We've Moved

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

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.