Fox Park Local Historic District South St. Louis

Final Approval of Fox Park Local Historic District Expansion Near

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday the Board of Alderman approved on second reading the ordinance that expands the boundaries of the Fox Park Local Historic District to include eighteen blocks at the southern end of the neighborhood. Included in the expansion, shown on the map here, is St. Francis DeSales Roman Catholic Church.

The Board will take votes on both the third and final readings, but the most important hurdles have been cleared and the ordinance should be law soon.

I interviewed Fox Park Neighborhood Association President Ian Simmons about the expansion in May. Read that interview here: “Interview: Why Residents Want the Fox Park Local Historic District Expanded”.

Here are a few images of buildings that now will be protected by the design code of the local district.

On 2800 block of Magnolia Avenue, near California Avenue.
2711-13 Gravois Boulevard, owned by the Archdiocese.
2620 Ohio Avenue.
The flounder house at 2628 Ohio Avenue.
The north face of the 2800 block of Victor Avenue.
Fox Park Lafayette Square North St. Louis Old North Preservation Board South St. Louis

Preservation Board Approves Fox Park Expansion, Denies Old North Demolition

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday the St. Louis Preservation Board met with members Richard Callow, Melanie Fathman, Mike Killeen, David Richardson, Anthony Robinson, David Visintaner and Alderwoman Phyllis Young present. The most likely contentious matter on the agenda was consideration of the expansion of the boundaries of the Fox Park Local Historic District accordint to the boundaries below.

Fox Park Neighborhood Association President Ian Simmons explained the purpose of the expansion simply: to put the entire neighborhood on equal footing for design review and development potential. Four other people spoke in favor, including DeSales Housing Corporation Executive Director Tom Pickel. Mark Whitman spoke against the expansion with great conviction, stating that he found the expansion to violate the United States Constitution and to represent gentrification of the southern part of the neighborhood.

The Preservation Board voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Aldermen approve the boundary increase. The next step is introduction of the boundary increase as an ordinance at the Board of Aldermen by Alderwoman Young and Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett. The ordinance will get a committee hearing before the full board considers it.

The Preservation Board also unanimously approved on a preliminary basis the above design for new construction at the southeast corner of Lafayette and Mississippi avenues in Lafayette Square (1922-24 Park Avenue). Designed by architect Paul Fendler, the new two-story building would combine retail on the first floor and residential space above. The board approved a different plan for the site two years ago.

Another interesting case was the return of a front door replacement at 2841 Shenandoah Avenue in Fox Park. After last month’s stalemate on the matter, Andrea Gagen on the Cultural Resources Office staff located a supplier who could provide an acceptable paint-grade wooden door for less than the cost of a door that the owner wanted to install that did not meet the Fox Park Local Historic District standards. The owner asserted that the supplier contacted by Gagen could not make the door he wanted for the cost she stated, and that installation using his contractor would cost $500 regardless (an amount that is incredible for such worl). The Board then voted 4-1 to uphold staff denial of the first application.

The Preservation Board also unanimously upheld the appeal by Louis Ford of denial of a demolition permit for 3219-21 N. 20th Street, pictured above. Located in Old North and the Murphy Blair Historic District, the house has been vacant for years. Ford purchased the house to keep it secured from criminal activity. Ford stated that he would save the house if he could find money for work, but he had no interest in endlessly keeping it boarded and stable. Perhaps the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group would be able to accept the house as a donation.

Fox Park Housing South St. Louis

Look Next Door

by Michael R. Allen

This house on the 2800 block of Victor Street in Fox Park is a lovely house that uses the American Foursquare form.  (The American Foursquare is typified by a rectangular shape, hipped or sometimes gabled roof with central dormer and four-room plan on each floor.)  The use of the rock-faced dark brick is particularly striking.  Yet something clearly is missing!

Look above the entrance — there is a shade of the old balcony.  The outline suggests that the balcony was cantilevered over the entrance, maybe with ornate brackets underneath.

Aha! Indeed, the balcony did have ornate brackets and was cantilevered over the entrance. We know this because the near-twin house next door retains its original balcony.  The next-door house is only a near-twin because it employs paired string courses that connect with the arches of the windows and entrance.  The balconies were probably the same, but the brick work was not made exact.  Such a slight variation is typical in St. Louis vernacular masonry architecture, which produced many near-twins but few exact copies.

Fox Park Local Historic District South St. Louis

Interview: Why Residents Want the Fox Park Local Historic District Expanded

by Michael R. Allen

On Monday the Preservation Board granted preliminary approval to a proposed expansion of the Fox Park Local Historic District (local historic districts explained here) in south city. The proposal was strongly supported by the Fox Park Neighborhood Association. The Preservation Board considers local historic district petitions twice on an advisory basis before they are introduced in ordinance form at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, where the Housing Urban Development and Zoning Committee again holds a public hearing.

After preliminary approval this week, I interviewed Fox Park Neighborhood Association President Ian Simmons about the ins and outs of the proposal.

The proposed boundaries of the expanded Fox Park Local Historic District. Courtesy of the Fox Park Neighborhood Association.

Why do people in Fox Park want to expand the local historic district?

Ian Simmons: We want a cohesive neighborhood. All of the homes in our neighborhood are basically of the same stock and are all equally part of Fox Park, so there is no good reason why they should not be part of the district. Neighbors, who have lived in Fox Park for longer than I, have seen tremendous growth and prosperity enrich the neighborhood, but at a far greater pace and scale in the northern half that is within the historic district. We believe that distinction is related to the presence of historic standards guiding rehabilitation and restoration, as well as, of course, the availability of historic tax credits. While the expansion of the local historic district will not directly make those tax credits available (that will take a National Historic Register nomination), there is a danger that, in the absence of historic standards in the proposed expansion area, we may lose our historic structures, features, and value.

This landmark corner commercial building at the northwest corner of Magnolia and California is inside of the district expansion.

What outreach has the Fox Park Neighborhood Association done to build support for the expansion?

Simmons: During the early stages of this process, I reached out to just about every neighbor I knew or ran into that lived in the proposed expansion area and asked them if they would support the initiative; everyone was positive and enthusiastic about the idea. Once our Board formed an ad hoc committee to handle the exploration and initial steps, we added some of those supporters to our committee, and also reached out to and obtained the support of the DeSales Housing Corporation (which owns and/or manages over ten percent of the homes in the expansion area). Then we reached out to our elected officials about writing the petition. At the request and direction of Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett, we held three informal community meetings to reach and inform the neighbors that we had not run into, who are not members of the Association, and/or who do not attend Association meetings.

These meetings were prior to the drafting of any petition, and were held on different days and different times, so as to allow neighbors who wanted to attend the opportunity. We mailed postcard notices to all the recorded owners of the properties in the proposed expansion area. I also wrote about the meetings and the proposed expansion in our spring newsletter, a copy of which was posted on the doorstep of every home in our neighborhood weeks before the first meeting. The meetings gave the neighbors a chance to have their questions answered about how the expansion would affect them, and to express any opposition. Besides at the one which was held during our March Association Meeting, attendance at the community meeting was lighter than expected, but supportive — there was no showing of opposition.

This lovely residential row is on the north side of Russell Boulevard just east of California Avenue within the existing local historic district.

Can you talk a little bit about the boundaries and why the current boundaries are proposed?

Simmons: The route we are taking expands the boundaries of an existing district. This approach was chosen instead of creating a new district next to the existing one. For the same rationale as described above, we felt it would be better to have the same historic standards apply throughout the whole neighborhood. Also, this way, if we want to change our standards, we only have to change one ordinance. So, the boundaries of the expanded district will be Highway 44 (to the North), Nebraska Avenue (to the West), Jefferson Avenue (to the East), and Gravois Ave. (to the South). Those boundaries are proposed because they are also the boundaries of the Fox Park neighborhood. The expanded district basically moves the existing Southern boundary from the alley South of Shenandoah Avenue and Victor Street, to Gravois.

What, if anything, are you changing in the existing standards? Have you found that some of those standards are now out-dated?

Simmons: At this time, no changes are proposed to the existing standards; if signed into law, they would apply as they stand now to the proposed extension area. The only instance of “out-dated” standards, which was identified by one of our Board members, is that the existing standards do not allow the use of “green” roofing materials. It is possible that changes to the standards may be made at a later date, once the district is extended; of course, any changes would come at the request of neighbors, and only after much discussion and input from them.

If you could advise another neighborhood looking to enact a local historic district ordinance, what would you say?

Simmons: Don’t be discouraged and don’t give up! If the membership is supportive, the neighborhood association has a few people who are willing to step up, do a little footwork, and be patient, and the alderperson(s) in the proposed district are hard-working and in favor, it can be done! Even if rejected the first time, or the steps along the way take what seems like forever, at least the conversation has been started and you have moved this important process forward.

Fox Park National Register South St. Louis Tower Grove East

Historic Districts In and (Mostly) Around Tower Grove East

by Michael R. Allen

Last night’s Tower Grove East Neighborhood Association meeting included a presentation by Lynn Josse on the different types of historic districts, how they work and how they get created. Lynn distributed a flier that included the following map.

As the map shows, a large swath of Tower Grove East and the southern end of Fox Park are surrounded by districts but not included in any. All or part of 45 blocks in Tower Grove East have no historic district status, and thus no availability of rehabilitation tax credits being used all around south city.

Demolition Fox Park Marine Villa Preservation Board South St. Louis

At the Preservation Board Yesterday

by Michael R. Allen

Carnival Supply Building to be Demolished

Yesterday, the St. Louis Preservation Board voted unanimously to permit demolition of the old St. Louis Carnival Supply Company building at 3928 S. Broadway (see “Old Carnival Supply Buildings Return to the Preservation Board”, December 18. The motion to permit demolition made by David Richardson is conditional; owner KOBA LP must first obtain a building permit for facade improvements to the building at 3924 S. Broadway.

Alderman Ken Ortmann (D-9th) and the Chippewa-Broadway Business Association had previously opposed demolition of both buildings. At the meeting yesterday, Cultural Resources Office (CRO) Director Kate Shea announced that she had received letters of support for demolition of 3928 S. Broadway from both parties and that CRO was changing its position as well. Five residents of the Marine Villa neighborhood sent letters of opposition. I was the only person to testify against the demolition, following KOBA LP owner Ken Nuernberger (ordinarily a preservation-minded developer). As I told the Preservation Board, no matter what cladding covered 3928 S. Broadway and no matter what happens to the other building, the decision still was one between a historic corner commercial building and a surface parking lot.

A Row House By Any Other Standard…

Another matter before the Preservation Board was also of great interest. The owner of the house at 2248 Nebraska in the Fox Park Local Historic District wants to install aluminum windows on her home. CRO staff said they would have approved the windows, except that the house is part of an adjoined row of houses and that the windows would alter the character of the row. CRO recommended denial, but the Board voted unanimously to allow use of the windows. Richardson and Mary Johnson both stated that they believed that the local district standards applied to fee-simple houses and contained no language that enabled CRO to take into consideration neighboring buildings — even if connected — in making a decision about an individual permit.

Demolition Fox Park Historic Preservation South St. Louis St. Louis Building Division

How About Condemnation for Repair?

by Michael R. Allen

Here’s the sort of neighborhood stabilization issue that you probably won’t hear being discussed by any mayoral candidates. Above is the corner storefront at 2001 S. Jefferson (at Allen) in Fox Park. Built in 1892, the two-story building is a contributing resource to the Compton Hill Certified Local Historic District, and anchors the first solid corner of Fox Park on Jefferson south of I-44.

Believe it or not, this building has been condemned for demolition by the Building Division! (Of course, the New Vision Demolition banner on the front takes some of the surprise out.) In June 2007, the Building Division issued a condemnation for demolition order. Why? Take a look.

This is definitely not a good situation here, but it is hardly grounds for demolition. This building has that great detail found on some of the city’s neighborhood commercial buildings: the wall extends to shield the end of a multi-story gallery porch at the rear that provides access to residential flats above.

Obviously, the porch collapsed. Permit records show that a permit to replace the “rear deck” was issued on April 2, 2007. Obviously, the owners failed to replace the porch and left the building in terrible shape. The Building Division was wise to act with condemnation, by why is the order “for demolition”? The Building Division is allowed to condemn buildings “for repair,” and in this case should have done so. The loss of the porch caused damage, but not anything that makes the building unsound.

Of course, a condemnation for demolition order could scare a problem property owner to sell. However, that order could also lead to a building’s being placed in a city demolition package down the road, no matter if the building truly is unsound under the definitions established in our public safety laws and preservation ordinances. The good thing is that a demolition permit in a local historic district will go to the Cultural Resources Office. In this case, neither owner nor the Building Division has pursued demolition — for now.

What is then accomplished by this condemnation order? Very little, except creating another threat to this building. Clearly, the order has made no impact on the owners, who have not even removed much of the debris behind the building.

Instead of condemnation for demolition, an order used too often, why not condemn buildings for repair with enforceable deadlines? There is, after all, more than one way to enforce the public safety laws, but the Building Division too often relies on the ineffective, destructive “condemnation for demolition.” The Building Division would do well to help neighborhoods stabilize their neighborhoods while preserving valuable buildings. Clearly, demolition contractors would not get as much work but hopefully better-paying construction work would be encouraged.

Whoever is Mayor on April 7 should make changes at the Building Division. At the very least, all demolition decisions should be made by a qualified structural engineer. At the most, there should be a reorientation of code enforcement away from the mindset that the Division should eliminate all that is broken. The Building Division’s goal should be fixing all that is broken for the benefit of our citizens, and reserving demolition orders for those cases where public safety is truly threatened.

Demolition Fox Park North St. Louis Preservation Board South St. Louis The Ville

Summary of Monday’s Preservation Board Meeting

by Michael R. Allen

On Monday, the Preservation Board met. Commissioners John Burse, Mike Killeen, David Richardson, Mary Johnson, Anthony Robinson, Alderman Terry Kennedy and Richard Callow were present. Follow along with the agenda published here; that includes detailed reports on all items.

Here is a summary of the proceedings:


The Ville: In the end, the Board voted 4-3 to accept staff recommendation to demolish eleven homes in the The Ville Historic District. Commissioners Kennedy, Richardson and Johnson voted “yea” while Commissioners Robinson, Killeen and Burse voted “nay.” Chairman Callow broke the tie by voting “yea.” During testimony, Alderman Sam Moore stated he would just as gladly mothball the buildings as tear them down, as long as something was done. He actually consented to staff recommendation after back-and-forth with Cultural Resources Director Kate Shea.

3911 & 3961 Blair: After rejecting a motion by Kennedy to approve demolition of both houses, the Board voted 4-1 (Killeen dissenting) to approve demolition of 3911 and deny demolition of 3961 Blair. Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr. already broke his earlier promise to support no further demolition in the Hyde Park Historic District and urged approval of both, especially 3911 which — if the city sells the lot to a homeowner — will become the site of a gazebo, circle drive and swimming pool for a house next door.


Both items approved with staff stipulations. The number of permits this month was atypically low.


5286-98 Page Boulevard: Owners obtained a continuance; matter not considered.

4635 Martin Luther King Drive: This controversial issue, subject of a recent “You Paid for It” segment on Fox 2, died down after Alderman Moore promised a land swap with the church seeking demolition. Moore is in favor of preserving the so-called Doctor’s Building. The Board unanimously denied the appeal, and the pastor stated he would pursue the swap to get parking space elsewhere.

7416 Vermont Avenue: The Board unanimously denied the appeal of a church seeking to demolish a historic parsonage in Carondelet.


The Board approved all nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.

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