by Michael R. Allen
When I first photographed these six vacant buildings in the 4200 block of Warne in the Fairground neighborhood in March 2005, I was struck by what a statement they made as a row. Besides the four-flat shown at left, the rest of the group consisted of St. Louis’ bread-and-butter building, the two-flat. The variety of styles in the group could very well have been a textbook illustration of St. Louis’ streetcar-fueled late 19th and early 20th century neighborhood development. Instead, in abandonment, the row served as a different, disturbing illustration.
By August 2009, the four-family building was demolished. An amazing apartment building across the street was also gone. The rest of the row was in bad shape, although each building was structurally sound. I confess to having low hopes for the group. Located in the city’s Third Ward, the five remaining buildings were owned by the Land Reutilization Authority and outside of any historic district. Had these buildings been inside of a historic district, they would have made a great historic tax credit project for a community development corporation.
In the last three weeks, the row has finally disappeared. These buildings were on the edge of Fairground, located across the street from the O’Fallon neighborhood. Their loss is felt strongest in the O’Fallon neighborhood, where a historic district nomination is underway, by dissolving a visual edge.
Furthermore, the row closed the view down Green Lea Place, which terminates at Warne Avenue. For one hundred years, anyone looking east down Green Lea saw the lovely front elevations of that row. Now, the view will look at nothing. The two corners on Green Lea facing the row, also inside of the Third Ward, are already vacant lots.
The loss of buildings that close street views and frame corners ought to be paramount considerations. Boundaries define our sense of place when they frame or terminate views. Once buildings that form boundaries are lost, neighborhood edges start eroding.
Fortunately, both north and south of this demolished group, Warne Avenue’s east side retains many occupied buildings. All is not lost.