Academy Neighborhood Historic Preservation North St. Louis Preservation Board

Fate of Building at Page and Union Deferred Again

by Michael R. Allen

At Monday’s meeting of the St. Louis Preservation Board, the Board voted 3-2 to defer consideration of an appeal of the staff denial of a demolition permit for the building at 5286-92 Page Boulevard. The applicant is the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church; background on the permit can be found in a post that I made in November. While the November meeting of the Board that considered the matter was packed with congregation members, this month only attorneys William Kuehling and Robert Kinney from Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus appeared to present the church’s case — and yet another rendering of a supposed new building that will replace the existing building (but for which no funds or construction blueprints exist).

Voting to defer the matter were Anthony Robinson, who wanted to hear from the Academy Neighborhood neighborhood association on the proposed new building, Mary Johnson and Alderman Terry Kennedy. Voting against deferral were Mike Killeen and David Richardson. Consideration of the new building is not germane to the Preservation Board’s consideration, which legally applies only to the demolition itself. The building is not located in a local historic district with design guidelines. Instead, it is part of a national historic district where the Board can review demolition permits alone.

Among those who testified in opposition to the demolition was historian Lynn Josse, who wrote the National Register nomination for the Mount Cabanne-Raymond Place Historic District in which this building is a contributing resource and visual anchor. Her words appear here:

By way of background: In 2000, the City of St. Louis funded a National Register nomination in order to protect the Mount Cabanne/Raymond Place Historic District and to encourage the reuse of its valuable historic buildings. The district is listed not only for its architectural merit, which is obvious in this building, but as an example of a compact walkable neighborhood with a distinctly Orthodox Jewish character. The congregation of the B’Nai Amoona synagogue at Academy and Vernon had to live within walking distance of where they worshipped because of Sabbath restrictions, so there was a higher than average concentration of Jewish households and businesses. In most ways though, the neighborhood was like other streetcar neighborhoods of the time. Raymond Place had most of the amenities families needed for daily life within easy walking distance. The building that you’re considering today, by the 1920s was the home of grocery stores, drug stores, a medical office, and a delicatessen – all of which would be vital to the daily life of the neighborhood.

In a district like Mount Cabanne-Raymond Place, it is all too easy to allow the commercial edges to erode and slip away. In this district, we’ve lost at least one of the commercial buildings on Delmar since the listing in 2002. But historically, it is the commercial buildings like this one that made the residential life in the center of the neighborhood possible. Raymond Place boasts a really great collection of architecturally interesting houses, but without the context provided by important commercial buildings like this one, it is just that: a collection of dwellings. Cities are more than that; they are a complex system of people and jobs and transit and housing and recreation and institutions and services and retail. We are doing a good job encouraging reuse of housing, but the neighborhood doesn’t make historic sense and may be less sustainable in the future if you allow the destruction of the small-scale retail spaces that historically have connected people.

Part of what the ordinance directs you to consider is the contribution to the streetscape. This building is the streetscape. For over a hundred years it has defined the corner of Page and Union. Its loss would cause a major gap at the northwest corner of the historic district. Replacing this building with a surface parking lot would be a terrible disservice to the neighborhood. It’s a bad use of land and a terrible waste of an important building that should, according to all of your legal criteria, be preserved.

Academy Neighborhood Churches Demolition Historic Preservation Preservation Board

Confusion at Page and Union

by Michael R. Allen

Monday’s meeting of the Preservation Board was one of the most bizarre in recent memory — and that’s saying something. Visitors to the meeting found a room full of over 60 people when the board convened at 4:00 p.m. Normally, there may be around 15 or 20 people in the audience at the start of a meeting, and many less by the end. Had the board offered a raffle prize?

Alas, the cause for the crowd was political: the majority of people in the audience were members of the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church on Union Avenue, which was appealing Cultural Resources Office staff denial of a demolition permit for the building at the southeast corner of Page Boulevard and Union Avenue. Their purpose seems benign: they want to replace a fire-damaged, abandoned building that neighbors loathe with a gymnasiusm and educational center. There is an interim step of surface parking, but the new building should be standing within two years.

Yet closer examination of the church’s plan and the conduct of the church through the demolition permit process makes their plan seem quite controversial. First, the church applied for a permit in April 2007. After denial, the church attorney sought and obtained two continuances without so much as letting CRO staff know why. Then they finally show up, long after the denial, with a crowd of congregants and an attorney with a thick new brief.

Then there is the fact that the gymnasium and educational center plans dissolve under scrutiny. The church simply does not have solid plans. They have a possible site plan and rendering, prepared by an unregistered intern architect working for St. Louis Design Alliance. They don’t really have a time line or cost estimates. The church plans to build the shell of the building and gradually finish the interior. Even the parking concern seems weak given that they have use of Walgreens’ parking lot across the street in evenings.

Most important, there is the building that the church wants to demolish. The two-story brick commercial building is the last discernibly urban building at one of the most prominent intersections on the north side. The building comes up to the sidewalk, offering definition to the area. Literally, the building anchors the corner. Page and Union abound with glorious buildings, but their intersection has become ugly with Walgreens and a supermarket presenting parking lots to the corner on the west side. That’s a sad fact, but a changeable one. This building offers the first step toward that change.

Architect George H. Kennerly designed the building, which was built in 1905. The elaborate tin cornice and cladding around the projecting bays show Classical Revival and perhaps some Italianate influences. Although marred by peeling paint, the tin is in excellent condition and would restore beautifully. The bay windows create an eloquent rhythm and provide definition to the otherwise boxy form. A small fire has left the building with some damage, including roof collapse, but overall it’s sound. This is the type of building that seems infinitely adaptable to community needs. Every neighborhood needs buildings with combinations of walk-in and walk-up spaces.

Furthermore, the building is within the boundaries of the Mount Cabanne/Raymond Place National Historic District. That fact is noteworthy for two reasons: historic rehab tax credits are available there, and that district has lost many buildings like this one at its southern edge along Delmar.

The Preservation Board did not consider the appeal until nearly 7:30 p.m. Attorney Richard Kenney of Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus began the church’s presentation, which seemed to add other speakers impromptu. Kenney presented a brief written by William Kuehling of his firm. City Counselor objected to Kenney’s evidence, which made many assertions about the inability of the church to reuse the building. Frankly, the church’s use of so many people to testify weakened their case through confusion and exhaustion of nonpartisan witnesses and Board members. Recounting and contesting the church members’ testimony would be tedious and unhelpful to readers of this blog. Eventually, Chairman Richard Callow announced that the Board would take no vote until CRO staff and Board members could carefully examine the church’s evidence. (A special January Preservation Board meting is likely.) However, testimony continued until after 10:00 p.m.

Not one person testified in favor of preservation; myself and others had left for other enagagements. However, the hearing of the matter is still open and citizens should send testimony to the Preservation Board by emailing Board Secretary Adona Buford (

Meantime, one hopes that the church is not too intractable to reconsider their options. The church owns vacant lots on Page, owns an incredible building (potentially worth money to a developer) and enjoys support of its neighborhood, nearby businesses and its Alderman, Frank Williamson. The battle mentality is premature; with the church’s connections it could find a way to do what it wants without robbing a neighborhood of an important architectural anchor.

(Photographs by the author.)

Academy Neighborhood Central West End Demolition Historic Preservation Hyde Park Local Historic District North St. Louis Preservation Board South St. Louis West End

Preview of Monday’s Preservation Board Agenda

by Michael R. Allen

The St. Louis Preservation Board meets Monday at 4:00 p.m. at the offices of the Planning and Urban Design Agency on the twelfth floor of 1015 Locust Street. Meetings typically last three hours.

Here are some highlights from the agenda:

Preliminary Reviews

5594 Bartmer Avenue: The proposed demolition of a beautiful and rare Shingle Style house appeared on the Preservation Board agenda two months ago and was deferred pending study of the reuse potential by the staff of the Cultural Resources Office. Staff has written an excellent report on the building condition and reuse feasibility based on a thorough site visit; read that here. Staff recommends denial of the permit and exploration of a National Historic District for Bartmer Avenue. This house and its neighbors fall outside of any historic districts that would enable the use of historic rehabilitation tax credits.

2300 Newhouse Avenue: The proposed new construction of six frame homes with attached garages in the western edge of Hyde Park manages to add yet another absurd faux historic design to the architecturally mongrelized neighborhood. Here we have brick fronts with shaped parapets imitating 20th century buildings that can be found in Hyde Park, but there is a twist: the parapets are actually gable ends on a front-gabled building! The sides and rear show the pitched roof and reveal the illusion the front barely conceals. Furthermore, the developer includes attached garages and has not submitted a site plan showing setbacks. Staff recommends denial as proposed.

Appeals of Staff Denials

5286 Page Avenue: The appeal of staff denial of a demolition permit for the two-story commercial building at the southeast corner of Page and Union has been on the agenda for months, always being continued at the request of the owners. Another continuance is possible. The building is a contributing resource to the Mount Cabanne/Raymond Place National Historic District and the last remaining commercial building at a prominent intersection degraded by a Walgreens across the street. Staff urges upholding their denial.

4218 Maryland: The unlawful alterations made to this house transformed it in disturbing ways: rebuilt bizarre porch, new cheap door and sidelights that don’t even fit the opening, alteration of brick pattern and color on front elevation and removal of two front bay windows and replacement with flat openings. Yikes! Staff recommends upholding their denial.

Appeal of Preservation Board Denial

2013-15 Park Avenue: The builder of infill housing in Lafayette Square wants to amend earlier plans to face the side elevations with brick and instead face them with vinyl siding. Staff recommends upholding their denial of this request, and wisely so. Here we have strong neighborhood support for a strict local historic district ordinance that expressly prohibits sided primary and secondary elevations. One expects Lafayette Square to be the last local district where vinyl siding should be approved; the neighborhood is both bellwether and inspiration for the power of local district ordinances to shape attractive neighborhoods. (The Lafayette Square standards can also be an example of the the blind spots of such ordinances, but not regarding the use of vinyl siding.)

Academy Neighborhood Demolition North St. Louis

5111 Delmar Boulevard, Demolished

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: 5111 Delmar Boulevard; Academy; Saint Louis, Missouri
ARCHITECT: William Lucas
BUILDER: McKelvey Construction Company
OWNER: Land Reutilization Authority

The death march on Delmar Boulevard (formerly and more properly “Avenue”) continues with the demolition of the three-story commercial building at 5111 Delmar in September 2006. Slowly, the stretch of Delmar between Kingshighway on the east and Union on the west has lost over half of its buildings. This building was rather plain even for this section of the street, but still handsome. It began collapsing from the center and eventually was aided in its self-started collapse by a demolition crew.

The bottom floor contained two storefronts on either side of a neoclassical entrance arch. Above, a mostly non-ornamented wall of brown brick contained a subtle Arts-and-Crafts brick motif to anyone who looked close enough. A projecting copper cornice, long since pulled off by thieves, would have given the building a more refined appearance. The upper floors were apartments and may have been carved into a rooming house, as many such buildings along Delmar were.

Detail of terra cotta entrance ornament (Michael R. Allen).

Nowadays, Delmar is fraught with extreme visual poverty from its eastern terminus downtown to the Demar Loop, where prospects brighten. The city’s great dividing line at times seems as dour and forbidding as the Berlin Wall. Visual beauty on the street could neutralize its terrible reputation as the city’s leading segregation device. After all, that segregation has long since been as much about depravity as it has been about race — south of Delmar isn’t exclusively white, but it is a land where one might have a better chance at feeling like the city has an urban future.