We've Moved

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

Friday, December 29, 2006

Good Idea from Grand Center

While it may seem like a small act, Grand Center's effort to light vacant storefronts windows along Grand Avenue between Olive and Delmar is a good model for dealing with vacant space. Here, the redevelopment corporation used colored lights and paper to give empty spaces a pleasing night-time glow. The effect is helpful in an area known for its dead sidewalk life and plethora of empty storefronts.

Other neighborhoods should consider the big effect that lighting, posters, window displays or other decoration can provide. While waiting for development, there's no reason that vacant spaces have to be lifeless. After all, a small first step toward drawing attention to a space could lead to the end result of a signed lease or completed rehab. Every space from a storefront to an entire house can be decorated, and I encourage readers to urge their neighborhood groups to implement a decoration plan or, better yet, implement one of their own (no spray paint, please).

Now, if Grand Center could get St. Louis University to encourage its students to get off campus for lunch...

"Faith, family, desire to build"

Faith, family, desire to build drive Paul J. McKee, the chief executive officer of McEagle Properties Inc. - Shane Anthony (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 28)

The article doesn't mention McKee's connections to the Blairmont scheme that has destabilized the near northside of the city. Then again, McKee denies any connection, so perhaps there is none.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Preservation Board Meets and Adjourns

Just for the record: The Preservation Board did meet this morning to statisfy the statutory requirement for a monthly meeting. Chairman Richard Callow and member Luis Porrello were the only members in attendance, and they wasted no time in adjourning the meeting.

Your intrepid editors were the only citizen observers present for the brief meeting, proving that either we don't have anything better to do or that we are very vigilant.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Flop House

Kudos to Kira and Gordon McKinney, who earlier this month hosted the grand opening at what is probably the first art gallery in Old North St. Louis in this century, if not ever. The Flop House at 13th and Hebert opened on December 8 to a ragtag assembly of young people, many of whom had not ever visited the neighborhood before. On display at the opening -- again, an Old North milestone -- were charcoal-on-paper works, accompanied by the requisite snacks and Stag beer. (Incidentally, Stag Beer was brewed for awhile in the 1950s by the Griesidieck family at the nearby Hyde Park Brewery at Florissant and Salisbury avenues.)

Needless to say, rehab at the Flop House is not yet complete, and it did not have heat for the chilly opening night. Not that such limitations matter to Kira and Gordon or the attendees. In true neighborhood fashion, someone had an idea and didn't let trivialities stand in the way of making it happen. This spirit has helped Old North's older generations overcome great troubles, and in newer residents it's helping generate a vibrant cultural energy that's infectious.

Keep watch for great things at the Flop House in the new year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Preservation Board Meets Thursday on Rather Short Notice

The following note now appears on the city's Preservation Board website:

The St. Louis Preservation Board will meet on December 28, 2006 at 10:00 A.M. in the Cultural Resources Office of the Planning and Urban Design Agency, 1015 Locust Street, Suite 1100.

NOTE:This internet posting is not the official posting of this notice.The official posting of notice is the physical copy displayed in the main lobby of our building at 1015 Locust Street and also at the Planning and Urban Design Agency offices on the 11th Floor.

The website lists no agenda items.

Earlier this month, the Preservation Board website stated that there would not be a December meeting due to the holidays.

I wonder what will be discussed Thursday. Only one way to find out...

One City Center: The Future of St. Louis?

Backing a tax increment financing loan structure for private benefit with a city's general revenues is risky business. That the city of St. Louis is now obligated for $28 million toward the acquisition of the One City Center office building by the Pyramid Companies is absurd. Here, we have a developer that has just agreed to take on the long-needed redevelopment of St. Louis Centre and claims -- out of the blue, long after announcing that project -- that such redevelopment will be hindered if the company cannot also acquire the One City Center building enveloped by St. Louis Centre. That makes some sense, although claiming necessity is a hearty exaggeration. What's worse is that this big-time development company, with plenty of incomplete projects, made the claim that it could not afford to purchase the ailing office building itself -- and then asked for this almost-unprecedented TIF.

How can anyone trust a company that owns so much downtown real estate yet expects city government to buy it an expensive office building?

Unfortunately, Pyramid isn't the least trustworthy party. All the Slay administration and the aldermen could have done was tell Pyramid "no." Not this deal, not this time, not that amount. After all, the TIF was based on a hyper-inflated appraisal price that values the building at $26 million. Slay should have demanded a new appraisal.

Instead, our mayor jumps in fully supporting the TIF. Never mind that the city's population is far from stable and that the city is struggling to maintain a decent level of city services with current revenues. There is no guarantee that the city's revenue will rise over the next decade. As the mayor of a city with a delicate but potentially bright future, Slay should have opposed the TIF. The last TIF backed by the city's general revenue was for the failed St. Louis Marketplace project on Manchester Road, the tarnished trophy of former Mayor Vince Schoemehl. That TIF is now a drag on the city's budget. Why create a second?

On December 13, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment voted 2-1 in favor of the TIF agreement. Comptroller Darlene Green stood up for fiscal prudence and opposed the TIF, while Aldermanic President Jim Shrewsbury quietly voted to support a TIF many would-be allies strongly opposed. Of course, Shrewsbury may have caved to the pressure of opposition in the upcoming race for his office. The Board of Aldermen followed with a 26-2 vote for the TIF agreement; only Aldermen Stephen Conway (D-8th) and Fred Heitert (R-12th) opposed the bill.

Thus begins the tenuous tie between a real estate venture and the public good of a metropolitan city. All citizens are indentured to John Steffen and his company's ability to turn this office building around. Perhaps Pyramid's ability is a sure bet, but the revenue of a city government is not betting money. With a diminished and still-recovering population base, continuing hostility from wealthy surburbanites, a relatively low stature among large American cities, decimated public schools and a crime rate that may be rising, St. Louis is not in a position to gamble with its wealth. Conservation, not dissipation, should be the guiding principle of those who lord over the city government.

For those who think the future can't be anything but great, consider why One City Center has become an albatross: Anheuser-Busch recently relocated all of its employees in the building to Sunset Hills. Amid the bully talk of a downtown whose prospects seem limitless, one of the largest regional employers voted against those prospects. That should be cause of worry -- as well as consternation against Anheuser-Busch.

The trouble with tying our city's general revenue to this real estate venture is that we won't know if it's a good or bad thing for decades. Then, if it's bad, there won't be much the city can do except make huge payments into the TIF while cutting city services accordingly. Do Slay, Shrewsbury and the aldermen want to face a future where the city may have to cut services further? I suppose some of them may be banking on a future where city residents are wealthier and need less from their lean, libertarian city government. The rest of us have reason for much worry.

Church Burns on Christmas Eve

Blaze destroys church in St. Louis - David Hunn and Jake Wagman (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 26)

Resurrection Lutheran Church at West Florissant and Fair avenues near O'Fallon Park lies in ruin after Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Recipe for Your Own Blairmont Company Name

Find two or three street names within the Fifth Ward. Cobble them together in an unexpected way and tack on a "Venturers" or "Partners" or "Associates" label to give the name sobriety. Get CT Corporation System to register the name as an LC or LLC (and make sure there is an accompanying mirror company), and use it to buy property within boundaries of I-70 on the east, Delmar on the south, Grand on the west, and Natural Bridge/Branch on the north. Kudos if your property is adjacent to city-owned land or an RHCDA development project. Double kudos if you buy your land from the Board of Education, the Public Administrator or the Sheriff at a tax sale. Triple kudos if your purchase lowers property values and destabilizes a part of a neighborhood where you want to buy more parcels. If you buy a building and it becomes a crack house, give yourself a gold star. If you actually ever develop the property, get the mayor to give you a gold star and a TIF.

Here are some possible names:

Branch + Knapp = Brapp Venturers LLC.

Stoddard + Leffingwell + Elliott = Stolefiott Associates LC.

Dayton + Gamble = Dayble Investors LLC.

Howard + Knapp + Helen = Hownhel Associates LC.

Dodier + Sullivan + 23rd = Ervan 23 Investment Ventures LC.

And so forth.

Try your hand and leave your names in the comments section.

Friday, December 22, 2006

It Happens Everywhere

Copper thief sets DeSoto building ablaze - Harry Levins (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 22)

While the article's subject is noteworthy itself, check out this sentence: "The theft of copper wire, pipes and tubing is common in rundown sections of St. Louis."

This is partially true, but only because metal theft happens in every part of St. Louis, from "rundown" sections with vacant buildings to rehab zones to stable neighborhoods like the Central West End.

The again, the Post-Dispatch has long abandoned any pretense that it's an accurate chronicle of the city of St. Louis.

Our City

Such architectural beauty and refined historic masonry as found in St. Louis is not easy to find in other American cities. We who dwell here in the city are surrounded by wonderful sights free for the intake. On a walk to work, or a drive to the grocery store, we pass hundreds of buildings that uplift our aesthetic sensibilities. Unlike new, glamorous architecture, which unfortunately is segregated in the wealthier parts of St. Louis, the historic architecture abounds everywhere people live.

Such a cultural resource needs to good stewardship, and often we fail to provide that. As we conclude one year and start another, we hould reflect upon what we all can do to steward one of the world's most important architectural collections: the city of St. Louis.

Photo: Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings, 1201 Cass Avenue.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sheridan Place

The Blairmont family is using a new name for acquisitions: Sheridan Place LC, likely named for Sheridan Avenue which runs through the near northside of the city.

Sheridan Place LC was incorporated on March 24, 2006 by the CT Corporation System. Its first deed was filed October 30, 2006, three days after this blog reported on the then-latest Blairmont entity to be used for acquisitions, Dodier Investors LLC.

On the first few deeds filed, Sheridan Place LC listed its address at Eagle Realty Company's old address, 721 Olive Street Suite 920. On the deeds in type is reported the name Roberta Defiore as manager, but her name is crossed out and the name Bridget G. Calcaterra is handwritten. Calcaterra signed the deeds. Later deeds use a Brentwood address for the company's mailing address but show Calcaterra's name in print.

If the name Bridget Calcaterra seems familiar to some of you, it's probably because she recently served as Deputy Director of the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) of the City of St. Louis. She was also director of Operation Impact, a city program designed to help neighborhoods get privately-owned nuisance properties into the hands of the LRA which then seeks development projects for those properties. Readers can draw their own conclusions.

As an aside, the Blairmont scheme is growing to such epic proportions that I think it's high time that the parties responsible begin to engage the affected communities. If the end goal is a massive development project, they will need allies here -- assuming we all get to stay. If a Blairmont agent is reading, consider the smallest gesture of contact -- a call to the head of a neighborhood group or a meeting with an alderperson. Those of us living in the near northside don't want to stop something good -- but we don't have any reason to believe that what you are proposing is good. Dialogue might resolve the fears and animosity brewing here, and cut my sarcasm in half (maybe).

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pruitt-Igoe Site the Key to Blairmont's Scheme?

If one studies the map of Blairmont holdings that we posted last month, an interersting picture emerges. Besides other concentrations that I have noted, all of the holdings seem to center on one site: the vacant site of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project.

All of the holdings fan out from that location, a city-owned megaparcel frequently discussed as the nexus of new development on the near northside. Recall that nearly ten years ago the administration of Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. embraced a plan to build an 18-hole golf course surrounded by suburban-style housing, using the Pruitt-Igoe site and much of the St. Louis Place neighborhood.

Jump forward to 1999-2000, and one may remember the Fifth Ward Land Use Plan created by Schweyte Architects and vigorously opposed by architects and preservationists, including the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, Landmarks Association and former St. Louis Place resident Robert Myers. That plan called for the demolition of hundreds of buildings located in the footprint in which Blairmont has been purchasing its holdings. The Pruitt-Igoe site was key to the recommendations of that plan, which seems to be one guide to Blairmont's scope of activities.

Is the Pruitt-Igoe site key to whatever project Blairmont might be concocting? It's hard to say without word from the company's representatives. But it seems that acquisition of that site is essential to any development Blairmont may be planning.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pub Def's thoughts on the crime stats; my thoughts on Pub Def's thoughts.

Antonio French wrote a very good post on crime statistics, and what it's like to read the machine's spin on our Most Dangerous City title, while one is living in what continues to be a rough neighborhood with insufficient police coverage: Even More "Dangerous" This Year

I have to say, all this crime ranking talk has me feeling conflicted. On one hand, I feel pretty safe where I live, I generally feel okay walking down the street, and I understand that both murder and rape are usually committed by someone the victim knows (i.e., not usually against a random person walking down the street). I also understand that this whole sour discussion has lead to a lot of City-bashing and shallow finger-pointing, to the point that I have actually lost count of how many people have recently told me to my face that it's "just because of the North Side" in a tone that suggested that it was somehow the fault of all of us who live in North City. Um, no. My street ain't perfect but I still love it, and I am still amazed at how great a lot of my CITY neighbors up here on the NORTH SIDE are. In fact, tomorrow morning, me and one of my NORTH SIDE neighbors from the CITY are going out to breakfast at a diner on the NORTH SIDE and I am going to eat a huge waffle--sounds like we're all doing crime 24/7 up here, don't it?

On the other hand, though, there are certain levels on which I don't feel safe. I still think a lot about things that I saw, heard about, and experienced when I lived in Adams Grove, and how disempowering and frustrating it was to try to, you know, actually get something to happen to change it. I remember a lot of different things, but for some reason the thing that's coming back to me as I write this entry is the time that I called the cops because there was a man holding a gun to the head of a woman whom he was dragging down the street directly in front of our apartment building. I said please hurry, he's got a gun to her head. Ten whole minutes later, a police van rolled by the area and didn't even stop to look around. It just kept driving.

To be fair, that was last year. But earlier this year, a similar incident happened. I was out with a group of neighbors one evening, and we heard nine shots. We called the police. A car came by a few minutes later, hastily shined its spotlight down the block where we'd said it happened without even driving down that block, and then drove away. There was a large group of us concerned citizen types assembled under a streetlight in plain view nearby, but the police in that car didn't even come over to ask us if we'd seen anything. It just drove off. I've spent time in a lot of different places in my life and heard gunshots in several of those places, but somehow seeing that police car not even drive down the block that we told them the shots came from was much scarier than almost any shots I've ever heard before.

Also, this year, a woman I know was attacked and nearly raped in her apartment, and as was reported in the Arch City Chronicle, she had a horrendously difficult time getting the officer who responded to her call to take the crime seriously. This came after the Post-Dispatch report about how the SLPD had fudged its rape statistics by using memos instead of real reports, and after Slay blogged his defense of and support for (and spin on) Mokwa's performance in that area. Honestly, I try not to think about this whole thing too much, because it makes me very, very upset. Despite my friend's outstanding survivorship and resilience, part of me is still very sad that this could possibly happen to her, and is very sad for all the people in my city who've gone through the same but who didn't have the strength that she did to get through it. And as a person who wants firmly to live the rest of my life in St. Louis City, and as a person who has survived rape before, I can't help but wonder--if, god forbid, it ever happens again, will the City police take it seriously? I don't know, but this morning that was on my mind when I read Mokwa's comments on the P-D site that he thinks the rape number went up this year because more rapes are being reported now. I can't even begin to tackle that one without using the words "what the hell" and a lot of words much more acidic than that, so I'm not going to even try it. Suffice it to say, reading that made me feel no better about something that's made me feel unsafe. Mind you, I don't think I'm going to have to survive rape again, but it saddens and sickens me to think that the justice system of the City to which I give so much might not give a shit about me if I did.

I don't submit this as a great essay or as thoroughly thought out, scientific truth, but these are just a few things that have been on my mind about crime in this City lately, and Antonio's blog entry got me thinking about them again. While this blog entry is neither rocket science nor brain surgery, the general gut feeling that residents get about the safety of the place where they live is often a big determining factor about whether or not they decide to keep living there, and that's something worth thinking about. One of the things that is most absurd to me about the oft-repeated We Must Build 8,000 Hideous Particleboard And Vinyl Homes Today Or No One From The County Will Move Here argument is that, um, safety and schools make a much bigger difference in quality of life and in where-to-live decisions than the quantity of hideous vinyl homes built in an area.

The aforementioned P-D article that I read this morning bore one particularly interesting quote about the Morgan Quitno crime rating: "Indeed, to avoid a poor finish in the Quitno report, St. Louis would either need to add thousands of residents or dramatically cut crime." My prediction for 2007 is that Mokwa, Slay, and the other powers that be in StL City will juggle the statistics on both of those topics, but make no significant real change in either area.

Stay safe.

Has Paul McKee Read Franzen?

"... Tell me what's going on in North St. Louis."

"Nothing more than what's in the papers every night." Chuck raised his voice, as if many stupid people had been asking him this very question. "Nothing more than business as usual. Now, to my knowledge, there's been no excessive speculation on the North Side. Property values have risen, and the various institutions I serve have seen fit to protect their future and the future of the depositor -- the little man, Martin -- by making some selected and I believe wise purchases in the area. To add to what we already had. And, of course, to replace what we'd sold before we properly assessed the market's strength. There's some very choice property down there, and it's about time the city made something of it. ... I think the time is coming. We're certainly quite satisfied with the crime situation at present."

- Jonathan Franzen, The Twenty-Seventh City (published in 1988)

Granite City May Get Tough on Bad Landlords and Tenants

Granite City considers four-strike plan for unruly tenants - Michael Heil (Granite City Press Record, December 19)

Read about a proposed new law Granite City is considering. This would be a good idea in St. Louis, too. The worst problem in urban areas often isn't the bad tenants, who tend to only stick around a few months, but the bad owners who gladly replace a bad bunch with another.

Only when some people start losing money due to their behavior do they change their ways.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Rehab moment



This concludes our Rehab Moment for the day. Tune in next time, to watch our happy couple survive another Rehab Moment in a charming episode entitled "Oh god, oh god, why can't I find two of the cats?!?" You may think that you've seen that episode before, but I assure that it's brand new--Rehab Life offers endless variations on the "What happened to our pets?!?" theme (as it does the "I can't believe I just ate that!" theme, the "Oops, I haven't returned any phonecalls in a month" theme, and so on!).

And by the way, if you have lent me anything white, absorbent, or delicate lately and I still have it right now, I'm sorry.

Mullanphy Effort Moving Forward

What are some people doing to help raise money for stabilizing the damaged Mullanphy Emigrant Home?

Mayor Francis Slay is lending his support.

Rick Bonasch is selling furniture to raise donation money.

Claire and I have raised donation collections twice -- once at a meeting and again at Claire's birthday party.

Some people are talking about benefit shows, dinners and other fundraiser events.

But all anyone really has to do is send a tax-deductible contribution:

Old North St. Louis Restoration Group
2800 N. 14th Street
St. Louis, MO 63107

For more information, contact the ONSLRG office by phone at 314-241-5031 or via email at: info@onsl.org

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Silent Terrorists

As I just wrapped up hour eleven of working on my house today, a thought hit me that I can't shake.

Old North St. Louis is populated by many people, including an inordinate amount of energetic rehabbers who are sacrificing normal lives, leisure time and money to rescue historic buildings.

The Blairmont syndicate is attracted to buildings in Old North because they know worker bees like us are paving the way for a big pay off for their lazier, more conservative but much wealthier selves.

By not participating in dialogue with us and by continuing to buy historic buildings here and then letting them sit empty as nuisance properties, the owners of the Blairmont companies are inflicting aggression against the residents of my neighborhood. They are using our efforts, and the efforts of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group/Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance, to build their vision. At the same time, they are ensuring that no rehabbed house is less than a block away from a vacant building or lot that is untended. That act can keep values down to the point where they can acquire more property here from frustrated property owners.

In some, they inflict doubt. In others, anger. Some people have never heard of them but feel the pressure of a crack house or weedy, rat-infested lot next door. Blairmont's effect is that of psychological terrorism, whether intentional or not.

Thank goodness that most of my neighbors are strong enough to resist the fear that the Blairmont group is pushing on us. The irony is that most of us would welcome a large development project that improves our neighborhood.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Parking at the Municipal Courts

A small nit that I will gladly pick: When will St. Louis city government finally forbid parking on the sidewalk of 14th Street alongside the Muncipal Courts Building? Now that the Muni Courts have been vacant for the last few years -- an embarrassing civic problem for another discussion -- there aren't even employees using that building. The people who park on that sidewalk must work at City Hall, or be visitors. Either way, they should not be allowed to park there.

A sidewalk is a space for pedestrians. That particular sidewalk is two blocks north of a major bus transfer point and a MetroLink Station. People use it to walk north to the Central Library, Washington Avenue or other bus lines. Those on foot can easily walk around the cars parked there, but those using a wheelchair are effectively blocked for using that section of sidewalk. How's that for inclusive city government?

Also, the image of cars parked on the sidewalk in front of a grand civic building certainly doesn't help to convince anyone that anyone at City Hall is serious about moving St. Louis up from the 52nd city rank. I've seen more decorum at out-state county courthouses.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Blairmont By Any Other Name

Our good friends at Blairmont Associates LC are slow in unveiling some of their other names. Here are some names that they own but are not yet using for purchasing properties, with dates of incorporation:

NGV Partners LLC (4/14/2003)
Vashon Developers LC (4/14/2003)
BMA Partners LLC (4/14/2003)
NDC Venturers LC (4/14/2003)
1891 Holdings LLC (2/2/2004)
Benton Company LLC (3/4/2004)
Maiden 25 Partners LLC (3/4/2004)

Notice the references to street and landmark names from the near northside: Benton Street, Maiden Lane, 25th Street and Vashon High School. Also note that three of the companies have aconyms that correspond to the name sof other companies in the "family": BMA for BlairMont Associates; NDC for Noble Development Company and NGV for N & G Ventures.

None of these companies own parcels, and the recent purchase pattern includes newer entities MLK 3000 LLC and Dodier Investors LLC. Perhaps these other companies are being used to direct the venture capital being used to fund purchases.

I know, I know -- this is trivia to some of you. But to those on the near northside, we should keep a watch out for these companies.

Monday, December 11, 2006

How Much Excitement?

Does anyone else find it troubling that the website for 600 Washington -- the phoenix-like project rising from St. Louis Centre -- conspicuously does not mention demolition of the skybridge over Locust Street while extolling the views opened by demolishing the skybridge over Washington Avenue?

Does this mean that the skybridge over Locust will remain -- horrible news for the disconnected blocks of that street -- or simply that marketers assume that people don't care about the view down Locust?

The Industrial City

Rob Powers has published his long-awaited Built St. Louis tour, "The Industrial City." The tour is an overview of remaining historic industrial sites around the St. Louis area, covering both abandoned and occupied sites. Included are the National City Stockyards district, the Laclede Gas Company gasometers, the Cahokia power plant, the Carondelet Coke plant, US Steel's Granite City works and many sites along the north riverfront of St. Louis.

Check out the tour here.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Jill Mead's Photographs

Jill Mead has started posting architectural photographs from St. Louis and Kansas City to Flickr. Her photographs show a compelling level of detail, from terra cotta pieces to old enamel neon sign boards.

View the photographs here.

Mullanphy Emigrant Home Effort Needs Your Donations

What have you done to help the effort to preserve the Mullanphy Emigrant Home? The endangered near north side landmark -- follow the link to read a basic history -- suffered a wall collapse in April that prompted the successful effort of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group to acquire the building.

Now, the Restoration Group is seeking funds for an estimated $100,000 stabilization project. With every day of inclement weather, than goal becomes more urgent.

Please send a tax-deductible contribution of any size ($5 isn't too small to help):

Old North St. Louis Restoration Group
2800 N. 14th Street
St. Louis, MO 63107

If you have questions, call the Restoration Group at 314-241-5031 or e-mail info@onsl.org. I can assure you that the Restoration Group is serious about stabilization and your money literally will go straight into bricks and mortar.

The eventual restoration of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home will do more than save one building. This project has the potential to initiate major investment in the southern end of Old North St. Louis and aid in development that will link our renewing downtown to Old North St. Louis.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Candidates and the Built Environment

There will be many candidates for public office in St. Louis during the spring election cycle. The office of President of the Board of Alderman, aldermanic seats in even-numbered wards and two school board seats are on the ballot. The aldermanic candidates in particular are seeking or defending legislative power. They will make promises to voters about a number of issues.

Voters interested in urban issues need to make sure that candidates get their stances on the record. While a soft promise is better than none at all, the difference can be indiscernible. Aldermen introduce and vote on legislation impacting the built environment. Much of this legislation includes redevelopment ordinances -- most often "blighting" ordinances -- as well as tax abatement and tax increment financing. However, aldermen can do much more than dutifully respond to developers' requests for support. They shape, create and interpret public policies. They are more than the functionaries that they often claim to be.

We should ask candidates for specific promises. If a candidate wants to "preserve old buildings," we need to ask if that means that he would introduce a much-needed ordinance to reinstate city-wide preservation review. If a candidate thinks tax abatement is out of control, she needs to specify what legislative route she will pursue to address that. Talk is cheap, and either the elected candidates will do something to make policy changes their rhetoric endorses or they won't.

Our support for aldermanic candidates in the city should be contingent on receiving specific legislative actions he or she will take. Aldermen act through legislation, and candidates for aldermanic office won't talk in terms of specific bills we should be careful. Our support should hinge on firm promises based on the power that they seek. Even though many incumbents avoid advancing public policy change, aldermen have more power than other elected officials to determine what our built environment policies will be. No changes in LRA practices, preservation review, nuisance property enforcement or the zoning code can come about without an act of the board of aldermen. That's where a lot of power lies under the city charter. We should be wary of candidates for the board who won't tell us how they will use that power -- and those incumbents who claim that they don't have it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Update on 4202 Chouteau

Last week, I posted information from Marti Frumhoff about a condemned house at 4202 Chouteau in Forest Park Southeast. Here's an update.

The Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation and Alderman Joe Roddy (D-17th) decided last year to pursue a nuisance case against the owner of the home, Andrew Yee, who had purchased it in 2003 for rehab only to leave it in a terrible state for over two years. Neighbors have been upset by the condition, so the alderman and the development corporation rightly got involved.

However, apparently somehow the nuisance case led to a condemnation suit seeking demolition, and on November 20 a circuit court judge ordered the building condemned and demolished. Also, the owner claims the alderman is using eminent domain to acquire the building; I have no knowledge of whether or not that's the case but am not necessarily opposed given the property condition.

Residents of FPSE are concerned that the house, which is a contributing resource to the Forest Park Southeast Historic District and eligible for tax credits, may be demolished per the judge's order.

Anyone who wants to step forward to rescue the house should immediately contact Irving Blue, Executiev Director of the Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation, at 314-533-6704 and Alderman Roddy at 314-622-3287. While demolition may seem like a viable solution, I am sure they would not oppose a quality historic rehab. However, if a new owner can't be found soon demolition is inevitable.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Mortgage Fraud Hits Rehab Neighborhoods

Case here reflects the national rise in mortgage fraud - Robert Patrick (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 23)

Sorry for the delay in linking to this article. Read through and find just one of many tales of speculators' using easy 'n' quick mortgages on historic homes in south city and straw buyers to make money. The effect inflates neighborhood rehab housing markets beyond recognition, encouraging legitimate rehabbers to list finished homes at prices grossly beyond their value. Perhaps these stories aren't publicized because politicians hungry to take credit for a city housing market boom are avoiding looking at the cold hard facts to the contrary.

Don't get me wrong; I am all for strong housing values. That's why stories of mortgage fraud are disturbing, because in the end they do more to harm stable, high housing values than to help. Hopefully prosecutors will take these cases seriously.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Ghost Sign No More

On his website, Aldermanic President Jim Shrewsbury has an article celebrating the efforts of Bob Corbett and the Dogtown Historical Society to restore a faded Alpen Brau sign in Dogtown.

Another Lost Chicago Diner

I barely had time to appreciate DeMar's Coffee Shop on Chicago Avenue in Chicago during the three months that I lived there, but I enjoyed my handful of visits. Chicago is a great city for diners and greasy spoons, ranging from the stand-by Golden Nugget chain to the excellent, now-shuttered Zorba's on Halsted (which had Greek food in addition to diner mainstays) to the more obscure ones like DeMar's. A city that gets as cold as Chicago had better be able to provide filling food at all hours.

DeMar's seemed to have everything the cinematic imagination desired: cheap food, salty wait staff, no crowds, a big menu, great coffee and one of the coolest neon signs I have seen. The only drawback was the hours, which had been cut from all-night to a fairly early close for a diner. Unfortunately, now there are no hours at all, because DeMar's closed in 2005. I had not managed to swing by on subsequent trips to Chicago, but through Flickr I found not one but two photos of DeMar's windows boarded by Chiacgo's ubiquitous Buzy Bee Board Up.

Alas, the little diners in Chicago seem to be dropping like the flies around the grill. Please tell me that Golden House in Uptown is still open.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Storms in St. Louis, Again, Less Than Six Months Later

Power went out at 12:00 a.m. AmerenUE line busy.

Neighbors burned fire in a barrel using wood from vacant church across the street, 3:00 a.m. AmerenUE line still busy, as was 911.

Fell asleep, 5:00 a.m.

Got up, still no power, 8:00 a.m.

Went to gas station at 14th & Salisbury, 10:00 a.m.

Started using oven for heat, 10:45 a.m.

Drove to bank to get emergency cash, 1:00 p.m.

Made plans to stay with neighbors who have power, 3:00 p.m.

Power back on, 4:00 p.m.

City and AmerenUE get prepared for handling big storms, uh....

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The View at Home

Here is the view from the south window of the third floor of our house. From here, I can see nineteenth century houses and tenements, the downtown skyline and the Arch, the spires of St. Liborius and Zion Lutheran churches, the tall smokestack of the former Columbia Brewery and, off in the far distance at night, the beacon of the Continental Life Building. This is one of the best views I've enjoyed in the city, and it's here at home.

Of course, all of the winter rain has penetrated our weak roof membrances -- soon to be replaced, but that promise doesn't stop a leak. The continuing pileup of snow will lead to a cold day Saturday when I will have to sweep the roofs to minimize water penetration when the snow melts. Ah, well -- for now there is this view!

Lofts on the East Side

Lofts outside the big city: 'The best of both worlds' - Shane Graber (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 30)

Good news for Alton, Granite City and Belleville: downtown urban living is arriving.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Nuisance Opportunity

Oh, what a fine evening it was for seven young men to congregate on the steps of the house at 1215 Wright Street in Old North St. Louis. No finer point for commerce could be found within blocks, and business seemed to be as good there as it usually is.

Why do the neighbors consider such activity a nuisance? After all, the building's owners, Blairmont Associates, don't seem to mind. No one in city government is telling them what to do with the property, even though it has been a haven of drug dealing for months. No alderman has the building on a problem property list, so how could it be a problem?

Monday, November 27, 2006

4485 Vista Decision Deferred

Today, without discussion, the Preservation Board voted unanimously to defer for six months consideration of the demolition application for 4485 Vista.

We have six months to find a better future than destruction. Ideas?

Opportunity in Forest Park Southeast

From Marti Frumhoff:

4202 Chouteau is for sale. They are asking $54,900. It is a 2 family getting ready to be demolished by the city and it seems worth saving.

I suspect an offer of $5,000, that's right, $5,000, might get the winning bid. Find a realtor and make an offer. Or, just call the listing agent and make an offer. Here is the link to the MLS listing.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Serving St. Louis

The neon sign atop the Railton Residence, originally the Robert E. Lee Hotel, at 18th and Pine streets in downtown St. Louis. The sign frame dates to 1932, when the owners of the Robert E. Lee built it to advertise their hotel. The Salvation Army purchased the hotel in 1939 for use as one of its Evangeline Residences -- homes for young businesswomen -- and built its sign on the existing framework in 1944.

Big Small Town

Looking for holiday greeting cards that are witty, well-designed and show scenes from the St. Louis in which we really live?

Check out Big Small Town Designs, the effort of Bill Michalski. He's got you covered.

Do not try this at home. Or at the Armour Plant. Or, um, anywhere. Ever.

Rob Powers alerted us to this scary tale:

almost died at armour meat.

This guy actually tried to climb (and actually did climb) one of the extremely dilapidated, extremely tall smokestacks at the ol' Armour Packing Plant in East St. Louis. The smokestack crumbled in his hands as he climbed, but he kept climbing, all the way to the top.

It must be read to be believed. Actually, I read it and I still barely believe it.... (shudder)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Former Syphilis Center Burns

The former Better Donut Drive-In at the southeast corner of Grand and Cass burned last night. This two-story early twentieth century commercial building has been vacant for several years, but is infamous as a major contact point in the city's syphillis epidemic during the early 1990s (see Malcolm Gay's insightful article published in the Riverfront Times last June).

Incidentally, the owner of the building is VHS Partners LLC.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Preservation Board to Consider Demolition of Unique House in "The Grove"

On the agenda for Monday's meeting of the St. Louis Preservation Board is the demolition of a unique house at 4485 Vista Avenue in "the Grove." The city's Land Reutilization Authority owns the house and is applying for demolition along with Alderman Joseph Roddy (D-17th).

Check out the last photograph on this page of a report that I wrote on the condition of Taylor Avenue, which runs to the west of the house. You'll see that 4485 Vista is a wide, symmetrical side-gabled frame home with a center-hall plan. The centered doorway is flanked by pairs of windows, with one dormer centered above each pair. This symplicity is almost rustic -- no surprise given that the center-hall house was a common choice for Midwestern farms in the nineteenth century. Very few homes of this type exist in the city of St. Louis, and no other can be found in the Grove. The date of construction is not definitive, but it's possible this house dates to the period when the Adams Grove area was subdivided as the Laclede Race Course Addition to the city in 1875.

This house is a unique home and clearly eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Hopefully, the Preservation Board will block demolition so that a respectful owner will purchase the building from the city.

Earlier, the LRA applied for a demolition permit for the house in 2004 and was denied by the Cultural Resources Office and the Preservation Board.

If you'd like to comment on the demolition, there are several ways. You can attend Monday's meeting of the Preservation Board at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room of the Locust Building, 1015 Locust. You can call the staff of the Cultural Resources Office at 314-622-3400. Also, you can send written testimony to Kate Shea, Director of Cultural Resources, at SheaK(at)stlouiscity.com.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New project: Postcards from North St. Louis

In the past two weeks, I've started a new little project, a flickr photoblog-of-sorts called Postcards from North St. Louis.

PNStL is pretty straightforward: I post photos of the North Side of St. Louis. They are labeled by neighborhood, and I caption them to tell you a little more about the picture. The nature and quantity of information in the caption varies widely by picture. I was going to try to update weekly on the same day every week, but my chaotic life and the ever-changing weather quickly put a stop to that. So it's updated regularly, but not daily.

With this project, I don't want to show you exclusively sunny things, but the stuff I post is going to lean towards the happy, the positive, the curious, the special, and the mundane. Mundane, you ask? That's right. I want you to show you my neighbors cooking dinner and playing with their children and walking their pets. I want to show you North Siders vegging out on the couch in front of the TV. Or reading. Or talking on the phone. Why is that?

I find that a lot of people are terrified when they heard the words "North St. Louis." The first words that most folks can conjure to their mouths when they hear I live here is "Is that safe?" A neighbor of mine recently told me that the thing she most hates about people asking her that question is that it's so insulting--besides dissing yer neighborhood, the speaker is letting you know that they don't think you have the common sense to select a decent place for yourself to live.

And I've heard worse: "I was going to ask you how the neighborhood is, but if you live there I guess it's fine." "Pardon me, but you don't see many white folks living on the North Side." "What? That's a SLUM!" ...etc etc etc. Yes, these are all actual quotes (and for the record, I thanked the speaker of the second quote for his honesty). Even a fair number of locals I know who are otherwise smart, thoughtful, and well-informed seem to picture abandoned buildings or TV crime reports when I say the words "North City."

So, I want to offer some images (besides the trash on the biased TV news) for you to picture when you hear the words "North Side." Because yes, I know about the Great Mythology of the North Side too, and I know that this is an amazing and often unbelievable place. Sometimes, I walk down the vacant 14th Street Mall and I feel the weight of all that history, and my mind feverishly spins elaborate daydreams based on the Mall's incredibly cinematic landscape. But to me, a person who lives here every day, the Mall is also just a street. The legendary Mall is just the street that I walk down when I am going to so-and-so's house, or if I want to buy a can of soda at the hardware store. The other day, I dragged my pajama'ed self out of the house and I happened to walk down the Mall on the way to go get a key cut and have some chit-chat at the hardware store. And do you know what? The Mall smelled like laundry detergent, quite possibly the most mundane smell known to man. That is what I want to show you.

I want you to see the mundane side (and the beautiful side, and the neutral side, and and and...) of North St. Louis because to those of us who live here, above all, it's just the place where we live our daily lives. Some people like it, some people don't (I love it!), but overall, this is just our place before it's anything else.

So please, have a look: Postcards from North St. Louis

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ten More St. Louis Buildings Headed for the National Register

To be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nominated buildings and sites must be approved by certified local governments and, most importantly, state historic preservation offices with their review commissions before being sent to the Keeper of the National Register at the National Park Service. In Missouri, our commission is the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which meets quarterly.

Its most recent quarterly meeting was this past Friday, November 17, in Jefferson City. I am pleased to report that the following St. Louis buidlings were unanimously approved for submission to the Keeper (preparer's name in parenthesis):

- American Brake Company Building, 1920 N. Broadway (Melissa Winchester and Julie Wooldridge, Lafser and Associates)
- Carondelet School, 8221 Minnesota Street (Melissa Winchester and Julie Wooldridge, Lafser and Associates)
- Falstaff Brewing Corporation, Plant No. 1, 3644-3690 Forest Park Boulevard (Melissa Winchester and Julie Wooldridge, Lafser and Associates)
- Koken Barbers' Supply Company Historic District, bounded by Ohio, Texas, Sidney and Victor streets (Mary M. Stiritz)
- Laclede Gas Light Company Pumping Station G, 4401 Chouteau Avenue (Doug Johnson, Landmarks Association of St. Louis)
- Robert E. Lee Hotel, 209 N. 18th Street (Michael Allen, Landmarks Association of St. Louis)
- Royal Tire Service, Inc., Building, 3229 Washington Avenue (Karen Bode Baxter)
- Steelcote Manufacturing Company Paint Factory, 801 Edwin (Karen Bode Baxter)
- United Shoe Manufacturing Company Building, 2200-08 Washington Avenue (Karen Bode Baxter)
- William Cuthbert Jones House, 3724 Olive Street (Michael Allen, Landmarks Association of St. Louis)

Unfortunately, the following nominations did not receive approval from the council:

- General American Life Insurance Company National Headquarters, 706 Market Street (Melissa Winchester and Julie Woolridge, Lafser and Associates) -- tabled
- Ramsey Accessories Manufacturing Corporation, 3693 Forest Park Boulevard (Matt Bivens, SCI Engineering) -- motion to approve failed by vote of 3-6

These two buildings presented significant challenges despite histories that clearly make them eligible for listing. The General American building, completed in 1977, is less than fifty years old and therefore exceptional significance must be proven for listing. The council felt that the current nomination does not make the case strongly enough. The Ramsey building is sheathed in stucco that covers its historic features, and the council wants to see the stucco removed greatly before listing. Expect to see these two nominations revised and considered at the next council meeting in February 2007.

The Need for Architectural Education

Last week, the owners of the downtown office building where I work (917 Locust Street) had a worker spend time meticulously painting the steel doors at the rear exit and elevators. Meanwhile, the building is missing most of its downspout in rear, has a section of lobby ceiling that is unpainted after a repair and is generally fraught with more urgent maintenance issues.

While the intent of the owners seems to be future conversion to condos, making the deferred maintenance logical, the timing of the door painting was more than a little strange.

Sometimes it's easy to conclude that very few people understand how buildings work. Would it not be great if someone undertook an educational project designed not to teach people about particular architectural styles or architects but about the mechanics of old buildings? From wealthy developers down to homeowners, the need for basic architectural education remains pressing.

Homespun Advertising

Thomas Crone has an interesting photo from East St. Louis here.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

On safety, from the "bad" side of America's Most Dangerous City

Tonight, our fridge died. It was only a $30 fridge, but we just went to the store late last night, so we had a lot of perishables in there. It sucked.

At the point when it became clear to us that the fridge really was not going to get cold again, I started calling neighbors, with the intention of at least giving the food away to someone who could use it. No sense in wasting it, right?

Two different neighbors (and for the record, two other awesome central City dwellin' friends) offered to let us store the food in their fridges. I insisted that they just take what they wanted, but no.... They insisted we store the food at their houses, in their fridges. So that's where it is. The visit to drop off groceries at the first neighbor's house blossomed into an hour of stimulating conversation about civic issues. The second neighbor actually showed up unannounced at our door to help me carry the groceries to his house. I persuaded him to take some cookies in exchange for the favor, but then he insisted on giving me freshly harvested tomatoes from their backyard.


Last week, I woke up feeling sick. I went to work and all, but I found myself just sitting there. I tried to get myself going.... but I'd find myself.... staring for minutes on end at my opened inbox, not reading any messages. Or I'd catch myself shuffling the papers from tray A to tray B and back to tray A, and then staring off into space.... and again, I wasn't getting anywhere. I was feeling worse and worse and achieving nothing, so I headed home. Because it was an unplanned bus excursion and I couldn't plan it based on bus schedules (spontaneous Metrobus trips = ha), I just barely missed my bus connection and had to walk (still sick) 20 minutes down a very muddy Saint Louis Avenue sidewalk before I caught another bus.

As the bus approached my stop, I rifled around in my bag to find my keys and discovered I didn't have them. GREAT. I AM A GENIUS. I got off the bus not knowing what to do. But there, there was my neighbor who works at the ONSL Restoration Group. I explained and asked her if I could some sit down in the ONSLRG office while I made a phone call. She went in with me and gave me a drink. I called Michael and found that he absolutely could not leave work then, and so my neighbor drove me Downtown in the middle of her work day to get the keys. She then took me back to the house and watched me go inside before leaving.

In the past few weeks, I have heard a lot about my beloved hometown being a dangerous, crime-ridden hole, and I have heard lots of people say "It's just because of North City." I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on this issue, but they're not the point of this particular blog entry, so I'll just say here that accusatory one-sentence explanations of any complex phenomenon are almost always incorrect just by their very nature.
One thing I do know for sure about the neighborhood where I live, about my North City and my St. Louis, is that it is a place where people honestly do help each other out. I now know that if our fridge dies and we're about to lose a bunch of food, neighbors will be there to help us out. I also know that if I'm locked out of my house, again, a neighbor will be there to help me. Neighbors have fed us when we've showed up unannounced on their doorsteps in the middle of house-related disasters. They've lent us tarps, car keys, and house keys. They've kept their shops open for us after closing time to get us out of emergencies. One neighbor drives me to work and home every day, since we work near each other and I can't drive; together with Michael, she has been giving me driving lessons.
The place where I live is not perfect, but it is a place populated by a surprising number of amazingly generous people who feel a genuine duty to each other. Is your neighborhood safe like that?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Union Station To Be Train-Free

No trains at Union Station? - Tim O'Neil (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15)

The last (stationary) train will likely soon depart Union Station to make way for more shopping mall amenities. As a train station, Union Station was world-class. As a shopping mall, well, uh...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Rehabbing in Overland

Interest remains in historic Overland buildings
- Sonia Ahuja (November 12, North County Journal)

St. Louis County is ripe for historic rehabilitation projects.

Blairmont's Holdings Mapped

Want to know where all of the infamous Blairmont holdings are?

Don't ask me.

Consult your map.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Demolition Permit Issued for Brecht Butcher Supply Buildings

On October 31, the city issued an emergency demolition permit for the burned part of the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings. The contract supposedly has been let to Bellon Wrecking. Oddly enough, the burned section has been left unsecured since the devastating fire last month. There has been no fence around the building, and the permit didn't come until three weeks after the fire.

While I am upset to see the building go, I am also upset that the Building Division did not see fit to order the owners to erect a fence or board up a building that was condemned on October 10 and was in terrible, dangerous condition inside. The building is directly across Cass Avenue from the Greyhound Station, too, making its post-fire appearance a rather sour introduction to this city.

When a building this large has such a terrible fire, safety precautions should be taken until renovation or demolition can begin. It's an insult to residents of the near northside than neither the Building Division nor Blairmont Associates LC -- which can afford to finance millions of dollars in property purchases -- did not see fit to secure the burned buildings.

Hopefully, the demolition site will be secure although I doubt it. I also hope that the wreckers only demolish the fire-damaged center section, and leave the flanking buildings standing. Even though the remaining buildings will look strange severed from the connector, there is no need to lose all of them. Cass Avenue needs some architectural stability, and given how little historic fabric remains it is very reasonable to preserve what is left.

Watchful in Old North

Driving a car with no license plates around Old North St. Louis on a Sunday afternoon? Need a place to park it and then walk away from it?

Well, that might be hard to find here. Even though there is a lot of vacant land and numerous vacant buildings, there seem to be many eyes on the look out for unusual behavior.

If you are like one fellow yesterday, you probably figure that parking next to the abandoned Fourth Baptist Church at 13th and Sullivan is a good bet. Looking at the missing soffit, the window openings missing their original stained glass windows and the smashed-in window at the front entrance, you'd be tempted to think that no one cares about the building. It's sitting there crumbling away, with no for-sale sign on it. So why not park your shady ride next to it?

Well, you guessed wrong about the location. The church congregation may be long gone, but neighbors are pretty alert to goings-on there. This is a neighborhood populated by people who view a vacant old church as a community resource being underutilized, and who want to protect it and other buildings.

Within minutes of being left, the car parked by the church yesterday was adorned with a ticket from the police department. Later, it was gone altogether.

The church, soon to be profiled on the Ecology of Absence website, is the subject of interesting comments by Claire Nowak-Boyd and Rick Bonasch in response to my post "Sounds Like a City."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Wasted Space at the Old Post Office

The sidewalk on Olive Street in front of the Old Post Office in downtown St. Louis is unusually wide, taking up the parking lane. The expanded sidewalk is almost the perfect size for an urban plaza, with views of the Olive Street building canyon that create visual excitement. There is enough space for casual lounging, small speeches or concerts, outdoor dining, brownbag lunching or numerous other activities that happen in the downtown of a large city.

Yet the recent renovation of the Old Post Office ignores the inherent possibility of this space, giving it all of the drama of a doormat. The space is mostly flat with granite and concrete paving, skimpy plantings that are visually dull and no provision for seating. There is absolutely nowhere to sit in this space, save for the steps of the Old Post Office itself -- and that is forbidden.

The redeveloped Old Post Office doesn't even give the front of the building the weight of the main entrance. Once inside, one hits a static wall and must make a jog down a hall at the left to reach the impressive space under the building's skylight. Why this is hidden from the main entrance is truly baffling, and creates a very confused arrangement of spaces.

Meanwhile, the building's non-office tenants, a Pasta House Pronto restaurant with outdoor seating and the Central Express Library Branch, are both located on the Locust Street rear elevation of the building. The rear elevation faces one of the most lifeless and ugly half-blocks in the city: a mess of cobbled-together parking lots (one is even paved in gravel!) butted up against elevations of the Orpheum Theater and Mayfair Hotel never intended for public display.

This is the site that civic leaders keep pushing for a downtown plaza, despite the fact that it is absurdly large for any space intended to foster lively activity and be an attractive focal point. This site suffers from the presence of another absurd "plaza" one block east in front of the US Bank Tower, and from rather lackluster views. It also would be redundant in a downtown with a mostly-underused Gateway Mall that consumes eighteen blocks right down the middle. I suppose the proposed plaza is the perfect spot to be for those who think that the most wonderful piece of architecture in St. Louis is the Locust Street elevation of the Old Post Office.

Meanwhile, the really dramatic space lies underutilized. The plaza in front offers an urban enclosure not found in the ridiculous "plazas" that civic leaders have built over the years. Really, all that needs to be done to liven it up would be better plantings and some benches. There's enough street life on Olive Street to fill in the rest. A truly healthy urban public space doesn't need a name, a plan or a program to create vitality; it only needs to be ready for people to use.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Sounds Like a City

Think about this on your way home from work, or on your weekend walk to the neighbor's house: If your block were a song, how would it sound? What does the setback of each house sound like? How about the distance between houses? Vacant lots?

Building heights, styles, forms, fenestration and materials all create metaphoric rhythms and harmonies in the essays of architectural critics. Try to make the metaphors into true translation of architecture into music. If you live in an older part of a city, you will likely find discordant notes, varied rhythms and strange tempos. These may become in your mind a coherent composition, or they may seem like an improvised structure created by a free jazz ensemble. No matter how few houses remain on a block, some song emerges. Even the bad new buildings can be "played" in the mind.

Start to imagine blocks as songs, neighborhoods as operas, the city as the whole range of possible musical expressions. While this may seem far-fetched, I refuse to believe that such information is not embedded in the great architecture of my block, my neighborhood and my city.


Last Friday, we closed on our rehab loan. The location was ironic: an office building in Chesterfield that houses the headquarters of Taylor-Morley Homes.

Unfortunately, that is not even close to being the strangest thing about our loan.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006


The fire-damaged but nonetheless occupied house a half-block south of me is selling to a rehabber who may be doing work on our house.

The city painted over gang grafitti on the boarded entrance to a house one block east of me.

More trash is piling up in the recessed foyer of the the vacant house across the street, owned by a neglectful owner (not Blairmont, but the congregation that owns the connected vacant church).

One block northwest, four long-vacant buildings are now being rehabbed as a group by a reputable developer.

The little frame building behind us on our block, built earlier than our house and used by a contractor for his small business, may be selling to anyone from the neighborhood group to Blairmont according to rumors. At any rate, it's part of a the Chapter 353 Redevelopment Area for the 14th Street Mall.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Sullivan-Designed Getty Tomb Destroyed by Fire

by Dan Kelly (Special to Ecology of Absence)

(Chicago) Early Monday morning, as firefighters played canasta nearby, the tomb of Carrie Eliza Getty burned to the ground in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery. Investigators are perplexed as to how the solid limestone and bronze-gated mausoleum caught fire, but chose not to pursue an inquiry, suggesting that, perhaps, the corpse of Ms. Getty was operating a blowtorch. The fire also defied the laws of physics by leaping into the night sky and descending upon and consuming the Sullivan-designed Ryerson tomb several hundred yards away. Traces of fire damage and spots of urine were likewise found covering Sullivan's tomb nearby.

"It's a shame, really. I guess. I mean, I don't especially care." said local developer Vic Sharkbastard as he and a surveying crew measured the 20 foot area formerly occupied by the Getty Tomb for a future, 500-unit condo. "But, hey, these things happen." Sharkbastard then cleaned the mud off his boots by scraping them against the gravestone of photographer Richard Nickel.

"Chicago has to go forward, it can't go backward," said Mayor Richard Daley. "If you're going backward, you're not going forward. People like the fires. They're pretty. It's nice to pack a lunch and watch the fire. It's a tragic loss of some of the city's history, but not really tragic, because, you know, you're going forward with the fire and the lunch and not backward." Mayor Daley then unwittingly on accident and without malice sat down on a dynamite plunger, the force of his ass starting a chain reaction of blasts, causing Carson Pirie Scott, the Auditorium, the Gage group, and the Krause Music Store facade to implode. "Oopsy. Heh heh heh," said Daley.

Fire Strikes Adler & Sullivan's Harvey House

Yet another Adler & Sullivan building burns in 2006, scarcely a week after the Wirt Dexter Building fire. This time it's the George Harvey House, built in 1888 and the last remaining frame structure designed with either Louis Sullivan or Dankmar Adler involved. The house is a total loss.

The owner of the home, Natalie Frank, had discussed demolition earlier this year, meeting with opposition from preservationists. She eventually announced plans to renovate the much-altered house using the full original blueprints Richard Nickel rescued from a previous owner.

The Chicago Sun-Times has the bad news here.

Lynn Becker has commentary here.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Blogging: It runs in the family.

You may note that there's a new blog in our Chicago blogroll named Blue Kitchen.

It is written by none other than MY DAD, Terry Boyd.

Blue Kitchen is about food, Chicago, music, life, and, um, food. It's updated on Wednesdays, and the very first post was this past Wednesday. Check it out.

Saturday, November 4, 2006


Terra cotta ornament, Stony Island Boulevard, Chicago. (Taken July 2005.)

Friday, November 3, 2006

New Life for the Mullanphy Emigrant Home

Given its institutional form and floor plan, and the dire need to retain and restore its special architectural character, the Mullanphy Emigrant Home seems best suited to an institutional or cultural use rather than any of the most likely prospects for reuse.

The building would make an excellent museum or exhibit center, library, school or hostel. I think that adapting it for use as apartments, condominiums or offices might involve architectural compromises and inefficient floor plans. Perhaps now is the time for near north side leaders and city officials to figure out what the building should become, and how the new use could be endowed.

Due to shrinking funding under the Bush and Blunt administrations, this is a bad moment to launch a new museum or cultural center. Yet the Mullanphy Emigrant Home would make an excellent museum of the city's ethnic heritage, an outstanding small art museum, a cool alternative school, a great architectural center emphasizing vernacular forms and styles, or a youth hostel in conjunction with more public uses. Rarely does the city have the chance to restore such an old and important civic building. This is a momentous opportunity for the city, and time for creative thought.

ONSL Restoration Group Now Owns the Mullanphy Emigrant Home

The Old North St. Louis Restoration Group has closed on its purchase of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. Now, the hard work begins.

Here is a letter from the Restoration Group's Executive Director, Sean Thomas:

Dear Friend of Old North St. Louis:

Today the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group has taken a huge leap of faith. As of this morning, we are the proud – and very nervous – owners of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home building at 1609 N. 14th Street, just a few blocks north of Downtown St. Louis. Although we're a community-based not-for-profit organization with an extremely tight budget, our Board decided to take this action because nobody else seemed willing or able to save the buiding from demolition or collapse. But we did so with the support and encouragement of many who recognize the building's historic and architectural significance. Now we're at a point where we need more than words of encouragement – we need your financial support to preserve the building.

On April 2 of this year, severe wind gusts hit the Italianate brick structure that was built in 1867 to house the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. These winds knocked out much of the south wall and led to an order from the City of St. Louis Building Division to demolish the building. Because of determined efforts by Old North St. Louis
Restoration Group, aided by many friends inside and outside of city government and a structural engineer's report indicating that the building was not in imminent danger of collapse, the City rescinded the demolition order. Thankfully, the building has survived over the past seven months without additional damage. If the building is going to survive through the winter, though, we will need to take immediate measures to shore up the south end of the building and re-build the wall. Because the total bill for acquisition, insurance, and stabilization work will equal at least $150,000, more than half of the amount we have to raise every year for our basic organizational operations, we need financial support well beyond our usual sources of revenue. To help us reach this goal, we're asking all who care about Old North St. Louis to make a contribution of whatever amount they can afford.

The Old North St. Louis Restoration Group is dedicated to re-building the neighborhood in a way that incorporates the community's rich history and respects the beauty and architectural significance of the built environment – and the skill and craftsmanship of past generations that created it. We invite you to help us with a contribution to the preservation of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. Please send a tax-deductible contribution to us as soon as you can, using the enclosed form. And if you know of anyone else who cares about preserving our city's unique architectural heritage, please encourage them to contribute as well.

Thank you!

Sean Thomas
Executive Director

(By the way, Preservation covered the effort to restore the Mullanphy in a recent article.)

Thursday, November 2, 2006

The Presence of Taylor and Enders

Stand at the corner of Eleventh and Washington streets in downtown St. Louis, and face north. On your right, across a parking lot, is the Catlin-Morton Building, built in 1901. Ahead, across another parking lot, is the Hadley-Dean Building, built in 1903. To your right, at the northeast corner, is the Bee Hat Company Building, built in 1899. On your immediate right is the robust Merchandise Mart Building (originally the Liggett and Myers Building), built in 1888-9.

As you scan these buildings, you will notice similarities: heights around seven stories tall, deft articulation of the masonry walls of the buildings, repeated arches, Classical Revival ornament balanced with modern forms. The bearing-wall Merchandise Mart has to be the finest Romanesque Revival building downtown, and the Hadley-Dean's austerity anticipates the arrival of modernism in St. Louis.

However, these buildings share something more fundamental: the same architect, or perhaps architects. These buildings were designed by the prolific Isaac Taylor and his chief draftsman, Oscar Enders.

In a downtown marked by demolition, it seems rather fortuitous to the legacy of Taylor and Enders that their buildings remain such a strong presence. On the 1000 block of Washington, the Merchandise Mart occupied the entire southern side of the block while the north side, including the later Dorsa Building, is book-ended by Taylor and Enders' designs of the Bee Hat Company Building and the Sullivan (alter Curlee) Building at Tenth and Washington, built in 1899.

Of course, other Taylor and Enders works have not been so blessed; the Columbia Buidling at Eighth and Locust was cut down to two stories in 1977, and the Silk Exchange Building at the southwest corner of Tucker and Washington burned and was demolished in 1995.

Detroit Could Follow St. Louis

According to this article from the October 27 Detroit News, Detroit could learn some lessons from St. Louis on how to finance urban reinvestment, especially projects that reuse historic buildings.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Rest in peace, Scully and Blair.

Tonight, a stray dog died in ONSL. This dog, who a neighbor had named Scully, could often be seen around the neighborhood doing typical stray dog activities: running, begging, digging through trash, playing. I can't say I ever really interacted with her except when she thought I had food, but still, she seemed much less aggressive than a lot of stray dogs are, and I guess I tended to notice her because she sometimes actually seemed happy.

Tonight, we were driving up St. Louis Avenue and there was Scully, in the road, in a pool of her own blood. Someone had just hit her, but she was still alive. Her head was up and she was looking around. Saddened and terrified, we called neighbors and knocked doors until we found a neighbor who's adopted a few local strays himself. He made calls, we made calls, and we trudged back to the scene to look at her and call the Humane Society. But when we got around the corner, she was gone. We couldn't tell if she'd crawled away or been picked up by someone, but either way, she will probably be dead within the next 24 hours.

A neighbor I'd left a message with called back to see what was going on, and we talked about Scully, and then he told me that the stray kitten I'd been watching up in Hyde Park got killed yesterday. The kitten, whom they'd dubbed Blair, was also hit by a car. (Seeing that Blair was a mostly black kitten, I really hope it was not an intentional Halloween thing.) I've already cried over it; I had previously made some feeble attempts to catch Blair with the intention of fostering her into health and sociability, but I didn't think I'd tried hard enough yet, and I didn't succeed. Michael reminded me that no one else even tried on her behalf and I shouldn't feel bad, but still, it's awful. Our friends who found her are burying her tomorrow.

Even though I grew up in this city and should be used to all the strays around here -- their constant presence, and constant troubles -- it's still sad and disturbing to me.

I feel sad even trying to pull a lesson out of this, but please, spay and neuter your pets, please think about adopting an animal in need, and please, for god's sake, drive carefully.

Neighborhood Baseball

Did you know that, once upon a time, there was a restoration baseball league in St. Louis? At least, according to historian Larry Giles, the league existed for one season in the early 1980's. The league consisted of teams from rehab neighborhoods, although apparently one neighborhood was head and shoulders above the rest.

The championship game was a match between the Soulard "A" and "B" teams.

Who Owns Parcel 03650000710?

I had no idea that the mailing address for the City of St. Louis was c/o Dodier Investors, 721 Olive Street, Suite 920. (See this parcel information page for the Assessor's recording of the address for a section of the Illinois Terminal Railroad right-of-way on Tyler Street.)

Either the city is having such a tough revenue crunch that it had to move City Hall into the corner of a real estate office, or something else is going on.

UPDATE: The Assessor's Office made a mistake in recording the transaction for the parcel. Here's how it happened: On October 5, Ironhorse Resources transferred the parcel via quit-claim deed to Noble Development Company LLC, which sold the parcel on the same day to Dodier Investors LLC.

The parcel was carved from larger holdings of Ironhorse that were transferred on December 30, 2005, to the Metropolitan Park and Recreation District for the new trail that will utilize the old Illinois Terminal Railroad trestle. It seems hard to fathom that the future transfer to Noble Development was not in the works then.

The truth, then, is scarier than it seemed: the large parcel abutting a future trail is wholly owned by a private company with fictitious registration that is acquiring property at a rapid rate with little public scrutiny.

Givens Row Suffers Fire; Another Blairmont Blaze

Givens Row, the group of three limestone-faced, three-story row houses on the north side of Delmar just west of T.E. Huntley, suffered a small fire yesterday. The fire started at the eastern building in the group, 2903 Delmar Boulevard, which has been owned by Noble Development Company since September 13, 2006. The fire spread to the middle building, but was confined to the upper floor or each building. The cornices of the eastern two buildings were damaged. The western building, which is in use as apartments, suffered no damage at all.

The Italianate-style Givens Row was built in 1886 by businessman Jay Givens, who would later make a substantial donation to Washington University.

Noble Development Company is named for Harvey Noble, the real estate agent who is its registered agent. However, the company has deep ties to the Blairmont land scheme. Readers will recall that a tragic fire struck the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings, owned by Blairmont Associates LC, last month.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

911 outage in Detroit today

911 has been out of service for hours today in Detroit--especially bad news for a city that only gained control of its dangerous, destructive tradition of arson-filled Halloweens ("Devil's Night") in the past few years. Read more about the outage at FOX 2 Detroit.

Thanks to Xtina Lloyd for the tip.

Strange Purchases on the Near Northside -- Is There a Plan?

On October 13, the city recorded the quit-claim transfer of a sliver of property on Cass Avenue just east of the Greyhound station from Iron Horse Resources of O'Fallon, Illinois to Noble Development Company LLC. This parcel is the tunnel approach section of the right-of-way of the former Illinois Terminal Railroad's electric interurban railroad.

The interurban ceased its runs in the 1950s, and this right-of-way has been vacant ever since. Currently, the section of the interurban line that ran on an elevated trestle to the McKinley Bridge is being converted into a trail. The "tunnel" section under Tucker Boulevard will be filled in by the city so that improvements can be made to Tucker.

Noble Development Company LLC is, of course, part of the "Blairmont" family of real estate companies. Supposedly a great mystery to city officials, these companies have a great knack for purchasing property that is strategic to various public works initiatives or urban planning projects. I find it very difficult to fathom that city leaders would let a parcel like the old Terminal Railroad right-of-way section slip through their fingers when it is needed for two large projects that are underway.

Is it possible that the transfer of the land to Noble Development Company was a result sought by someone in city government and that the mysterious company is holding the parcel and others in accord with a master plan for the near northside? I'm not sure, but it seems possible. Until city leaders address the strange property acquisition pattern of these companies, people are going to be led to such conclusions.

Hopefully, rehabbers and business owners on the near northside will stand their ground and avoid panic as rumors float. What a shame that as Old North St. Louis gains development traction the Blairmont scheme emerges without comment from the mayor or others who could instill confidence.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gasometer Love

Someone (with the wry Flickr username of "flickr_screen_name") has posted a photographic ode to the gasometer at Laclede Gas Company Pumping Station G on Chouteau Avenue in Forest Park Southeast. Here are the photos.

The gasometer, built in 1901 and rebuilt in the 1940's, stands next to a delightful Renaissance Revival pumping station that will be renovated for condo use. The gasometer is not as fortunate, and is slated for demolition.


Is St. Louis really the most dangerous city in the US?

Mayor Slay says no, and for once I can't disagree with him. (Except for the plug for Proposition P, which would create a recreation center in Carondelet Park that would eat up historic park land and place a much-needed resource at the resource-rich far south end of the city.)

I remain awed that these "most dangerous cities" lists are still widely publicized. Their existence seems designed to reinforce suburban America's deepest and most unreasonable fears of inner cities and racial difference. The lists also have the terrible side effect of discouraging investment in the cities that need it the most -- which inevitable end up in the upper ranks of danger.

Instead of reacting to statistical reinforcement of the status quo, the press should compile lists of the cities with the most dramatic improvement in stemming population loss and disinvestment. Or the cities that most need the attention and effort of caring Americans. Or the cities with the most potential to become vibrant, dense urban areas.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dodier Investors LLC, Welcome to My Neighborhood (Again)

There's a new developer in Old North St. Louis. How do I know? Well, one of my neighbors sold three buidlings located at 1420 and 1424 Hebert Street to this developer.

The name of the developer is Dodier Investors LLC.

Its address is 515 Olive Street, Suite 1608. Wait a minute -- that's the address of Eagle Realty Company, the agent for Blairmont Associates LC and the countless other fictitiously-registered companies, some which also listed a return mailing address at the offices of McEagle Development. These are the same people who hired an agent who tried to trick my legally-blind neighbor into selling a parcel she didn't want to sell. I guess they finally found a new name and a new offer that she could not refuse, so the trick is now on the neighborhood.

Now that the only block in Old North that did not suffer demolition in the 20th century now has been infilitrated by the northside's largest land scheme, everything is uneasy. Does the land scheme accomodate historic preservation and respect for an existing community? Or does it aim to superimpose upon the near northside a theoretical and lifeless vision of community based not on relationships between people but on a cyncial vision of development profit?

Answers to such questions are impossible to get when the people behind Dodier Investors LLC thwart communication and accountability.

Hot Water Heat

A few nights ago, when it became clear that cold evenings were here to stay and wearing winter coats indoors was not a long-term solution, I fired up the boiler on our hot-water heat system. Our plans for evading Laclede Gas into November were thwarted, but we regained the warm indoor temperature needed to feel like doing anything other than huddle on the couch in the evenings.

Within a few minutes of starting the boiler, the house began to smell of hot water. The smell was pleasant, and foretold of the ten-degree rise in indoor temperature that occurred in the next hour with the thermostat set on a conservative 60 degrees (which is where it mostly will stay this winter).

The less pleasant result came later. We lost the company of our cats to the radiators -- at least, until they realized their warm friends could not feed them.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Demolition Started on Chicago's Wirt Dexter Building

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that emergency demolition of the Wirt Dexter Building began today. The building, designed by Adler & Sullivan and built in 1887, burned in a huge fire on Tuesday.

Try to stanch the pain of tragedy by reading Carl Sandburg's poem "Skyscraper." The poem invokes the golden age of American tall buildings, started by rapid architectural innovation in which the Wirt Dexter Building was an integral part. The roots of the American skyscraper pass back through what is now a blackened wreck and what will next week be nothing but rubble. Although the building is falling, it was one of many that -- through narrow piers, wide windows, pronounced height and embrace of the metal frame -- proclaimed to Chicago and the world that a new soaring architectural form was being born in America. That legacy remains vibrant, even as the Wirt Dexter building dies a senseless death.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sarah and Cottage

Been to the corner of Sarah and Cottage avenues in the Ville neighborhood of St. Louis before last week? If not, you have forever missed your chance to experience the intersection with the anchor of its southeast corner, a row of flats with a corner storefront. The row was typical of those built west of Grand during the early years of the twentieth century: two stories tall, walls of buff brick, Classical Revival in style and with pale terra cotta ornament, window sills and coping. This one was flat-roofed, like this row nearby on Martin Luther King Boulevard documented on Urban Review awhile ago during its demolition.

Alas, this row began falling last week and will be gone by Monday. Already, only the storefront end still stands; the rest of the row is only a pile of rubble falling into the pits of coursed rubble limestone foundations. When it's all gone, this intersection will be a blank slate that likely will stay blank for awhile.

Another Fire Hits a Sullivan Building

Tragedy strikes Chicago with yet another devastating fire at a building designed by Louis Sullivan. This time, the damaged building is the 1887 Wirt-Dexter Building on Wabash Avenue in the Loop, a formative work by Adler & Sullivan. The Wirt-Dexter Building possesses a lightness of form with vertical emphasis that Sullivan would develop further with the Wainwright Building in 1891. The building also has a unique exposed system of iron piers on its rear elevation, long before the expressed forms of Mies Van Der Rohe's buildings and almost a century ahead of the postmodern exposed structure fad.

There is no conclusive report on structural integrity after the fire. However, press quotes from Chicago Transit Authority head Frank Kruesi seem to indicate that the building, which abuts an El line, may be demolished soon.

Read more about the fire and the building in an incisive essay by Lynn Becker, Chicago's leading architectural critic.

The Wirt-Dexter Building has been vacant for nearly twenty years, and there was little political will to find a new use for it. There may be Louis Sullivan key chains at the Chicago ArchiCenter gift shop, but that is no guarantee of the safety of any work designed by his hand. In today's Chicago, time and time again we see that no pedigree guarantees protection of a historic building.

Demolition Updates


Workers have begun removing the terra cotta ornament from the O. Morse Shoe Company Building at Duncan and Boyle. Apparently, some of the ornament will be "reused" in construction of the building that will replace the venerable shoe factory building: the sleekly boring, sub-urban headquarters building for Solae. Whether or not such reuse is appropriate remains to be seen.


Meanwhile, the clearance of 22 buildings in Forest Park Southeast is nearly complete. The demolitions at the north end of the neighborhood on Chouteau and Donovan avenues has created a large open space that is extremely jarring. Hopefully redevelopment will be swift. To the west, the Laclede Gas Pumping Station G will lose its landmark gasometer but retain its delightful Classical Revival pump house (built in 1910). West of there, the Freund Bread Company site has been cleared since last year, awaiting new buildings that are part of the Pumping Station project.

Overall, though, the neighborhood is looking better than ever. The transformation of Manchester Avenue within the last year has reversed the decay of many historic buildings and led to the openings of several new businesses.


On October 10, the Building Division issued an emergency condemnation for the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings. However, demolition is up to the Blairmont Associates LC of O'Fallon, Missouri, owners of the complex. So far, there is no demolition application at City Hall.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What Is Lost With Demolition

Demolition robs a city of its cultural heritage. Through demolition, neighborhoods lose countless landmarks -- some beautiful, some not. Cities lose great works of architectural art, and irreplaceable parts of their past. Sometimes, demolition is an unfortunate last resort when a building is too far gone to rebuild using limited urban financing mechanisms. (Clearly, my standard of "last resort" is tough.) Other times, and these are almost nonexistent, demolition might place an even more impressive and important building in the place of another. (Like, say, what stood on the site of the Wainwright Building being torn down for the Wainwright.)

However, one big loss caused by demolition frequently is overlooked: loss of usable building materials.

The typical historic buildings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries wrecked in St. Louis are loaded with useful brick, wood, stone and glass. Obviously, decorative elements are frequently salvaged. That's because they are worth a lot of money. Go to any demolition site in town and look through the dumpsters. You'll find structural timbers, copper, tongue-and-groove flooring, wooden window sashes (often with smashed panes), rubble stone, doors, door hardware and other items that rehabbers like myself are constantly pulling out of dumpsters for free to replace missing parts of our homes. The wood from old St. Louis buildings is long-leaf yellow pine, fir, cypress and other wood culled from virgin-growth forests. This wood is nothing like the soft pine on today's lumber market -- why does it hold up even in abandoned buildings with no roofs? It's solid, hard stuff. The stone is native limestone, very useful even in uncarved pieces. The windows are largely of stock sizes sought by people restoring other old buildings, and the glass can be used to re-glaze other old windows or re-cut for other uses. (New glass doesn't have the same character at all.)

Very rarely does a wrecker try to save every reusable part of a building. Most of the time, it's cheaper to dump those materials than to flip them to people who want the materials. Nowadays, the reuse market is weak, and sale of items saved from a building might take time. Time requires storage, thus increasing the costs.

Perhaps something city leaders could look at in the future are incentives to help reuse the valuable store of unique building materials the city is bleeding daily. There is no way to recover the embedded energy of a building's construction -- another cost of demolition never itemized on any bid -- but the materials could help other old buildings and new buildings avoid the fate of demolition later. The city could also consider requiring salvage of some percent of buildings based on inspection by a certified architectural historian and an engineer. I suspect that the only incentive big enough to lead to action is a change in laws. Perhaps the law could simply require setting aside certain materials on the site for several days before dumping them.

In general, though, the best way to see the materials reused is to enact stronger limits on demolition itself.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Preservation Board Meeting Today

The Preservation Board meets today at 4:00 p.m. The agenda isn't marked with items of great interest, although some nominations to the National Register of Historic Places are intriguing. For instance, Melinda Winchester of Lafser Associates is nominating the General American Life Insurance Building on Market Street, which was completed in 1977 from a design by Phillip Johnson. This nomination is interesting because the National Register requires special significance to be proven for a building built within the last fifty years. With the Johnson pedigree, the buidling should not have difficulty. (For the record, I wrote two of the nominations being considered today: those of the Robert E. Lee Hotel and the William Cuthbert Jones House.)

Far be it from me to be quick complain without being quick to compliment: the Preservation Board agenda, often only published hours before the meeting, was posted online weeks in advance, with summary statements behind each item even on the tentative agenda. The full copy of the agenda was delivere to me by courier on Friday. This is very good work by the board and the staff of the city's Cultural Resources Office.