Forest Park Southeast Local Historic District National Register Soulard

Forest Park Southeast and the Human Scale

by Michael R. Allen

In the last few months, two project proposals — one for an apartment complex at Taylor and Chouteau and another for a vague commercial development along Kingshighway — in Forest Park Southeast have emerged which are both grossly out of scale and character with the historic architectural character of the neighborhood. These projects exhibit deficiencies in consideration of scale, ratio of surface parking to building footprints, form and materiality. Together, these projects would overwhelm the accumulated urbanity of Forest Park Southeast with the fly-by-night aesthetics of American suburbia. After all, good urbanism needs more than development and density to thrive — it requires beauty and the human scale.

Not right for a dense historic neighborhood. Tate Homes' Hanley Station.
Forest Park Southeast Preservation Board

Preservation Board Approves Split on Arco Avenue; Denies SLU High Appeal

by Michael R. Allen

From left: 4225 Arco, 4223 Arco, 4221 Arco and 4217 Arco.

Yesterday, the Preservation Board voted unanimously to accept the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) staff recommendation to approve demolition of the one-story brick houses at 4223 and 4225 Arco Avenue and deny demolition of those at 4217 and 4221 Arco. CRO Preservation Administrator Jan Cameron testified that the structural failures of the side and rear walls of 4223 and 4225 Arco justified their demolition, but that the other houses are sound. Jim Morrison from Restoration St. Louis, the owner, argued for demolition of all four — a position endorsed by Alderman Joe Roddy (D-17th) and Park Central Development Corporation. Landmarks Association of St. Louis Assistant Director Andrew Weil stood against Restoration St. Louis’ proposal and spoke in favor of the CRO staff recommendation.

The group of houses is almost intact, save the sister house at 4219 Arco pushed to an early death without a building permit recently.  All of the houses on this block are contributing resources to the Forest Park Southeast Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.  According to the nomination, 4217, 4221 and 4223 are presumed to date to 1908 but 4225 dates to 1903.  The nomination’s authors did not locate builders or architects for the houses.

Demolition Forest Park Southeast Preservation Board

Preservation Board Considering Demolitions on Arco

by Michael R. Allen

Tomorrow the St. Louis Preservation Board will consider the demolition of four houses on Arco Avenue, located at 4217, 4221, 4223 and 4225 Arco Avenue. The owner and applicant is Restoration St. Louis, a company whose commitment to historic preservation is strong and well-known. The Cultural Resources Office recommends that the Preservation Board allow demolition of the damaged houses at 4223 and 4225 Arco but deny demolition of the other two, which despite decay are sound.

All are contributing resources to the Forest Park Southeast Historic District, which is why their demolition can go before the Preservation Board. I made the following video of the current condition:

Alex Ihnen posted an article on these houses on urbanSTL, and in an update stated that he feels they are “goners.” The Forest Park Southeast neighborhood association has endorsed demolition of all of the houses. Yet the Cultural Resources Office’s professional staff thinks that the eastern two are not, which is a reasonable assertion. Tomorrow’s Preservation Board meeting — held at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street — should be interesting.

Forest Park Southeast Housing Streets

Thoughts on the Proposed Adams Grove Infill Project

by Michael R. Allen

Alex Ihnen has reported the his St. Louis Urban Workshop blog that a substantial new scattered-site infill housing project is in the works for part of Forest Park Southeast. Specifically, the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance hopes to build 40 new houses on and around Norfolk and Vista avenues west of Newstead. These are some the neighborhood’s roughest blocks in its most neglected portion, the area south of Manchester Avenue known as Adams Grove. Adams Grove was platted in 1875 and is the oldest part of Forest Park Southeast, but long has lagged behind the northern section of the neighborhood in development efforts.

Readers may recall that in 2006, these blocks were targeted by the Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation during a wide round of demolition that took down over 30 buildings across the neighborhood. The Preservation Board approved demolition permits for one building on Norfolk and eight buildings on Vista.

One of the worst aspects of this round of demolition was the wholesale removal of vacant frame houses like the row shown here. These six houses stood from 4452-4462 Vista Avenue. Proponents of demolition argued that the houses were too small for people’s demands, and that wide clearance would allow for a large-scale new housing effort.

While the large-scale infill project is welcome fulfillment of the promises that the Development Corporation made in support of demolition, there remains some bittersweet irony that the houses now proposed for construction are small, one-story homes like those rejected as unfit for housing needs. Make no mistake, though — the size of the proposed infill is perfect for the area and the housing needs. That’s why some of us opposed demolishing the frame shotgun houses that also could have served those needs.

The wide demolition in 2006 could lead to two other losses, one of which is the prominent two-story brick corner building at Newstead and Vista that recent was being rehabilitated. Getting remaining buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places to attain historic rehab tax credits might be difficult, although certainly not impossible. The demolitions are tentative, though, and could be avoidable.

One problem for these specific block of Adams Grove are the cul-de-sac street closures on the western end. These closures are partly responsible for the decline of the building stock in this area. Placement of the closures at an unsightly and moribund stretch of Taylor Avenue has compounded the ill effects. The “dead ends” on Swan, Norfolk and Vista avenues attract enough criminal activity to deserve the term.

Here’s the closure on Norfolk:

And this is Vista:

The Vista closure even has large evergreen trees that close off the sight lines of the street. To make these blocks safe and desirable places to live, the closures must be removed and Taylor must be improved. I want very much for the infill project to succeed, because Adams Grove needs major development. That development must address the circulation problem to succeed.

Adaptive Reuse Demolition Forest Park Southeast North St. Louis St. Louis County

Some Thoughts on Our Gasometer(s)

by Michael R. Allen

The impending demolition of the two gasometers in Shrewsbury draws me back to the demolition of the gasometer in Forest Park Southeast. Once one of two gasometers at Laclede Gas Company’s Pumping Station G and built in 1901 (rebuilt in 1942), the Forest Park Southeast gasometer was a landmark for over a century. When Highway 40 was first built, the gasometer’s prominence greatly increased, and it was one of several iconic structures — the St. Louis Science Center’s McDonnell Planetarium, the grain elevator at Sarah and Duncan, Barnes Hospital — that gave a magically urban character to an otherwise dull trip down the highway. Within Forest Park Southeast, the gasometer’s web of steel served as a backdrop to views from backyards, bedrooms and sidewalks. The gasometer was a strange remnant that had outlived its purpose — regulating the supply of the city’s gas system — but not its industrial charm and connection to the past.

In 2006, developers successfully listed Pumping Station G in the National Register of Historic Places (read the nomination by Susan Sheppard and Doug Johnson here). The State Historic Preservation Office insisted that the gasometer be included, and the gasometer was listed as a contributing structure. However, the official landmark status provided no protection. The developers had never intended to try to save the structure.

An eloquent plea for preservation from historian and then-St. Louis University professor Joseph Heathcott, “Getting creative with the region’s exceptional industrial heritage”, appeared in the February 8, 2007 issue of the St Louis Post-Dispatch, but there was no strong effort to preserve the gasometer. There was plenty of discussion, however, among architects, Forest Park Southeast residents and preservationists. The alternative ends for the gasometer were obvious. Several European cities, including London and Vienna, have converted iconic gasometers into equally iconic apartment and office buildings. Others have maintained the structures as urban artifacts. Heathcott’s article alluded to the imaginative possibilities.

Photograph of Viennese gasometer reuse project from Wikipedia.

Alas, imagination did not win out. Neither did National Register protection; the city’s Cultural Resources Office approved demolition of the gasometer without bringing the matter to a public hearing at the Preservation Board. Demolition of the gasometer was completed in the middle of 2007.

Today, the Pumping Station G site is largely vacant. The pumping house (1911) still stands, vacant but slated for rehabilitation. The developers who wrecked the gasometer sold the site to different developers, who have yet to devise plans for the site. In the end, the gasometer could have remained standing as a resource for its neighborhood and a icon for the city. Perhaps a new owner would have been interested in the challenge of finding a new use for the structure. Now, the gasometer is gone, and two of its three sisters soon also will be gone.

That leaves St. Louis only one chance to reclaim a gasometer: the gasometer at the vacant Pumping Station N, located just south of Natural Bridge Road on Chevrolet Avenue in north St. Louis. Can we rise to the challenge of retaining an endangered structural type, or will we let it fall too?

Abandonment Architecture Forest Park Southeast Industrial Buildings North County St. Louis County

Industrial Inspiration?

by Michael R. Allen

There seems to be more than a passing resemblance between the Forest Park Southeast hotel designs that Drury Inn presented at a recent neighborhood meeting and the abandoned Lever Soap Plant in Pagedale. The three-dimensional renderings of two hotel buildings planned for a site at the southeast corner of the Kingshighway and I-64/40 interchange are in a conceptual phase, but their apparent industrial inspiration is somewhat encouraging.

Here is a close-up of one of the hotels:

Here is the Lever Plant, a lovely composition of industrial economy:
Just sayin’.

Architects Architecture Demolition Downtown Forest Park Southeast Historic Preservation LRA Missouri St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Odds and Ends

by Michael R. Allen

MCPHEETERS WAREHOUSES NEARLY GONE: The McPheeters Warehouses on Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, subject of a Vital Voice column of mine published in June, are nearly gone. Demolition started two weeks ago, and now the one-story cold storage warehouse and most of the center building are gone.

SHANK SONS HONOR ISADORE: Peter and Stephen Shank have published Firbeams, a lovely website featuring the residential architecture of father Isadore Shank.

KIEL PROGRESS: In the St. Louis Beacon, Charlene Prost reports on progress in the plan by SCP Worldwide and McEagle Properties to re-open the Kiel Opera House.

VACANT BUILDING INITIATIVE: As featured in a story on KSDK TV this week, Alderman Kacie Starr Triplett (D-6th) has introduced Board Bill 174, which would require owners of vacant buildings to pay an annual registration fee, carry liability insurance and secure all openings, among other requirements. Church and nonprofit property is exempt, but Land Reutilization Authority property is not. More later.

STATEWIDE PRESERVATION CONFERENCE SEPTEMBER 10-13 IN ST. CHARLES: The 2008 Annual Statewide Preservation Conference begins on Wednesday, September 10 in St. Charles. I am co-presenting a workshop with Jan Cameron of the St. Louis Cultural Resources Office entitled “Vernacular Architecture from the Stone Age to the Space Age.” Details here.

DRURY WANTS TO DO WHAT?: At Vanishing STL, Paul Hohmann reports on a bizarre plan by Drury Hotels to demolish the northwest corner of the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood for a new hotel. The plan threatens the Lambskin Temple and many historic homes. Drury will present the plans tonight at the Gibson Heights Neighborhood Association meeting, 7:00 p.m. at 1034 S. Kingshighway.

Demolition Forest Park Southeast Laclede's Landing Switzer Building

Gasometer Gone, Switzer Columns (Mostly) Survive

Two demolition updates from guys named Paul H.:

At Vanishing St. Louis, Paul Hohmann reports that the gasometer at Laclede Gas Light Company Pumping Station G has fallen.

In today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Paul Hampel reports on the confusion surrounding the salvage of the cast iron storefront of the Switzer Building.

Central West End Forest Park Southeast Green Space

The BJC Park Lease and the Public Sphere

by Michael R. Allen

To all those people who bemoan the fact that some citizens are hesitant to grant BJC Healthcare a 99-year lease of a supposed forgotten corner of Forest Park: please examine the public sphere in the age of neoliberalism. Under policies at all levels of government, the ideal of the public good has become politically gauche. To talk openly about holding the stewardship of park land by our city government over the economic benefit of BJC’s expansion seems a political third rail, when even twenty-five years ago widespread opposition would have been a given, and few city officials would dare have favored a 99-year lease of public land to a private hospital group headed by a real estate developer.

In the past few years, we have watched the public school system sell off or discard assets of the public trust; not so long ago, the public hospital system was dismantled; city government has gone from a collective trust among citizens to provide for their needs to a near-sighted machine for favors, cobbled-together compromises and defensive gestures. Things that should belong to the citizens have been sold off or promised to private interest, and there seems to be widespread acceptance among leaders that government is now a tool for endorsement and acceleration of market forces. Once, government was the check against those forces that ensured that no matter what the city’s commercial fortunes the citizens had good parks, clean water, schools and the infrastructure needed for living.

While the opposition to the Forest Park lease may be more symbolic than anything given that BJC already has a lease on the land it is posed to get, the opposition recognizes the precedent the lease sets for future “needs” by big corporations like BJC. The lease makes law the trend of using city government to aid the powerful at the expense of safeguarding the public trust.

In that light, the lonely votes of opposition cast by Alderman Jeffrey Boyd (D-22nd) and Aldermanic President James Shrewsbury on the perfection of the lease deal are not foolish or ignorant acts. After all, BJC could seriously have chosen many other lands for the expansion project; the site is a red herring of epic proportion. They are the bare minimum we should expect of our elected officials in an age in which the very purpose of democratic government is under attack by hyper-capitalists who have managed to influence our government, nonprofit and intellectual spheres. This attack should be resisted everywhere, but it is especially pernicious on an urban city with relatively scarce resources like St. Louis.

Thankfully, we have two representatives in city government who are wary of the attack on the public sphere. We may every well have a third, if Comptroller Darlene Green votes against the lease when the final and binding vote by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment takes place.

Forest Park Southeast People South St. Louis

What Other People Are Writing

In “Late and Unlamented” (Built St. Louis blog, January 29), Rob Powers examines his changing appreciation of the now-demolished Kohler Building at St. Louis State Hospital, a mid-century building that blocked the front elevation of the landmark “Old Main” building.

Meanwhile, Paul Hohmann laments the demolition of the iconic gasometer in Forest Park Southeast (“Laclede Gasometer – Newstead & Chouteau,” Vanishing STL, January 23).