by Michael R. Allen
Hopefully some readers are aware of the worthy efforts of the Rebuild Foundation to transform historic buildings in Hyde Park into creative spaces where art and community converge. So far, the Foundation has purchased three buildings around Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, and work is well underway on two of the buildings.
The Rebuild Foundation’s adaptive reuse philosophy is rooted in great respect for the historic materials and craftsmanship found in Hyde Park’s architecture. Yet the Foundation, under the direction of artist Theaster Gates and project manager Charlie Vinz, has embraced the potential to transform tradition. That is, their rehabilitation work in interpretive instead of restorative. Since they are working on damaged, vacant buildings, the approach seems correct. These are not buildings in pristine repair with all of their features intact.
Instead, these buildings offer a narrative of decline through their distressed conditions. Rebuild Foundation uses what is left of the original fabric to forge a new architectural story of rebirth — one told through leaving some things in place, reworking others and bringing new materials and designs into the mix. The buildings gain a temporal relationship to the larger arc of the neighborhood, and their details do not mask that.
Preservation Research Office has been a supporter of the Foundation’s work, and we have twice provided curated film screenings for Foundation staff and volunteers. Our most recent night took place at the end of a work day on Saturday. To tired and productive workers we offered a selection of 16mm educational films — including the dazzling Bakery Beat — once part of the St. Louis Public Schools’ library. This is the same collection once used for the cine16 series, but now it is under our stewardship.
We hope to expand programming from the collection in the future, but in the mean time we enjoy opportunities to connect it to new audiences. The cultural heritage of the city can create unexpected moments as it is redeployed and reinterpreted today. Old buildings, old films, old craftsmanship — all continuous threads that make our city a remarkable and living place.