We've Moved

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

Friday, September 29, 2006

Upset in McKinley Heights

In the Riverfront Times blog, Kristin Hinman recently reported on a neighborhood meeting last Saturday in McKinley Heights that went awry. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the proposal to make much of the neighborhood a local historic district, a move that would protect its architectural character through an enforceable code governing exterior alterations to historic buildings as well as new construction. Most of the neighborhood already enjoys status as a National Register of Historic Places district, which makes state historic rehab tax credits available there. The local district seems the logical next step to protect the quality of the neighborhood amid a rehab boom. After all, many areas where tax-credit rehabs abound also attract very bad rehabilitation work. One can look at Benton Park and Old North St. Louis and see many inappropriate and downright ugly jobs side-by-side with wonderful and respectful rehabs.

As it turns out, many in McKinley Heights oppose taking the step to preserve their character. As Hinman reports, both Alderwoman Phyllis Young (D-7th), who will introduce the enabling ordinance for the district, and Kate Shea, director of the Cultural Resources Office that would enforce the code, were hazed by irate residents at the meeting. It's hard to say whether the naysayers are the majority. After all, the McKinley Heights Housing Corporation supports the local district ordinance, and public meetings inevitably attract more people who think something is wrong than people who think something is right.

Some of the objections Hinman mentions are that the ordinance will spawn gentrification and raise housing prices. I don't have statistics showing otherwise, but can offer the fact that such forces rarely are spurred on by local historic district codes -- in fact, many developers are distrustful of those codes. Local districts are often sought by residents of neighborhoods that have seen massive investment, and who may very well want to use the codes to prevent bad designs that lower property values. That's far from gentrification -- that's the simple desire to enjoy a good life and prevent the reversal of good changes.

Besides, every local district code -- including the one proposed for McKinley Heights -- contains clauses that protect owners from incurring "financial hardship" in compliance. Truly deserving homeowners won't have to buy windows that they can't afford as long as they apply for a permit and deal with the Cultural Resources Office, which can grant waivers. The cases people read about that head to the Preservation Board mostly involve situations where owners made alterations prohibited by the code without taking out building permits. Most people who deal directly with Cultural Resources never have such problems.

Another fact working against the complaints of the people at the meeting is that much of the distressed Hyde Park neighborhood remains a local historic district with a strict code. No one can argue that the code has brought gentrification there or stopped widespread demolition.

In the end, the local district codes fall short of being total protection of a neighborhood's buildings. That's probably a good thing, because the codes are thus very democratic with the allowance of situational exceptions. The general protection that the codes provide does make a difference, though, because most of the people who seek to erode the architectural character of a neighborhood are not long-time residents but outside developers who can afford to do better. The local code really protects neighborhoods for invested residents.

One of the shortcomings of a local district ordinance is that it will not provide for any regular education of new residents about the provisions of the code. The Cultural Resources Office does not have the means to provide field education, and no advocacy group is providing that service either. However, that's where a group like the McKinley Heights Housing Corporation needs to step in and make sure that old and new residents know the code and know to apply for permits for exterior work. Again, most code violations occur when people don't know the rules or don't know to apply for a permit. Education is key to an effective local code and for support.

Hopefully, proponents of a McKinley Heights local district ordinance will continue to educate and build support for it so that the naysayer's misinterpretations of the code don't become widespread opposition.

Want a Caboose?

Want a New York Central System caboose, circa 1900?

It's currently offered on CraigsList for free -- cost of moving the caboose from Alton not included.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Clemens House for Sale

A friend let me know that there is a for sale sign on the Clemens House directing potential buyers to call Eagle Realty.

This is interesting news given that the City Counselor's office never re-filed the Building Division's suit against the owners of the house, and a tipster told me that the case file had been relocated upon request to the Mayor's office. The Counselor's office had promised to re-file the case after giving the Clemens House's owner, Blairmont Associates LC, 90 days from February 14, 2006 to sell the house. That deadline passed without comment from City Hall or the city's daily paper, which had covered the matter earlier.

Well, better late than never, as the tortoise told the hare.


Well, word from a friend is that we did not win some sort of blog award given out by a local weekly newspaper. Apparently, the honor went to Steve Patterson for Urban Review.

Interesting. I had no idea that the West End Word had an awards issue.

Good News for the Mullanphy Emigrant Home; Hard Work Ahead

There is great news about the Mullanphy Emigrant Home: the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group has the damaged landmark under contract.

However, the effort to truly preserve the building only now begins. The What's New in Old North blog maintained by the Restoration Group's Executive Director Sean Thomas reports that the organization needs to raise between $100,000 and 150,000 to be able to stabilize the building before being able to market it to developers. The blog entry details how people can help by making donations to the stabilization effort.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Callow Urges Urbanists to Buy Houses on Blair

Preservation Board Chairman Richard Callow made an interesting post to Urban St. Louis yesterday. The post, entitled "Why Not?", urged readers to consider purchasing one of the two LRA-owned houses on the 3900 block of Blair Avenue in Hyde Park whose demolitions were denied by the Board on Monday.

Writes Callow: "Drive by 3961, in particular. Wouldn't it be more interesting living there than in a former warehouse with something called Shoppes in the ground floor?"

While it takes more than a forum post to sell an LRA building, at least Callow is trying.

Some readers may recall that Mayor Slay seemed appreciative of two frame houses on 19th Street in Hyde Park also threatened with demolition last year. Hmmm.

Blunder on Laclede

Highland Homes is planning to demolish the house at 4557 Laclede currently used by the ACLU as their office to make way for the most ungainly new heap of housing in the current CWE boom. Look at the rendering on Urban St. Louis, and you may find yourself gaining a new appreciation for the architecture of the OPUS towers, which while bland aren't even close to being as ill-proportioned as this new building. Yes, the building is "green," but that does not excuse the design faults, which are not in any way related to the constraints of using green materials, or the fact that demolition of the existing building on the site will generate a lot of debris for the landfills.

Note that the first design for Renaissance Place, or whatever it will be called, is still far uglier (although thankfully shelved). The fact that designs as terrible as these are being taken as far as the construction phase shows a real need for a strong design advocacy movement here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Toynbee Tiles in St. Louis

Have you ever seen one of the "Toynbee tiles" in St. Louis while walking around downtown St. Louis? I have spotted one on Chestnut Street near Kiener Plaza, and one around the Railway Exchange Building at Sixth and Olive streets.

In case you are wondering what I am talking about, let me explain. In several American cities for the last 25 years, strange linoleum tiles have appeared embedded in downtown streets, usually at a crosswalk.

The tiles carry the strange message: "Toynbee Idea: In Movie 2001, Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter."

An artist is making a documentary about these strange urban artworks, whose creator remains unidentified. Read the story transcript from NPR for more information.

More Evidence That Street Closures Are Stupid

A friend who lives in the Eden Publishing Building at Chouteau and Dolman streets in Lafayette Square shared the following anecdote. Dolman Street is needlessly closed just south of Chouteau, allowing access to the parking lot behind the Eden building but no through traffic. Last week, landscaping crews came out and planted shrubs in the little grassy area formed between the cul-de-sacs created by the street closure. Since the shrubs went in, a truck that once drove through the street over the closure must be taking a more delicate route. Deep ruts caused by truck tires since have appeared slightly to the right of the shrubs, forming a curve that avoids the new plants.

Preservation Board Denies Demolition Permits in Hyde Park, Dogtown

At yesterday's meeting of the Preservation Board, the board unanimously voted to deny both Hyde Park demolition permits sought by Alderman Freeman Bosley (D-3rd) and the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). The alderman and the city's real estate wing wanted to level both of the frame houses at 3953 and 3961 Blair Avenue, which the LRA has owned since 2001. Staff from the Cultural Resources Office recommended approving demolition of the modest but mostly intact Italianate house at 3953 Blair while denying the permit for the rare Greek Revival house a few lots down. While the dire circumstances in Hyde Park may suggest such either-or piecemeal decision-making, what the neighborhood needs is comprehensive planning. Neither building is structurally unsound, and frame buildings of such size and age are becoming rare in the city no matter what architectural style. (Style is important in appraising the significance of individual buildings, although a trivial concern in terms of building successful neighborhoods where many factors must be balanced.) Steve Patterson and I each spoke in favor of preserving the two buildings.

The demolition permit for the house at 6452 Nashville in Dogtown also was denied. The owners paid almost $100,000 for the house only to apply for a demolition permit without a redevelopment plan. Huh? This is one of the city's most stable neighborhoods, after all, making their application somewhat baffling.

Another good vote from the board was a 4-1 vote (with Mary Johnson dissenting) to defer consideration of plans for two model homes at 1922 and 1928 Whittier in The Ville. Frankly, the plans were terrible in terms of proportion, ornament, size and compatibility with context although Johnson saw redeeming qualities in their "French Victorian" style. Developer Sandra Nobles certainly did well in explaining the need to build on vacant lots in the Ville, but she could not answer questions about the design very well. More time and input from the staff at Cultural Resources should lead to better design.

One noteworthy presence of yesterday's meeting was that Alderman Terry Kennedy (D-18th), who is a member of the board, was present. This was his first appearance at a board meeting in nearly one year.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Preservation Board Agenda Available

This morning, the St. Louis Preservation Board posted the agenda for today's meeting. It's fairly short, actually, and no item is very controversial. Yet who has time to read the whole agenda and the summaries before the meeting if it's only posted in the morning?

Among the items are the proposed demolition of two city-owned vacant houses on Blair Avenue in Hyde Park, the demolition of a house in Dogtown owned by an investment company, permits for lackluster new houses in the Ville and some appeals related to renovation work in violation of local historic district ordinances.

Also this morning, Steve Patterson of Urban Review posted his thoughts on the Preservation Board: "The Preservation Board A Public Hearing Or Not?"

The Preservation Board meets at 4:00 p.m. on the 12th floor of the building at 1015 Locust Street in downtown St. Louis.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Checks Cashed, Open During Construction

The old building still stood on June 10, 2006. Photograph by Claire Nowak-Boyd.

If one demolishes all of a building before building its replacement, where does the occupant go in between? Might be easier to stay put. The owners of a check cashing shop on the 6100 block of Martin Luther King Drive in Wellston just outside of St. Louis chose to keep their building standing as they built a new one. However, the story is interesting because the footprint of the new building overlaps with that of the old.

The solution? Knock down as much of the old two-story brick building as necessary while leaving the business open during construction!

Here's the side view.

Some plywood kept the old building secure until the new building, set far back from both Martin Luther King Drive and Kienlen Avenue, could open. Subsequently, the old building was completely demolished.

Preservation Board Again Fails to Publish Advance Agenda Online

'twas the Friday before the Preservation Board Meeting, and not an agenda could be found!

The Board's website no only does not have an agenda today, but it lists the next meeting date as "August 28, 2006." While this oversight is no fault of Board members and likely not that of the Cultural Resources Office staff, whoever is in charge of updating this website needs to be chastised for constantly failing to provide citizens with the information they need to know well enough in advance so that they might plan to attend these meetings. The website is how most people get the agenda; few have time to go to the Cultural Resources Office to pick up a copy.

While I am a historic preservation professional and can easily attend these meetings because it is part of my job, others are not so lucky. Most city residents could not attend a meeting about a demolition permit if they only found out about it Monday morning and the hearing was at 4:00 p.m. That's barely enough time to send in a statement via e-mail. Meanwhile, developers who know about the permit long in advance can attend and in the absence of citizen testimony state that no one in the neighborhood cares about the issue since no one showed up.

Really, there is no reason why the agenda could not be published one week prior to the meeting. Items that came in late would simply have to be placed on the next month's agenda.

On Wooden Windows

Rick Bonasch wrote an interesting post on wooden window restoration for STL Rising.

What do we think about keeping old wooden windows?

Our house has seventeen window openings. Originally, the front four windows were one-over-one while all others were two-over-two. One previous owner replaced the four third-floor windows with decent aluminum one-over-one windows that fit the existing openings pretty closely. The next owner had a fire in the house and ended up replacing eight windows with ill-fitting one-over-one white vinyl windows, two of which are on the front elevation. This owner did not maintain the historic wooden windows, which have problems.

Our plan? Retain the aluminum windows for a few years, since they provide good insulation, fit the openings well and are barely visible from the street. I will restore all of the wooden windows myself except for the two on the back wall; the plan had been to start this fall but with a back staircase that needs major repairs I'll likely not get started until the spring. The back wall is going to be taken down and relayed, so it's easier to install new windows there. We are using custom-order double-pane, low-E Marvin windows that are solid wooden two-over-two units with authentic dividers. This is a southern exposure, so the new windows make sense in terms of energy conservation. For the openings plugged with vinyl, we will be removing each one and replacing with other authentic wooden Marvin windows like the others, except we will be using their "Tilt-Pack" model designed to fit existing jambs. This replacement will take place inthe spring if we ever close on our loan.

The Marvin windows may upset purist readers, but they were actually recommended to us by a rehabber in Old North who used them on his house, which he and his wife restored to near-exact 1879 appearance. At between $500-600 an opening, the Tilt-Pack units are a lot more affordable than authentic milled replicas, which can run upwards of $800 for sashes before hanging and glazing. they are also easy for a novice like myself to install, so I won't have to pay anyone to hang them for me. The added energy efficiency is a huge bonus; we won't need storm windows on them. Best of all, they will look very close to the original windows, and be real wood on the interior and exterior, so our own purist hearts will be placated.

Now, mind you, if all seventeen openings had their original wooden windows, the plan would be to restore each and every one of them. Since that is not the case, we are choosing to balance historic appearance, cost and our time -- and still get real wooden windows.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Post-Dispatch Covers the 14th Street Mall Renovation

A blight turn on 14th Street - Rebecca Roussell (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 21)

There's now a plan for the 14th Street Mall is Old North St. Louis, but is a "blight turn" really the right pun to describe it?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hope on Martin Luther King Drive

I spent some of my morning talking with a building owner in the Wellston Loop area. He has big plans for his big building, the former J.C. Penney store at 5930 Martin Luther King Drive. (This is the International style gem designed by William P. McMahon and built in 1948.) He envisions the building as catalyst for rejuvenating the area, and seems optimistic despite acknowledging forty years of neglect of the area and of Martin Luther King Drive in general.

The neglect is formidable. On the drive out to his building from downtown, I passed the sites of a dozen buildings that were demolished within my lifetime and whose details I clearly recall. I passed even more buildings that sit empty, or in use, or in some derelict state between. I passed two buildings with significant recent collapses. I passed one row of flats and a corner commercial building under demolition despite being in good condition. I was overcome with melancholy as I considered that many of these buildings won't survive my lifetime, or even the next decade, and the fifty-odd blocks of a street that supposedly honors to good work of Dr. King will be virtually unrecognizable to me by middle age, and already is unrecognizable to people old enough to recall its heyday.

Even at the time that Franklin and Easton avenues were renamed for Dr. King in 1972, the conditions of the buildings on the street were not great. At the time, some critics felt that the legacy of Dr. King was diminished by placing his name on a street with a sad future. The sad future is now, and the street name certainly seems cynical.

Hopefully, the J.C. Penney building and others on the street will survive, and find good owners, and provide momentum for development along here. Aldermen O.L. Shelon (4th Ward) and Jeffrey Boyd (22nd Ward, including the Wellston Loop), whose wards include most of the street in the city, are pushing for redevelopment that is architecturally sensitive. They can only do what is politically possible, though, before it is up to the market to generate the capital needed to revive sections of the street. May that time come before all is lost on the great street with a great name.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

CORTEX Claims Another Historic Building

The O. Morse Shoe Company Building at 235 Boyle Avenue in the Central West End, better known as the SKH Paper Company Building, is likely to fall soon for part of the CORTEX biotech development project. Full story here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

LRA's Problem With Marketing: It Needs to Start

Check out the featured properties list of the city's real estate agency, the Land Reutilization Authority.

Maybe it looks fine on first glance, if a little short on the number of properties. That number, though, gets even shorter when you look at the little red tags added next to each address. Two of the properties have already sold. One has an offer made on it, although the tag "OFFER" may not be as self-explanatory to a first-time visitor to the website. Another reads "Available," leading one to question whether or not the other addresses listed are available as well.

Further investigation shows that of the buildings that sold, the sale of 3463 Potomac was recorded December 16, 2005 and the sale of 1919 Agnes was recorded August 1, 2006. The website proclaims its last update as being August 23, 2006, making the presence of the August 1 sale somewhat understandable. Yet there is no good reason why the sale from late last year should still be listed on the Featured Properties pages.

Further investigation reveals that almost all of the current addresses have been on the Featured Properties page since 2004, and that only one or two have been added since that year. In the past, even more "sold" properties cluttered this page.

Are we to believe that the city has no more worthwhile LRA-owned buildings to sell when it gets through with this list?

Of course not; there are thousands more and many of them would sell quickly if one didn't have to deal with the city to purchase them. The LRA should be constantly rolling in new properties to the Featured Properties page. As soon as one sells, another should replace it. If a sold house needs to remain on the site to show people what kind of properties LRA has sold, it should be moved to an archive page.

Yet even an enhanced Featured Properties page only reaches anyone who can find the page, which isn't easy to find. What LRA really needs to do is actual marketing.

Here are some suggestions for an LRA marketing plan:

1. Publish the entire LRA property list on the LRA website, complete with a photograph of each building in the inventory and the asking price (which should be $1.00 in every instance).

2. Form partnerships with neighborhood organizations that have proven development ability, such as the partnership being forged between LRA and the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. The neighborhood groups will create marketing strategies and materials.

3. Eliminate the requirement of an alderman's letter of support for a sale. Why this is even part of LRA policy is beyond comprehension. (For instance, the Third Ward has the highest concentration of LRA buildings in the city. Good luck getting that letter of support there!)

4. Create an attractive for-sale sign to be placed on each LRA building.

5. Explore the possibility of public-private partnerships that would utilize LRA buildings for Habitat for Humanity and other housing efforts.

6. Create a dedicated staff position for the purpose of sales and marketing. Of course, funding is tight at present but I would argue that selling LRA buildings should be a huge priority of city government and worthy of the expenditure. After all, the St. Louis Development Corporation already spends a lot of city money every year contracting to outside parties for appraisal and consulting work. Why not figure out ways to save money on those contracts to fund a position at LRA?

With some effort, LRA could sell much of its inventory in a few years. Of course, aldermen would lose their ability to give favored developers property, and land banking for large projects might become difficult, but rarely is that approach conducive to smart urban planning. Aldermanic control of development has been nothing but a downfall for the city.

I am not suggesting that LRA drop its proof of financial responsibility requirement. However, the agency needs to stop using that requirement as a threat. LRA needs to conduct itself to ultimately completely divest its property. LRA properties have a bad reputation as eyesores that are difficult to purchase. In fact, they could be the raw material of urban homesteading and returned to use.


As a follow up to my August 9 post, "Young Smart St. Louisans: Where Do They Go?":

Many of my friends talk about having to leave town or at least work in the suburbs to get started in their career field before they turn 40. These are creative people who generate a lot of cultural capital for the city and who proselytize on behalf of city living in St. Louis. If one of them moves, there may be three or four people left behind who moved to St. Louis from the suburbs or another city with persistent needling from the person headed out of town. Their concerns are met with a cold shoulder from the old guard who hold public offices, board of directors slots and corporate and nonprofit management positions, who remain set in the ways that knocked St. Louis from one of the nation's top ten largest cities to number 52.

Corporations like the St. Louis Cardinals and AT&T frequently complain about how they have to consider leaving town to fully realize their growth. Their concerns are met with a mad dash by politicians and civic "leaders" to arrange for public subsidy and a guilt-trip for the general public who are not supportive enough. While these companies sometimes create jobs, their primary purpose is to create profits. Their contributions to the region's economy are measurable, but their presence doesn't often attract the people who make St. Louis a fun place to live.

I'm not suggesting that St. Louis could survive as a big city without major companies located in the city. I am suggesting that we will never grow until we work to retain the smart young people who are seeking to invest in the city's future. The response of the civic elite to the possible drain of both people and companies is telling: they value economic wealth over cultural wealth. (No wonder why we have civic monuments as ugly as the Edward Jones Dome and why reopening Kiel Opera House was never a pressing civic goal until a developer stepped in to spearhead the effort.)

Things have to change -- for St. Louis' sake. Other cities won't complain if things stay the same here.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Drip duty (or: rehabbing does not equal glamour)

At the moment, there are:

4 buckets on the third floor
1 sink on the third floor
1 linoleum area on the third floor
4 buckets on the second floor
1 cake pan on the second floor
1 bathtub on the second floor
a big big drain in the basement floor
and a random assortment of walls, floors, and radiators

....catching rain that has found its way inside our house.

Hey, it could be worse. It could definitely be worse.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

"....since no one in the Congo wanted to hire a banana thief...."

So, while putzing around on the 'net, I went to look at the website of ONSL's most famous landmark, Crown Candy. (I can't even tell you how many times I've had the "I live in Old North St. Louis." "Where?" "I live around the corner from Crown Candy." "OHHH!" dialogue. I've lost count.)

I don't know if you made it to Crown Candy this spring, but they were selling dozens and dozens of t-shirts reading "IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONKEY." And they had hundreds and hundreds of the product that the shirt advertised: the chocolate Easter monkey.

I only just now came across the link to The Story of the Traditional Easter Monkey. I don't know how I never saw this before, but I highly recommend it. It is the kind of story that could only come out of a place like Crown's and a neighborhood like this one.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Park Space Isn't All That BJC Threatens

If BJC gets to lease part of Forest Park, can the city not require them to reopen Euclid Avenue to through traffic? I am very disturbed that the city would contemplate leasing part of a public park to a private entity for new construction, but I am even more upset that the city has already granted BJC de facto ownership of public thoroughfares through their "campus."

The park space issue raises a huge red flag with the voters, who overwhelmingly seem to oppose it. I suppose park space is obvious community space that people generally value. Street space, much more fundamental to building good neighborhoods, is also public space and worthy of defense. Yet few people defend streets against closures, cul-de-sacs and such. In fact, some vocal Forest Park Southeast residents oppose the proposed new BJC lease as vocally as they call for making some culvert-pipe barriers permanent closures with gates or walls.

BJC's rampant expansion is creating a problem far worse than, although reflected in, the proposed lease: the creation of a virtual citadel that will sever connections between the Central West End and Forest Park Southeast (or "The Grove"). This is a terrible thing for FPSE, which is showing miraculous signs of recovery and the resurgence of the Manchester Avenue commercial district. That rebound will suffer if people cannot find FPSE or get to it quickly from other neighborhoods.

If Mayor Francis Slay wants to continue his public-defying embrace of the lease, he ought to demand that BJC provide some thing other than money in return. He needs to make sure that BJC stops closing streets and stops building parking garages that have no street-level retail or office space. Taylor Avenue in particular is a major connector between the CWE and FPSE, yet BJC treats it like their service alley and rush-hour freeway. The worst buildings, garages and lots face Taylor -- yet Metro is relocating the Central West End MetroLink station entrance to Taylor from Euclid.

Save our park, and restore our streets!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Granite Steps Throw the Sheldon Off Balance

The Sheldon Memorial in Midtown looks very different right now. One has to look closer and may have to conjure memory to figure out what is different, but the change is glaring: All of the limestone steps have been clad in red Missouri granite!

While this change may not seem big, it completely throws off the synergy between the steps and building. The pale Bedford limestone steps matched the limestone ornament on the building, designed by Louis Spiering and built in 1912. Use of the same material for the high decorative ornament and low functional steps indicated that all material choices were thoughtful and deliberate.

Now, the pinkish steps seem like an afterthought that just don't quite match the building. There is something about the clash between the granite steps and the brown-toned bricks of the Sheldon that is disturbing.

(Thanks to Bill Seibert for the tip.)

Mid-Century Modern Preservation Efforts Require Rethinking Preservation

While preservation battles continue across the St. Louis region, those surrounding mid-century modern buildings will probably dominate the next twenty years of the local preservation movement. Given the economic geography of new construction in St. Louis around the middle and later parts of the 20th century, most of the buildings that will be threatened stand in St. Louis County and other suburban areas (with some exceptions).

Any preservation effort that will aim to defend the outstanding modernist buildings of this area will need to be pan-geographic. The effort will have to involve individuals and groups comfortable and ready to make alliances into the suburbs, and into Illinois. In turn, new allies will have to be ready to support battles ongoing in the city of St. Louis.

With the parochial attitudes of many cultural actors here, one may have cause to be pessimistic about the prospect of the local preservation movement trying to save mid-century modern buildings. Of course, even before the bias toward certain political boundaries comes a more pernicious bias against any building not "historic" by the art-historical terms embodied by most local, state and national landmark designations.

What is needed before too long is rejection of the strictures of profession and political boundaries so that a truly regional effort to preserve all of the valuable architecture of this region can be born. While there are ethical and ecological reasons to favor the dense urban core of the region, culturally significant works of architecture are everywhere. The mid-century buildings tell a different story than the 19th century masonry buildings that are ubiquitous here -- one of an optimistic embrace of technology and open space. We all know that story has become tragedy, but certain buildings that are part of the story are aesthetically unique landmarks that are needed in today's world when we have descended even further into the abyss of suburbanization.

Time has changed the way in which architectural historians appreciate the buildings of the mid-century era. Now it's time for the preservation movement to do the same, in St. Louis and elsewhere.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Duffy Returns to Criticism

What can one read into the appearance of a review, published with no special notice, by Robert Duffy in the Riverfront Times? Is Duffy, the longtime Post-Dispatch architecture and culture critic whose byline gradually disappeared from that paper until he took early retirement, now part of the RFT's team?

What an interesting and unlikely move for both parties that would be!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

World Trade Center Attack, Five Years Later

If you want to know what I wrote about the World Trade Center five years ago, and two years ago, go to this page at Omnitectural Forum.

Five years later, the event of the towers' destruction still seems pivotal to me, but I no longer feel that American society treats it as an urgent political event. In fact, I fear that its anniversary is really an unremarkable and mostly overlooked day.

Then again, what else can be said or written? We have had five years to change the world in which the event happened to one in which is would be improbable -- and we have not done so. Our media has become even less reliable, our government more corrupt, and our world remains in turmoil. Yet there is great hope in that the unmitigated flow of political and technological power that shaped 9/11 is proving unsustainable, and the ways to resist the social impacts of that flow are more within our grasp than ever.

I hope that if in five years 9/11 is an uneventful day, it is because I am comfortable with the society in which I live and not because it's the same mess on a different day.

Friday, September 8, 2006

Hyperbolic language, first from them, then from me.

Did the P-D lower its journalistic standards to that of a second-rate blog?

Why, no, it's just the latest kissyfest between Federated's PR machine and Slay's PR machine, and if it happened to get published in the P-D, so be it!

Behold: The iron will of stylish, spiffy Macy's has boldly triumphed over the oppressive, dour frumptitude of Famous Barr to singlehandedly save Downtown! Bravo!

And apparently Macy's had a block party today, which involved red t-shirts, the closing of Olive, the Rams cheerleaders, and no less than a proclamation by Mayor Slay that today is Macy's Day in St. Louis. Did I or did I not call this one in advance?

(Sock it to me, kids. And remember: There's nothing as parochial as pride in local history!)

Thursday, September 7, 2006

KielCenter Acquires YetAnother FunnyName

Did ScotTrade champion the 1923 bond issue? Did Savvis use his stature to endorse much-needed reform to the government structure of St. Louis?

Of course not. These are accomplishments of Henry Kiel, Republican mayor of St. Louis from 1913 until 1925. The eponymous Kiel Opera House and Auditorium, built in 1934, has stood diminished in both building and name for years now. The city wrecked the auditorium section of the building in 1991 to build the new Kiel Center hockey arena, and the leaseholders of the arena soon sought to lease naming rights. The creepy-sounding Savvis purchased the name in 2000, and the compound-named ScottTrade just purchased the name and is calling the arena "ScottTrade Center." When Savvis purchased the name, Bi-State Development Agency had to rename the Kiel Center MetroLink station "Civic Center Station."

Perhaps if the company names that have appeared on the arena were less ridiculous than "Savvis" and "ScottTrade," I would believe that the arena bore a respectable name. As it is, I am embarrassed to think that my city would have the name "ScottTrade" on a building that is technically a public building and that once was named for one of the best St. Louis mayors ever.

Of course, the name sale generates revenue for the owners of the arena lease, who in turn can generate sales tax revenue for the city government and economic activity. But should the name of a public place ever be available for purchase? While some fees are generated, the purchaser of naming rights is using a building belonging to the public to support a perpetual and prominent advertisement. The gains to ScottTrade upon the new name are far greater than any to the general public -- and that's an arrangement that runs counter to the legacy of Henry Kiel, who oversaw the largest public works effort in the city's history. How ironic that his name would be stamped out for the clumsy, generic corporate moniker ScottTrade.

State Bank of Wellston to Be Demolished for Walgreens?

Word on the street -- the street being Martin Luther King Drive -- is that the State Bank of Wellston will soon be demolished for a new Walgreens store. Hopefully the rumors are wrong, but they seem sadly probable.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Driving North of Delmar Can Be Risky

Your truck is out of the shop after being there a week, so you go out to see a late film showing at the urban cinema. What can go wrong? Plenty, if you live in north St. Louis and plan on coming back before sun up.

We went out to see World Trade Center tonight and spent some time talking with our friend who manages the theater. We were driving north on Tucker Boulevard when a set of disco lights appears behind us at around O'Fallon Street. Busted!

What for?

Apparently, for...uh...improperly affixed license plates and failure to provide proof of insurance. And, apparently, it takes three police cars' worth of cops to make this determination. (Never know what those north siders might pull on you when you pull them over!)

The charges are technically true by the slimmest of margins. Our front license plates sit in their broken holder in the front window of the truck, after having been mangled in an accident very near the spot where we were pulled over. That time, it was daylight and it took fifteen minutes for a police officer to arrive. Since the plastic on our plate holders was shattered and the bumper twisted, I elected to place the plates in the front window rather than re-attach them. I drove like this without incident until taking the truck to the shop, and planned on putting the front plate back on tomorrow after purchasing a new frame with plastic cover. (Don't want my stickers stolen so that I'd get pulled over...) The officer who wrote the ticket tonight saw the plate and heard the story after pulling us over, but still wrote the ticket! I guess the city needs the revenue since the St. Louis Centre TIF is going through.

As for the proof of insurance charge, well, my card expired on September 5. I was pulled over at 12:00 a.m. on September 6, and did not have the new card in my truck. However, I had a copy of part of the insurance policy that declares that I have coverage, lists the policy number and the name and phone number of my agent. The officer apparently determined that I was insured, but again wrote a ticket on the technicality. She said that if I go to court I can supply proof and the tickets will be dismissed. Why write them?

Oh, yeah. Gotta have a reason for pulling someone over in the first place. And for the two "backup" cars that showed up, and the two other cars the drove to the scene to hover. Man, the guy driving the stolen car that caused my accident never met with these cops -- in fact, he was never caught and no real effort was made to chase him even though I called 911 with his plate numbers, car make and model and such within a few seconds of striking his car. Imagine the revenue they could have generated from him! Instead, he got away free and clear while Claire and I had to sit for a half-hour on our way home doubting our luck and choice of neighborhood. As Claire said, "I'm tired of getting pulled over in my own neighborhood!" This has happened before, and each time the officer has had to search to find an excuse for detaining us. Each time, we've felt like shit for even trying to live somewhere where we are treated as instant suspects just for living there.

That's okay, though. I was starting to feel comfortable living in my northside neighborhood. We wouldn't want any of that in St. Louis.

Monday, September 4, 2006

The Remains of the National Enamelling and Stamping Company Plant

This engraving of the National Enameling and Stamping Company plant appeared in the company's 1903 catalog.

In 1895, the St. Louis Stamping Company opened its new 550,000 square-foot plant in Granite City. The facility was designed by architect Frederick Bonsack. In 1899, the company's name changed to the National Enameling and Stamping Company (NESCO). Production continued at the plant until 1956, and subsequently the buildings were used for storage.

On October 27, 2003, the plant mostly burned to the ground in a spectacular blaze. Among the items stored inside were thousands of tires and propane fuel. The buildings had creosote-treated wood block floors that were gentle on workers' feet but highly combustible.

A detailed version of the story of the founding of Granite City and NESCO can be found here. Here are two views of the remains of the NESCO plant. The five-story building is the end part of the western wing of the building, seen at the right of the engraving above.

Granite City Demolished Restored Residential Building

Photograph taken on April 2, 2006 (Michael R. Allen).

In March 2006, the City Council in Granite City approved spending $90,000 to demolish 15 buildings as part of an effort to revive the ailing downtown area. Seven of these buildings had architectural merit and were structurally sound. While the other eight were marginally interesting and in various states of decay, these seven were all from the period of 1890-1920 and worth preserving in a city where historic architecture is one of the biggest cultural assets.

One of the losses of this demolition campaign was the tenement flats building at 2137 Edison Avenue. This four-flat building is reminiscent of the vernacular architecture of north St. Louis and was built around 1896 during the early wave of Granite City building. At this phase, many buildings here were designed by St. Louis architects who had previously done business with the Niedringhauses, founders of the new city. Most of the single-family homes and commercial buildings built around the start of the city were privately built on lots purchased from the Niedringhaus family real estate company, but the family developed some rental property to provide housing that could be available quickly. There is some possibility that the plans for this building came from the office of Frederick C. Bonsack, who worked for the family.

The flats were remarkably intact, down to the entry doors and casement still bearing the original varnish and hardware. All of the original wooden windows were present. If this building were in a historic district in St. Louis, it would be a sought-after candidate for tax-credit rehabilitation. The fact that it got demolished speaks to many of the inequities of preservation around St. Louis: the undeserved stigma of the east side's industrial towns, lack of an Illinois state historic tax credit, and general lack of awareness of east side vernacular architecture on the part of St. Louis-based historians.

The flats and the once-identical next-door neighbor. (Michael R. Allen)

The flats were demolished in May 2006. A twin stands to the north at 2141 Edison Avenue; however, that building is painted and has lost many of its original features including its central parapet.

Additional Photographs from April 2 and May 29, 2006 (Claire Nowak-Boyd & Michael R. Allen)

Granite City to Demolish Holstein Dry Goods Building

In March 2006, the City Council in Granite City approved spending $90,000 to demolish 15 buildings as part of an effort to revive the ailing downtown area. Seven of these buildings had architectural merit and were structurally sound. While the other eight were marginally interesting and in various states of decay, these seven were all from the period of 1890-1920 and worth preserving in a city where historic architecture is one of the biggest cultural assets.

One of these buildings is the two-story commercial building at 1308 19th Street in the heart of downtown that once housed the R.S. Holstein Dry Goods Company. This building draws upon the Georgian Revival style and possesses intricate detailing in white glazed terra cotta. While the interior needs gutting, the building retains historic and structural integrity and is a fine candidate for reuse. Perhaps Granite City government agrees, because as of September 2006 the building remains standing while the other 14 slated for demolition are gone. Economic Development Director Jon Ferry has commissioned a preservation study for downtown. Preservation of buildings like this one are essential components of such a plan, given the high level of demolition that has eroded the architectural context there. The city shouldn't overreact -- this building is neither a crack house nor is it falling onto the street. Ferry seems to understand the cultural and economic value of such buildings, so reuse may be forthcoming.

Of special note are the painted signs on the building's west wall.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

The Marquette Building Has a Cornice Again

The cornice is returning to the Marquette Building at 314 North Broadway in St. Louis. At least, a fiberglass-based replication of some of the original cornice details is being installed by the Lawrence Group. The new cornice's bracket detailing matches the original, but the projecting frieze had detailing not present on the replica, on which that area is flat. Even an incomplete cornice replication is a novelty among historic rehabilitation projects these days, since few other developers replicate removed cornices. (Pyramid's recent renovations of the Curlee and Mallinckrodt buildings on Washington Avenue come to mind.)

Boatmen's Bank built the Marquette Building, then simply the Boatmen's Bank Building, in 1914 from plans by renowned local firm Eames & Young. Their headquarters at Fourth and Washington had been destroyed in a fire. An annex building was added in 1918 and expanded in 1920, but demolished in 1998 for a parking garage that was part of a terrible and failed plan to redevelop the Marquette Building. The Marquette is now under renovation for reuse as condominiums and the garage is part of the Federal Reserve Bank's "campus."

Friday, September 1, 2006

Idle Men in Lucas Park

In 1940, the Salvation Army opened an Industrial Center for job training adjacent to the YWCA Building at 1411 Locust Street, now the New Life Evangelistic Center. A January 1940 report from the Advisory Committee of the local Salvation Army on establishing the center notes with concern that a "floating population of idle men fills the benches in the park back of the library [sic]." This park, of course, is Lucas Park and this situation, of course, continues to this day.

The building housing the Salvation Army's Industrial Center, by the way, has been demolished for a surface parking lot.