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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

McEagle Picks Up Seventeen Parcels Including Six Historic Buildings

On September 25, the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds recorded the purchase of 17 parcels at Sheriff's land tax auction by McEagle Properties shell holding company Union Martin LLC. McEagle's companies had been dormant for several months.

Among the purchase are seven residential buildings, of which six are historic. Here they are, with purchase price in parentheses if reported:

2823 University Street, brick house at left

2625 Palm Street in St. Louis Place

2212 Howard Street in St. Louis Place ($1,103.00)

2718 Stoddard Avenue in JeffVanderLou ($1,666.00)

2834 Thomas Street in JeffVanderLou, shown at right

2571 Hebert Street ($1,561.00)

Why do I mention the purchase prices? I want to impress upon readers how easy it would be for other buyers to compete at the Sheriff's auctions for these properties. Community development corporations, neighborhood associations and other that want to keep out large-scale acquisition would do well to get some money together and head to the Sheriff's auction. Every month, dozens of north side parcels -- and historic buildings -- sell to speculators for low, low prices.

These acquisitions illustrate the thorniness of preservation planning in the NorthSide project. A week ago, preservationists thought they knew the pool from which the list of buildings to be rehabilitated would be drawn. In one day, that pool expanded. However, these buildings are in good shape and will be around for awhile. McEagle need not fear that preservationists have immediate demands beyond simply keeping these buildings from falling until there is a solid plan.

The remaining parcels recently purchased by Union Martin are located at 2516, 2518-20 and 2526 Slattery Avenue, 2930 James Cool Papa Bell (nee Dickson) Avenue, 2524 Coleman Street and 2832 Cass Avenue in JeffVanderLou; 3244 Knapp Street in Old North St. Louis; 2561 Hebert Street, 2231 and 2236 Benton Street and 1947-51 Wright Street in St. Louis Place.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eagle Realty's Other Clients Continue Buying

A real estate transaction whose warranty deed was recorded September 8 by the Recorder of Deeds may shed some light on the identity of the "mini McKee" buying property across the rest of north city.

The deed involves properties at 4631-33 St. Ferdinand Avenue and 2734 Arlington Avenue (both containing historic buildings) in the Greater Ville, conveyed from SCD Investments LLC to Diligent Property LLC. Those names mean little until one looks at the signatures on the deed:

Signing for SCD Investments LLC is developer Steven Roberts, and signing for Diligent Property LLC is Harvey Noble, vice president of Eagle Realty and incorporator of the company. Noble here is listed as "manager." Eagle Realty also represents McEagle Properties in its transactions related to the NorthSide project.

Last year, a buyer represented by Noble began buying property under the name Urban Assets LLC. Roberts denies being that buyer. So does McKee.

In February, Noble incorporated six additional companies, only two of which -- Diligent and Prudent Investor LLC -- have purchased any real estate. All three companies are limiting their purchases to north St. Louis outside of McKee's NorthSide footprint. Urban Assets owns roughly 225 parcels, while Prudent Investor has one and Diligent has three. Over one-third of these parcels contain buildings.

Noble's other new companies are Feasible Projects LLC, Incentive Properties LLC, Marketable Property LLC and Premises Property LLC. Who the owners of the companies are remains a mystery.

Lindell's Modern Buildings Should be Protected

My latest commentary for St. Louis Public Radio aired this morning; listen to or read it here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Old North Still Part of NorthSide Project Until Holdings Are Sold

Despite removing over half of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood from the NorthSide project boundary, McEagle Properties retains a strong presence in the neighborhood. In a future article, I will write about McEagle's plans for the portion of the neighborhood that is included in the project. For now, here is a catalog of the 27 historic buildings owned by McEagle's holding companies in that part of Old North for which the developer has no plans.

McEagle and elected officials repeat the line that "Old North is no longer a part of the project." That's not true. Over one-third of the neighborhood remains within the project boundary and the developer has yet to commit to a definite plan to either developing or selling properties that it owns in Old North. Maintenance is abysmal, and many buildings in need of structural repairs.

All of the twenty-seven buildings shown here are contributing resources to the Murphy-Blair Historic District, the National Register of Historic Places listing for most of Old North. All qualify for use of the historic rehabilitation tax credits at the state and federal level. Some are adjacent to rehabilitation projects ranging from owner-occupant work to the $35 million Crown Square redevelopment project.

The efforts of good people in Old North will rise the property values of McEagle's holdings. However, long-term speculation is not fair to Old North. If old North is "out," then McEagle needs to sell. The NorthSide redevelopment agreement must include binding language to compel McEagle to sell its holdings in Old North outside of the project boundary.

Publicly and privately, Paul J. McKee, Jr. complains about his reception in Old North (exemplified by the feisty meeting there last Monday). There is good reason for that reception, as the condition of these buildings and McEagle's vague plans for the future show. Old North is hardly different from any neighborhood in resenting the presence and impact of a large-scale nuisance owner. I'm sure that WingHaven residents would be up in arms if a speculator started buying up residential foreclosures and left the houses vacant and untended for five years.

Last November, I offered free advice to McKee: "In preservation-minded Old North, there is a clear way to gain respect and built support: save buildings." Not interested? Then it's time to sell.

2900 N. 14th Street
Owner: Dodier Investors LLC

3115 N. 14th Street
Owner: Blairmont Associates LC

3236 and 3238 N. 20th Street
Owner: Sheridan Place LC

3237 N. 20th Street
Owner: Sheridan Place LC
Had been largely rehabbed by owner who sold to McEagle.

1415 Benton Street
Owner: Dodier Investors LLC

2701 Blair Avenue
Owner: Dodier Investors LLC
Located at the intersection of Blair and Montgomery -- Blairmont!

2710 Blair Avenue
Owner: VHS Partners LLC
Located adjacent to Crown square redevelopment. Photo shows a fence now removed and replaced by tenant parking for a rehabilitated building.

1500 Branch Street
Owner: Blairmont Associates LC
The entire two-part commercial row is included.

1449 Clinton Street
Owner: Noble Development Company LLC
Shown at right above.

1913 Dodier Street
Owner: MLK 3000 LLC

3211 Blair Street
Owner: Blairmont Associates LC
At left next door to owner-occupied home.

1420 and 1424 Hebert Street
Owner: Dodier Investors LLC
Two cool small houses. The house at 1422 Hebert (left) is a flounder house.

1420 Hebert Street, Rear
Owner: Dodier Investors LLC
Two-and-a-half story alley house next door to fully-rehabilitated alley house.

3240 and 3242 Knapp Street
Owner: Dodier Investors LLC

3248 Knapp Street
Owner: N & G Ventures LC

3261 Knapp Street
Owner: Dodier Investors LLC
Alley house. Adjacent neighbor demolished.

1445 Monroe Street
Owner: Noble Development Company LC
Permastone covers brick. Great vergeboard!

1119 Montgomery Street
Owner: Union Martin LC
Just the left side of the first building in the row of houses. Purchased by agent Harvey Noble at a tax sale in 2008 apparently "by mistake."

1416 Montgomery Street
Owner: Noble Development Company LLC
Located between occupied business and the Crown Square redevelopment project, in which it could have been included.

1501 Palm Street
Owner: Blairmont Associates LC
More coverage here and here.

1523 Palm Street
Owner: Blairmont Associates LC
Just the left side of the left building is owned by McEagle. Building at right being fully rehabilitated.

1311 St. Louis Avenue
Owner: Blairmont Associates LC
Photograph taken before McEagle purchase; second floor now boarded most of the time. Directly across the street from the Crown Square redevelopment.

1437 Warren Street
Owner: Dodier Investors LLC
Building adjacent to a church.

1215 Wright Street
Owner: Blairmont Associates LC.
At right. Shown here before McEagle boarded the second floor windows.

Encroachment Gives Cultural Resources Office Some Review Power

Today's Preservation Board agenda contains an interesting preliminary review: the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) has jurisdiction over a poorly-conceived streamline modern industrial building at 4110 Beck Avenue due to review jurisdiction of encroachments in the public right of way. The false pilasters proposed to be added are encroachments, and CRO recommends denial.

The other changes, some also out of character, don't fall under the CRO's review powers and cannot be considered. Read the item here.

UPDATE: This matter was not on the final agenda.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another McEagle Building Lost to Fire

Sure, the house at 1925-27 Madison Street in St. Louis Place had its front wall rebuilt in a 1950s brick that clashes with its 19th century slate mansard. Yes, its immediate neighbors were gone when I took the above photograph in 2006. Still the old house was solid as one of its wall bricks and close to the dense cluster of redeveloped property around the Falstaff Brewery at 20th and Madison. To boot, the house was included as a contributing resource to the Clemens House-Columbia Brewery Historic District, so rehabbing this building could land someone -- like its owner, McEagle Properties -- historic tax credits.

The happy ending never came. On early Monday morning, September 21, a blaze consumed the building causing severe damage. Strangely, the city's Building Division had recently boarded all of the building's first floor doors and windows with the red composite boards now being used.

On the night of the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Commission advisory vote on the first part of McEagle's NorthSide TIF, I left the meeting early after not being able to get inside. I drove up to check out the damage, which had been reported on KTVI. I came across a man picking intact bricks out of the rubble. At the curb was a car without plates or a dealer's sticker. I called 911.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Old North Moving Foward on Stabilizing Historic Buildings

While people are debating larger projects, the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group started a small but very important one: stabilization of several vacant historic buildings in the neighborhood formerly owned by the city's Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). This comes after the group issued a request for proposals that led to two vacant houses finding owners who plan full rehabs.

Above is the house at 1300 Monroe Street, a very stunning corner house that has seen some rough days. The Restoration Group has already secured all of the openings with boards. The next steps are major masonry repairs and new roofing, on the flat roof as well as the projecting bay. When work concludes, what started as a hard-to-handle city-owned vacant building will be a rehab-ready, structurally-sound shell. The Restoration Group will place the home on the market.

No matter how long the buildings take to sell, they will stand safe and secure. Meanwhile, the Restoration Group will have demonstrated how a community development corporation can act to safeguard vacant historic buildings and get those buildings out of the LRA inventory and into a more sale-ready situation.

Support these remarkable efforts this Friday evening at a silent auction from 7 - 9:30 p.m. at 1331 North Market. The auction benefits the Restoration Group's plans to fully rehab one of the vacant buildings. A mere $5 is the suggested cover, but of course you can be more generous! Details are here.

Next Step for NorthSide

I have a column in today's St. Louis American: "Holding McKee to his preservation promises".

After last night's TIF Commission vote to recommend approval of tax increment financing for the first two phases of the NorthSide, we're moving on to legislation at the Board of Aldermen. Last night provided a show of the discontent that remains, as well as the uncertainty of financing a project as vast as NorthSide. I would say those with serious ideas for the redevelopment ordinances ahead have a great chance at being heard and making change. These are not just ordinances for Paul J. McKee, Jr. -- these are ordinances for citizens of the north side, the affected neighborhoods, and for our entire city. They must reflect all of the associated aspirations for transformation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More From McKee on Historic Preservation

At a public meeting at Ames Elementary School last night in Old North St. Louis, Paul J. McKee, Jr. again discussed historic preservation for the NorthSide project.

Notable was a new figure for the number of legacy properties McEagle plans to rehabilitate. In a YouTube video on the developer's website, McKee stated that 60 historic buildings would be preserved. Last night, he said that number could be as high as 85. He also stated that the Landmarks Association of St. Louis (my former employer) would receive a copy of that list. Will Landmarks, city preservation officials and neighborhood leaders also be able to shape that list?

McKee had told the St. Post-Dispatch that he planned to rehabilitate the Mullanphy Emigrant Home, which is owned by the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and targeted to be converted into a hostel by the Gateway Chapter of Hosteling International. Last night, he said simply that he would help the Restoration Group with the project if possible.

Another major concern for Old North was addressed: the fate of over 60 properties in that neighborhood owned by McKee's companies but excluded from the boundaries of the NorthSide project. Board members of the Restoration Group asked what plans the developer has to sell those properties and prevent further deterioration to buildings.

McKee's answer was vague: "Once we get through the development process with the city we get the [Distressed Areas Land Assemblage tax] credits approved by the state...I'll be happy in the first quarter to sit down and dialogue about that with you."

What if McKee does not get the credits? "You'll be dealing with somebody other than me," he said.

Demolition will move rapidly after city approval of a redevelopment agreement, if McKee's plans hold true. McKee told the crowd that "within 18 months, anything that's going to be wrecked is going to be wrecked." According to the developer, half-destroyed houses like those this blog frequently covers cannot be demolished now due to state brownfield laws.

(I was unable to attend Monday's meeting, so this report is derived from videos posted by Doug Duckworth on Random Talk.)

Snapshots from JeffVanderLou

I have been working on an architectural survey in JeffVanderLou (details to come) and wanted to share some images from the area just west of Parnell and north of Cass avenues. This is a neat urban pocket filled with historic buildings dating from 1870 - 1910 that is located in the fourth phase of the proposed NorthSide project. There is the abandonment and building loss typical of this neighborhood, JeffVanderLou, but the level of historic integrity remaining is actually strong. A historic district is certainly possible here.

The image above shows one of the most splendid rows in the area: the 1700-1800 block of Leffingwell Avenue, just south of North Market. This intact street wall faces Yeatman Park (which, by the way, happens to have excellent tennis courts). Of course, this photograph shows that the four of the eight buildings at the left are vacant. However, only one of these buildings is owned by a holding company controlled by McEagle Properties LLC. Three are owned by the city's Land Reutilization Authority (and likely to be purchased by McEagle) and the corner unit of the corner building is owned by one Hillmon Bonds.

This image cuts against the stereotype that the NorthSide area is an urban prairie with a few decrepit houses here and there. This is a block of historic homes comparable to blocks found across the city, with as many houses occupied as vacant. Every time I am on this block, people are around tending to their yards or cars. While the fates of the four vacant houses concerns this architectural historian, those fates concern the residents and owners of the remaining four buildings even more.

Take away half of this row, and what is left is diminished. The quality of life on this block would be much improved if the vacant houses were again occupied by families. The difference between a fully occupied row of historic homes facing a lovely city park and a group of isolated survivors ringed by vacant lots could not be more stark.

There is a flounder-style house at 2627 Howard Street. Flounders are indigenous to St. Louis, Philadelphia and Alexandria, Virginia, and feature a roof slope (sometimes hipped) that runs from one side of the building to the other. The origin is unknown and the prevalence unaccounted for. All we know is that these are a precious American architectural resource. This one is owned by Dodier Investors LLC, a McEagle holding company.

The rest of this block of Howard is the typical mix of vacant and occupied for the neighborhood. This photographs shows a typical density of remaining historic resources -- too dense to ignore. Second from left is a one-story flounder house that is occupied. Once again, we see that historic preservation planning in the NorthSide project is crucial. Preservation here is preservation of the livability of whole city blocks.

Monday, September 21, 2009

McEagle Rubble Piles in JeffVanderLou

All three of these buildings in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood are owned by McEagle Properties-controlled holding companies and were destroyed by brick thieves this year or last. The rubble piles remain, one almost mockingly surrounded by cheap plastic construction fencing. Those residents of JeffVanderLou considering whether or not the owner's NorthSide project is a good deal for their neighborhood have this evidence to consider. What else? Residents can learn more at Wednesday's meeting of the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Commission, at which the NorthSide project will be considered for a $399 million public TIF subsidy.

The records of these properties show that two were not vacant very long before being destroyed, and that residents had tried to get the vulnerable buildings secured to prevent what happened. The two destroyed houses on Laflin are just a half-block north of Vashon High School. Many students walk this street before and after school, passing unsecured and dangerous rubble in open foundations. The present conditions violate city public safety laws.

Address: 2526 Bacon Street
Owner: VHS Partners LLC
Citizens Service Bureau Calls for Unsecured Vacant Building: 12/18/2006, 9/22/2006
Considered Vacant by Building Division: 2001 - present

Address: 1831 Laflin Street
Owner: MLK 3000 LLC
Citizens Service Bureau Calls for Unsecured Vacant Building: 10/10/2007
Considered Vacant by Building Division: 1989-1996; Since 2009 (re-occupied 1996)

Address: 1909 Laflin Street
Owner: VHS Partners LLC
Citizens Service Bureau Calls for Unsecured Vacant Building: None recorded
Considered Vacant by Building Division: Since 2009

Don't get the wrong idea -- most of JeffVanderLou does not look like this. Most buildings are occupied and there are always children playing in the streets as well as adult pedestrians. That's why these open foundations are such a big problem. Hopefully we don't have to wait until the developer has state tax credits in hand to get these nuisances cleaned up.

Post-Dispatch Gets it Wrong on NorthSide

Today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch carries an editorial on Paul J. McKee Jr.'s NorthSide project ("Next 90 days could set North St. Louis' direction for decades").

Among reasonable suggestions and enthusiasm for the potential of NorthSide, the editorial's main purpose seems to be making the case that the city of St. Louis, pension crisis be damned, should guarantee some of the tax increment financing for NorthSide, and that McEagle should be given eminent domain latitude:

Financial guarantees from the city and the use of eminent domain are "hot-button" issues with the public, and for good reason. But there is every reason to think they can be resolved in ways that both impress potential investors with a prudent city commitment and protect the public.

Well, the Post-Dispatch has it wrong here. The absence of a city guarantee is the work of the office of Mayor Francis Slay, who is not exactly an opponent of the NorthSide project. The restriction on eminent domain that will likely be in the redevelopment agreement comes from Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin (D-5th) and her colleagues involved in discussions with the developer. Again, Ford-Griffin is a supporter of the project. Ford-Griffin's ward comprises 80% of the proposed project area, and her constituents are up in arms about eminent domain. McKee says that he only wants 20 parcels through eminent domain anyway, although the developer has not provided a list. Disallowing broad condemnation rights on this project -- which may take over 30 years to complete -- makes sense. Life has to go on for residents while McKee is working on the Downtown West and Mississippi River Bridge landing phases of his project.

If public officials who support the project have placed limits on the public financing and eminent domain use for NorthSide, that's for good reason.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Old Palladium Ballroom is for Sale

The former Palladium Ballroom now sports a sign stating that the midtown landmark is for sale or lease (number is 314-843-1292). Above is a view of the mighty terra cotta-surrounded entrance on Enright Avenue just west of Grand. Once upon a time, this entrance contained elegant doors and windows facing the carriage houses of Vandeventer Place across the street. Now, the arches of the Palladium are covered with siding, and across the street is the utilitarian side face of the John Cochran Veterans Hospital.

Still, the exotic form of the Palladium entices the imagination to think about what might have taken place there. The stucco walls and now-painted, but still-intact terra cotta provide the sort of architectural allure that always transcends neglect.

The scalloped parapets and lion's heads remain.

However striking the Enright elevation may be, most people who enter the old Palladium arrive on the Delmar side. Here is the entrance to the thrift store that occupied the old ballroom space on the second floor. This elevation is parged with stucco painted a drab gray that belies the faded grandeur of the building. From this side, large windows are outlined in the stucco, but are not terribly suggestive. The action is on the flip side.

Built in 1914, the Palladium was a premiere dance hall in the heart of St. Louis' entertainment district. However, its greater historical significance may come later, when the ballroom operated as the Plantation Club from 1931 through the 1950s. In City of Gabriels, a history of jazz in St. Louis, Dennis Owsley writes that the Plantation Club was owned by Tony and James Scarpelli, who moved it to the Palladium in 1931 from a nearby location at Vandeventer and Enright. The Scarpellis blazed an important trail in St. Louis jazz by hiring African-American musicians. According to Owsley, the Scarpellis even envisioned a mixed-race clientele but could not get the St. Louis Police Department to allow them to admit African-American customers until well after World War II. Hence, the club offered African-American musicians one of the few chances to play for a white audience -- an imperfect arrangement, but one that started cutting the segregation edge in local entertainment.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rehabber Club Tour Old North, St. Louis Place Tomorrow

The former Leidner Chapel, 2223 St. Louis Avenue.

Rehabbers Club Tour of Old North and St. Louis Place
Saturday, September 19, 2009
9:30 a.m.
Meet at 3001 Rauschenbach

ReVitalize St. Louis' September Rehabbers Club will feature north St. Louis neighborhoods. There is a rich history and continued strength in these neighborhoods. We'll explore St. Louis Place and Old North.

We will gather at 3001 Rauschenbach Ave. This 3-story home was built in the late 1800's by a tobacco merchant. Over the years it was used for institutional purposes
(halfway house for boys, pregnant single women, etc). Its current owner has been restoring the home back to its original grandeur. There are 4 marble fireplaces on the first floor along and near all of the original woodwork and pocket doors are intact.

Next we'll head over to 2223 St. Louis Ave. This for-sale-property is a rehab opportunity. While the main house was built in 1879, the building was expanded in 1921 by the Henry Leidner Undertaking Company. Over the years it has been the Victory Baptist Church and then the Bible Way Church. Bible Way moved out in 2006 and is looking for a rehabber to purchase the building. Reverend Harsley will lead a tour of the structure and provide additional historical information as well as spec's on the sale of the building.

One stop is a historical review of the James Clemens Mansion located at 1849 Cass Ave.
Michael Allen, an architectural historian and blogger for Ecology of Absence will share the history of the mansion and discuss its current state.

Just added to the tour is a full-rehabbed house at 1411 Hebert Street in Old North, currently up for sale.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday morning. Call Scott McIntosh, ReVitalize St. Louis Programming Chair at 314-719-6507 with questions.

McEagle Explains TIF Request in YouTube Video

McEagle takes to YouTube again to explain the NorthSide tax increment financing request (TIF).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

September is Architecture Month at the Chatillon-DeMenil House

From Lynn Josse, Chatillon-DeMenil House board member extraordinaire:

Architecture Month at the Chatillon-DeMenil House

Both events take place at the Chatillon-DeMenil House, 3352 DeMenil Place.

Sketch Workshop With Emily Hemeyer
Saturday, Sepetmber 19, 1:00-3:00 p.m.

Come draw architecture with us! You don’t have to be an artist to create an individualistic work of art. We'll focus on looking at details as well as the whole, and creatively expressing your observations on paper. Tips, guidance, and inspiration provided by local artist and educator Emily Hemeyer.

All ages welcome! Materials will be provided (or feel free to bring your own favorites). With permission, work will be displayed at the next weekend’s event:

Greek Revival Architecture and the Chatillon-DeMenil House
Saturday, September 27 at 2 p.m

Greek Revival became a national style that captured the political idealism of a young nation. Esley Hamilton's illustrated talk will help us understand how the Chatillon-DeMenil House does (and doesn't) reflect the dominant architectural classicism of the mid-19th century.

Our six-part Arts Then and Now series is made possible with the support of the Regional Arts Commission.

All events are free and open to the public.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Trojan Horse?: St. Louis Public Radio Examines NorthSide This Week

Today, St. Louis Public Radio aired the third story in its four-part series on the NorthSide project. Today's story by Matt Sepic carefully looks at community concerns about eminent domain and relocation. Part of the story deals with the Trojan Ironworks, an active family-owned maker of steel beams and metal other building components, located in St. Louis Place. McEagle Properties' Chairman Paul J. McKee, Jr. told an audience of north side residents assembled at Central Baptist Church on May 21 that he would not relocated a single job out of north St. Louis, but would bring many thousands more. Trojan may not have the resources to survive relocation. Sounds like the developer and the small iron works are on the same page.

The entire St. Louis Public Radio series is available online here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

CVS Proposal Threatens Two Modern Buildings on Lindell

Here is the site at Lindell and Sarah avenues in the Central West End that discount and drug store giant CVS is targeting for a new store. The site encompasses two historic buildings from our recent past that would be obliterated for a low-density big-box store with a drive through lane. Domino effect is evident: Walgreens is just a block west on a site where the mid-century Cinerama fell for the chain-store box. CVS wants to follow suit, but its aim is at a prominent corner, and three buildings with higher merit and reuse potential than a movie theater.

There seems to be major concern about the design on the part of the West Pine/Laclede Neighborhood Association, whose boundaries encompass the sites. Earlier, the neighborhood group was opposed based on a terrible site plan that CVS has since replaced. This month, the group voted to continue discussions.

At stake is the fate of two buildings whose individual densities are separately greater than the single building that will replace all three. While not completed, the forthcoming Central West End Sustainable Development Plan will likely include provisions discouraging the development of low-density uses on major neighborhood streets like Lindell. Thus, preservation is aligned here with larger planning goals.

The building at 4100 Lindell dates to 1956 and is one of the first works by then-new firm Hellmuth Obata and Kassabaum (HOK). Built as the regional office of typewriter giant Sperry-Rand Corporation, the building is most familiar to St. Louisans as the headquarters of the St. Louis Housing Authority. The Housing Authority relocated last month to a new building on Page Boulevard.

The Housing Authority building definitely has individual architectural significance. As an early work of HOK, the building is a key part of the development of a body of work that has international significance. The building itself is a fine essay in minimalism. This city has few true examples of modern "glass boxes" and this is one of them. The International Style roots are evident in the ample glazing, neutral colors, and the vertical I-beams that frame the recessed windows. This is a class act, and a fine corner anchor.

To the west, at 4108 Lindell, is a modest modern work. Built in 1960 for the St. Louis Society for Crippled Children (think Easter Seal), this building is a fine supporting player in the mid-century carnival on Lindell Boulevard. There are 30 modern movement buildings on Lindell between Grand and Kingshighway out of 32 built between 1941 and 1977. Not all of these buildings are tied to great architects or original expressions, but all are integral to an overall composition unlike any other in the city. Where else do we have such abundant mid-century architecture interspersed with the high-style architecture of the Gilded Age and early 20th century? Alas, our decision-makers are just a generation too close to the birth of these buildings to appreciate their significance.

To the west sits a for-sale building that might be more conventionally assumed to be "historic." However, the Colonial Revival office building that once housed Places for People has more in common with its forward-looking neighbors than Independence Hall -- this building dates to 1948 and is part of the wave of new construction on Lindell that took place after World War II. Some developers stuck with the tried and true rather than embrace new design. Either way, the results are splendid.

Today, we are the stewards of this development. The significance of the modern buildings is just starting to be explored by historians. Yet the contrast between the recent demolition of the San Luis Apartments and $9 million rehabilitation of the Hotel Indigo show the divergent paths of owners of these buildings. Perhaps architectural significance will be better appreciated by future generations, but even today we see that these buildings are much better for the urban street scape and Central West End planning goals than a drug store box.

Monday, September 14, 2009


The Fantasyland on Illinois Route 3 in Brooklyn once held two strip club stages, many video viewing rooms and a "health spa." In a small city whose center seems to have a church on every corner not occupied by a strip club, Fantasyland was the biggest of the non-religious operations. Then it closed at some point in the first few years of the 21st century. In 2007, there was a fire that started the damage shown above (See "Driving to Granite City", September 30, 2007).

Two years later, surprisingly, the burned out, collapsing hulk still stands. The sign out front advertising a "health spa and rubs" is even still standing. Meanwhile, a convenience store across the street, opened in 2005, already is out of business. Once, the gigantic adult facility proclaimed the luster of roadside fantasy, but now the building and its remaining sign have a different message. The crumbling hulk is not far from the decaying remains of the National City stockyards, and the landscape in that stretch is a bit of unwanted fantasy -- the dwindling traces of long-gone industrial employment, the failure of even the marginal "adult entertainment" industry and the glimmering St. Louis skyline at night showcasing the glowing Lumiere Place casino. Life out of balance, or just the reality of the tenuous state of the inner ring of metro east cities?