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

Friday, May 30, 2008

Cass Avenue Bank Building Survives

The Cass Avenue Bank building has improbably survived the destruction that has erased most traces of the Cass Avenue commercial district. Now held by trustee Marilyn Kocher, the building seems to be used for storage although the city Building Division considers it a vacant building. Yet while its graceful lines are broken by filled-in window and door openings, the building is pretty stable. There is not the typical decay one finds with a vacant building on the near north side. Note what a difference a thorough mothballing makes: roll-up doors, steel grates and fully-boarded openings present a formidable front to trespassers.

The Classical Revival bank building dates to a $15,000 building permit taken out by Cass Avenue Bank on February 24, 1914. The architectural firm chosen was the short-lived partnership of Wedemeyer & Stiegmeyer, while Bothe-Welsch Construction Company as contractor. As a life-long resident of north St. Louis, William Wedemeyer was no stranger to the area -- or to neighborhood anchors. Wedemeyer's career includes other banks, including the now-demolished Northwestern Savings Bank at St. Louis and Florissant avenues and the still-standing Lindell Trust Company at Grand and St. Louis avenues. Wedemeyer also designed the 1923 alterations to St. Stanislaus Kostka School, which is almost fully demolished as of this writing.

Of all of Wedemeyer's work, though, the Cass Avenue Bank reminds me most of the Casa Loma Ballroom, built in 1926 but severely damaged by fire and rebuilt in 1940. Although the skin and insides were replaced, the form was not. Where the Casa Loma presents its curved corner to the intersection of Cherokee and Iowa Streets, it echoes this earlier work.

Here, the brick body of the bank breaks for a recessed chamfered entrance that is flanked by smooth polished granite columns. Above, the white terra cotta cornice forms a curve that hangs over the entrance. The effect isn't architecturally rare, but it sure is wonderful. Rather than break the street line with a lawn or set back, the bank announces its presence with a commanding cut-off corner that allows for elegant entrance without breaking the street walls on either Cass or 15th Street. The word "urbane" exists for such architectural gestures.

The rest of the building matches the corner, too, with the striking contrast between the oh-so-white terra cotta and dark brick. There are medallions bearing the bank emblem as well as the common seal of the City of St. Louis. The terra cotta side entrance on 15th Street is quietly elegant as well.

Next door, a storefront building owned by the Land also built in 1915 carries the roof line but bears the result of a 1950 re-facing. This building was first a shop and later a club owned by another nearby bank, Pulaski Savings and Loan (read about the recent loss of its home here). In 1927, Cass Avenue Bank moved eastward to the large majestic building at Florissant and Cass now used as the Greyhound Station. The city was growing fast right before the Depression, and banks were at the forefront. The United States Postal Service occupied the building at 15th and Cass for many years, but it's been vacant since the 1980s.

Across the street from the old bank building are the O'Fallon Place apartments. Yet much of the rest of this area, especially to the north and east, has been wrecked. First, starting right before World War II and going through the 1960s, trucking companies bought up large parts of this area for cheap, knocking down shops and tenements for transfer facilities and yards. Then the trucking companies moved out, and their facilities started coming down.

It's clear this stretch of Cass Avenue is due for redevelopment. The new Mississippi River Bridge will have its major off-ramp into downtown come out onto Cass just east of Florissant Avenue. The street is bound to get a new life, and hopefully one that is as healthy as the one it once had.

Consideration should be given to survivors like the two Cass Bank buildings, each of which is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. They are building blocks for new mixed-use development -- reminders of the past that can be part of the future of this great street.

(More information: Built St. Louis)

Near North Bus Tour Responses

On Wednesday, I led a bus tour of Old North, St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou for listeners of Charlie Brennan's show on KMOX. Yesterday, Charlie took calls from those who took the tour. Listen to their responses here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Urban Prairie in Downtown Evansville, Indiana

In the heart of Evansville, Indiana, just across the street from the former federal building, is this half-block of vacant earth. It's not a construction site. It's not a parking lot. It's just land with grass growing on it.

Factory Farming in Missouri

The Joplin Globe published an excellent article on confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Missouri: "Study: CAFOs affect neighbors' property". These operations have been replacing traditional animal farms for years -- bringing with them debilitating conditions for animals, food packed with growth hormones with unresearched effects on consumers and now problems for neighboring human and animal populations through waste-water run-off. This is not to mention the number of family farms lost through factory farming.

In the St. Louis region, there are many CAFOs in Illinois counties like Monroe and Missouri counties like Jefferson and Lincoln. Urbanists often talk about stopping sprawl through growth boundaries and form-based zoning, but there is a much less frequently-addressed part of the sprawl question. If we stop the creep of the suburbs, what do we want the rural lands surrounding St. Louis to look like? What sort of land uses are sustainable and acceptable, if large subdivisions, strip malls, office parks and the like are out of the question? What jobs will people have?

Healthy agriculture is key to sustaining open land around the metropolis. Currently much of the land within our Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area is devoted to farming. As the energy crisis mounts, that amount of land may not change much. Yet "farming" as we know it has been altered to an unrecognizable world of factory farms, hormones, chemicals and corporations. Does agriculture in current practice serve the interest of a sustainable St. Louis region, or do we want to adopt a model that conserves our rich soil, sustains open space, preserves what's left of family farms and prevents the poisoning of surrounding land?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Mesker Storefront in Crossville

En route to the Storefronts of America: The Mesker Story exhibit at the Evansville Museum in Indiana, I happened upon a fine example of a Mesker front in Crossville, Illinois. Actually, this was no real happenstance. I pretty much figure I'll see at least one Mesker in any small town I encounter in southern or central Illinois.

Now famous due to the efforts of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's Got Mesker? project, the Mesker storefronts are the work of two foundries within one family. George L. Mesker & Company operated in Evansville, Indiana while Mesker Brothers Iron Works operated in St. Louis. Both companies produced mass-manufactured iron building parts ranging from cast iron columns to sheet metal facades from the 1870s through the 1920s. Builders ordered parts or whole facades (easiest to identify) from catalogs to economically beautify commercial fronts in small towns and big cities alike.

This particular storefront is the work of George L. Mesker & Company. Acanthus-topped solid cast iron columns support a brick front wall hidden under sheet metal. The sheet metal is cored to resemble concrete blocks, and is adorned with continuous foliage-inspired elements at the window surrounds, above the storefront, above the second floor windows and at the cornice line.

Akin to the ornament of Louis Sullivan, the Mesker work references prairie nature. Classical details are minimal, while abstract and direct natural patterns dominate the composition. The belts of vines emphasize the horizontal nature of the wide front, echoing the rugged flat land of southeastern Illinois. Yet the metal front is obviously a modern thing -- at least, it was distinctly modern for its time. The design draws together the eager commercial of spirit mass manufacturing (sheet metal ordered by mail, near-uniform concrete blocks) with romantic tinges of natural beauty (conjuring infinite variety and difference).

These fine lines remain a testament to the once-promising outlook of the small towns of the Midwest. The Mesker front in Crossville isn't a Waiwright Building or a Rookery, but it somehow seems as much a true expression of time, place and modernity as those progressive urban buildings. The storefront building seemed vacant, and the sheet metal was peeling back on one end to reveal backing lath over the plain brick body of the building.

Yet the front is essentially good repair, retaining almost every original piece -- the end columns on the storefront probably weren't originally bare brick -- and even its original window sash. There's only a bit of rust. The building offers itself as a worthy part of the future of Crossville, whatever that may be.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lumiere Celebrates Memorial Day

Dressed up for Memorial Day and viewed through the infrastructure of an electrical transformer station, the hotel tower at Lumiere Place serves its purpose well: to draw as much attention toward itself as possible, away from everything else. Even that shiny arch thing just south. Can that arch do this? Can the American flag glow? Come, moths, and bake in ecstasy!

Friday, May 23, 2008

McKee Refused to Assure Residents That Their Homes Were Safe

A KMOX radio story that aired yesterday, "Developer Paul McKee -- Target of City Hall Protest", dropped a pretty big bomb: developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. met with some residents of his north city project area last year and refused to assure them that their homes could remain.

Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration Saturday

Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing CELEBRATION!

Saturday May 24th 12-5pm
Missouri's First Nationally Recognized Underground Railroad Site, by the Riverfront Trail on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Gospel Music, Art Exhibit, Food Vendors, Historical Exhibits, OtherCultural Acts

"A Tale of an Urban Slave Escape," a fully-costumed 1855 reenactment at 3pm.

Directions: Take I-70 to Grand Ave, go East toward the Mississippi River to HallSt., continue 1/4 mile to Prairie St., look for a large RiverfrontTrail sign, turn right on Prairie St. to parking area.

This event is organized by the Grace Hill Settlement House. For more information, contact Doug Eller 314-584-6703.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Missouri Preservation's Most Endangered List Includes Three St. Louis Buildings

Yesterday Missouri Preservation unveiled its 2008 Most Endangered Historic Places list (follow link for full list with information). President Jeff Brambila, pictured above, announced that the Mullanphy Emigrant Home in St. Louis was being held over from last year due to continued financial needs of the stabilization project. A new foundation and new block inside walls for the south and east sides of the building are complete, but the block work on the north wall, a new roof and brick exterior facing all remain to be started. The Mullanphy is not safe yet.

Also on this year's list due to financial needs of repair is Fairfax, where the list was announced. Located on Manchester Road in Rock Hill, Fairfax is a minimally-detailed Greek Revival home built by James Collier Marshall in 1841. Out of tune with its auto-centric surroundings, the home was already moved twice to escape demolition. The owner is the City of Rock Hill, which lacks funds to repair the building. Those in attendance at the press conference saw the high level of disrepair on the interior, where holes abound in the plaster walls and ceilings and the original wooden floors are covered with decaying vinyl flooring.

A third St. Louis are building on this year's list is the DeVille Motor Hotel at 4483 Lindell Boulevard in the city's Central West End. The modernist motor lodge is an elegant relic of urban renewal era, showing a sensitivity to site and neighborhood context rare for its period. Seems to this writer that the stark modernism of the DeVille shares at least a stylistic tendency with the much-earlier Greek Revival lines of Fairfax. Currently, the St. Louis Archdiocese continues to plan demolition of the hotel for a surface parking lot.

Missouri Preservation went beyond the endangered list and also announced a "watch list" of buildings from previous year's lists still facing an uncertain future.

Monday, May 19, 2008

McEagle Spokesman: Clemens Chapel Safe, Sale Still On

According to an article in Sunday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch ( Deteriorated mansion may head toward redevelopment despite wall collapse), McEagle Properties indicates that the chapel at the James Clemens House is safe from imminent destruction:

Dan Brungard, a spokesman for McEagle, a development company from O'Fallon, Mo., said a St. Louis inspector said the damage was weather-related. Brungard said that the property is under contract and that the damage would likely not affect that contract.

"We will do whatever repairs are necessary," he vowed.

Again, McEagle mentions a sales contract. Who is the mystery party?

Speaking of McEagle getting serious about maintenance, Kathleen McLaughlin's article from last week's Riverfront Times, "Mow Your Lawn, Mister?", reveals that a federally-funded job program will be used for grass cutting at the "Blairmont" properties this summer.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Get on the Grid! Benefit Show Next Saturday

Although we are all exhausted as Historic Preservation Week winds down, let's set sights on an important event next weekend.

Next Saturday, May 24 at 7:00 p.m. at Shaw's Gallery (4065 Shaw at Thurman) is the Get on the Grid! benefit show for the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation. A $7 cover change and cash bar will go straight to helping the Foundation raise the money it needs to connect its facility to the electric grid.

The back story: The Foundation is the organization set up by Larry Giles to administer, conserve and interpret his collections of over 300,000 architectural artifacts and 100,000 books, trade journals, photographs and drawings. In 2005, the Foundation purchased a 12.5-acre, 14-building former steel foundry in Sauget, Illinois near downtown (the old home of Sterling Steel Casting) where the collections are being consolidated. Meantime, Larry was able to make his library available to researchers by appointment in a rented space in St. Louis.

As work at the foundry progressed, financial needs dictated moving the unique library to Sauget. Trouble is, the money for completing the library space was not in place and the library is now again in storage. The first need is completing the electrical service at the foundry so that lighting and climate controls are possible. Hence, the need for the show.

Yes, there are many worthy causes but none with an appeal so direct and compelling as this. Get on the grid. Pay at the door and the Foundation might hook up the power. With power, researchers can again access one of the nation's most important collections of literature and documents related to architectural materials. Good research will lead to information we need to restore historic buildings, interpret and defend those we have and inspire people to care about our built heritage.

Your seven dollars will go a long way, but the starting point is clear.

Those who can't attend can send donations to:
St. Louis Building Arts Foundation
2412 Menard Street
St. Louis, MO 63104

Clemens House Chapel Suffers Localized Collapse

In a move unsurprising to long-time observers, a section of the roof and the eastern wall of the chapel wing at the James Clemens House collapsed in heavy rains yesterday. The collapse took down a section of roof that was sagging severely in recent months and three bays of the east wall above the first floor. The section that collapsed ran between two interior partitions that prevented further roof damage by supporting additional weight and tying the side walls together.

The roof had demonstrated severe local failure, and the western wall had substantially bowed outward in just the least year under pressure from the failing roof trusses. Recent observation showed imminent failure.

However, the chapel shows few signs of further immediate danger. The Building Division may swoop in soon to demolish the chapel, but that would be hasty. Here's why:

  • The collapse was localized. The roof trusses run the width of the chapel, not the length, so the loss of those that fell yesterday does not necessarily mean others will fail.

  • Adjacent wall and roof sections seem fair. While the roof is in poor condition, the worst parts were those lost. The masonry walls and foundation, on the other hand, show excellent pointing and soundness. The wall section that collapsed did so because the roof pushed it out, not because the wall itself was inherently deficient.

    Built in 1896, the chapel was designed by Carondelet resident Aloysius Gillick, architect of several other Archdiocese buildings including the 1889 St. Mary's Infirmary. The Sisters of St. Joseph built the chapel after taking ownership of the Clemens House earlier, in 1888. The front-gabled brick building features red sandstone ornament and sills, an ornate front porch and a high body visible from long distances to the east and north. The chapel itself is located on the second floor, and featured a suspended vaulted ceiling (mostly collapsed). The ornate marble altar and stained glass windows are both nearly completely missing.

    Still, preservation of the chapel is important in retaining the historic integrity of the complex. The current configuration reflects the House's years of religious service rather than its original mansion life, and any restoration should retain the evolved form to show the layers of historic presence.

    Now is the time for the owner of the Clemens House, Paul McKee, to come forward and announce his intention. Inaction will mean certain loss of the chapel and further deterioration of the Clemens House buildings. Immediate stabilization should commence. If McKee is unwilling to do that, he should say so and offer others a chance.

    Television stations KSDK and KTVI (oddly speculating that the chapel was a cathedral) covered the collapse.
  • Thursday, May 15, 2008

    Blairmont Secures Clemens House During Historic Preservation Week

    Blairmont Associates celebrated Historic Preservation Week with the belated action of securing the James Clemens, Jr. House at 1849 Cass Avenue in St. Louis Place. According yo a KMOX radio news report, Blairmont parent company McEagle Properties claims that the Clemens House is under contract to another owner and the work is being done as part of the sale.

    The house has sat unsecured for the better part of the last year, with even the front door wide open and unboarded in recent months. Many parts of the building have disappeared in recent years, and during the recent unsecured period millwork began to leave the house.

    On Wednesday, May 14, Blairmont had a crew at the site, cutting and affixing fresh plywood for the numerous unboarded windows and doors as well as bricking in a hole in the rear wall of the dormitory wing. (The masonry repair used an incorrect mortar mix for the historic masonry.)

    Other work included building a chain link fence across the open front entrance in the brick wall along Cass Avenue, where an iron gate once hung.

    The workers did not remove the numerous trees growing out of the original house's upper floors, not did they take any action to remove collapsed brickwork from the roof and attic of the house. Bricks falling from the taller dormitory have caused significant damage to the house's northwest corner, collapsing roof joists and causing the third floor to sag. The chapel wing's condition is severe, with the west wall bowing outward due to ongoing roof collapse.

    Meanwhile, the cast iron portico on the house continues to lean away from the house, causing the limestone porch walls to shift with it. The painted sandstone entrance surround and porch on the chapel is eroding badly.

    During the work, the city's Building Division came and issued a stop work order. Oddly, Blairmont did not have a building permit for any of the work. While the law is the law, it's hard to want to stop any step Blairmont is actually taking to secure one of the city's most important and most endangered landmarks.

    Threatened Central West End Building For Sale on CraigsList

    Community Baptist Church has posted a CraigsList ad for the building at 4477 Olive Street, subject of discussion at last month's Preservation Board meeting where the board considered demolition on preliminary review. (Read more here.) The neighboring Youth Technology Education Center (YTEC) is seeking demolition for expansion of its facility, but does not own the building. The board voted to defer the matter for two months to allow the Central West End Association, YTEC and the church to explore alternative plans including preservation of the former laundry building.

    The ad states that the asking price is $250,000.

    Saturday: Tour of South Soulard and DeMenil House, Big Book Sale

    The Rehabbers Club brings you an exciting Saturday:

    Saturday, May 17
    9:30 a.m.
    Start at 900 Utah Street

    This month's meeting focuses on south Soulard and eastern Benton Park/Marine Villa, historically part of the same development pattern but separated by the construction
    of I-55.

    Meet at 9:30 a.m. at 900 Utah (at S. 9th Street, south of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery). We will visit Ray and Maureen Kenski and hear about their long road to opening up a B&B in this gut-rehabbed former multi-family building. It's one of several buildings in the area recently rehabbed by local developer Kraig Schnitzmeier. His project across the street at 3306 S. 9th just won one of Landmarks Association's Eleven Most Enhanced Awards, and we'll have the opportunity to hear Kraig talk about the transformation of this derelict property into a
    stunning home.

    3306 S. 9th Street. Photo courtesy of Kraig Schnitzmeier.

    Our next stop will be a special Preservation Week visit to the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion (open to us at no charge). DeMenil board member Bill Hart will tell the story of the dramatic rescue and restoration of the mansion 40 years ago and give a special tour highlighting its ongoing rehabilitation challenges. We'll also have the opportunity to view rarely seen photographs of the blocks to the east, demolished for I-55, which demonstrate the continuity of the urban grid before the neighborhood were severed by highway construction.

    Our final stop on the tour will be "The Simon Complex", as it is sometimes called, on the 1900 block of Cherokee Street. Ray Simon's project started in the late 1980s and continues today, in the process creating a shaded, secluded courtyard shared by businesses and residents of the antebellum front buildings and the 1890s alley house. This type of semi-private space was once common in the City, but prohibitions against alley dwellings reduced their number considerably. The mix of commercial and residential uses, private and shared space is uniquely urban and
    completely magical. Don't miss it.

    The final stop is also (by no coincidence) the site of the Rehabbers Club Used Book Sale, which benefits the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion. This year we have a strong collection of books including rehabbing, architecture, local interest, gardening, decorating, and tons of fiction. There are also many really nice supplies (mostly of the handled flex-file variety) for your home office. If you can't make the tour, stop by the sale at 1912 Cherokee from 10-4 Saturday or 12-4 Sunday.

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    Building Recycling

    My latest KWMU commentary celebrates the conversion of the former Days Inn at Tucker & Washington into the Washington Avenue Apartments. Transcript and audio is online here.

    Corner Storefront on Cass Avenue

    This corner storefront and at 2742 Cass Avenue in JeffVanderLou was one of the properties recently purchased by Larmer LC from the Cass Corporation for $739,000. Actually, these are two separate buildings. While Geo St. Louis dates the buildings to 1885, that's probably wrong. Most of the Geo St. Louis building information comes from unreliable city records, not building permits. Likely, these buildings are earlier and the storefronts added later.

    Across the city in the post-Civil War era, many builders built tenement housing over commercial space like this on streets in "suburban" areas away from the central city. Some streets were main thoroughfares and shifted to commercial uses. When those changes came, building owners would often reconfigure tenement buildings with ground-floor commercial uses by putting a cast iron storefront in place of the brick wall on the first floor. That's what seems to be the case here. In other cases, storefronts were inserted in place of residential space.

    The cast iron front allowed for greater glazed area than a heavy masonry wall; stores needed exposure of goods to the passers-by. This was long before automobile-clad consumers learned about goods through television and computers before heading to the local windowless big box.

    Cast iron fronts are structural as well as decorative. The columns, poured into attractive classical forms, bear the weight distributed across the front by paired steel I-beams. Adding wide storefronts must have been interesting surgery!

    Monday, May 12, 2008

    Tomorrow Night: Development Challenges & Rewards Discussion


    Tuesday, May 13, 2008
    7:00 p.m.
    The Laurel Sales Office, 625 Washington Avenue

    As part of Historic Preservation Week, ReVitalize St. Louis, the Rehabbers Club and Landmarks Association of St. Louis sponsor a panel including Jay Swoboda of EcoUrban Homes and Brady Capital and Stephen Acree of the the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance, whose work has included many historic rehabilitation projects. Panelists will discuss their careers in St. Louis, the challenges they have faced and the current state of the city's real estate market. Question and answer session to follow -- bring your questions! Free.

    UPDATE: Developer Will Liebermann, a developer who has done several projects on and around Cherokee Street, has joined the panel.

    Sunday, May 11, 2008

    Will Aldermen Consider McKee Plan This Year?

    My latest "Inside the Metropolis" column for the Vital Voice is more timely than I imagined when I submitted it:

    Will Aldermen Consider McKee Plan This Year?

    All Power to the Imagination

    The title of this blog entry was the rallying cry of student protesters in Paris 40 years ago yesterday. (Read more about the events of May 1968 here.) What a wonderful exclamation -- power not to institutions, leaders, groups of people or even the revolutionary movement. The students wanted all power for imagination -- the faculty every human being shares, that allows for the envisioning of a new world.

    Without imagination, we couldn't think through changing our own circumstances. Now, granted that some people have mighty fine circumstances and probably don't want to imagine a change in the world that may benefit others. The rest of us, though, need to have the power to envision our neighborhoods and own lives improved physically, economically and spiritually. In St. Louis, imagination fuels the work of my neighbors in Old North St. Louis as much as it keeps developers like Craig Heller going. Sometimes it's not acknowledged, and rarely gets political play, but we need imagination to make this city a better place.

    Without imagination, we are resigned to existing conditions. Without daring to envision a city that does not let half of its geographic area collapse -- without daring to imagine a city where the antiquated 1916 charter (now a suicide pact) is overturned -- without making plans to include every citizen, not just the best-bred and best-educated, in decision-making at all levels -- without thinking that we can create standards for the quality of development that would ensure world-class results -- we have a city that has long since accepted mediocrity through default.

    Change without imagination is tantamount to continued loss of opportunities. We can't let the technocrats plan our future through financing formulas. Without a vision -- a dream -- of what shape we want St. Louis to be in, we won't be able to resist or even influence the people whose dull plans are despoiling the landscape that once was an international city.

    The situation surrounding the near north side is one great example. There is plenty of imagination for what Old North, Hyde Park and other neighborhoods should look like, but how empowered is the vision? These areas are under attack through speculation, Big Dull Plans, political apathy, redlining and persistent political defeat. What people there need to do is proclaim their vision for their home -- a vision easily defined to neighbors and strangers alike. Without dreams, no neighborhood can resist the infiltration of a Great Plan. Without a truly imaginative vision offered, the Great Plan may seem like a work of imagination. Maybe it is. But what mind imagines a decades of deprivation, building collapses, arson and poverty followed by wholesale clearance? That's not the work of imagination -- that what happens without it.

    Thursday, May 8, 2008

    Larmer and Union Martin Take Over Where Others Left Off

    Although known Paul McKee companies stopped purchasing property in December, two new holding companies have been making purchases in the same part of north St. Louis where McKee is active.

    Larmer LC has filed at least 22 sales deeds since January 10, and Union Martin LLC has filed five. Many of these sales represent bundles of properties for substantial amounts. In all, Larmer has reported over $2.5 million in sales this year while Union Martin has reported sales totalling around $924,000.

    Larmer and Union Martin were both registered by third-party registrar CT Corporation System, but deeds reveal that Daniel D. Baier is manager of both companies. As we previously reported, Larmer's tax bills go to a 2845 Keokuk Avenue, a building owned by F & B Properties LLC. F & B Properties' organizers are Baier and former Crestwood Mayor Thomas E. Fagan. Union Martin's tax bills go to the same address, although deeds list its address as 10658 Carroll Wood Way in St. Louis County.

    Both companies were incorporated soon before the spending sprees began: Larmer on December 3, 2007 and Union Martin on December 15. Each company has its own accompanying shell lender. Larmer's loans come from Hamill Company LC, incorporated on November 27, 2007, while Union Martin's loans are from Stapleton Management LLC, incorporated on November 28, 2007.

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008

    Things We Lost in the Fires

    Here's a round up of photographs of some of the buildings in JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place that were part of the eleven-building arson spree this weekend. All of these buildings were vacant at the time of the fires.

    Barbara Manzara has published a map of the fires here.)

    2633R Palm Avenue, owned by Cleo and Zerline Terntine

    3015 Elliott Avenue, owned by Sheridan Place LC*

    3114R Glasgow Avenue (actually faces Elliott), owned by MLK 3000 LLC*

    2519 Sullivan Avenue (left), owned by Jesse and Davis Thomas, adjacent to brick-rsutled 2517 Sullivan Avenue, owned by Dodier Investors LC* (See earlier photo at Built St. Louis.)

    2206-10 Hebert Street, owned by Blairmont Associates LC* (Minimal fire damage; see earlier photo at Built St. Louis.)

    2507 Hebert Street, owned by Blairmont Associates LC* (See earlier photo at Built St. Louis.)

    2523 Dodier Street, owned by Larmer LC (Minimal fire damage.)

    2547 Dodier Street, owned by Larmer LC

    2566 Dodier Street, owned by Blairmont Associates LC*

    A KMOX news story about the fires is online here.

    *Denotes holding company tied to Paul J. McKee, Jr. (More here.)

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008

    Preservation Week Begins This Friday

    Landmarks Association of St. Louis kicks off this year's Preservation Week on Friday with a ribbon cutting at 3:30 p.m. LoftWorks' Ludwig Lofts at 1004-6 Olive Street downtown. This event includes an open house until 6:00 p.m. From there, the week progresses with house tours in old North St. Louis, Skinker-DeBalivere and the Central West End; a walking tour in St. Louis Place led by yours truly; the Eleven Most Enhanced Places awards ceremony; bowling at Saratoga Lanes; a trivia night hosted by Patrick Murphy; a book sale to benefit the Chatillon-DeMenil House; and more.

    I will feature some of the events here, but the full calendar is available on Landmarks' website.

    Monday, May 5, 2008

    Passage of a Block Face: 1900 St. Louis Avenue, North Face

    Following the trail from the recently-demolished house at 1951 St. Louis Avenue, let's examine the rest of the block two years ago. Here were the thee buildings east of that house.

    At the left, see a very stately Italianate single-family home. In the center is a brick tenement, with thew front wall painted and a likely mansard roof destroyed by fire; this building was razed in 2007. Both buildings were owned by the city's Land Reutilization Authority. These represent common styles and forms for the 1880s. The building at the right is an apartment building that is occupied to this day. This building demonstrates the near north side architectural sensibility of the 1890s -- the mansard roof form remains, but it is divided by a prominent brick dormer. The cornice is brick, not wood, and the entrance is formed by a generously wide Roman arch.

    The Italianate home today stands vacant, and the east wall of the rear ell is starting to lose bricks fast.

    Anchoring the block faces eastern end is another 1890s building, a solid three-story storefront building housing Fleetwood and Son's. Behind the sleek modern vitrolite facade is one of the north side's coolest bars. (Warning: Fleetwood's is a 30-and-over establishment, so young punks should hang elsewhere.)

    A 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map shows eight buildings on this (north) side of the 1900 block of St. Louis Avenue. Three of these, long gone, were large buildings. Just west of Fleetwood's stood the North Branch of the Young Men's Christian Association. Between the house at the other corner and that Italianate house were St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church and a large mansion enjoying a generous side yard between it and the church.

    The 1964 Sanborn fire insurance map shows that the North Branch and the mansion were gone. The Romanesque Revival St. Paul's, which had been built in 1902 and designed by Matthews & Clarke, survived until 1998 when it was senselessly demolished by its owner (LRA).

    Last year, all of the remaining buildings on the north side of this block (across the alley) were decimated by brick thieves operating with rapacious precision. This spring, those damaged buildings came down. What does the future hold for this block?

    The Italianate house seems destined for demolition next. (May that not be the case.) The apartment building and Fleetwood's, though, are going to be around for a long time to come. What fills in around them is anyone's guess. Will it be new homes or shops that express the sense of place that the fallen buildings did? That depends on what our sense of this place is when we building -- or, more likely, the sense of who does the building and who delivers a vision for rebuilding St. Louis Place to that builder.

    It's easy to shudder at the prospect. After all, the current sense of St. Louis Place held by many is confused and beneath the dignity of the neighborhood's generations of residents, past and present. Once a certain sense emerges, rebuilding will lead to a block face as engaged in the values of its age as this block face once was. Although we have seen tragic loss of this block, let us not neglect to lay out the blueprints for a rebuilding that will honor our heritage.

    Larmer LC Rapidly Buying Property in JVL, St. Louis Place

    I had been waiting for the north side holding companies controlled by Paul McKee to make a move in 2008. Surely the lull of autumn would lead to spring purchases in this buyer's market. None of the companies have made a single purchase since December.

    However, a new company has been quite busy buying property in north city. Larmer LC, incorporated on December 3, 2007 by third-party registrars at the CT Corporation System, has purchased at least 45 properties in JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place since its incorporation (see them all here). Readers may recall that CT Corporation System registered McKee's holding companies before registration was transferred to McEagle Properties.

    Larmer LC's tax bills go to the address of 2854 Keokuk Avenue in south city, a building owned by F & B Properties LLC. That connection seems a coincidence. What may not be coincidental is that Larmer has started buying property after the other companies stopped.

    Friday, May 2, 2008

    The House at 20th and St. Louis

    We shall never again see this beautiful house at the northeast corner of 20th Street and St. Louis Avenue in St. Louis Place, just north of the boundary of the Clemens House-Columbia Brewery National Historic District. Wreckers took down the house last week as part of a city demolition package. The house had fallen on hard times. Vacant for years, the house lost its roof through collapse and sections of the western wall were beginning to collapse inward. Its owner was an elderly man who lived in the ruins; he was apparently on a bus downtown to try to stop the demolition when the wreckers started their work. The home was mostly gone when he returned.

    Nonetheless, the beauty shone through the devastation. This was one of the few early large corner houses on St. Louis Avenue. Notice the shallow setback from St. Louis Avenue and the lack of any setback at all from 20th Street. Originally a single-family home possessing the same grandeur of its peers on the avenue, the house is resolutely urban in character. St. Louis Place had an order of fine houses, and homes on St. Louis Avenue were more prosaic than the slightly more expensive ones that lined both sides of the St. Louis Place park. Hence this house balances the expression of wealth its owners intended with a conventional placement of the home typical of the street. No one could have expected seclusion on a main thoroughfare.

    What was most striking about the home was its intact features. Although derelict, the house was never painted and kept its wooden windows, the cornice, dormer, slate shingles and even its roof cresting. The eclectic mix of Second Empire and Italianate features was restrained by the purity of expression typical of its time (likely the early 1880s). The front wall was brick, the lintels simple stone arches. There was little pretense despite its stylistic impurity.

    Standing vacant, the home was almost frozen in time. While the home remained immobile, the forces of water, gravity and time moved forward against the house.

    [Read more about a building across the street here.]

    Thursday, May 1, 2008


    This neat feature alerts drivers in an alley headed north toward Ontario Street between Linden and Euclid avenues in Oak Park, Illinois. Embedded tiles form a sturdy, enduring stop sign.