Century Building Demolition Downtown Salvage

Salvaging the Century Building

by Michael R. Allen

The silver lining to the Century Building demolition is that salvage rights belong to the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation, the non-profit set up by salvage expert Larry Giles to create a museum of American architecture. Not only will the Century’s unique marble and iron pieces be used for educational purposes, but also they will be removed by someone who has the experience, knowledge and love of the building to ensure that we won’t lose anything important.

Right now Larry and his crew are at work dismantling the entire Ninth Street entrance to the building — a massive undertaking that is a race against the wrecking ball.

Demolition Fox Park LRA South St. Louis

Commercial Building at 2652 Geyer Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

The impressive mixed-used commercial building at 2652 Geyer (at Ohio Avenue) in Fox Park was recently demolished. Owned by the City of St. Louis’ Land Reutilization Authority in recent years, the building has long been vacant. The building’s three-story height and rounded corner made it unusual for the neighborhood, while its Romanesque Revival traits place it in a common and significant local stylistic tradition.

The building was indeed derelict, with a collapsed roof, broken windows and deteriorating floor joists. Yet its distinctive presence and solid brick walls were intact enough to convey a sense of elegance to its corner, which was otherwise surrounded by two-story flats. The building’s corner storefront was framed with lovely cast iron columns. The building had a narrow interior light shaft running north-south down its middle. Its five apartments were spacious, and its yard ample. In short, it was ripe for reuse as a vital component to the restoration of the Fox Park neighborhood.

Alas, I walked down the street to catch only part of the rounded corner still remaining and most of the building’s western wall gone. The eastern bays were intact enough to convey some sense of the building’s appearance from Geyer Street, but the elegant corner was torn away above the first floor, and the western bay was completely missing save the first floor corner and part of the second story elevation wall on Geyer.

Colorful pieces of linoleum and 1970s wallpaper littered the ground. A crew of workers was busy making up pallets of bricks, which they would sell to suppliers for $20 per pallet. (The suppliers will sell the pallets to projects for $170 or more each.) One man was breaking apart portions of the fire escape for sale as scrap iron.

Geyer in Fox Park lost a lot of buildings to the construction of I-44 in 1960 and still others to senseless demolition plans that have left vacant lots. Three out of four corners are vacant lots at the next intersection west of Geyer and Ohio, Geyer and California. This is a street that has many dedicated residents but suffers from the disruptive energy of I-44. It certainly does not need the additional problem of demolition, especially of its few hybrid buildings. Surely, another vacant lot here could cause harm — although a shoddy replacement structure may be on the way. Now the street is further damaged and a building has been destroyed without substantial documentation.

Photograph by Robert Powers on October 30, 2004

Photographs by Michael R. Allen on October 31, 2004

Chicago Demolition

Lost on Leavitt in Wicker Park

by Michael R. Allen

Currently I am living in Chicago over in Humboldt Park. I frequently wind my way through Wicker Park to catch the CTA Blue Line El at the Damen station. Recently I spotted a lovely two-story two-flat at 1423 N. Leavitt being prepared for demolition.

The two-story house had fine details of the Italianate style that prevailed in the neighborhood in the 1870s. The details are all still intact: the wooden cornice with its brackets, the etched shaped stone lintels over the windows and the courses of decorative brickwork running near the tops of the windows. While these are common attributes of Chicago’s 19th century vernacular buildings, here they form a unique composition.

The side has the typical Chicago common brick showing the yellow Wabash clay of eastern Illinois and western Indiana. The sloped parapet is also a familiar site in Wicker Park, albeit one that is disappearing amid taller, boxier new buildings. On October 23, I took the photographs here.

On November 1, I returned and the building at 1423 N. Leavitt was gone.

Century Building Demolition Downtown

R.I.P. Century Building

See our photos of the Century Building demolition.

Century Building Demolition Downtown

Century Building Demolition Begins

Images from October 29-30, 2004

We visited the Century Building roughly one week after demolition work began. These photos depict the building with its corners destroyed beyond repair, its solid form marred forever. The last two photographs show cast iron spandrel panels removed for safekeeping by the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation. The Building Arts Foundation is also removing the full assembly of the Ninth Street entry arch.

Century Building Demolition Downtown

The Demolition of the Century Building Brings to Mind…

by Michael R. Allen

As wreckers race to destroy the landmark Century Building, Ecology of Absence pauses to recall how it once appeared in this vintage postcard.

Such a memory bring to mind another downtown office building now lost. Correction; we recall several buildings now lost that once formed the most spectacular commercial group in the city. These were the buildings on Seventh Street between Market and Locust, as depicted in this other postcard.

From left, the Missouri Pacific, Lincoln Trust, Fullerton and Holland Buildings have all fallen to the callous plans of our civic leaders and property owners. The last of these buildings disappeared in 1982, suggesting that 22 years is not enough time for a Saint Louis civic leader to learn good urban planning.

To contemplate the existence of a commercial corridor and an individual building so graceful that someone sold postcard images of both leads to a massive shudder as one considers what has replaced and will replace these buildings.

Abandonment Demolition North St. Louis Old North

What the 14th Street Mall Could Be

by Michael R. Allen

On St. Louis Avenue in Old North St. Louis, a one-story storefront building just bit the dust. Located at 1315 St. Louis Avenue, the modest narrow building was once a productive part of neighborhood commerce, and was part of a connected group of three buildings. Such groups have allowed the neighborhood to evince strong historic character despite the fact that over half of its 20th century built environment is gone.

Across St. Louis Avenue and a half-block to the west is the two block “14th Street Mall,” a section of the commercial district turned into a pedestrian mall in 1977. The buildings on the mall are largely abandoned and some have been lost.  However, this is the most dense and intact group of commercial buildings left in Old North, or anywhere on the near north side between downtown and Salisbury Avenue.

A remnant of 1970’s era urban planning, the closure of 14th Street from St. Louis Avenue southward to Warren Avenue left a once-bustling shopping district in decline. The shop buildings gradually became vacant, and only a few businesses on the fringes remain open — notably the venerable Crown Candy Kitchen at 14th and St. Louis. With some renewed attention to the surrounding Old North St. Louis area in the last two years, though, the 14th Street Mall could enjoy some form of rejuvenation soon. Hopefully, rejuvenation will not consist of massive demolition; the two blocks suffered from much demolition when the mall was built to accommodate parking behind the stores on 14th Street.

The scale of this shopping district is as intimately urban as that of the Cherokee Street district. Buildings here are small and close together, and within walking district of beautiful and remarkably intact — by northside standards — 19th century row and town houses. It could be instrumental in developing a multi-racial, mixed-income district of housing and shopping north of downtown, which is priced out of range for most of Saint Louis and is woefully lacking in diversity in its emergent population.

This area could anchor a near-north belt of family-friendly housing, cooperatively managed rental units, urban gardens, live-work spaces (Neighborhood Gardens, anyone?), and neighborhood schools. Imagine: affordable, restored historic living space in the inner city in the 21st century!

Demolition Gate District South St. Louis

Row Houses on Chouteau Avenue

This short row of late 19th-century rowhouses stood — replete with “mousehole” entrance — just west of Compton Avenue on Chouteau Avenue until one day, inexplicably, wreckers began tearing them down.

Demolition Hyde Park North St. Louis

Demolition, 19th and Farragut

by Michael R. Allen

The activity that you see in these two photos is only a routine occurrence. You probably are not even alarmed. You surely are not surprised. Yet many buildings disappear every year in Saint Louis, only to give way to empty lots or, at best, construction of lower density and poorer quality of materials. I do not know why these two buildings at corners of the intersection of 19th and Farragut streets in the Hyde Park neighborhood have been demolished.