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

"Certainly This Will Be an Impressive Monument"

by Michael R. Allen

On the afternoon of Monday, July 20, Building Commissioner Frank Oswald officially issued the demolition permit for the DeVille Motor Hotel (formerly the San Luis Apartments) at 4483 Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End. Ahrens Demolition had already been working on interior demolition and abatement, and wasted no time removing windows and concrete panels. By mid-week, the east wing of the old modern motel was reduced to a shell after Ahrens obliterated the exterior envelope and started in on the concrete structure.

The previous Friday, July 17, the Friends of the San Luis filed a petition for injunctive relief in circuit court. We contended that our right to appeal issuance of the demolition permit, which could only be exercised after the permit was issued, was moot if the wrecking ball was swinging. Judge Rober J. Dierker, Jr. denied our initial motion for a temporary restraining order and then, on Monday July 27, dismissed our petition. The legal wrangling had no impact on demolition activity, of course, but the loss is now a fact of life.

This is a sad end to a building whose idiosyncratic modern form was once hailed as innovative. Architect Charles Colbert designed the motel to rise far above the ranks of the Holiday Inns and Downtowners springing up in urban settings across the country. While definitely automobile-oriented, the DeVille had a sense of urban setting many of its contemporaries lacked. The motel made deft use of its site, reserving only the existing setback on Lindell for a lawn and building out the rest of the site.

Yet the mass, site and style were not the only features noted in the press. When the builders broke ground in October 1961, they were making local building history. The new DeVille Motor Hotel would be the first major building built after the city’s adoption of a new building code earlier that year.

Prior to the 1961 building code, large buildings were restrained by requirements that the majority of wall surface area meet a defined thickness. Materials like concrete panels and glass had to be employed within larger wall systems, and could not be used to clad an entire building. Before 1961, construction of a glass high-rise in St. Louis was not permitted by code. The removal of the old restrictions allowed St. Louis to embrace the building technologies that allowed for fully modern architectural expression.

Mayor Raymond Tucker was an enthusiast for the DeVille project. In a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article from 1961 (“$4,500,000 Hotel to Be Built at Corner of Lindell, Taylor,” September 30, 1961), the mayor raved: “Certainly, this will be an impressive monument to the perseverance of those far-sighted citizens who worked on our code for more than five years.”

Greater modern expressions would rise in St. Louis, of course, but the DeVille was the first to fully embrace the code. For 46 years, the DeVille remained an impressive monument to the potential of modern design.

Central West End Demolition Mid-Century Modern North St. Louis Preservation Board

Preservation Board Approved BJC Demolitions, Denies Alterations to Mid-Century Wohl Recreation Center

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday, the St. Louis Preservation Board approved on a preliminary basis demolition of the Ettrick, Schoenberg Residence Hall and the two buildings at 3-17 N. Euclid. The Board voted 4-1, with members Mary Johnson, David Visintainer, Phyllis Young and John Burse voting in favor, and Mike Killeen opposed. I testified against demolition, and two citizens sent tesimony by e-mail. After last month’s packed meeting, I was surprised that the Board was back to its usual sparse crowd.

The Board also unanimously denied the Board of Public Service’s application to replace the doors at the Wohl Recreation Center swimming pool with a storefront system. The doors are an essential design feature of the mid-century modern building at 1515 N. Kingshighway in Sherman Park. The Wohl Recreation Center was built in 1959 and designed by Russell, Mullgardt, Scwartz and Van Hoefen — architects of Northland Shopping Center, the Engineers Club, Steinberg Hall and other local modern landmarks. Cultural Resources Office (CRO) Director Kate Shea laudably stood up against the plan, despite the clout of the other city agency. I was glad to see the CRO stand up for the design integrity of a modern public building.

Central West End Demolition Historic Preservation Planning

Medical Center Creeping Into the Central West End

by Michael R. Allen

Ecology of Absence has long covered the creep of the BJC medical center into surrounding urban fabric. Now we look at a (hopefully) rare instance of the corporation extending its reach north of the Forest Park Parkway into the southern end of the Central West End. Euclid’s pedestrian-friendly streetscape has long been an antidote to the medical center’s monotony, but now the architectural characteristics of each area will collide.

On Monday, the Preservation Board will consider on a preliminary basis demolition of the Ettrick (shown above) and three other buildings to make way for a new 12-story clinic building at the corner of Euclid and Forest Park as well as a new park further west. (Read the Cultural Resources Office staff report here.) Since the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) staff is strongly supportive of the demolition, and many urbanists seem comfortable with the new building, approval may be a foregone conclusion. Still, I think that preserving the Ettrick deserves more consideration. The current plan was enshrined in 2007 by the Board of Aldermen through Ordinance 67939, so the demolition plans are not news. However, a rush to approve the concept and the related park plan would be a mistake on the part of the Preservation Board.

The Ettrick is one of the city’s oldest apartment buildings and dates to 1905. A. Blair Ridington, an English-born architect and amateur Egyptologist who designed the Melrose Apartments at 206 N. Sarah (1907) as well as many houses across the city, designed the Ettrick. (Ettrick, by the way, is a region on the Scottish borders containing a large forest.)

Construction of the Ettrick was part of a trend toward the relatively-new apartment-style building for multi-family middle class housing. Previously, most people lives in tenements, which are so defined by having separate exterior entrances for each unit. Apartments provided elegant foyers and enclosed staircases. Within a year of the Ettrick’s completion, the first luxury apartment building, the Colchester (later dubbed “the ABCs”), would be built a block away at Kingsighway and Laclede.

The Cultural Resources Office claims that getting the Ettrick listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a single site would be difficult, but overlooks the fact that the later Melrose and Colchester were easily listed. The Ettrick is much more significant to the development of the apartment building and Ridington’s career than the Melrose.

The Ettrick’s style is decidedly Craftsman, and its details are lovely. The Flemish bond masonry, the use of cut stone, the hoods over the entrances — all provide expression of the building that is elegant as well as humane. The details are sized to the scale of the human hand. People often comment on the awkward below-grade entrances; these were created later when the raised lawn was removed and the basement converted into commercial space. The original design was more satisfying and in keeping with the setback and lawn shape of Forest Park.

Across Forest Park Parkway from the craftsman-detailed Ettrick stands a cavalcade of sanitized, machine-scaled giant buildings. BJC has done much to build up its campus, but little to address the life of the pedestrian.

I suppose that the medical center is the domain of its employees, patients and vendors, rather than an extension of the neighborhood. However, the Central West End MetroLink station lies just a few yards south of this intersection. Crossing Forest Park here is like leaving St. Louis and entering Campus Anywhere, USA. A few vestiges of the historic medical center remain, but the new architecture generally rises only to the level of need and no further. (The Siteman Center is an exception in form, although not in material.)

At any rate, transpose the medical center scale with that of Euclid Avenue to the north, and one sees exactly what the stakes are: architecture that reaches out to human beings could be wiped out for architecture designed by computer modeling, equations and corporate intelligence. The new building’s street-level retail simply is a programmatic improvement over the historic buildings that occupy the site.

The joined apartment buildings to the north of the Ettrick, alas, have been marred by re-facing and infill. These buildings date to 1905 and originally set back from Euclid with front lawns. The rise of the first floor above the sidewalk indicates that this was not originally a mixed-use building. If the storefronts below sidewalk level feel like basement space, that is because they are.

While the loss of a usable building is regrettable, this is one building whose future is negotiable. If BJC wishes to take it down to building something more urban, let it. However, let the new design be every inch original, and let the skin be other than “rental tan” concrete panels and teal-tinged glass. The Park East Tower has already introduced a new scale to this stretch of Euclid, and that is fine, but that is no reason to surplant the existing character wholesale. Hopefully BJC’s clinic is the last incursion north of Forest Park Parkway.

Even in its current state, this muddled old building has more heart and soul than much of the new construction that BJC has built in the last 30 years. Demolition in favor of a building that is architecturally sensitive to Euclid and its pedestrians — no matter how tall — would be a positive change. Demolition for another unmemorable hospital building — in a nation chock full of them, no less — would be a detriment.

The other part of the application to the Cultural Resources Office is demolition of the Schoenberg Residence Hall at 4949 Forest Park, west of the abysmal parking garage west of the Ettrick. This fine, restrained work of Georgian Revival design would be replaced by park space. Jewish Hospital, whose building on Kingshighway BJC plan to preserve, built this building in 1934 as a residential hall for its student nurses.

CRO Director Kathleen Shea errantly states in her recommendation to the Preservation Board that there is no possible way to stage construction of the 12-story clinic building without demolition of this building first to create a staging site. Shea’s claim is undercut by countless instances of high-rise construction within the restricted core of downtowns across the country, from Chicago to Des Moines. Closure of Forest Park and Euclid are impossible, of course, but there are numerous ways to stage the project without demolition of Schoenberg.

The urban voices who do not share my view on the Ettrick seem united against demolition of Schoenberg. The replacement of a viable building with a viable building is contested territory, but the replacement with empty space is not — as the San Luis Apartments effort demonstrates. The absurdity of creating a new park a half-block from Forest Park is obvious, and the Preservation Board should deny the demolition of Schoenberg no matter what its majority thinks of the other two demolitions.

Generally, the land use planning here is spotty. BJC owns much vacant land and surface parking, including frontage on Forest Park Parkway. There seems to be a way to preserve either or both the Ettrick and the Schoenberg Residence Hall while building the new clinic. Why does the Preservation Board only now get review of a plan approved by ordinance in 2007? Well, the preservation ordinance does not authorize preservation review of redevelopment ordinances even though those ordinances often bind the CRO and the Board. Of course, the city needs more sensible urban design laws that would coordinate decision-making rather than hand off deals to the Preservation Board.

Still, this is no done deal, at least under the preservation ordinance. Let’s see what happens Monday.

Central West End Demolition Mid-Century Modern St. Louis Board of Aldermen

San Luis Plight Gets National Attention

by Michael R. Allen

The national publication The Architect’s Newspaper covers the San Luis Apartments demolition in its blog today. The coverage shows how the issue resonates on a national level, with its questions of preservation law, mid-century modern preservation and politics.

Amid reasonable quotes in the blog post, Alderwoman Lyda Krewson (D-28th) makes one error. (While I clearly have a major disagreement with the alderwoman here, I understand her perception of the political quandry of the matter and am not intending to attack her.) Krewson states that “it’s not a contributing building [in the Central West End Historic District]. Until recently, there was no outcry about the architectural wonders of this building.”

Actually, the building is indeed a contributing building in the Central West End Historic District. That local district was created by ordinance in 1974 and the ordinance does not exempt a single building from its standards. The standards laud modern buildings, expressly state that imitation-historic architecture should not be built in the district and require that parking be shielded by being placed behind or to the side of buildings and not visible from the street.

Krewson would be correct to point out that the San Luis is not noted as a contributing building in the 1979 certification of the district by the National Park Service. That certification, however, serves a different purpose than the local historic district: it defines which buildings are eligible for the use of state and federal tax credits tied to federal historic status. That’s it. Just because the San Luis, only 16 years old in 1979, was not considered contributing then does not exempt it from the provisions of a local law.

Also, the certification is out-dated and based on a 1979 rule of thumb. Why would the federal government permit the owner of a 16-year-old building to reap the benefit historic tax credits? The equation changes greatly when the same building becomes 46 years old and its architectural significance more clear across time. However, the local district ordinance (fundamentally a design ordinance) still applies.

I concur with Alderwoman Krewson that local preservationists should have been less reactionary on this issue, but why fault today’s crop for the inaction of a past generation? Additionally, the San Luis was hailed at the times of its construction, but that shall be the subject of another essay.

Central West End Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern Preservation Board

Friends of the San Luis Seek Demolition Halt, Right to Appeal

by Michael R. Allen

From the Friends of the San Luis (of which I am now President):


On July 17, the Friends of the San Luis, Inc. filed a petition in Circuit Court to obtain a temporary injunction that would prohibit the Archdiocese of St. Louis from proceeding with any demolition work at the San Luis Apartments until our organization has exhausted its legal appeal of the approval of the demolition permit. While we do not have a final judgment, Judge Robert Dierker, Jr. has denied our motion for a temporary restraining order. The Building Division issued a demolition permit on Monday, July 20, and preliminary demolition work is now underway.

Our mission is to preserve the San Luis Apartments, and at this eleventh hour we press onward with that basic mission but also a larger one. After the Preservation Board granted preliminary approval to the demolition by a narrow vote, we intended to appeal that decision through our right under the city’s preservation ordinance. We think that the Preservation Board’s action was made through incorrect application of the law. Furthermore, we think that that the Cultural Resources Office report on the issue misled citizens and Preservation Board members through imprecise legal reasoning that made it unclear what laws were in play. Since the Preservation Board acts only to enforce city ordinances, without clarity of which laws are being enforced there is no due process.

Under the preservation ordinance, however, we have only the right to appeal an approved demolition permit. We filed the injunction petition to ensure that we were still fighting for an actual building rather than a rubble pile. Unfortunately, Judge Dierker is not stopping demolition as well as challenging our legal standing to bring forth an appeal of the Preservation Board decision. Thus begins our larger cause.

Our preservation ordinance allows an aggrieved party to bring forth an appeal. The preservation ordinance was passed by the Board of Aldermen for the benefit of the entire city, and its stakeholders are all citizens who share the duty of protecting the city’s heritage. The law enjoins us to become stewards of our architectural heritage, and the Friends of the San Luis gladly step forward to answer that call.

We contend that citizen right to appeal the decision of the Preservation Board is a fundamental part of due process and essential to the enforcement of the preservation review ordinance. Without the right to appeal, citizen participation has severely limited impact. Citizens must have the right to act when they feel that the preservation review ordinance has been violated by its own custodians. The right to appeal is a basic legal principle, and it must be part of St. Louis’ preservation law.

While we hold out weary hope of preserving the San Luis, we must assert the right of the citizen to bring forth an appeal under preservation law. We believe that future efforts will benefit from legal protection of that right, and that its fundamental sanctity is worth pursuing no matter what happens to the San Luis.


Central West End Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern

St. Louis Housing Authority Building to Be Replaced by CVS or Tower?

by Michael R. Allen

Word is circulating that the St. Louis Housing Authority is considering selling its headquarters building at 4100 Lindell Boulevard to a group of investors who seek to demolish it and build a CVS Pharmacy to compete with the nearby Walgreens. The St. Louis Housing Authority’s three-story modern building began life in 1956 as the St. Louis office of the Sperry-Rand Corporation. The architect was then-fledgling Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum. The Sperry-Rand Building is derived from International Style principles, especially the neutral colors, the recessed floors, the concrete piers, wide large windows and the applied outer metal bars. While not as accomplished as the firm’s later National Register-listed Plaza Square Apartments, this is a fine building and a subtle component of the group of modern buildings on Lindell Boulevard west of Grand Avenue. Its loss, especially at the hands of a public entity, would be a blow to the already-threatened modern landscape of Lindell Boulevard.

UPDATE: A reader sent me a note to state that there has also been discussion about replacing the building with a taller residential building.

Central West End Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern

Cool, Fun Hotel Indigo

by Michael R. Allen

Last week, brothers Michael and Steven Roberts cut the ribbon at the Hotel Indigo, formerly the Bel Air Motel at 4630 Lindell Boulevard. I have written about the importance of this project’s demonstration of how a mid-century motel can be preserved while being creatively renovated. I will not repeat that message here (see “Realizing the Potential of a Mid-Century Motel”, June 9). However, until last week, I had not seen the interior or courtyards since renovation was completed.

Architect Michael Killeen did a great job restoring the streamline beauty of the old Bel Air. The fresh white of the piers, coping and windows makes the motel sing out from its perch above the Lindell sidewalk. In the sunlight, the motel shines and beckons with a tempting jet-set modern facade. The white imparts a lightness appropriate to the American spirit of travel and vacation — a spirit fresh and novel when the Bel Air was built in 1958. The courtyard echoes the design program of the front section, with private balconies on its north side. The opaque dividers are a neat solution to the need for privacy between rooms. (One complaint here: why gaudy iron furniture in the courtyard of a modernist motor hotel? Ah, well. That’s a small problem.)

The lobby and coffee shop are open, bright spaces exposed by the large windows facing Lindell. Here, the architect makes use of the curve to direct gently those who arrive through the front door.

The rooms are fine, and a few have architectural details like etched brick. All have magnificently large windows and great, urbane views.

The narrow hallways are as utilitarian as one can expect, but Killeen and crew cut against the boring factor by using a splashy lime green for the walls and blue carpeting. Even the stairwells are done in that green. Yowza! All in all, the Hotel Indigo is cool.

Apparently, the Central West End could stand another project like this one. At the ribbon cutting, Convention and Visitors Commission President Kitty Ratcliffe stated that she often cuts ribbons in area where the hotel markets are over-served, but that she could definitely not say that about the Hotel Indigo and the Central West End.

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

Testimony on the DeVille Motor Hotel (San Luis Apartments)

by Michael R. Allen

Here is my testimony from Monday’s Preservation Board consideration of the preliminary review of the Archdiocese’s application to demolish the DeVille Motor Hotel (San Luis Apartments) at 4483 Lindell Boulevard and build a surface parking lot in its place.

The Board approved the application by a vote of 3-2, with Board members Richard Callow, David Richardson (who is Missouri adviser to the National Trust for Historic Preservation) and Alderwoman Phyllis Young voting yes and members Melanie Fathman and Anthony Robinson voting no.


In regard to the legal standards that bind the Preservation Board’s decision today, I think that members will find the ordinances quite clear: the Archdiocese’s plan meets neither the standards established by the Central West End Historic District ordinance nor the demolition review criteria in the city’s preservation review ordinance. The Board should deny both parts of the proposal and uphold our city’s preservation laws. The Preservation Board has no legal authority to make decisions based on the institutional parking requirements of the Archdiocese or Rosati-Kain, but only on the explicit criteria of the two applicable ordinances.

While the Central West End Local Historic District standards do not expressly forbid the construction of surface parking lots in the district, they are only allowed in areas with commercial zoning (zoned F or H). The DeVille parcel is zoned E (Multiple Family Residential), which is governed by the residential standards of the local district.

Even with a zoning change for this parcel, the parking lot proposal does not meet the commercial standards of the district, which I quote:

All off-street parking shall be located behind or to the side of commercial structures. Where visible from the street, screening with visually opaque landscaping or 5′ minimum high masonry or concrete wall shall be necessary.

The current proposal fails to meet this provision because the parking lot will occupy the entire parcel, not adjacent to a building, but rather in the plain view of two streets, an alley and even from the sidewalk a great distance to the east. While the proposed screening may meet the standards, the standards disallow construction of a parking lot that is not adjacent to a building. The proposed parking lot requires a variance from the standards that I think is unwarranted.

Furthermore, the district standards explicitly safeguard the architectural characteristics of block faces. Again I quote the standards:

Developers, therefore, shall demonstrate compliance with exiting scale, size and proportion… Visual compliance shall be judged on massing and detail in addition to size and scale.

The parking lot does not meet the “visual compliance” standard established here. The current face of this block is a symmetrical arrangement, with the large Cathedral and DeVille buildings serving as book ends on either side of the Chancery. While the architectural character is varied, the urban forms that give the block face harmony are dependent on the balance of large, taller buildings on each corner. The parking lot removes one of those buildings, creating an imbalance that clearly does not maintain existing scale, size or proportion. Plus, the stark exposure of the alley and utilities from Lindell will create a visual problem for pedestrians.

Note that Central West End residents have successfully blocked development projects in the past by filing lawsuits to uphold enforcement of these standards. These standards enjoy widespread and passionate support in the neighborhood, not simply because they enshrine common values but because they are an effective and clear legal tool for protecting the urban character of the neighborhood.

Beyond the local district standards, the current proposal also fails to meet the standard criteria of the preservation ordinance. (I will not address financial hardship, which is clearly not at issue in this matter.)

A. Redevelopment Plans

There is no approved or proposed formal redevelopment plan for the DeVille site.

B. Architectural Quality

The DeVille Motor Hotel is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places for its local architectural significance. (More on that in a moment.) Under the Preservation ordinance’s definition, the DeVille is thus a High Merit structure. (“High Merit”partly is defined as “deserving of consideration for single site historic or Landmark Site designation.”)

This criteria is one of the primary reasons why the Board has authority to deny the demolition of the DeVille. Under the preservation review ordinance, the Board must act to protect all Merit and High Merit structures . The State Historic Preservation Office’s statement of eligibility for single-site listing is cause for treating the DeVille as a High merit structure at the present moment.

C. Condition

The DeVille building obviously requires repairs common to buildings of its age, but it is sound under the ordinance and apparently safe enough that the Archdiocese maintained it as a residential building until 2007.

D. Neighborhood Effect and Reuse Potential

The Central West End Association and many neighborhood residents have offered the opinion that the surface parking lot has an adverse neighborhood impact.

As for reuse potential, we have only a report prepared by the architectural firm hired to design the parking lot. There has been no independent analysis of reuse potential. However, given the successful rehabilitation of the Hotel Indigo to the west and the former Days Inn downtown, reuse potential of mid-century motels for original or adapted uses now has been demonstrated in the city.

E. Urban Design.

The preservation ordinance reiterates the principles of the Central West End local historic district ordinance regarding integrity of block face as well as the impact on “significant character important to a district, street, block or intersection.” Clearly, the proposal is detrimental to its block face, but also it is detrimental in a larger architectural context along Lindell Boulevard. This brings me to the issue of National Register of Historic Places eligibility.


Because of the DeVille’s unique architectural quality as well as its contributing role to a significant group of Modern buildings on Lindell Boulevard, the State Historic Preservation office has determined that the DeVille is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Not only do we have that hopeful determination, but also on May 1 the Keeper of the National Register listed Lindell’s other mid-century motel: the Bel Air Motel at 4630 Lindell, built between 1958-1961 and beautifully rehabilitated as the Hotel Indigo. (The Preservation Board approved the Bel Air nomination last year.)

Also, in the past two years, I have written or co-written two other successful National Register nominations of mid-century buildings in the city built within the past 50 years — the Plaza Square Apartments downtown and the Nooter Corporation Building at 1400 S. Third Street. In these cases, the opinions of the State Historic Preservation Office and the Keeper of the National Register were aligned: if the buildings were eligible for the National Register at all, waiting until the “50 year mark” to pursue listing was unnecessary and arbitrary. In fact, at a 2007 workshop hosted by the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office, National Park Service historian Dan Vivian relayed to Missouri preparers of nominations that the practice of waiting for a property to reach 50 years of age before listing was based on myth and not actual Park service policy. Vivian urged us to nominate eligible buildings in accordance with National Register Criterion Consideration G — a consideration that ensures that buildings less than 50 years old have attained exceptional significance worthy of inclusion in the Register.

Our knowledge of the eligibility of modern buildings has grown over the past three years, and the Bel Air Motel nomination allowed greater exploration of a context in which the DeVille plays a major role. As part of the Bel Air nomination, Karen Baxter and I conducted a survey of the mid-century modern resources of Lindell between Grand Avenue and Kingshighway. Lindell long was the main connection between downtown St. Louis and Clayton, and attracted commercial development as the city resumed developing itself after the slowdown of the Great Depression and World War II era. The aging mansions offered large lots well-suited for new commercial buildings.

In the Lindell survey area, 36 buildings were constructed and two others were re-clad in a building boom between 1945 and 1977. Of these, 34 were built in the styles of the Modern movement. Only one of these buildings has been demolished. The range of design quality, height, material use and stylistic influences is wide among these buildings, yet they have an indelible impact on Lindell. In my opinion, one can say that modern commercial architecture is as much a part of the definitive character of Lindell as is the earlier revival-style residential architecture.

Historically, the unique Mid-Century Modern grouping on Lindell is by far the city’s most significant Modern commercial development. The development of Mid-Century Modern architecture on Lindell Boulevard precedes major downtown urban renewal projects that also used the style (including the iconic Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium). Lindell’s modern buildings demonstrate that St. Louis after World War II was a city deftly remaking itself through bold modern buildings. The concentration includes very significant buildings to the development of Modern Movement architecture in St. Louis. Three of these buildings even achieved early recognition through inclusion in the 1967 edition of George McCue’s The Building Art in St. Louis.

Not surprising, however, is the finding that most of the modern buildings on Lindell were designed by local architects or draftsman, many of little renown. There are strong supporting buildings and a few obvious architectural stars, like the Archdiocesan Chancery, the Lindell Terrace, the Engineers Club and the DeVille, designed by Charles Colbert of New Orleans (1963). Four of the modern buildings have out-of-town architects, but of those four, only Colbert has what can plainly be called a national reputation among architectural historians. While the Bel Air Motel is a fine building that merits National Register listing, the DeVille has greater significance through its more original design, form and massing as well as its association with Charles Colbert.

Demolition of the DeVille would result in the removal of one of Lindell’s finest modern buildings, a clear negative urban design impact on one of the city’s most prominent thoroughfares. So far, the only lost mid-century building on Lindell has been the Cinerama at 4218 Lindell. On Lindell, we have an unparalled nearly-intact document of our city’s triumphant attempt to reclaim its future amid declining fortunes and suburban growth. Ironically, these buildings took the place of others that we all now recognize as worthy of preservation. Proposed demolition of the DeVille raises the issue of whether we are about to embark upon renewing the unsustainable cycle of demolition and replacement that this city infamously embraced in the late 20th century.

The Preservation Board can break the cycle by upholding the laws we developed in response to the demolition cycle that once plagued our city. Members should deny the proposed parking lot and demolition of the DeVille Motor Hotel since each action certainly fails to meet the criteria of the ordinances under which today’s action will be taken.

Central West End Demolition DeVille Motor Hotel Mid-Century Modern North St. Louis Preservation Board

Preservation Board Grants Preliminary Approval DeVille, North Grand Demolitions

by Michael R. Allen

Last night, the Preservation Board voted 3-2 to grant preliminary approval of a surface parking lot and demolition of the San Luis Apartments (formerly the DeVille Motor Hotel). I’m on my way out of town today so I will offer thoughts when I return. For now, I should point out that five out of nine Preservation Board members were present, while 20 citizens testified against demolition. While this ration is unusual, it shows the discrepancy between citizen interest and Preservation Board member interest in one of biggest urban design matters this year.

Alderwoman Lyda Krewson (D-28th) tipped the balance by coming out in favor of approval at the end of the meeting. Her remarks were a roller coaster ride of what side she would take, but when she came back to the issue of Archdiocese parking needs (politically germane, but beyond the legal scope of the ordinances governing Preservation Board action) hearts sank. Frankly, she might have done better for herself had she not spoken at all instead of aligning herself with the surface lot plan that even she admits is not appropriate for that corner.

While my colleagues will be writing about the DeVille over the next few days, I want to point out that another demolition was approved by the Preservation Board yesterday in a questionable manner. When I arrived at the Board meeting, I found preliminary review of the demolition of the commercial building at 3501-9 North Grand Avenue was on the agenda. This matter did not appear on the agenda posted online a week before the meeting, nor did it appear in any special notice sent within 24 hours of the start of the meeting.

The public, including residents of the area around the building (intersection of Grand and Hebert), would never have known this matter was on the Board agenda. Most people probably still don’t.

Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr. (D-3rd), often a preservation-minded alderman, had the item placed on the agenda and was the official applicant. However, building owner Darryl Mitchell appeared to announce that he had already applied for a demolition permit and that he was the applicant. The Preservation Board changed the record to reflect this testimony, which may or may not be allowed under Preservation Board procedures.

Perhaps this matter is irrelevant given that the Board granted preliminary approval 4-0 and only two people from an audience of more than 40 testified, but I think the procedure followed was wrong. If an actual demolition permit was on the table, then it cannot be considered as a preliminary review. The Cultural Resources Office staff had not reviewed the permit yet, so the matter certainly was not an appeal.

Since this was a preliminary review, the Board can bring the matter back and give the demolition permit its appropriately-announced legal hearing. I hope that the Board does so.

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

Daily DeVille #5

Architect Charles Colbert imparted to the DeVille Motor Hotel the geometric exuberance of the most interesting American modernism. There are many fine modern buildings on Lindell Boulevard that are derivative of the International Style, but there are a few truly original compositions. The DeVille is one of them.