Demolition Gate District Industrial Buildings

SLU Devours Another Building

by Michael R. Allen

This week St. Louis University started wrecking a historic industrial building near the intersection of Chouteau and Grand avenues — not the Pevely Dairy Company Building, but the old Goodwin Manufacturing Company warehouse most recently owned by CATCO. The two-story mill method brick building dates to 1887, and features handsome corbelling and a recessed, raised entrance (its most curious feature). While the building is not greatly uncommon, it has the human scale now largely gone from its surroundings.

The former Goodwin Manufacturing Company factory building at 3318-22 Chouteau Avenue, now under demolition.
Gate District Planning South St. Louis

Out of Place Or Right At Home? Either Way, Allowable Under St. Louis’ Zoning Ordinance

by Michael R. Allen

The new house at 2838-46 Lafayette Avenue. Out of place or right at home in the Gate District?

With change coming to the Sixth Ward aldermanic seat, perhaps it is timely to consider the new house at 2838-46 Lafayette Avenue in the Gate District. While the Gate District’s reconstruction has led to many new houses built with non-urban forms for a net decrease in the historic density of the neighborhood, none of the houses built since the Duane-Plater-Zyberk-authored master plan was adopted in 1991 have been quite as, uh, non-urban as this recently-completed one-story house. The house’s floor heights are far too short for it to complement surrounding building stock (which admittedly is somewhat depleted), its width occupies three lots and thus starts an imbalance in the rhythm of its street face and its setback from the street is excessively deep for Lafayette Avenue. The problem isn’t style or age, because there are two new houses across the street that work well enough for the urban setting.

Demolition Gate District Schools South St. Louis

Hodgen School is Gone

by Michael R. Allen

View northeast across the Hodgen School site.

If the reader has had the sense that something is missing from St. Louis, that feeling has at least one concrete cause. The city stands bereft of one more monument to its former aspirations, the red brick Hodgen School that stood at California and Henrietta avenues until just two weeks ago. Yesterday, workers from Ahrens Contracting had already filled and graded the depression in which Hodgen’s foundation walls had begun rising in 1884. Now, a fragment of school yard fence, a tangled pile of pipes and wires and a stone retaining wall are the only traces on the site indicating that once something great stood here.

Gate District South St. Louis

Buildings on Chouteau Avenue Will Fall

by Michael R. Allen

Looking southwest along Chouteau Avenue just west of Jefferson Avenue.

Yesterday, the Preservation Board unanimously approved demolition of four buildings on the south side of Chouteau Avenue just west of Jefferson Avenue. Last April, the Board had unanimously denied demolition to owner Crown Mart 40 (See “Preservation Board Spares Chouteau Avenue Buildings; Now What?”, April 30, 2010.) The meager silver lining here is that the Cultural Resources Office, whose staff recommended denial of the permits, gets to approve a landscaping and fencing plan for the site before a demolition plan goes through.

Landmarks Association placed the buildings on its 2010 Most Endangered Places list with the strong statement that “the idea that rows of historic buildings can be plowed under as collateral damage in a short-term cat and mouse game between business competitors, is treated with the contempt that it deserves.” However not one person testified against demolition yesterday, nor did any person send a letter. two Gate District residents and a neighboring business owner either testified or sent letters supporting demolition, and Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett (D-6th) made a personal appearance supporting demolition.

The larger issue for time-ravaged Chouteau Avenue is that there is precious little historic context left, and many vacant lots. While these buildings are lost, the character of the street will remain inconsistent and graceless. Perhaps Chouteau between Broadway and Grand Avenue needs a zoning overlay to guide future development. A major artery running alongside densely-populated neighborhoods south of downtown ought to look a lot better that Chouteau does.

Gate District National Register Schools SLPS

Hodgen School “Clearly Eligible” for National Register

by Lindsey Derrington

This article is adapted from a National Register of Historic Places Eligibility Assessment that the Preservation Research Office submitted to the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office. The response from the State Historic Preservation Office is emphatic: “What a waste it would be if this lovely schoolhouse were to be demolished. Hodgen Elementary School is clearly eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C for Architecture, and may be eligible under Criterion A for Education as well,” states the response dated March 23, 2011.

Historic View of Hodgen School. Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1884.

History of Hodgen School

Hodgen Elementary School is located on the southeast corner of Henrietta and California Streets in the Eads Park neighborhood of St. Louis’ Gate District, bounded by Jefferson and South Grand avenues to the east and west and Chouteau Avenue and Interstate 44 to the north and south. Characterized by middle class row houses and multiple-family flats, this area developed in the early 1880s and 1890s as part of the Compton Hill District, today known as the Compton Heights and Fox Park neighborhoods.

View of Hodgen School today, looking southeast from the intersection of California and Henrietta avenues.

Plans for Hodgen Elementary were drawn during the summer of 1883 at the behest of local residents to accommodate the rapidly-growing area’s needs. Otto Wilhelmi, elected Architect and Superintendent of Repairs by the city’s school board earlier that year, was responsible for its design. Hodgen was his first, if not only, design for a new school building for the district, and was named for nationally-renowned surgeon and educator Dr. John Thompson Hodgen who had died in 1882.

Hodgen Elementary was completed for $32,330 in mid-1884. It stood three stories tall with a full basement and contained fourteen rooms, each with access to four large windows to provide students with the maximum amount of light. The school was well-received by the school board and the community. Soon the neighborhood’s burgeoning population necessitated a six room addition that added three bays to both the school’s east and west facades. H. William Kirchner, who had served as school board architect during the term prior to Wilhelmi’s and was elected again in 1886, designed the addition. His brother August H. Kirchner served as school board architect from 1893 to 1897 and in 1894 designed another three-story addition to Hodgen to bring it to its present appearance. This addition added a four bay wing to the building’s east façade and a three bay wing to its west façade at a cost of $15,000. William B. Ittner almost certainly oversaw $103,948 worth of alterations to the school in 1909, though the nature of this work is unknown.

Collapse Gate District South St. Louis

Lafayette Avenue Row House Collapsed

by Michael R. Allen

2804 Lafayette Avenue in November 2010.
2804 Lafayette Avenue today.

As I feared, the row house at 2804 Lafayette Avenue was destabilized by last year’s demolition of its party-wall neighbor and has substantially collapsed. (See “Two for One on Lafayette Avenue”, November 16, 2010.) The forthcoming demolition will leave just one of three connected dwellings standing — hopefully in sound condition.

Gate District Schools SLPS South St. Louis

More on Hodgen School

by Michael R. Allen

On Thursday, the St. Louis Public Schools announced plans to demolish historic Hodgen School, one of the district’s few remaining buildings that pre-date the tenure of celebrated school architect William B. Ittner.  Hodgen’s central section was designed by Otto J. Wilhelmi and built in 1884.  Wilhelmi served as School Board Architect from January 1883 through January 1886, at a time when architects were elected by the school board in often-contentious elections.  The school was expanded in 1894 and 1909.  Later, a temporary building was built to the north, but it was replaced by the “new” Hodgen School that opened in 2000.  After Hodgen was renovated in the 1990s, the district closed the old building in 2003.

Now the district wants to tear it down for a new playground and parking lot.  The plan seems less like a necessary (or even wise) proposal than as an easy way to get rid of an unwanted building.  Examine the site for yourself on Google Maps and look at the folly of demolition here.

View Larger Map

Hodgen is located in a strange pocket of the Gate District where many streets are closed or simply do not go through. Hodgen faces Henrietta Avenue, but Henrietta is closed in front to provide space for a playground. A large, multi-story senior citizen apartment building is located on to the east on dead-end Henrietta. Across the street is a senior center. The apartment building generates little parking demand, and the senior center has a surface lot. There are potentially plenty of on-street spots on Henrietta that the school could utilize.

To the south of Henrietta west of Ohio on Lafayette Avenue is the shop and yard of Architectural Artifacts, Inc., owned by salvager Bruce Gerrie. To the east of Ohio on Lafayette is another shop and storage yard owned by Bob Cassilly. Further east is the moribund Foodland site, a gas station and a Holiday Inn Express with its own parking lot.

Most striking among the bizarre condition of the current site is the presence of Eads Park, a city park with perversely little street frontage. Just west of the new Hodgen School is a large arsenal of tennis courts that are underutilized — likely because they are invisible to the public. Utilizing Eads Park for the playground needs of Hodgen School makes much more sense than demolishing old Hodgen.

I should point out that Joe Frank wrote about this area with prescient concern back in July 2005 in a blog post entitled “The Destruction of the Urban Environment” (reprinted on the old Ecology of Absence website). When Frank found Henrietta Avenue closed in front of old Hodgen School, he observed that “[t]his makes the old building, which I believe was for sale, significantly less marketable, since its original front entrance no longer has street access.”

The front lawn of the new Hodgen School, shown above, is mostly a surface parking lot. That fact is a reminder that most students don’t walk to classes here, but it takes care of some of the needs. There is a second lot on the east side, plus parking on Henrietta. Parking on California is not allowed on the east side.

The view of stately old Hodgen school front the east shows that school employees park at the dead end of Henrietta.

Of course, as Joe Frank stated over five years ago, the street closure is not a helpful factor for selling Hodgen. However, neither is the school district’s bureaucratic mindset that cannot separate by-the-numbers calculations of parking and playground needs from creative design strategies. Besides, the district ought to consider the economics of the situation: the old Hodgen School was listed for sale at $1 million, and building a playground in Eads Park while better using existing parking are options that would cost nothing for land acquisition. Factor the cost of demolition, and the St. Louis Public Schools could be choosing the most costly plan.

Gate District Schools SLPS South St. Louis

SLPS Plans to Demolish Historic Hodgen School

by Michael R. Allen

Hodgen School in 2009.

In August, voters approved Proposition S to raise $150 million for capital improvements in the St. Louis Public Schools system. Not once did the district tell voters that they were voting to demolish historic schools — but some of the money will demolish at least one, historic Hodgen School on California Avenue in the Gate District. Completed in 1884, Hodgen School is one of the oldest surviving schools in the district. Hodgen was designed by German-American architect Otto J. Wilhelmi. The school building was closed a few years ago when a replacement building was built to the north.

According to an article in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hodgen will be demolished to create a parking lot and playground for the current Hodgen School building at 1616 California. The school already has a playground in space between the old and new buildings.

In September, I wrote about a row house demolition just one block southwest of Hodgen School (see “Row House on Lafayette Avenue Slated for Demolition”, September 10, 2010). Little did I suspect that an even bigger loss of context was in the works. That’s because I assumed that Proposition S was going to pay for what its proponents told me it was paying for: improvements that made the quality of education better, not easier parking for teachers and parents.

SLPS had Hodgen listed for sale through Hilliker Corporation, and a sales brochure is still available on the Hilliker site. The brochure touts “extensive renovation in the 1990s” — renovations paid for by our tax dollars in a previous SLPS capital improvements campaign. That sort of wasteful duplication of expenditures is exactly what the current district management has tried strenuously to avoid, so the plan to demolish Hodgen is baffling.

ADDITION: I should point out that the city’s preservation ordinance specifically exempts property of the St. Louis Public Schools, so neither the Cultural Resources Office nor the Preservation Board will have jurisdiction over the the demolition permit. Authority rests with SLPS and its Special Administrative Board. I’ve posted contact information in the comments section.

Demolition Gate District Historic Preservation South St. Louis

Two for One on Lafayette Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

In September, I wrote about the storm-damaged collapsing eastern house in a row of three historic houses on the 2800 block of Lafayette Avenue (see “Rowhouse on Lafayette Avenue Slated for Demolition”, September 10). The Building Division quickly condemned for demolition the 19th century house as an emergency public safety hazard, and demolition commenced last month.

The result shows the pitfalls of our current policy for abandoned buildings.

There is no mistake that the wreckers hired by the Building Division did their job, but that job itself is not all that needed to be done. What is left behind by the crew an adjacent row house now weakened to a point where it too may start suffering structural problems.  The first problem is that the side wall, of soft brick never meant to be exposed to weather, is now uncovered.

On the front elevation, as I predicted, the wreckers could not easily deal with the fact that the front wall of the row was laid as a continuous bond with no easy seams. The wrecking job led to loss of face brick and of part of the wooden cornice of the neighboring house. The loss of the cornice is inexcusable since a simple straight saw cut could have been used.

Again, I am not insinuating that the wreckers did anything wrong. Trouble is, they did what the city hired them to do. The city did not hire them to make sure the neighboring building was stabilized, or to do anything beyond removing 2804 Lafayette Avenue.

That task seems particularly short-sighted when one views the newly-exposed east elevation to find a gaping hole in the foundation wall.  I have no clue how this hole was created, but I do know that it leaves wooden joists unsupported.  Without support, those joists will eventually fall, and pull the walls downward with them.  This hole should be patched in with masonry of either stone or concrete masonry units, but if anyone complains the most likely result will be that a city crew will cover it with plywood.

Clearly, the Building Division’s demolition policy leaves unresolved issues when one building in a row — and despite perceptions there are many row houses in the city — gets wrecked but the row stands. The neighboring house now has been destabilized and joist collapse, front wall spalling and other maladies will set in. Hopefully if it gets demolished, the occupied house next door will be protected from careless damage.

Photograph by Jane Porter of Landmarks Association of St. Louis from the National Register nomination of the Barr Branch Library Historic District, 1981.

Before the demolition, the potential of this fine row of houses on Lafayette reminded me of another row, also on the south side of Lafayette between Jefferson and Compton avenues. The photograph of Barr’s Block above shows its deteriorated condition in 1981. The seven-house row built in 1875 by merchant William Barr (of Famous-Barr fame) was in dire condition when it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Barr Branch Library Historic District in 1982. That designation made the row eligible for the federal historic rehabilitation tax credit and led to the row’s rehabilitation.  (One building was later demolished.)

Today Barr’s Block has been rehabilitated again, reverting to town houses from its previous incarnation as rental housing. While Lafayette Avenue in the Gate District may have lost building density and be marred by much vacant land, there remain many historic buildings and the potential for urban infill. The location is amazing. Why the row to the west — not part of any historic district — has been left to die is incomprehensible.

Gate District Preservation Board

Chouteau Buildings May Be Demolished

by Michael R. Allen

The Preservation Board of the City of St. Louis was set to again consider demolition of the row of commercial buildings at 2612-30 Chouteau Avenue (southwest of the intersection with Jefferson Avenue) at its meeting on Monday. The item was pulled from the agenda and will not be considered this month, but will likely return next month — perhaps with more support than before.

The buildings are owned by Crown Mart, Inc., which purchased them to prevent a competitor from opening a gas station on the site. Crown Mart plans to demolish them and replace them with a vacant lot.

The chief sin of these buildings may be the layers of unattractive, unmaintained paint that owners have applied over the years.  Underneath the paint is brick and, in the case of the building shown immediately above, cast iron and red sandstone.  Few ho have seen the city’s renaissance in recent years could doubt the reuse potential peeking out from under the battleship gray and bright red.

The buildings have found supporters, too — and a spot on the region’s preservation watch list.  After the Preservation Board unanimously denied demolition on preliminary review in April, the Landmarks Association of St. Louis placed the buildings on its Most Endangered Places list.