Architecture Martin Luther King Drive North St. Louis Urbanism Wells-Goodfellow

Hope on Martin Luther King Drive

by Michael R. Allen

I spent some of my morning talking with a building owner in the Wellston Loop area. He has big plans for his big building, the former J.C. Penney store at 5930 Martin Luther King Drive. (This is the International style gem designed by William P. McMahon and built in 1948.) He envisions the building as catalyst for rejuvenating the area, and seems optimistic despite acknowledging forty years of neglect of the area and of Martin Luther King Drive in general.

The neglect is formidable. On the drive out to his building from downtown, I passed the sites of a dozen buildings that were demolished within my lifetime and whose details I clearly recall. I passed even more buildings that sit empty, or in use, or in some derelict state between. I passed two buildings with significant recent collapses. I passed one row of flats and a corner commercial building under demolition despite being in good condition. I was overcome with melancholy as I considered that many of these buildings won’t survive my lifetime, or even the next decade, and the fifty-odd blocks of a street that supposedly honors to good work of Dr. King will be virtually unrecognizable to me by middle age, and already is unrecognizable to people old enough to recall its heyday.

Even at the time that Franklin and Easton avenues were renamed for Dr. King in 1972, the conditions of the buildings on the street were not great. At the time, some critics felt that the legacy of Dr. King was diminished by placing his name on a street with a sad future. The sad future is now, and the street name certainly seems cynical.

Hopefully, the J.C. Penney building and others on the street will survive, and find good owners, and provide momentum for development along here. Aldermen O.L. Shelon (4th Ward) and Jeffrey Boyd (22nd Ward, including the Wellston Loop), whose wards include most of the street in the city, are pushing for redevelopment that is architecturally sensitive. They can only do what is politically possible, though, before it is up to the market to generate the capital needed to revive sections of the street. May that time come before all is lost on the great street with a great name.

Architecture Historic Preservation Midtown

Granite Steps Throw the Sheldon Off Balance

by Michael R. Allen

The Sheldon Memorial in Midtown looks very different right now. One has to look closer and may have to conjure memory to figure out what is different, but the change is glaring: All of the limestone steps have been clad in red Missouri granite!

While this change may not seem big, it completely throws off the synergy between the steps and building. The pale Bedford limestone steps matched the limestone ornament on the building, designed by Louis Spiering and built in 1912. Use of the same material for the high decorative ornament and low functional steps indicated that all material choices were thoughtful and deliberate.

Now, the pinkish steps seem like an afterthought that just don’t quite match the building. There is something about the clash between the granite steps and the brown-toned bricks of the Sheldon that is disturbing.

(Thanks to Bill Seibert for the tip.)

Architecture Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern

Mid-Century Modern Preservation Efforts Require Rethinking Preservation

by Michael R. Allen

While preservation battles continue across the St. Louis region, those surrounding mid-century modern buildings will probably dominate the next twenty years of the local preservation movement. Given the economic geography of new construction in St. Louis around the middle and later parts of the 20th century, most of the buildings that will be threatened stand in St. Louis County and other suburban areas (with some exceptions).

Any preservation effort that will aim to defend the outstanding modernist buildings of this area will need to be pan-geographic. The effort will have to involve individuals and groups comfortable and ready to make alliances into the suburbs, and into Illinois. In turn, new allies will have to be ready to support battles ongoing in the city of St. Louis.

With the parochial attitudes of many cultural actors here, one may have cause to be pessimistic about the prospect of the local preservation movement trying to save mid-century modern buildings. Of course, even before the bias toward certain political boundaries comes a more pernicious bias against any building not “historic” by the art-historical terms embodied by most local, state and national landmark designations.

What is needed before too long is rejection of the strictures of profession and political boundaries so that a truly regional effort to preserve all of the valuable architecture of this region can be born. While there are ethical and ecological reasons to favor the dense urban core of the region, culturally significant works of architecture are everywhere. The mid-century buildings tell a different story than the 19th century masonry buildings that are ubiquitous here — one of an optimistic embrace of technology and open space. We all know that story has become tragedy, but certain buildings that are part of the story are aesthetically unique landmarks that are needed in today’s world when we have descended even further into the abyss of suburbanization.

Time has changed the way in which architectural historians appreciate the buildings of the mid-century era. Now it’s time for the preservation movement to do the same, in St. Louis and elsewhere.

Architecture Downtown Historic Preservation

The Marquette Building Has a Cornice Again

by Michael R. Allen

The cornice is returning to the Marquette Building at 314 North Broadway in St. Louis. At least, a fiberglass-based replication of some of the original cornice details is being installed by the Lawrence Group. The new cornice’s bracket detailing matches the original, but the projecting frieze had detailing not present on the replica, on which that area is flat. Even an incomplete cornice replication is a novelty among historic rehabilitation projects these days, since few other developers replicate removed cornices. (Pyramid’s recent renovations of the Curlee and Mallinckrodt buildings on Washington Avenue come to mind.)

The Monward Realty Company built what would become the Marquette Building from plans by renowned local firm Eames & Young. Completed in 1913, the building was briefly known as the Monward Building until Boatmen’s Bank leased much of the new building following the 1913 fire that destroyed their headquarters at Fourth and Washington (the site is now where the Missouri Athletic Company Building stands). The building became known as the Marquette Building after completion. An annex building was added in 1918 and expanded in 1920, but demolished in 1998 for a parking garage that was part of a terrible and failed plan to redevelop the Marquette Building. The Marquette is now under renovation for reuse as condominiums and the garage is part of the Federal Reserve Bank’s “campus.”


Buffalo Preservationists Offer Illustrated Dictionary, Architectural Center

by Michael R. Allen

Forget what a caryatid is? Can’t remember if a dripstone and a hoodmold are one in the same?

Well, the exhaustive Illustrated Architecture Dictionary from Buffalo, New York, will answer your questions with its exhaustive list of architectural terms. Each definition is illustrated with an example from buildings in Buffalo.

The dictionary is part of a network of websites edited by members of the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier (which runs the Buffalo Architectural Center and the Preservation Coalition of Erie County. Thanks to the dedicated folks in Buffalo, there is more information about the history of Buffalo architecture on the Internet that there is about that of almost any other American city. And visitors to the city can partake of the many exhibits, lectures and tours offered at the Architectural Center. Through their inter-related projects, Buffalo architectural historians have created an interpretive model for other mid-sized American cities.

(Thanks to Lynn Josse for sending me the link to the dictionary.)

Architects Architecture Green Space

Statement on Government Hill

by Michael R. Allen

At a special meeting on July 31, 2006, the Preservation Board of the City of St. Louis considered preliminary approval of a redesign of Government Hill in Forest Park. The Board unanimously approved a revised proposal submitted by Forest Park Forever. I submitted this statement.

I want to offer some comments about the Government Hill proposal being considered by the Preservation Board today.

On June 30, after the Preservation Board decided to defer consideration on preliminary approval a radical revision of Government Hill, Mayor Slay wrote in his blog that “there’s time” for more consideration and public input on the redesign.

When the Preservation Board agenda for the July meeting was released, myself and others were relieved that Government Hill was not on the agenda. It seemed that Forest Park Forever had heeded the call of the Preservation Board and the Mayor to give such a major proposal regarding a much-loved landscape ample time for revision and comment.

Then, last night when I read the mayor’s campaign website, I saw a notice that there would be a special Preservation Board meeting today at 4:30 p.m. to consider the matter of a revised proposal from Forest Park Forever and others for revisions to Government Hill. While there may have been some warning elsewhere, it was the first I had heard of the meeting and I had less than 24 hours to review the plans and provide commentary.

Earlier, I had assumed that myself and others concerned about the matter — including members of the Board — could study the issue and provide measured testimony at a future hearing. Apparently, that will not happen. I am disappointed in this hasty process, and disappointed that I cannot attend today’s meeting due to previously-scheduled appointments. Had I know sooner, even on a week’s notice, I would have made plans to attend the meeting.

As it is, I can barely offer commentary on the new proposal based on the abstract plans contained in the report of the staff of the Cultural Resources Office. The plan seems to be more respectful of the original design, but since no renderings are enclosed it is nearly impossible to tell.

The existing landscape, designed by noted landscape architect George Kessler around 1911, is a stunning example of the “City Beautiful” era of Beaux-Arts formalism. Some of the landscape designs from that period have not held up well as gathering places, due to aesthetic programs that look better than they function. Not so with Kessler’s Government Hill design, which seems to get more popular as time goes by. His grand staircases, central fountain and terraces amid sloping hills create an inviting context with a scale that is respectful of both the World’s Fair Pavilion and the users of Forest Park.

The only flaws in this landscape are the lack of universal accessibility and the lack of maintenance. The new proposal seems to take a good step in addressing accessibility without intruding on the existing landscape. The plan unveiled in June was little more than a giant zigzag ramp, based on intriguing medieval designs but totally inappropriate for the site. In terms of restoration, it seems that the new plan is more sensitive to the Kessler design but still aiming to remake it according to modern designs.

That’s where the first plan for rebuilding Government Hill is better; if something new is going to happen, it should be complementary to the landscape of the park and a compelling and original design in itself. The proposal being considered today is not compelling or original, but the Kessler design even in its decay remains so.

I urge the Preservation Board to deny preliminary approval, and to urge Forest Park Forever to consider funding the restoration project that the wonderful Government Hill landscape deserves. If they seek a grand gesture or some other imprint on the park, they need not worry. Their restoration work to date has been one of the grandest civic gestures in recent history, and a sensitive restoration of Government Hill would be an excellent capstone.

Architecture Downtown

10th and Locust

by Michael R. Allen

Here is the intersection of 10th and Locust streets in downtown St. Louis, with this view facing southwest. At left, one sees a massive cast-iron spandrel on the Syndicate Trust Building (built in 1906, designed by Harry Roach), which is being renovated into condominiums and apartments by LoftWorks and Sherman Associates. In the center, the art deco Civil Courts (built in 1930, designed by Klipstein and Rathmann) stands above the Thebes-Stierlin Music Store Building (built in 1906 and designed by Theodore Link, architect of Union Station). At the right is the 1899 Delany Building, designed by Matthews & Clark and rehabbed by LoftWorks in 2004. In 1953, the Delany Building was sold at a tax sale at the Civil Courts Building.

Architecture Downtown

Snow City

by Michael R. Allen

The Merchandise Mart, Isaac Taylor’s 1888 Romanesque masterpiece at 1000 Washington, looked very stately in last week’s snow. Then again, what in St. Louis did not look good?

Architecture Hyde Park North St. Louis

More on Hyde Park "Security Wall"

Yesterday we posted about a security wall that Shreves Engine Company wants to build in Hyde Park, which would require them to tear down nine houses to make room for it.

Naturally, 3rd Ward Alderman Bosley approves this project.

Well, Mayor Slay has now written on his website that he is impressed with the idea, and may likely support it. He cites that this particular type of wall, gabion walls, “are really hot architectural elements in Europe.”

You know what else is popular in architecture in large parts of Europe, that’s also a green building strategy? Not tearing down historic buildings!!

Architecture Historic Preservation Illinois

More Demolition at Manteno State Hospital

According to The Manteno Project, wreckers demolished the Todd Cottages at the Manteno State Hospital last month. The Manteno State Hospital is a former mental hospital located in Manteno, Illinois, about one hours south of Chicago, Illinois. The Georgian-Revival-style hospital was constructed in 1928 and is a unique example of the cottage-style mental hospital popular after the more-famous Kirkbride style fell from favor. The cottage-style plan placed patients in small cottages — Manteno had 38 — located away from larger administrative and medical buildings. The State of Illinois favored this construction plan after the state prototype, the Bartonville State Hospital in Peoria, received much renown.

The northern half of the Manteno complex was converted into an Illinois State Veterans’ Home years ago, while the southern half was left empty longer. This part has been undergoing a steady transformation in the last three years, with many of its old buildings being converted to business use and new homes constructed around the complex. Sadly, some its abandoned buildings have been demolished recently. In June, Manteno lost a major structure, the Mechanical Shop.

Fortunately, we visited Manteno State Hospital in May and photographed the Mechanical Shop and both the interior and exterior of Todd Cottage. Still, the demolitions leave major holes in this impressive campus.