiration -- a company that has done the same thing for over 125 years, with few complaints from customers. Nowadays, a lot of Hopmann's work is repair and replacement of historic cornices. Sometimes Hopmann ends up replicating and repairing its own historic work.

While Hopmann's buildings aren't historically perfect (note the metal siding covering the second floor as well as the boarded windows), the facility is serviceable, tidy and historically living. In many ways, the Hopmann buildings are more historically correct under continuous use than they would be with a fancy rehabilitation (which they do not require).

Of course, Hopmann's buildings are far more likely to disappear than to be rehabilitated. Sensient to the west has bought out much of the land surrounding Hopmann for its large plant. Hopmann Cornice also is in the middle of McEagle's NorthSide project, and more precisely is located in the southern end of one of the project's planned industrial/commercial hubs. In fact, on the slide that McEagle showed at a meeting on May 21, this block of Benton Street is gone, and the Hopmann buildings along with it.

Hopmann's building also appears on the TIF application for the project that McEagle submitted to the city last week. However, according to McEagle, that list contained some properties that they do not wish to purchase and they will resubmit the property list soon.

Perhaps McEagle has no use for the Hopmann Cornice land, and perhaps it won't appear on the new list. Perhaps Hopmann Cornice will accept relocation. However, the project should defer to Hopmann and other long-time small businesses. These businesses are the existing job centers, generating work and city revenue. There is no need to displace good commercial stewards, and alderwomen April Ford-Griffin (D-5th) and Marlene Davis (D-19th) would do well to stand by these businesses. If they don't want to be on the list of needed properties, they should not have to be. In the case of Hopmann, we have a business that is not only a stable long-time business but one that does unique and important work. If anything, McEagle may want to get Hopmann's bids on the historic rehabilitation itemized in the sources and uses section of the TIF application. No one else will do the work quite like that!

Goldenrod Showboat Celebrates its Centennial

The day was beautiful, and our need for a trip away from the city strong. Looking for a destination, we settled on tracking down the Goldenrod Showboat on the Illinois River. After all, we are in the venerable entertainment vessel's 100th year. Using directions from a friend sent last year after he stumbled upon it and Google Earth (which showed it a few miles from where it actually lies), we got a general idea of the location in Kampsville, Illinois and set out.

Of course, the Goldenrod now sits outside of its first Kampsville location. After not finding the boat on the town's riverfront, we asked a couple walking down the road how to find it. The man knew where it was, gave directions and proceeded to offer the information that his aunt was a waitress and actress on the Goldenrod between 1945 and 1950. Even in this unlikely new home, the Goldenrod is part of a local's family heritage -- how 'bout that?

A few miles later, we spotted the Goldenrod moored to a barge on a section of overgrown riverfront. The boat was unmistakable, and the deterioration has not claimed much of its integrity. Everything is still there, down to the boat's recent (and somewhat unattractive) paint scheme. The paint is peeling, the wood drying and in some places rotting. Yet the Goldenrod survives unharmed in its sleepy Illinois berth.

A few years ago, this outcome was far from likely. After its itinerant early years (more on those later), the show boat became a permanently-moored restaurant on the St. Louis riverfront. In 1990, the City of St. Charles, which had purchased the boat in 1988, moved it to the St. Charles riverfront. The restaurant closed in 2001, and in 2003 the city decided to sell the boat. The St. Charles City Council accpeted bids, and sold it to a company headed by John Schwarz. (The Council rejected Bob Cassilly's bid to move it back to the St. Louis riverfront.) Schwarz moved the boat to Kampsville, after announcing plans to restore the vintage vessel.

However, in 2007, Randy Newingham and Shelia Prokuski, owners of the site where the boat was moored, sued Schwarz for unpaid mooring fees. In September 2007, Newingham threatened to sell all or part of the boat for scrap to cover his costs. One month later, a Calhoun County judge ordered an auction of the boat, and the court accepted Newingham and Prokuski's lone $50,000 bid. However, by the end of the year the couple had reached and agreement to sell the Goldenrod back to John Schwarz. Schwarz moved the boat north. In 2008, however, Judge Richard Greenleaf declared that the proper court papers for the auction had not been filed, throwing the ownership in doubt. To date, the ownership has not been cleared.

Hence, the Goldenrod Showboat sits lonely on the side of Illinois Highway 100, and as summer sets in, disappears behind stands of grasses and the leaves of riverbank trees. The sturdy boat is crumbling, but not very rapidly. Asphalt roof paper provides cover for much of the deck area, and the boat is locked up tight. Hopefully, this is not how the Goldenrod will end its days, even if this sad state is how the boat will spend its centennial year.

The path from birth has been convoluted, but most of the Goldenrod's days have been good ones. Pope Dock Company of Parkersburg, West Virginia built the boat in 1909 for businessman W.R. Markle. Originally, the boat was named Markle's New Showboat. Built for entertainment, the boat would travel the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and stop at town where it would dock. Patrons would come aboard for a night of music, comedy and other live entertainment. According to most accounts, the boat was the last showboat built for the Mississippi and Ohio river circuits. At 200 feet long and 43 feet wide, the boat was one of the largest showboats ever built. The seating capacity was 1,400.

Markle lost the boat through foreclosure in 1913, and the next owner renamed the vessel the Goldenrod Showboat. In 1922, Captain Bill Menke purchased the boat and implemented a 12-month touring schedule. His tenure would be long and fruitful. Menke moored the boat at Aspinwall, Pennsylvania for two consecutive summers, 1930 and 1931. In summer 1937, Menke brought his show palace to St. Louis for repairs but ended up permanently mooring it here. According to "That Landmark on the River," an article by Mary Duffe that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on December 10, 1968, the boat hosted stars like Red Skelton, Monte Blue, Kathy Nolan, Major Bowes and others during Menke's tenure. Menke reported that he had to ask patrons in southern towns to leave their firearms at the riverbank.

In 1963, Pierson and Franz purchased the Goldenrod Showboat. A few small fires led to major renovation, including a new steel hull. On Christmas Eve 1967, the National Park Service listed the Goldenrod Showboat as a National Historic Landmark, the highest federal distinction for a historic property. The National Historic Landmark nomination includes a short history of the boat, as well as the fact that the original hull is intact inside of the steel barge that now serves as the hull.

The National Historic Landmark nomination may be skimpy by today's standards of historic documentation, but the nomination's assertion of the great cultural significance of the Goldenrod remains true. This was one of the last and most lavish of the great river show boats, and it may be the only survivor of that type. Its future is important not only to St. Louis, its later home, but to the history of the 15 states the Goldenrod is known to have regularly visited between 1909 and 1937. The centennial of the boat should be a spur toward preservation. If the current owners (whoever they may be legally) cannot figure out how to bring the boat back to life, let's find the person who can.