Demolition North St. Louis St. Louis Place

Crunden Branch Library

by Michael R. Allen

In late August 2005, the elegant Crunden Branch Library (better known in recent days as the Pulaski Bank) at the corner of Cass Avenue and 14th Street disappeared. No magic was involved — just a wrecking crew working without public notice. Residents of the near north side had feared such an event for years but had not been given forewarning. Some didn’t even notice the demolition, instead finding an empty lot covered in grass seed and straw where their old landmark stood.

Photograph from 2001 by Rob Powers.

Yet the old library branch did not fall without a fight. There were valiant attempts by Landmarks Association and north siders to preserve the building. As recently as last year, a major effort to preserve the library branch building was in motion. Three students in a Washington University architecture course offered by Esley Hamilton and Carolyn Toft studied the building for their class project, concluding that the building should be restored to its original use. Student Katie McKenzie then worked on a draft nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Photograph from 2001 by Rob Powers.

Unfortunately, the nomination met with significant opposition from Alderwoman April Ford Griffin (D-5th), who has long favored demolition of the building for plans that may include construction of a new strip mall anchored by Walgreens. With the building owned by the city’s Land Reutilization, Griffin was basically the owner of the building and her will was finally carried out. At its May 2005 meeting, the Preservation Board recommended against listing the building on the National Register, but the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation approved the nomination anyway and the building will be listed on the National Register post mortem.

What a sad end for such a triumphant building, the city’s first north side library branch built through Andrew Carnegie’s grant to the city. Eames & Young designed the richly-ornamented Beaux Arts style building, and construction began in 1908. Murch Brothers built the building, which cost $51,000 to build. On September 11, 1909, the library was opened with its official name: the Frederick Morgan Crunden Branch Library.

Photograph from 2001 by Rob Powers.

This name honored the life of Crunden, an educator who became head of the fledgling public library system in 1877. At that time, the library was a private members-only entity affiliated with the St. Louis Public Schools, and its members were mostly teachers and professors. Crunden vowed to change that by transforming the club-like library into a vast democratic system he sometimes called the “People’s Library.” As any resident of the city knows, he was successful in establishing a fine citywide library system before his retirement in 1909.

The building was a fitting tribute to the erstwhile librarian. Its simple, low rectangular form with hipped roof was purely classical in form, while its faces expressed a more fanciful classicism. The brick walls were laid with an odd bond pattern: two stretchers with no visible mortar joint and a single header. The glazed terra cotta entablature, later damaged by thieves, featured a shell and dolphin motif that evoked the stability and permanence of the ocean with some whimsy. The north and south elevations had different articulation. The windows on the east and west walls were designed to house busts of famous St. Louisans. Inside, the first floor was a completely undivided reading room — the only of the Carnegie-funded branches with such a plan.

Photograph from 2001 by Rob Powers.

After many years of use, the Public Library decided to move the library branch due to perceived “encroachment of industry” on this site. In 1953, the library sold the building to Pulaski Bank and built a new building at 2008 Cass Avenue — adjacent to the Pruitt-Igoe housing project — to house the Crunden Branch Library. This incarnation of the branch closed in 1981, with no replacement, but the building at 2008 Cass still stands. Pulaski Bank made significant alterations to the building, removing entry foyer and enlarging the window openings. The bank opened the building as branch on December 31, 1954, but this branch was not open for more than 25 years. As a civic gesture, Pulaski Bank kept the basement auditorium open to use by civic organizations.

In December 1995, the Land Reutilization acquired the building and its fate seemed sealed. City planners have called for wholesale clearance of this area since the late 1950s. The few remaining historic buildings here are those that are privately owned, but even some of those could fall to make way for a “connector” ramp from Tucker Boulevard to a new highway bridge spanning the Mississippi River. One wonders what will become of the Cass Avenue Bank one block west of the library branch. Readers can be assured that the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise at Cass and Tucker will be preserved, though.

Image from September 15, 2005 by Michael R. Allen

Demolition Lafayette Square South St. Louis

House at 1100 Dolman Street

by Michael R. Allen

The house still standing (at right) on March 14, 2005.

This old house at 1100 Dolman Avenue in Lafayette Square, at right in the photograph above, suddenly collapsed in August 2006, after years of vacancy and furtive rehabilitation efforts. Rest in peace.

Abandonment Demolition Fire Martin Luther King Drive Wells-Goodfellow

5900 Block of Martin Luther King Boulevard

by Michael R. Allen

South face of the 5900 block of Dr. Martin Lutherk King Drive, 1998. Photograph by Don De Vivo.

Don De Vivo took these photographs of this St. Louis block in 1998, capturing conditions that have only worsened in the course of seven years. This block is part of a long commercial corridor on Martin Luther King Boulevard that straddles the cities of St. Louis and Wellston, an industrial suburb experiencing severe economic depression. De Vivo, a developer and real estate broker who owns six properties on this block, has been working to stabilize the physical conditions here and renovate his buildings since 1986, when he made his first purchase in the Wellston Loop area. Recently, De Vivo and others formed a nonprofit development corporation, the Wellston Loop Community Development Corporation, to jump-start redevelopment of the commercial district on Martin Luther King Boulevard in the Wellston Loop.

Note that the large commercial building seen recently burned in February remains partly standing in October. This building is adjacent to a former branch of the J.C. Penney store, built in 1948 as a rare example of a well-defined International Style building in a neighborhood commercial district. The J.C. Penney store building still stands, although it has been ravaged by years of abandonment.

Photographs from February 2, 1998

Photographs from October 8, 1998

Demolition Hospitals South St. Louis Southwest Garden

Truman Restorative Center Demolished

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: 5700 Arsenal Street; Southwest Garden; Saint Louis, Missouri

In 2003, the city of St. Louis decided to close the Harry S. Truman Restorative Center, a public nursing home that was the last surviving remnant of the city’s direct provision of healthcare services. The Truman Restorative Center was the successor to the old Chronic Hospital, and the Center’s building opened as an addition to the Chronic Hospital. The Chronic Hospital itself was the successor to the old St. Louis County Farm, or Poor House, and was plagued by an archaic and ill-defined mission. While providing a place for the city’s sickly and elderly poor to convalesce was a noble goal, the goals of the Chronic Hospital were uncertain. Was it a nursing home? A shelter? An infirmary?

As the Chronic Hospital clanked along, the city redefined it by successfully passing a $4 million bond issue in 1955 that led to the construction of a new wing in 1965. This wing operated as a modern nursing home, but the city was slow on transferring patients there from the old Chronic Hospital — although attrition was high and the number of patients was lower each year. The city closed the older parts of the Chronic Hospital in 1968, consolidating the operation in the new building and renaming the hospital the “Harry S. Truman Restorative Center.”

Yet times had turned against even a well-defined public nursing home. Federal subsidies through Medicare and Medicaid shrank from generous to insufficient from the 1960’s into the 1990’s, and the city’s mayors moved policy away from direct provision of health care services. The Truman Center ended its days with a small number of elderly residents and an overhead too high to be met by a changing government.

No one tried to save the Center from closing, and no one tried to save its fine cast-concrete-frame building from demolition. Like many of its residents, the Center died quietly and soon will be forgotten. The building is currently under demolition for a new residential development similar to the one that surrounds it, which was built on the site of the old Chronic Hospital, also lost.

More information

  • The Hill: Institutions from Norbury Wyman’s History of St. Louis Neighborhoods
  • St. Louis City Revised Code Chapter 12.20 (created Harry S. Truman Restorative Center)
  • Categories
    Demolition Fire Lewis Place North St. Louis

    4416-22 Martin Luther King Boulevard

    by Michael R. Allen

    At about 8:30 p.m. on August 8, I was driving toward downtown on I-64/40 and saw a huge gray smoke cloud against the also-gray night sky. I noticed bright orange flames reaching skyward. I took the Grand Avenue exit and headed north, then west until I pinpointed the location near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Taylor.

    I arrived near the building at 8:38 p.m., passing two newly-burnt buildings on the way (the damage on both was anywhere from one day to one week old). When I got close, I watched firefighters battling an intense blaze behind a two-story commercial building west of the corner of Newstead Avenue and MLK. The address of the building is 4416-22 Martin Luther King Boulevard.

    I left because I could not get close enough to see the building well, and the smoke on the ground was thick enough to preclude good viewing from the sidewalk.

    I tuned in various AM radio stations, hoping to catch a breaking news report. Nothing. Later tonight, I watched the local television news reports on KMOV Channel 4 and KSDK Channel 5. There were stories of suburban fires, but none about this one. I had spotted a helicopter circling the fire and had assumed it contained a television news camera person.

    I just searched the websites of those stations as well as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and located no stories about the fire. I did, however, find stories about fires at the following north city locations within the last 48 hours:

  • 2400 block of Sarah
  • 5200 block of Maple

    The building at 4416-24 Martin Luther King Boulevard on August 10, 2005. Photograph by Claire Nowak-Boyd.

    I returned to the fire on MLK the next day and also did some research.

    The building that burned was a two-story commercial building at the rear of 4416-22 Martin Luther King. I write “rear” because the building that burned down was not originally attached to the storefront building that faces Martin Luther King and was only joined with a crude connector — good news for the building, I suppose.

    Looking toward the fire damaged one-story building on August 9, 2005. We could not get any closer per the work crew’s presence. Photograph by Michael R. Allen.

    The rear building was reduced to a pile of rubble and only a few sections of the outer brick walls stand, none higher than eight feet.

    Saint Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church owns the buildings. Who knows what will become of the two-story building, with its graceful Union Foundry cast iron storefront columns and elegant lines. (Note the already-removed cornice and the odd-sized window sills.)


  • Categories
    Demolition North St. Louis St. Louis Place

    Starlight Missionary Baptist Church

    by Michael R. Allen

    Awaiting demolition, March 18, 2005.

    Small and simple, this church was a fine expression of the faith its builder had for continuity and humility. Unfortunately, times have changed and such values have become almost marginal. There is absolutely no humility in wholesale clearance of several blocks of 19th-century buildings and there shall be no permanence of replacement given the cheapness of the new construction here. The Starlight Missionary Baptist Church at 25th and Sullivan streets in St. Louis Place fell in May for construction of a huge multi-block housing developed by the Pyramid Companies. The history of the building, which may date to the 1870s, and its small size made it a prime candidate for preservation in a site plan that included ample open space. Instead it fell at the hands of wreckers.

    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.

    Demolition Hyde Park North St. Louis

    Hyde Park Losses Continue

    by Michael R. Allen

    Hyde Park continues to suffer from stagnation and loss. Look at these proposed demolition plans:

    Shreves Engine Company plans to demolish nine houses for some inane “security wall” plan that Alderman Freeman Bosley supports.

    The Phillips 66 gas station at Salisbury and Eleventh, owned by Nidal Othman, wants to tear down the Cordes Hardware buildings. Some may recall the days when Cordes was still open with an old-time charm on par with Marx Hardware down in Old North. (Bosley opposes this demolition, although he has offered no substantial aid to the owner or others trying to renovate destabilized buildings in this neighborhood.)

    These projects seriously compromise the intact density of historic buildings in this neighborhood. They must stop.

    There’s also a big stir about a development underway between Natural Bridge, Salisbury and West Florissant avenues on the western end of Hyde Park. Here, Bethlehem Lutheran Church has financed a development of new houses and apartments  that has involved a liberal use of eminent domain. This development has some Hyde Park residents up in arms due to questionable offers made to affected property owners and the attack on poor homeowners the Church is accused of leading. Last night, a group of 25 neighborhood residents joined with the Citizens’ Coalition to Fight Eminent Domain and marched to Bosley’s home on Bremen Avenue to make their demands.

    Century Building Demolition


    The site of the Century Building on July 15, 2005

    Image taken by Robin Hirsch from the neighboring Art St. Louis Gallery, 917 Locust Street, Third Floor.

    Century Building Demolition Downtown Historic Preservation

    Architectural Record Coverage of the Century Building Demolition

    The Architectural Record covers the controversy:

    “Critics Say National Trust Helped Doom Renowned St. Louis Building”