SLU Says It Can’t Reuse the Pevely Buildings; Local Designers Beg to Differ

by Lindsey Derrington

Saint Louis University recently stated that it has “studied the Pevely buildings extensively and determined they [do] not meet the needs of a modern health care facility,” effectively justifying its proposed demolition of the entire National Register-listed complex at Grand and Chouteau avenues for a new doctor’s building. Yet the original 1915 Pevely corner building and 1943 Pevely smokestack — the two structures the Pevely Preservation Coalition seeks to preserve — occupy a mere sliver of the university’s nearly 10 acre site between Grand and Chouteau Avenues and 39th and Rutger Streets. This begs the question: “Why?”

Charrette participants working at Landmarks Association's office.

This past Saturday, November 19, the Preservation Research Office, Landmarks Association of St. Louis and nextSTL took on this question with the Pevely Dairy Design Charrette. The four hour charrette proved an incredibly positive event aimed at finding practical solutions for the university to incorporate these historic buildings into its medical campus. The event far exceeded our expectations, with a pool of sixteen diverse participants consisting of architects, graduate students from SLU’s urban planning program, a mechanical engineer, and even a SLU doctor weighing in.

After a thorough discussion of the site’s dimensions, SLU’s extensive landholdings in the area, and the university’s probable needs, participants subdivided into four groups. Each focused on a different approach, including converting the corner building into doctors’ offices with a larger modern addition, adapting it into market-rate housing and ancillary facilities for the medical school, finding additional on-site locations for new buildings, and generating an overall site plan to connect this corner to the rest of the university.

Discussing ideas at the charrette.

The charrette was characterized by the matter-of-fact study that its designers bring to the workplace and classroom on a regular basis. Idealistic, or even hopeful rhetoric was wholly absent, because it turns out that this design “problem” is no problem at all. Each group presented multiple scenarios of how to preserve these buildings while still accommodating the university’s needs. The take-away was that the task is almost too easy, and that given more time, even more solutions could be found.

Their plans will be presented at the Preservation Board meeting on Monday, November 28. Hopefully board members will see past SLU’s influence and political clout to what is so clearly apparent: these structures can and should be incorporated into the university’s larger medical campus to serve patients, doctors, and students in a manner that enhances the built environment rather than destroys it.

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  • Adam W.

    so did SLU request that the demo be taken off the PRB agenda in order to genuinely consider these alternatives? or perhaps they’re just buying time to court a few board members and devise a strategy to deflect the bad publicity…

  • Bradley Bowers

    Yes, a twentieth century milk processing facility might not
    meet the needs of a 21st century medical office building without considerable
    alterations…  Many years back Saint Louis
    University (several decades… I’m not sure when, it was before I was a student
    there) considered and had the opportunity to move out of the city to a larger
    area in the county.   As a SLU student in the nineteen eighties, I
    assumed this was a good decision, as a resident if South St. Louis in the 21st
    century I’m not so sure.  I enjoy living
    in the city, and I appreciate the architecture and urban planning that bring
    people closer together.  It seems all SLU
    is doing these days is pushing people further away.