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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Modern Motor Hotel in Central West End Faces February Demolition

Here is the building now known as the San Luis Apartments, located at 4483 Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End. Just west of the Cathedral, the building is owned by the Archdiocese of St. Louis and used as apartments for the elderly. The Archdiocese plans to demolish the building in February for a surface parking lot despite no pressing problem with the apartments, which are generally loved by residents for their excellent location. Residents are being relocated to many different places, none of which is as transit accessible -- an important criterion for older people who do not drive.

The news of the Archdiocese's plan surprises many Central West End residents who are aghast at the idea of creating a surface parking lot facing well-traveled Lindell on the same block as the elegant Cathedral. Many are astounded that the Archdiocese would proceed to demolition without any plan for future development of the site, leaving a gaping hole for an indefinite period. The Central West End Association and Alderwoman Lyda Krewson (D-28th) have yet to make official statements on the proposed demolition. However, oppositional voices are stating to cry out. Last week, the West End Word ran a letter to the editor from STL Style's Randy Vines.

Real estate moguls Harold and Melvin Dubinsky working with Paul Kapelow took out a building permit for a motor hotel on September 25, 1961, with construction estimated at $2.75 million. New Orleans firm Colbert, Lowery, Hess & Bouderaux designed the curvilinear, E-shaped modernist hotel. On July 3, 1963 the hotel building was granted an occupancy permit and shortly afterward opened as the DeVille Motor Hotel. The hotel was part of a national boom in "motor hotels" located in urban areas. Hoteliers sought to revive urban markets by building multi-story hotels with ample covered parking on lower levels. Many had bars, including popular tiki lounges. These buildings employed modernist styles to symbolize their cleanliness and newness as well as their utility. One could park right in the hotel and avoid walking city streets carrying luggage -- no doubt a concern in the dark days of American urbanism, and perhaps still. Designers are better at hiding the parking in today's urban hotels, but the idea of integrated parking, lodging and dining remains the same.

The design of the San Luis Apartments is strange and cool, if not cutting edge. The curved smooth white concrete towers cloak services while providing textural contrast to the aggregate body of each wing. The parking is recessed enough that it does not overpower the building; recessed walls on the first floor actually minimize its presence. The bays of aluminum-framed windows on the sides of the central, taller section and end of each wing are balanced by the ribbons on the inside walls of the wings. What could have been the tired bulk of a typical motor hotel -- like the Howard Johnson by the airport -- is relieved through division of the building into a series of forms of different height and footprint. This is no thoughtless slab. In fact, the modern lines interact quite well with the later and more accomplished Lindell Terrace (built in 1969 and designed by Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum) across Taylor Avenue to the west.

Unfortunately, due to recent age, the San Luis Apartments are not considered a contributing resource to the Central West End Historic District. Thus the building is not eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits. However, the buidling is included within the boundaries of the Central West End Local Historic District so there is legally-mandated preservation review of the demolition.


Anonymous said...

February doesn't leave much time. What can one do?

Sam, reporting from Jerusalem said...

Is the diocese that short sighted to see that is not one of the prime lots in the Central West End? Must we have parking lots everywhere?

Chris said...

Remember, this is the same archdiocese that gave up on urban churches on the North Side in favor of suburban churches--many of which, ironically--are now closing as well.

Apparently the diocese IS that short-sighted. And we all know what happens when you question the authority of the Church in St. Louis....

Anonymous said...

I think a fair question would be "why are they proposing to tear the building down?". Also, it would be nice to hear an official -or unoffical - reply somewhere out here in the blogosphere where readers can interact with developers.

Maybe they are looking for more surface parking for the New Cathedral? Or other offices of the St. Louis A-D?

LisaS said...

I hadn't heard about the surface parking lot, only the proposed demolition. And I firstheard about that a week ago in reference to the new park we're planning next door.

I'd be lying if I said I'm a big fan of this building--I'm not, and it's not because it's modern because I'm a big fan of modern architecture. It's not a particularly attractive example of that style in my opinion, and doesn't address the street very well. (not that any of the newer AD buildings do, but that's beside the point.) Maybe Opus should talk to the Ad about moving their proposed Lindell/Euclid building here.

But surface parking in that location ... ugh.

Anonymous said...

I love the building. Unfortunately, it's too old to be considered modern, and too new to be historic. Sadly, it's caught in the Space Age era that is not yet respected and appreciated. Indeed, it DOES add to the urban context and architectural variety of Lindell. In a two-block stretch there are buildings ranging from 1890s mansions, to Manhattanesque apartment towers of the '20s, to the altra-contemporary 4545, and everything in between. The loss of the San Luis Apartments will create a void in the remarkable diversity of the street, which in essence reflects St. Louis's growth and prosperity through the decades.

It deserves to be appreciated and preserved. At the very least, it should be replaced with something of equal quality. A grassy field or a parking lot do not make the grade.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of this building, but it holds itself well in context --- something a parking lot will never manage.

The Archdiocese is being very wasteful with resources --- razing a habited building in exchange for a place to store cars! Talk about messed up priorities!

Anonymous said...

I always thought that building would be a perfect hip boutique hotel.

Anonymous said...

Why are they doing this? Are they paying the cost of relocating the tenants? There are a lot of questions.

This would be the sort of topic that would be interesting to hear detailed on a KDHX talk show. The A-D should have an invited spokesperson to answer questions.

Personally, the building looks rather uninviting, like it's a cover for some clandestine intelligence operation.

Maybe all those old people are really agents for George Bush and Dick Cheney?

Anonymous said...

the building could CLEARLY be turned back into a funky hip hotel. hello, Indigo down the street. I know developers have approached the diocese about buying it, but they wouldn't sell. It looks like it could be in South Beach. I can't believe this could seriously be torn down for a SURFACE LOT!! COME ON ST LOUIS, wake the F up! first opus' second tower gets denied and now this?! Maybe the CWE should be turned into "east Chesterfield"...:(

Anonymous said...

I haven´t heard anything about this proposed demolition recently, and was curious if anyone had the latest news. Thanks!