We've Moved

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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Why Save This Building?

This two-story reinforced concrete industrial building stands on N. 25th Street just north of Sullivan Avenue in St. Louis Place. It is owned by Northside Regeneration LLC. Beyond some concrete block infill of first floor window openings and a painted southern elevation, the building does not look much different than it did when built some 90 years ago. In the parlance of the National Register for Historic Places, the building substantially retains its integrity.

Of course, the building is more isolated than ever, and across 25th Street is the hulking Sullivan Place building with its gated grounds. No one could claim that the building is essential to preserving a historic built landscape. So why would anyone preserve it?

The first reason would be moral imperative. One version of that is tracing the building's use to a significant company or product. That is unlikely. Another moral imperative, which all good people now claim to endorse, is the mantra of "sustainability": demolition is like driving an Escalade to work every day. Right? A tangential moral imperative is that with each demolition, we lose more of St. Louis itself, thus diminishing the physical city itself. Readers know that I meditate on this idea frequently, and sometimes inconclusively.

The other reason that this building would be saved is economic. Someone may find a new purpose, or resurrect an old purpose, for the building. Reuse of this building might reduce capital needs of start-up. That's the kind of reuse that I would love to see envisioned for a relic like this. More likely, though, redevelopment here will be incentive-driven. In fact, it already is.

The irony is that not long ago this building was still in continuous use, despite loss of context, age and general neighborhood decline. It was just an industrial building in a neighborhood. Now, due to conjoined acts of government and capital, its existence is in question. Many prettier buildings are in the same situation, but advocacy is far easier for them. Who sees the potential here? Well, the potential was already realized. Don't forget that. Jobs were located here. Taxes generated. Not much is required to return the building to taxable production. Perhaps in our political economy those facts justify preservation better than any other.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Interview: Why Residents Want the Fox Park Local Historic District Expanded

On Monday the Preservation Board granted preliminary approval to a proposed expansion of the Fox Park Local Historic District (local historic districts explained here) in south city. The proposal was strongly supported by the Fox Park Neighborhood Association. The Preservation Board considers local historic district petitions twice on an advisory basis before they are introduced in ordinance form at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, where the Housing Urban Development and Zoning Committee again holds a public hearing.

After preliminary approval this week, I interviewed Fox Park Neighborhood Association President Ian Simmons about the ins and outs of the proposal.

The proposed boundaries of the expanded Fox Park Local Historic District. Courtesy of the Fox Park Neighborhood Association.

Why do people in Fox Park want to expand the local historic district?

Ian Simmons: We want a cohesive neighborhood. All of the homes in our neighborhood are basically of the same stock and are all equally part of Fox Park, so there is no good reason why they should not be part of the district. Neighbors, who have lived in Fox Park for longer than I, have seen tremendous growth and prosperity enrich the neighborhood, but at a far greater pace and scale in the northern half that is within the historic district. We believe that distinction is related to the presence of historic standards guiding rehabilitation and restoration, as well as, of course, the availability of historic tax credits. While the expansion of the local historic district will not directly make those tax credits available (that will take a National Historic Register nomination), there is a danger that, in the absence of historic standards in the proposed expansion area, we may lose our historic structures, features, and value.

This landmark corner commercial building at the northwest corner of Magnolia and California is inside of the district expansion.

What outreach has the Fox Park Neighborhood Association done to build support for the expansion?

Simmons: During the early stages of this process, I reached out to just about every neighbor I knew or ran into that lived in the proposed expansion area and asked them if they would support the initiative; everyone was positive and enthusiastic about the idea. Once our Board formed an ad hoc committee to handle the exploration and initial steps, we added some of those supporters to our committee, and also reached out to and obtained the support of the DeSales Housing Corporation (which owns and/or manages over ten percent of the homes in the expansion area). Then we reached out to our elected officials about writing the petition. At the request and direction of Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett, we held three informal community meetings to reach and inform the neighbors that we had not run into, who are not members of the Association, and/or who do not attend Association meetings.

These meetings were prior to the drafting of any petition, and were held on different days and different times, so as to allow neighbors who wanted to attend the opportunity. We mailed postcard notices to all the recorded owners of the properties in the proposed expansion area. I also wrote about the meetings and the proposed expansion in our spring newsletter, a copy of which was posted on the doorstep of every home in our neighborhood weeks before the first meeting. The meetings gave the neighbors a chance to have their questions answered about how the expansion would affect them, and to express any opposition. Besides at the one which was held during our March Association Meeting, attendance at the community meeting was lighter than expected, but supportive -- there was no showing of opposition.

This lovely residential row is on the north side of Russell Boulevard just east of California Avenue within the existing local historic district.

Can you talk a little bit about the boundaries and why the current boundaries are proposed?

Simmons: The route we are taking expands the boundaries of an existing district. This approach was chosen instead of creating a new district next to the existing one. For the same rationale as described above, we felt it would be better to have the same historic standards apply throughout the whole neighborhood. Also, this way, if we want to change our standards, we only have to change one ordinance. So, the boundaries of the expanded district will be Highway 44 (to the North), Nebraska Avenue (to the West), Jefferson Avenue (to the East), and Gravois Ave. (to the South). Those boundaries are proposed because they are also the boundaries of the Fox Park neighborhood. The expanded district basically moves the existing Southern boundary from the alley South of Shenandoah Avenue and Victor Street, to Gravois.

What, if anything, are you changing in the existing standards? Have you found that some of those standards are now out-dated?

Simmons: At this time, no changes are proposed to the existing standards; if signed into law, they would apply as they stand now to the proposed extension area. The only instance of "out-dated" standards, which was identified by one of our Board members, is that the existing standards do not allow the use of "green" roofing materials. It is possible that changes to the standards may be made at a later date, once the district is extended; of course, any changes would come at the request of neighbors, and only after much discussion and input from them.

If you could advise another neighborhood looking to enact a local historic district ordinance, what would you say?

Simmons: Don't be discouraged and don't give up! If the membership is supportive, the neighborhood association has a few people who are willing to step up, do a little footwork, and be patient, and the alderperson(s) in the proposed district are hard-working and in favor, it can be done! Even if rejected the first time, or the steps along the way take what seems like forever, at least the conversation has been started and you have moved this important process forward.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Have You Seen These Interior Pediments?

Photograph by Landmarks Association of St. Louis, 1982.

Have you seen this lovely dentillated pediment? It once was the crown of a door casing inside of the first floor hall of the James Clemens, Jr. House at 1849 Cass Avenue in St. Louis.

The four pediments from the center hall door openings are now missing, as these photographs show.

However, the pediments were in place in the following photographs taken by this author on May 13, 2007.

If you have any information about these stolen pediments, please drop a line. Architects at Klitzing Welsch (314-772-8073) are looking for them. It's urgent, too -- they are preparing plans for rehabilitation and need them back! Even one would be very helpful.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Soulard Stable Hootenanny Boosts Preservation Efforts

Last night's historic preservation benefit, the Anti-Wrecking Ball's Soulard Stable Hootenanny, was a success -- at least judging from the money raised and the good time had by all. There's something about rock 'n' roll, red brick and the early summer heat that makes a warehouse party just plain logical.

The show's proceeds were split evenly between the Friends of the San Luis' remaining legal costs and the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation's capital campaign for its conservatory in Sauget, Illinois.

The event was held at the Foundation's former warehouse in Soulard. Most people had never been inside of the historic former livery stable and its amazing space. The space, it turns out, was the perfect setting for a show.

One of the highlights of the evening was Bill Streeter's unveiling of the trailer for Brick by Chance and Fortune -- I can't wait to see more!

The Union Electric, pictured above, Leadville and Pretty Little Empire rocked the house. These bands gave the gig their all. The brick and wood of the stable made the sound echo loud and clear throughout the building.

Galen Gondolfi and Dabney Frake donated a wide array of mid-century items for the raffle, which also included prizes from STL Style, St. Louis Cinemas and Schlafly. (And, yes, the pink lamp went first with winner's choice!)

Who says preservation isn't fun?

Bill Streeter has more photographs here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

St. Louis Centre Skybridge Coming Down

At about 5:05 p.m., wreckers from Environmental Operations Incorporated made first contact between the wrecking ball and the Washington Avenue skybridge between the old St. Louis Centre mall and the former Stix, Baer and Fuller building. Wreckers used the ball to knock out some glass for a few minutes, but stopped short of inflicting major damage. Heavy wrecking has already begun, with the roof already removed before today's ceremonial demolition.

Long forgotten, it seems, are the proclamations of urban renewal made in 1985 when St. Louis Centre opened. In a 1985 Fortune article on St. Louis' supposed rebound, Edmund Faltermeyer wrote:

Amid great hoopla -- appearances by Bob Hope and child actor Ricky Schroder and thousands of balloons -- the glittering $150-million St. Louis Centre opened in August after 16 years of gestation. It is the largest enclosed downtown shopping mall in the U.S., with 1.4 million square feet.

At least Ricky Schroeder is still around.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Scenes from Downtown, 1988 and 1989

Here are photographs of downtown St. Louis taken in 1988 and 1989 by Philip Schroth (1913-2001). Schroth's son David kindly shared these with me. Philip Schroth captured downtown at a period of both grit and active street life, reminding us that downtown before recent redevelopment efforts was far from dead.

Here is a view looking west down St. Charles Avenue from east of Ninth Street. The loggia of the Orpheum Theater -- then named the American -- is at left. The Roberts Brothers just completed restoration of the loggia. The view forward shows the old Statler Hotel garage in the foreground and on of the Merchandise Mart bridges in the background. Both are now gone, and St. Charles no longer runs between Ninth and Tenth streets because that is where the Renaissance Grand Hotel parking garage, completed in 2003, stands. The legendary Jimmie's restaurant was in a small building wedged between the Statler garage and Ninth Street.

Here is the A. Amitin Bookshop at 711 Washington Avenue. The store would move by the end of 1989 to 1205 Washington Avenue in the Lesser-Goldman Building. In 2003, the store closed and eventually the Lesser-Goldman Building was rehabilitated for condominiums dubbed the "Bogen." Ironically, most of the retail spaces are vacant.

Here are two shots of the 700 block of Washington, which would be demolished one year later to make way for the new entrance to the America's Center. The building at left is the lobby of the old Loew's State Theater. None of the storefronts in sight here are vacant.

These old buildings were underutilized, certainly, with upper floors vacant or used for storage. Still, the first floors offered cheap rents to small retailers whose likes are all but extinct in today's downtown.

View from St. Louis Centre's Washington Avenue Skybridge, 1988

Reader David Schroth sent me this photographs taken by his father, Philip Schroth, on September 1, 1988. The photograph was taken from the Washington Avenue skybridge at St. Louis Centre, and shows a Washington west of Seventh street before the Convention Center expansion and hotel were built.

The skybridge is under demolition now, and will receive the first blow of the wrecking ball on Friday at 5:00 p.m. (or, 5:10 p.m. so that television news can pick it up live).

Sneak Peak at St. Louis Brick Film Saturday

This Just In: Bill Streeter will be screening a two-minute clip from his anticipated upcoming film Brick by Chance and Fortune this Saturday at the "Anti-Wrecking Ball: Soulard Stable Hootenanny."

Streeter's film will examine the history of brick in St. Louis as well as what happens to brick buildings in their lifespans.

More information about the event here.

What: Anti-Wrecking Ball: Soulard Stable Hootenanny
Where: Stahl Stable, 2412 Menard Street
When: 8:00 p.m. this Saturday, May 22
Cost: $10 benefits the Friends of the San Luis and the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fairfax House, Rock Hill Presbyterian Church, Route 66 Bridge Make Statewide Endangered List

This week, Missouri Preservation announced its 2010 Most Endangered Properties list. St. Louis area listings are the Route 66 Bridge over the Meramec River as well as the adjacent Fairfax House and Rock Hill Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill.

Rock Hill Presbyterian Church is in urgent need of a preservation plan. From Missouri Preservation's announcement:

After being moved several times because of increasing commercial and residential development, the Fairfax House has ended up on another former Marshall property. In February 2010, it was discovered that the Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery was seeking to sell the Rock Hill Presbyterian Church, presenting a threat to the historic church building and an additional threat to Fairfax House. This property is now situated at the intersection of two busy St. Louis county roads. It is a target for commercial development as the City of Rock Hill, which does its own zoning and has no current historic preservation ordinance, has zoned this property “commercial.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Some Frame Houses in the Ville

The Ville has lost plenty of buildings in the last fifty years, but remarkably many frame houses remain from early development. Still, the frame houses don't last long when abandoned. The photograph above shows three similar frame houses in the 2500 block of Whittier (across from the old Homer G. Phillips Hospital) back in 2004.

The house at 2420 Whittier dated to 1885 and was built by James Chadwick, an active developer in what was then known as Elleardsville. This house was for sale in 2004. The original clapboard siding was still in place under later asbestos tile siding. Now it is a burned out pile of building debris. The fire revealed that the original wooden shingles were still present under layers of newer roofing!

The only house remaining from the group of three that I photographed in 2004 is the house in the middle at 2518 Whittier. The date of construction is unknown, but it was probably built around 1885 too. In 1906, it was moved to this site. Today it is well-kept (although the original siding is either missing or covered) and occupied. The house at 2518 Whittier is included in an architectural survey of the Ville neighborhood conducted by Lynn Josse and myself under the supervision of the city's Cultural Resources Office.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A (Legitimate) Look Inside of the Clemens House

On Sunday, Landmarks Association of St. Louis wrapped up its annual Preservation Week with a tour of the James Clemens, Jr. House at 1849 Cass Avenue in St. Louis Place. That's right -- Landmarks offered a tour of a vacant building! While there have been many "before" tours of historic St. Louis buildings, none has offered a look at such an early phase of a rehabilitation project.

Landmarks Association Executive Director Jeff Mansell welcomes the crowd along with Dan Holak of Robert Wood Realty and David Lorentz of Klitzing Welsh.

Developers Robert Wood Realty and McEagle along with architects Klitzing Welsh Associates bravely threw open the door (okay, unscrewed the plywood) to the James Clemens House to the public for Landmarks. There was a small charge, a limited number of tour spots and a mandatory liability waiver, but all of those were necessary to make the tour work. Hopefully it can be offered again!

The developers started the tour by explaining the redevelopment plan, which calls for senior apartments in the mansion, dormitory and first floor of the chapel with an educational use in the chapel space. Nothing has been firmed up about the chapel use yet, but the original volume of the space will be restored for the first time in generations. The use of the chapel will allow for public access to the grounds, which will be opened up by removing the brick wall (built in 1887 and somewhat removed now) and building an iron fence similar to the original long lost fence on Cass Avenue. The Clemens House complex will again be easy to locate, and will open up a relationship with its neighborhood once more.

The apartment use precludes public access to the mansion and its lavish interior, and will entail some tricky accommodations like kitchenettes and bathrooms in the first floor parlors. (The dormitory is a perfect fit.) However, the project will follow the Secretary of the Interior's standards for historic rehabilitation, and all original fabric will be retained. The extensive cast iron work will be refurbished and missing parts replicated (albeit probably in a fiberglass-based casts). I have yet to thoroughly study the details of the rehabilitation, and will continue to observe.

The tour offered a very limited view inside. Visitors entered at the rear of the dormitory and proceeded about fifteen feet from the front door. Structural problems in the partly-collapsed chapel and the house itself precluded further adventure. Still, what was open was lit up brightly than ever. This photographer was able to re-do some old clandestine photography!

Paul J. McKee, Jr. was prominent in the group, and was freely talking with guests. There is a long road ahead for the developer's Northside Regeneration project, and many unanswered questions. (This post is not about them.) Yet the one certain fact is that McKee is starting the project with rescuing the James Clemens House, and that has become the early symbol of the project. It's easy to point out how much this move benefits McKee -- but easy to guess that it's not necessarily the first move he wanted to make.

The truth is that those who benefit the most from the rehabilitation of the Clemens House, however, are residents of surrounding St. Louis Place who have long suffered from the abandonment in the heart of a largely stable area. Oh -- and everyone who wants St. Louis to have an indelible, storied historic character benefits from saving this city's most architecturally significant pre-Civil War mansion. There are eternal essences that make this city what it is, and their defense should be more fiercely and continually waged than momentary battles. After all, brick walls last longer than fleeting political maneuvers.

As an aside, Landmarks Association of St. Louis is at its best when it offers the community the chance to directly interact with historic architecture in unexpected ways. While its board has spent considerable time, effort and money on the Architecture St. Louis space downtown, the organization's most unique strength remains the ability to forge connections out in the places where we live. Kudos to current Executive Director Jeff Mansell for doing just that with this tour!

Saturday: Preservation Month Party

As this year's Historic Preservation Month winds down, it's time to celebrate!
What: Anti-Wrecking Ball: Soulard Stable Hootenanny
Where: Stahl Stable, 2412 Menard Street
When: 8:00 p.m. this Saturday, May 22

Cost: $10 benefits the Friends of the San Luis and the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation

What's this all about? Well, for those new to the story, the Friends of the San Luis went to court to try to stop the demolition of the mid-century San Luis Apartments on Lindell Boulevard. The effort was slapped down by a circuit court judge who ruled not only to allow demolition to proceed but that no citizen has a right to appeal a St. Louis Preservation Board decision without a direct financial interest in a property.

The Friends could have stopped right there, since they lost their beloved space-age building. Instead, they filed an appeal to challenge the basis of the judge's ruling for the benefit of all future preservation efforts. On May 5, the Missouri Court of Appeals heard the case. During arguments that day, we received more favorable consideration than expected, so we are confident that the ruling will benefit future preservation efforts.

This effort was not free, and attorneys Jonathan Beck and Ian Simmons have shown themselves well worth our expenses. With the matter past us, it's time to toast preservation efforts past, present and future and make a little money to pay off those legal bills. (If you cannot attend but want to help that cause, send me a note at michael@preservationresearch.com).

The St. Louis Building Arts Foundation is on the bill as well, for providing an amazing historic space for the event and for efforts to preserve our architectural heritage more enduring than the soon-to-sunset Friends of the San Luis. There is a link between the long-term visionary efforts of the Foundation and the take-action single-mission Friends of the San Luis. We need both levels of action to make historic preservation matter in St. Louis. (This is not to slight all of the other worthy organizations that compose the effort here -- these two are far from the only organizations in town doing this hard work well.)

On Saturday, let's celebrate a strong preservation effort and look toward the future!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Free Screening of "Beyond the Motor City" on Monday

"The old system hasn't died, and the new system hasn't been born yet," says one of the subjects in Beyond the Motor City. He's talking about urban transportation.

Beyond the Motor City is a critical look at the intersection between mass transit and the renewal of post-industrial Detroit. Director Aaron Wolf is best known for his documentary King Corn, which examined the terrible impact of federal agricultural policy on the American diet and on the small farm.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Citizens for Modern Transit, St. Louis is fortunate to be one of eight cities where Beyond the Motor City is being screened free -- Monday, May 17th at 7:00 p.m. at the Tivoli. Appropriately, this event falls in Historic Preservation Month. The role of public transportation in cities is often left out of the historic preservation discussion.

From the film's website:

Beyond the Motor City examines how Detroit, a grim symbol of America’s diminishing status in the world, may come to represent the future of transportation and progress in this country. The film explores Detroit’s historic investments in infrastructure—from early 19th-century canals to the urban freeways that gave The Motor City its name and made America’s transportation system the envy of the world. But it also reveals that over the last 30 years, much of the world has left Detroit—and America—behind, choosing faster, cleaner, more modern transportation.

In a journey that takes us into the neighborhoods of Detroit and then beyond to Spain, California, and our nation’s capital, Beyond the Motor City urges us to ask how a symbol of America’s urban decay might transform itself into a model of urban revitalization. Can we finally push America’s transit system into the 21st century?

Immediately following the film, there will be a panel discussion moderated by KETC’s Patrick Murphy with Congressman Russ Carnahan, director Woolf, and Citizen for Modern Transit’s Tom Shrout.

Tax Credit Battle Almost Over -- For Now

The Missouri General Assembly's session ends on Friday. So far, no proposals to change tax credit programs have been taken up this week in the Senate or House. There may be a last-minute push in the Senate to pass a bill that would include the following changes:

Capping historic tax credits at $75 million per year but retaining the exemption for projects with under $1.1 million in qualified rehabilitation expenditures (the "small deal" exemption);

Create legislative appropriation of funding in future years.

Observers do not expect this measure to make it out of the Senate. If it does, the House Republican leadership has pledged to kill it.

There is no doubt, however, that the reprieve is momentary. Next session Governor Jay Nixon and his allies will get an earlier start on pushing reform, in the sense that they started next session's fight in this session.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bert's Chuck Wagon in Collinsville to Fall for Highway Widening

The Madison County Journal reports that Collinsville mid-century landmark Bert's Chuck Wagon Bar-B-Q (see "Heavenly Bar-B-Q" will be demolished soon for widening of Illinois Highway 159. Bert's Chuck Wagon will relocate to a nearby location on Main Street and move the fine conestoga sign to the new location. The A-frame building with the vivid religious scenes painted in its gable end windows, however, will be history.

The widening of Illinois 159 costs the state $56 million, and the sites of several tax-paying small businesses -- not to mention at least one landmark mid-century building. Such an expensive project in recession may very well take away more economic activity over the long run than it generates.

See also "Mid-Century Modernism in Collinsville" (August 8, 2008).

Bye-Bye, Corner Commercial

Today I saw that the two-story brick corner commercial building at Page and Walton avenues in Fountain Park was mostly gone, and I snapped this sad scene. The heartbeat of the city always grows a little more faint whenever a corner store gets wrecked. Gone is a point of exchange -- a point for drawing people together, for employment, for tax revenue generation and for provision of goods near people's houses.

St. Louis remains far outside of the relevance of the recently-publicized writings by economist Edward Glaeser. In the New York Times yesterday, Glaeser argued against hard-line preservation: "[i]f a successful city doesn't build, its prices will skyrocket and it can turn into an exclusive, elite enclave."

Perhaps true, but too often in St. Louis we never get to that conundrum. We take down a building and leave its site empty for generations. Not only are we not building, but we are not preserving. Often, physical condition of buildings demands demolition, and I can assent to protecting public safety. Yet the building at Page and Walton was in fine shape. Located in the 18th ward outside of preservation review, however, there was not even a moment's deliberation once the owner applied to take it down. And I don't know the circumstances -- perhaps there is a good reason for demolition.

Yet as I passed the largely intact residential block to the east -- the 4700 block of Page Boulevard -- I thought about how many people would be able to walk to that corner storefront easily. I also thought about how there are no storefronts on the other end of that block. This has been the case for some time, of course, since the corner building was vacant for over 20 years. Yet the past could have been rendered future with rehabilitation. A blocked network of social relations, between residents of Page and that corner store, is now effectively dead.

Preservation here would not have raised prices, but maintained the potential for recreating a beneficial pedestrian experience. The lost building reinforces the high prices in other neighborhood, like the nearby Central West End, that retain their density, walkability and their commercial activity. Also reinforced are prices in other cities where preservation has indeed led to excessively high real estate prices -- but you can read about those in the New York Times.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Harvey Noble Buys Again

The house at 1352-4 Bayard Avenue on May 11, 2010.

Harvey Noble, Vice President of Eagle Realty Company and agent for many of the holding companies used by Paul J. McKee Jr. for his Northside Regeneration project, is back in action. On May 4th, Noble used his shell company Feasible Projects LLC to acquire the house pictured above, located at 1352-4 Bayard Avenue in Fountain Park (18th Ward). After McKee went public with his project, Noble emerged again as the agent for a holding company called Urban Assets LLC as well as six new companies incorporated in February 2009. Those companies are Diligent Property LLC, Feasible Projects LLC, Incentive Properties LLC, Marketable Property LLC, Premises Property LLC and Prudent Investor LLC.

As of last July, Urban Assets owned 230 properties, Diligent Property owned three properties and Prudent Investor owned one. No purchased had been made since then until last week. The properties owned by these companies are located in a wide swath of north city that includes wards 1, 3, 4, 5, 18, 19, 21, 22 and 26. McKee as well as Michael Roberts have denied to reporters having any involvement with the operation fronted by Noble.

The most recent deed reveals little information except that one of the dormant shell company names is now being used. Here's a look at the top of the first page:

And here is Noble's signature on the last page:

The signature line states that Noble personally is the sole member of Feasible Projects LLC. That could be true. Although Eagle Realty is best known as a broker/agent and appraiser used by city development agencies, its officers -- Noble and President Steve Goldman -- have owned property in north St. Louis since the 1950s under various company names. On deeds for McKee's holding companies, Noble signed as "Manager" rather than "Member" of the shell companies.

Monday, May 10, 2010

People's Joy Parade

I missed much of the People's Joy Parade on Saturday by driving in the Cinco de Volvo contingent. Yet finding myself on a Monday morning wanting the parade to be never-ending, I am going to share a few photographs that I managed to take during the amazing event.

One of the best things about the People's Joy Parade was the route. We started on Cherokee, but with two blocks closed for the Cinco de Mayo program, we had to head north on Nebraska to Utah and then came back down Iowa. That means we went straight in front of the houses of many people who simply came out to the front porch with neighbors and friends to watch the madness. If only thsi could happen every weekend, all over the city!

There are more photographs here and I am sure more will be posted. But if all you have are photographs to show you what happened, you need to find a stoop or a curb next year and see the People's Joy Parade for yourself.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Last Chance for 3244 Iowa Street

This week I received an e-mail about 3244 Iowa Avenue (pictured above) from JoAnn Vatcha, Housing Analyst for the Community Development Administration. The email stated that the city was issuing a "last chance" call to respond to a Request for Proposals issued last year for the beleaguered property.

The diminutive 19th century alley house -- 600 square feet -- in Benton Park West is owned by the city's Land Reutilization Authority and has been considered a vacant building by the Building Division since 2003. The citizen complaints on the house keep coming, and the front wall has suffered spalling. Still, the house is in sound shape and is just a block off of Cherokee Street. This block is intact with historic buildings lining both sides of the street, and its loss would create a hole. The small size is perfect for a single person or couple wanting to be close to the buzz of Cherokee.

Hopefully a developer will answer the call. Meanwhile, some cities have historic preservation organizations that buy, rehab and sell houses that are facing the "last chance." Should St. Louis follow suit?

(The city has posted all residential building RFPs here.)

A New Flounder House in Old North

After nearly 120 years since the last documented flounder house was built in the city of St. Louis -- and so many have gone undocumented, so who knows when the last was built -- the flounder house is back! A new flounder house is under construction in Old North St. Louis on Hebert Street just west of 19th Street. Habitat for Humanity is building the house, continuing its commitment to both green construction and smart modern design. The rendering above shows what the house will look like when completed.

The house prominently displays the characteristic that makes a flounder house a unique building type: a roof that slopes from one side of the building to the other with no offset. Many flounders display this plain, simple slope, a roof form that has been traced back to southern European architecture of the Renaissance. Other flounders have a front hip with part of the roof sloping down toward the front. In the United States, the flounder form has been found mostly in the south. New Orleans, Savannah and Alexandria all have documented flounders. Philadelphia has flounders. St. Louis has as many as 160, but probably had many more at the end of the 19th century. All surviving local examples are brick, but there are frame flounders remaining in New Orleans. For a long time, architectural historians studied the flounder as a phenomenon but recent study has found traceable historic roots and has turned up more examples in a diverse range of cities. Still unknown is why flounders are found some places but not others, and why St. Louis has so many.

Here is what the flounder looked like under construction last week. The juxtaposition with the stately Second Empire home to the west is provocative. Cities need such diversity of forms.

Here's the view of the back. The finish will be a concrete board, so this house will be one of the only frame flounder houses in the city when completed.

There are other flounder houses remaining in Old North. This selection leaves a few out, so go take a look around for yourself to see more.

The one-and-a half-story flounder at 1422 Hebert Street is owned by Paul J. McKee's Northside Regeneration LLC, as is the small side-gabled home next door and a larger brick house at the alley behind 1422. The future of all three sadly remains uncertain.

At 1115 Tyler is a flounder house with a front hip. The roof overhangs an intact two-story gallery porch on the east elevation. The house sits back from the street.

This tall flounder sits on the alley at 1455 Clinton Street. The brown-painted area at top is mortar parging (or covering) over the brick.

The owner of the flounder house at 1905 Dodier applied for a demolition permit last year, but agreed to defer an appeal to the Preservation Board to work on a preservation solution.

This flounder house at 1453 Monroe Street is not long for this world. The south elevation is largely missing and the north elevation has several large holes. The joists have started descending.