We've Moved

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

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.

Friday, October 20, 2006

World Series

In how many academic debates on urban decline is the worst American case posed as a tossup between St. Louis and Detroit?

Now that's the World Series tossup, and things have changed as the nation's eyes turn to the baseball teams of these two cities. Both cities remain bleeding buildings, businesses and residents, but they no longer come close to their mythic no-man's-land images (they never did, truth be told). St. Louis has started a modest population gain, and both cities are seing major reinvestment in their downtown areas. While smaller than Detroit, St. Louis is probably the leader of the two in demonstrating how to rebound from heavy population loss and deindustrialization.

Overall, though, I'm delighted that these two comeback cities are now getting the world's attention. Maybe this can help erase those negative myths further.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Time Out Chicago Publishes Preservation Issue

Time Out Chicago has an excellent preservation issue now out. Read it online here.

There's the expected section of endangered buildings, with featured sites ranging from worker's homes in Humboldt Park (our neighborhood when we lived in Chicago two years ago) to the mid-century Meigs Field Terminal building to the Acme Coke Plant. Those are three examples not types often seen on preservationist lists. Then the magazine gives suggestions on how to lobby various officials and owners for preservation -- very smart! The issue continues with examples of buildings rescued from demolition, and a longer article on a community center group that took a fire-damaged building on the brink of collapse and rebuilt as its home.

The features here are positive and action-oriented. The writers aren't particular preachy or condescending. Instead, they are presenting historic preservation as a cultural necessity, and showing that even those most damaged buildings can be brought back to life. Rather than simply tell the reader that old buildings should be saved, the writers of these articles show the reader that these buildings can be saved, and let the reader choose to act.

This issue is some of the smartest preservation journalism that I have read lately. Wouldn't it be great if a St. Louis newspaper did the same thing?

(Found via The Place Where We Live.)

Median Planters

Before the new Downtown Economic Stimulus Authority rushes to order new median planters for Tucker Boulevard downtown, its members should make an inspection of the results south on Tucker between Chouteau and Lafayette. There, the new median planters do more than serve the needed purpose of slowing traffic. The planters are too tall, blocking the view across the street and reinforcing the divide between the King Louis Square development and LaSalle Park. Being made of concrete, they are starting to get scuffed by cars -- and even without scuffing are bland.

And, while I am sure that downtown plantings would get more care, the median plantings on 14th Street nearby -- more sensibly planted on lower, curb-style medians -- are decidedly shabby and overgrown. It's amazing that in three short years the "beautification" plantings on 14th Street would already be so carelessly untended and the pattern of neglect that plagued the Darst-Webbe project would begin to return. Alas, one cause may be that 14th Street has been narrowed and traffic has been shunted west to the barren Truman Parkway. While broad thoroughfares like Tucker are generally disruptive, narrowed streets with obstacles like 14th Street often become dead spaces due to a lack of traffic. That seems to be what has happened to 14th Street, although it does not excuse the lack of maintenance.

A better idea for both the medians on Tucker and the plantings on 14th Street might be fewer exotic plantings and more native plants, and less elaborate plantings in general. Streets need beautification, but their primary purpose is the movement of people and vehicles. Contrary to city-in-a-garden musings, the street is no landscape. Why not focus instead on the quality of pedestrian experience?

Hopefully improvements on Tucker will be sensitive to the needs of street and sidewalk users, and not showy disruptions.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Terra Cotta on the Move

According to a neighbor, a missing piece of the terra cotta cornice of the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings now resides in front of the firehouse at the northwest corner of Blair and Salisbury in Hyde Park. The buildings burned last Friday.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Noises, Part Two

This morning, I awoke to a sound so loud coming from the roof above that I figured a giant squirrel was on top of our house.

I went out the back window on the third floor onto the lower roof and climbed the ladder to the upper roof to find that one of the tarps covering the front of the roof had dislodged from the board nailed across and through it, and was beating against the roof deck with great force in the autumn wind. A quick fix secured it once more, and I was off to work.

Due to a variety of complications that effective discourage investment by owner-occupants even in a supposedly-trendy part of north St. Louis, we are only now posed to close on a major rehab loan. We will begin brick work after the first of November, and the new roof should be on by Christmas barring winter precipitation and freezing temperatures. I suppose there is a silver lining to global warming, at least this year.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Photograph taken at the Carondelet Coke Plant by Claire Nowak-Boyd (September 3, 2006).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

MayorSlay.com Boosting Architectural Coverage?

MayorSlay.com beat us to posting photos of the St. Louis Army Ammunition Plant undergoing remediation prior to demolition.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings Burn

A huge fire struck the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings on Friday night. We have coverage and background here.

These beautiful buildings, at the northeast corner of Cass and Florissant avenues, were owned by Blairmont Associates LC. Critics who have alleged that Blairmont's speculation scheme is endangering historic buildings have been proven right.

Of course, I never wanted to be proven right. All I wanted to see was an effort to sell or rehab great buildings like these.

(Photograph by Claire Nowak-Boyd.)

Inside of 707 Eastgate

Andrew Faulkner sent these photographs of the interior of the building at 707 Eastgate during the demolition of the buildings on Eastgate with the following explanation: "The wrecking crew thoughtfully removed the doors of 707 Eastgate before they left for the weekend. I was shooting long exposures with ambient light at night and a few with a flashlight." The photos date to October 7, 2006.

Friday, October 6, 2006


Our next door neighbors are good at making noises. Here are some of them:

Loud fireworks (apparently M-90s are too quiet for them) from May 31 through August 31.

The thumping of bass from automobile and home stereos, nightly, usually after 10:00 p.m.

Screaming from children. (Disturbing, emotional screaming -- not joyous screaming.)

Domestic disturbances.

Cheering on another neighbor and relative's, uh, involved reaction to a pornographic movie they could see him watching. (He has a 50-inch TV and leaves the blinds open.)

Barking from two pit bulls, who sometimes bark if they hear us while we are still inside of our house.

Thankfully, one of the sounds is not that of gunfire.

If anyone thinks that rehabbing an old house on the north side is at all glamorous or about making money, read this post and consider that it's hard work that really is about social change.

MLK 3000: Not the Latest MC on the Scene

On September 19 and 20, the city recorded sales of properties owned by Ecology of Absence favorites N & G Ventures and Path Enterprises Company to MLK 3000 LLC, a corporation registered through the CT Corporation System office in Clayton and whose manager is apparently Harvey Noble, according to deeds of trust filed with the Recorder of Deeds' office. Noble is a partner in Eagle Realty Company with Steven Goldman, registered agent for N & G Ventures.

The Missouri Secretary of State's website reports that MLK 3000 LLC was chartered on March 31, 2006.

N & G sold the parcels at 2929, 2931 and 2633 Hebert; 2331 and 2543 Maiden Lane; 2528 St. Louis; 2721 Dodier; 2506 University; and 3114 and 3116 Glasgow. Path sold the parcels at 1435 through 1449 Benton Street in Old North St. Louis (most of the former Al's Auto Sales lot). According to deeds of trust, the total purchase price for these properties is over $890,000.

Northsiders everywhere should thank MLK 3000 LLC for the new comps on the market.

Random Notes

A few random notes:

  • Thomas Crone has found much of the material salvaged from St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church -- in a new bar on Manchester Avenue fittingly called "The Church Key." Read his review of that new establishment here.

  • Some readers may have noticed that the Syndicate Trust Building is undergoing both removal of its older coats of paint and repainting. Apparently, the cost of total restoration is prohibitive because the old paint damaged the original buff brick quite badly. The new paint is similar in color to the old paint, and returns the monochrome look to the building.

  • Long-needed rehabs of the Metropolitan and Woolworth's buildings in Midtown are on hold. Meanwhile, with the completion of the new building on Live just west of the Continental Building's parking garage at a similar height to that garage and the Scottish Rite garage across the street has an ill effect. While before vacant land took away from the visual quality of the block, now bland architecture and a lack of variety in form and height give the block the feel of a wind tunnel. The new building is a modest contemporary structure that is the least offender compared to the two dreadful parking garages, neither of which has any street-level retail. Add to the mix that the Continental Building's storefront remains empty four years after the building re-opened -- wasn't that supposed to be space for an "upscale restaurant"? -- and Olive Street just west of Grand is a very poor place to be a pedestrian these days. Once upon a time, this was the busiest intersection in the city and observers thought Midtown would be the "second downtown."
  • Wednesday, October 4, 2006

    Trick Question

    Why are there never any St. Louis jobs in historic preservation on PreserveNet?

    Wrecking on Eastgate Began Monday

    Demolition of the apartment building at 701 Eastgate began on Monday, October 2 -- just a few days after the demolition permit was granted. Spirtas is the wrecking company for the project, which is on a fast schedule and should be complete in a few weeks.

    The building was halfway gone on October 3 (Michael R. Allen).

    707 Eastgate next door awaits wrecking next week (Michael R. Allen).

    Tuesday, October 3, 2006

    Demolition of Morse Shoe Company Building Starting Soon

    The city's Building Division granted a demolition permit for the Morse Shoe Company Building (better known as the SKH Paper Company Building) on September 19. Demolition should begin soon.

    There was no preservation review of the demolition permit, because the building was within the boundaries of a blighted redevelopment area created via an ordinance approved unanimously by the Board of Aldermen. Once again, the aldermanic system thwarts genuine urban planning review.

    Monday, October 2, 2006

    Downtown Belleville

    Downtown Belleville woos the young and hip - Doug Moore (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 1)

    This story isn't news to anyone who has ventured to lively, urban Main Street in Belleville lately. There are some lessons that St. Louis could take from that Main Street to older commercial streets like Cherokee, 14th Street and Broadway in Baden and Carondelet.

    Sunday, October 1, 2006

    University City Approves Washington University's Demolition Permits

    From the September 29 Weekly Update from University City by Julie Feier, City Manager:

    Washington University submitted requests for demolition permits on 9/25/2006 for 701 Eastgate and 707 Eastgate and on 9/26/2006 for 6654 Washington. The permits were authorized on 9/28/2006. Under the relevant sections of the Zoning Code, Article 6 Section 34-77.2 and 34-78.2 the issuance of these permits is an administrative function not requiring review by the Historic Preservation Commission because the properties are not located in historic districts.

    According to former University City resident Jon Galloway, who has worked to prevent these demolitions for months, it's a case of demolition without formal review -- despite definite historic significance and the apartment buildings' being part of a national historic district -- and without a redevelopment plan. Washington University purchased the apartment building at 701 Eastgate in 2000 for $456,000, and let it slide downhill until the university recently purchased 707 Eastgate next door. The university wasted no time in applying for a demolition permit for these buildings and a house on Washington that it also owned, supposedly "cost prohibitive" to rehab.

    Where is the outcry or awareness? Good question. These apartment buildings, built in 1925, are character-defining buildings just north of Delmar Boulevard, sitting on one of several streets ringed by post-World War I era multi-story brick apartment buildings. The house, built in 1918, is earlier than most of its neighbors, and an unusual example of a frame building that has persisted in the core of University City.

    Washington University could have sold these buildings to numerous developers eager to carry out historic tax-credit rehabilitation; all of the buildings are already listed as significant on a county historic building survey, and the apartment buildings are contributing resources to the Parkview Gardens National Register of Historic Places district. The university also could have established a for-profit entity to rehab the buildings, so that it could get the tax credits that may have made renovation feasible.

    Of course, as Galloway says, the university would not have purchased the buildings for such high prices if they really didn't have a plan for the sites.

    The Buildings

    The house at 6654 Washington (Jon Galloway).

    The buildings on Eastgate (Jon Galloway).

    701 Eastgate (Jon Galloway).

    707 Eastgate (Jon Galloway).