by Michael R. Allen
Out of sight, out of mind? Not brick theft. Brick thieves continue to strike abandoned buildings in north city, although the territory of operation has shifted westward. Two years ago, brick theft was prevalent in JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place. With many targets hit, and fewer vacant buildings left, those neighborhoods have seen a drop in activity. Today brick thieves are more likely to be working in The Ville, Greater Ville, Fountain Park, Fairgrounds and Lewis Place neighborhoods.
The thieves are even taking down buildings located on major thoroughfares in north St. Louis. Today I noticed two buildings damaged by obvious illegal demolition activity whose locations are very prominent. The first of these was at 4477 Page Boulevard, just east of Taylor Avenue in Lewis Place. This vacant building may have been marred by fake stone veneer and heavy paint, but its solid structure was intact until very recently. The house stands not far from the campus of Ranken Technical College, and on a block where most buildings are occupied.
The ownership of 4477 Page may shed some light on the westward shift in brick theft. The building is owned by DLR Strategies LLC, part of a group of eight shell holding companies registered by Harvey Noble of Eagle Realty Company. Noble previously had fronted the land assembly for Paul J. McKee, Jr.’s Northside Regeneration LLC, using similar shell company tactics. Under oath, McKee stated that he had nothing to do with the most active of these companies, Urban Assets LLC. Whoever is behind the companies was busy at the fall Sheriff’s auctions and is amassing a large number of vacant historic buildings across an area of north St. Louis even larger than Northside Regeneration.
A few blocks north, another tragic and criminal act of destruction can be seen at 4469 St. Louis Avenue in the Greater Ville. This fine two-flat, with its pressed-brick face enlivened by a cornice of ornamental brick patterns, will soon fall back into the clay soil of the city. This property is owned by L & D Properties Management Corporation of Tampa, Florida — a company presumably without a local security agent. The city’s new vacant property registry ordinance supposedly requires owners to maintain a Missouri address, but public records show that L & D does not have one. Yet such an address, should it exist, and a vacant property registry, even if consistently enforced, do nothing to actually preserve vacant buildings.
Brick thieves apparently have carte blanche to harvest building stock on the north side’s busiest streets. Anyone who thinks that the brick thieves are doing the city a favor should remember that they are committing crimes, and no neighborhood benefits from the presence of brazen criminal activity. Certainly, licensed demolition contractors who practice honest work would agree with me.
Perhaps if the loss of historic architecture does not draw any fury, the loss of housing units might. Between these two buildings, the city has lost four housing units that could have been rehabilitated. Extend that count across every building hit by brick theft in the last seven years, and we have lost at least 200 housing units. Factor in legitimate demolition of vacant buildings, and the number probably is shocking. Many vacant buildings that get demolished have only been vacant for a year or less, too. As the depletion of the built environment of north St. Louis neighborhoods continues, so does the depletion of potential population — taxpayers, registered voters, enrolled St. Louis Public Schools students and Census takers all.