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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Brick Thieves Return to St. Louis Place

By March 2009, things were not good for the unusual two-and-half-story flounder house located at 2543 Maiden Lane in St. Louis Place. The house was sporting a small hole at the base of its west wall as well as a major stress crack. The hole was strange because there was no apparent structural problem causing it. Urban Solutions, the consulting firm performing maintenance on behalf of owner McEagle Properties, placed one of its orange construction fences around the building in response to the conditions. Then the building just sat, with most window and door openings unsecured.

On April 2, the Building Division condemned the house for demolition, but so far has not placed the demolition out to bid.

The house stands out not only for a height rare for a flounder house, but also because it actually faced out toward Maiden Lane, an east-west street that is almost alley-like. The flounder sits on the north end of its lot, directly on the alley between Maiden Lane and North Market. The one-story flounder addition in front is a unique feature as well. The east side contains a gallery porch with access to the two flats inside of the building.

The north face shows the full height of the house, as well as some original six-over-six wooden window sash.

Last week, I noticed that the hole had grown bigger, with a pile of bricks at the base covered in lime mortar dust. I wondered if recent windy days had taken their toll until today, when I realized that a more common culprit is at work here.

That's right, the brick thieves are back in action. They have made short work of the one story addition, and have made the hole in the main house bigger (although their clumsy methods have broken many bricks).

The tire tracks running through the high grass on the vacant lot next door provide clear evidence of thievery.

Strange that the thieves have evaded detection here -- the west wall faces out at busy Jefferson Avenue, not far from the police station. I'm also perplexed by the fact that of all of the brick buildings with wall damage in this vicinity, the thieves have struck this one. Is the recent condemnation for demolition a prompt? Perhaps the thieves saw the building on a demolition bid list.

In the middle of a flagging economy, brick theft could be elevated this summer. It's time for all of us to get tough -- city government, police and neighbors. If you see people removing bricks from a building and there is any suspicion of theft, call 911. If you have the constitution, take photographs of the activity and wait for police to arrive. Unfortunately, police will not always respond seriously to a brick theft call. A legitimate wrecker with demolition rights will be able to show police a demolition permit.

Let's hope this summer does not see a wave of destruction like the ones that hit the north side in the past two years.


Anonymous said...

It is certainly sad to see these old dilapidated buildings in my hometown. At the same time though, the brick thieves remind me of fungus, and I mean that in a good way. If no one is going to live in these places, I have no problem with the materials being broken down and redistributed. Hopefully the land will go back to nature and in time be redeveloped.

The people who are doing this are probably struggling somehow if this is their income. Organize them or let them be, I think they are doing useful work.

--Long time reader, sometimes commenter, but staying anonymous for this one

Chris said...

Sadly, not enough people care. Also, I think a lot of people just assume it's legal activity.

Anonymous said...

In some of the severely blighted areas of the North Side, I would think that in some cases the bricks are actually worth more than the house...crazy as that sounds.

Chris said...


Too bad the brick thieves have shown callous disregard for the safety of the neighbors of these houses, leaving them in precarious states of near—and sometimes catastrophic—collapse. The method these fungi use to “harvest” these bricks is nothing short of totally irresponsible, carving out the bottom (as shown in the pictures) to cause the wall above to collapse, making the bricks easier to gather. Not to mention that on at least one occasion, these fine contributors to society have shown the willingness to use violence against people who stumble upon their “work.”

I agree that it is shameful that society has allowed people to get to the point where their only option is to harvest brick. But to be honest, a pallet of bricks doesn’t go for that much, and you probably could make more working an honest job at McDonalds (I did at one point in my life, and I survived). Most likely, these people don’t FEEL like making an honest wage (it’s so much darn hard work) that they CHOOSE to engage in illegal activity.

North of You said...

@anon #1 Son, your comment is beyond offensive. "If no one is going to live in these places, I have no problem with the materials being broken down and redistributed." People do live in these places, people like me. You patently don't know what you are talking about. "The people who are doing this are probably struggling somehow if this is their income." The brick thieves on the near north side are directed inspired, if not actively hired, by a hugely wealthy St Charles developer. The boots-on-the-ground leader of the brick thieves last summer drove a Cadillac Escalade. Sorry if I'm not wailing in pity over his poverty. Just because YOU do not value the north side homes of your cities AA community does not mean WE do not value our own homes. Seriously, you are wallowing in your own ignorance. And other buddy, brian, the bricks are NOT worth more than the house, thanks for your patronizing condescension -- do you two get together and drink to the racial cleansing of StL city? Sure sounds like it.