Fire North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North

Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings Burn

by Michael R. Allen

A huge fire struck the Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings on Friday night. We have coverage and background here.

These beautiful buildings, at the northeast corner of Cass and Florissant avenues, were owned by Blairmont Associates LC. Critics who have alleged that Blairmont’s speculation scheme is endangering historic buildings have been proven right.  Of course, I never wanted to be proven right. All I wanted to see was an effort to sell or rehab great buildings like these.

(Photograph by Claire Nowak-Boyd.)

Brecht Butcher Buildings Fire North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North

Brecht Butcher Supply Company Buildings Burn

by Michael R. Allen

Overnight on Friday, October 6, 2006, fire hit the magnificent Brecht Butcher Supply Company warehouses at the northeast corner of Cass and Florissant avenues. Fire ravaged the wood post-and-beam structure of the center building facing Cass Avenue, causing the roof and many floors to collapse into the building. The other two buildings sustained mostly superficial damage, due to clay tile and brick firewalls that stopped the spread of the intense heat.

The fire’s cause is officially unknown. However, observers of the buildings attest to the fact that since they warehouses fell completely vacant two years ago, a door on the east side of the building facing Hadley Street has repeatedly been opened by the squatters that called the warehouses home. (The warehouses are adjacent to the Sunshine Mission, a homeless shelter.) No matter how frequently the doors were closed, they would reopen. Residents of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood made repeated requests to the city’s Citizen’s Service Bureau and police seeking to have the doorway boarded up. These requests were met with inaction, by the city and by the warehouses’ negligent owners.

Entrance to center section before the fire.

Entrance to center section, after the fire.

The warehouses are among the many properties owned by the investment company named Blairmont Associates LC, a company enjoying fictitious legal registration but with a bad habit of sending political campaign contributions from a very well-known address. The sad fire illustrates the claim made by critics of Blairmont, including the authors of this website: their ownership endangers many historic buildings on the near northside that they own but will not sell to rehab-minded owners. Blairmont and affiliated companies now own over 300 parcels in the 5th and 19th wards on the city’s near northside.

In this free market society, the mere ownership of over 300 parcels of property is completely legal. Few would argue that Blairmont’s owners have no right to own land and speculate on its values. At issue are the dozens of historic houses, storefronts and other buildings that Blairmont and its affiliates own. These buildings are among the scarce remaining historic buildings that shape the physical context of the near northside. In an area as ravaged by building loss as this part of the city, residents are understandably upset that a large real estate company is holding hostage many buildings that could be restored to perpetuate urban character that is deeply endangered.

The Brecht Butcher Supply Company Warehouses are part of a very fragile group of buildings around the intersection of Cass and Florissant. Earlier this year, severe weather struck the Mullanphy Emigrant Home up the street, causing terrible damage. Last September, a huge fire destroyed the old St. Louis Bus Maintenance Center across Florissant from the Brecht buildings. Just a few weeks before that, the city demolished the Crunden Branch Library with little warning as a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the building was pending at the federal level. Across Cass from the warehouses is the old Cass Bank building, now used for the Greyhound Station. Greyhound plans to vacate the building within two years when it moves to a new station; the building is owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority. South of there, the old neon Cass Bank sign is poised to disappear soon. Then there are the countless buildings lost before last year.

This area would have seen massive disruption under a plan to build a bridge over the Mississippi River that would have included huge ramps terminating at Cass Avenue just east of the warehouses. The first plan called for demolition of many buildings in the path of the ramps, including these warehouses. That plan was scrapped due to funding cuts. A later plan called for less demolition and fewer ramps, but still called for demolishing the Brecht buildings even though they were no longer in the path of any ramps. Blairmont certainly did not object to a planned state buyout of the property. The new plan looks unlikely as the State of Missouri is balking on providing major funding for the bridge project.

Of course, now it may not matter what bridge plan comes to fruition. The center section of warehouses will almost definitely be demolished soon, although its front elevation could be quickly stabilized and its rear sections (the building has a “U” shape) are stable. The other two sections of the group may fall, too, since there are little restrictions involved here. The warehouses are not part of any federal or local historic district, have no landmark status, are not in a preservation review area and have owners who probably want to sweep the matter away before meeting more scrutiny.

What a tragic ending here. These buildings are of the sort that developers hungrily convert to housing in downtown and south city, and there is little doubt that with the passage of another decade the Brecht warehouses would have been sought-after residential or office space. Imagine if the Schnucks site across the street was redeveloped, the Cass Bank building restored and new infill construction was built to the west and north of here. There is no reason why Cass Avenue could not have vitality, and there has never been any reason why the Brecht buildings could not have a forward-thinking owner. Of course, no building can last a decade of vandalism and squatters without sustaining damage, and a few fall down while waiting.


The Brecht Butcher Supply Company, founded by merchant and automobile pioneer Gus von Brecht, first built the four-story section of the buildings at the corner of Hadley and Cass in 1890. Here, the company had production facilities, warehouse space, offices and a showroom. The first section was designed in a practical commercial style hinting at the Romanesque Revival style, with a cast-iron storefront (look closely for the Star of David on each column) by Scherpe and Koken. The building was designed with load-bearing masonry walls and a mill method skeleton inside.

This building was expanded in 1897 with a large U-shaped addition designed by William E. Hess. Hess streamlined the style of the original building, and gave the windows full expression through large rectangular openings. Notably, he gave the addition a ruddy terra cotta cornice in the Classical Revival style, which was likely extended to the original building in place of its original cornice. The addition, which sustained fatal damage in the fire, also had wooden structural elements. His addition and a two-story, steel-and-concrete addition in 1900 designed by William Schaefer and built by August Winkel maintained the same exquisite cornice motif as the original building.

Brecht’s butcher supply business boomed around the turn of the century, and the company built a few other buildings on the block, including the garage now used by Ackerman Auto Repair. The north end of the block was occupied by a five-story factory of the Roberts, Johnson and Rand Shoe Company designed by Theodore Link (now demolished). The warehouses were eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North St. Louis Place

MLK 3000: Not the Latest MC on the Scene

by Michael R. Allen

On September 19 and 20, the city recorded sales of properties owned by Ecology of Absence favorites N & G Ventures and Path Enterprises Company to MLK 3000 LLC, a corporation registered through the CT Corporation System office in Clayton and whose manager is apparently Harvey Noble, according to deeds of trust filed with the Recorder of Deeds’ office. Noble is a partner in Eagle Realty Company with Steven Goldman, registered agent for N & G Ventures.

The Missouri Secretary of State’s website reports that MLK 3000 LLC was chartered on March 31, 2006.

N & G sold the parcels at 2929, 2931 and 2633 Hebert; 2331 and 2543 Maiden Lane; 2528 St. Louis; 2721 Dodier; 2506 University; and 3114 and 3116 Glasgow. Path sold the parcels at 1435 through 1449 Benton Street in Old North St. Louis (most of the former Al’s Auto Sales lot). According to deeds of trust, the total purchase price for these properties is over $890,000.

Northsiders everywhere should thank MLK 3000 LLC for the new comps on the market.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Clemens House for Sale

by Michael R. Allen

A friend let me know that there is a for sale sign on the Clemens House directing potential buyers to call Eagle Realty.

This is interesting news given that the City Counselor’s office never re-filed the Building Division’s suit against the owners of the house, and a tipster told me that the case file had been relocated upon request to the Mayor’s office. The Counselor’s office had promised to re-file the case after giving the Clemens House’s owner, Blairmont Associates LC, 90 days from February 14, 2006 to sell the house. That deadline passed without comment from City Hall or the city’s daily paper, which had covered the matter earlier.

Well, better late than never, as the tortoise told the hare.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North

Blairmont Goes to the Mall

by Michael R. Allen

The two-and-a-half-story, side-gabled house at 1416 Montgomery Street is Old North St. Louis is fairly nondescript. Its front elevation probably bowed years ago, and was taken down and relayed with a harder modern brick and newer fenestration. The rebuilt front wall is boring, although the side and rear walls show the house to be a late-19th-century house that could be restored to some more appropriate appearance.

But doing that work would take imagination, patience and a faith in the neighborhood’ renewal. You see, this modest dwelling is right across the alley from the so-called 14th Street Mall, the two blocks of commercial buildings fronting a part of north 14th Street closed in 1971 to form a pedestrian mall. The mall conversion killed the vitality of the commercial district, and by the 1990s only a few stores remained open. Today, the only occupied storefronts on the mall are a hair salon and a storefront church. Every other first floor is boarded or broken in, and the upper floors of the multi-story buildings have been empty even longer.

All of this is set to change, though, as a major collaborative redevelopment project is in the works. Most of the buildings on the mall are now owned by a partnership between the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance, two organizations whose work is often miraculous. Imagine what they might do with 1416 Montgomery Street if they had the chance!

All we can do now is imagine, because at a recent Sheriff’s tax sale the house and its accompanying garage sold to one of the Blairmont companies. Although their purchases in Old North have slowed, they still wanted to buy a derelict building that needs to be included in the 14th Street project.

Perhaps Blairmont can rehab the building better and faster than the partnership. Perhaps I am a dog person. Perhaps someone will rebuild the buildings cleared for the Arch. Perhaps asbestos is actually a nutrient…

Housing North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Blairmont Money Goes to Hubbard, Nasheed and El-Amin

by Michael R. Allen

According to information in a post on Blog St. Louis (about other interesting matters), northside slumlords Blairmont Associates LC gave $500.00 to the 58th District Democratic Legislative District Committee. This money was combined with other donations and distributed to candidates Rodney Hubbard, seeking re-election to the 58th District State Representative seat; Jamilah Nasheed, seeking the 60th District seat; and Yaphett El-Amin, seeking the 4th District State Senate seat.

If Blairmont is simply a speculative endeavor, and not a front for a planned development project, why would it be buying influence with candidates for the state legislature? If all it needed was to hold the Building and Forestry divisions at bay, its contributions to the 5th Ward Regular Democratic Organization would seem to be all that it could do in that regard.

What could Blairmont need from the state government? Affordable housing tax credits?

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Taxpayers Cutting the Lawn for Allston Alliance

by Michael R. Allen

On Saturday morning, passers-by on 10th Street downtown may have seen the city Forestry Division crew trimming the tall grass and weeds along the east wall of the vacant Cass Avenue Schnucks.

This publicly-funded trimming is odd because the building is privately owned by the Allston Alliance, a company whose registered agent is developer John Steffen. The Allston Alliance purchased the property on December 28, 2005 with a $2.8 million loan from Corn Belt Bank and Trust Company of Pittsfield, Illinois.

Routinely, Forestry will trim vacant lots and bill the owners. This agreement isn’t uncommon. However, Allston Alliance has a for-lease sign on the building, a large loan and a prominent developer’s involvement. Can’t they mow their own grass without taxpayers’ fronting the money? Perhaps they should have sought a loan large enough to cover grounds maintenance.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North

1445 Monroe: A $250,000 House?

by Michael R. Allen

There is an old front-gabled, one-story shotgun house in Old North St. Louis at 1445 Monroe Street. This little home is clad in a permastone-like material but retains pretty elaborate wooden tracery along the front gable. I would guess that the home dates to the early 1880s.

This house sits directly across the street from the block face where a partnership between the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance has rescued three buildings from vacancy, including two old buildings that needed front walls rebuilt. This partnership assembled financing using 11 different sources of funding and spent over $250,000 per finished unit in the ongoing restoration of buildings like these.

Meanwhile, Noble Development Company purchased the house at 1445 Monroe on March 9, 2006, and the house is now vacant. Noble Development Company is apparently part of the “Blairmont” family of companies (link to an in-progress site of documentation) and now owns around 250 properties. While responsible developers are spending $250,000 per unit on buildings in need of intense rehab, the guns behind Blairmont won’t even spend $1,000 on each of its many properties, that include overgrown lots as well as buildings like the James Clemens, Jr. House.

Then again, someday people may be paying $250,000 for a house at 1445 Monroe — but not the modest but lovely house on the site now. Perhaps the street name will be changed by then. #14 Ingenuity Drive, anyone?

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

Deadline for Sale of Clemens House Is Today

by Michael R. Allen

Readers may recall that on February 10, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Lisa Van Amburg dismissed without prejudice a lawsuit by the Building Division against Blairmont Associates Limited Corporation over that company’s neglect of the Clemens House. The dismissal was based upon an agreement between Blairmont and the City Counselor’s office that gave the absentee owners 90 days to sell the house or face re-filing of the suit.

The 90-day deadline is May 10, today.

Blairmont still owns the Clemens House. Unless a last-minute sale has yet to be reported, Blairmont has failed to meet the terms of the agreement. Hopefully the City Counselor’s Office will not fail to meet their terms and will re-file the case.

If rumors that Blairmont is a front for McEagle Development and/or the Pyramid Companies are true, one wonders why they would continue to show such reckless attention-getting behavior. Then again, aside from a handful of blogs, who is reporting on Blairmont or the Clemens House? The Post-Dispatch published one article by Jake Wagman in December but has been silent ever since.

Green Space Northside Regeneration Parks

A Bigger Picture

by Michael R. Allen

While I do not approve of the lease of 12 acres of Forest Park by behemoth BJC HealthCare, I do not oppose the possibility that the lease funds would not be exclusively for the upkeep of Forest Park. Certainly, our city’s largest park deserves a guaranteed future of maintenance, but what about Penrose Park or Carondelet Park? Or, for that matter, Jackson Park or Sister Marie Charles Park? The city has 105 parks, all with maintenance needs. Some of these parks, like Fairgrounds Park on the northside, have considerable needs for the sort of rejuvenation that Forest Park has received. They are not as likely to receive the attention that Forest Park or Tower Grove Park have received, and without an infusion of funds may end up in serious disrepair. (Some would argue that this is already the case with a few of the city’s parks.)

The loss of part of Forest Park, no matter how disconnected it appears from a motorist’s perspective, is an affront to the Forest Park Master Plan. Now that the Planning Commission has approved the lease, I suppose that it’s a done deal barring an uprising. This impacts the lives of people in Forest Park Southeast and the Central West End, who will lose tennis courts and a playground. Replacing these facilities before they are demolished needs to happen. Elected officials should try to getting more money each year than what is currently proposed . If BJC is getting its way, make it pay! Some talk of “fair market value” but since BJC is getting public land, the rules of the real estate market don’t apply. The fair price is one that is democratically decided by all citizens through their government.

However, just as all citizens have a stake in Forest Park they have a stake in the other city parks. With the city’s revenue low, city residents need to work together to make sure that no one loses their neighborhood park or its quality. That many people don’t know or care about their stake in other parks should be changed. If the lease money gets distributed to the entire city parks system, that would be a great step toward rejuvenating all of the city’s parks and getting people to think about their future, which is as important as that of Forest Park.

(Incidentally, BJC is chaired by Paul McKee, whose name has appeared in this blog before.)