Collapse JeffVanderLou National Register

Preserving Tillie’s Corner in JeffVanderLou

by Emily Kozlowski

Tillie's Corner in 2008.

The three brick townhouses of 1349-1353 N. Garrison Ave. were once a staple of the neighborhood, as the community grocery store named Tillie’s Corner. Lillie Pearson, known as “Miss Tillie”, bought the first building in 1948 and operated a successful business there for 40 years. Her long-lived business is a testament to Lillie herself, as a single mother and an African American woman in a severely segregated city. The townhouses are historic links to the migration of African Americans from the south to northern urban centers, to a business owned and operated by an African American woman, and to the community center for which the store is essentially remembered (hours 5:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.).

The Late Victorian style townhouses of Tillie’s Corner were built in 1870 in the residential neighborhood of Jeff-VanderLou. Three stories tall and with three separate store fronts added in the 1920’s, they were built with home and business in mind. Lillie opened shop after the sudden death of her husband left her with the children to support on her own. Her shop was her way of supporting her family and being a part of the community. The confectionery thrived from the neighboring Dunbar Elementary School and local homeowners. Lillie devotedly kept daily hours that were much longer than any large grocer, allowing for those without transportation to stop by after work. Her hours extended to years, and the shop was running for a remarkable four decades. Lillie can be considered an activist in community building, as she stayed at the exact same address through years of increasing crime and urban decline. She offered a stable business to meet the needs of her neighborhood instead of abandoning it. After 40 years, only when she was physically unable to operate the business, did she close Tillie’s Corner.

Tillie's Corner after partial collapse on August 26, 2012.

Carla Pearson and Miguel Alexander, heirs of Tillie’s Corner, have high hopes for the future. Not only do they look to preserve the buildings, but plan on using them as a center for care-giving to the elderly and disabled. Tillie’s Corner is currently in the process of being listed in the National register of Historic Places (thanks to students in Dr. Sonia Lee’s Washington university history courses, with pro bono assistance from Karen Bode Baxter). The problem, now, is restoring the buildings to their history glory. They have deteriorated and weathered over time; recently, a side of the building collapsed due to heavy rain. The buildings can be saved but time is the crucial factor. Help preserve a part of St. Louis and African American history by donating or spreading the story. Carla and Miguel can be contacted at (314) 495-3686 or

Emily Kozlowski, an art history major at Webster University, is currently a Research Intern at Preservation Research Office.

Collapse Gate District South St. Louis

Lafayette Avenue Row House Collapsed

by Michael R. Allen

2804 Lafayette Avenue in November 2010.
2804 Lafayette Avenue today.

As I feared, the row house at 2804 Lafayette Avenue was destabilized by last year’s demolition of its party-wall neighbor and has substantially collapsed. (See “Two for One on Lafayette Avenue”, November 16, 2010.) The forthcoming demolition will leave just one of three connected dwellings standing — hopefully in sound condition.

Collapse Historic Preservation South St. Louis Tower Grove East

Holding Down the Corner

by Michael R. Allen

Perhaps the most precious architectural resources in our neighborhoods are corner buildings. When the ends of a block are vacant, a street’s urban character takes a huge hit. Empty corners signify distress and disuse. Corner buildings in full use show the world the lifeblood of an urban area, and in vacancy at least carry the promise of renewal to come. If the corner building is commercial the potential is particularly rich: there could be a place of commerce, a generator of city revenues and a point of presence that dampens crime.

To cut to the chase, I have been concerned about the corner commercial building at the northeast corner of Michigan and Arsenal streets for some time now. The building, which dates to 1905, has lost some of its character through relaying of the upper part.  Consequently it is a bit plain, but still sturdy, well-built and suited for a corner store. When I first moved to Tower Grove East last year, the building was already vacant. City records show that the building has been listed as vacant since 2008. Not good.

Then, this summer, the outer wythe of brick on the first floor collapsed.  On July 26, the Building Division condemned the building for demolition.  The only action taken then by owner, Yee Real Estate LLC of Chesterfield, was to prop up the remaining part of the wythe with lumber.  Again, not good.  Tower Grove East is a great neighborhood because it has lost so few buildings, and has few empty corners.  That should not change.

Some relief came this week when Yee Real Estate LLC applied for a building permit on December 29 for stabilization work to rebuild the collapsed masonry.  Hopefully the job is done well and soon, and the building is put back to use.

Attention developers: Just across the street at to the east, the residential building at 3114-16 Arsenal Street remains vacant and for sale. Built in two sections, the building has a dentillated brick cornice and, on the east, flat stone lintels.  These are signs that this building precedes much of the surrounding city fabric.  Indeed the eastern half of the building appears to be a building seen in Compton and Dry’s 1875 Pictorial St. Louis.

Nearby Grant School at 3009 Pennsylvania Avenue would not be completed until 1893.

Abandonment Collapse Gate District South St. Louis

Row House on Lafayette Avenue Slated for Demolition

by Michael R. Allen

Only one of these three row houses at the southwest corner of Lafayette and California avenues in the Gate District is occupied. The photograph makes that obvious.  Built circa 1883, the row is one of the remaining historic buildings that provides architectural character to Lafayette Avenue west of Jefferson — character that, although diminished through substantial demolition, connects this section of the south side street to its eastern and western parts.  Lafayette Avenue has its gaps, but never on its entire run through the city does it lack any part of our city’s built heritage.

Yet all is not well with this row.

Last month, during heavy rain, a large crack developed in the eastern wall of the row’s easternmost house. Then the back section of the wall collapsed, leaving a gaping hole and the house without needed structural support. The wooden joists in brick row houses almost always run perpendicular to the side walls, so damage to these walls can be fatal.

Located at 2804 Lafayette Avenue, city records show that the house is owned by Mark S. Phillips care of Edward Wandrick. The Building Division has listed the house as vacant since 1998, and its adjacent neighbor as vacant from 1989-1991 and again since 2007. Yet given the rough condition and length of abandonment, one would be excused for mistaking it for a Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) building.

On September 7, Building Commissioner Frank Oswald approved an emergency demolition for the damaged eastern house. Of course, the house could be salvaged even now. After all, the side wall is only half-gone — a condition that means, of course, that it is half intact. And the other walls of the house are sound. A problematic factor for demolition is the connected middle house. Not only do the buildings share a common party wall, but the front elevation of all three houses is laid continuously. There is no straight seam between the row. Removal of part of it could destabilize the rest without masonry repair, and emergency demolitions don’t have masonry repair budgets.

Of course, the fate of the building has been under the control of its owners, and they have let the building quietly ride its course. If the building were owned by the LRA, perhaps other options would exist right now should the Gate District neighbors and the area’s alderwoman, Kacie Starr Triplett (D-6th), wish to pursue them. Perhaps the building would be rehabilitated instead of facing its death knell, or perhaps it would have been wrecked years ago. The only certainty is that preservation of long-vacant city buildings is far from scientific. Fortune, in the forms of passionate buyers or harsh sudden winds, make or break St. Louis’ fragile buildings.

Although fortune has often cast a frown on the immediate area around the row on Lafayette, there is significant urban fabric remaining. Although the corner parcel next to 2804 Lafayette has long lost another dwelling and a corner store, across California to the east is a line of commercial buildings in good repair.  South on California are a few residential buildings and then Interstate 44.

Across the street from those buildings is the imposing red-brick, Romanesque Revival Hodgen School of 1884. Designed by Otto J. Wilhelmi, the school may very well have educated young people who were raised at 2804 Lafayette. The closed school building awaits reuse.  Hodgen’s large school yard was created by razing a line of commercial buildings, an action which created a gap in the Lafayette Avenue street line.  One more gap is on the way.

Benton Park Collapse Flounder House South St. Louis

Benton Park Flounder Needs Repair After Collapse

by Michael R. Allen

Earlier this month, the flounder house at 2809 McNair (Rear) in Benton Park endured a collapse of part of one of its side walls as well as part of a its front (east) wall. The damage is severe, but the condition is not beyond the reach of some temporary telescoping jacks. In fact, the side wall that bears the roof weight is studded out, so there is a wall in place holding that weight for now. Of course, that wall is made of new soft pine and is not a long-term guarantee of survival. The building needs the corner relayed. No big deal!

As the photograph shows, the flounder consists of an original one-and-a-half story section and an addition at the low end of the roof. Building permits date the original house to 1884, and the addition to before 1900. the house has been vacant for the past five years, with some deterioration and structural problems.

The south side of the buidling has prominent stress cracks, but shows no imminent danger. If the owner doesn’t have fund to repair the collapse, he could remove the addition and restore the original flounder house, which probably had a gallery porch in the spot wher ethe addition now stands. There are always so many solutions that are not total demolition. Will our Buidling Division urge one of these other solutions this time?

A short walk down the alley and back onto Lynch Street, one finds an intact and lived-in flounder house. This flounder has a front-hipped roof instead of the severe side slope seen on others. The group of buildings in which it plays a part is a great example of how diverse forms, styles, materials and setbacks can create a unique urban street face.

Collapse Fire Historic Preservation South St. Louis

Unknown Buyer of Pevely Dairy Complex May Back Off

by Michael R. Allen

The Post-Dispatch reports that the pending Pevely Dairy complex sale may stall after the spectacular loss on Sunday of one of the largest buildings on the site to a fire. The fire destroyed one of the two nearly identical production buildings. The lost building dated to 1943 and copied the original 1917 building design by architect Leonard Hager.

A big question since the St. Louis Business Journal first reported news of the contract on the complex is who is the prospective buyer (logical buyer St. Louis University has been rumored to be the shadow party). Scratch that — the bigger question since the abrupt closure of the complex by Prairie Farms in October was whether there would be a buyer in the near future. The speed of a sales contract on a formidable development project amid a general recession was, until Sunday, a relief to those who would like to see the landmark buildings revitalized. Hopefully the deal is still on, because what is left is still eligible for National Register of Historic Places listing and ripe for redevelopment.

At any rate the size of the project suddenly has changed.

Collapse Fire South St. Louis

Pevely Dairy Collapse Video

by Michael R. Allen

(From YouTube user “ahoock” via Bill Michalski.)

Abandonment Collapse Historic Preservation James Clemens House North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place

Clemens House Chapel Suffers Localized Collapse

In a move unsurprising to long-time observers, a section of the roof and the eastern wall of the chapel wing at the James Clemens House collapsed in heavy rains yesterday. The collapse took down a section of roof that was sagging severely in recent months and three bays of the east wall above the first floor. The section that collapsed ran between two interior partitions that prevented further roof damage by supporting additional weight and tying the side walls together.

The roof had demonstrated severe local failure, and the western wall had substantially bowed outward in just the least year under pressure from the failing roof trusses. Recent observation showed imminent failure.

However, the chapel shows few signs of further immediate danger. The Building Division may swoop in soon to demolish the chapel, but that would be hasty. Here’s why:

  • The collapse was localized. The roof trusses run the width of the chapel, not the length, so the loss of those that fell yesterday does not necessarily mean others will fail.
  • Adjacent wall and roof sections seem fair. While the roof is in poor condition, the worst parts were those lost. The masonry walls and foundation, on the other hand, show excellent pointing and soundness. The wall section that collapsed did so because the roof pushed it out, not because the wall itself was inherently deficient.

    Built in 1896, the chapel was designed by Carondelet resident Aloysius Gillick, architect of several other Archdiocese buildings including the 1889 St. Mary’s Infirmary. The Sisters of St. Joseph built the chapel after taking ownership of the Clemens House earlier, in 1888. The front-gabled brick building features red sandstone ornament and sills, an ornate front porch and a high body visible from long distances to the east and north. The chapel itself is located on the second floor, and featured a suspended vaulted ceiling (mostly collapsed). The ornate marble altar and stained glass windows are both nearly completely missing.

    Still, preservation of the chapel is important in retaining the historic integrity of the complex. The current configuration reflects the House’s years of religious service rather than its original mansion life, and any restoration should retain the evolved form to show the layers of historic presence.

    Now is the time for the owner of the Clemens House, Paul McKee, to come forward and announce his intention. Inaction will mean certain loss of the chapel and further deterioration of the Clemens House buildings. Immediate stabilization should commence. If McKee is unwilling to do that, he should say so and offer others a chance.

    Television stations KSDK and KTVI (oddly speculating that the chapel was a cathedral) covered the collapse.

  • Categories
    Brecht Butcher Buildings Central West End Collapse Lafayette Square North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North South St. Louis

    Examples of Buildings Stabilized After Collapse

    Other industrial buildings in St. Louis and elsewhere have been stabilized and rehabilitated after sustaining damage as sever or worse that that sustained by the 1897 addition to the Brecht Butcher Supply Company building. These photos here show conditions at buildings brought back from ruins. Thanks to architect Paul Hohmann for providing these images.

    LISTER BUILDING (Central West End, St. Louis)

    The Lister Building at the southwest corner of Taylor and Olive was in ruins before its historic-tax-credit rehab. Read more here.

    M LOFTS (Formerly part of the International Shoe Company Factory, Lafayette Square, St. Louis)

    The “M Lofts” building in Lafayette Square was in a very similar state to the Brecht addition before developer Craig Heller purchased it in 2001 for an ambitious rehab. The former International Shoe Company manufacturing building was a mill-method building like the Brecht, with extensive structural collapse. Heller’s LoftWorks company rebuilt much of the building and converted it into residential space. Read more here

    WIREWORKS (formerly the Western Wire Products Company Factory, Lafeyette Square, St. Louis)

    A significant portion of the Western Wire Products Company buildings burned after rehab started in 2000. The developers chose to stabilize the affected section and create an inviting enclosed courtyard. Read more here on Landmarks Association’s 2002 Most Enhanced Building Awards page (the building was among the winners).

    MILL CITY MUSEUM (Minneapolis)

    From the museum website: “Built within the ruins of a National Historic Landmark — the Washburn A Mill — the museum provides a multi-sensory, interactive journey. The story of flour milling — and its impact on Minneapolis, the nation and the world — comes to life through the eight-story Flour Tower and other hands-on exhibits.”