Columbus Square Midtown National Register North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Cass Bank, Castle Ballroom Nominated to National Register

by Michael R. Allen

On Monday, the St. Louis Preservation Board approved two National Register of Historic Places nominations of historic buildings.

The first nomination is for the Cass Bank and Trust Company Building at 1450 N. 13th Street in the Columbus Square area. The building dates to 1927 and was designed by the prolific Bank Building and Equipment Company. In the last few years, after the departure of long-time tenant Greyhound Lines, the building has been vacant.  The neo-classical, Bedford limestone-clad building replaced the earlier Cass Avenue Bank building at 1501 Cass Avenue built in 1915 and designed by Wedmeyer & Stiegemeyer. One year after completion of the Cass Bank and Trust Company Building, the Chippewa Trust Company completed a similarly-styled two-story building at the southwest corner of Chippewa and Broadway streets also by the Bank Building and Equipment Company.

Melinda Winchester of Lafser & Associates wrote the nomination for Northside Regeneration LLC, but the building is owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). The nomination states that Northside Regeneration has the building under contract.

The second nomination is for the former Castle Ballroom at 2831-45 Olive Street in midtown. Prepared by PRO’s Lynn Josse, the nomination recognizes the social history of a building best known in recent years for its slather of goldenrod paint. The building was built in 1908 as Cave Hall, a dance hall that replaced popular Uhrig’s Cave when it was closed to build the Coliseum. Later it became the Castle Ballroom, which served African-Americans from the surrounding Mill Creek and Yeatman neighborhoods. When Mill Creek Valley was cleared up to the south side of Olive Street in the 1950s, the Castle Ballroom survived as one of the few remaining traces of the once-vibrant neighborhood.

As part of a Certified Local Government — a local government with a preservation ordinance certified by the State Historic Preservation Office — the board reviews National Register nominations and sends recommendations to the state Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (MOACHP). MOACHP will consider these nominations at a meeting on November 19, and forward approved nominations to the National Park Service for listing. The most extensive National Register nomination review takes place at the state level.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Northside Regeneration

by Michael R. Allen

Judge Robert Dierker Jr.’s decision to not allow a new trial in the Northside Regeneration case puts us no further behind than July 2, when the judge issued his ruling in the case that struck down the project’s redevelopment ordinances.  Then and now, it remains clear that the redevelopment ordinances need further legislative attendance.

After the ruling, Northside Regeneration attorney Paul Puricelli told Tim Logan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the company might appeal.  The City Counselor’s office seems to favor an appeal.  But Puricelli also said “One of the things we’d be looking at is to enter into a project agreement with the city.”  That’s the track his client should take.

In recent weeks, rumors of settlement discussions in the case suggested a very unlikely end to a complaint made on the lack of transparency: a clandestine agreement among lawyers far from the residents affected by the outcome of the case.  Dierker’s ruling could preclude that outcome, which contradicts both the original plaintiff’s motivation and the need of residents to have binding protection against condemnation.  The “settlement” should be made openly through public ordinance.  I realize that wish is far too innocent for a process now in the hands of attorneys — but it is what the judge’s rulings compel.

Brick Theft JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Brick Thieves Go To Church

by Michael R. Allen

Brick theft is an act that is neither novel nor particularly likely to spur strong response in St. Louis. Malcolm Gay’s excellent recent New York Times article on brick theft in St. Louis reported to the nation what has become a sad backdrop to life in distressed neighborhoods of the city for decades. In the thirty odd years that illegal destruction of brick buildings has hit the city, especially the north side, few efforts have been made to increase legal penalties for the action. There is outrage in the streets, but the dealers who buy stolen brick still sleep peacefully in their own homes when sun sets.

Once when I wrote about brick theft in this blog, I received a thoughtful comment that likened brick thieves to fungi that consume fallen trees in the forest. The commenter suggested that an organic and harmless transaction occurs when a supposed useless old brick building is picked apart by thieves that often set the buildings afire first and leave a dangerous pit behind. Gay’s article let us know that the arson that precedes brick theft has collateral damage that cannot be rationalized under a theory of urban material reclamation. The notion that thieves are recycling neglected material is belied by the fact that their methods are far from systematic, and so much useful material is left to be placed in landfills. Demolition contractors — who lose hours of paid work to the thieves — may be the fungi that tackles the city’s building stock, but brick thieves are more akin to the loggers that rob forests of their most valuable wood, leave behind a damaged ecosystem that others must mend.

I thought about the comment on brick theft when I examined what remains of the North Galilee Missionary Baptist Church at 2940 Montgomery Avenue in JeffVanderLou, now owned by Northside Regeneration LLC. The brick church, built in 1900, recently was cleaned of its side walls by thieves who have systematically worked the surrounding buildings as well. There seems to be no compunction halting the destruction of a historic house of worship.

North Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, April 2009

North Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, August 2010

There would be many who would argue that this old church was a useless remnant of a lost neighborhood, and that its gruesome demolition mandates no more than a passing word or a Flickr photograph. They are wrong. The church served its function for over 100 years, only going vacant a little over three years ago. While the building had been altered beyond the criteria of architectural integrity required for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, it remained the embodiment of decades of African-American worship and community life. Churches are their people, but church buildings are stores of memory worthy of our care. The North Galilee Missionary Baptist Church building deserved a more dignified end, and the brick thieves and their clients ought to suffer significant penalty. The New York Times article should not be shaken off as “bad press” but taken as a call to action.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Hearing on Northside Regeneration Retrial Motion on September 24

Judge Robert Dierker, Jr. has set a hearing on Northside Regeneration’s motion for a new trial in Bonzella Smith et al. v. City of St. Louis et. al. for 9:00 a.m. on Friday, September 24 in Division 1.  Dierker issued his ruling in the case on July 2.  The ruling invalidated Ordinances 68484 and 68485 that gave Northside Regeneration LLC redevelopment rights and authorized issuance of tax increment financing for the company’ s proposed project.

Flounder House JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Flounder House on Cass Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

Tucked alongside a commercial building, sometimes obscured by trees and with a partly collapsed roof, the one-story flounder house at 2704 Cass Avenue evades attention.  Yet the small house’s craftsmanship shows in details like the dentillated cornice on the side elevation.  There are signs that the front originally had a wooden or galvanized cornice, but the chance that anyone will ever know for certain is slim.  The chance that the house will survive the next decade may be slimmer still.

The house may date to 1885, but could be older.  It stands on City Block 1843, bounded by Cass, Elliott, Sheridan and Leffingwell avenues — a city block that has never had an alley.  This house and much of the rest of the block is owned by Northside Regeneration LLC.  Once part of dense urban fabric, the little house has become doubly noteworthy: it is one of only three buildings left on this block, and one of perhaps as few as 160 remaining flounder houses in St. Louis.

Downtown North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Northside Regeneration and City Museum Now Neighbors

by Michael R. Allen

The big story this week is that Paul J. McKee Jr.’s Northside Regenation LLC filed a post-trial (well, post-ruling) request for a new trial to Judge Robert Dierker, Jr. The City of St. Louis apparently is joining the request. On July 2nd, Dierker invalidated the two city ordinances that constituted Northside Regeneration’s redevelopment agreement with the City of St. Louis.

Not mentioned in recent news reports is the fact that Northside Regeneration is still buying property for its project.  The most recent purchase brings Northside Regeneration’s holdings directly into downtown. On June 4, the company closed on a nearly $2 million purchase of a large parcel containing a warehouse building located at 1424 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. (The parcel is highlighted on a Geo St. Louis map below.)

If that address is not familiar, its surroundings will be: the parcel is one block north of the City Museum, and for the last few years its parking lot has been home to a changing assortment of fire engines, school buses and even the original cupola of the City Hospital’s Administration Building.

Housing North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North

Community-Driven Development on Northside Continues Despite McKee Ruling

From EcoUrban Homes

CONTACT: Jay Swoboda, 314-231-0400 x4

ST. Louis – Despite the recent ruling against Paul McKee’s plans for a $390 million TIF, strong neighborhood-based development continues to sprout up in many areas covered by McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration Zone. Building on increasing enthusiasm for urban, walkable neighborhoods with a close proximity to downtown, unusually strong development continues to unfold in North St. Louis.

Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, EcoUrban, and Habitat for Humanity St. Louis (currently the largest developer of single-family homes in the region), have all committed to completing projects of significant scope on the Near North Side.

EcoUrban is working with Alderwoman April Ford Griffin, the Regional Housing and Development Corporation (RHCDA), and Community Renewal and Development Inc. to develop eight new single family homes at 25th and Dodier. The homes will be built to the USGBC’s LEED for Homes specifications and feature thoughtful urban design and efficient, green construction. Habitat for Humanity St. Louis, no stranger to LEED certification, is currently completing 17 new homes in Old North St. Louis. These homes feature a modern design and are tracking LEED for Homes Platinum certification. Additionally, Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony for the transformational Crown Square Project, a 27-building project spanning eight blocks in the heart of North St. Louis’ commercial district, is slated to be held on July 29th. By any measure, North St. Louis is undergoing tremendous redevelopment.

“We are proud of our commitment in North St. Louis, remarked Kimberly McKinney, CEO of Habitat for Humanity St. Louis. “Since 2008, Habitat for Humanity St. Louis has invested $8.1 million towards new home development on the North Side with $5.5 million committed for 2010.”

“It’s amazing how much positive feedback we’re receiving from the community up here,” said Sal Martinez, Executive Director of Community Renewal and Development Inc. “With a common-sense approach, and a great green projects, it’s easy to draw the attention of leaders and residents committed to making St. Louis a better place for families.”


Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis is consistently ranked in the top 30 of the leading 100 Habitat affiliates in the country, and is currently the leading housing developer in the St. Louis Metro Area. The Old North St. Louis Restoration Group is a community-based nonprofit organization established to revitalize the physical and social dimensions of the community in a manner that respects its historic, cultural, and urban character. EcoUrban is a developer of efficient, affordable green real estate developments – helping to create sustainable solutions for St. Louis.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Northside Regeneration: The Process is Still the Problem

by Michael R. Allen

Assessing the future of the Northside Regeneration project in light of Judge Robert Dierker, Jr.’s ruling against the project’s redevelopment ordinances is difficult. For one thing, the ruling has suspended the ordinances but left a loophole for reinstatement. Then, Northside Regeneration’s principal Paul J. McKee, Jr. has announced that his company will file a motion to return to Dierker’s courtroom, and that if that motion does not lead to the judge’s reversal, an appeal will follow. City Hall is cryptic but seems to be placing distance between itself and the developer. Statements from the aldermen involved in the ordinances tip no hands.

McKee makes it clear that the project is still a priority to him, and that it is in no way “over” because of Dierker’s ruling. Yet intention and outcome are joined by a process that requires ultimately convergence of the courts, residents, city government and even state government given the tax credits McKee needs to start the project. That process to date has been convoluted and seriously problematic to everyone involved. Without improving the process, no outcome can be certain except that conflict over the direction of the project will continue.

Housing JeffVanderLou LRA North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

’27 Tornado Survivors on Montgomery Street

by Michael R. Allen

I have long admired the group of four narrow-faced, one-story houses on the 3000 block of Montgomery Street. Located on a little wedge between Garrison and Coleman streets, the four houses seem to comprise a coherent group of small shaped-parapet dwellings. The western two, 3005 and 3007 Montgomery (left), have front entrances. The other two, 3001 and 3003 Montgomery (right), have side entrances and paired windows on their faces. All are clad in machine-rolled, rough-faced brown brick with abundant white bakery brick patterns. Raised basements provide well-lit potential additional living space.

The setting is enhanced by the placement of the houses not parallel to Montgomery Street, but parallel to the side lines of the irregular lots on which they sit. Thus the houses roughly step out from east to west, creating visual interest from the side.

These houses have always been architecturally compatible, but there is a twist — or twister, if you will. These houses began their days as stone-faced homes built around the turn of the twentieth century. One block west stood the massive Mullanphy Hospital. In 1927, the great tornado ran northeast across the city and struck this block. Like most buildings that survived the disaster, the buildings were rebuilt using contemporary masonry rather than restored. While the repairs are within a common range, the grouping and the deliberate effort to match all four houses is unusual.

While not stone-clad, the three one-story, flat-roofed houses one block to the east on the south face of Montgomery Street give some indication of the form of the re-clad homes. The decorated wooden cornices were common on these small raised-basement houses built across north city roughly from 1880 through 1905. Often the high porches sheltered stairwells that led to basement apartments. The three houses pictured above are now so decimated by brick thieves that their demolition is inevitable.

Alas, the four houses to the west are also vacant — three owned by Northside Regeneration and one by the Land Reutilization Authority — and unprotected by landmarks status or demolition review. However, they are not sitting alone.

The four tornado survivor, marked by a yellow asterisk on the map above, are adjacent to blocks built up again by Habitat for Humanity. The four small historic houses could some day sit amid a rebuilt neighborhood, reminding people of a time when the city had the fortune and foresight to rebuild even small one-story houses. The brick-rustled neighbors here bear a strange resemblance to houses depicted in photographs of 1927 tornado damage. Houses that went through the tornado and back remind us that even the worst disaster is not the end of the world — not even necessarily the end of a building.

Adaptive Reuse North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place

Why Save This Building?

by Michael R. Allen

This two-story reinforced concrete industrial building stands on N. 25th Street just north of Sullivan Avenue in St. Louis Place. It is owned by Northside Regeneration LLC. Beyond some concrete block infill of first floor window openings and a painted southern elevation, the building does not look much different than it did when built some 90 years ago. In the parlance of the National Register for Historic Places, the building substantially retains its integrity.

Of course, the building is more isolated than ever, and across 25th Street is the hulking Sullivan Place building with its gated grounds. No one could claim that the building is essential to preserving a historic built landscape. So why would anyone preserve it?

The first reason would be moral imperative. One version of that is tracing the building’s use to a significant company or product. That is unlikely. Another moral imperative, which all good people now claim to endorse, is the mantra of “sustainability”: demolition is like driving an Escalade to work every day. Right? A tangential moral imperative is that with each demolition, we lose more of St. Louis itself, thus diminishing the physical city itself. Readers know that I meditate on this idea frequently, and sometimes inconclusively.

The other reason that this building would be saved is economic. Someone may find a new purpose, or resurrect an old purpose, for the building. Reuse of this building might reduce capital needs of start-up. That’s the kind of reuse that I would love to see envisioned for a relic like this. More likely, though, redevelopment here will be incentive-driven. In fact, it already is.

The irony is that not long ago this building was still in continuous use, despite loss of context, age and general neighborhood decline. It was just an industrial building in a neighborhood. Now, due to conjoined acts of government and capital, its existence is in question. Many prettier buildings are in the same situation, but advocacy is far easier for them. Who sees the potential here? Well, the potential was already realized. Don’t forget that. Jobs were located here. Taxes generated. Not much is required to return the building to taxable production. Perhaps in our political economy those facts justify preservation better than any other.