Churches Demolition Historic Preservation North St. Louis

St. Stanislaus Kostka School Deserves a Reprieve

by Michael R. Allen

I suggest reading my previous post, St. Stanislaus Kostka: A Preface, before reading this one.

On March 18, the St. Stanislaus Kostka parish applied for a demolition permit for its historic school building adjacent to the church on North 20th Street. Since neither the City Landmark nor the National Register of Historic Places designations for the church include the school, the building falls outside of demolition review. The school is in the Fifth Ward, in which the Cultural Resources Office only has preservation review of official landmarks. Hence, the parish demolition application need only clear the Building Division before work can commence.

The sudden news shocked preservationists who had stood behind the church in its dispute with the St. Louis Archdiocese. How could a parish who had dared tell the archdiocese that it could better tend its buildings and people wish to demolish a historic building under its care?

Although the permit was a sudden development, the parish actually voted to demolish the school two years ago. And the vote was anything but unanimous, as some parishioners still have misgivings.

The trouble for the parish is that the school closed in 1964, and the parish has never found a use for the building. The first floor is still used occasionally, while the second floor is full of debris and pigeons. The parish has no plans to resume its school, and the building seems outmoded for the social functions that the parish still hosts regularly.

According to the board of the parish, repairs would cost $1 million. Board members say that schools have looked at the building, and declined interest. One wonders if the use of federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits was explored. Since state credits recoup up to 25% of rehabilitation costs and federal credits 20%, together the programs could knock $1 million down to a more reasonable $550,000.

Of course, in order to claim the credits, ownership of the school would have to be transferred to a for-profit entity. Either a new owner or a parish-led development entity could rehab the building and get tax credits, should the building get listed on the National Register.

As the photographs show, the building is entirely sound. Sure, the building has extensive interior deterioration. There are holes in walls and ceilings, the systems are shot and the second floor needs extensive cleaning. However, the structure is sound, the roof is good and historic features like millwork and even original windows are in place. Most tax credit rehab projects start off in worse shape than this.

The school building actually dates to 1896; examine the side elevations and the blind arcade running along the roof line and one sees the congruity between the school, the rectory and the church, all built in the 1890s. The school received major alterations in 1923, when the first floor windows were expanded into wide, tall modern windows and in 1930, when the stairwells were added at each end. The front stairwell gives the building its distinctive and almost foreboding Art Deco Gothic entrance.

Although this is the last minute, one hopes that the publicity surrounding the demolition might lead to some reconsideration. The parish might look outside itself and consult with preservation professionals, city officials and developers to find creative solutions to the problem of the old school building — which might look more like an opportunity to others.

Another troubling prospect is the future of the rectory that stands between the school and the church. Already down to one priest occupant, the building faces maintenance and utility issues similar to the school. How long before the parish starts thinking that it no longer needs its own rectory? Dialogue about the school would prevent a similar crisis in the near future.

The spirit that has kept St. Stanislaus Kostka alive (and on the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) is one big enough to allow for a better fate for the school building than demolition. Finding a new future for the school isn’t a battle — it’s doing the right thing with resources the parish already owns.

(All photographs used here by Douglas Duckworth.)

More photographs on Flickr: Thomas Crone, Douglas Duckworth and Susan Sheppard.

Churches North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Pruitt Igoe

St. Stanislaus Kostka: A Preface

by Michael R. Allen

Stewardship has been a watchword of the struggle between St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, located at 1413 N. 20th on the near north side, and the Archdiocese of St. Louis, led by Archbishop Raymond Burke. The lay board of St. Stan’s has asserted their ownership of the parish and its property against the Archdiocese’ claim of ownership. At the heart of the dispute is a conflict over the best way to practice stewardship of the physical and pastoral fabric of the parish. The Archdiocese’s point is that the parish is but a unit of the larger church, and that centralized stewardship balances the interests of the region’s many parishes. The board of St. Stan’s makes the counterargument that localized stewardship of the parish puts both control and responsibility for the future of the parish on the shoulders of those who know it best — its board, pastor and members.

The backdrop is the tumultuous recent history of the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood where St. Stanislaus Kostka has been located since the church was built in 1891. After World War II, most of this neighborhood was cleared for the massive Pruitt-Igoe housing project, which entailed clearance of nearly every building between Jefferson, Cass, 20th and Carr streets save the Roman Catholic churches of St. Bridget on Jefferson and St. Stanislaus Kostka on 20th Street.

St. Stan’s shared an uneasy property line with the housing project. Then came the clearance of the neighborhood across 20th street and the construction of the Vaugh Homes. The old Polish church was surrounded by dull monolithic housing towers. The gentle, humanist architecture of the church and parish buildings was in sharp contrast to the modernist developments around it. Socially, the environment was changed forever. The parish was no longer a group of people who walked to mass, sharing an ethnic identity as well as a neighborhood. Members fled the city, but not the parish. The church survived even as its neighborhood disintegrated, first with the new housing projects and later with the downfall of the same.

By the early 21st century, St. Stan’s had endured so much uncertainty its members could hardly be blamed for a defensive posture. Since 1972, the cleared Pruitt-Igoe site was a desert of scrub trees and dumped debris. At one point in the early 199s, Mayor Freeman Bosley floated a ridiculous scheme to build an 18-hole gold course and large subdivision centered on the Pruitt-Igoe site. The plan could have wiped out St. Stan’s, and at least would have again put its context at risk.

The golf course plan died amid political opposition, though, and a change for the better came to the area around St. Stan’s. Starting in 2002, the Vaughn Homes site had been remade into Murphy Park, a successful and attractive mixed-income development. However, developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. also began buying large amounts of property around the Pruitt-Igoe site, with rumors yet another clearance scheme circulating. In 2004 and 2005, the Archdiocese closed dozens of city parishes.

No wonder many members of St. Stanislaus Kostka vigorously defend their right to hold ownership to the parish. If the entire neighborhood that once composed the parish could be cleared wholesale multiple times, clearance of the church was an easy possibility. If even strong parishes in densely-populated parts of south city could be closed, why not a parish in ravaged north city whose members mostly lived outside of the neighborhood?

No one at St. Stan’s has ever accused the Archdiocese of specifically wanting to sell out the property or close the parish; the issue is more a matter of principle than fear. History set the odds against the parish surviving, and any step toward beating those odds was one worth taking — even defiance of the Archbishop.

Churches Demolition North St. Louis

St. Stanislaus Kostka Poised to Demolish Historic School

An article in today’s Post-Dispatch reports that St. Stanislaus Kostka parish is planning to demolish its historic school, possibly starting as early as Monday. The public is invited to tour the school tomorrow from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Chicago Churches Fire Historic Preservation Illinois Louis Sullivan

Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago Awaits Reconstruction

by Michael R. Allen

Last month while I was visiting Chicago I stopped by the Pilgrim Baptist Church at Indiana Avenue and 33rd Street in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Built in 1891 as the Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue, this Prairie School masterpiece was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. In January 2006, a devastating fire struck the building, leaving nothing intact save the limestone and brick walls. The photos below show steel bracing against the street-facing walls. The bracing was required by the Chicago city government to prevent collapse into the public right-of-way. Engineers have determined that collapse is unlikely since the walls remain sound.

Although the church has yet to be able to start reconstruction, they have made some progress with raising money and securing the structure. In 2006, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich pledged $1 million in state funds to the church school (since the state can’t directly fund the church) to rebuild. Earlier this month, after his administration gave the money to the wrong school, the governor pledged an additional $1 million on top of the previous pledge. Last year, Pilgrim Baptist chose architects Johnson & Lee of Chicago and Quinn Evans of Ann Arbor, Michigan, to design the reconstruction of the ornate Sullivan building. How much of the intricate interior gets rebuilt is undetermined, but the exterior should be brought back fully to original appearance.

Churches Dutchtown Mid-Century Modern Preservation Board South St. Louis Uncategorized

Changes at Resurrection of Our Lord Church

by Michael R. Allen

On March 24, the Preservation Board of the City of St. Louis considered an application by the congregation of Resurrection of Our Lord Church to remove an original wall and construct a grotto. Designed by Murphy & Mackey and completed in 1954, Resurrection of Our Lord Church became a City Landmark in 1976. The City Landmark status allowed the Preservation Board to review the proposal to remove the wall; otherwise there would be no legal protection. The Board voted to defer the matter pending consultation with a registered architect. I submitted the following testimony in my capacity as Assistant Director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis:

In Murphy & Mackey’s design for Resurrection of Our Lord Church, both building and site plan are integrated elements. The architects undertook a total design of the lot so that each element is an intentional part of the church, and cannot be removed and altered without causing alteration to the total composition. The wall running along the courtyard demarks the courtyard entrance space from the private and less formal realm on the other side. The presence of the wall heightens the religious experience of entering the church with a mind cleared of worldly concerns.

The City Landmark protection extends to the entire design. While placement of the grotto on the site is an intrusion on the original design, it is both reversible and a reasonable concession to the current congregation’s right to use the property.

However, removal of the wall would be a permanent disfiguring of the landmark design. The Preservation Board should not allow removal of the wall. The staff recommendation is a fair compromise.

Abandonment Churches Historic Preservation North St. Louis Old North

Fourth Baptist Church Secured

by Michael R. Allen

In the midst of discussion on this blog about a partly un-boarded broken window on the vacant Fourth Baptist Church at 13th and Sullivan in Old North St. Louis, a new board went up (at right in the photo above). This simple act will prevent vandalism and trespass on the building, ensuring its survival as it awaits reuse.

Abandonment Churches Illinois land use Urbanism

Kaskaskia Remains

by Michael R. Allen

The villages of Dozaville (once Goshen) and Kaskaskia, Illinois remain as vestiges of settlement on Kaskasia Island. Dozaville is a complete ghost town, at least officially — it has been legally dissolved for decades. Kaskaskia remains incorporated, although with less than a dozen residents in four households within its boundaries has no real need for civil government. Kaskaskia is one of those places that has achieved zero population growth according to the US Census — a bizarre stasis for a town once of great importance.

Although part of Randolph County in Illinois, the island is west of the Mississippi and accessible only via a bridge from St., Mary’s, Missouri. A shallow channel barely recognizable as a river separates St. Mary’s from the island, suggesting that the land nearly is part of Missouri. On maps, the land seems fully engulfed by Missouri. Most maps don’t even note the channel with water, but merely include a political boundary line. Kaskaskia seems an improbable location for Illinois’s first state capital. Now remote, plagued by low land that constantly floods, and insular, Kaskaskia was once a vital part of early French settlement of the Mississippi River valley. The island was once an attached Illinois peninsula.

In 1673, Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette claimed the Mississippi River valley in this area. In 1675, Marquette visited the site of Kaskaskia and established the mission of the Immaculate Conception. The mission became a church, and the settlement around the mission grew into a village with fur trading and farming as prevalent economic activities. In 1703, Kaskaskia was founded as the second village of European settlers in Illinois. By 1752, the population stood at a relatively robust number of 671 residents.

At the advent of the French and Indian War in 1756, French townspeople built Fort Kaskaskia on a hill east of the town, now across the Mississippi River. Residents destroyed the fort to prevent it from falling into British control when the British won. Many residents fled to Ste. Genevieve after the war. Later, the British built Fort Gage in Kaskaskia but lost the fort to Revolutionary General George Rogers Clark in 1778.

Kaskaskia became Illinois territorial capital in 1804. In 1818, the newly-created State of Illinois chose to retain Kaskaskia for the first state capital, although for only two years. The Emigrant’s Guide of 1818 states that there were 150 houses standing in the village. Growth would not arrive, however, as the village quickly lost the capital to more centrally-located Vandalia. One notable event happened after the loss of the capital: the establishment of the convent and school for the female school Visitation Academy in 1833.

However, the biggest blows to the village’s fortune came with terrible floods in 1844 and 1881. Located at a narrow spot between the Kaskaskia and Mississippi Rivers, the site was vulnerable to the Mississippi’s eastward shift. Eventually, that river pushed over the narrow neck of the peninsula to create the present island. The first flood caused great population loss, and the second flood created the river channel that made the land around Kaskaskia into an island. During the period between the floods, Visitation Academy relocated to the city of St. Louis in 1844. After an 1893 flood, the town relocated to its present location.

In 1993, flood waters again submerged the island and caused residents to flee. Nowadays, the population of Kaskaskia is about 9 and the population of the island is about 93 people. Kaskaskia still retains its street grid, which carves out blocks punctuated by the few remaining buildings.

One of those remaining buildings is the Church of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1882 and moved to its current site in 1894 after the devastating 1893 flood. A church founded by Marquette now meets only on Saturday afternoons — strangely diminished in human size but awesome in the length of its existence. The brick building has managed to survive several floods with its Gothic Revival architecture intact.

A long-time parishioner is profiled in the article found here.

A newer building is the home of the church’s historic bell, gifted by the King of France in 1741 and known as the “Liberty Bell of the West” since the townspeople rang it on July 4, 1778 to celebrate liberation from British rule.

The old school house is interesting, although badly damaged by flooding and alterations to its fenestration. Boarded up, the brick building is missing much of its interior structure although it has gained a new roof since the 1993 flood. Reuse seems unlikely, although someone is performing enough continued maintenance to ensure survival of the old building.

A few frame and brick homes comprise the rest of Kaskaskia. The wide sight lines of the island ensure views of the church spire and school house framed by expanses of fields. Settlement has come full circle for Kaskaskia, but somehow it endures.

Academy Neighborhood Churches Demolition Historic Preservation Preservation Board

Confusion at Page and Union

by Michael R. Allen

Monday’s meeting of the Preservation Board was one of the most bizarre in recent memory — and that’s saying something. Visitors to the meeting found a room full of over 60 people when the board convened at 4:00 p.m. Normally, there may be around 15 or 20 people in the audience at the start of a meeting, and many less by the end. Had the board offered a raffle prize?

Alas, the cause for the crowd was political: the majority of people in the audience were members of the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church on Union Avenue, which was appealing Cultural Resources Office staff denial of a demolition permit for the building at the southeast corner of Page Boulevard and Union Avenue. Their purpose seems benign: they want to replace a fire-damaged, abandoned building that neighbors loathe with a gymnasiusm and educational center. There is an interim step of surface parking, but the new building should be standing within two years.

Yet closer examination of the church’s plan and the conduct of the church through the demolition permit process makes their plan seem quite controversial. First, the church applied for a permit in April 2007. After denial, the church attorney sought and obtained two continuances without so much as letting CRO staff know why. Then they finally show up, long after the denial, with a crowd of congregants and an attorney with a thick new brief.

Then there is the fact that the gymnasium and educational center plans dissolve under scrutiny. The church simply does not have solid plans. They have a possible site plan and rendering, prepared by an unregistered intern architect working for St. Louis Design Alliance. They don’t really have a time line or cost estimates. The church plans to build the shell of the building and gradually finish the interior. Even the parking concern seems weak given that they have use of Walgreens’ parking lot across the street in evenings.

Most important, there is the building that the church wants to demolish. The two-story brick commercial building is the last discernibly urban building at one of the most prominent intersections on the north side. The building comes up to the sidewalk, offering definition to the area. Literally, the building anchors the corner. Page and Union abound with glorious buildings, but their intersection has become ugly with Walgreens and a supermarket presenting parking lots to the corner on the west side. That’s a sad fact, but a changeable one. This building offers the first step toward that change.

Architect George H. Kennerly designed the building, which was built in 1905. The elaborate tin cornice and cladding around the projecting bays show Classical Revival and perhaps some Italianate influences. Although marred by peeling paint, the tin is in excellent condition and would restore beautifully. The bay windows create an eloquent rhythm and provide definition to the otherwise boxy form. A small fire has left the building with some damage, including roof collapse, but overall it’s sound. This is the type of building that seems infinitely adaptable to community needs. Every neighborhood needs buildings with combinations of walk-in and walk-up spaces.

Furthermore, the building is within the boundaries of the Mount Cabanne/Raymond Place National Historic District. That fact is noteworthy for two reasons: historic rehab tax credits are available there, and that district has lost many buildings like this one at its southern edge along Delmar.

The Preservation Board did not consider the appeal until nearly 7:30 p.m. Attorney Richard Kenney of Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus began the church’s presentation, which seemed to add other speakers impromptu. Kenney presented a brief written by William Kuehling of his firm. City Counselor objected to Kenney’s evidence, which made many assertions about the inability of the church to reuse the building. Frankly, the church’s use of so many people to testify weakened their case through confusion and exhaustion of nonpartisan witnesses and Board members. Recounting and contesting the church members’ testimony would be tedious and unhelpful to readers of this blog. Eventually, Chairman Richard Callow announced that the Board would take no vote until CRO staff and Board members could carefully examine the church’s evidence. (A special January Preservation Board meting is likely.) However, testimony continued until after 10:00 p.m.

Not one person testified in favor of preservation; myself and others had left for other enagagements. However, the hearing of the matter is still open and citizens should send testimony to the Preservation Board by emailing Board Secretary Adona Buford (

Meantime, one hopes that the church is not too intractable to reconsider their options. The church owns vacant lots on Page, owns an incredible building (potentially worth money to a developer) and enjoys support of its neighborhood, nearby businesses and its Alderman, Frank Williamson. The battle mentality is premature; with the church’s connections it could find a way to do what it wants without robbing a neighborhood of an important architectural anchor.

(Photographs by the author.)

Churches Fire Midtown

St. Alphonsus Liguori After the Fire

by Michael R. Allen

These photographs of St. Alphonsus Liguori (“Rock”) Church are frpm Friday afternoon. As the photographs suggest, the worst damage was sustained by the roof. The fire appears to have spread quickly across the roof, consuming some of the trusses and rafters while causing some roof collapse behind the steeple and over the altar. Overall, though, the church retains structural integrity. Even the roof damage is far less severe than anyone could have suspected on Thursday night during the fire. No assessment of interior damage is available. Given the amount of water used to fight the fire overhead, I would expect to find extensive water damage.

St. Alphonsus church was opened in 1872, although the steeples were not completed until 1894. The original plans came from Reverend Louis Dold and architect Thomas Walsh, while noted church architect and sculptor Joseph Conradi designed the steeples and the marble altar inside. Construction of the limestone church, designed in the Gothic Revival style, had begun in November 1867. The church was built by the Redemptorists, a Roman Catholic order founded by Liguori. After racial integration in 1947, the church congregation membership became heavily African-American.

Churches Fire Midtown

Good News for St. Alphonsus "Rock" Catholic Church

Church set to rebuild – Aisha Sultan (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 18)