We've Moved

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

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shenandoah School May Be Spared

Shenandoah Elementary School at 3412 Shenandoah Avenue in Tower Grove East received a reprieve tonight when St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent recommended to the Special Administrative Board (SAB) that the school remain open in its current building. Although the final decision of Adams' recommendation won't be made by the SAB until March 12, the news is a relief to a neighborhood concerned that the future a community resource might become a huge question mark.

Under the proposal from consultants MGT of America unveiled in January, Shenandoah was set to be combined with Mann Elemantary School in Tower Grove Soth and Sherman Elementary School in Shaw in a new building to be build "near" Shenandoah. Neighborhood residents feared that "near" in a dense, landlocked neighborhood meant "on" and that an architectural gem would be lost. The MGT recommendations came only a year after the SLPS had proposed closing Shenandoah outright.

The school is a remarkable building, known widely for the braided limestone columns of its striking entrance (pictured above). Designed by Rockwell Milligan and built in 1925, Shenandoah School is an excellent example of the eclectic strain in 1920s American architecture. Combining Spanish Revival and Renaissance Revival elements on an imposing buff-brick body with a red tile roof, Shenandoah is an unique school buidling and a treasure to its neighbors.

Unfortunately, Adams' recommendations still include the closure and merger of Mann and Sherman in a new school. This time, Mann is suggested for demolition.

Adams Proposes 17, Not 29, School Closings

Tonight, St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) Superintendent Kelvin Adams presented to the Special Administrative Board (SAB) his recommendations for school closures and consolidations. While consultants MGT of America had recommended 29 closures, Adams recommends 17. Adams' plan makes one wonder why MGT was hired at all, given how far off their plan was from the needs of the district identified by its superintendent.

Adams recommends closing the following schools in June 2009:
Ashland Branch
Baden Elementary School
Henry eMINTS Elemntary School
Clark eMINTS Elementary School
Big Picture at Des Peres School
Mark Twain Elementary School
Meda P. Washington Early Childhood Center
Scruggs Elementary School
Shepard Elementary School
Simmons-Marshall School
Blewett Middle School
Stowe Middle School
Big Picture at Turner School
Roosevelet Ninth Grade Center at Humboldt School
Big Picture at Kottmeyer School

Adams recommends closing the following schools in June 2011:
Cote Brilliante Elementary School
Mann Elementary eMINTS School
Sherman Elementary School

The following schools that MGT had proposed closing will remain open:
Gallaudet School
Patrick Henry Elementary School
Mallinckrodt Elementary School
Ames Elementary VPA School
Shaw Elementary VPS School
Shenandoah Elementary School
Hickey Elementary School
Bunche Middle School
L'Overture Middle School
Langston Middle School
McKinley Middle School
Stevens Middle School
Gateway High School (possibly in new building on site)
Nottingham CJAT School
Cleveland High @ Pruitt (no return to Cleveland)
Northwest Academy of Law

Adams retains the idea from MGT of constructing two new elementary schools -- one south and one north. The south side school will combine Mann and Sherman and astonishingly is proposed for the Mann School site.

Among other recommendations from Adams is a proposal to turn the 13 SLPS-run community education centers into full service schools along the line proposed by the Board of Education; and two new alternative schools that could occupy existing buildings that have scored an overall 70 or higher in MGT's survey.

Overall, the closures will save the district slightly less than $14 million.

The Special Administrative Board will make its final decision at a public meeting held on March 12, 2009.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Superintendent to Present Facilities Recommendations on Thursday at Public Meeting

A very important meeting in the St. Louis Public Schools facilities management process occurs tomorrow night. The Special Administrative Board (SAB) will meet to hear a presentation from Superintendent Kelvin Adams on his recommendations for the facilities management plan, including a closure list. Adams' recommendations could very well become the plan adopted by the SAB.

Neighborhood activists across the city would do well to attend and find out what the superintendent recommends.

The public meeting takes place at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 26 at the Gateway Schools complex gymansium, 1200 N. Jefferson.

A demonstration against the MGT of America facilities recommendations will commence at 5:25 p.m. outside of the Gateway Schools complex.

The Corner Anchor at Osceola and Grand

This amazing four-family building in Dutchtown is located at 4400 South Grand Boulevard just south of the large Cleveland High School athletic field. Whether or not this fits in the Tudor Revival or the Craftsman styles does not matter -- this is one cool building. The building dates to 1923, when row housing had long faded from the residential vernacular of local architecture. Yet, as a double two-flat, this building acts like the old row housing found in older neighborhoods. The double front porches reinforce the distinction between the two sections, while the roof overhang with its might brackets and the central half-timbered gable pull the sections together.

This is an outstanding example of the 1920's south city multi-family architectural vernacular, and an impressive anchor for the corner that frames the view of Cleveland High School from Grand. I'll note the bad news last: this building has been vacant for years, and it's owned by the city's Land Reutilization Authority. The Citizens' Service Bureau records for the property number 107. Despite the woes, the building has solid architectural integrity.

What a great rehabilitation project this could be! Matthew Sisul, Housing Development Analyst with the Community Development Administration, reports that:

LRA purchased this property in April 2008 using CDA's federal development funds from the 25th Ward. CDA is actively seeking proposals for the rehabilitation of this building (see RFP). The selected developer will be required to adhere towards Section 106 Design Review Guidelines. Assistance towards acquisition and construction costs may be available through CDA. Interested parties should contact me for additional information or to schedule a viewing of the property.

Matthew Sisul can be reached at (314) 622-3400 ext. 322 or sisulm@stlouiscity.com.

Aldermen Support Re-Opening Cleveland High School

Postcard from the collection of Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

At the Monday meeting of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, three aldermen spoke strongly in favor of reopening the shuttered Cleveland High School at 4352 Louisiana Avenue in Dutchtown. The Special Administrative Board (SAB) appeared at the committee to present the proposed facilities management plan and take comments and questions from committee members.

Alderwoman Dorothy Kirner (D-25th), whose ward includes the magnificent school, was direct. During her inquiry, Kirner reminded the Board of the earlier plan to reopen Cleveland, and stated that "I want to know that still holds."

In response, SAB Member Richard Gaines stated only that the cost of reopening Cleveland would be at least $40 million. Gaines made no further comment.

The Board of Education authorized closure of Cleveland High School in 2006 with the stipulation that it be renovated and reopened. In 2007, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education placed the St. Louis Public Schools under the control of a three-person appointed Special Administrative Board. That Board has made no move to find funding for making good on the District's earlier pledge to Dutchtown that the school would open again.

Cleveland housed a successful Naval JROTC program that is now temporarily housed at Pruitt School. The in the proposed District facilities plan drafted by consultants MGT of America, the Naval JROTC program would move to Vashon High School. Teachers and students in the JROTC program oppose the move.

Cleveland alum Alderman Craig Schmid (D-20th) also spoke in favor of reopening the school. According to Schmid, the school's last principal disliked the building and sought its closure despite support for the building from students and faculty. Schmid reminded the SAB that the District has worked closely with Dutchtown organizations, including the Alliance to Save Cleveland High School, to create plans for rehabilitation.

Schmid wondered why the SAB was not taking action against the state of Missouri, which owes the St. Louis Public School millions of dollars as part of the desegregation settlement.

"We are not united together marching on our state capital" to get the money, said Schmid. Schmid wondered if those funds would allow the District to reduce the number of schools that it plans to close, or fund projects like rehabilitation of Cleveland High School.

Alderwoman Marlene Davis (D-19th), whose ward includes Vashon High School, joined with Kirner and Schmid to voice support for reopening Cleveland as the home of the JROTC program. Davis stated that federal funds might help the District get Cleveland reopened.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hilliker Sale Listings for Historic City Schools

On the website of the Hilliker Corporation brokerage is a page listing all for-sale buildings owned by the St. Louis Public Schools. Also on the website are documents related to the sale process, including a sample sales contract with the current deed addendum that prohibits a buyer from demolishing a building and requires rehabilitation be conducted following the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation (see page 14 of the contract).

The schools that are included in Landmarks Association's survey of school buildings built before 1938 currently for sale are Central High School at 3616 N. Garrison Avenue (1902, William B. Ittner), Hempstead Elementary School at 5872 Minerva Avenue (1907, William B. Ittner), Gardenville School at 6651 Gravois (1907, William B. Ittner), Jackson School at 1632 Hogan Street (1898, William B. Ittner), Hodgen School at 2730 Eads Avenue (1884, Otto Wilhelmi), Garfield School at 3200 Texas Avenue (1937, George Sanger), Eliot School at 4242 Grove Avenue (under contract; 1898, William B. Ittner) and Scullin School at 4610 N. Kingshighway (1927, Rockwell Milligan). Besides those eight buildings, there are other post-1938 buildings for sale.

Hilliker's website includes historic information about each school, including the name of the architect, date of construction and even architectural style. The presentation clearly is designed to call attention to the beauty and unique history of the buildings to lure responsible buyers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Support the Building Arts Foundation on Mardi Gras

The St. Louis Building Arts Foundation invites you to a special Mardi Gras fundraiser. If you're like me, you probably stay away from Soluard on the big day, but this event promises to be worth the venture. For one thing, the party takes place in Larry Giles' Soulard warehouse, a building that itself is a rarely-open attraction.

All funds raised will go toward ongoing rehabilitation of the Foundation's facility in Sauget, the historic Sterling Steel Casting foundry.

Corner Storefront No More

The corner storefront at 2742 Cass Avenue, subject of the previous post "Corner Storefront on Cass Avenue" (May 14, 2008), is under demolition.

There is little left of the once-beautiful building.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Pens

The new Mississippi River Bridge entails construction of an extension of I-70 that will run parallel to St. Clair Avenue in East St. Louis. As part of this project, much of the National City Stockyards in East St. Louis will be demolished. While the abandoned Armour and Hunter packing plants will not be disturbed, the landmark concrete stock pens will be gone forever by year's end. The flip side is that the Illinois Department of Transportation will be conducting archaeological work on the site that will help us learn more about the history of the stockyards.

Yesterday, I led a group of sixth graders from the College School on a tour of East St. Louis. We stopped at the stockyards, and got out of the bus to look inside the long cattle pen shown above. A security guard ushered us away, and told teacher John Colbert that we should leave because the pens were about to be demolished. In fact, we were there precisely because the pens will be demolished, removing the chance for future generations to physically connect with an important part of St. Louis' industrial past as well as a lost system of food production. While I am not prepared to strongly advocate for saving any of the ruins of the stockyards, yesterday's tour led me to wonder how any of the sixth graders will explain what they saw to their children. Will they drive on the I-70 connector and explain that once upon a time they stood in cattle pens on that site? Will their children care about a history that has no living physical embodiment?

Crown Mart Plaza is a Missed Opportunity

City Block 599 is bounded by North Fourteenth Street on the west, Cass Avenue on the south and North Florissant Avenue on the east and north. Starting with the construction of Florissant Avenue in 1935, the block was slowly cleared across the 20th and early 21st centuries. Once a dense near north residential and commercial mixed-us block, by the 1980s the block only held two buildings. By October 2005, when I took the photograph above, the block was fully clear of buildings.

Since November, the block has risen with construction again. This time, the building that will occupy City Block 599 will be a strip mall and gas station known as Crown Mart Plaza. While a strip mall is better than an empty block, and the area desperately needs stores, the site deserves something better. The photograph above shows the Mullanphy Emigrant Home (before the April 2006 storm struck) and buildings in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood in the background. This site is a visual gateway to Old North and St. Louis Place. While Tucker Boulevard and North 13th Street are currently closed, that combined major thoroughfare will open again. When it reopens, the new Mississippi River Bridge will be completed, with its ramps dropping cars on Cass Avenue just one block east. Thousands of people will pass by this block on their way to the historic neighborhoods of the near north side.

The Crown Mart Plaza is a missed opportunity to build something on the site that is an appropriate architectural entrance to great north city neighborhoods. The first impression of north city made on many people will be another gas station rather than a building that is distinct and proclaims community support for high design standards. Some day, the Emigrant home will be rehabilitated, and Old North and St. Louis Place will begin seeing infill construction. MetroLink will pass by City Block 599 on Florissant Avenue. The Crown Mart Plaza does not anticipate the changes to come, or encourage them.

Crunden Branch Library photograph by Rob Powers, Built St. Louis.

Of course, many of us anticipated such a future for the block when the former Crunden Branch Library, owned by the city's Land Reutilization, abruptly disappeared in August 2005. Students at Washington University recently had submitted a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places of the landmark building when the city's Building Division wrecked the Crunden Library building. Built in 1909 and designed by Eames and Young, the Crunden Branch Library served the educational needs of area residents until 1954, when the branch moved west and the building was remodeled for use by Pulaski Bank. This building signaled the greatness of its surrounding neighborhoods, and its loss was a huge blow to the Cass Avenue street scape.

Just north of the Crunden Branch Library on Fourteenth Street stood a bus maintenance garage that dated to the 1930s. This building was a utilitarian building, and not an outstanding work of architecture, but a building that could have been adapted to many uses -- including a retail strip. Since the land between this building and North Florissant was vacant, its footprint is remarkably similar to that proposed for Crown Mart Plaza.

The bus garage was destroyed in a large fire on September 15, 2005, so soon after the Crunden Library demolition that bits of terra cotta from the old library still littered the straw-covered earth. Since that fire and the garage's subsequent demolition, City Block 599 has stood vacant as rumors of retail development have swirled. If only the planned retail use could have aligned with an effort to improve the architectural character of Cass and North Florissant avenues, the tone for great development on these streets could have been set.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gentry's Landing Remodeling Mars Modern Buildings

What's wrong with this picture?

If you answered "two perfectly fine mid-century buildings have been given ugly pink brick socks," you are right. This is a view looking northwest across Fourth Street at the Gentry's Landing apartment tower and the three-story office building to the north. These buildings are part of the Mansion House Center, whose three nearly-identical towers and three nearly-identical office buildings are part of an urban renewal project completed in 1966 and designed by renowned St. Louis architects Schwarz and Van Hoefen. The Mansion House Center is a solid work of mid-century architecture, although like many of its contemporaries is somewhat hostile to its urban setting. The buildings are a homespun working of Mies van der Rohe, replacing the sleekness of pure glass and steel compositions with a more pedestrian mix of glass, steel and concrete.

The Mansion House Center is connected by a large parking garage on the east with a delightful upper garden deck. The garage blocks Olive, Locust and St. Charles streets to form a super-block, and is interrupted only by the already-extant Peabody Coal Company Building (1958, Ralph Cole Hall) and a former Washington University alumni club building built as part of Mansion House Center. The garage causes the project to present a public face to Fourth Street and a dull, mostly-utilitarian wall to the Arch grounds on the east.

However, the towers and office buildings were meant to harmonize with the new monument. Schwarz and Van Hoefen designed the Mansion House buildings to frame view of the Arch through downtown with equally-modern architecture. The architects wisely avoided upstaging the Arch with innovative design, instead providing an architectural supporting player. The garage's monotony belies the fact that its garden roof was supposed to extend the lushness of the Arch grounds into downtown via a unique vantage point. Architecturally, Mansion House does well, although functionally its garage is a barrier between downtown and the Arch grounds that could stand some alteration. (Read Steve Patterson's ideas for changes here at Urban Review.)

Yet none of the needed alteration involves changing the architectural vocabulary of the Mansion House buildings, whose minimal modern lines evoke the mid-century optimism of St. Louis and only enhance the presence of the Arch. The pink brick applied to the column bases at Gentry's Landing and its neighbor undermine the grace of the original architectural gesture by making the buildings stick out. Perhaps this gesture is good for leasing apartments, but it is not good for the street scape on Fourth Street.

Up close, the brickwork reveals itself to be thin applied rough-faced brick sandwiched between fake stone. The contrast between these bases and the straight lines of the pale concrete columns could not be stronger. Additionally, the columns have been given little concrete bump-outs above these bases.

The photograph above shows the original appearance of the column bases of the next office building south of Gentry's Landing, which falls under different ownership. One can see how the straight lines of the columns accentuate the projecting window surrounds of the upper two floors.

The restrained modern entrance to Gentry's Landing is now ablaze with the pink brick bases, a yellow paint on the concrete and green signage. Yes, times change, and developers need to be profitable, but there are many ways to make changes and make money without making bad design decisions. In fact, bad decisions might turn out to be less profitable in the long turn as applied materials age and appear dated while original materials -- even mid-century concrete, I submit -- retains a sobriety that is attractive.

The entrance of the south tower at Mansion House Center retains its original appearance despite changes of use (apartment to hotel) and addition of awnings (which can be removed). The curved concrete canopy and hotel lobby have been extended through replication of form and material. Changes here have retained the modern lines of the building.

Alas, the Gentry's Landing project is not the only remodeling project to mar a mid-century building on Fourth Street. Just to the north across Washington Avenue is one of the worst architectural slipcover jobs to hit downtown St. Louis, the 2003 conversion of the former Bel Air East into a Hampton Inn.

Opened in 1964 replete with a Trade Vic's tiki lounge, the Bel Air East was also a complementary modern building that embraced its location near the Gateway Arch. While the Bel Air East was imperfect, none of its flaws justified the complete covering of the building in pink EIFS. The result of the cladding project is reminiscent of the works of the 1980's American postmodern classical movement -- that is, dull and pretentious.

Of course, one could take the retroactive view further back in time and look at the Adam's Mark Hotel, whose 1985 construction entailed the complete covering of the Pierce Building (1906, Frederick Bonsack) with flat gray granite and unarticulated brown brick. That disaster destroyed an earlier office building in favor of a work of architecture that doesn't even deserve the descriptor "mediocre." Who knew that what happened to the Pierce would happen again to the street's mid-century buildings?

Storefront Addition: 2839 Cherokee Street

Within the rich architectural range of Cherokee Street's commercial buildings is the neat storefront addition at 2839 Cherokee (north side of street between Oregon and Nebraska). The parent building, which dates to 1904, is striking with its stepped parapet walls and center gable. The addition is covered in a Permastone-like material, except for the transom ribbon and cornice, which remain in original condition under bright paint. The three vertical lines at each end of the cornice add a subtle elegance to the composition. While the cornice is quite plain, and I am sure the builder was being economical, the spare geometry gives those lines a visual punch they would never have in a more ornate design.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Scenes from the San Louis Love-In

Jeremy Clagett captured the following videos at Saturday's San Luis Love-In that honored the Central West End mid-century motel now known as the San Luis Apartments, threated with demolition for a parking lot by the St. Louis Archdiocese.

In the first video, Jeff Vines offers a rousing poem and I read two "proclamations" in support of the Love-In.

In the second video, Randy Vines talks to reporter Joe Crawford from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Love-In Raises Awareness of San Luis' Plight

Yesterday's San Luis Love-In was a hugh success, with over 75 people in attendance to show their love for the mid-century gem. There was no protesting anything, just a strong stand in favor of restoring the retro-fabulous motel, preserving the integrity of the elegant Lindell Boulevard street-scape and in favor of keeping the major corners of the Central West End anchored by great buildings. True to the spirit of Valentine's Day, those who attended kept the focus on love -- for great architecture, great urban neighborhoods like the CWE and the great power of groups of people to effect change in St. Louis.

Perhaps the best part about the love-in was the media bounce for the San Luis issue. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch provided coverage on Saturday and Sunday, with substantial articles on both days.

Friday, February 13, 2009

AIA Chapter Issues Response to SLPS Facilities Plan

The American Institute of Architects - St. Louis Chapter has issued the following response to the St. Louis Public Schools' draft Facilities Management Plan, one that is consistent with the statement earlier published by Landmarks Association of St. Louis:

AIA St. Louis Response to the Comprehensive Facilities Review:

The members of the American Institute of Architects St. Louis Chapter, of whom approximately forty percent reside or work in the City of St. Louis, commend the St. Louis Public Schools for undertaking the Comprehensive Facilities Review. We are pleased that a local architectural firm, David Mason & Associates participated in the study.

We believe, however, that the study focuses on creating a more effective 20th century school system, rather than a visionary 21st century school system to graduate students ready to lead our community into the future. We need to think differently, envision bolder and ponder a different kind of future.

We believe that the MGT plan falls far short of its goal as a "visionary plan" that considers "all options" and strives to find "ways to revitalize St. Louis neighborhoods." Those statements are noble and deserve to be brought front and center in the SLPS plan. We challenge the St. Louis Public Schools and the Special Administrative Board to envision an urban school system that can be a model of efficiency and the keystone to the redevelopment of languishing St. Louis neighborhoods.

- We encourage community-based schools

Neighborhood schools are the anchors to Livable Communities: The local school, with its athletic and cultural resources, stabilizes the community and provides a place of pride that unites generations of residents. A livable community is one where residents can live, learn, work, and play without using an interstate highway, one where children can walk to their school and learn alongside their neighbors.

- We encourage the pursuit of mixed-use partnerships

Mixed-use occupancy is another hallmark of livable communities. Private-public partnerships could bring significant investment resources to the district while serving community needs. We encourage the pursuit of creative mixed-use partnerships to renovate portions of the buildings with venues for social services, senior housing, government offices, or other functions perhaps through innovative lease or land-lease agreements. Creative partnerships can assist in the funding and maintenance of schools. We believe that cross generational uses of school buildings benefits both generations and provides a synergy otherwise left untapped.

- We encourage sustainability through renovation vs. new construction

The best way to limit our environmental footprint is to continue to use and maintain the resources we have already accumulated. Sustainability begins with re-use and the old recycling adage "re-use, reduce, and recycle" starts with re-use with good reason. High-performance energy efficient buildings do not have to be new. Many of today's emerging green building technologies can be easily adapted to the existing, historic, architecturally-significant buildings in the St. Louis Public Schools portfolio.

Exposure to sustainable design solutions within schools offers an incredible teaching opportunity and aids in the development of young stewards for the environment and transforms the buildings themselves into learning opportunities. Schools across the country are developing ways for schools to manufacture energy that is then used by the schools and even sold on the market. We see no innovative thinking along these lines.

- We support protection of the historic legacy of the schools

In cases of resale, we support the current contract terms which require renovation of historic school properties in accordance with the standards set forth by the Department of the Interior, and encourage the use of design and construction professionals trained in these standards. We do not support the deed restrictions placed on the property.

We suggest re-visiting the current restrictions to allow new approaches which help St. Louis Public Schools continue their legacy of innovation and show bolder leadership.

The St. Louis Public Schools are challenged to play a key role in revitalizing and rebuilding St. Louis neighborhoods, and its stewardship responsibility must go well beyond its students. We believe that the students' needs are best met when their schools meet that long range responsibility.

The American Institute of Architects St. Louis chapter does not just wish to comment and leave. In years gone by, a close collaborative relationship with AIA St. Louis and the St. Louis School Board was forged and we suggest that once again, we work closely with you to view the plan with sustainable vision.

Missouri Historic Rehab Tax Credits May Be Modified

In this time of Missouri state budget crunching, the state historic rehabilitation tax credits are again under fire. While the threat to cap, eliminate or modify the credits returns every year and is usually soundly defeated, this year is different. Missouri has hard choices to make about the state budget, and Governor Jay Nixon is under pressure from members of both parties to overcome a massive revenue shortfall.

An Associated Press article published February 12 details the renewed hostility toward the tax credits from Republican Senators Brad Lager, a perennial foe of the credits, and Jason Crowell. This week, Lager placed a $150 million cap on the program in a substitute version of economic development bill SB 45, but the substitute seems defeated after lobbying from developers and legislators who understand the benefits of the tax credit. The big threat now seems to be a counter-proposal to reduce the coverage of the credits from 25% of qualified costs to 20%, the percentage of federal historic rehab tax credit. That change would be disastrous to projects already underway that have not yet collected credits, and it is needless.

Of all of the state's many tax credit programs, the historic rehab tax credit is one of the most successful and most popular. The best part about it is that its use is wide -- from big developers to homeowners in north St. Louis to inn keepers in Augusta, the users are a diverse group. The other undeniable good is that the credit is a sure bet for continuing to create skilled, well-paid construction jobs in Missouri. Historic rehab work requires specialized labor that does not come cheaply, and the stimulus for such work in Missouri has not only kept many tradesmen employed but has created new jobs in fields like plastering, masonry and finish carpentry. Workers who were paid entry-level wages to hang drywall have gone on to work on tax credit-financed projects where they gain skills that land them solid pay. In this downturn, we can't afford to let these skilled workers out of a job.

Meanwhile, the National Trust for Historic Preservation lauds the Missouri rehab tax credit as a model in stimulating small development projects and in creating skilled construction jobs. (The Trust's page inexplicably features a photograph of the James Clemens, Jr. House in St. Louis in a line-up of otherwise rehabbed Missouri buildings.)

Keep up on the latest news in the Missouri historic rehab tax credit struggle at the Save the Historic Tax Credit website. Contact your legislators immediately and urge them to support the historic rehab tax credit the way it is now -- working for Missouri!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stories from the DeVille Motor Hotel

Photograph of the DeVille Motor Hotel in context by Jeff Vines.

There's nothing quite like a posh urban hotel. A fine hotel has long been the ultimate urban meeting place. From big convergences of finely-dressed party-goers to small groups of martini-lunch businessmen to encounters even more discreet -- the hotel is the place. The hotel is a fashionable but not ostentatious place for all manner of meetings, dining and drinks.

Hotels like the Chase, Park Plaza, the Mayfair and the Coronado are the legendary settings. How do we know this? The stories people tell. People talk about the restaurants, the dances, the political meetings, the bars, the music, the celebrities and all the things that made these more than just pretty buildings. we know that these buildings connected a lot of lives, and became part of thousands of memories.

The mid-century DeVille Motor Hotel at 4483 Lindell Boulevard, later the Holiday Inn Midtown, is not as old as the stalwarts of St. Louis' golden age of hotels, but it was the cream of the crop for the modern era. The DeVille definitely was a social hub in the 1960s and early 1970s. Perhaps we don't think of stories from that recent past as part of our history, but we should. The DeVille was the meeting spot for a different generation -- one that shaped contemporary St. Louis and breathed life into a city struggling with depopulation and sprawl. At the DeVille, the Central West End extended its glory days long enough to survive, and thousands of St. Louisans passed through its doors in the process.

What are their stories?

At B.E.L.T, Toby Weiss is collecting those tales from our recent past. Submit one of of your own here. This is a great project! Too often, we don't know how much a role a place has played in our lives until its lost. That's a shame, because we have the power to keep history alive in our own time simply by saving our own stories for future generations.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

SLPS to Open Its Own Charter Schools?

The Slay for Mayor re-election website posted an interesting item today. The writer mentions a Suburban Journals article that featured quotes from St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams:

According to the Sub Journal reporter, Dr. Adams said the public school district could open five charter schools of its own next year. He said that these charters, like the public charter schools currently attended by about 9,000 of the City’s children, would have autonomy in their administration and governing board and more flexibility in their school days and types of curriculum.

Does this possibility merely coincide with the current facilities management planning process and its potential to generate massive school closures?

Read more here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lovin' the San Luis

Preservationists will make love, not war at this event. No protest, just appreciation!

WHAT: Valentine’s Day San Luis Love-In

WHEN: Saturday, February 14, 2009 @ 12:00 noon

WHERE: Northeast corner of Lindell & Taylor in the Central West End

WHO: Lovers everywhere – and anyone who is outraged by the notion of replacing unique, interesting buildings with parking lots.

WHY: Because we believe that St. Louis’s distinctive architecture is an asset, not a liability, and we love the San Luis!


For more information, go to http://www.noparkinglotonlindell.com/, e-mail colbert@noparkinglotonlindell.com, or call (314) 761-4469.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Deferred Maintenance at McKinley Indicative of Larger Problem

The recommended facilities management plan for the St. Louis Public Schools prepared by MGT of America does not address one of the district's main problems -- the cycle of deferred maintenance. While the consultants have acknowledged the need for an aggressive maintenance plan in public statements, the recommendations revolve around closures, new construction and extensive rehabilitation. In reality, many of the district's buildings do not need extensive work, but rather need long-delayed maintenance work. The District famously allows $10,000 problems to grow into $100,000 problems, and there is little indication that pattern will not happen again.

The media reports many myths about historic schools perpetuated by District staff and the consultants. Foremost is the notion that many schools have major lead paint problems. The consultants' own report actually gives most of the historic schools very high HealthySEAT ratings, those ratings developed by the EPA that measure abatement of environmental toxins.

These high ratings are no coincidence. After all, betweem 1989 and 1991, the District spent $200 million on a Capital Improvement Program. That program included extensive window replacement, lead abatement and asbestos removal. In fact, the work was so thorough that preservationists became alarmed at potential threats to historic features, and forged a wonderful working partnership with the District and its architects, McCarthy-Fleming. The resulting work elevated the conditions of dozens of school buildings while ensuring that new windows were historically accurate. In many cases, new wooden windows were placed on the front and side elevations with aluminum windows on the rear elevation.

Hence, the windows one sees on the District's historic schools are actually less than twenty years old. The wooden windows are replicas, not lead-painted old ones. The trouble is that the District has not done a good job of upkeep, leaving paint to flake. With the Capital Improvement Program a distant memory, the flaking paint alarms those who do not know the truth.

The windows -- and some doors -- of McKinley Classical Junior Academy sat 2156 Russell Boulevard in McKinley-Fox are a great example of the problem. Built in 1902 as a high school and designed by William B. Ittner, the school's windows were completely replaced during the Capital Improvement Program. That is not very obvious now. Not only are the sashes, sills and brick molds in need of paint, some entire sashes are missing and replaced by plywood!

Additionally, limestone on a front window bay is spalling, probably due to inappropriate mortar used to repoint its joints.

MGT of America recommends moving McKinley CJA to the current Bunche Middle School (originally Madison School), and relocating Gateway IT High School here. This move involves millions of dollars in rehabilitation. What McKinley really needs is a smaller repair program.

Perception can become reality. If the District does not maintain its investments in school repairs, the image of the schools will lead to public support for massive capital programs. Obviously, with budget deficits, the District can more easily float a bond issue for major work than find money for minor work. However, back when the District had a professional in-house maintenance staff, work was much more consistent and one did not see boarded-up windows on our fine schools. Furthermore, a facilities plan that does not include more than a promise of aggressive maintenance will lead us right back to where we keep ending up.

SLPS Facilities Recommendations Lack Strong Historic Preservation Component

In my capacity as Assistant Director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis, I delivered a version of this statement at Wednesday's public meeting on the St. Louis Public Schools Facilities Management Plan. Please submit your own comments online at www.slps.org or at the next public meeting, tomorrow (Saturday, February 7) at 10:00 a.m. at Vashon High School, 3035 Cass Avenue.

Among the findings of the November public meetings on this plan was that 74% of respondents consider historic preservation to be a somewhat to very important component of a facilities plan. That position is not well represented in the recommendations from MGT of America.

Of the 29 schools recommended for closure, 18 are identified as historically significant in a 1988 survey of District buildings built before 1938. Landmarks Association completed this survey working with the District and using funds from the State of Missouri, and this survey often has been the basis for wise decision-making for the District's numerous historic buildings. We are blessed to have so many wonderful public school buildings, although that blessing may come into question when schools need to be closed.

The 1988 survey identified as historically significant not only the celebrated buildings designed by William B. Ittner but also those designed by his predecessors and his successors, Rockwell Milligan and George Sanger. Make no mistake -- the architectural achievements of other district architects are as worth preservation as those of Ittner. Unfortunately, the closure list places this legacy in jeopardy, not to mention the buildings built since 1938 that have not been surveyed, including Nottingham and Gateway schools.

Currently, the District has an inventory of ten closed historic pre-1938 schools. The closure list adds 18 schools for a total of 28 historic schools at risk. Nineteen of these would have protection after sale against demolition under state and federal landmark designations, but nine would have no protection at all. And none have any protection under landmark laws if the Board of Education itself seeks demolition. The District needs to provide that protection in policy and by sales contract, but the draft facilities plan offers no recommendation for adopting these protections.

In fact, the recommended principles for repurposing would seem to condemn some schools to demolition. Nowhere in these principles is the policy that the Board of Education adopted in 2003, after Theresa School was nearly sold to a developer who planned to replace it with a Walgreens. The Board forbade sale of any historic schools to owners who planned demolition. Thanks to that policy, we have kept all of the historic schools closed in the 2003-4 and 2007 rounds standing, and many of these have found reuse using state and federal historic rehabilitation programs, including Theresa School.

The Special Administrative Board must adopt the past policy forbidding sales that would cause demolition as well as adopting a policy against demolition of historic district facilities. Neighborhoods that have enjoyed the architectural anchor a grand public school provides do not need park space, open space, parking or outdoor labs where the schools stand. The neighborhoods deserve to retain their irreplaceable landmarks. Thus, the facilities plan recommendations regarding demolition are troubling and should not be adopted.

Another provision of the facilities plan that is questionable is the recommendation to cluster three elementary school closures each in north and south city in order to build new elementary schools. Besides being costly, this recommendation maximizes the number of school closures in a plan that recommends a large number. Why not close two of each group and remodel and possibly expand the third? In the areas where a new school is recommended, assembling a large site might entail demolition of one of the three buildings, making this recommendation even worse. Cote Brilliante and Hickey have notably high combined scores, for instance. Given the short duration of preparation of this plan, I doubt that there has been full examination of use of an existing school in these combined groups.

Our historic schools are public buildings, cultural assets and neighborhood anchors. As the district's needs change, the buildings should not be lost. One never knows when they will need to be called back into service, or when a new use will arise. Neighborhoods across the city need these buildings for their future.

Beautiful View?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Storefront Addition: California Do-Nut Company

Yes, the much-mourned California Do-Nut Co. at 2924 S. Jefferson in Benton Park sports a storefront addition. The 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the two-story building as a black smith shop, and building permits suggest that the addition dates to 1920. Here the addition seems to become part of a larger, mid-twentieth-century remodel. The parent building received a coat of stucco, the addition is clad in a Permastone-type material and the enameled neon sign board has an unmistakable modern swagger. The white and green color scheme is also sporty and simple, the hallmark of good mid-century design.

If the donut stands are doing well on Hampton and Watson road, why not Jefferson? Obviously, a little remodeling of that old store is needed, but the end result is an urban version of the roadside snack stand. Alas, a fabled reopening only led to plywood being hung on the storefront.

Storefront Addition: 3146 Shenandoah

Here is another storefront addition, located at 3146 Shenandoah Avenue in Tower Grove East. The brightly-painted addition features brick pilasters at each side under a simple wooden cornice with decorative caps at each end. The addition is fairly respectful of the house behind it, allowing for a full view of its second and third floors and attractive brick cornice.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Commercial Rows Fall On Vandeventer

Once upon a time, on April 21, 1886, the city government issued a building permit for a continuous row of seven adjacent stores with flats above at 1121-33 N. Vandeventer. P.G. Gerhart was the developer of the $12,000 project. The result was a graceful building in the Italianate style. Striking cast iron columns supported the spans of each wide storefront opening. A wooden cornice capped the stone-clad front wall, and decorative brick corbelling continued the cornice line to a side entrance on Enright, above which the parapet wall formed a pediment to mirror the surround of the entrance. The handsome commercial row was located at a prime corner in the sought-after Midtown neighborhood, home of the city's wealthy and middle class movers and shakers.

This was not the only such endeavor on Vandeventer, a major north-south artery here. Nor was it the Gerhart family's only commercial row on the street. The presence of a street car line on Vandeventer along with the residential population of the area drew developers to an intensive building boom that lasted between 1875 and 1900. During that time, at least sixteen rows of adjacent stores like the Gerhart row went up. Most of these were two stories. Vandeventer must have had an urban character like no other street in the city, what with the effect of so many well-designed rows of shops.

Flash forward over 120 years, and the row is facing its demise in December 2008. After sitting vacant for a half-decade, the old row had ended up owned by someone who wanted it gone. The condition at the time of demolition was good, with no structural failures and all of the character-defining pieces still in place. The rise and fall and rising-again of Midtown had taken its toll on Vandeventer, depleting the stock of such rows to a handful by the dawn of the 21st century. Now the oldest survivor met its demise, and the street is poorer for it. Vandeventer north of Lindell Boulevard is marked by vacant lots and low-density new construction, with a handful of surviving historic buildings. This row was keeping its block on the good side of architectural wasteland status. Today, the site is yet another muddy lot adorned by spindly grass blades and blowing debris.

During demolition, wreckers from Bellon Wrecking staged work in accordance with the building's party walls, leaving isolated sections standing untouched between areas that were demolished.

Photograph by Paul Hohmann.

Architect Paul Hohmann photographed the demolition while it was underway, and has posted an extensive number of photographs here.

The loss of the row at Vandeventer and Enright delivered a sharp blow, but it was not the only one in 2008. In July, demolition commenced at the third of the surviving rows on Vandeventer, located at 1121 N. Vandeventer. The Guardian Angels purchased the site for construction of a new facility earlier in the year.

This row contained six storefronts arranged symmetrically along Vandeventer. The storefronts also had fine cast iron columns with Ionic capitals, and the second floor had arrangements of Roman-arched windows as book ends. This row dates to a permit issued on October 18, 1895 to Mrs. L.A. Crosswhite for six adjacent stores and flats. A.M. Baker served as architect, and Thomas Kelly was contractor. The row was totally vacant when I photographed it in 2006, but its loss was still jarring. Again, this stretch has lost its landmarks, and the site of this row is now another vacant lot with a sign promising new construction in the future.

Now the only remaining commercial row on Vandeventer is the Gerhart Block, developed by another Gerhart, at the southwest intersection of Vandeventer and Laclede. The Gerhart Block dates to 1896 and was designed by August Beinke. Its French Renaissance style has strongly eclectic traits and its historic integrity is stunning. The Gerhart Block and an adjacent building on Laclede Avenue were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003; read the nomination by Lynn Josse here.

The sad fact is that this all that remains of the commercial rows of Vandeventer. There is some solace in that what survives is one of the most exquisite and well-preserved rows on the street, with landmark designation, demolition protection and tenants.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The DeVille as the Holiday Inn

In 1966, the DeVille Motor Hotel became a Holiday Inn after the Vatterott family purchased the building. The modernist motel had opened in 1963 as part of the New Orleans-based DeVille chain, and was designed by renowned architect Charles Colbert. Although the motor hotel enjoyed a swanky reputation as the DeVille, its years as the Holiday Inn are its most famous among St. Louisans who recall dances and social events held in the public spaces. The postcard shown above dates to the time of the change in ownership.

The rear of the postcard shows the new name: The Holiday Inn Midtown. Midtown was St. Louis' Uptown, where the high-rollers mixed with the young professionals at the new lounges and restaurants of reborn Central West End. The spirit of optimism was high, and distinctly urban place names like "Midtown" were embraced as strongly as the idea that the city would rebound. The new Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium were signs of downtown's new life, and the DeVille was a sign that the Central West End was as posh as ever for social life.

The end of the era was abrupt; the Holiday Inn Midtown closed in 1977, and was purchased by the Archdiocese for conversion to the San Luis Apartments (senior housing). Still, by 1977, Lindell Boulevard had attracted many new modernist buildings from Grand west to Kingshighway and the Central West End's renewal was in full force. The DeVille was as sleek as ever, even with its less glamorous new use. Now that the San Luis Apartments are closed and the neighborhood's stability is a sure bet, what better time is there to return the DeVille to its earlier glory? The old Bel Air Motel to the west, the city's first motel dating to 1958, is posed to become a Hotel Indigo. The optimism about the city and the Central West End embodied by these buildings has paid off, and these mid-century landmarks have much to offer the present age as reminders of the power of architecture to convey the hope of an era.

(Postcard courtesy of Sheila Findall's family collection.)

Lost: St. Ann's Orphan Asylum

St. Ann's Orphan Asylum stood at the northwest corner of Page and Union from 1904 until the late 1970s, when it was demolished. Operated by the Roman Catholic Church, the asylum relocated to the city's west end from a downtown location at 10th and O'Fallon streets. The building permit dates to June 22, 1904 and lists a construction cost of $200,000 and the architects as Barnett, Haynes and Barnett.

The high cost went for high quality. The 3 1/2 story asylum was large, and its Elizabethan Gothic architecture was elegant. The building featured an expansive lawn on four sides, affording the orphans with grounds for recreation surpassing the modest court at the downtown location. Here we see the late Victorian ideals -- lovely architecture masking a function of social utility as well as a belief in the social and health benefits of planned open space. The asylum rose as the World's Fair was taking place not far to the south in Forest Park. The fair reinforced the faith in planned open spaces and architectural grandeur found in the asylum. Coincidentally, the architects of the orphan's asylum also designed the Palace of Liberal Arts at the fair.

In 1904, Barnett, Haynes and Barnett was one of the city's best-known and most revered firms. The firm's principals were George D. Barnett, John Haynes and Thomas P. Barnett, and together the men had already designed many homes and commercial buildings in the thriving west end. The firm also enjoyed a good relationship with the Archdiocese, an had designed the romantic Visitation Convent (1894, demolished) located at Belt and Cabanne in the West End, Sacred Heart Church (1898, demolished) at 25th and University in St. Louis Place, and the Scholastic Building at St. Louis University (1896). On Page Boulevard alone, the firm was responsible for designing St. Ann's Church at Whittier and Page (1897) and St. Mark's at Page and Academy (1901). The pinnacle of the working relationship would be the firm's design of the great Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard. The firm's institutional work shows a tendency toward the romantic, with picturesque buildings placed on landscaped lawns, and St. Ann's Orphan Asylum fits in that range. Stylistically, however, the Elizabethan Gothic is unique for a large institutional building by the firm but parallel to the contenporary work of school architect William B. Ittner.

The asylum eventually became a retirement home before being demolished by the Archdiocese. The site today is occupied by the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center and the Peace Villa, which maintain to some extent the site's devotion to social service. The eastern end of the site is used by a grocery store.

(Postcard courtesy of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation Library.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Landmarks Association Stands Up for Historic SLPS Schools

Landmarks Association of St. Louis has published a position statement on the proposed St. Louis Public Schools facilities plan. Read the full text here.

The statement includes useful background information on the $200 million Capital Improvement Program that SLPS implemented from 1989 through 1991 in order to modernize buildings and abate lead and asbestos. The statement ends with wise and strong recommendations for protecting historic school buildings, reprinted here:

Historic Preservation

1. That District not demolish any school identified as historically or architecturally significant in the 1988 schools survey;

2. That the District place all eligible schools in the National Register of Historic Places to recognize their significance and to ensure demolition review under municipal ordinance;

3. That the District make all changes or additions to buildings (especially those included in the 1988 schools survey) respectful of defining architectural features and landscaped settings;

4. That the District obtain detailed bids from qualified contractors and architects with historic renovation work experience when evaluating the cost of retaining existing buildings, to avoid the assumption that renovating historic schools necessarily costs more than building new schools;

5. That the District consult with design professionals experienced in historic renovation work when making plans to renovate any existing schools included in the 1988 survey;

6. That the District develop, in concert with preservation consultants, a realistic maintenance plan for all the historic school buildings and incorporate them into a capital funding plan with rigorous follow through.

School Closures

1. That the District consider leasing schools to public or private entities as an alternative to sale;

2. That the District include in all sales contracts a clause forbidding demolition of schools included in the 1988 survey;

3. That the District reverse its policy of forbidding sales to charter schools or other educational entities, since such sale is preferable to abandonment or demolition;

4. That the District make every attempt to sell or lease buildings and avoid mothballing buildings, for the sake of neighborhood stabilization;

5. That the District properly secure and monitor any historic school closed but retained for future use.