Fire Hyde Park Media North St. Louis

Post Slacks on Coverage of the Turnverein Fire

by Michael R. Allen

The Associated Press had a great story on the Turnverein fire. Which daily papers ran it?

The Belleville News-Democrat, on the front page of its July 6 St. Louis edition.

The Kansas City Star. The Columbia Daily Tribune.

Guess which daily paper did not run the AP story, while also not updating its own scant coverage. That’s right, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which had earlier ran the pathetic headline “Firefighters battle blaze at old athletics complex.”

Once again, the Belleville News-Democrat has better coverage of the city of St. Louis than the Post.

Fire Hyde Park North St. Louis

Nord St. Louis Turnverein Gym Survived Fire

by Michael R. Allen

View of the gymnasium northwest from Mallinckrodt Street. All photographs taken on July 5, 2006.

Remarkably, the 1898 gymnasium facing Mallinckrodt Street survived the blaze that destroyed much of the rest of the Nord St. Louis Turnverein on the night of July 3, 2006. This survival is largely due to its later fire-proof construction that avoided the use of structural timber that the other sections of the complex used. The gymnasium utilizes steel tied into the masonry walls for its structure. The gym floor is supported by steel columns that are cross-braced for durability. These columns support steel joists under a concrete slab floor that adequately carried the weight of the roof debris that descended during the fire. My inspection on July 5 revealed that the floor was stable across the building, with no collapsed areas. I was startled to see how stable the floor was. Of course, the wooden flooring was largely deteriorated before the fire.

View northeast from the corner of 20th and Mallinckrodt streets.

The masonry walls appear stable, except for sections where the parapet walls had deteriorated and lost integrity. A few sections came lose during storms in the spring, and when the roof burned the falling debris knocked lose larger areas of the walls. All four walls remain mostly intact, though. Steel trusses span the width of the building, with each truss tied into the walls. Some girders are no longer tied due to masonry disintegration. However, most are stable. These trusses are braced at two points in the center of the building by lateral steel channels.

Looking north inside of the gymnasium.

Overall, the structural condition after the gymnasium remains good after the fire.

Some additional interior views:

Abandonment Fire Historic Preservation Hyde Park North St. Louis

Nord St. Louis Turnverein Burns

by Michael R. Allen

The following photographs show the state of the Nord St. Louis Turnverein on July 4, 2006 after a major fire brought about and end that long seemed inevitable. These photographs, taken by Claire Nowak-Boyd, depict a destabilized mass barely recognizable as the landmark that generations of north siders loved. Instead, we see charred wooden beams and joists amid the stub end of walls that once rose two and three stories.

Firefighters responded to the blaze at around 11:00 p.m. on Monday, July 3. The cause is undetermined, but fireworks are likely to be involved. Eyewitnesses have mentioned bottle rockets being shot into the building by neighbors, but the Fire Department has no comment.

The fire quickly destroyed the Turnverein’s oldest part, the 1879 building facing Salisbury Street. That part had suffered some roof damage in winter 2004 and its walls were partly toppled by high winds in April 2006. Left exposed, its wooden roof joists were dry; left without a roof, its masonry walls were barely held up at all.

The fire must have been hot enough to spread into the more stable 1890’s additions, and those sections were mostly destroyed except for the 1898 gymnasium facing Mallinckrodt, which lost its roof but retains stability of its masonry walls. Preservation of the shell of this section is still feasible, although the rest of the complex is basically impossible to save.

Lenders were close to foreclosing on DHP Investments, the company that had pledged to rehab the Turnverein before its founder disappeared in April. A rehabilitation project may have happened, but no one will know for sure now. The Building Division will likely begin an emergency demolition in the next two weeks, and will probably take down the entire complex.

Total demolition would be a shame. Although the disparate parts worked visually as a patchwork whole, the 1898 gymnasium could stand as a stern reminder of what once stood at the site. However, the current state of the Hyde Park neighborhood is too grim for such reminders, and is under so much duress that there is no time or money to make careful decisions. The “if’s” in this story are overwhelming. German-Americans who left for the suburbs, the Turner organization, the do-nothing alderman, complacent preservationists, a string of mayors who could care less and Doug Hartmann of DHP Investments all share some blame here. This end easily could have been avoided, but for inaction.

There is no rest for the north side today, or any other. At least one other historic building — this one on North Market Street in Old North St. Louis — burned on the same night as the Turnverein.

Here’s the view southeast from Salisbury at 20th:

The view along 20th Street shows how little of the building’s profile remains:

The view of the east wall of the original building shows that the extent of loss is severe:

The 1898 gymnasium addition lost its roof but retains stability:


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an article on July 5 that claims that the fire is a “total loss.” This is untrue, because the steel-structure 1898 gym remains stable and could be reserved.

A neighbor reported seeing the Henry Rollins Band, the Dead Milkmen, Naked Raygun and other bands at the Turnverein during the 1970s and 1980s when promoters booked many shows there.

Fire Gary, Indiana

And Again: Wright House in Gary Burns

by Michael R. Allen

One of the two Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Gary, Indiana burned on Monday. Fitting that Wright again follows Sullivan.

Here’s more coverage:

A Daily Dose of Architecture: Charred Wright

The Place Where We Live: Another One Bites the Dust: FLW in Gary, IN Goes up in Flames

When we were last in Gary, we met with the city planner to discuss another building. He was talking of his valiant attempts to work with the impoverished owner of this house on a restoration plan.

Like many such plans in Gary, time and money worked against it, and fire trumped all. Of course, the building’s condition before the fire was terrible, unlike the great condition of the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago. The frame-and-stucco house had suffered major interior damage, including floor collapse, due to water intrusion.

Chicago Fire Louis Sullivan

Rebuilding Pilgrim Baptist Church

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph by Rob Powers.

Preservationists, politicians, church members and neighborhood residents are contemplating what to do with the burned Pilgrim Baptist Church (originally Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue), design by Louis Sullivan.

The options seem to be:

a.) A total rebuilding of the church according to Adler & Sullivan’s original plans. If the walls need to be rebuilt, this will cost tens of millions of dollars, and the results may be underwhelming. In 2006, we have lost some of the building techniques and materials that Adler and Sullivan had at their disposal in 1891. (This fact should make all of us pause to think about the viability of our society.) As the renowned architect Wilbert Hasbrouck says in the article, a full rebuilding would not recreate the building but instead leave the world with a replica in lesser materials.

Photograph by Rob Powers.

b.) Rebuilding the structure and exterior of the church but creating a modern space inside.

c.) Rebuilding the structure and exterior of the church and creating a somewhat “Sullivanesque” space inside that would not be a replica but would attempt to convey some sense of how the interior originally appeared.

d.) Stabilizing the ruins and leaving them stand as they have been left by the fire. This is what Gary, Indiana has contemplated doing with the City Methodist Church, a massive 1925 Gothic structure struck by a devastating 1997 fire. No one has mentioned this possibility in the press yet, but it bears consideration.

e.) Total demolition with salvage of some elements. I don’t think that anyone wants this to happen — even Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is interested in helping preserve the building, although the City of Chicago is taking a typically non-committal approach.

Whatever happens will be interesting to watch. While the fire is tragic, I share some of the optimism that architect John Vinci expresses in the article. This is likely the only chance most people will have to see an Adler and Sullivan building completely rebuilt in some manner. I wonder what Richard Nickel, that dogged and devoted purist, would think.

Chicago Demolition Fire Louis Sullivan

Sullivan Synagogue Gutted by Fire

by Michael R. Allen

In his lifetime, Louis Sullivan designed many buildings. Of his designs, 238 were built. As of Friday, only 50 still stood — and one of them, Kehilath Anshe Ma’ ariv Synagogue (Later Pilgrim Baptist Church burned on that same day.

The interior and unique roof was totally lost, and the limestone exterior walls are left unstable.

The historic synagogue was one of the most formative designs in the collaboration of Dankmar Adler and Sullivan, demonstrating Adler’s deft structural mind and the maturation of Sullivan’s patterns of ornament.

The Place Where We Live has more information: Adler & Sullivan Historic Church Destroyed by Fire

Hopefully, the walls can be stabilized even if the interior spaces and roof structure are lost forever. The city of Chicago and the world cannot afford to lose the last traces of a Louis Sullivan building. By now, the callous city that tore down so many before may realize just how valuable Sullivan’s work really is.

Or not.

Chicago continues to drain its heritage: CTA platform expansion has claimed both the 1929 Hays-Healy Gymnasium at DePaul University as well as the Co-Operative Temperance Society Building (lately housing the Bottom Lounge) at Wilton and Belmont; Marshall Field’s will become Macy’s in September; the landmark Berghoff restaurant will close February 28; yet another turreted corner building is threatened; and so forth.

Fire Hyde Park North St. Louis

One of Hyde Park’s Oldest Houses Damaged by Fire

by Michael R. Allen

The fire-damaged Kettman House on November 17, 2005.

An early-morning fire struck the house at 1522-24 Mallinckrodt on a cold day in October.  One of the earliest houses in Hyde Park, the building at 1522-24 Mallinckrodt was originally built by brickyard hand Bernard Kettman in the 1850s. Kettman, who was born in Hanover, Germany, leased the lot from Ann C.T. Farrar until he was able to buy it outright in 1863 for $1,440.00. In the meantime, he built the house and occupied it with three other German families whose fathers worked in the brickyards. Kettman later built a nearly-identical building at 1520 Mallinckrodt, which still stands.

The Kettman House in 1981 (far right). Photograph by Mary M. Stiritz for Landmarks Association of St. Louis

The simple building in the Federal style, was initially two rooms deep with four apartments and an attic. Access to the lower apartments was from the street while access to the upper apartments was through rear stairs and gallery porches. Later alterations have reconfigured the building into two adjacent two-story dwellings, which now have separate owners.

Rear of the Kettman House on November 17, 2005. Note that the gallery porch plan still exists in modified form (exterior stairs are missing).

At present, both sides are rental units. I had attempted to purchase the house at 1518 Mallinckrodt Street and had spent some time getting familiar with the block. When I asked an occupant of 1524 Mallinckrodt if she owned her home, she replied emphatically that “I don’t own that rat hole.” Thinking that I was an investor and not a prospective owner-occupant, she wanted to rent 1518 Mallinckrodt from me. While her comments may be an exaggeration, they indicate some level of neglect of this building in recent years. The fire damage has rendered both units unlivable, but neither owner has taken the time to board the building. The next buildings to the west are an abandoned bungalow and alley house both owned by the LRA. Across the street are two large abandoned four-flats with substantial decay, one owned by the city and another owned privately. The decay seems to have taken root here, and the fire is almost expected. I regret that I was not able to take the risk to put down roots of another kind on the block.


Stiritz, Mary M. and Jane Porter. Hyde Park District City Landmark Certification. Landmarks Association of St. Louis, 1981.

Demolition Fire North St. Louis St. Louis Place

Bus Maintenance Center Under Demolition

by Michael R. Allen

Demolition of the St. Louis Bus Maintenance Center (originally the Anderson Motor Service Company) has commenced. The block will be cleared of buildings now. No word on progress on the Fire Department’s investigation of the cause of the blaze that heavily damaged the building on September 15.

Fire North St. Louis Old North St. Louis Place

Old Garage at 14th & Cass Burns

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: 1516 E. 14th Street; Old North St. Louis; Saint Louis, Missouri
EARLIER NAME: Anderson Motor Service Company
DATE OF FIRE: September 15, 2005
OWNER: Khaled Salameh

The former Anderson Motor Service Company building at 14th and Cass — last named the St. Louis Bus Maintenance Center — is now ruined by fire. Here is a not very extraordinary building brought down through extraordinary circumstances: a spectacular and mysterious early morning blaze detected at 7:30 a.m. on September 15, just weeks after the covert demolition of its beautiful next-door neighbor, the former Crunden Branch Library. The St. Louis Fire Department calls the fire, which took two hours to douse and seemed concentrated in the south end of the building, “suspicious.” The long-vacant building, originally a service garage for trucks and finally a bus maintenance center, contained asbestos as well as residue from various vehicle fuels and fluids, all of which made for a long-lived and smoky fire.

We were shocked that the building would go up in flames after the surprise demolition of the Crunden Branch, news of which was very distressing. With various players in Ward 5 pushing redevelopment of the entire block through demolition, no one expected either building to survive much longer. Few would have predicted that each would come down so abruptly after rumors began, and in such proximity to each other. Once the fire-damaged remains are cleared, the entire block will be clear of buildings.

Alas, fortune is a clumsy and unscrupulous planner.

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