We've Moved

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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Blairmont's Associates Giving to Both Shrewsbury and Reed

The two candidates for president of the Board of Aldermen have reported campaign contributions related to the "Blairmont" effort.

According to his 40 day before the primary election filing, Jim Shrewsbury received $750.00 from Eagle Realty Company on November 10, which represents the Blairmont family of companies. In fairness, Eagle Realty Company does appraisal work for the St. Louis Development Corporation and the Land Reutilization Authority and may have other cause to make this donation.

In his report, Lewis Reed shows that he raised in one day an astounding $4,000 in contributions from companies related to developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. including one of the Blairmont holding companies. On December 7, 2006 the following companies connected to McKee donated $1000 each: Create, LLC; Havenwood, LLC; Boardwalk Corporate Centre LLC; and Allston Alliance, LC. Allston Alliance LC is one of the Blairmont holding companies, owning the Cass Avenue Schnucks site; its registered agent is John Steffen, head of the Pyramid Companies. (On Reed's report, Allston Alliance lists a return address of 906 Olive Street, Suite 600, same as the Pyramid Companies.) While Steffen's role is unclear, McKee reported a 30% ownership stake in Allston Alliance LC. Also in fairness, McKee is chairman of BJC Healthcare that is seeking to renegotiate its lease of part of Forest Park. Shrewsbury opposes that renegotiation.

While these contributions may not amount to influence, they should be noted. The silence by public officials and candidates on the "Blairmont" project is notable. The private control of an entire ward's future should be of utmost concern to all elected officials, since such control ultimately threatens the role of government to shape development to be responsible both to city residents and to existing law.

Preservation Chicago's 2007 "Chicago 7" List

Preservation Chicago has released its annual "Chicago 7" list of endangered buildings. Far from a useless cry, the list has always been a measured and prescient examination of true threats to historic buildings of all ages and types. For Chicago urbanists, the list is a rallying cry. For those of us elsewhere, it's the best reference for preservation issues in Chicago. (It's also an inspiring model, much like Landmarks Association of St. Louis' annual Eleven Most Endangered and Eleven Most Enhanced lists.)

One of the great things about the list is that its creators are flexible in what make sup a list item. Often, an item can be a district or neighborhood and this year has a few larger districts.

This year's list features the following buildings:
  • Farwell Building

  • Rosenwald Apartments

  • Archer Avenue District

  • Wicker Park Commercial District

  • Julia C. Lathrop Homes

  • North Avenue Bridge

  • Pilgrim Baptist Church

  • I'm delighted that Preservation Chicago is focusing attention on the Archer Avenue district amid Bridgeport's gentrification boom, which may lead to massive demolition for admittedly urban new construction. And I'm doubly delighted to see anyone champion the Julia C. Lathrop Homes, an early low-rise federally-funded housing project that is a descendant of St. Louis' Neighborhood Gardens Apartments. Chicago's loss of the ABLA Homes went largely unmourned, although both the design and construction quality of mid-century low-rise housing projects make them great candidates for reuse.

    See the Chicago 7 list here.

    What Other People Are Writing

    In "Late and Unlamented" (Built St. Louis blog, January 29), Rob Powers examines his changing appreciation of the now-demolished Kohler Building at St. Louis State Hospital, a mid-century building that blocked the front elevation of the landmark "Old Main" building.

    Meanwhile, Paul Hohmann laments the demolition of the iconic gasometer in Forest Park Southeast ("Laclede Gasometer - Newstead & Chouteau," Vanishing STL, January 23).

    Monday, January 29, 2007

    "Recent Linear Landscapes"

    While I have wide cultural interests, I try to keep this blog focused on architecture, urbanism and place.

    Whether or not a link to the new video for "Recent Linear Landscapes" by local band Finn's Motel qualifies as germane to this blog is debatable. However, beyond the song title and the band name's reference to a place (a building, no less), the video features some amazing architectural backdrops including what may be the most interesting scene featuring an astronaut riding MetroLink yet.

    Take three minutes away from land speculation, election-time race-baiting and other heady concerns and enter an odd and beautiful world. For those who want to keep it a bit pertinent, the video features acting by local architecture critic and photographer Toby Weiss in addition to the man playing that astronaut, Thomas Crone.

    Sunday, January 28, 2007

    Michael Allen & Randall Roberts on "The Wire" Monday

    Monday night I will be joining Randall Roberts of the Riverfront Times and hosts Thomas Crone and Amanda Doyle on The Wire. The show runs from 7:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. on KDHX, FM 88.1.

    While Randall is the main guest, I expect to join him in discussion of a certain large-scale development project on the near north side.

    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    Photographic Survey of Blairmont Buildings

    Wonder what exactly we keep talking about when we bemoan the treatment of historic northside buildings by the "Blairmont" companies?

    Now you can see for youself by looking at our photographic survey of their buildings. This project is a work in progress, and will be greatly expanded, but already the survey includes recent photographs of over 50 of their buildings in Old North St. Louis, Columbus Squre, JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place.

    (Photograph above: 2933 Montgomery Street, owned by Sheridan Place LC.)

    Wednesday, January 24, 2007


    This is grossly overdue, and for that I apologize.

    BUT. There is a new issue of the ever-delightful 52nd City out. The theme is Stuff. Enjoy the online version, and if you have a couple of dollars to spare, consider grabbing a print version, too--print and online are totally different sets of material, and I'm sure they'd appreciate the support.

    I have to say, so far I have really enjoyed each issue that these guys have produced. 52nd City is not the new ballpark, and it is not a plate of toasted ravioli. It is not the museum at the foot of the Arch. 52nd City is like an intimate walking tour of your own neighborhood, or a plate of crepes at Washington Avenue Post eaten with friends while you are still in your pajamas. 52nd City is like standing on the cobblestones and throwing chunks of driftwood into the river at night.

    In other words, 52nd City is really good at capturing those places and moments and feelings that are really, actually St. Louis to me. It's something that I show to out-of-towners to help explain what is so magic about this place. Somehow, Andrea Avery's fabulous poem Love Letter to New York says more to me about St. Louis than a million cliche Mark Twain misquotes ever could. And I might as well start handing out copies of Thomas Crone's essay "In Appreciation: The Pruitt-Igoe Nature Preserve" (from the Faith print issue), because dozens of times I have tried to capture the experience of the overgrown Carondelet Coke site in letters to friends in other cities, but where my words have been insufficient and unpoetic, Thomas's words got that kind of place just exactly, wonderfully right. And I could go on listing favorites (My Road by Tom Weber, When The Honest World Has Passed Away by Stefene Russell ...must.......stop.......) but I think you get the point. Check it out for yourself.

    I should probably also mention that (unrelated to the above praise! honestly! [seriously!]) Michael and I have a piece in the current online issue. It is a partial inventory of the literally tons and tons of putrid garbage that we had to remove from our house before moving into it. Enjoy.

    Blairmont's Big Money: For Speculation or Development?

    According to deeds of trust filed with the city Recorder of Deeds, the three active Blairmont companies -- Sheridan Place LC, MLK 3000 LLC and Dodier Investors LLC -- financed $1,102,800 worth of real estate purchases between January 16 and January 23. This total represents only eight transactions in Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou.

    Among the properties are the Ackermann Auto Repair building at 1514 N. 13th Street north of the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings, two small houses in the 3000 block of Montgomery Street, a string of vacant lots and one old tenement building in the 3000 block of Thomas Street, a house on the 2600 block of Howard Street and some vacant lots on 25th Street. Besides the Ackermann property, none of these seem to be worth the amounts of the deeds of trust -- at least on the current market.

    To think that such money would be invested in pure landbanking seems folly. Why would these entities and their backers pay over one million dollars for a week's worth of purchases including vacant lots in JeffVanderLou and deteriorated flats? Where would the eventual payoff come?

    The more likely scenario is that there is a firm master development plan for the near northside and that the people putting money into these acquisitions have confident that their plan will allow them a return, with profit. Selling these properties to other developers on a piecemeal basis seems to offer no real guarantee of a return. Likely, the properties in Old North and on major streets would be cherry-picked, leaving the other properties to be sold at less than the acquisition cost or retained.

    While I know nothing of the motives behind Blairmont's owners, I do think that I am safe to assume that these people would not invest over one million dollars simply to buy property on speculation. Their effort is relentless, as the amount of transactions and capital flow they reported in the last week shows. The companies probably own nearly 500 properties to date, an impressive feat that suggests there is a more serious effort at work than just making money off of money.

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    Built St. Louis Documents Blairmont

    Built St. Louis now has a section showcasing some examples of the historic buildings owned by the "Blairmont" family.

    From Rob Powers' impassioned introduction:

    Just as Old North is truly coming into its own, just as the revival of this area is showing signs of spreading into adjacent communities, just as awareness of the housing stock of this area is growing... these companies are both blocking the redevelopment of many vacant properties, and allowing those properties to deteriorate.

    The latter action is both illegal and immoral, creating dangerous conditions for residents who live nearby, and preventing other buyers from renovating these buildings.

    A Good Guess

    Under demolition this month: The sturdy commercial building at 4416-22 Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard that we profiled last summer after a fire.

    "Who knows what will become of the two-story building?" I asked last year. Well, in fact I had a pretty good idea what would transpire. And I was right.

    Drinks on Thursday

    What: A salon for people who think about buildings and cities.

    Why: Because we don't talk in person enough.

    When: Thursday, January 25 from 7:30 - 9:30 p.m.

    Where: Riley's Pub, southeast corner of Arsenal and Arkansas streets.

    All are welcome for casual chat and drinks.

    Granite City Loses a Fine Building

    Bad news from the metro east: The R.S. Holstein Company Dry Goods Building is downtown Granite City has fallen to the wrecking ball. Here we see the illogical results of reactionary planning. The building was in fine physical condition and was one of the most likely candidates for adaptive reuse downtown. However, the particular circumstances of its ownership and its being placed on a condemnation list foreclosed any chance of its future being considered as part of a broader strategy for historic preservation in the downtown area of Granite City (which still retains an impressive architectural stock). Granite City is working on a preservation plan, but to date has not enacted any effective ordinances that would render any preservation plan meaningful.

    Then again, until Illinois passes legislation creating a Missouri-style historic rehabilitation tax credit, adaptive reuse of such buildings is highly unlikely.

    Monday, January 22, 2007

    Bonetti Looks at St. Louis' Threatened Mid-Century Homes

    In "Out with the Old"(January 14) and "St. Louis Architectural Legacy is Fading Fast" (January 21), St. Louis Post-Dispatch art critic David Bonetti offers a serious look at the current rash of demolitions of mid-century modern homes in St. Louis. He examines threatened and recently lost works by William Adair Bernoudy, Harris Armstrong, Samuel Marx and Isadore Shank.

    It's refreshing to find that the daily paper's critic is tackling an important preservation issue. While the onslaught of demolition of all building types continue, there still is a window in which a greater cultural appreciation of mid-century architecture can be forged.

    The critical questions are: Will that appreciation come to pass? And, if it does, will it come too late to make a difference in efforts to preserve more than a handful of examples?

    Rehabbing in Chicago

    While searching for information online about coping tiles and flat roofs on historic buildings -- we are preparing to make the leap and add them to our building, which likely has never had them -- I found very few resources.

    No matter, because I stumbled upon the delightful Chicago Two-Flat, a rehab chronicle that deals with one couple's efforts to restore one of the blog's namesakes. Their effort is further along than our own, replete with permanent roof, floors one can walk across with bare feet and other comforts. However, their detailed and compelling accounts of the little projects that always overtake any notion of "completion" are so true to life that I can't stop myself from reading despite being in a much more rudimentary stage of rehabbing.

    I'm astounded to find such a familiar project from Chicago, which doesn't have the visible and well-organized do-it-yourself rehab community that St. Louis has. A relatively newer housing stock, higher prices and greater population density may keep Chicago from being a major rehab mecca that St. Louis has become, but that doesn't mean no one there is trying. In fact, Chicago Two-Flat's blogroll offers links to other Chicago house blogs covering the twists and turns of taking old buildings into healthier lives.

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Blairmont Commentary Review

    The Actors - Douglas Duckworth (Random Talk on Urban Affairs, January 17): Duckworth examines the possible development perspectives involved with the plot to landbank the near northside.

    McEagle's plans for McHousing on the Near North Side? (At Home blog, January 10): I don't know why I neglected to point this out last week. Hopefully y'all read it already. Stefene Russell and company make this blog, companion to At Home magazine, more timely than most of our readers would be inclined to think.

    "City As Art" Opens This Weekend

    From our friends at Art St. Louis:

    Art St. Louis presents "City As Art," a new exhibition on view January 22 through March 1, 2007. The community is invited to join us for a free opening reception 7-9 p.m. this Saturday, January 20, 2007 (the Gallery will be closed during the day January 20).

    This multi-media juried exhibit was open to artists residing in the St. Louis region (includes a 200-mile radius of the metro area). Artists were asked to submit artworks in all styles that address the theme of "City As Art," specifically works that explore urban life, people and/or the built environment and/or address Samuel Johnson’s quote, "A great city is. . . the school for studying."

    Serving as jurors for this exhibit are Shannon Fitzgerald, former Chief Curator, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and artist Bob Hansman, Associate Professor, Washington University School of Architecture, St. Louis.

    Hansman & Fitzgerald selected five artists works to receive Awards of Excellence. Those Awards will be made public at the opening reception on January 20th.

    Art Saint Louis is non-propfit art organization serving the St. Louis region for over 20 years. Art Saint Louis is located in the heart of downtown St. Louis' Old Post Office District at 917 Locust Street (on Locust between 9th and 10th Streets). The Gallery is free & open to the public Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Sundays & holidays. For more information, contact Robin Hirsch at robin@artstlouis.net or 314-241-4810 (2#).

    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    Space, Time and the City

    Proposition: The city is a series of arrested moments of time called "spaces." The only way in which we know architectural spaces exist is through navigation -- movement in time that suggests space.


    Who is above the law of time? Who can arrest a moment?

    Who gets to define what moments are more worthy of replay through the perpetuation of some spaces and the annihilation of others?

    Does the destruction of space then become an onslaught against time itself? The destruction of an arrested moment seems futile. In the end, we all have time and only some us seem to have spaces.

    Ultimately, no one can own a moment. Such ownership would require control of time itself. Whether or not anyone can own a space in time is also questionable.

    Moments are frightening to anyone who wants total control of history. To those who find in the arrested moments some delight, time is not an erasure of our works or of our dominance but a succession of joy. One moment's passage into the next creates a new possibility -- like movement across the urban landscape from one building to the next.

    As we move through time, we create spaces built out of moments. Viewed in light of a live lived in time, preservation of space is the suggestion that certain momentary experiences are joyous and worth repeated experience, and that the coexistence of such experiences is desirable. Those who disregard such moments seem to suggest that time itself should be conquered for a unitary idea.

    (Photograph: Demolition of a storefront building at the southeast corner of Union and St. Louis, August 2006.)

    Worth Watching: Vanishing STL

    Anyone who spends much time studying the lost buildings of the city -- especially those in the central corridor -- is bound to run into architect Paul Hohmann. Now chief architect for Pyramid Architects, Paul has been involved in many rehabilitation projects over the years. Privately, Paul has studied our city's historic architecture and amassed a wealth of knowledge and photographs. Sometimes I have concluded that Paul and I are the among only a handful of people in the city to have paid attention to an obscure building that was demolished -- or at least the among the few who still mourn its loss and recall its details.

    Now, Paul is sharing his record of lost buildings through a new blog specifically dedicated to local buildings that have been demolished since 1990, Vanishing STL. So far, Paul has posted two entries. The most recent is on the well-known Beaumont Medical Building on Olive Street, wrecked for the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts building. The other entry is about the lesser-known Olympia Apartments at Vandeventer and West Pine.

    The entries have abundant photographs to covey both the facts and the beauty of these lost buildings. While the perspective is retrospective, notice the present perfect tense of the blog name. The name is apt given that the vanishing of the historic city is far from over, and far from slowing.

    Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    Skyline Views from the Northside

    The rear of our home faces south. This is the time of year for the glorious skyline view. Sure, we can see the skyline from the tallest part of our roof at any time. But we have to wait for the leaves to fall to see the skyline from inside of the house.

    To see such a view at all fills me with awe. No matter how small St. Louis' towers seem compared to other cities, the grouping of them still makes me appreciate the fact that my species can build anything so tall and permanent.

    To see this view from inside of my own home is even greater still. I'd say that the north view of the syline is the one that makes it seem more lively and makes the city seem more robust and metropolitan. At night, when the skyline glows with the dozen different colors lighting windows, roofs and spires, it's hard to think anything bad about this city's future -- or present.

    There are many other homes in my neighborhood, Old North St. Louis. Some are taller, and some are closer to downtown. Those with skyline views each have a unique vantage point, and many may have a better one than ours.

    These views are anyone's free for life with the purchase of a near northside home. There just might be a few homes for sale here, too.

    Saturday, January 13, 2007


    With last night's storms, part of our dining room ceiling collapsed.

    In November, part of another room's ceiling collapsed.

    Next time...well, that's the good time. Our new roof goes on as soon as the weather gets better this week.

    Once Again, Ameren Plunges St. Louis Into Darkness

    Over 120,000 AmerenUE customers already have lost power due to the overnight ice storm. With the storm expected to continue and worsen tonight and tomorrow, that number could exceed the number of outages during the last ice storm in November and the severe storm in July.

    After the past two massive storm outages, Ameren has arrogantly gone forward to pursue its rate increase. Then, this week, they received an award for preparedness from the Edison Electric Institute, an association of publicly traded companies (surprise, huh?). Meanwhile, it seems that their lines are no more stable than before the summer storms that alerted this region that our electric utility had put profit ahead of preparedness.

    Obviously, we all need to kick our fossil fuel habits. We all need to think about ways to conserve energy. To avert a global tragedy, we need to rethink what we consider necessary.

    Still, AmerenUE's terrible performance is about to plunge the region into its biggest blackout in decades -- in the middle of severe cold weather. For millions of human beings, and for a metropolitan area trying to redeem its national reputation, this is unacceptable. For the employees of the company, it's unjust -- should they expect to work grueling marathon shifts several times a year just because their bosses won't spend money on storm-proofing the system?

    Then again, when something like basic electric service is a publicly-traded commodity, the only customers who count are stockholders.


    At 2:22 AM, the amount of water coming into the house has finally reduced to the point that I think I can go to sleep. For a while there, a particularly thirsty bucket under a particularly drippy leak needed to be emptied every ten minutes or so.

    I gotta say, I doubt it rained inside of Paul McKee's house tonight, and that thought was with me as I lugged buckets, pots, pans, trashcans, and drawers (yes, drawers) full of dirty brown roof-leak water to the bathroom.

    The (relative) lack of water dripping from the ceilings of every level of our three story house can only mean things are starting to freeze on the Near North Side.

    Here's to hoping we all wake up with the power still on....

    Thursday, January 11, 2007

    Christian Saller Can Tell You Where He Stands

    Although I no longer make endorsements in this blog, and there really aren't many candidates running for the Board of Aldermen this year, I have to point out one of the candidates.

    Christian Saller, a Democrat running in the Sixth Ward, actually has a historic preservation platform. He also has well-defined stances on problem properties and neighborhood development.

    Recall my call for such artciulated stances in my December 7 post entitled "Candidates and the Built Environment." At least one candidate has answered the call.

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    The RFT Covers Blairmont

    Phantom of the Hood - Randall Roberts (Riverfront Times, January 10)

    Finally, print media attention on Blairmont. Let there be more!

    Duckworth: Time to Act on Blairmont Issue

    Douglas Duckworth continues to take on the Blairmont scheme in two compelling blog entries, "Enjoy the Abuse" and "Blairmont CSB Reports".

    His chilling but astatue observation needs to be a call to action: "The political culture of St. Louis stymies any governmental confrontation with these developers."

    It's up to us, the citizens of the city and residents of the near northside, to prevent the subversion of our communities.

    Avalon Demolition Threat?

    Gregali: Tear down the Avalon - Shawn Clubb (Southwest City Journal, January 10)

    Tear It Down (Brick City, January 10)

    How to Hide an Empire

    Anyone wondering who is making purchase loans to the Blairmont family of companies will have to keep guessing. While purchases made from 2003 through 2005 did not have accompanying deeds of trust filed (with one exception), purchases made late in 2006 with new front companies have had deeds of trust of varying amounts. However, the companies recorded as the lenders are as cloaked as the acquisition companies -- and each "lender" is company specific.

    MLK 3000 LLC gets all of its loans from the Parkburg Fund LC, incorporated on August 17, 2006 by CT Corporation System, a third-party incorporator.

    Dodier Investors LLC gets all of its loans from Rice Capital Group LLC, incorporated on August 8, 2006 by the CT Corporation System.

    The newest front company, Sheridan Place LC, gets all of its loans through the Lincoln Asset Allocation Fund LLC, incorporated July 28, 2006 by the CT Corporation System.

    The three acquisition companies began purchases in September after the lending companies were created. Where the money comes from and where it goes is thus neatly hidden from scrutiny.


    In our site statistics, we often see strange search queries that lead people to the site. These three from yesterday are among the most colorful yet:

    philip armour the hot dog guy

    lead posioning how much would it cost to fix the problem

    illinois brooklyn strip club route 3

    Monday, January 8, 2007

    Who Would Destroy This Building?

    Here's the view from the alley of the east wall of the former funeral home at 1930 St. Louis Avenue. Brick rustlers have been taking the wall down in recent weeks, but the building has been unsecured for months. Read the citizen complaint log here.

    The building is owned by N & G Ventures LC, a Missouri corporation in which developer Paul McKee has reported a 30% ownership interest.

    Obviously, the corporation has no interest in preserving this building or it would put its resources into securing it -- or actively seek a buyer who was willing to safeguard this beautiful building.

    Here's the front view:

    To watch the loss of this beauty on a daily basis is something that I hope most readers never have to endure. Who could own this building and not want to cherish it? I suppose that Americans are a callous breed when it comes to appreciation of great architecture, but no cynicism takes away the fact that myself and many other residents here have to watch this wonderful building die.

    Sunday, January 7, 2007

    Old North St. Louis Restoration Group on Blairmont

    In response to a comment in this blog asking if the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group was taking a public stance on Blairmont, president John Burse posted this comment. I'm re-posting it here so that it doesn't get buried amid the lengthy and heated comments Blairmont posts generate:

    On behalf of the ONSLRG, I would like to express our gratitude to Michael and Claire for their diligent investigative work of Blairmont’s activities and offer a response to some of the comments. Our organization has been aware of Blairmont’s activities for quite a few years and is very concerned about their impact across the entire near north side.

    EOA’s work has provided us the kind of useful data on Blairmont’s activities, data that we simply do not have the time to mine given the current work load and activities we have underway – work that includes over the past 18 months moving over 40 new families into renovated and newly constructed dwellings into the neighborhood, the planning and predevelopment of the 14th Street Mall Project, and the effort to save the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. This work is slowly but surely transforming the landscape of our neighborhood and capturing the imagination of other to join our calling - to revitalize the physical and social fabric of our community. This work is ongoing, healthy and quite visible in spite of the activities of Blairmont. Those who know our organization know we are not undertaking these efforts alone – it is through a broad spectrum of close working relationships ranging from city officials, organizations like RHCDA, and neighbors like Michael and Claire that we have been able to reverse Old North’s decline.

    EOA’s contribution has lit a candle in the darkness of this one situation, and we are certainly inspired by its light. In this matter we have not been “silent”. Over the years we have had a number of conversations with elected officials and even Mr. McKee regarding Blairmont. While I will not go into detail about those conversations, we believe the facts Michael, Claire and others have been uncovering make action on this matter possible and even easy to consider. A year ago in a conversation with our organization, Mr. McKee denied any involvement in this enterprise. EOA’s detective work allows a different kind of conversation to occur at this point and we are actively pursuing those discussions.

    Let there be no question: Blairmont’s activities are most certainly a concern to us. They do indeed raise our “hackles.” As a community based development organization we are committed to principles of openness and public engagement as key ingredients in any socially sustainable, large scale development activity. This has been a virtue we have practiced in our own work, and one which we consider as an imperative for others considering large scale efforts. We have expressed this position to both Mr. McKee and city officials.

    In the matter of neglected problem property, our organization has in the past organized efforts to report Blairmont properties to the city and urge action to clean these properties up. This activity usually involved calls and emails to the CSB and ultimately did not produce the kind of sustainable action needed to hold these folks accountable for taking care of what they own and being good neighbors. I’m sure they simply paid the fine or bill the city sent (if any) for board up, debris removal, or mowing the city did at our urging. For an organization like Blairmont that kind of activity is like a buzzing gnat – it really doesn’t slow this gorilla down and so we are very interested in a more proactive working relationship with the city to pursue this issue and have also expressed that position to both city officials and Mr. McKee.

    I apologize for the length of this note, but help it hopes your readers to understand our stance regarding this situation. Again thank you to Michael, Claire, and Doug Duckworth for your outstanding efforts.

    Kind regards,

    John Burse
    Board President
    Old North St Louis Restoration Group

    Papa FaBarre's

    Dry spell at Papa FaBarre's eatery is called a mistake - Matthew Hathaway (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 6)

    The story of a delayed liquor license renewal contains details of the history of the charming "old" cafe inside of the downtown Macy's (Famous-Barr), which actually dates only to the 1970s. That is one of my favorite downtown lunch spots, even though as a vegetarian I have two or three menu options at best. Whatever. The charm, dark varnished wood, brass and belt-driven ceiling fans are worth being limited to a very good grilled cheese.

    Friday, January 5, 2007

    Blairmont (aka Sheridan Place) finally made me cry tonight.

    Just a few minutes ago, Blairmont finally brought me to the point of tears.

    We were driving down Montgomery, west of our official neighborhood but not far from our house at all. We were driving down this one block and Michael was going “That’s Blairmont. That’s Blairmont.” And he was pointing to these unsecured vacant buildings and telling me that Sheridan Place LLC (a relatively new Blairmont company) owned them. They pretty much had the whole block. That in itself is a horrifying and saddening thought, given that they are unwilling to do even the most basic steps of admitting who they are and boarding their buildings up. I felt pretty awful, at that point.

    But then, we got to the end of the block. Montgomery and Slattery.

    There was another small-ish brick house, just like the rest of the block. This little building had been lovingly maintained, but there was graffiti on the side. We got closer, I started reading (and this is approximate.... I was too overwhelmed to even think to write it down): WALKER FAMILY THANKS YOU FOR 51 YEARS. And there were names.... JAMYLAH DADDY TOBY and dozens of names. On the house, the sidewalk, the fence.... graffiti about leaving this beloved old family house.

    I don’t know this for a fact, but given that pretty much the rest of the block is already owned by a new Blairmont company, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to guess that this family was pressured into selling to Blairmont. And they just, just freshly sold (There were fresh cardboard moving boxes in the alley and everything). The more time we spent at that corner, the clearer the picture became: They tried, they tried to hang on, but as I know from having lived on a block where a careless megaspeculator is actively buying, with each house the speculator snaps up, the worse your quality of life gets, the lower your safety is, and the less your building is worth. I know that cold feeling, the huddling with your last neighbors and talking about how “It got so dangerous since they bought up those last two and let them sit wide open, but they made it so bad nobody is buying but them.”

    And so, people sell. It looks like the Walker family had to give up.

    Lately, I have been hearing little rumors and peeps here and there around the Near North Side that certain parts of the area where Blairmont buys are “blighted” or on the verge of “getting eminent domained.” The story goes that the whole area is about to get blighted so you won’t get to keep your home or shop anymore. People have heard that if they didn’t fix up all of their code violations right away, they would get blighted or eminent domained. And the story ends with the property owners being told that they better sell now. I have no way of confirming where these rumors are coming from, but it is curious to me that they pop up with property owners who own in pockets where Blairmont is very actively trying to buy, and/or who know people who have had some form of (direct or indirect) contact with a Blairmont agent lately.

    Imagine having one of the last little outposts on your block. Imagine your block changing as all the other homes were bought up, one by one, and they became vacant and were totally unsecured. The neighbors that you knew left. Imagine all those dark unboarded windows and doors staring you in the face. The noises at night. Maybe you try calling the City to file a report that the buildings around you have been left wide open by their owners, but the owners do nothing and the buildings stay dangerously, gapingly, mockingly open. Imagine watching your block disintegrate.

    The block where your family has lived for 51 years. The home where generations of your family have grown up.

    Imagine watching this slow and awful disintegration of the place of your family’s history--this sledgehammering by willful neglect, this slow steady burn of silence and secrecy. And all the while, someone has been talking to you, telling you they can cut you a check if you would just take it and abandon the house, abandon your place. And then, you hear a rumor that your area has been blighted, so pretty soon you won’t even be able to keep your house (and oh they won’t admit it yet but you better sell now while you can).

    How do you think that would feel?

    I know how I felt just looking at the Walker home, with all those names on the walls making it one of the most beloved and moving monuments in Blairmont’s growing cemetery.

    We drove around the corner, reading the graffiti, the story slowly unraveling itself before us. And just as we got around the corner, we saw that this house that had obviously just been sold already had that hallmark of Blairmont & Co property ownership: the wide open, gaping door not even pretending to be boarded or locked. And at that point, my eyes filled up with hot, wet tears and my throat hurt.

    Like I said, I don’t know for a fact that it’s owned by Blairmont/Sheridan Place. But the picture that the block and the rumors and Blairmont’s past behavior paint is pretty clear. And on the teensy, tiny, microscopic chance that it was not Blairmont/Sheridan Place who bought out the Walker family, Blairmont/Sheridan’s recent purchase and blatant neglect of most of the other structures on the block no doubt played a very strong role in the Walkers’ decision to leave their home.

    Blairmont has crossed a line. They did not cross it tonight. They crossed it a long time ago. The whole idea of a Blairmont is crossing a line. The very idea of buying up entire neighborhoods of people who are much, much poorer and less powerful than you (Whoever it is, clearly they are more powerful and many, many times richer than us) and then not even admitting that you own it is crossing a line. Refusing to so much as board up your buildings and keep them from burning down—in some cases, refusing to lock already extant doors that already have good locks on them but that you have simply not closed and locked—is crossing a line. Buying up building after building that you have absolutely no intention of maintaining is crossing a line, especially when you are doing so in an area that is blatantly Someone Else’s Neighborhood and the problems are not ones that you yourself will have to live with every day. Deliberately trying to use multiple names and representatives to hide the fact that you own and are buying this property is crossing a line. Benefiting from false rumors about blighting that will not happen is crossing a line, and if you started those rumors, that was crossing a line, too.

    That is a lot of transgressions, there--a lot of steps across the line of common decency and respect for other human beings.

    To me, besides the obvious basic safety and human welfare problems that are cropping up from such widespread, deliberate neglect of so many properties, the sickest thing of all about this is the fact that we really want development up here on the North Side. Oh god, do we want it. I have been watching this place ever since I was a tiny kid, and I know how much we need the development up here. So why can’t Blairmont just tell us who they are? Is it that hard to put some names to the entity that is the second largest property owner in our ward? Or just a couple of boards on some of those doors and windows that have gotten and stayed open since Blairmont bought the buildings, maybe prevent a fire or three? Isn’t our safety worth that? It just seems so particularly cruel to do this in an area where people are so poor and so disempowered. Why lie to someone who probably can’t do much about it even if you tell them the truth? Of all the people to pick on....


    I got tears in my eyes when I saw that house tonight.

    And then I sat down and wrote this.

    I got to thinking about all the elected and appointed officials whose words hold so much more power than mine, who have yet to make one single, solitary public statement about Blairmont.

    And I got to thinking about the way that Blairmont and Company apparently think that it is acceptable for them to treat the human beings who live in my part of the City.

    And I wept.

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007

    Letter to Mayor Slay About "Blairmont"

    Concerned about the future of the near northside, Douglas Duckworth sent a Blairmont Letter to Mayor Slay.

    What will the answer be, if any?

    A State Takeover of the Board of Aldermen

    Can we get a state takeover of the Board of Aldermen? Then St. Louis completely would be a degraded former-city-now-protectorate. The schools, police and deliberative body would be under the control of the State of Missouri. People hostile to the city and dismissive of its future would have more political input here than people who live here.

    Tuesday, January 2, 2007

    The City of Today

    City Of The Future - Or City Of The Trendy Present - Charles Siegel (Preservation Institute Blog, December 14, 2006)

    Writes Siegel:

    If you want a design that endures, then design a city that is a good place to live today. No one has ever created a livable city or an enduring design by trying to design a city of the future.

    Hope for the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings

    We have added more information about the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings. There's good news based on inspection -- the buildings can be saved.

    Check out our reports:

    Post-Fire Structural Assessment by Michael R. Allen

    Post-Fire Photographic Evidence

    Examples of Buildings Stabilized After Collapse

    And, should the buildings fall, here's a fitting tribute:

    Eulogy for the Brecht by Barbara Manzara