We've Moved

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

News from Other Blogs

- MayorSlay.com reports that the Powerhouse Building at 11th and Clark, part of the Municipal Garage and Services Building, will soon undergo renovation.

- Vanishing STL discusses St. Louis University's proposed demolition of the 19th century mansion at 3740 Lindell. Paul Hohmann considers the building Second Empire, while I think that it's more Italianate.

My posts are few this week not because the week is slow but because the last two weeks were too fast. I'm catching my breath.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Randall Roberts, the senior member of the Riverfront Times staff, DJ, KDHX host, cultural gadabout, satirist and trend-setter departs for Los Angeles at the end of June.

Randall's departure will be followed in July by that of Joseph Heathcott and Ashley Cruce. Joseph is professor of urban studies at St. Louis University, counselor to Landmarks Association of St. Louis, board member of the Red Brick Community Land Trust and outspoken urbanist; his wife Ashley is professor of social work at St. Louis University, where she also directs the Center for Social Justice. Joseph has taken a professorship at the New School in New York City.

May the coasts cherish the talent, vision and joy these St. Louisans have shared here. May St. Louis become a city that could have kept these folks around longer.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pub Def Covers Blairmont

Pub Def just published an excellent video, What's McKee Planning for Old North? that features yours truly.

Thanks to Antonio French and Dan Martin for this good work.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Gasometer Gone, Switzer Columns (Mostly) Survive

Two demolition updates from guys named Paul H.:

At Vanishing St. Louis, Paul Hohmann reports that the gasometer at Laclede Gas Light Company Pumping Station G has fallen.

In today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Paul Hampel reports on the confusion surrounding the salvage of the cast iron storefront of the Switzer Building.

When work on our house is further along, I will share more of my thoughts on these losses on the main Ecology of Absence site.

KWMU Runs Story on McKee's North Side Plans

North siders worry about big tax break plan - Matt Sepic for KWMU (MP3 available)

The story features interviews with Michael Allen, Mayor Francis Slay and Old North St. Louis Restoration Group Exceutive Director Sean Thomas.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ed Box's Orpheum Theater

The prolific graffiti tagger Ed Box(x) struck the Orpheum Theater downtown over the weekend, bringing his trademarks to an occupied building in the heart of the city. Observers first spotted the graffiti on Sunday. Among the painted items on the theater are a large cigarette, cat head and slogans such as "Forgive People" and "Roll Over Bay Toe Vin." The theater is owned by the Roberts Brothers and its exterior has not exactly been kept in good repair lately. No word on when the exterior will be clean again.

Those who travel the streets of East St. Louis and north city know this work well. The work of Box(x) mars several landmarks that have long since slipped from our region's middle-class consciousness. The downtown tag certainly raises the visibility of Ed Box(x) and hopefully will draw the attention of people who won't see his other questionable endeavors.

Thomas Crone has more at 52nd City: Paging: ED BOXX, paging ED BOXX

Granite City Wants to Lure Artists

Granite City considers artist relocation program - Michael Heil (Granite City Press-Record, May 23)

What Granite City officials need to note is that historic preservation is often a good part of attractive artists to an area. The idea of affordable buildings requires a stock of buildings with no outstanding financing to retire or transfer. Those buildings are usually historic. Unfortunately, Granite City has not pursued the most rational historic preservation plan for its downtown area; last year, the city went so far as to tear down 54 buildings, including many potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps the artist relocation idea will turn around the city government's inability to protect historic buildings.

Summary of Monday's Preservation Board Meeting

Here is a summary of actions at Monday's meeting of the St. Louis Preservation Board, by agenda item. The meeting started with only two members present, Chairman Richard Callow and David Richardson. Later, members Anthony Robinson, Ald. Terry Kennedy and Luis Porello arrived.


A. 5291 Washington; application for new construction.
ACTION: Deferred due to lack of quorum.

B. 4155-63 Magnolia; application to install vinyl windows on an early 20th century revival-style apartment building in Shaw. Owner Lisa Presley applied to replace 300 wooden windows on the front elevation of this apartment building with white vinyl windows featuring simulated dividers. Normally, this would be unconvincing but the front elevation happens to face the side of the lot with the long, narrow apartment building running from street to alley. An interesting moment came when Presley's window salesman stated that vinyl windows lasted forever. When asked how long aluminum windows, he said almost as long as vinyl.
ACTION: Denied by vote of 2-1 with Ald. Kennedy dissenting.

C. 3628 N. 14th Street; application to retain vinyl windows installed without a permit. This wonderful commercial building at the southeast corner of 14th and Salisbury in Hyde Park suffered the removal of its wooden windows and a prism-glass transom last year; most windows were evident and likely in condition to be rehabbed. Owner Lisa Hines claimed that although she had rehabbed 16 buildings, she had never rehabbed in a "blighted" historic district where design standards applied. She also claimed that most of the windows werer broken or missing when she bought the building. I presented a photo showing most of the windows in place, without much evident damage; rehabber Barbara Manzara discussed how easy window rehab can be.
ACTION: Denied by unanimous vote.

D. 1912 LaSalle Street; application for addition. Owner Thomas Benignus and his architect Ralph Wafer presented design for an addition to a house in Lafayette Square; Paul Doerner of the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee stated that he liked the design but wanted review by the LSRC Development Committee.
ACTION: Approved by unanimous vote.

E. 2035 Park Avenue; application for alteration and addition of building. At this point, the meeting still lacked a quorum so the item was pushed off until later. Owner Thomas Bramlette wants to rebuild the odd one-story brick church building sometimes called the ugliest building in Lafayette Square. Architect Ted Wofford has designed a graceful Italianate project that will resurrect the low hipped roof form that was found in the Square before the 1896 tornado. Cultural Resources Office Director Kate Shea claimed that the roof was too short and the second-story addition two narrow for a house that sites between two impressive and larger homes and wanted approval to require a taller roof and wider second story.
ACTION: Approved by unanimous vote without stipulations sought by Shea.


F. 4549 Pershing; application to retain light standard in front yard. Owners have installed a bizarre and inappropriate light standard in the front yard of this Central West End home without a permit, in violation of local historic district standards.
ACTION: Permit approved by 2-1 vote with Richardson dissenting.

G. 4320 Arco Avenue; application for demolition. Owner Dwight Hatchett wants to demolish this one-story Forest Park Southeast house. The house, a splendid flat-roofed Romanesque is missing roof decking and its parapets have massive mortar deterioration. However, Hatchett has performed no maintenance and has no plans for redevelopment; he stated that he wants to tear the house down and sell it to neighbors for side yards. Hatchett started his testimony by stating his fear that the building would fall and kill someone -- a rather old trick. Opposition testimony came from Manzara, Anthony Coffin, Claire Nowak-Boyd and myself. A motion to uphold the staff denial from Porrello failed, as did a motion to grant approval from Kennedy. Board member Robinson abstained from both votes; he stated that without a roof the house would surely collapse and denying the permit could still condemn the house. He moved to defer consideration for 60 days to give the applicant time to sell the house.
ACTION: Deferred for 60 days by unanimous vote.

H. 59 Kingsbury Place; application to retain inappropriate windows installed without permit. William Streett, owner of this Colonial Revival home, removed the original 12-over-1 windows and replaced them with casement windows to completely alter the architectural character of the house. His 20-minute defense (what happened to time limits?) was a ludicrous PowerPoint presentation that covered the design of other houses on the street and his personal preferences but did little to address the fact that he violated a local design ordinance. Streett boldly claimed that his house's hipped roof was borrowed from French architecture and thus muddied the stylistic waters; however, he seemed to have never read the local district ordinance or the National Register of Historic Places nomination that clearly state both the recognized style of his house and the requirement that its original appearance be maintained no matter what Streett may think is appropriate. Opposition testimony came from William Seibert, representing the Central West End Association, and myself.
ACTION: Staff denial upheld by unanimous vote.

I. 1120, 1124 and 1400-02 Newhouse Avenue; application for demolition. The applicant, the Land Reutilization Authority, did not send a representative. In the absence of a quorum, the applicant must be present to waive the right to having an appeal heard by quorum.
ACTION: Set aside for next meeting.

J. 1629 N. 19th Street; application for demolition. This house is owned by VHS Partners LLC, one of Paul McKee's north side holding companies. However, the demolition is sought by Ald. April Ford-Griffin and the application is the Board of Public Service. The board neglected to send a representative.
ACTION: Set aside for next meeting.

At the end of the meeting, the Preservation Board unanimously voted to enter into the minutes of the meeting the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obituary for Marti Frumhoff.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Farmhouse in Shiloh Can Be Yours for One Dollar

Last night, television channel KMOV ("channel 4") aired a report on an Italianate farm house in Shiloh that is for sale for $1 to anyone who will move it out of the way of a new field of balloon-frame homes. Reporter Donna Savarese interviews architectural historian Matthew Bivens of SCI Engineering.

Watch the report here.

(Thanks to Susan Sheppard for the link.)

If Vetoed, Land Assemblage Proposal Could Be Improved to Address Concerns

Governor Matt Blunt has not yet signed or vetoed the economic omnibus bill passed by the Missouri Legislature (HB 327) that contains the $100 million tax credit program to benefit Paul J. McKee Jr.'s north St. Louis land assemblage project.

Meanwhile, no other bills containing the "Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act," as the proposal for the credits is formally known, passed the both houses. The House inserted the land assemblage tax credit into SB 22, a bill concerning local political subdivisions, but during a joint conference on the bill Rep. Thomas Villa had the language removed. (However, Villa is a co-sponsor of HB 991, which would directly enact the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, and voted in favor of HB 327.)

The Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act is far from the most controversial part of HB 327, a bloated bill containing many questionable tax credit proposals and bearing an estimated cost of $113 million in lost state revenue. Should Blunt veto the bill, the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act would be defeated for now.

Of course, the proposal will return. Two obvious paths exist:

The proposal could return in its current form, engendering the same opposition as it has attracted from north side residents, progressive legislators and urbanists.

The proposal could be refined through conversation with critics so that their concerns are answered.

Personally, I love the idea of a $100 million tax credit program directed at north St. Louis. Given that many residents of surrounding, wealthier counties are the descendants of those who abandoned north St. Louis, but who are still culturally and economically dependent on the city (which cannot tap the revenues of its neighboring counties), state aid is logical and fair. However, the details of the proposal do not create the sound public policy that should be crafted to guarantee that the $100 million program actually results in quality development in north St. Louis.

- The project size is greatly out of scale with north St. Louis. Nowhere in north St. Louis do 50 contiguous acres of vacant land exist. The largest vacant site is the Pruitt-Igoe housing project site of 33 acres, which remains undeveloped. The proposal should reduce the minimum project size to 5 acres and cap it at 45 acres. This would encourage more context-sensitive planning, and allow multiple developers with different plans to utilize the tax credit.

- State tax credits should not be used to cover bills and fines from municipal government for code violations or demolition. That's just wrong.

- The tax credit needs to require that the applicant's properties meet municipal codes at the time of application. State law should not encourage the violation of municipal law.

- The tax credit should establish a time line for redevelopment. Land assemblage alone does not revitalize distressed areas. If that was the case, north St. Louis would be in great shape given the vast amount of city-owned real estate there. The proposal should provide greater guarantee that assemblage projects will lead to actual development.

- The tax credit should not be used to acquire occupied housing units. What is most needed on the north side is creative reuse of vacant property. Allowing use of the credit for occupied housing seems to encourage the displacement of existing residents. McKee's project has involved acquisition of dozens of occupied dwellings that are now vacant nuisance properties. The people his agents moved out of north St. Louis could have been stakeholders in renewal efforts.

- The tax credit should require historic preservation planning for affected areas. North St. Louis is one of the most architecturally significant areas in eastern Missouri, and should not be bulldozed wholesale. As written, the tax credit actually reimburses up to 100% of demolition costs.

Should the tax credit proposal be defeated, there is then a chance to improve it greatly. Hopefully its supporters will consider doing so.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Saturday: Friedens Open House in Hyde Park

Tomorrow, also consider dropping by a cool event showcasing some of the grassroots energy transforming at least one corner of the Hyde Park neighborhood -- and hopefully spreading outward.

The Friedens Neighborhood Foundation and Landmarks Association of St. Louis invite you to an open house at the historic Friedens United Church of Christ church and fellowship hall buildings at 2:00 p.m. Saturday.

In addition to the buildings, Friedens will have on display renderings of the projected rehabilitation of two neighboring historic buildings that will be rehabbed by students in the new Northside YouthBuild Academy based at Friedens.

Also, at 2:30 p.m., there will be a screening of the films "Heritage Homes of St. Louis" and "The Challenge of Urban Renewal," both from the 1960s but still relevant today. Films are shown courtesy of the Academic Film Archive - St. Louis. (To tie the weekend together even more, "Heritage Homes" includes a segment on the Chatillon-DeMenil House.)

Landmarks Association will be giving away copies of the 1976 publication Street Front Heritage, which offers an architectural history of Hyde Park with vintage black and white photographs. (Contemporary recreations of these photographs will also be on display!)

Please join us:

19th & Newhouse Avenues
2:00 - 4:00 PM
Saturday, May 19

Driving directions: I-70 to Salisbury Avenue. North (right) on Blair Avenue to Newhouse. West (left) on Newhouse. Friedens Fellowship Hall is on the left at the end of the first block, and the church is across 19th Street.

Call Brian Marston at 238-4339 or Michael Allen at 920-5680.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Plenty of Demolition Permits on Monday's Preservation Board Agenda (Updated)

UPDATED: The Preservation Board of the City of St. Louis has published the final agenda for its meeting on Monday.

Among the controversial items are the following appeals of staff denials:

- Demolition permit for a house at 4320 Arco Avenue in the Forest Park Southeast Historic District

- Demolition of houses at 1120, 1124 and 1400 Newhouse in the Hyde Park Historic District

- Demolition of the Blairmont-owned building at 1629 N. 19th Street in the Clemens House/Columbia Brewery National Register District

- Replacement of the historic windows of the house at 59 Kingsbury Place in the Central West End Historic District (the owner has replaced -- without a permit -- the windows on the Colonial Revival home with Prairie School style windows)

The meeting takes place Monday, May 21, at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street.

Switzer Building Demolition Continues

Start of wrecking, Monday night. (Photo by Claire Nowak-Boyd.)

Tuesday night.

Marti Frumhoff

Yesterday, Marti Frumhoff passed away far too early. The news is shocking, and I barely know what words can summarize such a great person who lived a great life.

To me, Marti was that person whose advice was always constructive and affirming. Even when we disagreed a conversation with her made me feel like I had the power to change the city -- and so did her numerous other friends. Not only did she believe that we would make St. Louis a great city, she inspired those around her to act on our beliefs. She was a catalyst between idea and action, and never adverse to learning about one more idea, meeting one more person and making one more good thing happen.

Her impact on others' lives is astounding given how busy she kept herself. Many knew her as the founder and ringleader of the Rehabbers' Club, the largest and most active historic preservation constituency in St. Louis. Recently, she had founded ReVitalize St. Louis to create a platform for progressive action on built environment, political and cultural issues in the city. She launched Mainstreet St. Louis -- an innovative project with great potential. Her regular job was working as a realtor, selling the city as much as its houses. Somehow, she managed to show up at everyone else's meetings and events to provide support; lately, she was active with the Historic Mullanphy Alliance. Marti would often invent the vehicles for change needed to make something happen -- and never complained, or shirked the responsibilities she had. She did what had to be done.

Her tireless enthusiasm for changing St. Louis, educating people and bringing out the best in everyone surpassed that of anyone I know. Marti's life is intertwined with so many people, organizations and places that have grown because of her. Her spirit will be with us forever.

For a recent account of Marti's ideas, please read this transcript of a round-table discussion that appeared in the April issue of St. Louis Magazine featuring Marti, Joseph Heathcott, Steve Patterson and me.

Steve Patterson of Urban Review has also posted a tribute, "St. Louis Just Lost A Great Advocate"; he urges people to leave memories in the comments section.

UPDATE: The memorial service takes place tomorrow, Friday May 18th, 1:00 p.m. at Central Reform Congregation (Kingshighway at Waterman).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Celebrate Mid-Century Modern This Friday at "Blu"

This Friday, enjoy a free drink and cool mid-century architecture at Blu CitySpaces, one of the Plaza Square Apartment buildings downtown currently under rehabilitation.

Completed in 1961, the six Plaza Square Apartment buildings formed a unique urban renewal project that used the sleek modern design of Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum and Harris Armstrong to retain city residents amid rapid suburban growth. In contrast with previous large-scale urban renewal housing projects in St. Louis, Plaza Square Apartments forged a deliberate and successful connection with the surrounding urban environment. Before Busch Stadium and the remaking of the eastern end of downtown, the project brought innovative modern design from acclaimed architects to the city's urban renewal efforts. Now the apartments are a unique part of a new wave of city living.

Celebrate the renewal of this mid-century modern landmark with your hosts, Silverstone Development and the Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

Friday, May 18
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Olive and 17th Streets (SE corner)

Reservations required: 314-421-6474.

North St. Louis Landbanking Proposal May Be Dead for This Session

HB 327, the costly omnibus economic development bill passed from the Missouri Legislature that includes the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, may be headed for a veto from Governor Matt Blunt.

SB 22, which modified laws relating to political subdivisions, that inappropriately contains the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act (oddly with a 100-acre minimum), appears to be dead this session.

HB 991 contains only the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, but has not proceeded. The prospect of an up-or-down vote directly on the proposal probably doesn't appeal to the proposal's backers. For one thing, the process could lead to amendments that would make the credits actual public policy instead of a law for private benefit. For another, this tax credit proposal is one of the least popular bundled into the omnibus.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Switzer Building Coming Down Slowly

On the first night of wrecking the Switzer Building on Laclede's Landing, the going was slow. The crane operator knocked loose a few columns and triggered one small collapse, but stopped wrecking by midnight. There are many nights ahead this week before the memorable painted Switzer signs on the south and north elevations disappear, and more time before the primary elevation on 1st Street is gone forever.

Several people gathered on the upper level of the riverfront parking garage to watch the wrecking.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mullanphy Benefit Show Wednesday at Christ Church Cathedral

The next big event where you can show your support for the effort to preserve and stabilize the Mullanphy Emigrant Home is this Wednesday:

Mullanphy Benefit Concert

Featuring Lydia Ruffin and the Flying Mules

Wednesday, May 16
7:30 PM (Doors at 7:00 PM)
Christ Church Cathedral, 1210 Locust Street
$25 at the door; $20 in advance (call 231-5031)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mullanphy Saloon is this Thursday.


We invite you to join us for an evening of casual conversation on local architecture, history, politics, and so forth. ALL ARE WELCOME, from the longtime professional architectural historian to the budding urban explorer or casual photographer. Last time I think the age range of attendees was 21 to 60something.

Whether you want to talk about St. Louis architecture with people you haven't met before or you just need a stiff drink after watching the demolition of the Switzer Building this week, come on down.

Thursday 5/17, 7pm - ?
Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester in Forest Park Southeast!

We will have a donation box out to raise funds for the effort to save the historic Mullanphy Emigrant Home in Old North St. Louis. Donations are definitely not required, but any amount you can chip in helps us get that much closer to rebuilding the Mullanphy's walls. Even pocket change helps, and if you happen to have $300,000 in pocket change, that's a beautiful thing.

We figure a happy hour makes an appropriate fundraiser for the Mullanphy, since they say that former St. Louis mayor Bryan Mullanphy wrote out his will (including the donation that created the Mullanphy) in a saloon.

To learn more about the Mullanphy and the effort to save it, visit savemullanphy.org.

If you've got any questions, either post here, e-mail eoa@eco-absence.org or call 920-5680.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Switzer Demolition Begins Monday

Demolition of the Switzer Building begins on Monday. Supposedly the wrecking ball will make its first strike at 10:00 p.m. that day.

More information is available in this post on MayorSlay.com.

Demolition will not include the three adjacent historic buildings to the north also owned by Clarinet LLC. Clarinet is salvaging the cast iron storefront and much of the decorative limestone from the front elevation for potential reuse.

Eight St. Louis Area Sites Headed to National Register

At its quarterly meeting Friday in Joplin, the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation voted to approve the following St. Louis area nominations to the National Register of Historic Places and forward them to the Keeper of the National Register:

  • Holly Place Historic District (prepared by Carolyn Toft, Tom Duda and Michael Allen for Landmarks Association of St. Louis)
  • Plaza Square Apartments Historic District (Carolyn Toft and Michael Allen for Landmarks Association of St. Louis)
  • Glen Echo Historic District (Ruth Keenoy, Karen Bode Baxter, Timothy P. Maloney and Sara Bularzik)
  • Ramsey Accessories Manufacturing Company Building (Matthew S. Bivens for SCI Engineering)
  • Harrison School (Julie Wooldridge for Lafser and Associates)
  • Hempstead School (Julie Wooldridge for Lafser and Associates)
  • Olive & Locust Historic Business District (Julie Wooldridge for Lafser and Associates)
  • Wagoner Place Historic District (Kathleen E. Shea and Jan Cameron for the Cultural Resources Office, City of St. Louis)

All votes were unanimous, although the Plaza Square Apartments Historic District is being sent for substantive review due to its construction date within the past 50 years. Nominations forwarded by the Advisory Council are typically listed on the Register within 45 business days of approval.

Notable among the approved nominations are the Plaza Square Apartments district, a local milestone of midcentury urban renewal and modern architecture. Under national regulations, nominations of properties that have achieved significance with the past 50 years require a demonstration of exceptional significance. Such nominations are infrequent, but contribute to greater recognition of the architectural achievements of the middle of the twentieth century.

(Detail of one of the Plaza Square Apartments buildings.)

Also interesting was the deliberation over the Ramsey Accessories Manufacturing Corporation Building at 3693 Forest Park Boulevard in St. Louis city, a nomination that raised issues of integrity due to the yet-incomplete removal of the stucco and concrete slipcover added in 1969 that covers the three-story building,. built in 1923 with addition in 1934. Fortunately, Bivens unearthed a wealth of information on the Ramsey Corporation that manufactured the "Ramco" piston ring and showed that the primary elevation is largely intact underneath the slipcover. The McGowan Brothers have an option on the building and hope to restore its original appearance.

One nomination not approved was that of Big Boy's Restaurant in Wright City. The Council tabled the nomination due to concerns about an underdeveloped statement of significance while generally finding the building eligible for listing. With some improvement, the nomination should be in good shape by the next quarterly meeting in August.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bill With McKee's North St. Louis Credits Passes

Yesterday the Missouri House truly passed HB 327, sometimes known as the Quality Jobs Act. The bill contains the $100 million Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act sought by St. Charles County developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. for his massive, controversial north St. Louis "Blairmont" project.

St. Louis area Representatives Jeanette Mott-Oxford, Mike Daus, Michael Vogt and Jamilah Nasheed voted no. All other St. Louisans voted in favor of the bloated "economic development" bill.

The Distressed Areas credits received strong support from St. Louis city and county governments as well as McKee's McEagle Properties. Opponents never coalesced into a formidable lobby despite strong individual efforts and no existing organization took up their cause.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

This Friday: The Rebirth of St. Francis de Sales

"Faith and Preservation: The Rebirth of St. Francis de Sales" raises the Preservation Week curtain on the evening of Friday, May 11th. After a brief organ recital and a special welcome by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke visitors will learn about needed repairs to and renovation of the fine Gothic Revival church (the "Cathedral" of the South Side) and its parish buildings pictured above. The formal program (starting promptly at 5:30 p.m. in the sanctuary located at Gravois and Ohio) will be followed by tours of the parish buildings and a reception featuring German wine in the church basement. Sponsored by DeSales Community Housing Corporation.

St. Francis de Sales
2653 Ohio Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63118

5:30 PM - 7:30 PM
Free, but reservations are required. (314) 421-6474

(Photograph by Rob Powers for Built St. Louis; used with permission.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Missouri's 2007 Most Endangered Historic Places Will Be Announced Tuesday

2007 List Announced at site of Endangered Mullanphy Emigrant Home in North St. Louis.

Contact: Barbara Fitzgerald
phone: (573)-443-5946
email: preservemo10@yahoo.com

Dr. Cole Woodcox will announce Missouri Preservation's 2007 Most Endangered Historic Places List at a press conference at the site of the endangered Mullanphy Emigrant Home in North St. Louis at 11:00 A.M. on Tuesday, May 15, 2007. The Mullanphy Emigrant Home is located at 1609 N. 14th Street in St. Louis, MO. (In case of inclement weather, the press conference will move to the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group Office at 2800 N. 14th Street in St. Louis, MO.)

The Mullanphy Emigrant Home built in 1872 remains endangered after being named to the list in 2006 due to storm damage suffered in the Spring of 2006. The site has been purchased by the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group in an effort to save the property, but was again damaged further by a storm this Spring (2007). Efforts are being made to raise awareness and funds for the stabilization of this historic property. The site does not have electricity, so you will need equipment that works from an auxiliary power source.

Missouri's Most Endangered List is announced annually during National Preservation Month to emphasize the threatened historic resources in Missouri. Nominations are solicited from around the state and properties are chosen which are considered "at risk." The risks property face may be from deterioration, neglect, encroachment, potential demolition or a combination of threats. Missouri Preservation is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to saving historic resources throughout Missouri. Missouri Preservation may be reached at (573)-443-5946 or by email at preservemo10@yahoo.com. Dr. Cole Woodcox of Kirksville chairs the Most Endangered Historic Places Committee and can be reached at 660-785-4410 or by email at

Press packets and information on sites listed will be available at the press conference. For information on Missouri Preservation, please visit our website at www.preservemo.org. The 2007 list will be located on the website following the announcement on May 15, 2007.

This Saturday: The Last Best Address in Town

From Landmarks Association of St. Louis:

In the 19th century, beautifully landscaped cemeteries were often the choice for leisure-time outings. Recreate that point in time as you meander past impressive final resting places on Prospect Avenue in Bellefontaine Cemetery with architect, photographer & tour guide Gary Tetley. Enter main gate on Florissant and drive more or less straight ahead on Willow (which turns in to Lawn) until you reach Woodbine. Turn right and park adjacent to Prospect Avenue.

Bellefontaine Cemetery
4947 W Florissant Ave
St. Louis, MO 63115

Saturday, May 12
1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
Free, but reservations are required: (314) 421-6474

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Brick Rustlers and Other Hustlers

Built St. Louis documents a slow crime that residents of the near north side have watched unfold in the last several weeks: the destruction on five buildings on the 1900 block of Montgomery by brick rustlers. Need I add that these are the only five buildings on this block?

Apathy breeds neglect, and neglect of whole areas of a city is fatal. When our cultural leaders have had the chance to safeguard St. Louis Place and other near north side neighborhoods, they have chosen otherwise. When our leaders have seen dozens of buildings fall, they have offered apologies or ignored the destruction. When they have watched residents loose their sense of place...well, they haven't. Apparently a "sense of place" is germane only to the central corridor and the south side. North St. Louis gets fucked.

North St. Louis the region's shameful embarrassment, and the "Blairmont" solution will help us forget about some of it without having to do any real work for change. While we can't preserve a building whose walls have fallen to thieves and their eager fences, we can look back and see decades where we had the chance to prevent this tragedy from unfolding and instead we silently let it happen.

Of course, the reality is very disconcerting east of Grand: blocks with much vacancy also contain well-kept homes and apartments, smiling children and strong churches. Middle-class mythology renders the people who live here politically and culturally nonexistent, and that helps us to cope with our end of the problem. The harsh reality is that there is enough social fabric left to rebuild this area without wholesale clearance or mass relocation.

But the myths are easier: Oh, they don't care. Most of those buildings are past saving. Parts of that areas have places where you can't see a building for blocks around. Old North St. Louis is the only part of that area worth saving. No one wants to live there.

The reality is that despite fifty years of degradation and neglect the near north side retains its character and its sense of place. Thoughtful public policy for this area was impossible in the urban renewal age, but in our historic-tax-credit era seems equally impossible. The brick rustlers are committing a small crime with their own hands. Other more powerful parties have committed larger crimes with those of others. Sadly, it seems that the near north side will not fend off either assault, which seems likely to spread west of Grand after the "Blairmont" model is proven and embraced politically.

What then becomes of the character of the rest of the city? Are our self-serving myths worth the loss of a large part of the city's culture?

Preservation Week Begins This Friday

This Friday starts Preservation Week, sponsored by Landmarks Association of St. Louis. This year's events include a tour of Prospect Avenue in Bellefontaine Cemetery with historian and architect Gary Tetley, a lecture by historian Esley Hamilton on the origins of the American preservation movement, open house at Friedens UCC Church in Hyde Park and a happy hour at Blu, one of the midcentury Plaza Square Apartment buildings undergoing rehabilitation.

The calendar in online in PDF format; I will post selected events in plain text in the blog throughout the next week.

Monday, May 7, 2007

High School Students Showcase Architectural Projects at City Hall on Friday

The Art and Geometry of St. Louis Buildings

Over the last several months, students in Debbie Raboin's Art and Kelly Wamser's Geometry classes at O'Fallon (Illinois) Township High School have toured St. Louis landmarks and studied their history. This open house showcases their final projects, including artwork, 3-D models, PowerPoint presentations and a City Hall cake (isn't that a must-see?). In addition, OTHS students will provide music for the background in the rotunda. This pioneering program, developed with the assistance of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation, is an exciting new model for the use of architecture in unexpected places in the high school curriculum. Over 150 students look forward to sharing their work with you.

Date: Friday, May 11th

Time: 7:00-8:30 p.m.

Cost: FREE
* Music and refreshments provided

Venue Information:
St. Louis City Hall
1200 Market Street
St. Louis, MO 63103

Readers may recall that this blog covered this program earlier, in a March 16 post entitled This Week in Preservation Education, and that I was fortunate to be part of the program. I urge you to please attend to show your appreciation for the people who will be shaping our region's future.

Old North House Tour Will Feature In-Progress Rehab of 1859 Rowhouse

The Old North St. Louis House Tour is this Saturday. Call 314-241-5031 to purchase advance tickets, or simply show up at the corner of 14th & St. Louis on Saturday and buy your tickets then.

This year's tour will feature beautifully rehabilitated homes as well as projects in progress, including Kevin Dickherber's rehab of a c. 1859 rowhouse at 1208 Hebert which will be available for sale later this year (photo here). Dickherber is rehabilitating five houses on that block and may be the first for-profit private developer to undertake a multi-building project in Old North in years. (No slight intended to others working in Old North, including Blue Shutters Development which is rehabbing three connected houses on 14th Street.)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Silence is Golden

Here is the house at 1941 Wright Street in September 2006. This is a modest side-gabled brick house with corbelling and a centered dormer, like many other late 19th century houses on the near north and near south sides. These buildings were actually tenements, with no internal staircases and no indoor plumbing. Access to the second floor came through a rear gallery porch. Typically, these homes were extended by a narrower half-flounder addition at rear of anywhere from two to four additional rooms. The addition created a covered ell where a gallery porch typically stands; the additions rarely have original internal stairs. This house has a notably deep rear addition.

Never mind the vinyl windows and other historically inappropriate alterations that the house has accumulated. This photograph shows a structurally sound, reasonably maintained occupied dwelling. Shortly after I took this photograph, on October 30, 2006, a new owner filed a warranty deed showing a sale of the property for $109,250. The new owner: Sheridan Place LC, a holding company controlled by developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. The sellers moved out, and Sheridan Place LC and affiliated companies subsequently purchased every building on both sides of this block save for one large row to the immediate west of 1941 Wright.

Moving forward to April 2007, we find very different conditions at the house.

All of the windows and doors have been stripped, and the yard is strewn with litter. Most disturbing, however, is the building's interior where the first floor rooms are piled with bags of construction debris.

Inside of these bags is white pipe insulation, heavy with asbestos. Someone wanting to avoid the dumping fees of this waste chose to stash the bags here. Sadly, this is a common practice in the city of St. Louis. Bags of asbestos-laden waste can be found in neglected vacant buildings and on vacant lots all over the city.

In just six months of McKee's ownership, the house at 1941 Wright Street has gone from housing a family to being packed with hazardous waste. While obviously McKee and his agents did not dump the waste and cannot prevent such incidents, they have total control over the enabling factors. McKee decided to buy occupied housing units and remove the residents, thus creating opportunities for nuisance crimes and illegal dumping. McKee has avoided maintenance of these properties down to the basic act of boarding up a building like this one. (Citizen's Service Bureau registered a citizen complaint for unsecured vacant building at this address on December 19, 2006 with resolution of sending the owner a secure notice.)

There is no doubt that McKee wishes to collect the land assemblage tax credits that are part of various bills pending in the Missouri Legislature. The house at 1941 Wright is just one of over 100 historic buildings, many occupied at time of purchase, that McKee has purchased for his north St. Louis project. The decline of its condition is a story that could be repeated address by address in Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou with different variants like fires, brick rustling and drug dealing. When locals are in doubt about whether or not a sale to McKee's companies have gone through, they only look at a house. If the windows are gone and the door is wide open, they know that the new owner has taken possession -- the sad creation of an "eligible parcel" under the proposed land assemblage tax credit.

Could any reasonable person assume that McKee and his agents have conducted due diligence of compliance with city codes for vacant properties? The contrary seems true -- flagrant contempt for those codes. McKee's companies have perpetuated demolition by neglect on a huge scale. If the aim of the endeavor is to "bulldoze the ghetto," as a flier circulated earlier this year stated, there seems to be inflation of supply and demand by the agents of the project. Taking occupied houses and safe blocks and allowing them to be stripped, pillaged and burned creates a ghetto that did not exist before. The effect creates more dramatic images of blight for public relations purposes. Yet the cause is falsely attributed to the very people who were displaced and are no longer around to create the ghetto -- and who were probably afraid of such conditions as those that have now befallen their homes.

While Mayor Francis Slay may urgently call for passage of the tax credits, his silence on the specifics of McKee's operation is telling. No apology could hide the conditions of the over 640 properties now controlled by McKee's companies. All narratives inspire counter-narratives beyond political control; best to go clinical and talk of static things such as "blight" and "parcels." Any narrative would have to include the white flight and the inability of city planners in 1947 to do anything but wish to kill neighborhoods like the ones affected by McKee's project. The story would include a culture of political apathy where white mayors and black aldermen alike ignored the causes and blinded themselves to the symptoms. The story would have to admit that racially-explosive notions of "depletion" became public policy by default, and that the current actors on the near north side have just appropriated old ideas as their own rather than seeking innovative new policies. The story that could be told would discredit almost everyone.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Kennedy, Hubbard Support Tax Credits for North Side Mega-Plan

The Missouri Senate Newsroom has slow-to-download audio and video files of Sens. John Griesheimer (R-26th) and Harry Kennedy (D-1st) stating their support for the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act. Griesheimer even goes so far as to state that if he thought the proposal was a bad idea, he "wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole."

State Representative Rodney Hubbard (D-58th) spoke in favor of the proposal on the house floor and dismissed critics by insinuating that they did not care about the needs of north St. Louis. Hubbard's July 2006 Quarterly campaign finance report shows contributions from several upper-level McEagle Properties employees (including Chris McKee and Bruce Sokolik) as well as development attorney Steve Stone and his firm Stone, Leyton & Gershman. Stone testified in favor of the Distressed Areas proposal at a special House hearing this week.

The Distressed Areas language is found in a version of HB 327 that the House approved 146-9 on Tuesday, with St. Louis representatives Mike Daus (D-67th), Connie Johnson (D-61st) and Jeanette Mott-Oxford (D-59th) voting against the proposal. Please give them your thanks.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Dealers Buy Stolen Goods from Scavengers

Scavengers strip homes in path of Hwy. 40 work - Elisa Crouch (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 3)

What can we expect when this region does not regulate its antiques dealers or metal recyclers? To curb this theft, we need to curtail market incentives to steal. A good start would be requirements for metal recyclers and antiques dealers to get a copy of a photo ID before buying anything from anyone. Thus, the sale could later be reviewed by the police -- something that both thief and fence would hate.

Obviously, theft is a crime but this article again neglects to point out that the thieves sell the stolen goods to dealers equally unscrupulous. Mentioning the dealers seems the great unspeakable act in all media coverage of architectural theft.

Introducing the St. Louis Architecture Events Calendar

Thanks to architect and Central West End resident Lisa Selligman, we now have the St. Louis Architecture Events Calendar.

Here's testament to the how one person without the backing of an institution or organization can create something of great public benefit. Lisa identified a need (collect information from disparate sources like the Masonry Institute, Landmarks Association and the AIA chapter) and created a solution (combining the events in one place) free and relatively fast.

Once again in St. Louis we see that people don't wait around for good things. They create them.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Bill With Land Assemblage Tax Credits Could Die in Senate

Rep. Ron Richard, sponsor of controversial economic development bill HB 327, today moved that the Missouri House refuse to move on the House's acceptance of the conference version of the bill. That version includes the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, the tax credit developer Paul McKee seeks for north St. Louis.

Apparently, the bill faces strong opposition in the Missouri Senate due to the number of different bills that were added on through amendment without their own hearings, including the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act.

Richard's motion would prevent the bill from returning to conference. If the Senate rejects the version of the bill that the House approved today, the bill is effectively dead. However, the Distressed Areas language remains intact in SB 282 and SB 22 (in an inexplicable 100-acre version) as well as HB 991.

Urgent: "Blairmont" Tax Credits Pass Missouri House, Headed for Senate Tomorrow

I've been in and out of bed recovering from food poisoning, hence the absence of posts since Monday.

Here's some timely news: The Missouri House passed, 146-9, the conference report on HB 327, which includes the tax credit for land assemblage that Paul McKee wants to use in north St. Louis. Apparently the report will be heard in the Senate tomorrow morning, and supposedly St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay will appear in person in support of the bill's passage.

Basically, senators need to hear from people by the end of today. So if you read this before 4:30 p.m. please email or call your state senator. Contact information for senators is here.