Demolition Downtown

Wreckers Arrive at Cupples 7

by Michael R. Allen

As a dry heat settled across the downtown streets yesterday, cloaked by lilting cloud cover, workers from Spirtas Wrecking Company descended upon the Cupples Station warehouse known as Cupples 7. At the end of the business day, two red trucks and a Bobcat were parked behind the fence as workers took the sure steps toward setting up a full-scale demolition site.

The scene at Cupples 7 yesterday afternoon.

The city’s own application for demolition (number 506242; application date, May 22) has not yet been approved by Building Commissioner Frank Oswald. Thus the machine wrecking of Cupples 7 won’t start immediately, but the portent of a start date renders the facts mere trivia. Demolition looms.

On Twitter, a dizzying exchange between a principal of Vertical Realty Advisors, Treasurer Tishaura Jones, Treasurer’s adviser (and father) Virvus Jones and Preservation Board Chairman (and Francis Slay’s campaign manager) Richard Callow was either surface-level shimmer of real negotiations or just a diversion for bored urbanistas at their desk jobs. In a thread on my Facebook wall, Virvus Jones made it clear that any savior of Cupples 7 will have to assume the Treasurer’s contract to buy the building’s mortgage from Montgomery Bank (the pay-it-forward albatross left by former Treasurer Larry Williams). Apparently Vertical Realty Advisors is not offering to do that.

When city officials made the call for last-minute proposals for Cupples 7, they should have clarified that parties would need to buy that note. As I wrote in the St. Louis Beacon last month: “What sort of offer will the city actually entertain now? Without a formal RFP to answer, the anecdotes offered in the mayor’s press release don’t offer developers specific details sought by the city.” And of course, amid the city’s talks of sustainability the fact that $1.7 million in public funds can be used to demolish a building but no public dollar can be found to stabilize one is atrocious. Mayor Francis Slay should take the lead on changing that; his own Sustainability Plan recommends that he do so.

Of course, local preservationists have known that the eleventh hour was coming for this building at least since the Preservation Board denied demolition in 2011. The gap between feasible rehab financing and the full cost of repairing the masonry treasure designed by Eames & Young has been our collective problem. Once upon a time — a time still within some memories even — Landmarks Association of St. Louis had a “Revolving Fund” used to purchase, stabilize and rehab houses in Soulard, Hyde Park and fragile neighborhoods. The fund ended a long time ago, but the need did not. If Cupples 7 falls in the next few weeks, the goal of establishing a new preservation fund could be one thing that rises in the wake. We don’t want to be in this spot again.

Abandonment Art Events

Following Time and Trauma Across the City: Two Exhibitions Opening This Weekend

by Michael R. Allen

The City Inside/Out
Opening Friday, June 7 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Sheldon Art Galleries

St. Louis’ built environment has been a yielding subject to many photographers over the years, from Emil Boehl to Charles Cushman to Toby Weiss. Each view transports us to a different city with the same name — or so the frozen images tease us to believe. The week closes with the opening of a large polyphonic urban photographic exhibit at the Sheldon Art Galleries, in which we find not only different cities but different frames.

meyerowitzAmid our current fascination with remaking the Arch grounds, and consideration of our ongoing vacancy crisis, Joel Meyerowitz’s St. Louis and the Arch (1979-1982) series should be of heightened interest. Meyerowitz depicts the relationship between a modern monument and a city in transition. Roland Barthes’ punctum — defined in Camera Lucida as that photographic element that “pierces the viewer” — may well be off-frame, wherever the people missing from so many of the images may be (South County? Clayton?). The Meyerowitz images are over thirty years old now, and recent urban regeneration might cast them in a new light.

raimistOther photographers with work in The City Inside/Out include Andrew Raimist, Ken Konchel, David Johnson, Demond Meek, Alise O’Brien and Richard Sprengeler. Raimist drills down in Meyerowitz’s world to the surface of the Arch itself, capturing the vandal-created surface texture that belies its unitary skyline presence. Meek’s images of abandoned buildings, largely in isolation as if sprung from the unconscious upon the landscape, provide a reminder of the more troublesome impact of time on architectural beauty.

Shifting Terrains: Works By Carlie Trosclair
Opening Saturday, June 8 from 7:00 – 11:00 p.m.
Drew Henry salon&gallery, 2309 Cherokee Street

Saturday, on kinetic Cherokee Street, the south side’s fastest-changing artery, there is another noteworthy opening. Carlie Trosclair will exhibit recent works in a show entitled Shifting Terrains at the Drew Henry salon&gallery. Some may recall being captured by Trosclair’s soft sculpture installations at various venues (although perhaps not in a river stream in Vermont). These fervent spatial occupations evince an originality desperately lacking in local hard-architecture practice and a searing psychological intensity that can simultaneously intimidate and mesmerize.


In Shifting Terrains, Trosclair offers an array of impressionistic entry points into constructed space. Her alterations to photographs of decayed interiors are a welcome break from the traditional gaze upon architectural ruin. By casting aside photorealism, these works evoke their subjects’ dreamlike — perhaps sometimes nightmarish — experiential nature more vividly than straight-on documents.

Architect Eric Mendelsohn wrote in Amerika that the American city was “unbridled, mad, frenetic, lusting for life.” While Mendelsohn was capturing traits of the twentieth century’s rapid urban pulse, Trosclair’s works suggest that even in decay our cities possess an energetic secret life. Perhaps even that life is more terrifying now that it comes from urban free-fall instead of controlled growth. Yet there may be a quiet order in urban trauma we don’t always detect — and Trosclair seems intent on finding that order.

Mid-Century Modern Shaw South St. Louis

The Streamlined Standard Service Station in Shaw

by Michael R. Allen and Emily Kozlowski

Thurman Station as it looks today.

Preservation Research Office’s latest project was a sheer joy: preparation of a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the streamlined Thurman Station gas station in the Shaw neighborhood. Thurman Station is an automobile service station at 2232 Thurman Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri built by Czechoslovakian-born franchisee Alois F. Mulach in 1940. Built from the 1930s Standard Oil Company design prototype, the building exemplifies the standard oblong box, porcelain enamel-clad gas station form that was developed at the height of Streamlined Moderne gas station design. The Thurman Station is an excellent showcase of changing gas station design trends in mid-20th century America.

Between 1930 and 1950, modernist design strongly influenced American gas station architecture. The economic depression of the 1930s resulted in deteriorating gasoline sales. In response, new larger stations were built to house more services (like repair service and tire changing) and allow sales of more goods (like tires). The changes increased services and products kept stations competitive. This business tactic brought about the idea of the “common” gas station — always near and usually in close proximity to another station.

The entrance to the shop and office at Thurman Station. Soon the plywood will be removed.

The introduction of new services in subsequently competitive gas stations influenced a new building style. Traditionally, gas stations had hip or gable roofs, but new stations were constructed with completely flat roofs to stand out from the rest. The new gas stations used more glass plate and took away nearly all exterior decoration. Walls were built with brick or stucco, painted with color schemes that matched their company’s logo design. With a clean and bare look, the new gas stations stood apart from any former designs previously used. Built for function and purpose, this particular design became simply known as “the oblong box.”

Sherman Perk occupies the former Copeland’s Service Station in Milwaukee (1937). Copleand’s was built according to the same Standard Oil plan as Thurman Station, but originally clad in masonry instead of enamel panels.

Streamlined industrial design and modern car culture influenced car manufacturers as well as service stations. Designer Walter Dorwin Teague developed an early and influential “streamlined” design for The Texas Company (Texaco) in 1934. Teague’s prototype had curved corners and eye-catching, simple green and red details. Soon other national companies instructed designers to follow suit. Socony-Vacuum Company (now Mobil Oil) hired prominent industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes to develop streamlined buildings. Most stations featured a flat roof, minimal details, the use of porcelain metal panels and a rounded corner with inset office and retail area.

Walter Dorwin Teague’s patent drawings for a Texaco gas station (1934).
Model of Norman Bel Geddes’ famous standard design for Socony-Vacuum service stations (1934).

Building materials were intentionally chosen for service station buildings. Porcelain enamel metal tiles, for example, conjured a modern feeling, while remaining durable, impervious to most damage, easily cleaned through simple washing and as shiny as a new automobile. By the end of the 1950s, however, porcelain enamel service stations began to be remodeled. A common alteration was the removal of the tiles and transformative remodeling based on popular ranch-style designs popular in suburban residential design.

Context: Looking southeast from the intersection of Cleveland and Thurman avenues.

Although located within the Shaw Historic District (a certified local historic district), the gas station was “non-contributing” due to its age. The Shaw Historic District’s period of significance ended in 1937. Preservation Research Office thus prepared a single nomination using the context of the Historic Auto-Related Resources of St. Louis, Missouri Multiple Property Documentation Form (MPDF) written by Ruth Keenoy and Karen Bode Baxter in 2005. Already approved at the state level this month, Thurman Station awaits final listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Thurman Station’s future entails a historically sensitive rehabilitation designed by Craig Shields of Resitect. The porcelain panels are set to shine once more. The owners will use the space for a catering business that will demonstrate the adaptive reuse potential of just one of the city’s vacant oblong box gas stations.

Laura G. Jablonski aided in editing this article, which is derived from the nomination.

Mid-Century Modern Midtown Pruitt Igoe Urban Renewal Era

Mid-Century Modernism, Race and Equality: Two St. Louis Landmarks

by Michael R. Allen

The notion of buildings that speak helps us to place at the very centre of our architectural conundrums the questions of the values we want to live by – rather than merely of how we want things to look.
– Alan de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

In 1956, two small one-story buildings were completed around the downtown area. One was designed by a renowned modernist designer for a growing financial institution, while the other was a modest building built by a family-owned business. Yet both buildings were modern in style, and, more importantly, built amid rapid and often conflict-laden demographic changes around the city’s commercial core. These commercial outposts would become most significant for association with the city’s struggles for racial and social equality. Today these two buildings speak of the contradictions inherent in mid-century modernism: the remaining beauty of design and the unacknowledged backdrops of overt racism and economic strife.

The Jefferson Bank and Trust Company: dual icon of architectural modernism and the local civil rights movement.

Yet neither building sports a plaque, and one most likely will be demolished. Both are keys to showing the story of the city’s social justice struggles in the recent past. While businessmen perched at desks in modern office towers downtown, and families enjoyed sunlight from large banks of windows in their latest Eichleresque ranch in St. Louis County, thousands of St. Louisans fought for the same opportunities. Modernist architecture sometimes was the backdrop there as well, as two very different buildings show.

The Jefferson Bank and Trust Company Building: W.A. Sarmiento Meets CORE

Earlier this year, the Cultural Resources Office kicked off the citywide St. Louis Modern architectural survey (conducted with assistance from Portland-based Peter Meijer Architect PC and modernista Christine Madrid French) by publishing an image of the Jefferson Bank and Trust Company building at the southwest corner of Jefferson and Market streets. The architectural symbolism was double: the building is both the work of one of St. Louis’ most important modernist commercial designers and the site of one of the city’s most significant (and complicated) civil rights demonstrations. That the project would be visually marked by a building connected to both aesthetics and social unrest bodes well for future local scholarship in modern architecture.

The corner entrance of the building has been altered, but the form is intact.

The striking modernist bank building is the work of celebrated architect W.A. Sarmiento, in his capacity as chief designer for Bank Building and Equipment Corporation of America, and was completed in 1956. The building was the second home of a bank that started on a site three blocks north and moved to its present home on Market Street in 1977. When the new bank opened on April 2, 1956, the press reported that it was the first new bank building in the city completed since 1928. The unknown veracity of that claim does not diminish the fact that Sarmiento’s hand places the building among the region’s finest modernist works.

Wenceslao A. Sarmiento, born in Peru, started designing for the prolific Bank Building and Equipment Corporation of America in 1949. By 1952, Sarmiento was chief of design and had reoriented the company’s design practice toward a brand of iconic, playful modernism that drew inspiration from work by Frank Lloyd Wright, Oscar Niemeyer, Harris Armstrong and other less-than-doctrinaire designers. Sarmiento eschewed the functionalist conventions of the International Style, and even introduced ornament to his designs through lettering, grilles and other elements. Sarmiento is a peer to Edward Durrell Stone and others nationwide breaking from academic modernism. In St. Louis, Sarmiento’s work includes the IBEW Local #1 Headquarters (1960), the Chancery of the Archdiocese (1963) and the AAA Building (1976, designed through his subsequent solo firm).

Ahead of the contract for the Jefferson Bank and Trust Company building, the Bank Building and Equipment Corporation felt the pains of the postwar building economy. Remodeling projects outnumbered new buildings ten to one in 1952. However by 1956 the firm had 35 new projects, including substantial new construction projects. These trends reflect trends across St. Louis in which postwar modernism’s first major commercial wave consisted largely of remodeling and recladding projects.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch heralded the new bank building upon completion in 1956.

For the Jefferson Bank and Trust Company building (incidentally built after demolition of the St. Louis Coliseum of 1908 designed by Frederick C. Bonsack), Sarmiento conjured a planar sonata of sorts. The main entrance, now bricked in, was located at the corner under a prominent sloped wall plane that joined a dramatic back-sloped roof plane over the office areas. This was offset with a roof plan of diverging slopes on the west side of the building, where the lobby was located. As prominent as the pronounced roof forms were the eight drive-up banking windows underneath projecting flat roofs. The building’s materials bridged the gap between resolute modernism and local building culture: local red brick, metal and stucco. The price of construction was reported at $650,000.

The bank building viewed from the northwest, showing the rear roof profile.
The Jefferson Bank and Trust Company building viewed from the southeast.

Implanted in a space age building, Jefferson Bank and Trust Company’s assets grew future-forward, from $22 million in 1955 to $52 million in 1963. The context for the building changed greatly as well. The city cleared the 97 block Mill Creek Valley district to the south starting in 1959, changing the entire context of the area from a historic African-American neighborhood to a monumental corporate and institutional park. The massive Pruitt-Igoe housing project had opened to the north in 1956, fostering changes in surrounding blocks. All of a sudden, Jefferson Bank and Trust Company was central to the storms of struggle and radical urban surgery. The corner of Washington and Jefferson was no longer a placid spot for business, but ripe with potent unrest as palpable as the lines with which Sarmiento endowed the building.

In 1963, the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) led demonstrations against Jefferson Bank and Trust Company over the bank’s dismal record in hiring and promoting African-Americans to professional positions. While other banks were equally complicit in these patterns, Jefferson Bank and Trust Company stood in a historically black neighborhood and held state and city funds (including public employee pension funds). CORE’s leaders thought that pressure on the bank could lead to withdrawal of public funds.

One of the early demonstrations at Jefferson Bank and Trust Company in summer 1963.

CORE demonstrations in summer 1963 quickly led to an injunction from the St. Louis Circuit Court. On August 30, 1963, 250 demonstrators gathered and marched into the bank singing “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “We Shall Overcome” in defiance of the court order. Nine demonstrators, including future Congressman William L. Clay, Marion Oldham, Norman Seay and others, were arrested and late sentenced to jail time. Other demonstrators were arrested on October 4 and 7 following more demonstrations. The demonstrations raised public awareness of racist bank practices, but failed to achieve the result of getting the city to remove funds or immediate bank changes. Many people served jail terms, and activists became divided over the tactics and strategy used.

The outcome of CORE’s efforts galvanized more radical young activists who widely viewed the failed demonstrations as the result of timid traditional activism. New paths were forged in the wake of the Jefferson Bank and Trust Company demonstrations. Percy Green II denounced the “battle fatigue” of older CORE leaders and founded the Action Committee to Increase Opportunities for Negroes (ACTION) in 1965. Green soon after would shake up the city by attempting to scale another modernist landmark, Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch. That iconic work of architecture bears the scars of inequality in construction job hiring, the target of Green’s protest.

The lack of an identifying marker or official City Landmark status for the Jefferson Bank building is unfortunate. Then again, in the entire Mill Creek Valley neighborhood to the south not a single marker stands to commemorate the African-American experiences there. Only on Locust Street is there a sidewalk plaque, marking the childhood home of poet T.S. Eliot. The refusal to acknowledge these African-American history sites brings to mind the words of Norman Seay when interviewed in 2010 about the Jefferson Bank protest.

The one plaque around Mill Creek Valley marks the location of T.S. Eliot’s birthplace.

When in 2010 St. Louis Beacon writer Linda Lockhart asked if racism was still alive in St. Louis, Seay said yes — with a sobering qualification: “It’s sneaky. It’s subtle.” Interest in preserving modernist architecture in St. Louis and elsewhere has largely deflected the messy strands of design and race. Urban renewal and its landscapes are largely panned by preservationists, and the social injustice decried. Yet modern architecture’s complexities extend far beyond obviously contested sites. Struggle is as worthy of commemoration as is exemplary design — because both are integral components of the architectural battleground of postwar St. Louis.

The Pruitt Igoe Neighborhood Station: A Modest Monument

Across Cass Avenue from the forest marking the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, at 2411 Cass Avenue stands a little building with a sun-catching tapestry of modern brick on its front wall, and plain concrete blocks on its sides and back. The Richardson family built the building in 1956 and opened a delicatessen that no doubt benefited from the arrival of some 12,000 residents at the brand new public housing complex. Yet the little building would play a more significant role in the life of Pruitt-Igoe, albeit briefly.

The Pruitt-Igoe Neighborhood Station at 2411 Cass Avenue as it appears today.

The Urban League of St. Louis assumed operation of St. Louis’ anti-poverty program in September 1965. With funding coming through the Human Development Corporation, the Urban League opened four “neighborhood stations” to serve districts in north St. Louis identified as having high concentrations of poverty. These districts were Wells-Goodfellow, Easton-Taylor, Yeatman and Pruitt-Igoe. Today, with the exception of the mostly-cleared Pruitt-Igoe district, the areas are still among the city’s poorest and most in need of social services.

Map of neighborhood stations and other facilities that appeared in the Urban League of St. Louis 1966 Annual Report.

The Urban League leased the Richardson delicatessen from 1966 through 1969. During those years, the building was the Pruitt-Igoe Neighborhood Station. There, the Urban League offered an array of services including job training and placement, sex education, tutorial programs, Head Start and health classes. By 1965, Pruitt-Igoe’s woes were dire. The 33 towers already had a vacancy rate of more than 25%, and the remaining residents were nearly all African-American and among the city’s poorest. Still, residents had moxie. The people who used the Pruitt-Igoe Neighborhood Station established an advisory committee and helped the Urban League reach more residents and find private resources not included in the anti-poverty program’s annual public grant.

Social workers counseling Pruitt-Igoe residents at the Neighborhood Station. Source: 1966 Annual Report, Urban League of St. Louis.

Panacea for Pruitt-Igoe’s ills was not even remotely possible, but stopgaps were. In the little brick-faced building on Cass Avenue, the Urban League tried to help residents do the best that they could – with limited funding and limited resources. In the end, the Neighborhood Station was not enough, and when it closed drastic measures were in the works for Pruitt-Igoe. The Model Cities program went into effect nationwide, and the city of St. Louis chose a big part of north city including Pruitt-Igoe for federal funds that — had they been sufficient and steady enough – might have cleared and reshaped the area. Model Cities briefly assumed the Cass Avenue building as an office.

Inside of the Pruitt Igoe Neighborhood Station in 2008. Despite the loss of the roof, the concrete block structure is intact.

Where planners next dreamed of utopian solutions to address the dystopian realities of north city, today one will find no traces. Today, the little building is owned by Northside Regeneration LLC, which purchased it after it had long gone vacant. The four walls are strong, but the roof structure forms a wooden mess inside. Paired with the adjacent Grace Baptist church, founded by Pruitt-Igoe residents and utilizing a former neighborhood grocery store, the Neighborhood Station building is a key fragment of St. Louis’ housing crisis. I am not the first to state that the small building would make a fine Pruitt-Igoe museum. At the least, it stands silently testifying to the social realities of modernism.

The Neighborhood Station awaits an uncertain fate. Meanwhile, Grace Baptist Church is rehabilitating the building visible in the background for use as a community center.

To understand mid-century St. Louis, we must peel off our filters that privilege high-style modernism and the lives of the middle and upper classes. Our Sarmiento-designed landmarks lose a lot of context without the backdrop of Pruitt-Igoe and homegrown modern buildings like the Richardson deli. The vagaries of time, use and memory dispel any notion that we can save all. Yet as we evaluate what parts of architectural epochs are worth keeping, let us not forget sites of struggle and sites built through poverty. Until the city has vanquished racial and economic barriers, these landmarks tell us as much about ourselves as do the valuable, colorful and sophisticated modernism seen in designs that include Jefferson Bank.


The Last Full Moon Fiasco

by Michael R. Allen

Henry Ziegenhein served as mayor of St. Louis from 1897 until 1901. He is best known for his quip to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1900 during his delay in signing a street lighting contract. With the city was dark for weeks, the mayor told the press: “We’ve got a moon yet, ain’t it?”

Such a proclamation was far from one mayor’s provincial mindset. In 1939, St. Louis city government actually turned off street lights early and shut off all park lights to balance the city budget.

No telling if Ziegenhein would approve, but he seems to share a historic lunar conviction with the posse of bicyclists who rode its last Full Moon Fiasco last night. If you don’t know what FBC stands for, think about it. Coincidentally, FBC’s (celebrated) founders included Peat Henry while one-term mayor Ziegenhein was known (derisively) as “Uncle Henry.”

Missouri Missouri Legislature Public Policy

Urgent: Missouri House Votes to Cut Historic Tax Credits; Senate Action Ahead Tomorrow?

by Christian Frommelt

Around 5:30 pm this evening the Missouri House passed SB112 (New Markets Credit) that included an amendment to reduce the historic tax credit cap from $140 million to $90 million ($10 million cap on small projects) and another amendment to renew Paul McKee’s Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit. As each of you know, this is legislation that would significantly harm St. Louis’s efforts to continue essential revitalization of historic buildings. This revitalization creates jobs, leverages private investment, broadens the tax base, and preserves the unique historic environment that remains our biggest asset as a region. It’s imperative that we call on advocates in the Senate to speak out against this bill to defeat it.

Paul McKee’s credit has created exactly zero jobs while the historic tax credit has created over 43,000. Paul McKee has torn down irreplaceable historic buildings with no promise of redevelopment while the historic tax credit has had an enormous impact in returning similar historic buildings back to life and property tax rolls. Defeating SB112 and its amendments is the obvious choice for future economic development and historic preservation in St. Louis. Pleas urge our senators to defeat SB112, which will be discussed tonight or tomorrow.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed: 573-751-4415, 314-409-5730 (c) |
Sen. Joe Keaveny: 573-751-3599 |
Sen. Scott Sifton: 573-751-0220, 314-631-0445 (c) |


The Real Cost of Demolishing Cupples 7


Today the St. Louis Beacon published a commentary by Preservation Research Office Director Michael Allen entitled “The Real Cost of Demolishing Cupples 7”. The article raises several questions, including:

Why can’t the city offer a comparable amount to the demolition funds in escrow for stabilization? The Building Division can’t come in and work on a building not owned by the city, but St. Louis Development Corporation could structure a deal where some money from another sources was available.

At a time when Great Rivers Greenway District has had to go to voters for a sales tax increase, why does the city need more publicly owned green space to maintain? South downtown has more holes than buildings, and does not need another empty space. The walk to Busch Stadium should be activated with retail and activity, not fenced grass.

With Cupples 7, the city is looking at spending almost $2 million in tax dollars to create a fenced lawn where a historic building once stood and remove a property from the tax roles. The venerable warehouse might not be the biggest loss — city government’s ability to protect economic assets and sense of place hang in the balance.

Historic Preservation Urbanism

National Historic Preservation Month: Some Whys and Hows

by Michael R. Allen

May marks the start of National Historic Preservation Month. Perhaps this spring’s sky shifts from dinge of gray to cloud-studded blue find me more introspective about my practice as a historic preservationist, but I keep questioning the impact and methods. Here are links to two recent places where I offer thoughts about what is right and wrong with mainstream historic preservation practice right now. Overall, I am drawn to the vibrancy of communities of people, and am exploring how the stewardship of buildings can support that.

A popular cause: The “flying saucer” at Council Plaza shows the power of popular preservation efforts.

Critical examination of the relationship of my practice to social needs has afforded almost a re-dedication. While I am not sure I ever will be the same “preservationist” I was in the past, I see the relationships between people and my work so much more clearly that I also can see its utility in ways I never saw before. People need preservation, and preservation needs people. Historic preservation has always been a social practice, but its power to serve people can often seem diluted when the lenses of economic development and professional practice are overlaid. Writing by Dolores Hayden, Daniel Bluestone, Camilo Jose Vergara and others suggest that a popular historic preservation practice is not only possible but already exists under dozens of other names.

Preservation is a team effort. Lindsey Derrington, Jeff Vines, randy Vines, Richard Henmi and Toby Weiss hold the Preserve Missouri award foe the flying saucer.

This week, in the rotunda of our state capitol, Missouri preservation bestowed a Preserve Missouri Award upon the “flying saucer” at Council Plaza. Rather than grant that award to the developer or architect of the renovation, which is common in preservation accolade-giving, Missouri preservation presented the award to a list of people whose interrelated efforts gave rise to mass support for preservation. Jeff and Randy Vines, Toby Weiss, Richard Henmi (who designed the building, completed in 1967), Aldermen Shane Cohn and Scott Ogilvie, PRO’s Lindsey Derrington and others received a collective award for their mass action. That’s what the preservation movement needs to do more often: recognize that buildings are made and remade by the masses, with people’s different roles adding up to a building’s preservation. The flying saucer shows that buildings that mean something to people become the biggest successes. Preservationists need to consider how the forces of architectural meaning work, and how they can’t be faked.

Preservationists at rest. Volunteers and neighborhood residents in Penrose during the Rebuilding Together home repair blitz in summer 2010. Landmarks Association of St. Louis gave the project its first “Community Preservation” award.

This introduction leads to two works that reflect my current thinking:

1. A Room Without A View?

Minneapolis’ Works Progress visited St. Louis last week to complete a series of events called “Whole City” that examined the artistic and cultural practices that are shaping St. Louis right now. The series culminated with an exhibit at the Luminary Center for the Arts. Asked to contribute an essay to the publication released at the event, I pulled together thoughts on the interconnected dynamics in preservation, urbanism, community art and “creative placemaking.” This piece is an attempt, not an answer; I am reflecting on how these practices can matter more to the people of St. Louis. The excellent critical publication Temporary Art Review republished the piece yesterday.

2. Hold That Thought: Last House Standing

The College of Arts and Sciences at Washington University presents a wonderful podcast called Hold That Thought produced by Claire Navarro. Last month Claire interviewed me about the psychology of preserving buildings in depleted neighborhoods. The resulting podcast examines Old North St. Louis specifically, with emphasis on why people there are so fiercely protecting of buildings in an urban landscape that some may no longer consider urban in terms of built or population density.

Historic Preservation Month offers a time to celebrate the social good of preservation of historic places. For us practitioners, hopefully it also finds us sharpening our self-awareness so that we can be better aids to the people and the buildings we love. Preservation can be a popular value, and preservationists should do everything we can to make that so.


Talk: The James Clemens, Jr. House: St. Louis’ Most Endangered House

May is National Historic Preservation Month, and we have joined the Chatillon-DeMenil House foundation for an event that will raise awareness of the plight of an endangered sister house on the north side.


The James Clemens, Jr. House: St. Louis’ Most Endangered House

Sunday, May 5, 2013
2:00 p.m.
Chatillon-DeMenil House, 3352 DeMenil Place

In 1858, James Clemens began building a magnificent country home on Cass Avenue outside of the central city. Designed by Patrick Walsh, the Clemens House embodied the principles of Palladian villa design while utilizing cast iron for man of its architectural elements, a rarity in St. Louis if not nationally. This grand house has gone through changes over the years, and today sits facing an uncertain future. Abandoned and neglected for the last twenty years, James Clemens’ house is the last antebellum mansion in St. Louis to not be restored or rehabilitated. Architectural historian Michael R. Allen will present the story of the house — past, present and future. This event is free.


Call Party at the Harry Hammerman House to Save the Missouri Historic Tax Credit

Wednesday April 24, 2013, 4:00-7:00 pm

at the Harry Hammerman House
219 Graybridge Rd. Ladue, MO 63124

Please join us at the mid-century modern Harry Hammerman House (1952), designed and built by Harry Hammerman following principles of Frank Lloyd Wright. The Hammerman House was rehabilitated in 2008 using the historic tax credit. We will contact legislators, including key St. Louis County-based opponents, urging them to preserve the historic tax credit, which is currently under a grave threat in the State Capitol. Written materials will be provided to guide your interactions. Wine and refreshments will also be available.

RSVP to Christian Frommelt:, or (314) 323-6854