by Michael R. Allen
If the reader has had the sense that something is missing from St. Louis, that feeling has at least one concrete cause. The city stands bereft of one more monument to its former aspirations, the red brick Hodgen School that stood at California and Henrietta avenues until just two weeks ago. Yesterday, workers from Ahrens Contracting had already filled and graded the depression in which Hodgen’s foundation walls had begun rising in 1884. Now, a fragment of school yard fence, a tangled pile of pipes and wires and a stone retaining wall are the only traces on the site indicating that once something great stood here.
Hodgen’s demise was nearly certain when the St. Louis Public Schools decided to use bond issue funds for classroom upgrades for demolition of the building, which was replaced by a newer building to the north. On February 16, 2012, the Special Administrative Board approved contracts not to exceed $351,754 for demolition and $422,525 for abatement work. Board member Melanie Adams made the motion to approve, and Richard Gaines seconded. The motion passed unanimously, with Rick Sullivan joining in the consensus. Together, the two demolition contracts $774,279, which is remarkably close to the amount of money the St. Louis Public Schools put into Hodgen renovations around 1991. The cost of building a proposed playground on the Hodgen site remains unknown, but by the time the Special Administrative Board is done, taxpayers may well have spent $1.5 million on the Hodgen site since 1990. Instead, the district could have returned money by selling the building.
The Gate District has lost much of its sense of historic architecture, so perhaps the loss of Hodgen is less severe than if the school had stood in a more intact setting. Still, the Gate District retains significant landmarks like the Buder Bathhouse, the Immaculate Conception and Compton Hill Congregational churches and the Barr Branch Library. All of these remaining anchors provide continuity that adds value to the newer homes in the Gate District — not to mention a sense of connection to the place’s past for residents. The Special Administrative Board has done the Gate District and the city a huge disservice, which will be marked by a substantial empty space for future generations. Let us firmly hope that the void not be as fitting a monument to the present age as graceful Hodgen School was to its own.