Central West End CORTEX Demolition

Demolition of Morse Shoe Company Building Starting Soon

by Michael R. Allen

The city’s Building Division granted a demolition permit for the Morse Shoe Company Building (better known as the SKH Paper Company Building) on September 19. Demolition should begin soon.

There was no preservation review of the demolition permit, because the building was within the boundaries of a blighted redevelopment area created via an ordinance approved unanimously by the Board of Aldermen. Once again, the aldermanic system thwarts genuine urban planning review.

Central West End

Blunder on Laclede

by Michael R. Allen

Highland Homes is planning to demolish the house at 4557 Laclede currently used by the ACLU as their office to make way for the most ungainly new heap of housing in the current CWE boom. Look at the rendering on Urban St. Louis, and you may find yourself gaining a new appreciation for the architecture of the OPUS towers, which while bland aren’t even close to being as ill-proportioned as this new building. Yes, the building is “green,” but that does not excuse the design faults, which are not in any way related to the constraints of using green materials, or the fact that demolition of the existing building on the site will generate a lot of debris for the landfills.

Note that the first design for Renaissance Place, or whatever it will be called, is still far uglier (although thankfully shelved). The fact that designs as terrible as these are being taken as far as the construction phase shows a real need for a strong design advocacy movement here.

Central West End Green Space Infrastructure Streets Urbanism

Park Space Isn’t All That BJC Threatens

by Michael R. Allen

If BJC gets to lease part of Forest Park, can the city not require them to reopen Euclid Avenue to through traffic? I am very disturbed that the city would contemplate leasing part of a public park to a private entity for new construction, but I am even more upset that the city has already granted BJC de facto ownership of public thoroughfares through their “campus.”

The park space issue raises a huge red flag with the voters, who overwhelmingly seem to oppose it. I suppose park space is obvious community space that people generally value. Street space, much more fundamental to building good neighborhoods, is also public space and worthy of defense. Yet few people defend streets against closures, culde-sacs and such. In fact, some vocal Forest Park Southeast residents oppose the proposed new BJC lease as vocally as they call for making some culvert-pipe barriers permanent closures with gates or walls.

BJC’s rampant expansion is creating a problem far worse than, although reflected in, the proposed lease: the creation of a virtual citadel that will sever connections between the Central West End and Forest Park Southeast (or “The Grove”). This is a terrible thing for FPSE, which is showing miraculous signs of recovery and the resurgence of the Manchester Avenue commercial district. That rebound will suffer if people cannot find FPSE or get to it quickly from other neighborhoods.

If Mayor Francis Slay wants to continue his public-defying embrace of the lease, he ought to demand that BJC provide some thing other than money in return. He needs to make sure that BJC stops closing streets and stops building parking garages that have no street-level retail or office space. Taylor Avenue in particular is a major connector between the CWE and FPSE, yet BJC treats it like their service alley and rush-hour freeway. The worst buildings, garages and lots face Taylor — yet Metro is relocating the Central West End MetroLink station entrance to Taylor from Euclid.

Save our park, and restore our streets!

Central West End Churches Metal Theft

Architectural Heritage Threatened By Metal Theft

by Michael R. Allen

This is St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church at the northwest corner of Pendelton and Olive streets in the Central West End, just west of the old Gaslight Square area. On Friday of last week, church members noticed that the original copper guttering was missing. Then, they noticed that the flashing and other copper pieces from the roof were gone, too.

With limited means and no insurance on the church, the congregation brought out the buckets to endure the weekend’s rain. Hopefully, a more permanent repair can be made with the help of generous St. Louisans and the Lutheran synod.

However, no building will be very safe as long as metal recyclers are allowed an exception under city law that requires dealers of reused items to keep on file a photo ID card of each person who redeems items for cash. With metal prices high recently, thieves have been actively stripping buildings both vacant and occupied, with no end in sight. The Board of Aldermen needs to pass a bill requiring each metal recycler to obtain a photo ID from each customer before paying for their load of metal. That would guarantee that police officers investigating thefts can actually have a basis other than hearsay for investigation, and prosecutors can file charges against metal thieves. Honest scrappers who glean alleys and do gut demolition work would be unaffected. Metal dealers might experience a loss in profits, but would be more protected against charges ever being filed against them for accepting stolen property.

Theft of architectural items is as big a threat to the historic fabric of St. Louis as bad urban planning. St. Stephen’s Church is seriously at risk of sustaining major damage until roof repairs can be made, and that may take awhile. Vacant buildings that have their guttering stolen don’t even have half of the chance of surviving that an occupied building does. We cannot afford to lose buildings so that thieves and metal dealers can make a few bucks; the consequences will live on long after they spend the money.

St. Stephen’s originally was St. George’s Episcopal Church, and was built in 1891 from plans by Kivas Tully. Tully, who also designed parts of Christ Church Cathedral downtown, had conceived of this building as a wing of a larger sanctuary, but that plan was never built. The church is a key part of a pending expansion of the national Central West End Historic District drafted by Landmarks Association. This expansion basically restores the proposed original boundaries of the district north to the alley south of Delmar (but including Delmar Baptist Church at Delmar and Pendelton) and east to Pendleton.

Central West End Local Historic District North St. Louis Preservation Board South St. Louis

Chairman Callow, Boring Buildings and a Denied Demolition Permit

by Michael R. Allen

At its Monday meeting, the Preservation Board elected a new chairperson: Richard Callow, the public relations consultant who edits Mayor Slay’s campaign website. New board member David Richardson nominated Callow after Melanie Fathman nominated architect Anthony Robinson, a reasonable voice who would have done well in the position. Callow received the votes of Richardson, Luis Porello, Mary “One” Johnson (who presided over the vote rather clumsily), John Burse and new member Michael Killeen. Robinson received Fathman’s vote, and the nominated parties abstained. Mary Johnson was the only nominee for vice chairperson, although she so quickly called the vote after her own nomination was seconded that observers at the crowded meeting wondered if there was a chance for another nomination.

Callow demonstrated the tenor of his chairmanship by conducting the meeting much more efficiently than usual, although hopefully his motivation is to respect people’s time and not to glide over potential controversy. His customary pointed questions certainly enhance his chairmanship and give good direction to debate often marred by divergence and anecdote.

Is Callow’s election a political move or a pragmatic one? While the Preservation Board’s decisions can be overturned by less democratic bodies like the Planning Commission, the decisions often hold sway public perception of urban design and preservation issues. The approval of a plan or demolition permit by the Preservation Board can give proponents great backup for painting opponents as unreasonable. Time will tell what game, if any, is being played here.

One wonders if Mayor Slay will again write about the Preservation Board in his blog, given the new circumstances.

The Board unanimously granted preliminary approval to a bad new development project that would demolish the South Grand YMCA for a stale, wide block of Chicago-style tedium. Claire Nowak-Boyd registered an objection.

Another unanimous vote included final approval of the condominium building at Euclid and Lindell proposed by Opus Development, which although improved in design has a few problems with the scale of its base along Euclid and with the unmitigated expanse of its shaft. Alderwoman Lyda Krewson and politico Lou Hamilton were in attendance, presumably to monitor this vote.

The Preservation Board denied the Department of Public Safety’s request to demolish the house at 5309 Cabanne. The denial seems superfluous given the approval of demolition of the YMCA Building, which seems better posed to find reuse in the near future than the house. Also, of course, denial of the permit will not stop water, wind and fire from taking their toll. However, I am glad that the Board and Cultural Resources Office staff still regard the integrity of Visitation Park as an important thing to preserve. That neighborhood stands to benefit from the creep of the Delmar Loop’s success.

Central West End Demolition Forest Park Southeast Historic Preservation North St. Louis Preservation Board Soulard South St. Louis

Preservation Board Meeting Leads to Good Decisions

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday’s Preservation Board meeting yielded some good outcomes for the city. The Board was short a few members: Alderman Terry Kennedy, Mary “One” Johnson and Melanie Fathman. (Of course, the seat that gets filled by a member of the Planning Commission remains vacant.) That left board members John Burse, Richard Callow, Chairman Timothy Mulligan Luis Porrello and Anthony Robinson to deliberate on the full agenda for the evening.

The noteworthy votes included a vote on a sign, a vote on a storefront banking facility and the two demolition applications mentioned in this blog. The sign-related item was the application from Hammerstone’s bar in Soulard to restore the vintage neon Budweiser blade sign on the corner of its building (the restoration will involve major replacement). Staff at the Cultural Resources Office denied the permit because local Historic District standards for Soulard prohibit such a sign type without a variance, despite the fact that the sign pre-dates the historic district ordinance and the lifetimes of many of the people attending last night’s meeting. The sign has been in place on the building at least since the 1950s, and signs of its type date back to the late 1920s. St. Louis was a major manufacturing city for neon signs, and they are an important and lively part of the city’s architectural heritage. Steve Patterson spoke on the subject and passed around a book that included photos of local streetscapes in the 1950s with many similar signs. Currently, the Hammerstone’s sign is covered in Dryvit — somehow that is acceptable under Historic District standards. Thankfully, the Preservation Board unanimously voted to approve the application.

This vote was a great demonstration of what constitutes an appropriate variance. The Historic District standards no doubt intended to prohibit bad new signs, but in doing so removed the protection for existing historic signs that may not date to the “old days” of Soulard but have attained great historic significance in themselves. The standards also prohibit new signs that would be thoughtful. I appreciate the standards and the precautionary principle embodied within, but they are short-sighted on signage (as most local district standards are). Accumulation is the urban condition!

A unanimous vote to allow a walk-up ATM in the Central West End for a new National City Bank branch location was also a good thing that will hopefully encourage banks to use walk-up ATMs instead of drive-through lanes in the city.

I was very surprised that the Board ended up unanimously denying the demolition application for the Lutheran Altenheim Home in Baden. Few architectural historians had paid much attention to this wonderful institutional building, and in light of in-progress interior demolition, Cultural Resources head Kate Shea was resigned to only trying to guarantee salvage of architectural elements. Thankfully, Board member Callow asked one simple but important question: Had the owners, multi-state residential care facility operators Hillside Manor Property LLC, determined the presumably prohibitive cost of reuse? The answer, after staff of the company denounced the building for being too old and for having been built around, was “no.” The Preservation Review ordinance stipulates that there must be demonstration that the cost of reuse is prohibitive before the Preservation Board can approve a demolition permit — no matter how much far the demolition-happy Building Division has let the owners go. Callow moved to deny the application and the other members vote in favor of it.

The best part of the evening was the result of the consideration of Forest West Properties’ application to demolish 30 houses in Forest Park Southeast. I’ve written much about the application before, so I won’t go into great detail. Suffice to say that the climate of hostility toward preservation dissolved at the meeting. Before the meeting, I heard that a reputable developer has a strong interest in acquiring almost all of the 30 buildings, saving those on Chouteau and Swan if my source is correct. While I lack details about the developer and their plans, the potential interest is something that myself and Kate Shea mentioned at the meeting. Kate’s presentation was good, and included more reasons for preservation than for demolition — and, in fact, she reversed her recommendation by the end of the meeting and recommended denial of the permits. Apparently, her only contact with Forest West prior to the meeting were two short phone calls! Forest West sent a representative since director Brian Phillips was out of town. The representative discussed reasons for demolition, mostly involving the abuse of the buildings by people rather than building conditions. I spoke against the demolition, as did Claire Nowak-Boyd and Steve Patterson. We made great points, touching on how wrong the demolition was from the standpoints of urban planning, architectural and social history, neighborhood stabilization and economic development. Everyone worked well with each other, including Kate Shea, and by the end of the testimony a clear and multi-faceted case for preservation was made. (This is the sort of meeting that Jane Jacobs would have loved.) Oddly, due to Forest West’s affiliation with Washington University, Board members Burse and Porello recused themselves; Callow also recused himself due to a potential conflict of interest with a client. Mulligan and Robinson seemed very swayed by the testimony — Mulligan brought up Botanical Heights and called it a failure — but ended up deferring the matter due to concern over the lack of a voting quorum. Shea promised to deny the permit the next morning; hopefully, Forest West will take heed and look into selling the buildings rather than try some end-run through the Board of Alderman or Planning Commission (possibly difficult without a development plan, and Forest West’s representative said that the company has no plans to develop the sites itself).

What a great outcome! Hopefully, it opens the door for reconsideration of the demolition plans and our mystery developer will emerge with a solid plan.

The final agenda item was an appeal of a Preservation Board decision against very inappropriate modifications to a house at 3524 Victor. Apparently, upon being told that the law — and that is what the preservation ordinances are — prohibited his “choices,” the owner complained to his alderman, Stephen Conway, who made a fuss. Both should know better.

Central West End Streets

Gaslight Running-in-Circles

by Michael R. Allen

There are concrete culvert-pipe barriers in Olive Street at the west side of its intersection with Whittier Avenue. These barriers block automobile and scooter traffic on the 4200 block of Olive, best known as the first block of the ongoing Gaslight Square redevelopment project. Thus, the new homes built on a block famous for its social prominence in the city now are inaccessible to the average motorist. Even more important is that Olive Street, a well-used east-west artery, is now effectively blocked between Whittier and Pendleton. Westbound drivers have to veer north to Washington Boulevard (Westminster Avenue to the south is one-way in the opposite direction), but they can’t simply take their journey to that street. Washington is blocked by a gate west of Pendleton!

When the new houses on Olive went on display, Olive was not blocked. Even after people moved in, Olive was not blocked. The reason for the blockage has to be homeowner complaints about traffic. However, expansion of the redevelopment project to the 4100 block of Olive to the east is moving forward. Having the street blocked in the middle of the development area seems extremely shortsighted. Not only will connectivity be lost, but the barriers carry strong negative connotations. Not only do these barriers often mark areas that are crime-ridden, their presence can make crime easier by blocking routes used by emergency vehicles. Fear of vandalism may play a part in the closure, but every residence on the block has a new garage — many of which are two-car garages.

Also, another option for traffic flow that remains that seems worse than driving down the 4200 block of Olive: driving down the alleys on that block. Both the north and south alleys behind the new homes are wide open and newly-paved. They make for a smooth ride that can keep a journey down Olive in motion.

However, with all of the blocked streets in this part of the Central West End, do we want all of these meandering paths? Congestion only becomes worse when there are no logical routes between points and when most traffic is forced onto a few streets. An open grid may enable greater traffic on Olive, but it would keep traffic orderly and predictable.

Most important, traffic flow would help revive some of the dead pockets of the northern and eastern Central West End — areas where there are the most street barriers.

Central West End Forest Park Southeast Streets Urbanism

Sidewalk Failure

by Michael R. Allen

Have you ever tried to walk on Kingshighway through the I-64/US 40 interchange? It’s almost impossible. On both the east and west sides of the street, the sidewalks are almost nonexistent except of the actual bridge over the highway, where they are built into the bridge. Even there, the sidewalks are no wider than five feet. The other sidewalks between Oakland Avenue on the south and Barnes Hospital Plaza to the north are a travesty. The pedestrian literally has to cross busy on and off ramps with no marked pedestrian crossings — the sidewalks just end at the ramp lane, and continue directly across. There are no signs instructing motorists to behave well toward pedestrians — not even a basic sign stating to slow down and be alert for pedestrians.

Walking through here is dangerous, but safer than one alternative — the pedestrian walk behind the Central Institute for the Deaf. I have heard about muggings on this bridge, which is secluded and only visible to motorists below on the highway — they ain’t exactly in a position to help if they manage to see anything while shuttling by at 65 miles per hour.

The worst problem is that this sidewalk is totally, completely and utterly inaccessible to people using wheelchairs. The sidewalk is not continuous, for one thing. It’s also lacking adequate width even for walkers to pass each other comfortably, let alone someone in a wheelchair. Trying to wheel across an on-ramp lane is probably not the smartest thing someone could do, either.

Oh, and if the pedestrian manages to walk successfully through the intersection on the way to the MetroLink station on Euclid Avenue, it isn’t exactly easy to find or well-marked. The hospital looks like a fortress that starts at Kingshighway, and someone unfamiliar with the station may not assume it would be located where it is — the streets seem to be more private service drives back in the complex.

Perhaps the mammoth BJC Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine should think about this the next time they spend several million dollars on new streetlights, planter boxes and illuminated street signs. How about new safe (and ADA-compliant) sidewalks and illuminated MetroLink signs?

The we can start thinking about what to do with the growing spread of ugly huge parking structures for the complex located along Taylor Avenue.

Central West End Demolition LRA

4470-78 Delmar Boulevard

by Michael R. Allen

A quiet row of survivors sat at the intersection of Taylor and Delmar for years, until this year. These two-story commercial buildings, starting with an odd corner building with a rounded bay, formed an unbroken row in a part of the Central West End that is sadly disjointed from years of demolition, fires and bad remodeling. These find buildings date to the turn of the century, and are comparable to the splendid commercial buildings once found south on Olive Street in the area known as Gaslight Square. Over time, they became rare examples of this area’s commercial stock instead of the lesser variety they would have been when built.

Yet demolition started this year, marring the row. At first, the small building at 4472 Delmar, owned by the city’s Land Reutilization, fell. Next, the owners of the two buildings from 4470-78 Delmar (joined as one parcel) began plotting demolition. These two were executed in solid red brick with spare use of ornamental flourish. The building at 4470 was very plain but had wonderful arched storefront openings at the ground floor, while the building at 4474 had some fine cast iron columns decorating its first floor.

The building at 4474 Delmar Boulevard on March 31, 2005. Photograph by Michael R. Allen.

By July, 4474 was gone. By the end of August, 4470 will be completely gone as well.

The buildings at 4470 and 4474 Delmar Boulevard on August 9, 2005. Photograph by Michael R. Allen.

The two most unusual buildings in the row will survive, but without the context that accentuated them seem less spectacular. The Mae Building, now home to Williams Ornamental Iron Works, will remain at 4468 Delmar. Its white glazed brick facade features a decorative course of green glazed bricks as well as a polychrome terra cotta shield panel. The corner building at 468 N. Taylor will stand, although its being owned by “Kashflo Properties” makes me hesitant to stop worrying about it.

This casual demolition of common historic buildings is prevalent in historic areas not included in National Register of Historic Places or City Landmark districts, since renovation tax credits are not available in these areas expect for individually-listed. In this case, the buildings stood in a part of the Central West End north of Olive Street that is not part of the current district boundaries. May the boundaries soon be extended northward.

The remains of the buildings at 4470 and 4474 Delmar Boulevard on August 9, 2005. Photograph by Michael R. Allen.

Central West End Infrastructure Streets Urbanism

Reform the Central West End MetroLink station

by Michael R. Allen

The Central West End MetroLink station is becoming the least accessible station in the system. Once upon a time, the station was quite easy to access — its entrance on Euclid Avenue pt it on an open street, there were a few back paths to the station and all was well. In the twelve years since the station opened, the growth blob of the Barnes-Jewish-Children’s Hospital has engulfed the station with new buildings and a disastrous closing of Euclid between Forest Park and Children’s Place. The station’s visibility has declined and access is not as easy. The only back path remaining is an illegal and unwise walk from the platform to Taylor Avenue, which bypasses ticket machines and validators. This path is no option to disabled persons, either. The main entrance on Euclid is obscured by the street closure, which has created an elbow flow at the Euclid and Childrens Place intersection. This flow has made pedestrian life in this area difficult since people don’t come to the same sort of stop at an elbow as they did at a full T intersection. That is, they don’t really stop.

Lately, a large half-block section of sidewalk on Euclid immediately south of the station has been closed for six months for construction of a new building. A covered scaffold could have been put in palce during the project’s duration but such a pedestrian and transit-friendly gesture is of little interest to BJC planners.

I don’t even have to mention ow the mono-use blob development of the hospital has made life pretty boring around the station — there are no shops, no bathrooms and little visual interest.

What needs to be done to make the station better?

– Re-opening Euclid.

– Creating another station entrance at Taylor.

– Creating some strategic cut-throughs in the enormous and large-scaled hospital complex.

– Placing storefronts in the new hospital building adjacent to the station. (Tenants won’t move in, of course, if Euclid remains closed south of Forest Park.)

The situation at the Central West End MetroLink station is proof that density alone doesn’t make for an inviting and person-friendly built environment. Access and thoughtful design choices are essential to making a big city work for its residents and visitors.