Central West End Mid-Century Modern

Mayor Slay Likes the AAA

Chain drug store giant CVS has a date this afternoon with the city’s Planning Commission. At today’s meeting, CVS will present plans to demolish the landmark mid-century modern AAA Building (1977, W.A. Sarmiento) on Lindell Boulevard for a new store. Read more at NextSTL.

Already Mayor Francis Slay — who was quick to take the Board of Aldermen to task over the demolition of the spaceship-like Phillips 66 station at Council Plaza — has posted a statement on his site sympathetic to preservation:

I believe that the loss of any distinctive element of our built environment must be justified by a new good at least its equal. It is not my current impression that the amenity of a new chain drug store within blocks of a couple of existing ones or the very ordinary design of the proposed building is such a good. I will, therefore, ask my office’s representative on the Planning Commission to cast a vote against the project today. And I urge the other members of the Commission to, at least, to consider doing the same until the developer has been more directly engaged.

Central West End Downtown Mid-Century Modern Midtown Motels North St. Louis South St. Louis

Motels in the City of St. Louis

by Michael R. Allen

A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2009 NewsLetter of the St. Louis Chapter of the Society Architectural Historians.

There is ample recognition of the significance of mid-century motels along roadsides across America, where motels used colorful signage and design to beckon to weary Americans enjoying their automotive freedom. Perhaps because of nostalgic idealization of the motor court and the “open road” and perhaps because of the stigma that postwar urban renewal efforts have attained, local history overlooks the significant wave of urban motel construction that took place in St. Louis between 1958 and 1970.

Advertisement for the Bel Air Motel. Note that the front wing does not yet have the third story addition.

The 1958 opening of the Bel Air Motel on Lindell Boulevard renewed the building of lodging in the City of St. Louis while introducing a hotel form new to the city, the motel. St. Louis’ last new hotel before that was the nearby Park Plaza Hotel (1930), a soaring, elegant Art Deco tower built on the cusp of the Great Depression. However, another hotel built before the Depression was more indicative of future trends than the Park Plaza. In 1928, Texas developer and automobile travel enthusiast Percy Tyrell opened the Robert E. Lee Hotel at 205 N. 18th Street in downtown St. Louis (listed in the National Register on February 7, 2007), designed by Kansas City architect Alonzo Gentry. While the 14-story Renaissance Revival hotel was stylistically similar to contemporary hotels, it introduced the chain economy hotel to St. Louis.

Central West End Hospitals Mid-Century Modern

Queeny Tower (1965 – ?)

by Michael R. Allen

Upon completion in 1965, the Queeny Tower at Barnes Hospital — located in the northeast corner of Kingshighway’s original 90-degree bend — was the city’s third tallest building. The 19 stories of the proudly modern high-rise stood at some 97 meters, slightly taller than the Park Plaza Hotel (1930; Schopp & Baumann) to the north, which is 94.4 meters tall. The Gateway Arch had yet to top out, so the two tallest buildings in 1965 remained the Southwestern Bell Tower at 1010 Pine Street (1926; Mauran, Russell & Crowell), 121 meters, and the Civil Courts (1930, Klipstein & Rathmann), 117.6 meters. Nowadays, the Queeny Tower is the twelfth tallest building in St. Louis, if the Arch is included, so the achievement of its construction may be somewhat lost. Yet at its completion the city had few tall buildings, and the most recent in the range of Queeny were already 35 years old. (An interesting illustrated chart of St. Louis building heights can be found here.)

Thus Queeny Tower was a milestone in the rise of Barnes Hospital, which today is corporate amalgam BJC and remains a prolific builder of tall buildings at its Central West End campus. Again, the escalation of ability to finance and build large, tall buildings means that Queeny Tower has become less than a star attraction at the hospital. Plus the current trend in hospital architecture is to treat all buildings, even those designed by revered masters, as simple machines to be discarded upon obsolescence. Shall Queeny somehow be exempt from the race to replace? Not likely. Queeny, which replaced an older medical building itself, was born from the economy that will eventually destroy it.

Central West End Hospitals Preservation Board

BJC Seeking Demolition of Jewish Hospital Nursing School Building

by Michael R. Allen

UPDATE: The Preservation Board unanimously voted to deny the demolition on a preliminary basis.  Board Member David Richardson made the motion to deny, and Melanie Fathman provided the second.  Anthony Robinson voted “aye” and Chairman Richard Callow abstained from voting.  Mary Johnson arrived after the vote.

At the meeting of the Preservation Board today (Monday, July 26), the board will consider preliminary approval of demolition of the College of Nursing Building at the Washington University Medical Center. BJC Healthcare is requesting preliminary approval so that it can demolish the building for open space until it is ready to build a new building on the site.

Built in 1926, the College of Nursing Building is a sturdy, attractive flat-roofed building with a limestone base and red brick body. The building is fine, but not very significant, as a work of architecture. What makes the building significant is its original use as the Training School for Nurses for Jewish Hospital. The building is sound and human-scaled on a campus suffering from undistinguished giantism in recent construction. Besides, BJC has no immediate plan for redevelopment. By ordinance, presence of a redevelopment plan is a key consideration in Preservation Board determination of whether preliminary approval of any demolition is appropriate.

The city’s Cultural Resources Office rightly is recommending that the Preservation Board withhold preliminary approval at this time. The Preservation Board meeting is at 4:00 p.m. at 1015 Locust Street, 12th Floor. Written testimony may be submitted to the board via Secretary Adona Buford,

Central West End DeVille Motor Hotel Preservation Board

Friends of the San Luis Not Appealing Ruling; Legislative Change Needed

by Michael R. Allen

Today’s press release from the Friends of the San Luis (for which I serve as president).

While the Friends of the San Luis had hoped for a ruling by the Court of Appeals that would have affirmed the public interest rights of the community, we accept the ruling issued last week. We will not appeal the cause further, but instead will rededicate ourselves to the outreach and education needed to prevent future losses.

At the start, we sought remedy to a loophole in the St. Louis preservation ordinance (Ordinance 64689) that requires a stay of demolition to appeal meaningfully an action by the Preservation Board. We have always maintained that stakeholders should not have to undertake extraordinary legal measures to assert a right of standing implicit in the ordinance.

However, we appealed the circuit court ruling expressly to clarify that right for future preservation battles – even after we lost the building that united us. Our hope has been that no other citizens would have to go to the troubles that we have. Unfortunately, they probably will. While the aldermen who passed the ordinance apparently intended for there to be a legitimate right to appeal – a necessary check and balance system — the Court has found that the wording is insufficient to explicitly endorse that right.

The Court of Appeals ruling suggests that the ultimate remedy is not judicial but legislative. The city preservation law is a wonderful example of government recognition of the public interest in historic preservation and urban planning, but it has a major weakness in leaving the public right to appeal as clear as red brick. That should change.

While we are disappointed, we are at least encouraged that the ruling has unequivocally identified an aspect of the city’s preservation ordinance that needs to be clarified by our representatives in order to ensure due process in the fair and transparent mediation of disputes.


Central West End DeVille Motor Hotel Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern Preservation Board

Missouri Court of Appeals to Hear San Luis Appeal Tomorrow

by Michael R. Allen

Demonstrating against the San Luis demolition, June 2009.
Tomorrow at 11:00 a.m., the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals hears oral arguments in Friends of the San Luis v. the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The court meets on the third floor of the Old Post Office downtown, and supporters of the Friends of the San Luis are invited to attend. The Court of Appeals will issue its ruling later.

What is happening? After the Preservation Board approved by a thin 3-2 margin a preliminary application for demolition in June 2009, the Friends of the San Luis (disclaimer: I serve as the organization’s president) filed a petition for injunction to halt the demolition of the mid-century modern San Luis Apartments (originally the DeVille Motor Hotel) 1t 4483 Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End. Under city preservation law, a preliminary grant of demolition cannot be appealed until a demolition permit is issued. That stipulation makes appeals moot, at least beyond procedural review.

Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker, Jr. dismissed the Friends’ petition with prejudice. Dierker opined that preservation laws were an encumbrance on private property rights, and that only persons with direct financial interest — essentially, adjacent property owners — have standing under the city’s preservation ordinance. (Dierker’s forthcoming ruling in the Northside Regeneration suit should be interesting given that he must choose between the divergent interests of private property owners.) The ruling cut against city government’s own interpretation of the ordinance by granting only narrow right to redress.

Given Dierker’s conservative judicial activism, the Friends could have let the matter go. Yet we appealed to ensure that Dierker’s ruling does not stand as precedent in the future. Who knows when and why citizens will need rights to appeal the Preservation Board’s decisions? All we know is that the right to appeal should apply to any citizen of the city of St. Louis. After all, the ordinance states that “[t]he intent of this ordinance is to promote the prosperity and general welfare of the public, including particularly the educational and cultural welfare.”

Central West End Events Mid-Century Modern Midtown

Lindell Mid-Century Modern Walking Tour, May 1

Lindell MCM Walking Tour

On Saturday, May 1, the City of St. Louis presents its first Open Streets 2010 event. From 8:00 a.m. through 1:00 p.m., a route through the city including most of Lindell Boulevard will be closed to vehicular traffic.

The St. Louis Building Arts Foundation is pleased to join the city’s effort by sponsoring an architectural walking tour showcasing the city’s modern architecture.

Lindell Mid-Century Modern Walking Tour

When: 10:00 a.m. (lasts approximately 90 minutes)

Where: Meet at the statue in front of Pius XII Memorial Library, 3650 Lindell Boulevard

What: A narrated tour of Lindell’s unusual array of modern architecture led by Michael Allen and Toby Weiss. From the somber International Style to New Brutalism to playful Googie, this tour has it all!


Central West End Demolition Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern

Doctors Building Site: Still Empty

by Michael R. Allen

In April 2008, Mills Group demolished the mid-century Doctors Building at Euclid and West Pine the Central West End. An under-appreciated modernist gem fell for a supposed “Citywalk” — a mixed-use building with residential condominiums and street-level retail. Although located in a preservation review district, the building’s demolition was approved by the Cultural Resources Office without a Preservation Board hearing. Fans of urban infill like the Park East Tower and Nine North Euclid down the street rejoiced.

Now, two years later, the site is a vacant lot with a pre-Softball Village condition. Crushed pieces of the Doctors Building are still strewn about the site. In September 2009, Mills announced that a part of Department of Housing and Urban Development financing had fallen into place, but there has been no news since then.

In some instances, the call for preservation may rightly be called an impediment to some developer’s ready-to-build plan. In the case of the Doctor’s Building, it was not so.

Central West End Century Building Downtown North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Update on Preservation-Related Legal Cases

by Michael R. Allen

San Luis Apartments

On May 5, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals will hear the Friends of San Luis, Inc. v. The Archdiocese of St. Louis. (Disclosure: This writer is president of the Friends of the San Luis.) The Friends of the San Luis sought an injunction against demolition of the mid-century modern San Luis Apartments so that it could appeal Preservation Board approval of the demolition.

The San Luis Apartments (originally the DeVille Motor Hotel) in 2007.
Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker, Jr. dismissed the case with prejudice, claiming that citizens who cannot demonstrate financial grievance have no right to appeal actions by the Preservation Board! The building was subsequently demolished but the Friends decided to appeal Dierker’s anti-citizen ruling. The city’s preservation ordinance, after all, was enacted by the Board Aldermen for the general benefit of all citizens.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals will consider oral arguments from both sides on May 5 and issue a ruling at a later date. Jonathan Beck and Ian Simmons represent the Friends of the San Luis, while Edward Goldenhersh and David Niemeier of Greensfelder, Hemke and Gale represent the Archdiocese.

Century Building

A case now five years old, Missouri Development Finance Board vs. Marcia Behrendt and Roger Plackemeier, just took a predictable turn. The cause was set to commence trial on March 15, but the plaintiffs again requested a continuance. Judge Mark Neill granted a continuance, and trial is now set for August 9, 2010.

Vintage postcard view of the Century Building, c. 1910
The plaintiffs — and this writer himself needed a refresher after such a long time — are the Missouri Development Finance Board, Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, NSG Developers LLC, St. Louis Custom and Post Office Building and Associates. Their cause? Even a refresher won’t quite make that clear. The allegation is that by being willing to file suit against the Old Post Office project to stop the Century Building demolition — a Dierkerian filing predicated on injury to personal property value — Marcia Behrendt and Roger Plackemeier somehow were being malicious. Never mind that Behrendt and Plackemeier’s suit was dismissed and had no effect on the outcome of the Old Post Office project (although shoddy construction work did).

The seriousness of the plaintiff’s allegation keeps getting undermined by constant requests for continuance. Is the goal to be vindicated by a jury or to harass citizens for exercising their legal rights? And why are our city and state governmental bodies still enjoined as plaintiffs, wasting taxpayer money at a time when both levels of government need every cent they can get? Time to drop the suit.


Last week Judge Dierker — one tie that binds all three cases — issued the following order extending for one week the deadlines for brief in the suit against the city over the NorthSide redevelopment ordinances:

Upon the request of defendant Northside Regeneration, LLC, and with the consent of the parties, the post-trial briefing schedule is hereby amended to provide as follows: Brief Due Plaintiffs’/Intervenors’ briefs 3/26/10 Defendants’ briefs 4/12/10 Plaintiffs’/Intervenors’ reply briefs 4/22/10.

Plaintiffs can expect a lengthy, colorful ruling from Dierker. Otherwise, speculation is useless. Dierker has a narrow view of citizen rights under development law, so his basis will be whether the plaintiffs have proven that their real estate is harmed or devalued under the blighting enacted by the redevelopment ordinance. Dierker has stated in trial that he is not prepared to consider condemnation that has yet to be authorized, and the ordinance avoids explicit authorization.

Carondelet Central West End Preservation Board

A City Neighborhood Can Never Have Too Many Storefronts

by Michael R. Allen

UPDATE Monday, March 22 at 7:21 p.m.: The Preservation Board voted to uphold staff denials for both 414-18 N. Boyle and 6102 Michigan.

The little storefront row at 414-18 N. Boyle in the Central West End is one of a few commercial buildings left in the area once known as “Gaslight Square” — but not for much longer. Owner Core Holdings LLC applied for a demolition permit in January. The Cultural Resources Office denied the permit, and the owner has appealed to the city’s Preservation Board. The appeal is on the agenda for the Monday, March 22 meeting of the Preservation Board. The proposed reuse for the site? None.

At first glance, the row seems easily forgettable and somewhat damaged. Yet the little row is both a reminder of the past streetcar-fueled development of the Central West End and an asset for the surrounding area, which is full of rehabbed existing buildings and the new houses that now occupy Olive Street to the east. The neighborhood could use a few retail outlets. Anyone who has been to the strip around the Gaslight Theater one block south and around the bend knows that the neighborhood can support commerce.

The little row was built behind a large house that once stood facing Westminster. The first section was a small one-room brick carpenter’s shop built at the alley in 1910; the row expanded at some point in the next decade. The Maryland Avenue streetcar line went north along Boyle to connect to the Olive Street line; this little backyard was too valuable not to build up. In fact, the owner of the house to the south built a similar row at 408-10-12 N. Boyle across the alley — now long gone.

Sculptor Sheila Burlingame (1895-1969), whose works include the sculpture on the front of Nagle and Dunn’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (1939) at 4714 Clifton, maintained a studio in the storefront at 412 N. Boyle. The existing row’s tenants were less glamorous but also indicative of a vibrant urban fabric. The 1940 city directory shows Jacob Shaikewitz offering shoe repair at 414, barber Frand Bond at 416 and Georgia Gunn’s beauty shop at 418. By 1959, at the onset of the Gaslight Square heyday, 414 N. Boyle was home of the Handy Shopperdeli, 416 housed the Boyle Avenue Barber Shop (Frank Bond still around?) and 418 was now Dorothy’s Beauty Shop. The row would be vacant within a few years, and later used as a church before going vacant again.

It would not take much to bring back the commercial bustle to this stretch of Boyle. The streetcar is gone, but residential density remains. Yet the demolition of the Olive Street commercial buildings renders remaining storefronts as precious resources. Judging from recent decisions, the Preservation Board is unlikely to approve a permit for an out-of-town owner with no redevelopment plan. Common sense suggests a different course of action: Preservation Board denial and a for-sale sign.

Also on Monday’s Preservation Board agenda is the appeal of a Cultural Resources denial of a demolition permit for 6102 Michigan Avenue in the Central Carondelet Historic District. I’d be very surprised if any Board member votes to overturn the appeal.

The Preservation Board meets at 4:00 p.m. Monday on the 12th floor of the building at 1015 Locust Street downtown. Written comments may be submitted to the Board via Adona Buford, Secretary, at