Without Review, Avalon Theater Demolition Underway

by Michael R. Allen

One day after my call for an imaginative path away from demolition of the Avalon Theater, wreckers started destroying the south city landmark. This morning, after considering it since December 22, the Building Division approved the demolition permit. Down came theater walls and steel trusses, headed up to North Broadway scrap yards.

If the Avalon had been protected under the city’s preservation ordinance, the demolition permit would have required the additional approval of the city’s Cultural Resources Office. Failure to get that approval would have caused a denial of the application.

Unfortunately, the 14th Ward is not in preservation review, and the Avalon had no local or national landmark status that would have led to review under the preservation ordinance. Yet the Avalon was eligible for National Register of Historic Places listing, on its own or as a contributing resource to larger districts.

Had the Avalon demolition been proposed prior to 1999, there would have been preservation review. The city’s preservation ordinance once applied equal review to all buildings across the city. That system was predictable to residents, property owners, city officials and preservation advocates. Under the previous preservation ordinance, many buildings were approved for demolition. Others were spared.

Today, disparate outcomes remain the case under the city’s ordinance, but in a different way. If a building is located in one of the city’s 20 wards whose aldermen opt for demolition review, that building stands a good chance of being spared when demolition is proposed. If a building is not, well, it is likely to disappear without so much as a photo on Flickr.

Yet the Avalon Theater had such visibility and affection in this city that its loss id not going down quietly. Across social media today, news of the start of demolition spread. News of proposed demolition had just started spreading. This could have led to public input in the process prescribed by the city’s preservation ordinance, and it may have led to a denied application.

After all, the ordinance exists to protect those buildings of significance to the entire city — and one of the last remaining neighborhood movie houses is exactly the sort of building the ordinance is designed to protect. The debate we should have had would have centered on the standards of the ordinance — not on Greg Tsevis and his family’s ownership or an elected official who has no authority over the demolition permit. That is the sort of debate we will have next week when the Preservation Board considers demolition of the old Southern Funeral Home on South Grand. Alas, the Avalon was at least as worthy.

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  • Anonymous

    This absolutely breaks my heart.

  • Anonymous

    This absolutely breaks my heart.

  • samizdat

    Hmmm…Well, stoopid is as stoopid does.

    I wonder if there has been any asbestos abatement? I guarantee that there is asbestos fiber somewhere in that building.

  • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin B

    Uncalled for. There are so many potential uses for the Avalon Theatre and so much potential in that stretch of Kingshighway connecting Gravois to Tower Grove and the Hill (at least on the west side — the east side has become a suburban shopping outlet). 

    I know the Preservation Review Board must tread lightly around the topic of city-wide review, but I hope it is continually stressing its importance to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. With twenty wards currently participating in review, it seems there could be enough support/merit to push through an ordinance.

    Maybe — I’ve given up trying to figure out how decisions are made in our aldermanic system.

  • http://twitter.com/dj_denim Heath Harris
  • http://www.preservationresearch.com Michael R. Allen

    I have not seen any special measures being taken on the site.

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

    Ask your alderperson what s/he thinks about citywide preservation review. At this point, there are fewer alderpeople around who voted for the 1999 ordinance.

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

    Lovely, in a sad way.

  • Egolterman

    hi: I got on this in Sept. Contacted the Alderperson, the Realtor, took Gary Martinez through and Dan Stevens. Sent them examples of restorations and adapting single screens to multiple use. Asked RAC, Civic Progress, City, all to help. Should have been put on the Register 20 years ago, and the City should have taken it as it did Bevo Mill. Don’t lay it all on the owner. Others came to the ‘dance’. You were 5 months too late. . 

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

    You don’t know the efforts that two potential buyers out into the Avalon this summer and fall. I was working with both of them, and one could have made it happen.

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