James Clemens House North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North St. Louis Place

Questions for Northside Regeneration

by Michael R. Allen

The Missouri Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling issued yesterday affirming the Northside Regeneration redevelopment ordinances means “we’re open for business,” in the words of company leader Paul J. McKee, Jr. Of course since Circuit Court Judge Robert Dieker, Jr.’s July 2010 ruling invalidated those ordinances, Northside Regeneration has not really been doing much different. The company acquired 162 city-owned parcels in St. Louis Place and a two-year option on the Pruitt-Igoe site last year, demolished some buildings, convinced the Board of Aldermen to add the ailing “Bottle District” site into the project boundary, hired 17 lobbyists to push for extension of the controversial Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit in the state house and continued to meet with politicians and editorial boards.

Northside Regeneration’s foot print circa May 2009. The Bottle District land is not included here.

What the lack of a final legal ruling has meant is that both Northside Regeneration and the City of St. Louis have had a major excuse for not pursuing basic points engrained finely in the 2009 redevelopment agreement with the city. In terms of the built environment, McKee and officials in city government had repeatedly said that the pending Supreme Court ruling is the reason that dangerous half-demolished buildings cannot be removed, why historic buildings cannot be maintained, and why there can be no sale of Northside Regeneration’s curious supply of buildings in Old North outside of its boundaries.

Consequently, the people who should see the “need for development” most strongly are among those least impressed by Northside Regeneration’s much-touted “vision.” This is as much a failure of operations as it is in relationship-building. If Northside Regeneration truly is to be “open for business” it may consider that public relations are far more crucial to project longevity than the company’s penchant for making large campaign contributions. After all, city residents are going to be forfeiting sales tax revenues to the developer for years to come. The subsidy makes us investors — and investors need to see the balance sheet, right?

Then again, what some residents have begun to suspect is that Northside Regeneration is a land banking operation disguised as a development project. The proposed rewrite to the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act makes changes that extend remuneration for long-term ownership, change compensation for demolition for 50% to 100% of the costs and generally suggest that long-term holding is what is being incentivized, not large-scale urban redevelopment.

A very early public meeting on what became Northside Regeneration was hosted by Alderwomen April Ford-Griffin and Marlene Davis at Vashon High School in August 2007.

According to McKee and the Slay administration yesterday, those suspicions would be gravely mistaken. Development is coming soon. Then now is the time for answers to some of the questions that neighborhood preservationists have been asking for awhile. Before I present those questions, consider that they would be more potently – and transparently — answered in a public meeting. The last public meeting for Northside Regeneration was nearly four years ago. How about City Hall and Northside Regeneration booking the auditorium at Vashon High School — needs to be a public building, for obvious reasons — and holding a forum where residents can’t get some current answers?

Meantime, I will place a few questions related to my professional concerns (and these are as much directed at McKee as they are to City Hall which is supposed to be overseeing this project for us taxpayer-investors):

Northside Regeneration circulated this rendering of the James Clemens House complex back in 2010. Where do things stand now? And can we get some roof repairs?
Stripped of portico, here is what the James Clemens House looks like today.

What is the time line for rehabilitation of the James Clemens House? The James Clemens House at 1849 Cass Avenue (1860-1896) sits in shambles. The roof is deteriorating. The front door to the chapel has been wide open for months. The lawn is strewn with garbage and tree limbs. The front wall is collapsing. Northside Regeneration once promised to make preservation a priority, but its first plan fell apart. Will the complex be lost before the city takes action to renew the developer’s promise?

This bar on St. Louis Avenue brings people together, pays taxes and keeps the corner safe. Why should its owners face eminent domain?

What was that about eminent domain again? There has been a lot of talk but people need something placed in writing clear as crystal. The redevelopment ordinances leave eminent domain an open option, but obliquely — they don’t expressly authorize it but they don’t suspend its use through existing means. Everyone knows that once an area is blighted private property rights are thrown out the window. Yet Mayor Francis Slay and Mckee have stated that owner-occupants are safe in the Northside Regeneration foot print. Let’s get that in writing. Oh, but: what about small businesses? Why aren’t they safe too? Small businesses represent a form of personal wealth, and we know that eminent domain has been used to disempower African-American and poor St. Louisans for decades. It could easily do so again.

Northside Regeneration owns three houses on Old North’s only block without demolition. What gives?

Why won’t Northside Regeneration sell its parcels in Old North (including dozens of historic buildings)? Northside Regeneration owns an estimates 62 parcels in Old North outside of its project boundary. At least a dozen historic buildings, like those pictured above on the 1400 block of Hebert Street – Old North’s only block with no demolitions – are deteriorating under Northside Regeneration ownership. One recently burned to the ground, damaging adjacent occupied buildings. None of these properties are listed for sale or sport for-sale signs, and potential buyers have received conflicting answers about their availability. McKee told KMOX last month they are for sale. Are they?

2900 St. Louis Avenue (c. 1880) is one Northside Regeneration-owned building that supports a strong context and is in good condition. Will it be preserved?

Will Northside Regeneration create a list of properties to be rehabilitated as required by the redevelopment agreement? There are dozens of historic buildings owned by the company within historic districts , or in areas that are intact settings with occupied housing. The house shown here, at 2900 St. Louis Avenue, has no official historic status but sits in a very intact section of St. Louis Avenue facing the new Lindell Park Historic District. The redevelopment agreement requires a list of buildings to be rehabilitated with a timeline for taking steps toward rehabilitation. No one expects full rehabs right away, but selection and then intervention to stabilize and beautify these properties would be a sign of good faith. (This house ought to be one of the ones saved.)

Brick thieves might not ask permission, but Northside Regeneration is still liable for the conditions of its properties.

Will we stop seeing half-demolished “doll houses” any time soon? Northisde Regeneration’s frequent statement that it can’t demolish houses severely damaged by brick thieves until the Supreme Court ruled made little sense. These are hazardous sites, with potential for injury and lead paint and asbestos airborne toxicity. Reusable building material gets lost, and legitimate demolition jobs are lost. These sites must be demolished immediately. Other buildings proposed for demolition should be demolished legally so that these horrendous and unsafe brick-rustled monstrosities stop plaguing people’s neighborhoods.

There are questions that I have been asking for years about Northside Regeneration. Hopefully these will be answered in short time. What are other questions, readers?

Abandonment Events Old North

Sustainable Land Lab Winners Revealed Next Week

by Michael R. Allen

A vacant lot on 14th Street in Old North.

In St. Louis, vacant land is a huge problem. Yet the details are small: a single lot here, a moribund city-owned red-brick house there, or a dead gas station down the block. As the city struggles to conjure systematic strategies for dealing with the vacancy and to gain rapid demand for land reuse — big solutions — some small solutions are emerging. Many business owners, neighbors and dreamers have conquered a building or a lot, often making a critical impact for a larger area.

Bistro Box, a finalist in the Sustainable Land Lab Competition.

The Sustainable Land Lab Competition, sponsored by Washington University in St. Louis, offers a moderate-sized method for vacant land reclamation. The competition secured four vacant parcels in the heart of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood, and funds to offer both two-year leases and $5,000 to implement practical, ready-to-build ideas for reusing them. The proximity of the lots might provide a sizable visual impact, depending on the four winners announced next week.

Sunflower+Project: STL, a finalist in the Sustainable Land Lab Competition.

Among the eight finalists chosen from the initial 48 submissions are the “Bistro Box,” a container cafe placed on 14th Street near Crown Candy Kitchen, and the Sunflower Project, which envisions an interim use of sunflower cultivation that also would aid soil remediation on a polluted vacant lot. Some might argue that these ideas are impractical or ephemeral — but they are not much like projects this city has ever tried before. New ideas are not “destined” to fail or work. New ideas carry the pulse of city’s best minds, without guaranteed results.

The great part about the Sustainable Land Lab Competition process is that these solutions are both malleable (a two-year lease offers a good test period) and transportable (they could be done on different sites, multiple sites or better sites). Also, the competition should encourage neighborhoods to take action now. All we have is now, the song goes — so let these ideas inspire more local, less-structured actions regionally. After all, the whole city came into being by furtive, sustainable land development. St. Louis remains an experiment.



Thursday, April 11
6:30 PM
Bridge, 1004 Locust Street

Disclaimer: I serve on the Sustainable Land Lab Competition Advisory Committee.


North St. Louis St. Louis Place

Old Free Thinkers’ School Falling in St. Louis Place

by Emily Kozlowski

The Freie Gemeinde building in 2009.

A quick pass down North 20th Street gives a glimpse of an unassuming brick school house, surrounded by a concrete lot and a chain-link fence. In front of the building is a small market and behind it is a residential street. Upon closer inspection, you begin to notice more. It is made of a deep red brick, thirteen bays wide, two stories tall, with a limestone clad foundation and a porch dressed in cast-iron.

The building today.

Most recently used by the Youth and Family Center, but abandoned since 2009, the building has since not received much attention. This is obvious, as water damage has accumulated and now whole sections of walls are quickly crumbling. In a matter of weeks, the building’s stability drastically worsened and in late February the roof over the gymnasium collapsed, pulling down much of the second floor. As bad it the building looks, its history that would surprise most, with connections that reach farther than St. Louis. An inscription on a limestone block above the main entrance reads “Warheit Macht Frei: Schule aud Die Freien Congregation von Nord St. Louis” or “Truth Makes One Free: School of the Free Thinkers of North St. Louis.” The building, dating back to 1867 and expanded greatly in 1883, once housed the German-American group, Die Freie Gemeinde.

The stone above the entrance, added in the 1883 expansion of the building.

In 2011, Preservation Research Office completed the National Register of Historic Places listing for the St. Louis Place Historic District. Working under the direction of then-Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin, we made special effort to extend the eastern boundary of the district to encompass this building. This effort allowed the building to be eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits, and everyone was hopeful that it would be a prime candidate for rehabilitation.

Historic view of the expanded Freie Gemeinde building.
Historic view of the expanded Freie Gemeinde building.

Beginning in 1848, German intellectuals began fleeing their country after a series of failed political and economic revolutions. The United States saw a sharp influx of immigration as a result, with a large German community settling in St. Louis. (Think Dutchtown, Hyde Park, Anheuser-Busch, etc.) The Midwest in particular became a home to the Freie Gemeinde, a school of German thought with foundations in the Catholic and Protestant churches, from which it ultimately separated. Their main purpose was “to unite the foes of clericalism, official dishonesty and hypocrisy, and to unite the friends of truth, uprightness, and honesty.” It was a philosophy that embraced the individual instead of institution.

The rear elevation facing St. Louis Place Park showed signs of major damage when we visited in August 2012.

The Freie Gemeinde, which translates to “the free congregation,” believed that man has the basic right of applying knowledge of history and science to religion, choosing which aspects of faith are reasonable and which should be disregarded. The church fought against this individualized idea of religion, instead defining faith as an acceptance of dogma without question. The Freie Gemeinde also applied individuality to religious institution. They removed the hierarchal structure of the church, allowing for each congregation of Free Thought to exist on its own without a superior body. Churches came to be referred to as halls and a pastor or priest became a “speaker.” In a Freie Gemeinde Hall, the congregation attended lectures on subjects ranging from science to philosophy instead of the traditional sermon, even encouraging discussion during lectures. The group was ahead of their time and influential as immigrants in the Midwest. Today, the last remaining Freie Gemeinde exists in Sauk City, Wisconsin.

The Freie Gemeinde Building as it appeared after construction of the earliest norther section in 1867.

The building at 2930 N. 21st Street was, at one time, referred to with a full German name – Freie Gemeinde von Nord St. Louis und Bremen. The first Freie Gemeinde group in the United States formed in St. Louis in 1850, a leading example to other congregations that sprang up across the country. This was the first community center in the neighborhood and boasted a library of over 3,000 books in German. It was a large meeting hall for discussions and education in philosophy, literature, science, and other topics.

Three men associated with the Freie Gemeinde von Nord St. Louis, Preetorious, Danzer, and Schurtz are famous for their association with local German newspapers. As editors of the Westliche Post and the Anzeiger des Westens, they openly criticized religious oppression and slavery. The Naked Truth Monument in Compton Reservoir Park is dedicated to these three free thinking Germans. The bronze woman symbolizes truth, holding torches of enlightenment for both Germany and America. The inscription, in both English and German, tells of the German-Americans dedication to their adopted country. Just north, nestled between a market and a row of houses, the building where these men and many other German-Americans met and formed a community is crumbling and slipping away from public memory. Little does St. Louis know, the real monument is falling.

naked truth monument

Abandonment Demolition North St. Louis Old North

Seven Lost Buildings in Old North

by Michael R. Allen

Last month my friend Emily Hemeyer invited me to contribute to a sprawling, wood-made installation called the Migratory Hive Project. The Migratory Hive Project was exhibited outdoors in Columbia, Missouri during the annual True/False Film Festival, and hopefully can find life space in St. Louis soon.

Migratory Hive Project. Photograph by Emily Hemeyer.

Emily assigned me the task of constructing an installation that would fit inside of a wooden box (in fact, one that we had utilized for our collaborative St. Louis Mythtory Tour in 2011). After contemplating ideas ranging from packing the box densely with parts of a soon-to-be-demolished certain former funeral home to constructing a scale model of another house inside of the box, I decided instead to curate a bit of personal pschogeography.


Hand-On Preservation Training March 13 & 14

Missouri Preservation One Day Hands-On Training: March 13 & 14, 2013
Care, Restoration & Repair of Historic Masonry

Materials to be covered include mixture and pointing for brick surfaces, cleaning and repair of brick, limestone, sandstone and terra cotta.

Date(s): March 13 & 14, 2013 (second date will be filled after first date registration filled)
Time: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Location: The Lemp Brewery Complex
3410 Lemp Avenue, Suite 22A, STLMO 63118

Credits: Three hours HSW (AIA approved credits)

Cost: $75 registration fee

RSVP: To register and learn details, download this form.

Public Policy

What the Next Mayor Could Do

by Michael R. Allen

Next week, while the author of this post is safely ensconced on a job site in Oklahoma, St. Louisans will select a Democratic candidate for Mayor. Given tradition and barring mercurial rises in Green Party prospects, the Democrat will go on to win the general election in April.

While the aldermen still hold extraordinary power in our system, the mayor has a fair share. Incumbent Francis Slay has honed that power deftly, more so than most of his recent predecessors. Until the city gets a modern charter, whoever is mayor will have to muster powers of persuasion as much as actual powers of office to get things done.

Missouri Missouri Legislature Public Policy

Missouri Has Historic Tax Credits For a Reason

by Michael R. Allen

Buildings on the 2300 block of St. Louis Avenue in the St. Louis Place Historic District are eligible for Missouri’s rehabilitation tax credit.

Wednesday was a sobering day for historic preservation in St. Louis. Very early Wednesday the Missouri Senate perfected a bill (SCS SB120, passed n voice vote) that would reduce the cap on historic tax credits from $140 million to $45 million, while imposing a $5 million cap on “small” projects. Small projects are defined as those with costs of 1.1 million or less — which is about 55% of projects but last year only about $10 million in allocations. The majority of members of the Missouri Senate would slow down both large and small projects. Some senators aren’t doing this to balance the budget or better focus job creation, because they spent yesterday debating a bill for a giant tax cut. The Missouri House seems to be headed toward a more modest cut inn historic tax credits, while Governor Jay Nixon’s current stance is evanescent.

Adaptive Reuse Downtown Historic Preservation

This Building Matters #6: Cupples Station Building 7

Media attention on the Powell Square demolition ought to point us toward a historic warehouse we can save: Cupples Station Building 7 or “Cupples 7” at 11th and Spruce Streets. Built in 1907 and designed by Eames & Young as part of an 18-building complex, the historic warehouse is the last of the surviving buildings to stand empty. The city of St. Louis now controls the building. We asked Andrew Weil, director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis, about the status and the potential of a building whose architecture inspired the design of the current Busch Stadium.

Demolition Preservation Board

Expiration Date for Pevely Demolition Approaching

by Michael R. Allen

Today Riverfront Times reporter Sam Levin has a good article about the status of the Pevely Dairy building at Grand and Chouteau. The main question on people’s minds: What is going on with the Pevely Dairy building?

Central West End Chicago Historic Preservation Hospitals Mid-Century Modern The Ville

Diagnosing the Future: Modernism, Medicine and Historic Preservation

by Michael R. Allen

Prentice Women’s Hospital, ready for demolition.

Last week, the Chicago Commission on Landmarks for the second time unanimously voted to rescind the landmark designation for Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital (completed in 1975). The vote essentially dooms the innovative concrete-shell modernist hospital building to demolition whenever owner Northwestern University decided to tear it down. Additionally, the vote is an odd smack-down of preservationist pragmatism. Preservationists were not insensitive to the programmatic needs of Northwestern University, and did not hold fast to a you-can’t-touch-this absolutism, but instead started embracing the defiant modern design of our time. Alas, what might have been an outstanding moment for solving a tough preservation problem is now just fodder for preservation theory books. Chicago will not be building on precedents that include an unfairly understudied example from St. Louis, where the Washington University School of Medicine demonstrated how important architectural modernism could be preserved amid shifting programmatic needs.