Architecture Downtown Riverfront

Lumiere Celebrates Memorial Day

by Michael R. Allen

Dressed up for Memorial Day and viewed through the infrastructure of an electrical transformer station, the hotel tower at Lumiere Place serves its purpose well: to draw as much attention toward itself as possible, away from everything else. Even that shiny arch thing just south. Can that arch do this? Can the American flag glow? Come, moths, and bake in ecstasy!

Architecture Downtown Historic Preservation Housing

Building Recycling

by Michael R. Allen

My latest KWMU commentary celebrates the conversion of the former Days Inn at Tucker & Washington into the Washington Avenue Apartments. Transcript and audio is online here.

Architecture Historic Preservation LRA North St. Louis St. Louis Place

Passage of a Block Face: 1900 St. Louis Avenue, North Face

by Michael R. Allen

Following the trail from the recently-demolished house at 1951 St. Louis Avenue, let’s examine the rest of the block two years ago. Here were the thee buildings east of that house.

At the left, see a very stately Italianate single-family home. In the center is a brick tenement, with thew front wall painted and a likely mansard roof destroyed by fire; this building was razed in 2007. Both buildings were owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority. These represent common styles and forms for the 1880s. The building at the right is an apartment building that is occupied to this day. This building demonstrates the near north side architectural sensibility of the 1890s — the mansard roof form remains, but it is divided by a prominent brick dormer. The cornice is brick, not wood, and the entrance is formed by a generously wide Roman arch.

The Italianate home today stands vacant, and the east wall of the rear ell is starting to lose bricks fast.

Anchoring the block faces eastern end is another 1890s building, a solid three-story storefront building housing Fleetwood and Son’s. Behind the sleek modern vitrolite facade is one of the north side’s coolest bars. (Warning: Fleetwood’s is a 30-and-over establishment, so young punks should hang elsewhere.)

A 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map shows eight buildings on this (north) side of the 1900 block of St. Louis Avenue. Three of these, long gone, were large buildings. Just west of Fleetwood’s stood the North Branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association. Between the house at the other corner and that Italianate house were St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church and a large mansion enjoying a generous side yard between it and the church.

The 1964 Sanborn fire insurance map shows that the North Branch and the mansion were gone. The Romanesque Revival St. Paul’s, which had been built in 1902 and designed by Matthews & Clarke, survived until 1998 when it was senselessly demolished by its owner (LRA).

Last year, all of the remaining buildings on the north side of this block (across the alley) were decimated by brick thieves operating with rapacious precision. This spring, those damaged buildings came down. What does the future hold for this block?

The Italianate house seems destined for demolition next. (May that not be the case.) The apartment building and Fleetwood’s, though, are going to be around for a long time to come. What fills in around them is anyone’s guess. Will it be new homes or shops that express the sense of place that the fallen buildings did? That depends on what our sense of this place is when we building — or, more likely, the sense of who does the building and who delivers a vision for rebuilding St. Louis Place to that builder.

It’s easy to shudder at the prospect. After all, the current sense of St. Louis Place held by many is confused and beneath the dignity of the neighborhood’s generations of residents, past and present. Once a certain sense emerges, rebuilding will lead to a block face as engaged in the values of its age as this block face once was. Although we have seen tragic loss of this block, let us not neglect to lay out the blueprints for a rebuilding that will honor our heritage.

Architecture Central West End DeVille Motor Hotel Historic Preservation Media

DeVille Still Shines

by Michael R. Allen

My latest commentary for radio station KWMU aired this morning and is available in transcript form on the station website: DeVille Still Shines

Architecture Central West End Infrastructure

Kinloch Telephone Company Delmar Exchange

by Michael R. Allen

People driving down Delmar Boulevard may not known the history of the building pictured above, which is located at 4400 Delmar (southwest corner of Newstead & Delmar). With its hipped roof, almost Gothic window profiles and prominent entrance, the building may look like a church or social hall of some kind. In fact, currently the building is home to the New Tower Grove Baptist Church. Yet underneath the layer of white paint and the exotic style lies an intriguing but somewhat mundane building.

This building is the Delmar Exchange of the old Kinloch Telephone Company. At the turn of the twentieth century, St. Louis had two major telephone companies: Kinloch and Missouri Bell, which eventually secured a statewide monopoly. Kinloch served the entire city and St. Louis County; the company built four “exchanges” in the city where calls were repeated and switched to local lines. Kinloch survives as the name of a north county municipality near the airport, but little else. Kinloch’s last company headquarters stands downtown at the northwest corner of 10th and Locust streets, with its brick and terra cotta covered in a 1950s concrete skin. That building became the Farm and Home Building in the 1950s.

The architect of the repeater and switching building is Isaac Taylor, who also designed the first downtown headquarters on Seventh Street, served as chief architect of the 1904 World’s Fair and design numerous important downtown buildings. The building permit for the Delmar building dates to April 14, 1902, with the cost listed as $30,000 and Edward Steininger as contractor. A second major permit issued July 16, 1923 reports $20,000 in repairs with Southwestern Bell as the applicant and Steininger as contractor. The station had been subsumed when Bell purchased Kinloch Telephone Company earlier that year.

Architecture Columbus Square Demolition Housing Mid-Century Modern Pruitt Igoe

Cochran Gardens Demolition Nearing Completion

by Michael R. Allen

Demolition work at the Cochran Gardens housing complex north of downtown is nearing completion. After demolition of three low-rise buildings, wreckers are working to finish demolition of one of the two tall buildings at the former public housing complex.

Completed in 1953 and designed by architectural firm Hellmuth, Yamasaki & Leinweber, Cochran Gardens was the first project built by the St. Louis Housing Authority that made use of high-rise buildings. However, the complex balanced three tall buildings with low-rise buildings. Cochran included twelve buildings, and six were six stories each, two were seven stories, and four were twelve stories. Nevertheless, Cochran Gardens set the stage for the Pruitt, Igoe, Darst, Webbe, Vaughn and Blumeyer housing complexes that were composed exclusively of tall buildings. In time, all of these projects have been cleared and redeveloped, most using the federal HOPE VI program.

Cochran Gardens will retain its second tower, transformed in 1980 into elderly housing. That tower will remain as the first and last tall public housing building in St. Louis.

Architecture Central West End Historic Preservation Local Historic District Mid-Century Modern

Next Step: Parking Lot?

by Michael R. Allen

I vowed to not describe the building replacing the Doctors Building at Euclid and West Pine, but here I go. Given the impending possibility that the San Luis Apartments building will be demolished, the demise of the Doctors Building is telling. The mid-century modern design of the Doctors Building was poorly appreciated, and news of its replacement through construction of two 30-story towers was welcome news to many people.

Yet the towers will never be built. The Mills Group couldn’t make the financing work for its grand plan. Demolition proceeded, and the substitute plan emerged. What we have here is a building completely out of its league. Unable to compete with the fine architecture of the Central West End, this building’s design resigns itself to mediocrity. Rather than try to be fresh, the architects employed the same design tricks keeping the St. Charles County metroplex building on up. There’s the base of stone veneer (that is stone, right?), the dark brick above, the mangled quotations from other styles.

There are pointless differentiations of the wall plane through setback, despite the fact that both Euclid and West Pine are fairly straight at this intersection and both have decent pedestrian traffic. In fact, the rendering suggests that the building’s west wall actually steps away from the street. While dramatic in the exaggerated corner perspective drawing, such a move is hardly appropriate to the street wall of Euclid.

At the top, the building’s wall goes white in some attempt to imitate stone. Oddly, there is no cornice. Rather, the walls recess to create private balconies. The pedestrian’s eye, however, may be diverted to the prominent corner clock tower, rising a full story above the roof. Instead of selecting an elegant human-scaled clock integrated with the building, the architects have stuck this over sized timepiece on top. Perhaps the goal is to smother the building’s flaws in the manner restaurants heap grated cheese atop bowls of wilted iceberg lettuce. Trouble is, people will be looking at this building from the ground level — not from a spot inside of an invisible Forest Park Hotel. People will spend more time looking at whatever stone will clad the base than at the clock.

I know that I should count my blessings — the Doctors Building’s obscene parking lot will be subsumed by an actual building and there won’t be a giant vacant lot for years. I suppose that under some circumstances I could lull myself into thinking these blessings outweigh all other concerns. After all, that line of acceptance is doing well for St. Charles County.

Yet I can’t fool myself. The building replacing the Doctors Building is downright inappropriate for any historic neighborhood in the city. This building is an affront to the dignified architecture of the Central West End, and its construction shows a carelessness that could erode decades of hard-achieved acceptance of high standards there. Such a climate benefits the Archdiocese’s short-term plan to level the San Luis without any planned construction. Do we want to find out what the step is from bad building at Euclid and West Pine to a new parking lot on Lindell?

The worst step following this blunder would be loss of another large building for an even lower use — a parking lot. The Central West End never attracted a lot of mid-century architecture, but what it got fits into the context with grace — unlike some of our contemporary structures. What happened at the Doctors Building should not be the start of backtracking on design standards in the Central West End, but a rallying point for their assertion.

Architecture Central West End DeVille Motor Hotel Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern

Landmarks Statement on San Luis Apartments

The Board of Directors of Landmarks Association has issued a statement supporting rehabilitation of the former DeVille Motor Hotel (San Luis Apartments). Read it here.

Architecture Historic Preservation Illinois Peoria

Concrete Block Flatiron in Peoria Gone

by Michael R. Allen

When I went to Peoria over the weekend, this building was gone. (This photograph dates to June 2005.) The commercial building stood on Martin Luther King Boulevard just east of Western Avenue, on the south side of the street. Several characteristics were remarkable:

– The building was built entirely of concrete block made to look like rusticated limestone.

– The building formed a flatiron shape even though it did not sit on a flatiron lot. The shape was necessitated instead by topography. Behind the building, the land dropped off so severely that the flatiron was about all that could be built on this site. as the raised sidewalk suggests, things aren’t so great on the other side.

I liked this building because it defied the odds. This site is not “buildable” by contemporary standards; it may not have been even back in the early twentieth century when the building was built. Yet someone wanted to develop this lot, probably spurred on by Peoria’s density. When a city has a strong downtown, people build anywhere they can get in and around that downtown. Even odd lots get built out. Contrast that with today’s American urban environments, where many developers won’t even build on lots 25 feet wide by 120 feet deep. Once, land was scarce and building space abundant — now the formula is inverted. It seems that along with abdundant building space went abundant civic pride. People who don’t value land and make the most of its scarcity don’t build — or steward — great cities.

No doubt the little concrete flatiron fell prey to our perverse size mentality. People probably considered it too small for commercial use, and lacking the “yard” needed for residential. The building went empty and then it was demolished. I’ll bet that the lot remains vacant forever.

Architecture Chicago Historic Preservation Illinois

Under the Layers

by Michael R. Allen

While driving on Ridge Avenue in Chicago over the weekend, I spotted this building. Look at it! We have a Spanish Revival gem hiding out under wooden siding and a coating of gray paint. I like how the owners painted the braided terra cotta finials white to make them stand out. Apparently, the building is in use by an automobile repair shop. Perhaps some day the owner will take off the siding and strip the paint to reveal the full glory of the building. For now, though, the building’s soul still manages to whisper through the layers.