Abandonment Demolition Flounder House Historic Preservation North St. Louis St. Louis Place

Two Blocks of Florissant Avenue in 1985

by Michael R. Allen

While demolition permit numbers show that the peak decade for material building loss in the Old North St. Louis and St. Louis Place neighborhoods was 1970-1980, a substantial slower loss has transpired since then. The cumulative result is that streetscapes recognizable as urban places twenty-five years ago now form desolate landscapes lacking architectural definition.

Two photographs of the west side of Florissant Avenue in 1985 taken by Mary M. Stiritz for Landmarks Association of St. Louis depict the absurd reality that in the near past, the eastern edge of St. Louis Place was marked by the familiar nineteenth century vernacular masonry buildings that typify other sections to this day.

Nowadays, Florissant Avenue is a confused corridor notable for its many vacant lots and the needless wide expanse of roadway that awaits MetroLink expansion. This area was once a vital part of a beautiful neighborhood. In 1985, Landmarks was preparing a survey leading to expansion of the Clemens House-Columbia Brewery Historic District; sufficient physical stock existed here to allow major expansion of a national historic district. Today, further expansion remains a fantasy at best due to continued loss.

Behold the northwest corner of Warren Street and Florissant Avenue, today a sun-scorched vacant lot:

While the architectural context is visibly diminished, the important corner site is occupied by a building that becomes a landmark heralding the site as one for human comfort and exchange. As we rebuild St. Louis Place, we should ensure we have good corners, and not drive-through lanes, curb cuts and fences where the marks of human settlement should be.

The second photograph shows the block of Florissant between North Market Street on the south and Benton Street on the north:

Here was a hybrid row of commercial and residential buildings, all brick but differing somewhat on setback, height and style. There are a few side-gabled buildings, with a mansard-roofed store second in from the corner adjacent to a flounder house with a generous side gallery porch. Dormers abound. There’s even a modern Payless Shoe Store at the right of the image. This is a resolutely urban group, friendly to the pedestrian and attractive to the eye.

All of these buildings are now gone.

Central West End Demolition Flounder House Historic Preservation North St. Louis Preservation Board South St. Louis The Ville Tower Grove East

Preservation Board Approves Flounder House Demolition, Denies Demolition in The Ville

by Michael R. Allen

Here’s a quick report of some actions at yesterday’s St. Louis Preservation Board meeting.

2915 Minnesota Avenue: Preliminary approval for demolition of flounder house granted 4-2. Terry Kennedy, Mary Johnson, David Richardson and Anthony Robinson in favor; Melanie Fathman and Mike Killeen opposed.

4477 Olive Street: Unanimously deferred until the July meeting to provide more time to explore alternatives.

4568 St. Ferdinand Avenue: Demolition permit denied 4-3. Killeen, Fathman, Robinson and Richard Callow in favor of motion to deny; Johnson, Kennedy and Richardson opposed.

Demolition Flounder House Historic Preservation Housing Preservation Board South St. Louis Tower Grove East

Fate of Flounder House on Monday’s Preservation Board Agenda

by Michael R. Allen

On Monday, the Preservation Board will determine the fate of this old city-owned flounder house at 2915 Minnesota Avenue in Tower Grove East. The 710-square-foot home lies outside of the boundaries of the Tower Grove Heights Historic District, making it ineligible for rehab tax credits without landmark designation. Clearly, the building is eligible in its own right — there are fewer than 30 flounder houses left in the city, and the building type is indigenous. Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett (D-6th) is seeking demolition, while the Tower Grove East Neighborhood Association strongly opposes demolition. Triplett’s application was deferred by the Board two months ago to provide the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) time to develop a pro forma showing that rehabilitation is feasible.

Working with developer Will Libermann, who recently rehabbed a flounder house at 3330 Missouri Avenue in Benton Park, CRO has arrived at an impressively economical budget; see its report here. Liebermann’s plan would restore the derelict home to former beauty while creating badly-needed affordable fully-rehabbed, historically-sensitive housing. (His other flounder sold for $125,000.) With the neighborhood behind preservation, there should be a clear outcome but Triplett remains stridently in favor of demolition.

Should the Preservation Board approve demolition, there would be yet another decision creating a housing gap between upper-income residents who can afford fully-rehabbed historically-sensitive homes and lower-income residents who largely cannot. Here is the rare opportunity to cut against the gap. While the home is smaller than your average multi-family conversion, it is a great size for a single person or a childless couple.

The Preservation Board meets Monday, April 28 at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street downtown. See the full agenda here.

Demolition Flounder House Historic Preservation North St. Louis Preservation Board South St. Louis

Preservation Board Agenda Includes Demolitions of Flounder House, Building on Page

by Michael R. Allen

The St. Louis Preservation Board meets on Monday to consider a rather short agenda.

Notable items on the agenda include:

  • Preliminary review of an application by Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett (D-6th) to demolish a one-and-a-half-story flounder house at 2915 Minnesota Avenue. The house, built before 1884, is an example of a true flounder house. Flounder houses have half-gabled roofs with a slope from one side of the front wall to the other. Flounder houses were popular in nineteenth century St. Louis due to the speed of construction, but few survive. Many have been successfully rehabbed in recent years, and the smaller ones seem well-suited as economical alternatives to the glut of expensive, energy-inefficient multi-family conversions. Staff recommends denial of the permit.
  • Preliminary review for a new building at 1412 Mississippi Avenue in Lafayette Square. This building would occupy one of the last gaps in the street faces surrounding Lafayette Park — the vacant lot at the southeast corner of Park and Mississippi. The Lawrence Group proposes a three-story building with heavy Romanesque massing topped by a Mansard roof with numerous dormers. The building is reminiscent of the ungainly building that houses the Soda Fountain Square restaurant. Hopefully the board and staff will provide guidance to improve the design.
  • Appeal of staff denial of a demolition permit for the building at 5100-2 Page Boulevard, subject of an earlier post in this blog. Staff recommends upholding the denial. Alderman Frank Williamson (D-26th) supports demolition.
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    Bohemian Hill City Hospital Flounder House South St. Louis

    Bohemian Hill and City Hospital

    Here is a view east toward City Hospital from just south of Picker Street in Bohemian Hill, taken by me in 2002. Here we see visual density and variety giving way to the relatively monotonous architectural mass of the City Hospital. The distinct individual buildings mitigate the impact of the hospital complex, which otherwise might be overbearing. The relationship also makes full use of that human-scaled unit with which we build towers and flounder houses alike: the brick.

    While each building is the sum of its parts — here those parts are largely brick — each urban vista also is the sum of a multitude of elements. Limiting the complexity by reducing the number of and small disparities between each element diminishes the view as well as the pedestrian experience.

    Five years later, this view does not exist — but we have the chance to remake it. However, we should keep in mind that the view seen here was over 100 years in the making, and just as the brick or the building becomes an element that composes a larger view, so is each year during which the view emerges. While it is easy for a person to manipulate space and material, it is impossible to manipulate time.