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Monday, January 4, 2010

Two Buildings in the Fairgrounds Neighborhood

This solid corner building anchors the northwest corner of the intersection of Pleasant Street and Lee Avenue in the Fairgrounds neighborhood. The composition is a classic example of the local Romanesque Revival vernacular, with striking use of rounded corner, rusticated limestone, ornamental pressed bricks and Roman arches. Vacant since 2007, the building recently had a collapse of the outer wythes of a chimney of the Lee Avenue elevation.

This collapse is no big deal. The building's walls are otherwise straight and sound. However, instead of forcing owner Timothy Williams to make the needed repairs, or doing the work and billing him, the city's Building Division condemned the building for demolition on August 28, 2009.

The building is located in the city's 3rd ward, which has preservation review, so demolition is not a foregone conclusion. Still, why can't the Building Division deal with a small problem like this without resorting to condemnation?

Meanwhile, the small house at 4160 Grove Street sits vacant and for sale. Only two other buildings stand on this block face, and they are located far down the block. This little house is surrounded by vacant lots, many of which are owned by the same owner. This is an urban farmstead in the making! The phone number on the house is 732-5080.


Eric said...

Can anything be done to save these? Especially the corner one?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. Someone has to show these buildings some love and attention. Someone... But who?

You could buy it, Eric, and make it happen.Why not move in? Or someone else could. Hard reality is that without a user, a vacant building sits and rots. No one pays to maintain a building with no planned use, and if there's one thing the city has too many of, it's vacant, unloved buildings.

People talk about "blog" and "online" activism. None of these things save buildings. Sweat, money, and investment does. Commitment does. Blogs, like this one, can shine light on the world. People have to act on the information presented to them.

samizdat said...

"Still, why can't the Building Division deal with a small problem like this without resorting to condemnation?" Ya know, there's a story there. 'Tis a shame that newspapers are being driven out of business in our country. Is the Building Division that corrupt, or that stupid? Or a combination of both? Only a thorough investigation could get to the heart of that question.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, there is a story there. It gets to the heart of St. Louis community affairs.

A lot of people could answer the question. Aldermen. Building division officials. NSOs. Neighbors. Developers. Preservationists. And more.

I wonder how many different answers you'd get?

One typical response is that since there is only a limited amount of funding for such instances, demolitions for public safety outrank building stabilization efforts in terms of need.

Given that this building is collapsing over a sidewalk, perhaps the answer is: demolition.

samizdat said...

I would hardly call this a collapse. Spalling, perhaps. Willfull neglect? Absolutely. Quite different from collapse. Hire a half-decent "brick guy" for a couple grand or three, and boom, no "collapse". The Building Div. simply encourages this behavior by issuing these knee-jerk demo permits, based on what? Their engineering experience? HA! What do they have in the office, one maaaybe two, actual structural engineers, if any? The actual inspectors are mostly former contractors or tradespeople. Hardly the persons qualified to judge the structural integrity of this or any other building. If an engineer in that office pronounced this building to be structurally unsound, then I would like to see the particulars surrounding their license. This building is no less sound than my own house. If this happened to my house, do ya' think I'd let the City force me to tear down my home? Uh, no. This is a case of malfeasance or incompetence. Neither of which inspire confidence in the B.D. There's only one inspector who I know whose opinion I respect, but I ain't sayin'.

samizdat said...

Hmm, I think the corner building had a conical slate roof at one time. Just a hunch.

Michael R. Allen said...


Collapse or spall, it's sure no emergency. Just a repair needed.

Ester Estero said...

Preserving this building is really a good choice.

Rick Bonasch said...


That is a handsome building. The third ward has some active community and nonprofit development groups.

Fairground is not a national register historic district area. If this building could be packaged into a redevelopment project with financing, it could be saved.

History in St. Louis is we save buildings as part of projects, not through interim stabilization. Given the exterior failure of the building, there's no telling what shape the interior or roof are in.

There's a good chance this would be a high cost rehab in a low market/weak demand area. The only way to fill that economic gap between development cost and market value is through some form of public subsidy.

So it then becomes a question of public policy and priority of whether this building receives public assistance or some other, perhaps more ready to proceed, project.