by Michael R. Allen
Currently we are working on preparing a historic tax credit application for a property on the 5200 block of Kensington Avenue. The block is located behind the mighty, proud building housing Soldan High School, and slopes downward into one of the city’s hidden gem neighborhoods, Academy. Most of the Academy neighborhood is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Mt. Cabanne-Raymond Place Historic District (nomination by Lynn Josse). The streets in the area are lined with a classic array of St. Louis brick (and a few stone) houses and two-flats, sporting the latest fashions in architecture at the turn of the twentieth century.
However, vacancy is a problem. Vacant lots dot a still very cohesive landscape, but vacant houses may start to dominate. On our first day of work, we spotted a hand-written for-sale sign in front of a vacant house across the street.
The sign advertises sale of the handsome, if boarded house at 5207 Kensington Avenue. The bonded stone front rises to a broken wooden frieze punctuated by ceremonial wreaths. The broken frieze marks the house as the work of relator, developer and architect Alexander August (A.A.) Fischer, whose prolific output of residential designs is concentrated west of Kinghshighway and north of Forest Park Parkway in the western end of the city. Fischer came to St. Louis from Washington, Missouri, and after working in real estate founded the A.A. Fischer Architectural & Building Company in 1899. Fischer’s designs include frequent use of the applied wooden frieze broken by the tops of the windows. Applied ornamental details such as garlands, wreaths and festoons are common in his work.
This particular work dates to 1904, when the neighborhood was developing rapidly as a streetcar-served suburb near Forest Park. Today, the house is in good repair despite vacancy. Tax records show that the house is owned by US REO Fund 5 LLC of Bogota, New Jersey — which purchased the building out of foreclosure. Property taxes were last paid in 2010, when the company acquired the property. If the company fails to pay any of the owed taxes this year, the house could be auctioned by the city Sheriff in 2014.
On the other side of the street and toward Union Boulevard sits the two-family dwelling at 5222-24 Kensington, also built in 1904. Like 5207, this house borrows details from the Classical Revival style to dress a functional facade. Here, the front is red brick and includes a full wooden porch in the Tuscan order. The frieze up top obliquely mirrors Fischer’s work, but is not broken. In fact, the design comes from architect Chester W. Pomeroy. Whether Pomeroy was timidly copying Fischer or Fischer was boldly copying mainstream practice of architects including Pomeroy cannot be definitely deduced.
5220-24 Kensington has been boarded by the Building Division, and may soon face tax auction. Tax records show that the owner of the building is Ceaira Simmons and that she has not paid property taxes since 2008. A tax sale could create an opportunity to renew the lovely dwelling, or it could draw a speculator from the Eagle Realty-represented portfolio of speculator clients (Urban Assets LLC, Prudent Investor LLC, DLR Strategies LLC, etc.). Those eight identified companies have been buying vacant property in Academy since 2008.