Adaptive Reuse Chicago Historic Preservation

"Saving" a Chicago Church

by Michael R. Allen

Over at ArchitectureChicago PLUS, Lynn Becker has posted renderings of a bizarre plan to “save” Chicago’s St. Boniface Church by retaining the front elevation and the street face of the crossing, demolishing the rest and constructing a massive six-story apartment building for senior citizens. This has to be one of the ugliest designs that I’ve seen lately.

There is some grace in retaining parts of a neighborhood landmark on site where those whose lives connected with the church can still have a physical connection. that could be better than total demolition or relocation. The Buffalo, New York archdiocese is preparing to relocate an entire historic church to suburban Atlanta — another form of preservation that robs the church of a meaningful historic site. Many Buffalo residents oppose the move. The plan for St. Boniface in Chicago seems to be an odd compromise, and one that mocks the parts of the church that will remain.

Who do you think?

Adaptive Reuse East St. Louis, Illinois Historic Preservation

Broadview Hotel Rehabilitation Getting Underway

by Michael R. Allen

The seven-story Broadview Hotel at 5th and Broadway in East St. Louis is one of several tall buildings that anchor downtown. The 13-story Spivey Building is the tallest, the adjance Murphy Building and Majestic Theater are wonderfully ornate and the First National Bank Building is a solid red-brick corner building that is still occupied. Through demolition, the Broadview sits away from the concentration of other large downtown buildings. Through placement of the 4th Street exit ramp from Interstate 55/64/70, is the first major building greeting motorists entering East St. Louis.

Built in 1927, the Broadview has the characteristic elegance of pre-crash 1920s hotel design. The symmetrical brown brick body contrasts with buff terra cotta forming two bays and providing other ornament. Unlike some of the exuberant foliate terra cotta seen on contemporary St. Louis hotels like the Chase and Coronado, the design here is a rather sober interpretation of Renaissance Revival themes. Still, the hotel is powerful, especially through the rise of the terra cotta bays to form a temple-like top story that towers over the city.

For many years, this temple was the crown of a palace of night life, conventions, dinners and even a radio station (WTMV 1490 AM was located here). As East St. Louis’ fortunes drowned in a powerful current of American industrial reorganization, so did the those of the Broadview. The Broadview ended up housing a branch of Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville (SIUE) until 2004. The first floor’s storefronts, once open to a bustling business district, have long been clad in forbidding granite blocks.

In 2006, SIUE ceded the Broadview to the City of East St. Louis. The city has long been dealing with the other big vacant downtown buildings, but lacked clear title to the others. The Broadview was not boarded up for long. In 2009, East St. Louis awarded development rights to CDC Development Corporation, headed by Donald J. Johnson. CDC plans a $35 million renovation ofthe hotel into 88 loft-style apartments. Preliminary work is now underway, and many of the hotel’s windows are again unboarded.

Adaptive Reuse Mid-Century Modern South St. Louis

Bravo to SLU for Casa de Salud

by Michael R. Allen

Late last year, St. Louis University opened the Casa de Salud (House of Health, more or less), a clinic aimed at the city’s Latino population. The university made a smart move, choosing to house the clinic in a modest former auto parts building at the southwest corner of Compton and Chouteau. The building dates to the 1950s and is quintessentially modern. SLU’s renovation was basic, and left all of the mid-century features intact. The new sign is stylistically appropriate and provides some night time interest to a fairly dormant intersection. The old aluminum storefront system’s ample windows open the building up to the sidewalk, and at night provide a bright, colorful view. SLU took an existing building, retained and enhanced its architectural features and converted it to a new use. Bravo!

Adaptive Reuse Illinois

Old KFCs Are Buildings Too

by Michael R. Allen

My wish for the New Year is simple: Let no vital structure go vacant or get demolished.

Shown above is one of the countless road side examples of the infinite adaptability of even the ugliest American buildings. The La Gondola Restaurant at 2855 North Water Street in Decatur, Illinois is located in a former Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. La Gondola’s rehab of the iconic fast food building consisted of new signage and repainting. Removal of the bucket of chicken was not on the agenda, and thus La Gondola has what may be the nation’s only bucket of spaghetti sign.

I write “may” because the excellent website Not Fooling Anybody shows us that La Gondola’s rehab of an old KFC is in the middle of fast food conversions, which range from inconspicuous total cover-up to oddities like the chiropractic office that retains a KFC bucket sign.

La Gondola is no stranger to converting fast food buildings: the La Gondola Restaurant in Galesburg is located in a converted Mr. Quick Hamburgers restaurant. La Gondola is a central Illinois chain that makes use of the cast-offs of another chain. That practice makes perfect sense, since smaller chains don’t have the capital that a mega-chain like KFC does. La Gondola saves money, an old KFC doesn’t sit vacant or get torn down and hungry Illinoisans still have a place to get a quick bite right where they used to.

The simple model of reuse practiced by La Gondola is not glamorous, but it works economically as well as ecologically. While an old KFC is not architecturally or urbanistically high-style, it’s still a building made of shaped and processed natural resources. When reused, those resources are saved.

Adaptive Reuse Demolition Forest Park Southeast North St. Louis St. Louis County

Some Thoughts on Our Gasometer(s)

by Michael R. Allen

The impending demolition of the two gasometers in Shrewsbury draws me back to the demolition of the gasometer in Forest Park Southeast. Once one of two gasometers at Laclede Gas Company’s Pumping Station G and built in 1901 (rebuilt in 1942), the Forest Park Southeast gasometer was a landmark for over a century. When Highway 40 was first built, the gasometer’s prominence greatly increased, and it was one of several iconic structures — the St. Louis Science Center’s McDonnell Planetarium, the grain elevator at Sarah and Duncan, Barnes Hospital — that gave a magically urban character to an otherwise dull trip down the highway. Within Forest Park Southeast, the gasometer’s web of steel served as a backdrop to views from backyards, bedrooms and sidewalks. The gasometer was a strange remnant that had outlived its purpose — regulating the supply of the city’s gas system — but not its industrial charm and connection to the past.

In 2006, developers successfully listed Pumping Station G in the National Register of Historic Places (read the nomination by Susan Sheppard and Doug Johnson here). The State Historic Preservation Office insisted that the gasometer be included, and the gasometer was listed as a contributing structure. However, the official landmark status provided no protection. The developers had never intended to try to save the structure.

An eloquent plea for preservation from historian and then-St. Louis University professor Joseph Heathcott, “Getting creative with the region’s exceptional industrial heritage”, appeared in the February 8, 2007 issue of the St Louis Post-Dispatch, but there was no strong effort to preserve the gasometer. There was plenty of discussion, however, among architects, Forest Park Southeast residents and preservationists. The alternative ends for the gasometer were obvious. Several European cities, including London and Vienna, have converted iconic gasometers into equally iconic apartment and office buildings. Others have maintained the structures as urban artifacts. Heathcott’s article alluded to the imaginative possibilities.

Photograph of Viennese gasometer reuse project from Wikipedia.

Alas, imagination did not win out. Neither did National Register protection; the city’s Cultural Resources Office approved demolition of the gasometer without bringing the matter to a public hearing at the Preservation Board. Demolition of the gasometer was completed in the middle of 2007.

Today, the Pumping Station G site is largely vacant. The pumping house (1911) still stands, vacant but slated for rehabilitation. The developers who wrecked the gasometer sold the site to different developers, who have yet to devise plans for the site. In the end, the gasometer could have remained standing as a resource for its neighborhood and a icon for the city. Perhaps a new owner would have been interested in the challenge of finding a new use for the structure. Now, the gasometer is gone, and two of its three sisters soon also will be gone.

That leaves St. Louis only one chance to reclaim a gasometer: the gasometer at the vacant Pumping Station N, located just south of Natural Bridge Road on Chevrolet Avenue in north St. Louis. Can we rise to the challenge of retaining an endangered structural type, or will we let it fall too?

Adaptive Reuse Downtown

Paradowski’s Cool New Home

For the past year, Paradowski Creative has been working on rehabilitation of the old Missouri Electric Light and Power Company building at 1906 Locust Street. The power plant, most recently used as a show room and warehouse for a restaurant fixture company, will be reborn as a home fitting for one of the city’s top creative agencies. Paradowski has been posting photographs of the progess on Flickr; see them here. Read the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the buildings here.

Adaptive Reuse City Hospital South St. Louis

From Laundry Building to Palladium, From Great Depression to New Recession

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph by Lynn M. Josse taken in 2000.

The 50th anniversary gala for Landmarks Association of St. Louis this past weekend took place at a venue called Palladium St. Louis but better known as the Laundry Building at the former City Hospital complex. Since 2003, Gilded Age Development has been working on rehabilitating the remaining buildings of the long-vacant municipal hospital. Thanks to the Butler’s Pantry, which built a new building next door for its headquarters, the Laundry Building is now complete.

Landmarks’ choice of venue for its half-century birthday was fitting; without an active preservation movement, City Hospital would not have survived nearly twenty years of abandonment to find new investment and new uses. There is another timely coincidence with the re-opening of the Laundry at this time. The National Register of Historic Places nomination for City Hospital by Lynn M. Josse reminds us that the Laundry Building was part of a Depression-era modernization of City Hospital funded by a combination of local and federal funds. Voters approved municipal bond issues in 1933 and 1934 to fund major expansion, and the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works provided several matching grants. According to Josse, federal funds covered 45% of the costs of the 1939 round of construction that included the Laundry Building as well as a now-demolished 14-story hospital building. Albert Osburg, Chief Architect of the Board of Public Service, probably designed these new buildings.

The following photograph, taken by Dr. George W. Salmon, shows the corner of the newly-completed Laundry Building amid a modernized hospital complex and a dense, if smoky, metropolis.

Public investment amid economic downtown led to the creation of the Laundry Building in the first place. The rebirth comes in a time when such public investment is viewed through an engrained, misplaced anti-government lense. However, Missouri’s state historic tax credit program — an incentive, of course, rather than a public investment — returned the Laundry Building to life. In this recession, St. Louis doesn’t have the impressive public investment of the New Deal era, but it does have a proven incentive that does a lot of good.

And what good has been done at the Laundry Building! Here’s a look at the changes using photographs that I took in 2004 and photographs taken this weekend after the gala.

The two views above are looking west inside of the building. The two images below are aimed at the northwest corner. What a change! (The fate of that laundry machine is unknown.)

As the photographs above show, the steel balcony running on the south and west walls remains in place. A lot of the glazed structural clay tile has been covered by drywall, but some exposed sections in the corners show off the lovely old walls. Some of those walls needed repair.

For years, the Laundry Building’s windows were boarded with ugly boards painted City-Owned Red. The cupola that echoes the cupolas of the Administration Building and Ward Wings on Lafayette Avenue was destroyed by thieve sin the 1980s. Now, the composition’s elegant strength is fully evident. Designed in the Georgian Revival style to blend with the rest of the historic hospital complex, the Laundry Building is really a functional modern box. Yet its architect gave this utilitarian building the dignity and hopeful beauty demanded by a city hospital building built amid a major national public works effort.

Adaptive Reuse Historic Preservation Midtown National Register

Transformation on Forest Park Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

Step one: Take one leap of faith to believe that underneath an ugly slipcover is a building that can be rehabilitated. Take a peak under that cover.

Step two: Utilize historic rehabilitation tax credits, get your drawings and permits in hand, find financing and start the recovery of a badly-remuddled building.

Step three: Keep going.

Step four: Complete work and enjoy the good work done.

I’m oversimplifying the many steps that went into the transformation of the building at 3963 Forest Park Avenue (at Spring Avenue) into the lovely Spring Street Lofts. The story actually started back in 1923, when the Davis Boring Machine Company built the west side of the three-story factory. Designed by C.G. Schoelch, this fine brick factory building originally was symmetrical. The shaped parapet, classical terra cotta entrance and decorative brickwork on the front elevation gave a basic concrete box some style.

By 1929, the Davis company ceded the building to the Ramsey Accessories Manufacturing Company. This was a shift from one automobile-related factory to another; the Davis company manufactured machine tools for engine boring and the Ramsey company made piston rings. Both businesses were part of a vibrant St. Louis automotive industry centered around the Midtown area with showrooms and distributors on Locust Street and large-scale manufacturing on Forest Park and adjacent streets. In the late 1920s, St. Louis was in a close second behind Detroit as the center of American automobile manufacturing.

Ramsey expanded the building in 1934 from plans by Brussel and Vitterbo. Later, in 1969 after the automotive heyday, Victoria Products company “modernized” the building with a stucco veneer. Help arrived in 2006, when McGowan Brothers Development sized up a diamond in the rough. Complications ensued with the developers not wanting to remove the slipcover without some certainty on use of historic tax credits. The National Register of Historic Place designation that would allow tax credits to be used on the rehab required architectural integrity of the building. Fortunately, the slipcover did not destroy the original front elevation. Historian Matt Bivens’ persistence with a draft nomination and Karen Bode Baxter’s assistance allowed for eventual listing on April 16, 2008 — in time for the depth of recession.

The McGowan Brothers plunged ahead, though, and the project today is complete. Only five of the 48 apartment units are available, according to the building’s web site. A bar is set to open in the first floor. St. Louis University gains more urban activity just a block away, and a historic building again looks historic.

Of course, this dramatic transformation is not new to Forest Park. Just across Spring from the Spring Street Lofts is the home of the Aquinas Institute. Built in 1903 as the home of Standard Adding Company (G.N. Hinchman was the architect), the building had been partially clad in corrugated metal siding. The Institute opened its doors in the beautifully rehabilitated space in 2006, and the project won one of Landmarks Association of St. Louis‘ Most Enhanced Places awards that year.

Adaptive Reuse Best Practices Industrial Buildings Nashville

Adaptive Reuse of Nashville Iron Works

by Michael R. Allen

While in Nashville recently, I spotted the Riverfront Condominiums along the Cumberland River just south of the Jefferson Street Bridge in the old stockyards area. From a distance, I thought that I had spotted a former fabrication shed, and I was right. Perhaps the recent demolition of much of the General Steel Casting foundry, with its magnificent sheds, in Granite City was on my mind. While lacking a river view, that complex was ripe for creative reuse.

The Riverfront Condominiums utilize what was the main shed of the Kerrigan Iron Works (which was actually a steel fabricator, not a foundry). While the shed is not restored, it and a smokestack on the site were both incorporated into the redevelopment. In 1985, a developer built new apartment buildings along the river and around the smokestack base, deciding to retain the industrial structures in the new project.

Since the foundry sat back from the river, the main new building — converted into condominiums in the 1990s — is adjacent to the shed, not inside of it. The shed is used as covered parking.

Here is one flaw — this interesting covered space is the primary entrance into the condominiums, and it is used only for parking cars. There is not much decoration or lighting here.

On the First Avenue North side, where one enters the project, the side wall was stripped of cladding with some steel window sash left in place. However, the impact is not as stunning a sit could be. Again, having the undershed area devoted only to parking mitigates the “wow” factor.

The buildings around the smokestack, however, form a pleasant courtyard — again, mostly devoted to parking. While the Riverfront Condominiums have a few design issues relating to placement of parking and approach, the actual living spaces on the river face are unique in Nashville. The developer who sought to retain the foundry shed and the smokestack did so with little incentive. There is no income tax in Tennessee and hence no state development tax credits. According to a local architectural consultant, development culture in Nashville long ago embraced creative contemporary design. The Riverfront Condominiums, however imperfect, demonstrate that mindset. St. Louis developers dealing with industrial property should take heed.

Adaptive Reuse East St. Louis, Illinois Events Metro East Old North

Reconsidering St. Louis: Forming a New Future

This event showcases the work of this year’s graduating master’s degree candidates from Washington University School of Architecture. This year is special because students were allowed to choose existing buildings for projects, and a fair number of students did just that. One of the sites chosen is the National City Stockyards in East St. Louis, for which Andrew Faulkner envisioned the ruins of the pens and packing plants returning to life to be part of the 21st century food chain. Come out and see that project and more.