Mid-Century Modern PRO Projects South St. Louis Tower Grove East

Modernism in Motion on South Grand: The Hamiltonian Federal Savings and Loan Association Building

by Michael R. Allen

Grand Avenue soon will feature two striking examples small modernist buildings imaginatively adapted for food-based businesses (the “flying saucer” at Council plaza hopefully needs no introduction here). South Grand’s lone glass box, the Hamiltonian Federal Savings and Loan Association Building, is set to become a second location of Dave Bailey’s popular restaurant Rooster. Construction is now underway.

One of Preservation Research Office’s favorite 2013 projects: getting this building listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Bailey’s project is utilizing historic tax credits, and as part of the process Preservation Research Office prepared a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the one-story former savings and loan building. Those who pass by the International Style building, or park in its lot before heading to Mangia late at night, might be surprised by its architectural significance.

The Hamiltonian Federal Savings and Loan Association Building was one of the area’s few glass box financial buildings. The large windows and elegant form caught the attention of Dave Bailey while scouting a south city location for Rooster

The Hamiltonian Federal Savings and Loan Association Building is an outstanding local example of the application of International style design ideas applied to a small neighborhood savings and loan association building. Completed in 1962 and designed by the local partnership of Winkler & Thompson, the building differs from other financial institution buildings of the time for its embrace of the classically-influenced school of modernist design advanced nationally by Mies Van De Rohe among others.

Many local financial institutions turned to the styles of the Modern Movement between 1940 and 1980, but most embraced either eclectic modernist approaches or traditional styles. In the city of St. Louis, where construction was fairly modest in the early 1960s, there is no stylistic peer to the Hamiltonian Federal Savings and Loan Association Building.

The International style influenced several major recladding projects downtown, including two for banks. The First National Bank of St. Louis reclad six buildings on Lo45 (shown here). Sverdrup & Parcel and Bank Building & Equipment Company were the architects of the new facades.

The architecture of financial services companies changed along with the larger trends in American commercial architecture. Amid the Great Depression came strong federal regulation of banks, savings and loan associations and securities exchanges. At the end of World War II, with GIs returning from the war to start new lives, banks, trusts and savings and loan associations saw a new customer base. As they sought to grow, these institutions embraced architectural modernism as a way to promote a more transparent and welcoming image than earlier classical buildings had done.

The Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company Building (1954) designed by SOM heavily influenced financial services architecture in the United States, but not much in St. Louis.

The national tone for new financial services architecture was partially set by the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company’s new branch on Park Avenue in New York (1954). Designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company Building was an “all glass display case for banking” in the words of its architect.

The W.A. Sarmiento-designed Jefferson Bank and Trust Company Building (1956) is an example of local designers’ less dogmatic modernism.

In St. Louis, however, there are few examples of glass banks. Partially this is due to the design practice of the dominant bank architecture firm in St. Louis, the Bank Building and Equipment Corporation (BBEC). BBEC’s chief designer after 1952 was W.A. Sarmiento, whose modernist practice embraced the International Style only as a reference for works – the Jefferson Bank and Trust Company Building (1955) being best-known — that explored curvature, including round and elliptical forms, variation in masses and roof forms with no reverence for the flat roof, and even the introduction of ornamental elements.

The First Security Bank Building (1961), designed by Rather & Roth and located on Kirkwood Road in Kirkwood, was built as a glass hat box of sorts.
The First Security Bank Building today, with replacement glazing and cladding substantially altering its original appearance.

At the start of the 1960s, financial services architecture in the St. Louis area likewise was notable bereft of the glass box. The First Security Bank Building (1961; extant but altered) in Kirkwood, designed by Rathert & Roth, is a 78′ diameter circular building with glass walls behind pilotis under a shallow domed roof. The Security Mutual Bank built a new drive-in facility (1960; demolished) at 13th and Olive streets downtown, with the main component a brick box surrounded by segmental brise soleil of concrete block.

Rendering of the The Public Service Savings and Loan Association Building (1962), designed by Kenneth Wischmeyer.

The Public Service Savings and Loan Association Building (1962; extant), designed by Kenneth Wischmeyer, is designed as a three story brick mass with a projecting heavy proto-Brutalist concrete grid on its main elevation. Yet by the middle of the decade city directories would be full of advertisements placed by banks and savings and loan associations with photos of modern drive-in “auto bank” additions and new buildings; the Mercantile-Commerce Bank at the corner of Grand and Lindell boulevards went so far as to advertise itself in 1963 as “Midtown’s most modern bank.”

The International style influence is apparent in the United Postal Savings Building (1962; Kromm, Rikamaru & Johansen) at 18th and Olive streets.

At least three 1960s financial services buildings in the St. Louis area came close to embodying the tenets of the Miesian box. One was the Hamiltonian Savings and Loan Association Company Building. Another is the Missouri Savings Association Building (1966; Smith-Entzeroth; extant but greatly altered) at 10 North Hanley Road in downtown Clayton, Missouri. The one-story building sat on a podium and consisted of a floating concrete roof set on four corner columns above a plate glass curtain wall. The building has been remodeled beyond recognition. The other is the diminutive United Postal Savings Building (1962; Kromm, Rikamaru & Johansen; extant) at 18th and Olive streets in downtown St. Louis. With walls of polished granite contrasting with plate glass walls at its main entrance corner, the one-story flat-roofed building embodied the formalism of Miesian design if not the purity of the “glass box.”

In 1961, the Hamiltonian Federal Savings and Loan Association hired Winkler & Thompson – a firm whose output included no other modernist works — to design its new headquarters branch on South Grand Boulevard adjacent to its existing location. By then, the neighboring Tower Grove Bank located on the block to the north had clad its two-story Beaux Arts 1912 building with a Modern Movement slipcover in 1953.

The Tower Grove Bank Building before its slip-cover was added. Built in 1912, the building stood where the Commerce Bank branch now stands adjacent to the new Rooster restaurant site.
The Tower Grove Bank Building before its slip-cover was added. Built in 1912, the building stood where the Commerce Bank branch now stands adjacent to the new Rooster restaurant site.

The new building replaced a pair of two-story commercial buildings with apartments above. The city issued a permit to demolish those buildings on January 28, 1960. Hamiltonian’s construction permit dates to May 26, 1961, and reports a construction cost of $12,500.00. Hoel-Steffen Construction Company, with its office nearby at 3023 Pestalozzi Street, was general contractor and Belt & Given served as mechanical engineers.

The one-story building is surrounded by red brick walls on the two elevations not visible from the street, tying the building with local masonry tradition. These walls flank two glass-walled elevations comparable to the design of the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company Building in New York seven years earlier. The construction announcement article boasted that the glass walls “reach from floor to ceiling and provide an open, clear view of the interior.” Such transparency served multiple purposes: to attract business, to assuage fears of robbery and to put the building in league with the most modern trends in architecture.

The main lobby is a transparent, open space — perfect for Rooster’s dining room!

Hamiltonian embraced the automobile as well as the surrounding community with the new building. The 23-car parking lot offered another element of modern convenience. Dave Bailey plans to embrace instead the convenience of outdoor dining, which will replace the asphalt pad. At the east end of the south elevation is a wing that encloses a stairwell leading down to a basement area that contained a large meeting room that Hamiltonian made available to community organizations. Use of the building clearly was good for the visibility of the institution.

Hamiltonian Federal Savings and Loan Association occupied the building until its merger with Home Savings of America in 1981. After 1981, the Roosevelt Savings & Loan Association occupied the building until it was purchased by Mercantile Bank & Trust Company. Mercantile Bank operated a branch bank in the building until the late 1990s. Mercantile Bank sold the property to Commerce Bank, then the occupant of the former Tower Grove Bank building to the north. Commerce Bank leased the building to the St. Louis Public Library, which temporarily moved the Carpenter Branch Library there during renovation and expansion. Upon the Carpenter Branch Library’s re-opening in 2003, the building became vacant.

The essence of the building: perpendicular angles, repeated manifold through the convergence of contrasting materials.

The preparers of the Tower Grove Heights Historic District excluded the Hamiltonian building from the district boundary, a common omission for modern works not considered to “belong” with older neighborhoods. In 2007, the City Treasurer came close to issuing bonds for a South Grand parking garage that would have occupied the Hamiltonian site. Thankfully, the march of time has built appreciation for the steel and glass business temple. South Grand’s varied streetscape includes other examples of modernism, ranging from St. Pius V’s 1950 recladding to vitrolite (shiny structural glass) storefront cladding.

The new Rooster will occupy a building that emphatically ties the business district to the best currents in mid-century modern design in St. Louis — design as materially rich and spatially ordered as any of the brick and terra cotta buildings that define the streetscape.

This article is based on the National Register of Historic Places nomination, which includes contributions from Lynn Josse and Lydia Slocum.

Demolition South St. Louis Southampton

For Sale, Cheap: Hole In Ground Where Historic Movie Theater Once Stood

by Michael R. Allen

The Avalon Theater under demolition, December 2011.

Lately, the unkempt stretch of dirt — not shown here, too bleak for the holiday season — where the Avalon Theater once stood has sported a for-sale sign with a slapped-on price of $125,000. That price seems to be missing one zero, compared to where the price for that parcel stood in 2009:

Avalon Theater Site Pricing

2009: $1,000,000 (with building and unrealistic asking price)

2011: $249,000 (with building)

2013: $125,000 (without building)

According to the 2011 demolition permit, the demolition cost $27,500. That non-deferred expenditure removed $124,000 for the sales price, and who knows what really from the final sales price. In 2012, when the building fell, many rejoiced that an “eyesore” was coming down. Yet today the demolition seems economically questionable.

Available: Economic asset.

The economics of demolition are simple: removal of buildings almost always decreases the worth of a property. The years of having the building listed at an artificial price, the years of city officials not taking reuse proposals seriously, the expenditure of city time and money to get the building demolished — all add up to reducing the parcel value and lowering revenues to city government.

Demolishing the Avalon Theater has already reduced the property taxes on the parcel:

Avalon Theater Assessed Valuation

2011: $111,700 (with building)

2013: $80,300 (without building)

If the city of St. Louis wants to be “open for business,” as elected officials often claim, it must retain assets that drive economic activity. Demolishing the Avalon Theater was a step in the wrong direction for South Kingshighway.

Downtown Mid-Century Modern PRO Collection

Building the General American Life Insurance Company Building

by Michael R. Allen

Among the collections of the Preservation Research Office is a stock of amateur photographs showing changed in the St. Louis built environment at the last century’s middle point. Our collection draws from many anonymous urban gazers who took to the streets with cameras between 1935 and 1980. Toward the end of the chronology come the photographs of big late modernist buildings like the Bel Air East (1964; Hausner & Macsai), the Laclede Gas Building (1969; Emery Roth & Sons), Council Plaza (1965-1969; Schwarz & Van Hoefen), Pet Plaza (1969; A.L. Aydelott) and the General American Life Insurance Company Building (1977; Johnson/Burgee).

The General American building rises in the late 1970s. Undated photograph. Source: Preservation Research Office Collection.

As the transfer of Laclede Gas from one downtown building to another sparks debate about the use of tax incentives to shuffle the downtown deck, we offer some views at the origin of the General American building. At the time of the building’s completion in 1977, the General American Life Insurance Building was a symbol of downtown corporate pride — the sort of pride that would have been wounded knowing that the building would require massive subsidy to be reused only 36 years later.

Old downtown meets new downtown, 1977 style. Source: Preservation Research Office Collection.

The General American building followed the heels of the city’s wishfully-triumphant attempts at creating a monumental corporate landscape around the Gateway Mall. City leaders yearned to make the Gateway Arch the focal point of a green swath framed by high-style office buildings that enshrined both the virtue of companies keeping their headquarters downtown and the ambitions of the city to build great buildings once more. General American’s headquarters fulfilled both, as did subsequent buildings along the mall path in their own more subtle ways. The mall itself proved to be the most challenging ingredient in the landscape.

Planes converging at Eighth and Walnut Streets during construction. Source: Preservation Research Office Collection.

In 1964 (the city’s proud bicentennial year), the city designed 42 blocks of downtown St. Louis as the “Civic Center Redevelopment Project” to be a new face of the city’s civic self. The project was created to realize the recommendations of the 1960 document A Plan for Downtown St. Louis, which outlines an intensive reconstruction of downtown’s eastern and southern ends. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial landscape, where the Arch was nearing completion, was the primary impetus. The envisioned east-west park ribbon between Market and Chestnut streets was the second. By 1975, over $300 million in tax-abated development projects were complete in the area. Public subsidy’s roots in downtown development now extend to the origin of buildings potentially being subsidized in our era.

Bluebirds of happiness fly over a new park mall surrounded by corporate office buildings in this 1960 rendering from _A Plan for Downtown St. Louis_. Kurt Perlsee drew this perspective based on the plan’s recommendations.

Johnson/Burgee’s building would by far be the most impressive built in downtown for years to come; perhaps it has yet to be surpassed. The pair’s switch-cut of essentially a three story building into two cylinder-joined triangles killed the glass box. As CORTEX continues to produce ground-hugging, boxy buildings seemingly afraid of offending anyone’s taste, we should be examining the way in which the General American building transformed what could have been a dull low-rise office building into a sculptural work every bit suited for an important downtown site.

Philip Johnson and John Burgee flank General American President Armand C. Stalnaker as they examine a model of the new headquarters building in 1977.
Philip Johnson and John Burgee flank General American President Armand C. Stalnaker as they examine a model of the new headquarters building in 1977.

When the General American Building was fresh, Nory Miller wrote that its components created
“a series of clear architectural pieces in locked combat with each other.” Johnson/Burge essentially twisted the Miesian glass box, defying an architectural era divided between reverent homages (Yamasaki’s World Trade Center, SOM’s Sears Tower) and heavy geometric abstraction (Roche & Dinkeloo’s Ford Foundation Building, Aydelott’s Pet Plaza in St. Louis). One year before the St. Louis building opened, Johnson/Burgee saw their ceremonial decapitation of the glass box, Pennzoil Place, completed in Houston. Johnson would won the 1979 AIA Gold Medal for his work at Pennzoil place.

Geometry — and material, with the red brick element — in conflict?

The General American building was a smaller break from modernist stricture, but not an insignificant one. General American’s completion in 1977 garnered critical acclaim from St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic Robert W. Duffy, who wrote that the “one of the most spectacular buildings to be built in St. Louis in years, and what is regarded as one of the most spectacular buildings to be opened in the United States in 1977.” In subsequent years, however, historians have not given the General American building a high rank in the Johnson/Burgee canon.

Looking at the building from inside of Citygarden at Eighth and Market streets.

When Melinda Winchester presented the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the building at the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Places in 2007, the nomination caused a stir. Council members faced with a rather young building debated whether St. Louis possesses a fine example of the combined geniuses of Philip Johnson and John Burgee, or whether this was one of their minor works unworthy of the national designation before its fiftieth birthday. Ultimately, the building entered the National Register in 2008 (with an exceptional significance consideration), when it was 31 years old.

The entrance, looking into the soaring cylindrical atrium.
Postmodern is doubled in the reflections of the Metropolitan Square (1989; HOK) and St. Louis Place (1983) buildings on the glass lobby wall at the General American Life Insurance Company Building.

Today, the General American Life Insurance Company Building stands as testament to earlier civic optimism and corporate conviction in downtown’s future. The building preceded a small boom in construction that partially fulfilled earlier hopes for the Gateway Mall. Edward Larrabee Barnes’ 1010 Market Street (1981) and HOK’s One Bell Center (1987) maintain the trajectory set by Johnson/Burgee, while the Robert L. Boland’s Gateway One on the Mall (1985) is a glaring mediocrity. The architectural tenor of the Gateway Mall was improved tremendously a few years ago when Citygarden opened diagonally from the General American Building. Whatever happens to the tax increment financing proposed for the General American building, it remains one of downtown’s most inimitable recent landmarks.

We offer grateful thanks to our former intern Christina Carlson for scanning the General American construction photographs.

Historic Preservation

Can Historic Preservation Handle the “Buffalove”?

by Michael R. Allen

In her newly-posted TED talk, bespectacled and bubbly ambassador of “Buffalove” Bernice Radle talks about young energy in historic preservation. Watch the video above. The one point that stuck with me was Bernice’s discussion of the perception of historic preservationists as older folks at house museums. Certainly, that stereotype persists — but not without reason. While Bernice and her partner Jason Wilson (who works for Preservation Buffalo Niagara) are saving vacant Buffalo houses and attaining national press, the official core of the historic preservation movement looks about the same.

At the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference two weeks ago, the crowd showed age diversity mostly through the inclusion of students in historic preservation programs. I was the youngest person in many rooms, and at 32 I have more gray hair in my beard than there have been debates about whether Brutalist buildings are beautiful! Of course, the cost of conferences often keeps young professionals away. Yet if we gather to share skills and formulate an agenda for what should be a national cultural movement, we need the generation that will be around to carry out ideas long-term. (This is not to mention racial diversity, a separate but related issue in the movement.)

Bernice Radle, Jason Wilson and scored of young people are crazy about historic neighborhoods across the nation.
Bernice Radle, Jason Wilson and scored of young people are crazy about historic neighborhoods across the nation.

Yet one month before the National Trust conference, I found hope at the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference in Philadelphia, hosted by the Center for Community Progress. While the crowd of land-bankers, planners and scholars tilted older, there were lots of peers in lots of rooms. Now, the Reclaiming Vacant Properties crowd would not call itself a “historic preservation” movement — some might run toward the contrary. Yet the conference showed the wider constituency for tackling the problems of older cities is age and discipline diverse.

Back in St. Louis, some of my favorite preservationists don’t use the label or have any official affiliation. Like Bernice, they are just doing the thing. On Cherokee Street, microdeveloper Jason Deem‘s creative constellation of rehabilitated historic buildings is testament to a preservationist commitment. Deem even gave himself the job title of “The Preservationist” on Facebook. Up north, Alderman Antonio French (D-21st) made his first ordinance upon election in 2009 placing his ward under demolition review. Then he funded projects to list most of his ward in the National Register of Historic Places through district nominations. On the Preservation Board for a year, Antonio was the most reliably anti-demolition, pro-asset-conservation vote. Both Jason and Antonio are in their thirties. Neither is involved in the leadership of any local preservation groups.

At neighborhood association meetings, there seems growing young voices who value density, oppose demolition and sometimes seem to love red brick a little too much. I never see these faces at gatherings of local or statewide preservation organizations. This split goes back decades, according to long-time rehabbers. While preservation organizations had some representation from rehab hotspots like Old North and Lafayette Square, by and large the masses of people rescuing old buildings were not part of the leadership. The age gap has always been evident. Today, there seems to be an army of preservation doers — who mostly don’t join preservation organizations or even use the label.

The intersection of historic preservation and the “vacancy vortex” challenges the historic preservation movement to figure out its relevance. We drifted from a mass movement galvanized by the emotional power of the Penn Station demolition into a special interest group that can seem more interested in enforcing regulations than in embracing popular sentiment. When preservation organizations are aloof in battles in distressed neighborhoods, encourage people to seek National Register designation when building stabilization would be more useful and price their public programs beyond the reach of young rehabbers — well, preservation is going to stay old and disconnected. Meanwhile, the “rightsizing” movement may have more to offer people like Bernice: resources, solidarity with other disciplines and a sense of popular spirit lacking from historic preservation in many cities. The new Preservation Rightsizing Network‘s executive committee — of which I am a member — has age and disciplinary diversity not found on most preservation organization boards.

The challenge is whether historic preservation will embrace a succession that might end up challenging many of its habits (and even the National Register itself), and strengthen and renew existing organizations. Young people already are not joiners. They are more likely to put their money into projects, into Kickstarter campaigns, in a box at the door at a dance party that raises money to board up an abandoned row house. Preservation organizations aren’t going to pull in much support through traditional fundraising for overhead-heavy operations that don’t give back to neighborhoods.

If young people sound so strange in preservation, they shouldn’t. They remind me of the activists who brought the American historic preservation movement to life in the first place. A new era could bring historic preservation a legion of new supporters, or it could mean a successive movement that calls itself something else. Either way, what is happening is Buffalo is not going away.

Demolition Grand Center Midtown Rightsizing

Buildings Are Assets, Even in Grand Center

by Michael R. Allen

On October 17, Grand Center, Inc. applied for a demolition permit for the curious hybrid building at 3808 Olive Street. Today, crews were “doing taps” — removing the connections between the building and the city’s water and gas lines. Soon, yet another small-scaled, perfectly usable building will disappear from the purported intersection of “art and life” — raising the question of what Grand Center has in store for other smaller buildings in the district.

Another one bites the dust in Grand Center. 3808 Olive Street.

On the face, perhaps the doomed building is a tricky concoction to admire. Yet the turret and stone-faced town house that rises above an appended, plain red brick storefront is every bit as beautiful today as it was when built in the 1880s. The storefront is an added bonus, that could be utilized or removed depending on future plans. In sound condition and potentially eligible for National Register of Historic Places designation (likely if the addition came off), the house with storefront addition should be marketed as a redevelopment opportunity.

The National Register of Historic Places-listed William Cuthbert Jones House (1886) at 3724 Olive Street, to the east of the doomed building.

Grand Center’s streets are notably absent of the small-scale, affordable buildings that incubate small businesses, artists’ studios and apartments. These are the building types whose graceful practicality define areas like Cherokee Street and the Central West End, whose street-level vitality outshines Grand Center’s cycles of big-show and dead-empty. While Grand Center has improved a lot lately, much of that change comes from smaller spaces on Locust Street and in retail storefronts that have generated commercial activities long absent from the mix.

Context: Grand Center’s sights are set on the south side of the 3700-3800 block of Olive Street. X= demolition. A = 3808 Olive Street. NR = National Register of Historic Places-listed building.

The 3700-3800 block of Olive Street is bereft of density, to be sure. From the Sim-City view, it may look like the sort of place to bulldoze and build again. Yet that approach would be utopian and short-sighted — although the view of cleared land from Spring to Vandeventer would be a very long, and anti-urban, view. Unfortunately, Grand Center has already started removing assets on this block, with nothing in their place to indicate demolition brings anything beneficial.

Could this building be threatened with demolition soon? 3826 Olive Street.

Rather than forecast utopian redevelopment, Grand Center might look at a building like 3808 Olive Street as an asset: a building with immediate economic utility, indelible architectural character and enduring contribution to a citywide sense of place. Neighbors of the building even include two buildings that are listed in the National register of Historic Places: the William Cuthbert Jones House (1886), designed by St. Louis architect Jerome B. Legg; and the former Lindell Telephone Exchange/Wolfner Memorial Library for the Blind (1899-1902), whose original Renaissance Revival front was designed by the not-so-insignificant firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge. Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge also designed the Art Institute of Chicago (1893) and many other architecturally-renowned works in the US and Canada – a plus for a district that touts its concentration of works by important architects across time like Tadao Ando and William B. Ittner.

Originally built as the Lindell Telephone Exchange, this building on the west end of the block traces its design to Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge.
A great urban building at 3821 Olive Street, across the street.

“Rightsizing” need not mean the casual removal of viable buildings on admittedly depleting blocks. Too often, however, that is how it is done. Effective rightsizing can be posing those remaining assets as catalysts for regeneration. In Grand Center, there is plenty of large-scale (ART), but not enough small-scale (LIFE) to make the district into anything approaching a real neighborhood. Retaining buildings like 3808 Olive Street and offering them for sale to small developers would be a step toward a compelling and complex urbanism.

Grand plans are invisible on vacant lots, and diminish feelings of safety as well as sense of place. Buildings are assets, even the small and weird ones. Buildings generate activities that tell people where they are –- and give them something to do. Grand Center needs these little buildings on Olive Street. The city can grow again, and we should not be throwing away any potential building block for our future.

Historic Preservation South St. Louis

Better Late Than Never: Mothballing the Pevely Dairy

by Michael R. Allen

Returning from trips out of town, I found that St. Louis University’s medical school had finally started mothballing the old Pevely Dairy Building. One year ago I wrote that Pevely was still usable and that the university — a huge asset to the city, after all — could become the hero. Perhaps the university’s post-Rev. Lawrence Biondi era starts with redirecting the future of the landmark dairy building.

Mothballing in progress.

Two months ago, the university began tackling the derisive junk piles called “Mt. Biondi” by disgruntled medical students and sneering urbanistas. Today, the crunched concrete and steel are gone, along with their strangely alluring presence as rouge Goldsworthy-style urban sculptures. The city of St. Louis pressured the university to comply with basic laws on open storage of building rubble, after over one year of letting everything slide.

Boarded-up & cleaned up.

St. Louis University’s work for the Pevely Dairy is best described as “mothballing”: work to secure the building against rain and destructive elements. Plywood is covering the windows. Workers have neatly laid concrete block in place of missing or broken glass block on the ground floor. One is struck by the care of the work, which goes beyond means needed to secure a vacant building. That is why I call this work mothballing: it suggests that the university is preparing the building for reuse at a later time, when forces may align better.

Across the sea of spilled brick and concrete stands the first day of the rest of the university medical center’s life.

The university’s ability to demolish the historic dairy building, designed by architect Leonhard Haeger and completed in 1917, is legally over. The Planning Commission granted the university the right to demolish the building only if it could secure a building permit by December 2012. For over one year, the brick sentinel at Grand and Chouteau has stood vindicated, at least as far as permission to kill it off is concerned.

To the south, the two-story Missouri Belting Company Building, designed by Otto Wilhelmi and completed in 1911, stands privately-owned. The pair of industrial buildings are secure and usable, with floor plates that are easily adaptable to a wide range of uses. At the sidewalk, at least on Grand, the buildings are humane and approachable. They are ready for renewal and changes that could make them even more connected to their context.

Two usable buildings standing at the ready: the historic Missouri Belting and the Pevely Dairy buildings.

Perhaps loss of most of the Pevely complex opens a possibility unforeseen by preservationists and Biondi’s administration alike two years ago: the chance to use two buildings as cornerstones for an urban-scaled, mixed-use project. The proposed ambulatory care center must be built elsewhere, due to a variety of issues related to the site conditions. Thus there remains no reason to wreck the older buildings, or to hold them as precious artifacts. The time to carry them into the new century, in which the city is growing again, has arrived. May Biondi’s successor seize the chance to creatively engage remaining economic and cultural assets, while building a real neighborhood around the university’s growing medical school.


Catch Us This Saturday

The PRO crew will be sharing what we know this Saturday, October 19 at two events.


City Homes and Neighborhoods
Saturday, October 19 / 10:30 AM
Missouri History Museum

PRO Affiliated Architectural Historian Lynn Josse will tell you how to start researching your home or neighborhood, in a free program. Details here.


Field Notes: Geologic and Architectural Bike Tour
Saturday, October 19 / 1:00 – 3:00 PM
Registration 12:30 PM
Start at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard

Join us on this unique community ride of Grand Center and downtown St. Louis, co-sponsored by Trailnet. Geologists Dr. John Encarnacion and Garrecht Metzger team up with PRO Director Michael Allen to explain the complex intersections between the geologic and architectural histories of St. Louis. Details here.

Historic Preservation North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

No Deadline for Building Stabilization in Northside Bill

Tomorrow the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee of the Board of Aldermen will consider Board Bills 199 and 200, which pertain to Paul J. McKee Jr.’s Northside Regeneration project’s tax increment financing request. The committee meeting starts at 10:00 a.m. in Room 208 at City Hall.

One of the bills, Board Bill 199, contains an amendment to the original 2009 redevelopment plan for the project. The amendment contains the following revision to the original plan

The redevelopment agreement shall include: (a) a list identifying any buildings that Developer owns and which Developer proposes for demolition, and, if such demolition is approved by the City, Developer’s agreement to demolish such buildings no later than December 31, 2016; and (b) a list identifying any buildings that Developer owns and
which Developer proposes for rehabilitation, and Developer’s agreement to weather-secure such buildings to preserve them for future rehabilitation by Developer or others.

So: demolition has a target completion date, while stabilization of historic buildings identified for historic renovations does not. How can the city enforce the second provision of this agreement without a deadline?

Abandonment Downtown

Downtown St. Louis Has a Secret Ballroom

by Michael R. Allen

The Hotel Jefferson as it appeared in a 1912 issue of The Mirror.

The relocation of St. Louis University’s School of Law into a transformed building at Tucker and Pine streets has helped Tucker Boulevard regain some its lost title to being downtown’s most important north-south street. Students and faculty circulate around what was once one of the city’s most tragic and downright ugly modernist boxes, giving Tucker Boulevard hopeful human energy. New cafes and restaurants suggest that the law school could have a catalyst impact.

Should the footsteps of the repopulated species of the Tucker pedestrian march toward Washington Avenue, they will pass by one of the street’s proudest achievements, the neoclassical mass of the Hotel Jefferson. Located between Locust and St. Charles streets, the old hotel is punctuated by climbing bay-window appendages and up-top truncated floral ornament that once cradled rounded windows. The Hotel Jefferson proclaims an architectural imperiousness befitting its origin as a hotel built for the visitors to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904.

In 1928, ahead of the Depression, the hotel developers built a major addition to the hotel designed by Teich & Sullivan of Chicago. Teich & Sullivan redesigned the lobby of the original Barnett, Haynes & Barnett-designed building, creating an overlook to the first floor lobby encircled by balustrade. The mezzanine level became the home of two new major public spaces in the new addition.

The Hotel Jefferson today, better known by its last name, The Jefferson Arms.

Boarded-up base keeps pedestrians from glancing into its hidden inner mysteries — but hopefully not for long. Those who know the building for its final use, a warren of cheap studio apartments called the “Jefferson Arms,” might not suspect there are any mysteries lingering beyond untold mortal affairs (best left untold). Wrong. Inside of the old Hotel Jefferson is a lost golden dance hall, left nearly unaltered for 85 years and locked off from the tenants of the Jefferson Arms. (Still, one long-gone former tenant once told me over a drink at lost Dapper Dan’s across the street that he had found the way into a “gold ballroom.”)

A 1928 Globe-Democrat advertisement for the Gold Room at the Hotel Jefferson.

The old hotel’s biggest secret is the Gold Room, whose floor has rested from dancers’ feet for decades. The Gold Room is one of the vestiges of the Jefferson’s late Jazz Age remodel. Today, the lobby sports just a few traces of its 1928 look, including white marble staircases hiding out in the dark, unlit interior. The overlook was covered over after the 1950s, when the hotel briefly operated as a Sheraton. The public spaces read as cross between the would-be mid-century urban streamline and 1980s economical apartment styles. The marble stairs lead to the mezzanine level, where the grandest space in the Jefferson can be found, untouched by all of the modern changes that robbed the interior of complex beauty.

The Gold Room is labeled “Banquet Hall” on this 1928 floor plan that appeared in Hotel Monthly in September 1929.
One of the entrances to the Gold Room on the mezzanine level.

The Gold Room is a gently baroque artifact, with paneled and mirrored plaster walls, gold-painted accents, undulating balconies, and a ponderous crystal chandelier. Corinthian pilasters set against the walls provide a note of classicism to the space, but not one overtly staid. This room is a room set for fantastic happenings, not business luncheons. The Gold Room is also large: underneath its two-story ceiling, the room could accommodate as many as 1200 people, according to hotel brochures. Although the 1928 floor plan for the hotel has it labeled as a “Banquet Hall,” and it hosted many large dinners, the original design anticipated its use for dances — and the floor is a dance floor.

Does a swan song for the good old days play in the Gold Room today?
The Gold Room floor has attained a layer of broken plaster bits, and piles of discards.

For almost four decades, the Gold Room served thousands of people through many large and lavish events. Debutantes came out annually at the Veiled Prophet Dinner in the Gold Room into the 1950s. Eventually, however, the Gold Room was shuttered to wait for a new era’s users. Planned renovation of the Hotel Jefferson by the Pyramid Companies — one of the building’s recent mysteries — came and went. The Gold Room will have to await new plans to return to its formerly busy social schedule. Meanwhile, inside of the dim interior of the Jefferson, the golden splendor of the hotel ballroom looks barely different than it did when the the city’s elite were celebrating the admiring gaze of the entire world.

When will we next dance in the Gold Room?
Demolition Historic Preservation North St. Louis Vandeventer

The Charles H. Duncker Residence: A Falling Castle on Page Boulevard

by Michael R. Allen

In St. Louis, the city’s preservation ordinance creates review of demolition permits on architectural and historic merits only in designated districts. These districts are designated by aldermen and generally follow ward boundaries, although with redistricting and the coming ward reduction these boundaries increasingly make little sense. While the review system established by ordinance is professional, and professionals review the demolition permits, the creation of review boundaries has been political since the city revamped the preservation ordinance in 1999. The politics of review have actually led to increased coverage of demolition review, however, but some areas seem perpetually left out.

The Charles H. Ducker Residence (1896) at 3636 Page Boulevard is being demolished. The historic mansion lacked any protection under the city preservation ordinance.
The Charles H. Ducker Residence (1896) at 3636 Page Boulevard is being demolished. The historic mansion lacked any protection under the city preservation ordinance.

In one of the wards in which does not have review, the 19th Ward, stands the Charles H. Duncker Residence — at least for another few weeks before the stone castle falls forever into a grassy abyss. Alas, the stately former dwelling has neither a City Landmark nor a National Register of Historic Places listing, both of which would have placed its demolition under review. (Ever-vigilant Paul Hohmann already alerted us to the demolition in Vanishing STL; then he took excellent interior photographs.)

Located at 3636 Page Boulevard, the Duncker Residence has a storied life that draws heavy in arenas of our past that affect almost all of us. First, the house was built by a distinguished German-American capitalist, who elected to build a French Renaissance Revival design in league with City Hall and other landmarks. Then, upon the original owner’s departure to tranquil Clayton, the house had new life as the Jewish Community Center. Finally, as the Jewish community’s geographic center left, the house became a celebrated African-American retirement home. Today, much of the house is rubble.

The entrance hall of the Duncker Residence retained its historic character to the end. This view shows that salvage of millwork and the staircase is underway. Source: Paul Hohmann, Vanishing STL.

The Charles H. Duncker Residence and the French Renaissance Revival Style in St. Louis

The Charles H. Duncker Residence and its carriage house was built at a time of stylistic transition in the high-style residential architecture of the city. The house’s stylistic traits would straddle somewhat the waning Romanesque Revival and short-lived French Renaissance Revival styles, showing the eclectic tendencies of 1890s St. Louis. The house was built toward the end of the 19th century’s last decades; the city issued a building permit to Charles H. Duncker on December 3, 1896. According to the permit, the construction cost was $15,000. The St. Louis Daily Record provides a scant clue as to the designer of the house: “contract to be sublet” is listed under “architect.”

Undated view of the Charles H. Duncker Residence at its zenith. Source: Missouri History Museum, Photographs Collection.
The Duncker Residence at its nadir, 2013.

The Duncker Residence was built as a two story house with attic story tucked under a high-pitched hipped roof. Rough-faced ashlar limestone cladding, a wrap-around porch with stone columns of the Ionic order, a short front and west side turreted bows with low dormer and a full-height three-story eastern turreted side bow were defining characteristics of the large dwelling. The preponderant orientation of the house is toward the French Renaissance Revival style, although the prominent turreted bows suggest Romanesque Revival influences and recall buildings like Link & Cameron’s Union Station (1894) or H.H. Richardson’s John Lionberger House (1888). Yet the square-headed windows, recessed entrance columns with Ionic capitals and high-pitched roof are all elements associated with the French Renaissance Revival.

The John Lionberger House on Vandeventer Place (1888, H.H. Richardson) was one of the best examples of the Romanesque Revival in St. Louis residential architecture.

The French Renaissance Revival style employed traits of the Romanesque Revival: tall roofs often with dormers, bows or turrets, large stone elements and picturesque massing. However, the French Renaissance Revival drew upon ornamental elements that were classically oriented, breaking from the austerity of H.H. Richardson’s forms. The French Renaissance Revival style popularized in St. Louis upon the winning submission in the City Hall design competition was Eckel & Mann’s plan, drawn by Harvey Ellis, based on the Hotel de Ville in Paris. St. Louis City Hall (1898) joined Barnett, Haynes & Barnett’s Visitation Academy (1892, demolished) and Ellis’ St. Vincent’s Sanitarium (1894) in Normandy as a prominent exemplar of the style.

A prominent French Renaissance Revival landmark, the Visitation Academy (1891, Barnett, Haynes & Barnett; demolished).
A prominent French Renaissance Revival landmark, the Visitation Academy (1891, Barnett, Haynes & Barnett; demolished).

By the late 1890s, St. Louis’ wealthy families were choosing a wide range of styles. The completion of the John L. Davis Residence on 1893 (Peabody, Stearns & Furber) brought the Italian Renaissance style into prominence, and broke a streak of Romanesque Revival popularity. The French Renaissance Revival allowed for a gentle transition between the heavier Roman forms and the more ornate appearances coming into vogue.

The Stockton House (1890, Barnett, Haynes & Barnett).
the Frederick Newton Judson House at 3733 Washington (1892, Grable & Weber).

Around the Midtown and Vandeventer area are several works that compare to the Duncker Residence. The last building at Fout Place, located very close by at Cook and Whittier, dates to 1892 and offers a more pronounced Romanesque influence. However, the massing and main entrance are very similar. The Robert Henry Stockton House at 3508 Samuel Shepard Drive, designed in 1890 by Barnett, Haynes and Barnett, offers another Romanesque Revival dwelling that challenges the heaviness of the style through use of flat-faced ornamental elements and a compositional delicacy. The limestone classing and massing are in league with Duncker’s residence. Most closely related to the Duncker Residence may be Weber & Groves’ Frederick Newton Judson Residence on Washington Avenue (1892), a red brick and sandstone cousin with comparable execution of entrance, massing and roof form.

The Trorlicht, Duncker & Renard Carpet Company occupied a building at the southeast corner of 4th and Washington downtown. The building was demolished in 1965 for the Mansion House Center.

According to the 1906 edition of The Book of St. Louisans, Charles H. Duncker (1865-1952) was a carpet merchant who served as vice president of Trolicht, Duncker & Renard Carpet Company (then located at the southeast corner of 4th and Washington streets downtown). Duncker had wed Pauline Doerr and together they had two children. Duncker was a member of the Union and Missouri Athletic Clubs. By the 1912 edition of The Book of St. Louisans, Duncker’s firm had changed its name to Trolicht & Duncker in 1907, and Duncker was now company president. The Republican Duncker was a member of the progressive Civic League as well as the Academy of Science of St. Louis.

The second Duncker residence, completed in 1916 in Brentmoor Park.

The Dunckers kept up with both architectural and geographic fashion, and departed Page Boulevard in 1916. The family built a new house at 15 Brentmoor Park in a picturesque garden subdivision designed by Henry Wright. The new Duncker mansion, which would later be published in Missouri’s Contribution to American Architecture, was a resplendent Jacobethan mass adorned with patterned matte brickwork, ornate vergeboards, applied timbering and tall chimneys. Cann & Corrubia designed the house, and landscape architect John Noyes designed the grounds.

Facing the main quadrangle at Washington University, on the east face of Duncker Hall, is this memorial niche for Charles H. Duncker, Jr.

Later, the Dunckers lost son Charles Jr. when he fell in combat in France in 1917. The family funded a memorial hall on Washington University’s campus, completed in 1923 as Charles H. Duncker Hall (or, Duncker Hall, where the English Department now can be found). Charles H. Duncker insisted that Cann & Corrubia design the hall, making it the only hall built in the historic hilltop main quadrangle not primarily designed by Cope & Stewardson or James P. Jamieson.

Reborn as the Jewish Community Center

In 1919, the United Hebrew Association acquired the Duncker Mansion, and converted it into the precursor of today’s Jewish Community Center. By this time, St. Louis’ Jewish population had largely relocated from inner city neighborhoods east of Grand Avenue. Concentrations of Jewish population found north of downtown, like Carr Square and around Biddle Street had shifted westward along street car lines into more suburban enclaves including Mt. Cabanne-Raymond Place and the area of Hamilton Heights south of Easton Avenue (now Dr. Martin Luther King Drive). The Duncker residence was on the eastern end of Jewish world at the time, but its location along the Page Boulevard street car line made it convenient to much of the Jewish population in the city.

Many Jewish St. Louisans passed through this entrance when the Duncker Residence served as the Jewish Community Center from 1919 until 1943.

In Zion of the Valley, historian Walter Ehrlich writes that it was at the Duncker residence on April 4, 1921 that the Federation of Orthodox Jewish Charitable and Educational Institutions of St. Louis was born. Despite some dissent within the community, over 200 prominent Orthodox Jewish leaders met that day to unify Orthodox institutions through a new federation similar to one that the Reform community has just created. The federation’s first president was Hyman Cohen, who led a structure that included a board of directors and an impressive 60-person advisory board. The congregations Chesed Shel Emeth (located in a synagogue at Page and Euclid since 1919) and Shaare Zedek (located at Page and West End since 1914, in a building that is now Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church) were member organizations, alongside Orthdox Jewish Old Folks Home (located nearby on North Grand Avenue; still extant) and other institutions.

Despite not serving as a residence for over 95 years, the Duncker Residence sports much of its original grandeur. The dining room ceiling retains plaster moldings. Source: Paul Homann, Vanishing STL.

Some members of the Orthdox community felt that the formal separation of Orthodox institutions reinforced existing needless divides, and their views prevailed soon. In 1925, the Orthdox federation merged with the Federation of Jewish Charities of St. Louis. The unified organization to this day remains named the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Inside of the stone castle on Page, this organization and others were very prosperous in the 1920s and 1930s. The United Hebrew Association is responsible for the addition of a two-story brick addition at the rear of the building. The city issued a building permit for that addition on May 10, 1920; the construction cost was $19,500. The two-story flat-roofed brick addition houses class and meeting rooms.

The western elevation of the Duncker Residence, showing the original simple rubble stone rear wing at right.

As the Jewish population continued to move away from Grand Avenue during the Depression years, the location of the Jewish Community Center became an inconvenient anachronism, and the center moved in 1943. Eventually, the Jewish Community Center would built a new facility in Creve Couer called the I.E. Millston Campus, which opened in 1963. That center remains open today, disconnected in all but perhaps a fraction of regional memory from the turreted mansion on Page Boulevard.

From the Colored Old Folks’ Home to Page Manor

In 1943, the Colored Old Folks’ Home purchased the property. Founded in 1902 by the Woman’s Wednesday Sewing Club, whose members raised funds to create it, the Home later became the Ferrier-Harris Home. Rose Ferrier-Harris had been first president of the Sewing Club. For decades, this building was a landmark to the charitable efforts of African-American women, and the home merited listing in John A. Wright’s Discovering African-American St. Louis. Upon purchase, the Colored Old Folks’ Home spent a reported $3,000 to alter the building, according to a building permit issued on January 27, 1943. However, the character of the main section and rear carriage house were left intact.

Page Manor seen in a Geo St. Louis photograph.

Eventually the revered Ferrier-Harris Home became the Page Manor, which did not sustain the good quality and noble purpose of the prior operator. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services notified Page Manor’s owners of major violations starting in 2012, and earlier this year succeeded in revoking the license of the facility. Page Manor closed, and its owners decided to apply for a demolition permit for the complex.

This stately house on North Grand Boulevard, designed by Barnett, Haynes & Barnett, has no protections against demolition.

Since the city’s preservation review system is based on political considerations, not professional standards, neither the architectural grandeur nor the varied history of the former Duncker residence slowed demolition. The city’s Cultural Resources Office never had any authority to review the demolition application, and there was no public meeting or call for public comments. Instead, the Building Commissioner issued a demolition permit with little public attention, and a very significant part of the city’s history began to be erased.

These 1890s dwellings face Grand Avenue on the same block where the Duncker Residence is being demolished.

Lest one assume that this pocket of the 19th Ward is bereft of context, or that this author is guilty of inordinate adulation of old building fiber, consider the surrounding urban fabric in which the Duncker residence played a role. While across Page is the suburban expanse of a strip retail center, the block on which the house had stood includes several significant historic dwellings. Along Grand Boulevard around the corner are historic houses, including one designed by the quintessential local architectural firm of Barnett, Haynes & Barnett. All lack any demolition protection, since none are official City Landmarks and none is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Duncker Residence is disappearing, but the older Rock Church (officially the St. Alphonsus Ligouri Roman Catholic Church, built in 1867) will remain just one block east.