We've Moved

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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Preservation and Richard Moe

This month's issue of Architect includes an article by Brad McKee entitled "Futures of the Past", which chronicles the evolution of the American preservation movement during the tenure of Richard Moe as President for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Moe will be retiring this year.

St. Louis played a role in Moe's tenure when Moe led the Trust to support demolition of the historic Century Building in downtown St. Louis. Many here may be most familiar with that aspect of a career that also has included a welcome de-centralization of the National Trust. Moe championed grassroots preservation efforts, and helped the Trust allocate resources to its Regional Offices and, through grants, to local organizations. One of the Trust's best initiatives under Moe is the Partners in the Field program, which provides matching funding for state and local preservation organizations to create field representatives. Missouri Preservation took advantage of that program, and created such a new position in 2008.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fireman's Training Tower

This fireman's training tower at the northeast corner of 18th and Broadway in East St. Louis once stood next to a station house. According to neighbors, the city government demolished the station in the 1990s but left the tower to stand. It's a quirky vestige of the once-proud firefighting days of East St. Louis. The sturdy concrete body and relative youth -- it dates to the 1950s -- ensure that it won't fall down anytime soon.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Senate Bill Introduced For Historic Schools

From Preservation Action:

On January 29th, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced S. 2970, the Rehabilitation of Historic Schools Act of 2010. A companion bill (H.R. 4133) was introduced in the House by Eric Cantor (R-VA) in November.

The bill would change a provision in the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit that currently restricts renovation of older public school buildings, limiting the ability of local governments to partner with private developers to rehabilitate schools.

"With municipalities across the country unable to fund school repairs and construction, this bill will provide needed assistance, partner local government with the private sector, create jobs, and give our children the facilities they need to learn and grow,” said Webb in his press release. "Good local schools and well-maintained public facilities are key indicators of where businesses may locate. This legislation strengthens our communities across the board."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Neon Signs at Antique Warehouse

On Sunday, February 21, the Antique Warehouse hosted a fundraiser for the St. Louis Sign Museum. Guests were able to see the amazing private collection at the Antique Warehouse, which includes numerous neon signs, banners, signs, vehicles, tractors, campers, sewing machines, cash registers, pinball machines and so many other things a list would fill a small book. Greg Rhomberg is the mad genius behind the Warehouse, and has been collecting for years. One of the hallmarks of Greg's work is thorough restoration of items that require it. In the case of neon signs, that means repainting and re-tubing. Here are a few photographs suggesting the scope of the Antiques Warehouse neon sign collection.

Yes, the Lake Forest Pastry Shop sign is alive and well!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Historic Districts In and (Mostly) Around Tower Grove East

Last night's Tower Grove East Neighborhood Association meeting included a presentation by Lynn Josse on the different types of historic districts, how they work and how they get created. Lynn distributed a flier that included the following map.

As the map shows, a large swath of Tower Grove East and the southern end of Fox Park are surrounded by districts but not included in any. All or part of 45 blocks in Tower Grove East have no historic district status, and thus no availability of rehabilitation tax credits being used all around south city.


I dig Citizens for Modern Transit's new ad.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Convenient Parking at Seventh and Locust

News about the conversion of St. Louis Centre into a parking garage for the "convenience" of tenants of One City Center brought to mind a page from the brochure published by the developers of Ambassador Building when the building opened in 1926. An entire page is devoted to the "convenient parking" near this building, although the definition of "convenient" allows for parking facilities over eight blocks away.

Monday, February 22, 2010

National Park Service Sponsors Look at Lost Riverfront Architecture

Photograph of St. Louis riverfront buildings from the Historic American Buildings Survey.

The nation's only urban national park, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial with the stunning Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen, has long been haunted by a shadow architectural history. To make way for one of the world's most full-realized modernist landscapes, St. Louis wrecked forty blocks of historic riverfront buildings. The significance of these buildings in American architectural history was such that in 1939, eminent architectural critic and historian Siegfried Gideon came to St. Louis to deliver a lecture on the doomed buildings. Gideon not only spoke about the unparalleled mass of cast-iron facades and storefronts found on the riverfront, he implored the city to change course and preserve the riverfront's commercial buildings.

Gideon's cry went unheeded, and plans to create a national memorial to westward expansion on the St. Louis riverfront progressed. Fortunately, the memorial's architectural achievement matched what was lost. Still, the memorial site has a psychological scar tissue to any who know what was lost there. The National Park Service has had some difficulty in interpreting the pre-memorial riverfront so that both the memorial and the prior riverfront architecture are suitably honored.

Thus, the current "Faces of the Riverfront" exhibit at the Old Courthouse is a welcome endeavor, and, given current events, quite timely and inspirational. (The exhibit runs through August 22, through the unveiling of designs by finalists in the current design competition.) The National Park Service gave artist Sheila Harris access to its extensive photographic record of riverfront buildings lost to build the memorial, and she painted in watercolor renderings of the documented buildings. Harris' paintings transform the hard, stoic documentation taken before the riverfront death knell into soft, humane snapshots of a still-living urban landscape.

Sheila Harris speaks at the exhibit's opening reception on February 14th.

For the next few months, visitors to the Old Courthouse will be greeted by an exhibit that properly honors the life of the riverfront, in the space once occupied by the courtroom where the Dred Scott trial unfolded. Superintendent Tom Bradley, staff historian Bob Moore and exhibits manager Caitlin McQuade deserve credit for working with Harris to create the exhibit, as does Sheila Harris's sister NiNi Harris (author of the new book Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch.)

Alongside the paintings are rarely-seen items from the Memorial's collection of salvaged portions of riverfront buildings. Those who have seen the items on permanent display in the Old Courthouse often wonder what else remains, and here are a few answers. The expected cast iron pieces are joined by a more obscure terra cotta piece. The only problem with Faces of the Riverfront is that the fragments and watercolors pique a visitor's interest in seeing the source photographs, of which none are on display save as wall-sized backdrops. Perhaps those photographs will be made public as part of a future Memorial project.

Bartle's Tax Credit Bill Didn't Get Out of Committee

From Anna Ginsburg, Staff Coordinator of the Missouri Coalition for Historic Preservation and Economic Development:

Senator Matt Bartle’s bill (SB 584) to sunset Missouri tax credits was heard Friday 2/19/10 before the Senate Government Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee. The language from Senator Crowell’s bill SB 728 was attached to SB 584 as an amendment. Crowell’s bill would put 40 Missouri tax credits including Historic’s under the annual budget appropriations process. The committee voted to not send the bill to the Senate Floor by a vote of 4 -3. Senators Days, Schmitt, Schoemyer and Schaffer voted to kill the bill. Senators Purgason, Lembke and Lager voted to pass the bill out.

A second bill introduced by Senator Crowell (SB 890) was heard the Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee. SB 890 places a one year moratorium on low income housing tax credits and Missouri Development Finance Board tax credits. Several other economic development bills have been introduced into this committee and they could be used as vehicles for attaching Crowell’s bill SB 728 or some varation.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Stanley Jones, Midtown Rehabber

Stanley Jones, owner of the Frederick Newton Judson House at 3733 Washington across the street from the Pulitzer, is quite a character. Currently serving as construction manager for the St. Louis Equity Fund and formerly owner of his own rehab company, Stan has worked on rehabbing buildings big and small all over the city. His own house has been his life's work for the past decade and a half, as if his day job was not enough to put him at the heart of renewing his city. Stan is a local treasure, so I was delighted to find this video on the Pulitzer's website, and wanted to share it immediately.

STAN from The Pulitzer on Vimeo.

Design Competition Disclaimer

This Thursday, the nine design teams entered in the Framing a Modern Masterpiece competition (better known as the "Arch design competition") held a public networking session at the Old Courthouse. The next day, one of the teams invited me to join, and I accepted.

I will be a member of the team including SOM, BIG, Hargreaves Associates, Jaume Plensa and URS. The next few months will be exciting and fast-paced, and I look forward to participating in the competition from inside. I remain stunned and grateful for the invitation!

Consequently, however, I will be unable to write about the process for the duration of the competition. If this blog is silent on the competition, there is a good excuse.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Grand Plan for Memorial Drive

Image by Jeremy Clagett for City to River.

Readers of Ecology of Absence know that this author has long favored a holistic change to the current configuration of Memorial Drive and I-70 at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The highway and the street together create a visual barrier and physical obstacle course between the downtown core and the lovely Arch grounds, and both need to be removed and replaced with a pedestrian-friendly at-grade thoroughfare.

Today, the citizen organization City to River launched its website that presents a thoughtful, creative approach toward building a new Memorial Drive. The analysis and imagery of the website come at a wonderful moment, right after the Framing a Modern Masterpiece design competition jury has chosen the nine design teams that will create full entries. May the design teams spend time contemplating the City to River proposal, and may the design competition's sponsors keep the door open for any team that may wish to embrace a radical way to renew the riverfront connection.

Who Are the Attorneys Involved in the Northside Trial?

This week's Riverfront Times features an excellent feature article by Nicholas Phillips, "North Side Rancor: A quartet of legal eagles aim to shoot down Paul McKee's grandiose vision to regenerate St. Louis" that is a good primer to this week's action at the Civil Courts. Phillips focuses on Eric Vickers' involvement but also gives readers a sense of who D.B. Amon, Bevis shock and Jim Schottel are and why they are involved in one of the most interesting development trials in recent years.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Old Factory in New Bridge Path Destroyed in Fire

This morning, a huge blaze destroyed the oldest building remaining at the historic Nixdorff-Krein Company factory located at the southwest corner of 9th and Howard Streets just north of downtown. The destroyed building was slated to be demolished as part of construction of the new Mississippi River Bridge project. The building dates to the 1880s and was one of the remaining mill method buildings of the north riverfront industrial corridor.

Founded in the 1850s, he Nixdorff-Krein Company once manufactured wagon parts and chain. Many companies on Howard Street west of Broadway were involved in wagon manufacturing in the 19th century. Later, the company switched to basketball and sports gear and continues to exist. A subsidiary of the company still owned the vacant buildings on Howard Street.

The 1903 Sanborn fire insurance map below shows the building (top right corner) that was destroyed today. Nixdorff-Krein added additional buildings throughout the 20th Century, and eventually expanded south by closing Mullanphy Street and connecting to the old Joseph Wangler Boiler and Sheet Metal Works.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Clemens House Moves Closer to Rehabilitation

Rendering courtesy of Robert Wood Realty.

Developer Robert Wood's $13 million plan to rehabilitate the long-beleaguered James Clemens House at 1849 Cass Avenue, illustrated above, is moving closer to reality. In collaboration with owner McEagle Properties, Wood proposes creating senior apartments in the historic mansion and dormitory wing, and a museum in the chapel wing.

The staff of the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC) has recommended that the Commission approve the project for a combination of a 4% low-income housing tax credit ($828,000), gap financing ($4.5 million) and tax-exempt bonds ($7 million). Wood had sought 9% credits. The MHDC will meet on February 19 to allocate credits. The City of St. Louis made the Clemens House project its #1 priority for the 9% credit.

Strange that the Clemens House, the building that first piqued preservationist outrage at McEagle's land assemblage, may become the first completed project of the NorthSide project? No. As we have been saying all along, the strongest factor in the NorthSide project is the existing fabric of the near north side.

That Donut Drive-In Sign

The animated neon sign at the Donut Drive-In, 6525 Chippewa Avenue in Lindenwood Park, returned to life on November 1, 2008. Donut Drive-In first opened in 1952 on what was then Route 66, the nation's "Mother Road." Many of the St. Louis stretch's neon signs have disappeared, but not this one.

The owners of the donut shop could not afford to restore the Route 66 icon on their own, but were able to complete restoration using a matching grant from the the Route 66 Corridor Program administered by the National Park Service. The Missouri Route 66 Association was instrumental in assisting the owners with the grant process.

Since its creation by the National Park Service in 2001, the Route 66 Corridor Program has helped allow property owners to act in the public interest when otherwise unable. (Perhaps the National Park Service needs a name that tells people that its noble work is not limited to preserving open space.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Crowell Bill Fails to Pass Committee

Today the Missouri Senate's Government Accountability Committee deadlocked in a 3-3 vote on SB728, the bill introduced by Senator Jason Crowell (R-Cape Girardeau) that would subject all tax credits to appropriation by the legislature. Among the credits included would be the state historic rehabilitation tax credit, already reduced by a cap on large projects placed by the legislature last year. Crowell will now attempt to attach his proposal through amendment to other bills.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rehabbing at McRee and Tower Grove

In 2004, the building at 4301 McRee Avenue (at Tower Grove Avenue) was vacant. The terra cotta wrapped double entrance surround at the corner attract many an eye due to its ornate pediments. The pediments feature a mortar and pestle at center that commemorates the building's original drug store tenant. Yet the rest of the building was rough, with all second floor windows missing. The Garden District Commission had acquired the building, and its future was unknown.

The unknown future arrived through architects Brent Crittenden and Sara Gibson, who purchased the building in 2006. In 2008, the building was rehabilitated as the home for Crittenden and Gibson's enterprises, Urban Improvement Construction and the Central Design Office.

Crittenden and Gibson have a vision for a reborn Tower Grove Avenue in McRee Town, and the corner pharmacy is not their only finished project. When neighborhood anchor Tower Grove Hardware closed -- and this writer was among those who did mourn the passing -- the duo purchased the two-story store building at 1624 Tower Grove Avenue across the street from their offices. Rehabilitation was complete by the end of summer 2009. The large storefront openings now are inviting with large windows, after having been covered in boards for decades. Both this building and the corner building at 4301 McRee Avenue are now contributing resources to the Liggett and Myers Historic District.

Hope for McRee Town

As part of the Garden District Commission's Botanical Heights project, the six eastern blocks of the McRee Town neighborhood bounded by 39th, DeTonty, Thurman and Folsom streets was nearly completely demolished. The project required a Memorandum of Agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office due to the extensive demolition. Part of the agreement entailed removing McRee Town's National Register of Historic Places listing, the Tiffany-Dundee Place Historic District, and then re-listing the Tiffany neighborhood east of 39th Street and McRee Town west of Thurman.

In 2007, the Garden District Commission hired Lynn Josse, the city's leading expert on creating urban historic districts, to undertake the difficult task of trying to re-list the severed section of McRee Town. However, the resulting Liggett and Myers Historic District not only included all remaining previously-listed buildings west of Thurman but ended up including several buildings never before listed. The district listing certainly is encouraging to efforts to create historic districts in similarly-compromised sections of the city.

Boundaries of the Liggett and Myers Historic District

Josse's district nomination establishes the significance of the former Liggett and Myers Tobacco plant (designed by Isaac Taylor and constructed starting in 1896) at the north end of the neighborhood, and ties many residents of the historic dwellings to the south to employment at Liggett and Myers.

The former Liggett and Myers Tobacco plant, looking northwest from Folsom Avenue.

The district includes a wide range of building types, with most buildings being residential buildings built between 1890 and 1930. There are a few storefront commercial buildings, a former synagogue and a booster station included as well. Some modern infill housing is also included, as well as a number of vacant lots. No form or style dominates. In short, this collection of buildings was not an easy one to list as a single, unitary historic district -- but not an impossible one.

Many gorgeous Craftsman bungalows line Lafayette Avenue; this view shows Lafayette just west of Klemm.

This row on Blaine Avenue between Thurman and Klemm combines a Romanesque cornice replete with consoles and a frieze and cast iron lintels over the entrances more typical of earlier styles.
McRee Avenue west of Thurman is lined with many two- and four-flats in the Craftsman style.

These industrial buildings on the west side of Tower Grove Avenue are included in the district.

This corner commercial building at the northeast corner of Blaine and Tower Grove avenues is a rehab opportunity.

Some of the oldest buildings in the district are on the north side of McRee Avenue west of Tower Grove.

The Queen Ann style house at 4343 McRee Avenue sits on a diagonal alley line (left) and thus has an irregular shape. The Garden District Commission owns the house.

This L-shaped Italianate house is located at 4235 Blaine Avenue.

The new historic district demonstrates a commitment by the Garden District to a careful strategy of rehabilitation for the remaining section of McRee Town. This approach would have worked east of Thurman, in my opinion, but that chance was lost. Thankfully, the rest of the historic neighborhood has regained its historic district status and, with it, a powerful boost to its future endurance.

St. Louis Makes National Trust Dozen Distinctive Destinations List; Needs Votes for Fan Favorite

Last week, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named St. Louis as one of its Dozen Distinctive Destinations. The annual list of historic cities recognizes historic preservation efforts and helps boost tourism.

From the announcement:

Since 2000, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Dozen Distinctive Destination program has recognized cities and towns that offer an authentic visitor experience by combining dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes and a strong commitment to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization. In each community, residents have joined together and taken action to protect their town’s character.

This year, St. Louis joins unique cities ranging from Bastrop, Texas to Sitka, Alaska. For the first time, the Trust has created the honor of a "Fan Favorite" determined through online voting. To read the full list and vote, see the Dozen Distinctive Destinations site.

St. Louis needs more votes to win!

A Positive Outcome on South Grand

Both sides of South Grand Avenue between Winnebago and Chippewa Avenues are much improved due to the diligence of concerned citizens taking effective action. Above is a photograph of the Grand South Senior Apartments at the southeast corner of Grand and Winnebago in Gravois Park, completed last year. The building introduces contemporary architecture, adds density and created several storefronts on the site of a mid-century Sears store demolished in 1994. This sort of infill is desirable and practical, and the design is not breathtaking. Why does it warrant an entire essay?

Well, this outcome was far from certain back in 2005. At that time, the site was owned by the Pyramid Companies, which had purchased the Sears site and adjacent city-owned land as part of the Keystone Place project. Although the redevelopment and blighting ordinances for the Keystone Place project outlined mixed-use moderate-density infill on the Sears site and forbade any drive-through commercial, Pyramid suddenly announced a bizarre request for a zoning variance to allow the relocation of the McDonald's franchise across the street. (The sordid details can be read at Urban Review.)

Pyramid proposed moving McDonald's to a new drive-through restaurant on the Sears site and acquiring the McDonald's site for construction of a Grand South Senior Apartments. Keystone Place residents had bought expensive new homes from Pyramid with the assurance of the redevelopment ordinance protected them from fast food across the alley. Gravois Park residents and Alderman Craig Schmid (D-20th) also were riled by the attempt to breach a redevelopment law sought by Pyramid itself just ten years prior.

What ensued was wonderful: neighborhood residents organized against the change to the existing ordinance, and were joined by supporters of sound urban planning from across the city, including young members of the Urban St. Louis Forum. Even though the boundary of his ward was the alley east of the Sears site, Alderman Schmid stood up for his constiuents' quality of life by opposing the proposed variance. Schmid attended a zoning adjustment hearing and spoke against the changes, eloquently explaining why development just ten feet outside of his ward affected his constituents' quality of life as much as anything ten feet inside. Alderwoman Jennifer Florida (D-15th), whose ward included the Sears site, chastised Schmid, but his remarks provided cover for her ultimate decision to not support the variance sought by Pyramid.

The rest became history: the citizens of Gravois Park won. But so did Pyramid, and the residents of Tower Grove South to the west. Pyramid built Grand South Senior Apartments following its original redevelopment ordinance (although by the time the first resident moved in, Pyramid was bankrupt), and the pesky McDonald's went out of business. At the end of 2009, the Mama Pho Vietnamese restauarant -- which does not serve food by drive through ordering -- opened in the old McDonald's. This block of South Grand now has a new building and a re-purposed existing building, and no annoying drive-though on either side.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Faces of the Riverfront" Exhibit Opens This Sunday

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial will host a special exhibit from St. Louis artist Sheila Harris at the Old Courthouse from Feb. 14 through Aug. 22, 2010. Created especially for the memorial, the exhibit consists of nearly 40 watercolor paintings of buildings that once stood on the Arch grounds. Harris' "portraits" of buildings depict structures from several generations of the city's architectural history illustrating how the landscape of the riverfront evolved over time.

The exhibit will launch with an artist’s reception on Sunday, February 14, at 2:00 p.m.

Didn't Quite Make It

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Motels in the City of St. Louis

The Winter 2009 issue of the Newsletter of the Society of Architectural Historians, Mississippi Valley Chapter contains my article "Motels in the City of St. Louis", an overview of the 16 motels built in the city between 1958 and 1971.

By the way, the chapter now has all of its newsletters available in PDF format on its website. The quarterly newsletters, which date back to 1997 and are edited by Esley Hamilton, are a treasure trove of well-researched articles on the architectural history of St. Louis and Missouri. At $10, chapter membership is almost unreasonably affordable; the newsletter alone is worth many times that amount!

Sigma-Aldrich Now Owns "The Brick" Building

Last fall, chemical giant Sigma-Aldrich Corporation purchased the historic building housing The Brick bar located at 3548 S. Broadway in Marine Villa. The bar quickly shuttered and the building, built in 1887 by brick maker Paul Oehler, is now vacant. So far, Sigma-Aldrich has not announced plans for the building, although speculation of eventual demolition has begun. The Sigma-Aldrich plan sprawls on the southeast side of this stretch of South Broadway. In recent years, the company has wrecked many buildings on Broadway across from the Lemp Brewery complex.

That the building is the work of a brick maker is no surprise. The masonry details of the corner building are unusual for a south city corner storefront. The strongly articulated piers, recessed planes, fine arches and what remains of the blind arcade on the top of the wall reward many viewings. The spandrels (areas under the windows) combine brick patterns and stucco in a manner that suggests later Arts and Crafts experimentation.

Oehler came to St. Louis from Germany in 1861, and quickly established one of south city's largest brick manufacturing operations. His yard was locate don nearby President Street. Among the founders of the Concordia Turners, Oehler was prosperous. Oehler bought the corner lot in 1885, and by the end of 1887 had completed the substantial three-story building and adjacent one-story feed store.

The cast iron storefront is impressive, with ornate columns and tapered headers. (The false doors and stained glass transoms in the openings are not original.)

Oehler's company did not make the transition from hand-made brick to hydraulic press production, and the business died with him. However, the family was quite well off from real estate investment alone. After Paul Oehler's death in 1891, widow Franziska Oehler constructed the three residences at 3542-46 South Broadway in 1893.

The row's staggered fronts articulate the bend that Broadway makes here. These are typical Romanesque residential buildings for their time. Handsome Roman arches create the window and door openings, ornamental brick friezes and cornices mark the top of the second floor and modest mansard roofs form the third floor. One of the brick dormers retains an original metal finial. The foundation fronts are trimmed in cut limestone. While the mansards are covered by later materials, the row recently was renovated by developer Ben Simms. The units are rentals -- nothing fancy, just good apartments with a lot of historic character.

The residences and the the corner building comprise the National Register of Historic Places listing for the Oehler Brick Buildings (8/1/2008), written by Andrew Weil and myself for Landmarks Association of St. Louis. The listing recognizes the unique origin of these buildings, which provide a strong anchor on a changing section of South Broadway. With the Lemp Brewery across the street, and the houses and storefronts of old Marine Villa surrounding Broadway, the solid forces of old industry and brick architecture are palpable here. Sigma-Aldrich can help keep it that way.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Old North, Infill and Historic Reference

Last week, residents of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood got a look at a preliminary site plan and renderings for 17 new homes to be built by Habitat for Humanity and five homes to be built by EcoUrban homes. As the plan above shows, these houses will be built on Dodier, Sullivan and Hebert streets between Blair and Florissant Avenue. All will take the place of vacant lots owned by the city's Land Reutilization Authority in a part of Old North adjacent to the neighborhood's most dense northern section.

Amid deep recession, this is great news. Old North will get its first-ever major wave of new construction not developed with the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group as a partner. This private market activity is essential for the neighborhood, and the timing is hopeful that even more development will arrive when the economy recovers. Most important, the new development expands homeownership without compromising the economic diversity of Old North.

Image courtesy of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group.

On top of the other positive aspects of the development, the design of the new Habitat homes is most certainly contemporary. (EcoUrban has yet to submit elevations.) The homes at left above are two-story, narrow, modified flounder houses. The others are basic modern flat-roofed, single-story homes. The houses share a design vocabulary, eschewing any historic reference or even material use. The lines are rectilinear and crisp. The cladding for all of the new houses will be concrete fiber board on the front sections in a jack-on-jack layout, with concrete weatherboard on the rear elevations. My one concern is that the deep recess of the entrances makes each home's connection with the sidewalk needlessly remote.

There is nothing about the designs that make them inappropriate to Old North. In fact, their juxtaposition with existing historic brick buildings will make for a pleasant realization of the neighborhood's aspirations of continued development. If Old North is to grow in the 21st century, it will grow with 21st century architecture. To date, save for the handful of Section 235 houses built there in the 1970s, neighborhood infill efforts there have relied on historical reference that has been pleasant if not progressive.

Historic reference is infill is not necessarily undesirable or inappropriate in Old North or other city neighborhoods. Perhaps the lack of solid materials and smart use of historic elements has soured referential infill to many critics and designers. There certainly are few examples of "faux" historic homes in the city worth their architectural salt. However, the anti-replica argument ignores the fact that the city's prized 19th century styles, such as Italianate or Second Empire, were in their heyday referencing European styles. Early 20th century styles like Georgian Revival or William B. Ittner's Jacobethan school style were attempts to renew and reinterpret older styles. Few today complain about the results.

Still, the Habitat and EcoUrban homes bring architectural sensibility that is of its own time. While many city neighborhoods have local historic district ordinances that forbid minimalist infill, Old North does not. The loss of historic fabric there makes any such design code unworkable. A neighborhood with more vacant lots than buildings cannot hold new construction to standards set by its buildings -- they will some day be outnumbered by new. The new buildings might as well be good work from their time, as the proposed buildings are. The remote possibility that someone might intelligently revive a historic style found within Old North, however, should not be foreclosed by current fashion.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Obama Proposes Eliminating Save America's Treasures and Preserve America Funding

President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget contains mixed news for historic preservation programs. Obama is proposing retaining at current levels the $46.5 million appropriation to State Historic Preservation Offices and the $8 million appropriate to Tribal Historic Preservation Offices. However, Obama proposes eliminating appropriations for two successful grant programs: Save America's Treasures ($25 million) and Preserve America ($3.175 million). These programs are funded through the federal Historic Preservation Fund (HPF).

Obama proposes no cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), despite the face that the $900 million annual authorization for the LWCF and the $150 million annual authorization for the HPF share the same source of funding: lease money from oil and gas drilling on the outer continental shelf. Neither have ever received their fully authorized appropriations. Surely our president knows that sustainability is as much about retaining existing buildings and neighborhoods as it is about preserving wilderness. After all, President Obama has championed weatherization funding and homeowner energy efficiency tax credits.

All of these proposals are subject to Congressional approval. Those who see the benefit of the preservation programs should contact their representatives immediately.

Buffalo Building Trustee Wants Negative Value Assessment

According to an article in The Buffalo News, a lawyer representing the trustee for the vacant Statler Towers in downtown Buffalo is asking the city to assess the building at a negative value:

Attorney Peter Allen Weinmann warned that if the city refuses to dramatically slash the assessed value of the Delaware Avenue building, it could further hinder efforts to develop the empty complex that towers over Niagara Square.

The trustee plans to demolish the building, an act that has already generated controversy. Asking the Buffalo Board of Assessment Review to assign a negative value to the building is an unprecedented act by a property owner in New York, and certainly unusual.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stone Church

The frame one-story commercial building at 4709 Natural Bridge Road went up in 1914, early in the heydey of the thoroughfare. Later, by 1965, a church congregation took over the building and added the projecting, crenellated stone entrance bay. In so doing, the congregation largely masked the modest building behind and created one of Natural Bridge's smallest architectural landmarks. Today, the building houses the Christian Servant Missionary Baptist Church.