by Michael R. Allen
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.