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Friday, March 5, 2010

Fires Plague JeffVanderLou

Last week, on the way to a meeting in JeffVanderLou, I noticed a recently -- judging by scent -- fire-ravaged house on Bacon Street, shown here.

Then, early this week, I learned of a two-night wave of four fires. These fires hit vacant buildings in a small area. The buildings lost to the firebug share two characteristics: all were historic buildings in decent repair and all were vacant and unboarded. Since the location of all but one of these houses is within the footprint of McEagle's NorthSide project, the press has been quick to report these fires, and the loose tongues of conspiracy have been wagging.

The sad fact is that arson claims vacant buildings across north St. Louis every month, and mostly the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and its cloaked comments-section pundits take no notice. The culprits in many of these cases are never caught, let alone charged. Neighborhood residents, who know best, generally suspect brick thieves.

Arson on the near north side also is an old problem. In the 1960s, some white property owners fleeing the near north side torched their own homes to collect insurance money. As time moved on, and buildings went vacant, assorted firebugs, vandals, bored teenagers, firework-launching revelers and brick thieves have done more damage. In 1997, Old North St. Louis suffered a rash of arsons that included a massive fire at the five-story former Peters Shoe Company factory just south of Jackson Park (since demolished).

A building on the 1800 block of Bacon Street lost this week. I could not find a pre-fire photograph.

Then there are the fires that never happened. Neighborhood patrols, starting in the evening and sometimes going to the early morning, have kept many buildings standing. Rarely do neighborhoods get the assistance of owners of the vacant buildings, or the busy police department. Still, many people have taken action to prevent senseless destruction of their neighborhood fabric.

What gets lost through arson are indelible parts of city neighborhoods. The brick piles and half-collapsed buildings are easy picking for brick thieves, and not enticing enough to those who enjoy arson. Most targets are buildings in sound condition, that are stores of community wealth. Negligent ownership is definitely a root cause that must be addressed systematically, but the arsonists aren't going to be affected by scorn heaped upon McEagle or the Land Reutilization Authority.

Robbing neighborhoods of community wealth is a base crime. The police and the circuit attorney need to step up efforts to send neighborhood arsonists away for as long as statues allow.


Two houses on the 1900 block of Bacon Street before last week.

Two houses on the 1900 block of Bacon Street this week.

The house at 1721 N. Grand Avenue last week.

The house at 1721 N. Grand Avenue this week.


Two row houses at 3508-10 Cozens Avenue in 2007. The configuration is unique -- the two houses adjoin at the back with a center gangway leading to secondary entrances.

The two row houses this week. The house hit by fire is owned by McEagle.

8 comments:

Matt M. said...

Losing four historic houses all at once in JVL is devastating. I feel for the neighborhood and its residents.

Perhaps St. Louis should be looking to Detroit on this one? I believe Detroit's "Angels' Night" to preempt the arsonists' national holiday of Devil's Night has been very successful and not just on that one day of the year. A lot of neighborhoods have banded together to do some informal policing; the city puts up signs with eyes indicating that the property is being watched.

I almost didn't want to look at this post. North Grand and Bacon are losing critical historic buildings without the "help" of fire. Such a shame. I hope the perpetrators are captured.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Matt M. I drove by the home on N. Grand often for work and thought how well-preserved it was for the neighborhood. I know that those who generally set the fires have no idea what is being lost, but it is obvious from the in-depth post here that much, indeed, is lost.

James said...

Prometheus is weeping upside down tears. What a colossal bummer.

Eric said...

What are the odds of any of these homes being saved?

I want to puke.

ike said...

The chances of saving these houses are great. I personally took two almost identical to the ones in the 1900 block of bacon and saved them. These houses date back to 1884 and 1886. Its amazing how the houses are looked at as trash , just because they aren't in the well to do areas of the city.
I carried mail in Lafayette Square in the early 90's. The houses were not what they are today.

Hyde Park / ONSL is another frowned upon area. Take a look at it. Can you say Sister Soulard? Instead of pissing on the pot all of the time take a little time to polish it first. You'll see the beauty.

Sheila Rendon said...

I LIKE IKE

Matt M. said...

Ike--

I think readers of this blog see the beauty. We love great, historic architecture whether it's in a tony or a tattered neighborhood.

Ben Mazanec said...

I am a fire photographer in the city and Headed to the JVL when i heard the fire on Cozens. I took one picture and I noticed the fire at Cote Briliante. Then literally right behind us on bacon, another! it was the craziest thing i have seen in awhile. I have great pride for my city. So, i like to patrol as often as i can. There are alot of nice buildings here and we should all work hard to preserve them! check out my site for the "during" pictures from the march 3rd fires. Also, check out www.youtube.com/bmazanec for videos.