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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Peter Kinder and Historic Tax Credits

Yesterday, Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder convened a press conference on tax credits on Old Post Office Plaza in downtown St. Louis. (Coverage: St. Louis Business Journal, KWMU, St. Louis Globe-Democrat and St. Louis Beacon.) The location was ironic given that Old Post Office developer Steve Stogel has close ties to Governor Jay Nixon.

The scene was set as if this were an official response to Governor Nixon's tax credit proposal, with Kinder citing statistics between statements of strong support for the state's redevelopment incentives, especially the historic rehabilitation tax credit. Of course, the spate of press conferences by Nixon and Kinder are more prelude to the 2012 governor's race than official actions. Both are shoring up bases, with a twist: Democrat Nixon is pandering to the perceived "Missourah" base that abhors the state's urban areas, and Kinder is aiming to gain support in the urban areas that helped propel Nixon into the governor's mansion.

Kinder was surrounded by St. Louis Democrats, including aldermanic President Lewis Reed, Aldermen Antonio French (D-21st) and Jeffrey Boyd (D-22nd), State Representative Tishaura Jones (D-63rd) and former Carnahan adminstration Director of Revenue Janette Lohman. Also on hand were Reverend Ken McKoy, developers Paul J. McKee, Jr. and Peter George, Landmarks Association of St. Louis Executive Director Jeff Mansell, RHCDA President Stephen Acree, Association of General Contractors of America President Leonard P. Toenjes and others. These people have different reasons for supporting the historic rehabilitation tax credit, but most talked about the importance of using the credits in distressed neighborhoods.

Kinder's words resonated in St. Louis. The press has picked up on his jab about Blagojevich-style politics, but he mostly stuck to reasons why tax credit programs build the state economy. Kinder stated emphatically that Missouri should be proud of how much money it spends on historic preservation. Missouri leads all states in historic preservation-related development due to the tax credit. That's not a bad thing, Kinder said.

Kinder questioned Nixon's recent attempt to tie tax credit expenditures to loss of revenue for public education. According to Kinder, "he leaves out one simple part of the equation in that tax credits create jobs and without jobs there will be no place for our educated workforce to earn a living." Missouri has indeed long suffered from lack of economic opportunity, and the historic rehabilitation tax credit has spurred job creation for skilled labor. Of course, public education should not be underfunded to spur job creation.

Kinder pointed out that leading the country in one type of development has created jobs that Missouri otherwise may not have had. “Nixon’s plan to cut tax credits is a boon to states like Kansas and Tennessee, which are courting our businesses away and taking their hundreds of millions of investment and jobs with them," Kinder said.

Aldermen French and Boyd talked about the difference that the historic tax credit could make in north St. Louis, where use has not been as widespread as in other areas. Boyd talked about the upcoming renovation of Arlington School, which would not have happened without credits. French talked about plans to get most of his ward eligible for use of the credits. Each acknowledged that the credits alone are not the answer, but essential parts of larger strategies.

Surprisingly, Kinder was candid about his support for last year's cap on the historic tax credit, which many who stood behind him opposed. Kinder stated that he might support a lower cap, but not "gutting" the program as proposed by the Nixon administration. While Kinder avoided any specific ideas for changes -- not a good thing to do, I guess, with developers standing behind him -- he did suggest that some changes have to happen. The end of the press conference was a sober reminder that, while there is wide recognition of the benefits of the Missouri rehabilitation tax credit, supporters have to face Missouri's budget reality. After all, Governor Nixon is as right about that point as he is wrong about the solution.

Preservation Board Spares Chouteau Avenue Buildings; Now What?

On Monday, the St. Louis Preservation Board unanimously voted to uphold the Cultural Resources Office's denial of an application to demolish the commercial buildings at 2612-30 Chouteau Avenue. The applicant, Crown 40, Inc., was represented in testimony by Charles Mace of Chuck's Brick and Demo and John Zumwalt of Crown 40. Speaking against demolition -- briefly, because the Board already seemed ready to reject the appeal -- were Andrew Weil of Landmarks Association, Lafayette Square resident Jason Stokes and myself.

Zumwalt testified that Crown 40 purchased the properties to prevent a competitor from purchasing the buildings and opening a gas station that might compete with Crown 40's new Crown Mart gas station near I-44 and Jefferson Avenue. Crown 40 has no intention of building a gas station on the site but -- and this gets weird -- wants to buy the two buildings to the east, demolish all of them and some day build something new there. This desire is odd because the corner building is occupied by a dental clinic that was not represented in Monday's proceedings. The other building is for sale.

Perhaps 2626-30 Chouteau (the large wagon company warehouse at right in the photograph above) is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. In my professional opinion, the other buildings are not -- not even as a district. The alterations have damaged historic integrity, and there is not sufficient context for a larger listing.

Of course, many buildings are preserved without official landmark designation and without tax credits. Can these be? Sure, but the owner doesn't seem interested. What can change his mind?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Illinois Historic Tax Credit Bill Not Down or Out

Illinois may yet pass a state historic rehabilitation tax credit this year. On March 18, the Illinois Senate passed SB 2559, which is now heading through the House committee process in the final days of this year's legislative session.

Apparently Governor Pat Quinn (D) is favorable to the bill. Supporters wisely have crafted a substitute that lowers the per-county cap from $25 million to $5 million, requires each project pass a "but for" test and subjects projects to a per-project issuance cap. These are provisions that make the bill -- and the dream that downstate communities like East St. Louis and Alton gain a powerful tool for neighborhood development -- alive. There may be one particular county that generated the per-county cap, and the per-project cap as well, but those are excellent ideas to ensure that the credit gets used where it is most needed -- where development actually needs a stimulus.

Built Environment / Blog Ecosystem / Media Landscape: May 5th

I am pleased to be part of this event:

Built Environment / Blog Ecosystem / Media Landscape

A conversation about the opportunities and complexities of blogs and websites pertaining to architecture, urbanism, preservation, and politics in St. Louis

Wednesday, May 5th
7 PM
1310 South 18th Street (Lafayette Square)
St. Louis, MO 63104.


Alex Ihnen (urbanSTL)

Antonio D. French (Pub Def, 21st Ward Alderman)

Jami Schoeneweis (56 House Left)

Michael Allen (Ecology of Absence)

Rick Bonasch (STL Rising)

Toby Weiss (BELT)

(This event is part of the week-long Chautauqua Art Lab 2010. For more information, see http://infleshwebuild.blogspot.com/)

Preservation Month Calendar Posted

I have posted a calendar of Preservation Month events in May 2010, which the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognizes as the national month for historic preservation. Check out the wide range of events, which range from walking tours of mid-century modern buildings to a used book sale benefiting the Chatillon-DeMenil House to a historic St. Louis County farm tour to a liability-waiver tour of the James Clemens House. There are also tours of Harris Armstrong houses, an exhibit on lost riverfront architecture, a rock 'n' roll show later in the month and a Pecha Kucha night (head-scratchers, check the calendar).

I'm sure that I have left a few events out, so please point those out to me via email or in the comments section here.

Also, when earlier today I went to reserve my spot in Landmarks Association of St. Louis' tour of the Beaux Arts Building on Tuesday, May 11, I received a response stating that the tour already was full and that I would be put on a wait list. The tour announcement set no attendance limit, while other Landmarks tours has specific limits. I'd recommend making reservations as soon as possible for these popular tours!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nixon's Tax Credit Explanation

This morning in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch I read the worst-ever explanation of how the Missouri historic rehabilitation tax credit works:

"Right now, if a building is old and somebody in essence wants to develop that, they automatically get certain amounts of these credits,” [Governor Jay] Nixon said. “We want to have an ability to cap that."

Does that sort of knowing oversimplification even play well out-state any more?

This is no the correct way to describe a program that:

1. Requires buildings to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places -- either individually or in historic districts -- before a tax credit application can be approved. The National Register has strict criteria for listing and many buildings do not make the cut;

2. Requires owners to submit up-front through preliminary application itemized expenditures and detailed work descriptions, and then subjects the developers to review by design professionals working for the State Historic Preservation Office;

3. Has rules that reimburse only for "qualified rehabilitation expenses";

4. That last year was capped at $140 million for projects of $1.1 million or more in qualified rehabilitation expenditures (a cap that Nixon supported without stating that he wanted a more drastic cut);

5. Governor Nixon has supported in previous years, including the year he ran for governor.

Nixon also does not mention that last year he signed the economic development bill that increased Missouri's annual obligation in Distressed Areas Land Assemblage tax credits from $10 to $20 million to allow developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. to receive over $19 million in those credits before the end of 2009. Nixon remains silent on the merits of that particular program while attacking a program used mostly for small-scale neighborhood redevelopment.

Nixon's push to make tax credits available for the most politically connected is problematic, because that's a continuation of the worst aspects of Missouri's tax credit policy. There are other ideas for reform that have merit, such as placing caps on existing programs -- including the special-interest programs -- or independent study of the economic impact of all existing programs and the courage to eliminate the bad programs.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

White Roof Coating, Ahead of Summer

After completing major tuckpointing and chimney rebuilding, we decided to apply a white elastomeric coat to our flat roof this month. This roof was a three-ply modified bitumen roof with a black, heat-trapping emulsion overcoat. The roof was old enough to coat but certainly not getting younger under the toll of ultraviolet rays. A mod-bit roof needs about one year to leech out oils before coating, and ours was well past that mark. Time to coat!

Now why would we go through the trouble of applying a white coat? There are two major reasons:

Energy efficiency and global warming. A white coat can reflect up to 80 percent of solar radiation, reducing overall planet temperature but more immediately reducing building, neighborhood and city temperature. One white roof is small local block against the urban "heat island" effect and many of them can have wide impact. The white roof will reduce the internal temperature and the need for air conditioning, which in turn reduces the electricity usage and so forth. (There is some question about possible heat loss effect of a white roof in winter. At St. Louis' latitude the sun's rays are vertical in the summer and at a low slant in the winter, so the available winter solar heat is much less than the summer heat. At other latitudes, a white roof might not be of such benefit as here and points southward.)

Longevity of the roof. An elastomeric coat will block ultraviolet rays that slowly break down asphalt roofing. Coats should be reapplied every 10 years or sooner if needed. With timely reapplication, the coverage can extend the life of the roof to 40-50 years, reducing cost as well as waste of nonrenewable roofing materials.

While the mason had the scaffolding set up, we used his pulley to hoist up the 5 gallon buckets of coating. We used five $72 buckets of Henry Solarflex 287, which completely covered our 1300 square foot roof. When the scaffolding was down, we used a tall ladder for travel to the roof.

Working with a friend, we spent about eight hours washing the roof and applying the coat. Since we had just had masonry work, the roof was dirty and required over two hours of scrubbing. The mod-bit roof dried quickly, however. We applied the coat with a 4" brush on the parapet sides and 9" rough rollers on the roof. We avoided a few new flashing repairs made around the rebuilt chimneys.

Most of the roof was covered with two coats, but some areas required three coats. (a one year old roof won't take this much work). We left a spot near the ladder for exit and came back to finish in a half-hour a day later. Now the roof is too bright to look at, just in time for summer. We're not big air conditioning users -- it's expensive and not very sustainable, although certainly necessary for a few weeks -- so we definitely look forward to the building heat reduction.

Lindell Mid-Century Modern Walking Tour, May 1

Lindell MCM Walking Tour

On Saturday, May 1, the City of St. Louis presents its first Open Streets 2010 event. From 8:00 a.m. through 1:00 p.m., a route through the city including most of Lindell Boulevard will be closed to vehicular traffic.

The St. Louis Building Arts Foundation is pleased to join the city's effort by sponsoring an architectural walking tour showcasing the city's modern architecture.

Lindell Mid-Century Modern Walking Tour

When: 10:00 a.m. (lasts approximately 90 minutes)

Where: Meet at the statue in front of Pius XII Memorial Library, 3650 Lindell Boulevard

What: A narrated tour of Lindell's unusual array of modern architecture led by Michael Allen and Toby Weiss. From the somber International Style to New Brutalism to playful Googie, this tour has it all!


Friday, April 23, 2010

Let's Save What's Left on Chouteau

So much of Chouteau Avenue has been cleared of street-facing historic buildings that the character remaining is hard to find. The mention of Chouteau is more likely to conjure suburban-style industrial buildings with front lawns and parking lots than a measured urban environment. I hold no complaint against the presence of businesses like Villa Lighting and Andy's Seasoning, since they provide jobs in a centrally-located part of the city within easy travel of city residents. However, I do lament that the influx of larger uses has meant destruction of the character of the street. Chouteau used to be very different, even just a few decades ago.

But all is not lost -- yet.

The three-story building housing Preston Art Glass Studio is a reminder of the historic density of Chouteau Avenue. Although the front wall was once relaid, the building retains historic features including a lovely cast iron storefront. The difference between walking past this building and the newer buildings on Chouteau could not be more stark.

Across the street is a row of six historic buildings, two of which are occupied and four of which are now endangered. Right at the corner of Jefferson and Chouteau is a two-story brick building (barely visible here) housing a dental office. There is a Chinese restaurant in the building to the west. There are two gaps in the street face, but this group provides a welcome transition between the residential streets of the Gate District and Lafayette Square, with front gardens and street trees, and the harsh contemporary industrial environment on Chouteau to the west and, to a lesser extent, on the east.

Gas station operator Crown 40 Inc. applied to demolish the four buildings from 2612-2630 Chouteau, and had its application denied last month by the city's Cultural Resources Office. Crown 40's appeal is on Monday's agenda of the St. Louis Preservation Board.

Perhaps the showiest of the buildings is the two-story building at 2612 Chouteau, with a fine cast iron storefront.

No matter how shabby the buildings of the row are, they sure are easier on the eyes -- and on the pedestrian -- than newer outposts of commerce on Chouteau.

The end building once housed a crude industrial use -- it was a print shop for the Lindstrom Wagon Company around the turn of the 20th century. The graceful transition to the street kept the use from oppressing its surroundings. I wish that the same could be said about what is getting built on Chouteau a century later.

The potential for a higher use is strong. There is a lot of consumer power in the vicinity of Jefferson and Chouteau, and the Gate District is woefully under served by neighborhood business -- because planners tore down most of the corner storefronts inside of the Duane Plater Zyberk-planned urban experiment. Well, some old urbanism exists here and could serve both the neighborhood and the hundreds of workers employed on Chouteau and the nearby LaSalle Street floral row. A gas station might be handy -- of course, there already is a new Crown Mart just north at I-40 and Jefferson -- but how about a deli or a neighborhood bar and grille?

The Preservation Board meets at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, April 26 at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street downtown. Send written testimony to Adona Buford at BufordA@stlouiscity.com.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What is Governor Nixon Thinking?

One has to wonder what is the point of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (Democrat)'s tax credit reform proposal and why he is going to such great lengths to push it. The House Republican leadership is stonewalling any changes to tax credits this year, so even if Nixon could get reform passed in the Senate it will never make it to his desk. That fact did not stop Nixon from showboating at a press conference yesterday, where he pitched his tax credit proposal flanked by 75 educators whose presence underscored his point that a dollar toward tax credits is a dollar taken from education.

This is a talking point now being used in debate in the General Assembly by Senator Brad Lager (R-Savannah) and his conservative allies, whose commitment to public education has never been so strongly stated. Strange that Lager, Nixon and company have aimed their strongest attack at the historic tax credit, one of the few tax credits in Missouri that does not require expensive consultants and lawyers to understand and use. The low income housing tax credit is second on the list, although its appropriation system is continually politicized along the lines that Nixon is proposing for all tax credits in the state.

I keep wondering if this Jay Nixon is the same man that I met at a fundraiser hosted by Steven Fitzpatrick Smith back in 2008. That Nixon talked a lot about the importance of education, too, but he also emphasized his commitment to the historic rehabilitation tax credit and urban development. Nixon proclaimed to understand that the historic rehab credit creates jobs. That night nearly two years ago, Nixon told a room of us that he was proud of his days living around Tower Grove Park and being a city resident.

Flash forward and now he's aiming at the state's only citizen's tax credit, knowing he won't hit, because taking aim wins alliances with people who wish that Missouri had no cities larger than Chillicothe. He's doing this at the same time that Lt. Governor Peter Kinder (R) is building up his urban support to unseat Nixon. He's doing this at the same time that House Speaker Ron Richard (R) is calling for independent evaluation of all tax credit programs before making cuts -- a sensible and needed study that could help Missouri get rid of the bad programs. What could Jay Nixon possibly be thinking? Why let Republicans who know very well how to use the opportunity sound urban-minded and reasonable to St. Louis voters?

I'd like Governor Nixon to embrace real tax credit reform, not a gubernatorial power grab that makes tax credits the sole province of the politically connected who can wheedle part of the annual appropriation. All Nixon needs to do is look at the programs and propose getting rid of the ones that aren't creating jobs and spurring revenue returns. He needs to drop his current reform proposal fast. After all, every dollar spent in campaign contributions is a dollar not spent on creating jobs or improving neighborhoods. You don't have to be a teacher to do that math.

Shiloh House With a Cool Brick Chimney

Suburban place-making can be difficult when builders rely on the build-by-the-material approach through which home designs are derived from dimensions of common materials. That's why we see so many woefully under-fenestrated tract houses, with wide rear faces of tiny white vinyl windows amid siding that seem to defeat the point of suburban life. Why face the back of the house onto an expansive view and then put puny little windows on that side?

I digress. I was meandering from a job at Scott Air Force Base to lunch in Belleville when I spotted this new house -- workers seemed to be applying finishing touches -- on Indian Ridge right off of Main Street in Shiloh, Illinois. By and large the houses in Indian Ridge showed modest originality, especially in chimney design. For one thing, the chimneys here are all brick -- not vinyl-covered boxes of questionable fireproofing or graceless exposed sheet metal stacks. No, here the chimneys are solid masonry, and one really makes the most of that fact.

Check it out -- a turned chimney in buff brick, with a more traditional cousin behind. the cap is even brick around a genuine clay pot. Should it be said that the suburbs are architecturally lifeless, remove this little house in Shiloh from the observation.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Free Tour of Paradowski's New Digs

On Saturday, April 24, Landmarks Association of St. Louis offers a free tour of the impressive new home of Paradowski Creative. Paradowski is located in the former Missouri Electric Light and Power Company plant at the southeast corner of 20th and Locust streets. Details are available in the organization's latest newsletter. RSVP requested; 314-421-6474 or landmark@stlouis.missouri.org.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2010 Illinois Ten Most Endangered Places

Today Landmarks Illinois announced its 2010 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places. More information is online here.

The list includes:

1. Bass-Mollett House -- Greenville
2. Chanute Headquarters and Mess Hall - Rantoul
3. Illinois Main Street Program
4. Manske-Niemann Farm - Litchfield
5. Massac Theater - Metropolis
6. North Pullman - Chicago
7. Prentice Women's Hospital - Chicago
8. Red Cliff - Moline
9. St. Laurence Complex - Chicago
10. Uptown Theatre - Chicago

This is an assortment indicative of the state's current preservation problems: there's a mid-century modern building (Prentice Women's Hospital), a farm, two theaters and a large church (always hard to adapt) and a popular state preservation program.

I previously wrote about the plight of the Massac Theater: "Massac Theater Crumbles in Metropolis, Illinois" (November 13, 2007).

Arts Center Proposal for Belleville YMCA Gaining Momentum

Over the weekend, the Belleville News-Democrat carried a story by Laura Girresch entitled "The old YMCA building: Is it worth saving or will it be a money pit?". Title aside, the article reports that St. Clair County Historical Society member Larry Betz' proposal to turn the former Belleville YMCA into the Belleville Arts and Cultural Center is gaining traction.

Belleville officials are hopeful that Betz' plan can come to fruition. A lot of work lies ahead but the city government's attitude now seems firmly supportive of preservation. One of the issues ahead: how to fund mothballing the building as Betz raises money for the center.

Monday, April 19, 2010

14th Street Mall: Almost History

Here's the current view from St. Louis Avenue looking south down the two commercial blocks of 14th Street that once composed the "14th Street Mall." Sidewalks nearly done: check. Street under construction: check. Reopening of 14th Street by the fall: check and double check.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

16th Street: Open for Business

Here is 16th Street looking south across Delmar Boulevard. This may seem a mundane site to serve as a subject for a short article, but it is noteworthy for one reason: the stupid gates that blocked 16th Street are gone. The gates have been gone for a few years now, but for a long time gates blocked the sidewalks and street here, cutting off through traffic of all kinds between Delmar and Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Residents of Carr Square couldn't pass through walking to downtown, downtown residents could not pass through walking north. Cars couldn't pass from Washington up to MLK or vice versa. Parking spots on this block were ridiculous on weekends, when they sat unused while City Museum patrons circles the block looking for spaces. Street grids are systems, and no disruption is casual to users. Like most closures in St. Louis, this closure had no apparent reason, other than to serve some whim of a tenant in one of the warehouses.

No doubt some well-meaning alderman put forth a bill to vacate the right-of way here, and no doubt that alderman was wrong to do so. Streets, sidewalks and alleys are public spaces that should be closed only in rare circumstances -- and business loading, parking and "security" are insufficient reasons to alter the flow of the life-blood of pedestrians and motorists across the city. Another alderman reversed the closure, and the life of the grid has returned.

If there's such a closure in your ward, call your alderman and get it taken out! Gates and blockades can be removed as easily as they are installed.

Olivette Tear-Down

Last week I spotted this tear-down on Dielman Road at Engel Lane just south of Olive Boulevard. Another fine postwar ranch house, built sturdy of brick and concrete, will meet its death. Oh, recession, you were supposed to bring calm to the troubled waters of suburban real estate!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Adams Recommends Closing Six School Buildings

At last night's meeting of the Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools, Superintendent Kelvin Adams recommended closing the following six school buildings:

Gallaudet School for the Hearing Impaired, 1616 S. Grand; built in 1925; Rockwell Milligan, architect.

Alternative South at Lyon School; 7417 Vermont; built in 1909; William B. Ittner, architect.

Ford Branch School; 1383 Clara Avenue; built around 1960.

Fresh Start at Turner Middle School; 2615 Billups Avenue; built in 1939; George Sanger, architect.

Bunche at Madison School, 1118 S. Seventh; built in 1910; William B. Ittner, architect.

Pruitt Middle School (Cleveland Junior Naval Academy), 1212 N. 22nd; built in 1954.

Lyon School And Turner Middle School (formerly Stowe Teachers College) are already listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Gallaudet, Madison and Pruitt are eligible for such designation. Ford Branch might contribute to a historic district listing.

Six schools that Adams once suggested closing, including Mann Elementary School at 4047 Juniata Avenue in Tower Grove South (built in 1901-16 and designed by William B. Ittner; listed in the National Register), will be placed on a new "turnaround model" with new principals and at least 50% new teaching staff.

Four schools are going to be placed on "restart" -- closed as public schools and reopened as chartered schools. One of these is the venerable -- but academically failing -- Sumner High School at 4248 Cottage Avenue in the Ville (built in 1908-9 and designed by William B. Ittner; listed in the National Register).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

More St. Louis Public Schools to Close

On Tuesday, the St. Louis Beacon published an article by Dale Singer covering a presentation by Superintendent Kelvin Adams on the state of the troubled St. Louis Public Schools. Not surprising, perhaps, is the prediction by Adams that more school closings are ahead. Singer writes:

Of the district's buildings -- 74 currently in use, 39 decommissioned -- the average age is 75 years, he said, ranging from six years to 132. Last year more than a dozen schools were closed, down from the 29 closings that a consulting firm had recommended, but more are certain to be on the closing list this time around.

Mann School in Tower Grove South, previously considered for demolition and replacement or closure, likely will again be threatened with closure. Given the district's financial state, however, demolition and construction of new school buildings seems unlikely.

That the average age of a city school building is 75 years means that the average city school student attends class in a historic neighborhood school. While that fact alone does not produce desired educational outcome, it is reassuring. Our students are interacting with their city's heritage and most are attending class in humane buildings with ample natural light, ventilation and classroom space. Imagine if the troubled district was mostly housed in the bleak, low-ceiling, fluorescent-lit educational hot-houses being built today. Performance could be much worse.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

DeMenil Mansion Hosts Fourth Annual Book Sale

Books and Crannies: our fourth annual used book sale
Benefits the Chatillon-DeMenil House Foundation
Located at the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion, 3352 DeMenil Place, Saint Louis, 63118
10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 15 (preview: 8 a. m. – 10 a. m., $5)
Noon – 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 16

DeMenil Place (April 14, 2010) - The Chatillon-DeMenil House Foundation will hold its fourth annual Used Book Sale at the House on May 15 – 16, 2010. This year’s theme will be “Books and Crannies.” Bigger and better than ever, the sale has outgrown our gift shop: for one weekend, patrons will have access to parts of the house usually off-limits to visitors, including our staff-only kitchen (for cookbooks, of course!) and the basement “tunnel.”

Free tours will be offered throughout the sale weekend.

The Used Book Sale is one of the year’s biggest fundraisers, providing capital for ongoing operations and restoration projects. Books are accepted at the House from 10 AM – 3PM, Wednesday through Saturday until May.

The Chatillon-DeMenil House was saved from the path of Interstate 55 construction by concerned citizens. A remarkable community effort resulted in its careful restoration. In 1966 the House opened as a museum interpreting the lives of the French-American families who lived there from the 1840s into the 1920s, and as a rare survivor interpreting the tastes and architectural preferences of the Victorian upper class. For more information on the Chatillon-DeMenil House, please visit www.demenil.org or call (314) 771-5828.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Saving" a Chicago Church

Over at ArchitectureChicago PLUS, Lynn Becker has posted renderings of a bizarre plan to "save" Chicago's St. Boniface Church by retaining the front elevation and the street face of the crossing, demolishing the rest and constructing a massive six-story apartment building for senior citizens. This has to be one of the ugliest designs that I've seen lately.

There is some grace in retaining parts of a neighborhood landmark on site where those whose lives connected with the church can still have a physical connection. that could be better than total demolition or relocation. The Buffalo, New York archdiocese is preparing to relocate an entire historic church to suburban Atlanta -- another form of preservation that robs the church of a meaningful historic site. Many Buffalo residents oppose the move. The plan for St. Boniface in Chicago seems to be an odd compromise, and one that mocks the parts of the church that will remain.

Who do you think?

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's Just One Building...Right?

The 2002 short video ...it's just one building created by Alan Brunettin and produced by Margie Newman is now available on YouTube. ...it's just one building remains a powerful and moving piece, and the downtown focus is relevant in light of renewed interest in the riverfront. (Not to mention the fact that we still have threatened downtown buildings.) The haunting score by Dan Rubright and the images selected by Lynn Josse from the archive of Landmarks Association of St. Louis are as a poignant a combination now as they were eight years ago in the thick of the battle to save the Century Building.

Historic Tax Credits at Work Near the Missouri Capitol

This is how the building at 105-7 East High Street in downtown Jefferson City looked in 2006.

Here's what it looked like on a recent visit. While mid-century slipcovers should not always be removed, here the half-covering was ugly and covered operable windows. Windows allow for light and ventilation and significantly reduce the energy usage of a building -- not to mention the spirits of the people who work or live inside. Underneath, the ornate cast iron lintels are intact. The facade will be restored gracing a block very near our state Capitol.

This project is utilizing Missouri's state historic rehabilitation tax credit, a national model that returns up to 25% of qualified rehabilitation costs back to an owner in transferable credits. This building was in sound condition before, but its street face was not becoming a location right by the seat of state government. Without the tax credit, the owner might have left well enough alone -- and visitors to our capital might have found this block a bit unbecoming.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Operation Brightside Blitz Days

Juniata Street looking east toward Roosevelt High School in Tower Grove East.

Dodier Street west of Leffingwell Avenue in St. Louis Place.

The two blocks pictured here both were part of today's Operation Brightside Blitz Day. My neighbors and I were out working on our block this morning. Since there is no such thing as a self-cleaning city, citizen cleaning is essential to keeping blocks looking lovely. Government provides the basic services, but citizens create quality of life. We have to be active stewards of our houses and our blocks. No one is going to clean our alleys and sidewalks for us, even in the most ideal world. There are Blitz days coming up in other areas of the city and you should do your part. There's nothing more rewarding than working with neighbors to make St. Louis look beautiful!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Minnesota Passes Historic Tax Credit as Stimulus

From Preservation Action

Last week, on April 1, Governor Tim Pawlenty signed into law the Minnesota Jobs Stimulus Bill which, of note to preservationists, includes a State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit designed to stimulate green job growth, increase local tax bases, and revitalize urban and main street communities through reinvestment in historic properties. Approximately 1,500 to 3,000 construction jobs are projected to be added annually because of the measure.

The new state historic preservation tax credit, like the federal rehabilitation tax credit, will make available a state income tax credit equal to 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitating a qualifying income-producing historic property. Projects are eligible to claim the state credit if they qualify for the federal credit, which requires properties to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Minnesota currently has 1,600 listings in the National Register representing almost 7,000 individual properties.

An innovative component of the tax credit allows developers to choose either a certificated, refundable credit or a grant, which will stimulate nonprofit use of the incentive, and also can be used against the insurance premium tax widening the investor pool. There is no cap for the program.

Minnesota joins thirty other states that have similar tax credit programs.

Mullanphy Emigrant Home, Four Years Later

The fact that this city still has the Mullanphy Emigrant Home is testament to the amazing mobilization of dedicated Old North St. Louis residents, preservationists and civic leaders across the city. This week's victory for Proposition A in St. Louis County brought much jubilation to advocates for sustainable urban development, and its close coincidence with the anniversaries of the dates that the venerable north side landmark was struck by storms crossed my mind.

The tale of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home, located at 1609 N. 14th Street at the south end of Old North, is no less remarkable than the overwhelming passage of Proposition A. In the dark days after the storm wrecked the south wall in April 2006, many observers conceded its loss. The Building Division pushed for emergency demolition, the owner was not certain that he wanted to preserve it or even sell it and the neighborhood had so many other pressing needs that taking on a possible lost cause seemed unlikely. Yet residents of Old North rallied around the battered landmark, which defines the south entrance to the neighborhood and has great historic significance. While only used as a transitional home for westward-moving immigrants for ten years after its 1867 construction date, the Emigrant Home was pivotal in that period. Its Italianate masonry design, by celebrated architects George I. Barnett and Alfred Piquenard, is one of the city's finest surviving 19th century examples of the style.

Cultural Resources Office Director Kathleen Shea helped fend off demolition to buy time. Swift mobilization of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group allowed for a building sale. Then the hard part: raising money for stabilization and repair. Of course, things would get worse before getting better when a storm inflicted more damage almost one year later in 2007. Still, the preservation effort proceeded against daunting odds and with the generosity of E.M. Harris Construction Company and the Masonry Contractors Association, not to mention countless individual donors. Now, the building is effectively mothballed awaiting reuse as a hostel planned by the Hostelling International Gateway Council.

Here's a look back at the building's plight.

On March 31, 2007, the Mullanphy Emigrant Home suffered a second collapse due to heavy winds. The south wall already had a gaping hole, but then the east side and north wall were also partly collapsed. Bracing installed after the first damage held the building together although the open southern end created a wind tunnel effect that probably caused the blow-out damage.

The building was already in rough shape following the south end collapse on April 2, 2006.

From 1900 through the 1980s, the Absorene Company occupied the building and used it to manufacture wallpaper adhesives, cleaners and removers. Absorene altered the building considerable, adding the bump-out stairwell in 1927, removing the cupola and main entrance, and changing the original profile of the front gable. The photograph above was taken by Landmarks Association of St. Louis in 1982 as part of the documentation for the Mullanphy Historic District, a National Register of Historic Places district.

Artist Pat Baer's drawing presents the original appearance of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. The outpouring of civic good will and hard work that saved the building -- twice, no less -- will hopefully restore this appearance some day.

A Hub is Born: UrbanSTL

With today's publication of Toby Weiss' excellent essay "Crying Over Spilt Milk: The Suburbs Happened, Get Over It!", urbanSTL now has become the web hub for St. Louis region built environment news and commentary. Okay, this guest article goes along with regular blogging by Alex Ihnen, a blog aggregate feed, a rejuvenated Urban St. Louis Forum, a local urban Wiki, videos and many other features. The weaving, not the strands, make urbanSTL a central source.

Alex is the real spark behind this effort, and his dedication is such that he ceased publishing his own excellent St. Louis Urban Workshop to provide steady content for a new hub site. Last year, Alex sent out a call to bloggers for creating a portal into the ever-expanding sea of online content on development and architecture in the region. This blogger was too time-strapped to join the cause, but Toby and others have helped Alex bring the project to life. Bravo!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Doctors Building Site: Still Empty

In April 2008, Mills Group demolished the mid-century Doctors Building at Euclid and West Pine the Central West End. An under-appreciated modernist gem fell for a supposed "Citywalk" -- a mixed-use building with residential condominiums and street-level retail. Although located in a preservation review district, the building's demolition was approved by the Cultural Resources Office without a Preservation Board hearing. Fans of urban infill like the Park East Tower and Nine North Euclid down the street rejoiced.

Now, two years later, the site is a vacant lot with a pre-Softball Village condition. Crushed pieces of the Doctors Building are still strewn about the site. In September 2009, Mills announced that a part of Department of Housing and Urban Development financing had fallen into place, but there has been no news since then.

In some instances, the call for preservation may rightly be called an impediment to some developer's ready-to-build plan. In the case of the Doctor's Building, it was not so.

Storefront/Commercial Addition: Ted Foster & Sons Funeral Home

People often ask me about the history of the old, boarded-up funeral home at 1221 N. Grand near Page. This is indeed a curious old building, and it wears clearly its layers of construction history. There is the old house, built in 1895 and tucked away behind the later kinda-sorta Colonial Revival front. The front itself shows its seams, so to speak: there is the 1930s-era first floor, with the scrolled broken pediment entrance and prominent keystones. Then there is the second floor, with slightly different tapestry brick and flat-arch window openings with unmistakable post-World War II metal windows. There is a boxy northern wing and the graceful gated archway on the south, from which a funeral procession would once begin. Tying the whole thing together is a projecting gabled portico, replete with columns topped by authentic Ionic capitals with genuine volutes. There are terra cotta urns on each side of the portico up top.

This is a pretty classy hybrid building, and its history is likewise dignified. This is the former home of Ted Foster and Sons Funeral Home, which had passed its 75th year of business here when it abruptly closed in 2008. When the African-American Foster family took over the old house around 1933, this neighborhood had changed a lot. Now known as JeffVanderLou, this was then called Yeatman or Grand Prairie and the residential population had shifted to being largely African-American. As African Americans migrated to the city, the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood was overwhelmed and African-Americans began moving farther north up toward Cass Avenue.

The Foster family were entrepreneurs and ran a strong business until foreclosure in 2008. the circumstances of the closure remain vague, and the building is now empty awaiting its next life. Perhaps renewed interest in developing this part of time will be a rising tide for this curious dry-docked vessel.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Arts Center Proposed for Belleville YMCA

Today the Belleville News-Democrat reported on an effort to turn the old YMCA building in Belleville, Illinois -- originally the Belleville Turner Hall -- into an arts center.

The story included some good news in the saga: members of a city committee charged with selling the city-owned building are impressed with the plan. After a lackluster response to a city-issued Request for Proposals (RFP) last year, Belleville officials have began mentioning demolition as a possible outcome. In February, I joined Belleville preservationists in urging the city to re-issue the RFP, which lacked important information on the building and mostly consisted of a report and asbestos in the building.

Proponents of the arts center have launched a Facebook group for supporters.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Proposition A

This United Railways streetcar line map from 1903 reminds us of what is possible with mass transit. The red lines mark streetcar lines, which augment the street grid with a separate network of traffic. In 1903, that separate network was primary to many people. The streets where the street car lines ran gave rise to commerce and pedestrian traffic. The streets around them saw secondary benefits.

Now, 107 years later, county residents are faced with a choice on whether to approve Proposition A to fund the region's public transit system, now doing business as Metro. That the funding comes through a sales tax increase that triggers an already-approved sales-tax increase in the city has generated concern. A sales tax increase is not desirable, but neither is the funneling of tax revenues to a state infrastructure agency, the Missouri Department of Transportation, that exclusively fund roadway construction. The money raised for state highways ought to stay in the region to begin with, to fund the transportation that best serves an urban area -- just as Chillicothe's transportation dollars are probably best spent on roads. If the money must go to the state, then it should return in the form of funding for mass transit operations in addition to highway funding. There is a board political goal from which our leaders cannot shirk after tomorrow, no matter what outcome.

Back to the 1903 map: density of transit lines created and sustained commercial districts at the turn of the last century. The map here shows midtown St. Louis, which soon afterward would be dubbed the "second downtown." This is entirely due to the placement and density of mass transit street car lines. Today, we don't have such stark benefit but we have a regional core where bus and MetroLink service is sufficient to support the location of major employment.

In 1903, mass transit made Midtown more desirable than other parts of the city of St. Louis. Today, mass transit makes the core more desirable for major employers than exurban locations. County voters are not voting to build up the city, but to sustain their own place in the regional economy -- a place staked by relative density of population and transit lines. Without the sustaining the Metro system, what gives a county municipality like Brentwood a distinct business advantage over St. Peters? Or, for that matter, Chesterfield over Wentzville?

When we lost the street car lines, we found out what would happen when Midtown had to compete with the county in the absence of a strong mass transit system. Midtown faded away. So it could go with St. Louis County. Whether the city or St. Charles County ultimately benefits from the decline of Metro is a gamble of unknown odds. Somehow I doubt that defeat of funding for mass transit will benefit the urbanization of an already too-dispersed region. Yes, if Proposition A fails, the system is not dead -- but it will shrink immediately and the prospect of service restoration will diminish. Passage of Proposition A allows time to build a better funding system without regional havoc or further economic dispersal.

Missouri House Committee to Consider Tax Credit-Busting Bill Tomorrow

What's Happening

Tomorrow (April 6th) the Job Creation and Economic Development Committee of the Missouri House of Representatives will consider HB 2399, the bill that would gut Missouri's successful historic preservation tax credit program. The committee will meet at 1:00 p.m. in Hearing Room 6 of the capitol.

Why It's Bad

The bill, introduced by Representatives Steve Hobbs (D) and Sam Komo (R), would rescind most of the state's current tax credit authorizations and institute a new set of provisions. The bill would implement the policy proposed by Governor Jay Nixon (D) and would turn over much discretionary power to the Department of Economic Development, whose director is always a political appointment.

HB 2399's worst aspects:

  • Eliminates tax credit provisions of all programs except the circuit breaker and homestead preservation credits, and would create six new programs;

  • Place a global credit cap of $314 million on all modified credits with annual fluctuation.

  • Cap "redevelopment" credit issuance at $78.5 million, which is 35% of FY 2009's level. The historic rehabilitation, low income and land assemblage programs would compete for issuance.

  • Potential eliminate standards and review for the historic rehabilitation credit. There is no provision to continue the current review by the State Historic Preservation Office and no mention of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.

  • Give the DED director full discretion on whether to issue credits: "The decision of whether to authorize a tax credit under this section and the amount of any credit to be authorized is committed to the discretion of the director of the department of economic development…" (135.841.1)

  • Give DED full discretion to award 20% of all state tax credits to which ever program they choose. (135.840.7)

    The net result will be a highly politicized tax credit environment where one person -- the DED director -- will have broad discretionary power. The potential for special interest domination of Missouri's tax credits -- now simply a legislative problem -- will be realized. Instead of rewarding incentivized economic activity, tax credits will reward personal political connections. Homeowners and small businesses will have hard time using the historic rehabilitation tax credit competing against large companies -- and large companies the get the credits won't be subject to the current level of oversight!

    What You Can Do

    Please contact members of the committee and let them know you oppose HB 2399.

    Flook, Timothy, Chair-Liberty R, Tim.Flook@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-1218

    Brandom, Ellen, Vice Chair-Sikeston R, Ellen.Brandom@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-5471

    Brown, Michael R. Kansas City D, Michael.Brown@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-7639

    Corcoran, Michael George St. Louis County (St. Ann) D, Michael.Corcoran@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-0855

    Diehl, John St Louis County (Town and Country) R, John.Diehl@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-1544

    Jones, Tishaura St. Louis City D, Tishaura.Jones@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-6800

    Komo, Sam Jefferson County (House Springs) D, Sam.Komo@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-6625

    Kratky, Michele St. Louis City D, Michele.Kratky@house.mo.gov --573-751-4220

    Kraus, Will Lee's Summit R, Will.Kraus@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-1459

    McGhee, Michael Odessa R, Mike.McGhee@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-1462

    Riddle, Jeanie Fulton R, Jeanie.Riddle@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-5226

    Scharnhorst, Dwight St. Louis County (Fenton) R, Dwight.Scharnhorst@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-4392

    Schoeller, Shane Springfield R, Shane.Schoeller@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-2948

    Spreng, Michael St. Louis County (Florissant) R, Michael.Spreng@house.mo.gov --573-751-9628

    Webber, Stephen Columbia D, Stephen.Webber@house.mo.gov -- 573-751-9753

    Zerr, Anne St. Charles R, Anne.Zerr@house.mo.gov --573-751-3717

    To find your Representative go to http://www.house.mo.gov/ and enter your nine digit zip code
  • Sunday, April 4, 2010

    Pot Pies for Preservation

    From Jeanette Mott Oxford:

    Epiphany United Church of Christ at 2911 McNair in Benton Park will host a Chicken and Vegetarian Pot Pie Dinner on Saturday, April 10, from 5-7:30 p.m. Reservations may be made by calling 314-772-0263. We had had quite a bit of building repair and maintenance lately and want to preserve our beautiful church as a resource for the community. Please help us meet our expenses while enjoying wonderful food and conversation with others who are committed to the City.

    Tickets for adults and children over 12 are $8. Children under 12 may have a reduced price ticket at $5, and children under five eat free. We are a Just Peace, Open and Affirming, Whole Earth congregation. For more information, visit www.epiphanyucc.org.

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    Neighborhood Involvement and Two Preservation Board Decisions

    Among other things, the Preservation Board of the city of St. Louis hears appeals from property owners who have their demolition permits denied by the professional preservation planning staff of the Cultural Resources Office (CRO). However, use of that power to do the right thing does not always lead to preservation of historic buildings. In the past, this writer has covered the impact of the city Planning Commission's statutory power to overturn Preservation Board decisions on appeal. That's a route used by owners bent on wrecking their old buildings. Make no mistake: The appellate power of the Planning Commission and the power of the "emergency" demolition permit remain substantial obstacles to smart preservation policy in the city.

    However, in this country, private owners have broad and legally-defensible property rights. Even with the best policy, owners can still take down sound, significant buildings. Hence, there are other paths taken by property owners in the wake of the Preservation Board's upholding denials of CRO appeals. Here are two divergent outcomes.

    2217 Olive Street (Downtown West)

    The old two-story commercial building at 2217 Olive Street in western downtown is best known for its last tenant, the Original Restaurant. Built as a house in 1888 and converted to commercial use in 1929 following the widening of Olive Street, the building was vacated in the mid-1990s. The owners sought a demolition permit that was denied by CRO. In September 2007, the Preservation Board upheld denial on appeal. In January 2008, the Preservation Board rejected a new application for demolition, despite a growing hole in the roof. The building was still sound under the definition established by city preservation law.

    The owners put a small for-sale sign on the building, but gravity took its course. The hole grew until most of the building's wooden roof and floor structures collapsed. The walls started failing. In September 2009, the owners again applied for a demolition permit. This time, CRO approved the demolition permit application due to the severe deterioration of the building.

    The site is now paved as a parking lot, while a vacant lot next door (where a 19th century residential stone retaining wall and steps remain) is being seeded with grass. One notable aspect to the loss of 2217 Olive Street is that there was no objection -- or indication of support -- by downtown organizations, property owners or residents. The only forces working against demolition were the Preservation Board and CRO, joined by preservationists including this writer who testified at the two public meetings. Neighborhood investment in the decision would have strengthened the preservationist case and helped facilitate a sale of the building. Alas, downtown lost another retail storefront -- for now.

    1624 Dolman Street (Lafayette Square)

    In August 2009, the Preservation Board considered the appeal of the CRO denial of a demolition permit application for the house at 1624 Dolman Street in Lafayette Square. The Zumwalt Corporation, erstwhile seller of overhead doors located to the south facing Lafayette Avenue, owns the row of which this house is a part. Zumwalt attempted to rehabilitate the row before, but abandoned the project.

    Early last year, the front wall of the house collapsed. There was no serious structural failure to the building since like most every bearing-wall building this one had its joists running between the side walls. The front, unanchored to the building, bowed out until it lost the compressive strength needed to remain standing. No big deal -- this happens a lot in the city, and our masons know how to close such wounds.

    Yet Zumwalt decided to see if demolition would be possible. The company was met with fierce neighborhood opposition, and a half-dozen residents testified against the demolition at the August 2009 Preservation Board meeting. The Board upheld denial with no votes to the contrary.

    The Zumwalt Corporation, which apparently is a good neighbor, then proceeded to rebuild the front wall. Now the row is intact and sound, and someday will be rehabilitated. Those who think that every Preservation Board denial will be met with a continued press for demolition should take note, but those who would infer that all's well that ends well with a Board denial are misled by this example. What is apparent is that strong neighborhood support for preservation is key to actually saving buildings.