SLPS Plans to Demolish Historic Hodgen School

by Michael R. Allen

Hodgen School in 2009.

In August, voters approved Proposition S to raise $150 million for capital improvements in the St. Louis Public Schools system. Not once did the district tell voters that they were voting to demolish historic schools — but some of the money will demolish at least one, historic Hodgen School on California Avenue in the Gate District. Completed in 1884, Hodgen School is one of the oldest surviving schools in the district. Hodgen was designed by German-American architect Otto J. Wilhelmi. The school building was closed a few years ago when a replacement building was built to the north.

According to an article in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hodgen will be demolished to create a parking lot and playground for the current Hodgen School building at 1616 California. The school already has a playground in space between the old and new buildings.

In September, I wrote about a row house demolition just one block southwest of Hodgen School (see “Row House on Lafayette Avenue Slated for Demolition”, September 10, 2010). Little did I suspect that an even bigger loss of context was in the works. That’s because I assumed that Proposition S was going to pay for what its proponents told me it was paying for: improvements that made the quality of education better, not easier parking for teachers and parents.

SLPS had Hodgen listed for sale through Hilliker Corporation, and a sales brochure is still available on the Hilliker site. The brochure touts “extensive renovation in the 1990s” — renovations paid for by our tax dollars in a previous SLPS capital improvements campaign. That sort of wasteful duplication of expenditures is exactly what the current district management has tried strenuously to avoid, so the plan to demolish Hodgen is baffling.

ADDITION: I should point out that the city’s preservation ordinance specifically exempts property of the St. Louis Public Schools, so neither the Cultural Resources Office nor the Preservation Board will have jurisdiction over the the demolition permit. Authority rests with SLPS and its Special Administrative Board. I’ve posted contact information in the comments section.

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  • LawnBoy

    The Immersion Schools (http://www.sllis.org/) are looking for a permanent building. Has that been considered?

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  • Chris

    Baffling is a very diplomatic word to use to describe this. Disgusting is more accurate–wasting our tax dollars AND wasting our cultural heritage. Isn’t there already enough vacant land for a parking lot in the Gate District?

  • Justin Root

    What recourse do citizens have now? How can we stop this?

  • Michael R. Allen

    LawnBoy: I don’t know if the Immersion Schools group has looked at Hodgen.

    Chris: Yes. The Hodgen site itself is only half occupied by the the building.

    Justin: Start sending letters and making calls:

    Superintendent Kelvin Adams
    St. Louis Public Schools
    801 N. 11th Street
    St. Louis, MO 63101
    314-231-3720
    supt@slps.org

    Rick Sullivan
    Richard Gaines
    Melanie Adams
    Special Administrative Board
    St. Louis Public Schools
    801 N. 11th Street
    St. Louis, MO 63101
    314-345-2230

  • http://www.stl-style.com Randy V.

    This is criminal.

  • Dustin

    I agree with Randy. Is there a petition somewhere I could sign?

  • Rene Saller

    This news makes me absolutely ill. My grandmother, who lived on Henrietta at the time, used to work part-time as a lunch lady at this school; my uncle went there at the time.

    As a tax payer, I’m incensed by the wastefulness and blatant dishonesty. Demolishing it for yet another surface parking lot? That’s not how I want my tax dollars to be used. I’m furious that I was misled into voting for this proposition. A representative from the campaign who works for the SLPS came to talk to our neighborhood group about this, and she said that the funds would be used exclusively for renovation. Obviously, that was a lie.

  • Rene Saller

    I just fired off an email to Adams. I intend to write to the members of the SAB as well. Thank you for providing the contact information.

  • samizdat

    This is beyond idiotic. Infamous, treacherous; at the very least this is a shortsighted and insultingly nonsensical waste. This has not been a good news day for me, and now this. A fecking PARKING LOT?! (sorry). There has to be at least an acre of land on the other half of the property. I have to go, this is ridiculous.

  • GMichaud

    This city goes backwards again. I am a little surprised a developer has not stepped up to buy it given its proximity to Lafayette Square. No doubt the real estate market has taken such a hard hit that everything has slowed to a snails pace.
    The lack of future vision by city leaders is evident though. The destiny of the city is to return to a more compact form. What ever happened to that sustainability planning grant the city received? This building should be part of that plan, that is if the plan is to have any meaning at all.

  • R. Pointer

    What is amazing is if you go onto the streetview, this building is perfect for mixed use rehab.

    I feel like Rorschach in the end of The Watchman at this point. Just get on with it. Pave, pave, pave me under already.

  • Justin Root

    Just sent Dr. Adams an email.

  • http://www.stlrising.blogspot.com Rick

    Michael,

    I was surprised to read in your post that the SLPS is exempt from CRO and Preservation Board reviews on their property. Why? There are many historic schools in the City of St. Louis. Why should they be treated differently than any other buildiings? What is the thinking behind this?

    I put the SLPS in the same category as the SLMPD: both units of local government with minimal local control. Both funded by city taxpayers, but both exempt from many of the rules that apply to everyone else.

    It would be great for someone to explain why they are treated differently. This is the kind of thing that pisses me off.

  • Douglas Duckworth

    We have too many historic buildings. The free market has no use for them. Why should we preserve this building when a parking lot would help the childrens learn about good urban planning and design? It’s not like Rick Sullivan is going to reuse them as condos or anything a few years when the market recovers. What an absurd idea!

  • Adam

    ^ i hope everyone has called or written to voice their anger over this. i don’t live in saint louis at the moment but i’m going to write this evening anyway and hopefully get my friends and family there to write as well. it’s just unfathomable to me that a building this beautiful, and in such great shape, would be destroyed for a parking lot, especially when there are other options! do the superintendent and SAB just look at this and say “what’s the big deal it’s just a building”? i can’t comprehend that attitude – to not care whether you’re surrounded by slabs of concrete and tumbleweeds or beautiful and irreplaceable buildings…

  • John W.

    Who is this crazy Douglas Duckworth person? Is he crazy? Does he live in Toronto or something?

  • http://www.preservationresearch.com Michael Allen

    Rick,

    The city’s preservation ordinance states: “The provisions of this ordinance shall not apply to any Improvement or property owned or controlled by the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Public Library, the Board of Education, the state or the United States government, or formerly owned or controlled by the former Art Museum Board of Control.”

    This provision was part of the version of the ordinance that the current ordinance superseded in 1999. The reason for this provision is that administrative law typically does not give municipal bodies jurisdiction over other taxing authorities. Of course, local taxing authorities are not completely exempt here — the Zoo has had to have projects reviewed by the Cultural Resources Office in recent years, as has Great Rivers Greenway, Tower Grove Park and the Metropolitan Sewer District. While the ordinance would probably not survive judicial review if it included property owned by state or federal agencies, it can apparently include the property of local taxing authorities and boards of trustees. Whether the Board of Education would consent to voluntary review or removal of its exemption is uncertain, but either move would definitely benefit the city.

    Read the ordinance here:
    http://www.slpl.lib.mo.us/cco/ords/data/ord4689.htm

  • Rick

    Thanks Michael for providing that information. The whole thing still seems strange to me. I am fairly certain that city ordinances come into play if the BOE wanted to build a new building. Yet they get this exemption on existing buildings. Maybe it’s best to leave the ordinance alone and try to appeal the BOE’s duty as a neighbor. I wonder if the people in Eads Park or the Gate District have a concern about the proposed demolition?