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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lovely Row on Hickory Street

The so-called Gate District in south city is bounded roughly by I-44 on the south, Jefferson on the east, Compton on the west and Chouteau on the north. In that area, so much fabric was lost between 1970 and the present that whole blocks are devoid of a single historic building. For a number of years, the city planning agency was preoccupied by a concept called a "Town in Town" that consisted of wholesale clearance of town and construction of a new district with a lake, homes, warehouses and the like placed on new streets. This plan was way too unrealistic to come to fruition -- didn't anyone price the removal of every part of infrastructure in the area? -- but it was distilled into the Gate District plan drafted by Duane-Plater Zyberk and implemented piecemeal since 1985.

The piecemeal implementation is the saving grace of the planning for this area. Written off as a wasteland by some urbanists, the Gate District actually retains some pockets of fabulous historic architecture. One of these is the north face of the 2800 block of Hickory Street, between California and Ewing. Although four of the eight houses remaining are vacant, and a ninth house was wrecked over the summer, the block face carries with it a distinct vernacular charm.

The inadvertent symmetry of the block is wonderful. The center group of five brick shaped-parapet shotgun houses is flanked on either side by two-story cousins. One other single-story house is located west of this group. The shotgun homes are a proud showcase of the variety of St. Louis masonry -- each parapet has different treatment, and all variety comes through different installation of the same bricks. The homes also make use of the Roman arch, dating their construction to 1890 or later. The bookend two-story homes contrast with the others. Although larger, their masonry is more restrained, and they employ flat arches on their front elevations. Each has a front porch. These houses are probably at least a decade newer than their neighbors.

Altogether, the group is quite distinguished and worthy of preservation. To the east are sections of urban prairie that put St. Louis Place to shame, and to the north is the Chouteau industrial corridor that has been encroaching for over half of a century. Part of the Sixth Ward, this area lacks preservation review for demolition. The open land and shifting land use could portend the erasure of this group, or the creation of a new context that marries old and new architecture in urban harmony.


Chris said...

I think all of those shotgun houses are for sale, if anyone's looking for one, or five. I saw them on the market last year.

Doug Duckworth said...

They're pretty damn cute! But I'm a while from that kind of purchase.

Anonymous said...

While appreciating the bones of these buildings as worthy of preservation, let's dig a little deeper into the feasibility of such possibilities.

Not knowing exactly where these buildings stand, relative to, uh, SLU Hospital expansion, the first question is, do they stand in the path of parking or building expansion of the SLU campus?

Second, the buildings are mostly vacant or severely deteriorated. Chances are the occupants are very low income or no income.

They can't afford the cost of maintenance, let alone rehab. I'm betting if there are children living in these buildings, they are lead poisoned and underfed. Who will pay for these buildings' preservation?

Low income people are more prone to crime. Are the occupants of these buildings bringing crime to the new home owners of the area?

The neighborhood is not eligible for historic district status. Are these individual buildings potentially eligible? That's a big if. So, historic tax credit are not a given.

While the buildings harken back to a bygone era, others would say their shotgun designs are functionally obsolete, and they would be better demolished and replaced.

This blog promotes historic architecture and preservation. However, taking a broader perspective, what are the real prospects here?

Looking at it another way, over at St. Louis Patina, the poster there makes the point that something should be done now to preserve the N. Grand water tower.

There isn't the money to save everything. We have to make choices, prioritize. On the scale of importance, how would you rank these buildings?

Michael R. Allen said...

Last Anonymous --

It's not a zero sum game. For one thing, we don't have a level playing field since block grant funds are controlled by aldermen in the city, context is important for historic district designation, etc.

Every preservation project happens because of unique cirumstances. Even if one could rank the North Grand water tower first (and I'm not advocating for such rating), there is the possibility that funds for work would take longer to find than funds for repairing houses like the ones on Hickory.

Everything in our parochial system comes down to whether or not local residents have the will to preserve. That moves mountains. Few who rank would rank tenement houses on Monroe Street as more significant and worth of preservation that the Clemens House, or Carr School. We all know what of those has been fully rehabbed, though.

I beat the drum here to inspire action. Money is one way to solve a problem. So is education. One without the other never gets us far.

By the way, the occupied homes on that block of Hickory are in good shape.

Anonymous said...

The Gate District is part of the 6th Ward. In the 6th Ward, there are development priorities in the Tower Grove East area. Tower Grove trumps the Gate District in terms of historic preservation.

For years, the Gate District received many hundreds of thousands in city funds for building new construction. What you get is what you see.

Anonymous said...

One of these homes is occupied by a very good friend of mine. She is 91 and has lived there for a long time. It would be a shame if she weer displaced in the name of preservation.

Anonymous said...

^ god, that is an interesting comment! whew!

Chris said...

Not quite sure how she would be displaced by preservation. Preservationists don't tend to evict people from their homes.

Paul McKee and Mayor Slay, now that is another story.

Anonymous said...

^ Preservationists don't tend to evict much of anything. They promote mostly.

Maybe they should give the 90 year old lady some money so she can maintain her house? That would be helping to preserve.

Or they could wait til she dies, and the place is vacant, and then go in and "explore".

Chris said...

I think the idea of giving money to elderly residents to help maintain their property is a great idea. I have been looking at houses recently to purchase, and I went in several where an elderly resident could use a little help with maintenance. Which reminds me, my parents' church does that already; they go and help insulate elderly residents' homes before the winter; maybe Anonymous could similarly offer his/her help to a neighbor who needs it.

Any by the way, not all of us are constantly traipsing around abandoned buildings; I think I've been in a grand total of four abandoned buildings in the last decade, with three of those four having been over eight years ago. I don't salivate at the possibility of a building going abandoned so I can go and "have fun" in the formerly occupied building.

Likewise, I don't care what people do in the spare time, whether it's exploring vacant buildings, baking cream puffs or whatever.

Doug Duckworth said...

Anon Asshole 8:00 AM, September 18, 2008:

The City has the Healthy Home Repair Program.

She should contact the various departments and her alderwoman if she needs money for repairs.

Your comments are incendiary and ridiculous. I car far more about the people in these buildings than the masonry itself.

Anonymous said...

People sit on home repair waiting lists for years. The lady would probably die first.

When government offers free money for home repairs, the line stretches out for miles.

Then you have the problem of people deferring needed maintenance in hopes for the free government program.

Anonymous said...

Telling people to contact an alderman for money for home repairs is ridiculous. You want to upset people, that's how to do it.

Chris said...

You definitely won't get the alderman's help if you don't even try.

Isn't that part of the city's problem for the last sixty years? We just assume that it won't work out the way we want so we don't even try?

Anonymous said...

The problem is the waiting list. They can have literally hundreds of names. And maybe a few dozen get help per year. That's why people can die waiting.

Some programs start a new waiting list every year. You can be on a list this year and dropped at the end of the year.

A better approach is to offer low interest loans instead of grants, managed by the homeowner - not government.

Low interest loans, where people can defer payments or have affordable payments, helps get more money out into the community and into the hands of people who are willing to do something with their own money.

Government cannot and should not be the first source of help.

Unknown said...

I think its funny how the comments have evolved. But back to the original discussion about whether these homes are worth saving. Of course they're worth saving! You cannot tell me that rehabing the house would cost more than tearing it down, hauling it off and building another home on the sme lot. Rehab is cheaper, especially on those little shotgun bungalows. We've all seen the new construction in the area. They really aren't very attractive. Why not save something worth looking at?

Doug Duckworth said...

Government can do it with proper resources.

We can bail out AIG.

We can give grants to the needy homeowner.

But it's a matter of priorities and who's in control.

Unknown said...

I would love to buy them all and completely overhaul the block, but I'm in absolutely no mood to deal with the housing conseravation inspectors on a project like that. The second a new ownership tranaction takes place, they'll be all over it...speaking of a government entity that just loves to flex their muscles.

Anonymous said...

And there you have it, Brian wants to displace my 91 year old friend. But hey we will have a great block of shotgun houses saved. Also, rather than money to tuck point her house or make other repairs, I think she would prefer extra money to pay for taxi rides to go volunteer at the Gavin Outreach Center on Lafayette where she helps distribute food to those less fortunate in the neighborhood who also can be displaced by Brian 's or Michael's gentrification.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, someone said "Gentrification."

Debate over.

The Great Anonymous has spoken.

Must stick to ignorance, anger and fear.

Unknown said...

Well for God's sake... I'm in the real esate business, not the mafia. What am I gonna do, show up on her front door step with a pistol and force her out? What's wrong with restoring the block around her and the other low income folks that live there? So lets say 6 of a dozen homes are rehabed on that block. All it does is increase the value of their homes. Now the little old lady's family will have a true inheritance instead of a decaying home in the middle of 1) a bunch of vacant derelict property, or 2) vacant lots. Her home is worth next to nothing now. Who wants a home sitting between rotting buildings? But take the rotting homes on the block and restore them...then she'll have something worthwhile and a developer or first time home buyer that wants a fixer-upper will recognize that and pay decent money for her house.

Unknown said...

Oh and one other thing:

You know, poor people deserve to be proud of their neighborhood too. Who's proud to live amongst that pile of shit? Even if they can't offord to really fix up their places, they at least deserve to look at something besides derelict buildings with random scrub trees and grass that's three feet tall.

Your friend is being displaced by decay. God forbid a developer come in to fix that. Better yet, lets call in the brick theives from the north side to destroy this whole row of homes. I don't know what I was thinking when I said, "Save these!". Lets just let 'em rot. It's just few poor black people and a 91 year old woman with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel living there. Yeah, you're right. I'd hate to help them be proud to live there.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in St. Louis and these houses are awesome and would surely be worthy of rehab. My question is, if the area is rehabbed...does that not raise the taxes...this is hard on the elderly and poor and seems to always lead to those undesirables being forced out. It is too bad that the government cannot help finance a rehab in an area like this, thereby raising both the values of the houses and the pride of the homeowners. My daughter lives in a reclaimed area in KC...it has raised the taxes there tremendously and all of the original residents are gone. I am not sure how one saves an area like this without losing the poorer residents, likely impossible. Its rather funny really, I love the rehabbed areas but find so many to be full of nothing but wealthy yuppie sorts, which if mixed with the old locals would make for an awesome community but it doesn't seem to very often work out that way. What are the areas in St. Louis like...are the residents varied in their financial and educational means? What is the Fountain Park area like...I as many, am in love with the old storefront on the corner, remember driving by it as a child thinking it was a castle of sorts. Ok, thanks for letting me ask some questions and good luck on the shotgun houses...hope they are saved.