We've Moved

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

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Storefront Addition: 2546 N. Grand

2546 N. Grand

The vacant storefront addition and its parent building at 2546 N. Grand Avenue in JeffVanderLou once housed the Upper Level club. The three lunette transom windows and the basket-weave belt course below are notable features.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Quinn Wants to Reopen Closed Illinois Historic Sites

In an article in today's Peoria Journal-Star, Illinois' new Governor Pat Quinn (D) pledges to reopen the closed Illinois state parks and historic sites. Furthermore, he indicates that he understands why the closures ordered by ousted Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) were foolish:

Nature-based and historic-based tourism are the fast-growing growing types of U.S. tourism, Quinn said. The dollars generated by tourism outweigh the cost of running the parks and historic sites, he said, adding that his administration somehow would find the money to reopen them.

"You squeeze a nickel and lose a half-dollar. That's not smart government," he said.

Quinn will reopen the closed sites "with dispatch."

Kitty Kay Gloves

This morning I spied this sign in a storefront transom at 1235 Washington Avenue downtown (the building dubbed the "Avenida" by its developers). The sign reads "Kitty Kay Gloves: For Women Who C-----." Kitty Kay was a popular twentieth century manufacturer of women's gloves and accesories, but I don't know how the tagline ends. Care? Count? Anyone know?

SLPS Facilities Management Meetings Will Determine Future of a Proud Legacy

My latest KWMU commentary is online here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Consultants Recommend Closure of 29 City Schools

At tonight's meeting of the St. Louis Public Schools' (SLPS) Special Administrative Board (SAB), consultants presented a proposed Facilities Management Plan that calls for closing 29 schools. Speaking to a packed house at the Vashon High School auditorium, consultants from MGT of America summarized the findings of a Comprehensive Facilities Review as well as their recommendations for six phases of closures of, moves between and major renovation work at schools. The biggest -- and possibly only -- relief was that none of the city's four high schools will close.

The full text of the report is online here.

Here is the list of 18 outright closures recommended in phase one:

Ashland Branch
Clark (included in National Register Historic District)
Des Peres
Mark Twain
Nottingham (CAJT)
Shepard (included in National Register Historic District)
Turner (listed in National Register of Historic Places)
Meda P. Washington

In phase three, the following schools would be closed:
Ames (included in National Register Historic District)
Cote Brilliante
Mann (listed in National Register of Historic Places)
Shenandoah (included in National Register Historic District)
Simmons (listed in National Register of Historic Places)

These closures include one of the most troubling parts of the plan: recommendation of new elementary schools to replace clusters of three historic schools each on the north (Cote Brilliante, Hickey, Simmons) and south (Mann, Shenadoah, Shepard) sides. Shaw and Ames would combine in the present Blewett Middle School.

In phase four, the Northwest Law Academy building, an unmemorable edifice, would close. Gateway IT would follow in phase five. Furthermore, no currently closed schools -- inlcuding Cleveland High School -- would reopen.

Most of the schools on the closure list are historic buildings designed by school architects William B. Ittner and Rockwell Milligan.

Full Text of Chuck Berry House Nomination Now Online

The full text of the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Chuck Berry House, located at 3137 Whittier in the Greater Ville, is now online. Read the nomination here.

Among the features of the house noted in the nomination is the plain concrete block addition in the rear. Why is that addition so special? Because Chuck Berry himself had it built while he owned the house, making it the music legend's first foray into architecture.

Historic View of Broadway Downtown

This colorized postcard of Broadway dates to around 1900 and shows a downtown street populated mostly by three- or four-story commercial buildings. The view is looking northeast from a point just north of Pine Street on the west side of Broadway. Even at this time, however, Broadway and its eastern neighbor Fourth Street were home to dozens of banks and financial firms. These streets comprised the city's financial district.

Some notable buildings seen here are the St. Louis Post-Dispatch building (later the printing plant after the paper's move to 1139 Olive Street in 1917) and the National bank of Commerce Building directly north of the newspaper building. The building with the curved corner across the street is the Commonwealth Trust Company Building. Further north, at St. Charles Street and much larger than surrounding buildings, is the B. Nugent and Son Dry Goods Company Building. The array of awnings on all floors of these buildings also stands out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lost: The Store at Maffitt & Lambdin

I was looking through old photographs and found this one, taken in June 2004. The subject matter is the peculiar corner storefront once located at the southeast corner of Maffitt and Lambdin avenues in the Ville. (The address properly is 4282 Maffitt Avenue.) The Land Reutilization Authority still owns the lot on which the store buidling and a smaller concrete block building on the alley stood, and has owned the lot since at least 1989.

As the photograph indicates, a fire had struck the building and eaten much of its structural timbers, flooring and roof sheathing. What testament to our city's masonry that the walls held despite the loss of many joists. The building truly was an exquisite wreck. I remember looking down into the basement from where the corner stoop would have been, and seeing charred wood from the upper levels atop years of accumulated debris. A man walking by said that demolition was on the way. He was proven right when the Building Division issued its demolition permits in January 2005.

The building had been vacant nearly twenty years at that point, although its architectural character was still evident. The chamfered, recessed entrance tucked under the projecting corner bay was a wonderful way to both call attention to the commercial tenant and shelter those entering and leaving the store. The tiled, sloped third floor with its timbered dormer was another fine trait. There aren't many corner storefront buildings like this in the city, and we will never know for sure how many there ever were.

SLPS Facilities Management Plan Presented on Thursday

The Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools will hear recommendations by MGT of America, Inc. on the future use of district schools during the board meeting on Thursday, January 29, 6:00 p.m., at Vashon High School, 3035 Cass Ave.

All community members are invited to attend this open meeting to hear this much-anticipated report firsthand. However, due to the anticipated length of the MGT presentation, there will be no public comments taken at this meeting.

The District will hold two special community forums for public comments - Wednesday, February 4, from 6:00p.m. - 8:00p.m. at Roosevelt High School, 3230 Hartford St., and Saturday February 7, from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. at Vashon High School, 3035 Cass Ave.

Public comments may also be submitted via the Internet starting Friday, January 30, by visiting http://www.slps.org. The District will accept comments on the MGT presentation via the Internet through February 8.

For more information, please call 314-345-2367.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Former Christian Brothers High School Threatened

The Post-Dispatch reports that the former Christian Brothers High School on Clayton Road is threatened with demolition.

Not Long for This World?

The house at 2719 Madison Street (left), owned by N & G Ventures since 2006, is obviously facing serious problems. The front wall collapsed in early 2008. While the joists run parallel to the front wall and are in no way compromised by the wall collapse, the roof structure is clearly sagging. The old house in JeffVanderLou dates to 1879 and managed to dodge decades of area decline. Two blocks east is the Pruitt-Igoe site. All around this block are vacant lots and derelict historic buildings. In the past five years, the speed of abandonment has rapidly increased, but the worst toll hit this area between 1950-1980.

The surviving buildings hung on, due to better ownership or physical condition than neighbors. Will the survival of remaining resources be only momentary? That's up to current owners and political leaders -- especially the aldermen who have the power to craft a redevelopment ordinance that will detail requirements for preservation, land use and eminent domain. For every house with a wall collapse is one like the next-door neighbor here, which is vacant but as solid as ever. No matter what, this poor house at 2719 Madison Street does not seem long for the world.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Park's Sign Once Again Aglow in Old North

This week, night-time pedestrians trying to catch a glimpse of the rehabilitation progress on 14th Street in Old North St. Louis saw the light -- the light of the newly re-lit Park's Drugs sign that has been a fixture of the intersection of 14th Street and St. Louis Avenue for decades. Although the sign resides inside of the building that once housed Park's Drugs, soon it will return to the side of the building.

The sign's restoration is testament of a dramatic rescue of both the sign and the building. In 2004, this is what the Park's building (built in 1931) looked like:

Colorful murals adorned plywood hiding the sad fact that most of the roof had collapsed inside of the building. The sign had once been symmetrical, wrapping the corner with the word "DRUGS." The sign was reduced through overzealous actions by the state pharmacy license coordinator in 2000. The coordinator was enforcing a state law that forbids use of the word "drugs" in signage on a business that does not have a pharmacy license. The Park's building was fire-damaged, vacant and owned by the city's Land Reutilization Authority.

The scrap value of the enameled metal sign board was high enough that many wondered when the sign would simply disappear. However, the worst never came. Instead, the Park's building became part of the transformational Crown Square redevelopment project that started in September 2007 and is slated for completion this April. That project entails gut rehabilitation of 27 buildings as residential and retail spaces and the reopening of the closed section of 14th Street.

The Park's building will even return to its original life. The entire building will be returned to retail use soon. Substantial work is complete and the building has been used for art openings, community events and educational events in recent months.

More Mid-Century Modern Rehabbing Ahead?

At a swinging party on Sunday, architect and rehab trend-setter Ray Simon celebrated completion of the rehabilitation of the Harry Hammerman House in Ladue. Guests enjoyed a look at the amazing realized potential that small mid-century homes offer. While the Hammerman House, a Usonian-inspired gem from 1952, is quite unique, its plight before Ray's purchase was not. Designer, builder and occupant Hammerman passed away in 2001, and the house sat vacant until Simon's purchase. Meanwhile, it was considered for a tear-down by an intervening owner. During this time, Ladue lost the Morton May House, the Louis Zorensky House and countless other mid-century modern houses large and small. On Graybridge Road, where the Hammerman House is located, one other modern home has fallen to the tear-down trend.

The rehab of the Harry Hammerman House breathes new life into a fine mid-century home, uses historic rehabilitation tax credits and allows a unique street to retain its character. What Ray Simon did can and should be done elsewhere across St. Louis County. The sobriety of the current housing market may help convince homeowners that conservation, retro-cool design, energy economy and modest scale are better for long-term investment than the super-sized, vinyl-clad villas that fed on the abundant east credit. St. Louis County is a treasure trove of opportunities for getting the most out of the new market!

Read more about the Harry Hammerman House here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Approaching St. Louis

Approaching St. Louis

View west from the upper deck of the Eads Bridge, c. 1930. Photograph from the collection of Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Corner in Wells-Goodfellow

This photograph shows the corner building at 1975 Burd Avenue (at Wabada) in April 2005, before its demolition in October 2005. The bakery brick pattern at the cornice and the tiled roof porch over the entrance were fine distinctive features. Like many north side neighborhoods, Wells-Goodfellow, where this building was located, has lost many mix-used corner storefront buildings. These losses erode the bookends that hold blocks together. While walking the streets around here, one turns the corner to find a vacant lot rather than a landmark signifying this location. The impact of such loss on the neighborhood is obvious. Residents complain about the loss, but they also complain about having to live around so many vacant buildings.

Consequently, Alderman Jeffrey Boyd (D-22), whose ward includes Wells-Goodfellow, and residents have been working to leverage federal block grant funds to pursue historic district designation for buildings and sections of the ward. These designations create incentives for rehabilitation and investment. Sure, it is a long road, but the neighborhood has been down a longer road of decline. Things aren't going to change overnight, but things won't change at all without laying groundwork for reinvestment.

MLK Clean Up

From State Senator Jeff Smith:

Closer to home, I'm organizing our second annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Cleanup of MLK Jr. Blvd in the city, on Monday, Jan. 19 - the state holiday honoring the civil rights leader. This is a great opportunity to honor the life and memory of Dr. King, and last year, (in spite of the weather), we had a great time doing it. I invite any of you, along with your friends, friends, neighbors and any organizations to which you belong, to meet at the corner of MLK Jr. Boulevard and Union at 12 p.m. on Monday. Gloves, trash bags, donuts, and hot chocolate will be provided!

If you can make it, just call my district aide Johnny Little at (314) 601-4252, or reply to this email (jeff.smith.reply@gmail.com).

Pointless Change at Grand and Chouteau

At last night's candidate forum sponsored by the 15th Ward Democrats, Comptroller Darlene Green received applause for an issue not directly related to her campaign. When asked about red light cameras, she said that she definitely knew of a camera that needs to be removed: the red light camera at Grand and Chouteau. Mayor Francis Slay arrived during this time, so Green directly addressed the mayor from the podium.

The problem with the light, Green said, is that it is part of changes to the intersection that forces the three lanes of southbound traffic on Grand into two with a left-turn-only lane at Chouteau. Past Chouteau, the road is back to three lanes. Rarely do left turns clog the southbound lanes, and there are always vehicles in the inside lane that have to move over at the last minute to avoid getting a camera ticket from running straight in a turn-only lane.

The audience burst into applause, for good reason. That intersection reconfiguring is one of the silliest in the city. Before the camera went up, I joined many drivers in ignoring the changes. Since I am not an alderman, getting a red light ticket fixed might be difficult, so I now reluctantly obey the pointless changes there.

All of the red light cameras violate the spirit of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and any sensible view of law enforcement. I hope that Comptroller Green's recommendation is followed, but we need to pull them out completely. The changes at Grand and Chouteau are blatantly revenue-driven, and impede smart traffic flow there. They need to be undone. Then we need to get rid of the remaining red light cameras and find a more dignified, constitutional way of enhancing city revenue.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Inside Fourth Baptist Church

A Flickr photographer has posted despressing photographs from the interior of the Fourth Baptist Church at 13th and Sullivan in Old North St. Louis. The worst part of these photographs is how much combustible material is evident.

Readers may recall that the church was struck by a huge fire on September 20, 2008. The fire severely damaged the sanctuary, while firefighters' hose spray caused structural damage to an adjacent house and an attached annex. To date, a fence has been erected on the sidewalks around the wrecked church, but the windows are not yet boarded and evidently the interior is accessible. The small congregation has promised that stabilization work will begin in the spring, and assistance from the St. Louis Baptist community is on the way. Hopefully this promise holds true, because the Fourth Baptist Church, founded in 1851, is one of the region's oldest congregations and deserves wide support in a heroic effort to save the church building.

The photographer concludes that "even after such a gigantic disaster, one can still see how reposed and fine it once was." I concur, although I hold little hope that the entire complex will be rescued from tremendous damage. The sanctuary is vital, however, because it anchors not only the corner but site lines from the south on 13th Street and east on Sullivan Avenue. One can see the church from as far south as Warren Street, and from the east at Ames School. To have that view opened would be a tremendous loss to Old North.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Storefront Additions: Two Inserted Fronts

All across the city are examples of residential buildings adapted to later commercial use. As neighborhoods changed, so did uses. In early 19th century walking neighborhoods, commercial uses needed to be abundant to serve residents who could not travel far to get food, shoes or a hair cut. Later, after the streetcars gave middle- and working-class residents greater mobility, residential buildings located along street car lines were ripe for commercial use, especially in areas where property values declined because of the new street car lines.

Many examples of the common storefront addition involve the construction of connected one- or two-story buildings in the lawn space of houses and flats. However, in neighborhoods east of Grand, many early converted buildings stood at the sidewalk line. Here, the best way to create commercial space was through the insertion of storefront openings in existing front elevations. Typically, cast iron columns and combined beams would "jack" the new opening in the brick wall. Often, floor levels inside of the building would be altered to draw the shop floor down to sidewalk level from is common position at the head of foundation walls.

Two examples of similar buildings from different neighborhoods illustrate how this practice happened across the city.

3104 Cherokee Street
The flats at 3104 Cherokee Street in Gravois Park date to the middle 1880s, some time after G.M. Hopkins published his atlas of the city in 1883. The side-gabled house is two bays wide, with some decoration evident in the brick cornice. The roof bears a single dormer. Each floor originally was configured as three rooms laid out shotgun style, front to back with no hall. The first floor has obviously been changed, with a storefront opening inserted. The side entrance, angled wall, beam box above the opening and generous window sizes are typical of the period of alteration, the 1890s.

In some ways, the house at 1419 Mallinckrodt Street in Hyde Park is the sister to the house at 3104 Cherokee. Size, fenestration, cornice treatment, roof line and original floor plan match. The building does appear on the 1883 Hopkins atlas. However, the storefront inserted is much different and later than the other. A simple beam heads the store opening, supported by two cast iron columns with Doric capitals forming a central entrance. To each side is brick infill with double-hung wooden windows in segmental arch openings. Now the building is vacant. Broclyn Real Estate Investment of Jefferson City purchased the building from the Land Reutilization Authority in 2006, but has completed no work to date and is close to a Sheriff's sale for back taxes owed.

Storefront Additions: Delmar Boulevard West of Vandeventer

My recent post on the demolished Delmar Foods storefront addition reminded me of the trove of storefront additions on Delmar Boulevard between Vandeventer and Whittier streets. Some were lost before my time, for sure, but the remaining examples are impressive.

Of course, I cannot attest to whether or not the storefront addition and house across the street from Delmar Foods was impressive. On June 10, 2006, I photographed the storefront addition at 4162 Delmar in the midst of demolition:

The remaining gems are one block east, all on the north side of the block. Two fancy additions stand adjacent to each other at 4033 (right) and 4035 (left) Delmar.

The vacant storefront at 4035 Delmar dates to the early 1930s, and its parent house is a Second Empire town house from 1884. The storefront at 4033 Delmar houses Tennessee's Lounge, and is less obviously an addition. The original house also dated to around 1884, and the addition to 1925. However, this was not the usual attachment, because the developer severely altered the house, removing its original roof line and building the addition into the house to completely
obscure it. According to records, the house at 4033 Delmar was the home of Gus C. Meissonier, a member of the Merchant's Exchange. The conversion of the house of a member of the civic elite into commercial space was quite a big change.

A similar storefront addition project happened at 3963 Delmar eastward on the block, and coincidentally the space is also occupied by a lounge, Waldorf's.

These additions tell us about the rapid and abrupt changes of our city in the early days of the twentieth century. We were booming!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lost Chance on Shenandoah

The 2007 fire that struck the four-flat at 3927-29 Shenandoah Avenue in the Shaw neighborhood eventually proved fatal. The building had been under rehabilitation when fire struck. The owners stopped paying taxes and mortgage payments, and ownership somehow split between Heartland Bank and the Land Reutilization Authority (the building straddles a lot line).

Obviously, the building was struck severely by the fire. Like most house fires, the fire spread upward and consumed the roof and second floor worst. Most of the roof sheathing was lost in the fire, leaving the building open to the elements. However, the walls had been tuckpointed and remained solid until the last days.

In October 2008, the Building Division condemned the building for demolition and sought demolition. Neighbors had filed many complaints on the condition of the house. Immediately to the west, a developer is rehabbing a similar building using historic rehab tax credits and understandably did not want a big question-mark next door.

After first being placed on the November 2008 agenda of the Preservation Board, the demolition shifted into high gear. Suddenly, the Building Division issued an emergency demolition order and paid to wreck the building. By the middle of December, it was gone. (Wonder if owner Heartland Bank got a bill for half of the cost?)

While the condition of the building was extreme, it was far from being a total loss. With solid masonry, the building was in no danger of immediate collapse. This could have been a great reconstruction project. Instead, the house went through the motions of our failed public safety laws: damage and abandonment, citizen complaints, emergency tear-down order. As the developers next door show, there is more than one way to fix a broken building, but the Building Division never seems to grasp that fact. Nor does the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) possess sufficient legal authority to prevent a senseless demolition like this one; the office and the Preservation Board were at the mercy of the Building Division, which controls what matters reach consideration of our preservation agency and its citizen commission. The CRO cannot override an emergency order, no matter how silly it is (and many are).

The neighbors' momentary complaints are addressed, but they ultimately lose a remarkable street scape. On a block with only two gaps in continuous historic building line, both across the street, this demolition stands out. The demolition stands out even more since the demolished house is one of a row of five near-copies of the same plan built in 1903. defined by rusticated limestone front elevations, central porches and projecting bays on each end, the row was a handsome group.

Looking at one of the extant members of this group, one sees the potential that the house at 3927-29 Shenandoah Avenue had, even in its fire-damaged state.

Demolition matters as much in a neighborhood as dense as Shaw as it does in a ravaged built environment like Old North. I would write that the only difference is why the buildings matter, but that would be false. The reason senseless demolitions harm our neighborhoods is because they erode the sense of place. Take away the last two buildings on a north side block, and the last vestige of the block's urban character is gone forever. Take away one house on an intact block face in Shaw, and that block face is no longer intact. That brings a difference as big as taking down the last building standing. Besides, it's not just a matter of blocks or neighborhoods but ultimately a matter of stewardship of this interconnected mass of resources we call St. Louis.

Cut Off From Hyde Park

Eleventh Street continues north of Branch Street for two blocks, abruptly dead-ending where it meets the embankment of I-70. I-70 hems in the street and the pocket of residential Hyde Park that remains severed from the neighborhood. The city furthered this severance by officially drawing the Hyde Park boundary at I-70, which is certainly a barrier but nothing that defines any boundary of a neighborhood that has always started at the Mississippi River.

I love these two houses on the west side of Eleventh Street north of Branch. There are many small shaped-parapet bungalows in Hyde Park, built of pressed brick with wooden front porches. Houses like these line Agnes and Destrehan streets back in official Hyde Park. These homes date to the 1920s, when they went up en masse on undeveloped sites in the south end of the neighborhood. Few of those houses enjoy as dramatic a setting as these two now do. The highway in the back yard, giant billboards on each side -- the only comfort found in one of these houses is its well-kept neighbor. The brick sidewalk in front adds another reminder of the lost connection with the historic world of Hyde Park.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Celebrate Obama Inauguration with Esley Hamilton

On January 20th, the day Barack Obama will be inaugurated as President of the United States, area residents will have the opportunity to consider his predecessors at a talk in University City.

Esley Hamilton, Preservation Historian with the St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation, will present his talk Front Porch and Log Cabin: Presidential Homes and the Presidential Image at the Annual Meeting of the Sutter-Meyer Society. "The United States is unique among modern democracies in enshrining the homes of so many of its presidents," says Hamilton. "These building have been used to shape the public’s perception of the president’s character both during and after the president’s lifetime." The talk will explain how the homes are used and present a colorful tour of presidential sites all over the country.

The presentation on presidential homes will take place at the Annual Meeting of the Sutter-Meyer Society on Tuesday, January 20th at the Julia Goldstein Early Childhood Education Center at 737 Kingsland Avenue in University City. The short Annual Meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. The presentation on presidential homes will begin at
7:00 p.m.

The Sutter-Meyer Society (SMS) is a non-profit organization working to renovate the oldest building in University City to become a small community museum and educational facility, which will focus on the history of University City, St. Louis County and the greater St. Louis region.

The SMS “Radishes-to-Riches” Raffle will also take place at the Annual Meeting. Anyone interested in purchasing raffle ticket can send $20.00 per ticket to the Sutter-Meyer Society at 7141 Delmar Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63130. The grand prize is $1,873, an amount that commemorates the year the Sutter-Meyer farmhouse was built.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Shelley Welsch / 314-727-6852 / suttermeyersociety@ucitymo.com

Storefront Addition: Delmar Foods

The bow-front, limestone house at 4171 Delmar Boulevard was once an elegant home in the Queen Anne style. Later, it became the backdrop for a one-story commercial bump-out that ended its days as Delmar Foods. Like many homes on the Delmar streetcar line, this one let traffic and density guide the way to a storefront addition during the peak years of St. Louis population boom. the house was empty by 1994, but the storefront remained occupied for another decade. Demolition of both came in 2007. The photograph above dates to November 2006.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Small Houses on Vest Avenue

This house stands in Hyde Park on the west side of Vest Avenue just north of Bremen Avenue. Despite some obvious maintenance needs, the house is a treasure. This is one of the small houses that have a front-gabled salt box roof profile. I think of these houses as cousins to our city's flounder houses, whose roofs make a slope from one side to the other. The salt box variation has a roof profile common around the country, but the basic form and size of the house is akin to the small flounder houses that one still finds all over the city east of Grand Avenue.

On the next block of Vest to the south stands another small house. This one is of a different but common type, that of the two-story mansard-roofed home in which the mansard roof forms the second floor. These houses are more common than either the flounder or the saltbox, but typically are also small in size.

Taking the wide view of this block, we see two other small houses and some vacant lots. Some two-story houses are down the block and across the street.

Looking up to the next block north, we find vacant land and the one-story salt box house. Some two-story houses are down the block and across the street.

This west end of Hyde Park developed slowly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the results are neither as consistent or as dense as the eastern part of the neighborhood. The west end was far less desirable as a place to live due to the presence of the meat packing industry, which was centered on Florissant Avenue. The Krey's Packing plant and a few other packing-related buildings stand, but much of the rest is gone. The packing industry was largely lost to the National City Stockyards in Illinois by the early 20th century, so later residential development in western Hyde Park produced larger buildings. The early houses were modest in scale, many only one story tall. The residents worked nearby at the packing houses or the Hyde Park brewery.

The 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map shows over a dozen one-story houses on the two blocks of Vest Avenue profiled here. Less than six remain. The remaining small houses point to a residential economy lost to rising Gilded Age fortunes. Nowadays, in the wake of the McMansion glut and with the American economy on the brink of collapse, small houses do not seem so bad. Necessity led to construction of the small houses on Vest, and necessity may make them attractive 21st century housing options.

A new ballpark is proposed east of here on Florissant Avenue, and revitalization efforts around Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Irving School have changed this west end of the neighborhood into a livable place. New housing has gone up on 22nd and 25th streets, but the larger market-rate homes have limited demand. Perhaps an alternative market-rate infill project is in order on Vest Avenue. The vacant lots offer the opportunity to again build small houses there to create affordable, low-energy houses. Small houses already cost less to heat and cool, and are easier to make passive than larger homes. The size makes them more affordable, and also expandable. The first home shown above has an addition on its south side, and others shown on the Sanborn map have one or two rear additions. Such flexible, small houses are in short supply in St. Louis. Development of more needs to happen.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Art Deco on Natural Bridge

The narrow two-story commercial building located at 4712 Natural Bridge Avenue in north St. Louis sports exquisite terra cotta in the art deco style. While the smooth buff glazing is eroding, the terra cotta's fine, curved abstract foliage and geometric patterns are intact. These form an integral part of the chamber drama of the building -- pronounced piers define the four second story windows, which are topped by herringbone brickwork in the upper spandrel areas. These windows sit above a storefront that may have stretched the entire width between the building's outer piers. Up above, the step in at each side of the parapet is a deft touch.

Of course, we don't know much about that first floor storefront since the owners have bricked it in with a motley tapestry as well as concrete block surrounding a plain steel door. At least the filler brick in the second floor matches the buff color of the original face stock, because that first floor grabs the eye and tried to keep it from finding the beauty here. We do know that the buidling dates to 1929, and its first tenant was Peter Blumenschein's shoe repair shop.

The blunders down the street are nearly forgiven two (long) blocks west of the old Blumenschein shop at the home of Droste Heating, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning at 4956 Natural Bridge. Sure, the storefront openings have been changed, and two of the four upper windows have lost original steel sash for glass block, but at least the openings aren't closed up to light completely. Of course, the big draw here is the stylized sheet metal sign, with its delightful fonts. Droste and Rockel, tinners, built the building in 1937 and have remained here ever since. Apparently the company is proud of its presence on Natural Bridge, a commercial thoroughfare that can take every bit of pep that old sign provides.


On Missouri Avenue in East St. Louis stands a forlorn billboard amid many forlorn buildings. The west face of the ancient-looking, rusty and crusty two-sided board bears the numbers "1843." The 3 is a bit crooked, and there is only the faintest outline of explanatory clues. A name plaque at the base of the sign reads "Peter Hauptmann Company," the defunct owner of the sign.

Some people think that the numbers are the declaration of a year, which they are, but not of any year particularly momentous in the life of the city of East St. Louis. The sign, after all is an advertisement for David Nicholson 1843 Bonded Whiskey. I am amazed that a billboard would go unused anywhere. Missouri Avenue is not a slow street, since it co-exists as Illinois State Highway 15, a major path between Belleville and St. Louis. The billboard advertisement is the lowest form of commercial activity that often co-exists peacefully with prostitution and drug dealing as the last-ditch attempt to make money in a place. Why didn't a cell phone ad replace the old whiskey sign years ago?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Joseph F. Wangler Boiler & Sheet Metal Works

I report with relief that the latest footprint of the proposed Mississippi River Bridge at St. Louis reduces the number of historic buildings proposed for demolition to less than six. (Alas, the footprint will cover the site of the "big mound" at Broadway and Mound streets, which is potentially one of the city's most significant Native American archeological sites.) One of the buidlings in the path of the ramps connecting the bridge to Cass Avenue is the complex once occupied by the Joseph F. Wangler Boiler & Sheet Metal Works Company, located on the superblock (Mullanphy is closed) bounded by 10th, Howard, 9th and Cass. Much of the complex dates to mid-20th-century expansion, but at the core is a taller 19th-century brick building bearing the name of the company.

The Wangler works warranted a mention in E.D. Kargau's 1893 Mercantile, Industrial and Professional St. Louis. Kargau noted that among St. Louis' many industrial concerns are but a few boiler makers, Wangler being one. The Wangler works started in 1864 as Cantwell & Wangler before falling under control of Joseph F. Wangler, a Pittsburgh native. The first location was at 1019-23 Main Street, but the firm need space and moved west to the block where its name can still be read.

According to Kargau, the Wangler shops "are equipped with the most approved and modern machinery and the work turned out from them is unsurpassed in exact workmanship, durability and quality of material and are always closely examined before being sent out" (page 295). Among these renowned works were, of course, boilers as well as sheet iron work, storage tanks and tanks for ice machines.

Kargau had much praise for Wangler and his sons as business leaders, stating that they "are at all times ready to participate in every movement for the welfare and in the interest of the community" (page 296). Long gone are these men, their company and the spirit of enlightened civic business culture. We have only a few buildings from the boiler works to remind us of the Wanglers' good work, and not for more than another decade. Some may find a new bridge to be a work in the interest of popular welfare, but the fruits of employment found at the boiler works provided more bread to the common person than the new bridge ever will.