Historic Preservation

Historic Preservation Input Needed Now for LEED Changes

From Mike Jackson, FAIA, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

The process for changing the U.S. Green Building Council LEED Rating Systems is now open for public comments. The comment period ends on Jan 14, 2011 so act fast. The majority of comments will come from the design, manufacturing and building communities so it is extremely important for the preservation community make its voice heard. In many ways, the preservation community is the only voice for building re-use as a green approach. The comments below will help you address the credit topics that seem most critical to the discussion of historic resources and the benefits of building re-use. If you only have a limited amount of time, please comment on the credits about building re-use and materials. Both of these areas will strengthen the viability of historic rehabilitation as a green action. Ideally, you should take the time to look at the whole LEED rating system drafts and comment on other areas within your areas of expertise. Also keep in mind that there are separate comment areas for different LEED rating systems that broadly cover buildings, homes and neighborhoods. You can end up making the same comment several different times so that they are applied to individual ratings systems as well as the pilot credits.

Benton Park Historic Preservation South St. Louis

Ongoing Work at the Chatillon-DeMenil House

by Michael R. Allen

The Chatillon-DeMenil House, south St. Louis’ oldest house museum located at Cherokee Street and DeMenil Place, recently completed total replacement of its 44-year-old roof.  Even fully-restored buildings need maintenance, and the Chatillon-DeMenil House the existing standing-seam metal roof roof dated to a 1966 restoration and was failing.  Repairs were also needed for the porch columns on the rear of the house facing DeMenil House.  But work had to start at the top, where water enters.

After successful fundraising, the Chatillon-DeMenil House Foundation had the roof replaced this fall. The replacement is a very bright red roof of standing-seam metal. (In a standing-seam metal roof, vertical pieces of metal are joined with raised seams.)  The new roof is faithful to the type of roof put on the house in the late 19th century, after its original wooden shingles were removed.

The Chatillon-DeMenil House is actually the expanded farmhouse of hunter and guide Henri Chatillon, built in 1848.  Dr. Nicholas DeMenil had the symmetrical Greek Revival style front section with its massive columned portico built between 1861 and 1863 (see illustration above).   Architect Henry Pitcher designed the expansion. Currently the house is interpreted as the DeMenil residence with furnishings appropriate to the late 19th century, but its hybrid history is evident and connects the house to many historical events of 19th century St. Louis and the American West.

With the roof again water-tight, the Chatillon-DeMenil House is ready for additional repairs and restoration this year.  The house is closed for January, but tours will resume next month.  Meantime, the Chatillon-DeMenil Foundation continues to raise money for repairs and accept memberships (the basic membership is only $40).  For more information, visit the Foundation’s website at

Collapse Historic Preservation South St. Louis Tower Grove East

Holding Down the Corner

by Michael R. Allen

Perhaps the most precious architectural resources in our neighborhoods are corner buildings. When the ends of a block are vacant, a street’s urban character takes a huge hit. Empty corners signify distress and disuse. Corner buildings in full use show the world the lifeblood of an urban area, and in vacancy at least carry the promise of renewal to come. If the corner building is commercial the potential is particularly rich: there could be a place of commerce, a generator of city revenues and a point of presence that dampens crime.

To cut to the chase, I have been concerned about the corner commercial building at the northeast corner of Michigan and Arsenal streets for some time now. The building, which dates to 1905, has lost some of its character through relaying of the upper part.  Consequently it is a bit plain, but still sturdy, well-built and suited for a corner store. When I first moved to Tower Grove East last year, the building was already vacant. City records show that the building has been listed as vacant since 2008. Not good.

Then, this summer, the outer wythe of brick on the first floor collapsed.  On July 26, the Building Division condemned the building for demolition.  The only action taken then by owner, Yee Real Estate LLC of Chesterfield, was to prop up the remaining part of the wythe with lumber.  Again, not good.  Tower Grove East is a great neighborhood because it has lost so few buildings, and has few empty corners.  That should not change.

Some relief came this week when Yee Real Estate LLC applied for a building permit on December 29 for stabilization work to rebuild the collapsed masonry.  Hopefully the job is done well and soon, and the building is put back to use.

Attention developers: Just across the street at to the east, the residential building at 3114-16 Arsenal Street remains vacant and for sale. Built in two sections, the building has a dentillated brick cornice and, on the east, flat stone lintels.  These are signs that this building precedes much of the surrounding city fabric.  Indeed the eastern half of the building appears to be a building seen in Compton and Dry’s 1875 Pictorial St. Louis.

Nearby Grant School at 3009 Pennsylvania Avenue would not be completed until 1893.

Historic Preservation People

Welcome, New Cultural Resources Office Director Betsy Bradley

by Michael R. Allen

At the start of the new year, we will have a strong new ally for historic preservation in St. Louis: incoming Cultural Resources Office Director Betsy Bradley. Betsy comes to St. Louis from the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, but her urban credentials include seven years as a staffer to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Most importantly, Betsy gives the city a professional with extensive experience in cultural resources management, education and even publication. I have no doubt that Betsy will be a shot in the arm for city preservation efforts.

While not a native, Betsy already has some roots here: her husband is Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Superintendent Tom Bradley.  I have had the chance to get to know Betsy in the last year and know her to be calm, thoughtful and inquisitive.  Of course I was ecstatic when I learned that the Planning and Urban Design Agency chose Betsy for the Cultural Resources Office directorship.  (That job most recently was held by the unflappable Kate Shea from 1989 through this July.)

A key strength that Betsy brings is having been a member of citizen preservation review boards like our Preservation Board. Betsy has served on the commissions in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and Taylors Falls, Minnesota. She understands the deliberative aspect to CRO’s decision making, often the source of conflict. Furthermore, Betsy has connected her cultural resources work to academic communities through teaching. Currently, she is an adjunct professor at Baltimore’s Goucher College, which offers a renowned distance-learning master’s degree in historic preservation. Formerly, Betsy taught at the University of St. Thomas, Ursuline College and Youngstown State University. Betsy will be able to connect work in St. Louis to a larger community of cultural resources professionals and aspiring professionals.

In addition to her impressive resume of service, Betsy is the author of The Works: The Industrial Architecture of the United States (Oxford University Press, 1999). Preservation of industrial resources is a big and unresolved challenge in St. Louis and its Rust Belt brethren, so we should be pleased that our city’s top cultural resources officer has done extensive study of the issue.

Betsy Bradley starts in January. Fellow preservationists, a lot of good lies ahead.

Historic Preservation

“St. Louis Labor History Tour” Online

by Michael R. Allen

Searching for a copy of the difficult-to-find St. Louis Labor History Tour this week, we should have known where we would find it: on the Internet, and on the editor’s own website! Rosemary Feurer’s excellent website Labor History Links has the booklet online in PDF format. St. Louis Labor History Tour was edited by Feurer with contributions by Dave Roediger, Marilyn Slaughter, Lon Smith and Diana Young. The 27-page booklet was published in 1994 and 1996 by one St. Louis Bread and Roses, Inc.

St. Louis Labor History Tour tells, among others, the stories of the “Washington Avenue Massacre,” a 1900 incident in which three striking streetcar workers were killed by an upper-class posse; the telephone operators’ efforts to unionize Southwestern Bell between 1913 and 1919; and, one of the biggest forgotten tales, the unemployed marches on City Hall in the 1930s.

Adaptive Reuse Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern Midtown New York City

New York Project Suggests Direction for Hotel on Forest Park

by Michael R. Allen

Today The Architect’s Newspaper carried a story that poses a suggestion to St. Louis, by way of New York. In “Tower Twists and Preservationists Shout”, Alan G. Brake tells the tale of a proposed design by architect Morris Adjmi in the Gansevoort Market Historic District on Manhattan.

Taconic Investments hired Adjmi to design a seven-story condominium-and-retail structure placed on top of an art moderne market building. The building, dating to 1938 and enjoying no singular official distinction, is at 13th and Washington inside of a local historic district. Hence, Adjmi’s plan for a slightly twisted tower with sloped grid walls had to be approved by the Landmark Preservation Commission last month. The Commission debated the proposal but failed to find a majority for or against the plan.

What was reassuring was that the Commission spent time debating how appropriate the tower was to the area, which is a former meat market district with mostly low-rise buildings (except for the tower straddling the High Line across the street, outside of the historic district boundary). This is why I thought about St. Louis as I read the article.

Twice in the last two years, our Preservation Board considered the demolition of a simple two-story art moderne building, the old Raiffie Vending Building at 3663 Forest Park Boulevard in Midtown. The two-story building dates to 1948 and has a handsome, plain buff brick face. The building is a fine contributing player in the industrial district of Forest Park Boulevard west of Grand, but it has little individual historic or architectural distinction.

The Sask Corporation has owned the building for several years and bought it to build a chain motel on the site. In August 2009, the Sasak Corporation proposed the design shown above to the Preservation Board ( see “More Urban Is Not Always Better”, August 11, 2009). The Board denied demolition on a preliminary basis. While the Raiffie building is not in any historic districts, it is in a Preservation Review area, the 17th Ward.

In September 2010, Sasak Corporation came back to the Preservation Board with an even less inspired plan, shown above. The Best Western had “better” materials than the 2009 plan, although its red brick panels, stucco corner and strange stone base were a regression from the previous rendering.  The Preservation Board approved demolition contingent on Sasak securing a building permit for the Best Western.  That has not happened, although Sasak applied for a demolition permit on November 15th.

Morris Adjmi may have to tone down his Manhattan design, but he would be welcome to try it at 3663 Forest Park in St. Louis. Here we have a building without singular significance outside of a local historic district that has already been approved for demolition. What a great candidate it would be for a thoughtful, provocative building rising from its center or rear. Midtown has a small skyline of tall buildings in which a new high-rise would not be inappropriate. In the case of the Best Western, the most elegant and expensive-looking front — cost of the hotel has been a concern among Midtown players — is the building that is already there. The hotel developers could very well use it, and do something imaginative above.

A parting thought on the subject: The Moonrise Hotel on Delmar already attempted to use an existing facade to hide a rather programmatic hotel high-rise from a smaller-scaled business district. This was not a very successful endeavor. The hotel and the old Ronald L. Jones Funeral Home building have little real relationship, and besides, the funeral home itself was actually demolished and imprecisely reconstructed. The reconstruction shows, and something modern would have been better.

On Forest Park, a modern high-rise addition to the old Raiffie Vending building could avoid the mistakes of the Moonrise by leaving whatever part of the building to be retained in place, to keep its historic character as best as possible. If New York turns down Morris Adjmi, maybe St. Louis would welcome his work here — or elsewhere.

Historic Preservation Public Policy

Next Year’s Federal Preservation Funding Uncertain

From Preservation Action

With still no FY 2011 spending bills passed, and the federal government operating on a continuing resolution that was set to expire today, late last night Congress passed yet another resolution extending FY 2010 funding levels until December 18th.

A permanent path for FY 2011 funding levels is still unclear. Between now and the 18th, Congress will continue to argue over several possible scenarios:

  • A year-long Continuing Resolution that would fund the entirety of FY 2011 at FY 2010 levels. (Could be good for preservationists because it would rescue the Save America’s Treasures (SAT) and Preserve America (PA) programs as well as restore funding to National Heritage Areas – all of which were gutted in the Administration’s proposed budget. This would, however, face opposition from legislators who seek spending cuts. There is also a chance that the CR might include some specific cuts.)
  • An Omnibus spending bill that would include all 12 individual appropriations bills. (A wild-card for preservationists because individual spending bills have yet to be passed and, in many cases have yet to even have Committee action. This means we don’t know how well our programs will fair. Over the summer, the House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations stated that they “restored” funding for SAT, PA and Heritage Areas, but specific numbers have not been shared.
  • A Continuing Resolution funding the government through February or March at FY 2010 levels. (Another wild-card not only for preservationists but for any program uncertain of how it will be treated in the 112th Congress, which is expected to be focused upon spending cuts.) Some legislators have threatened that if this comes to pass, they would fight for a final FY 2011 spending bill that would include cuts back to 2008 budget levels. This would mean an approximate 15% cut to SHPO funding and a 20% decrease in THPO funding, but would provide level funding for SAT and an approximate 63% increase for PA.
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    Events Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern

    Toby Weiss on Mid-Century Modern Preservation

    Yesterday at Architecture St. Louis, my colleague Toby Weiss gave a wonderful talk on mid-century modern preservation in St. Louis. Reminding us of the who, what, when, where and why of the recent past, Toby inspired the crowd. Here are two clips, with apologies for the hand of this amateur videographer. – M.R.A.

    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.

    Events Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern

    Modern STL Blasts Off Next Thursday

    Lindell Terrace (left; Hellmuth, Obata, Kassabaum) and the DeVille Motor Hotel (right; Colbert, Lowery, Hess & Boudreaux) rise on Lindell Boulevard in 1962. The newly-completed Optimists Club Building (Russell, Mullgardt, Schwarz & Van Hoefen) is at left.

    Almost forty years ago, when the city was on a modern architecture building spree, the staunchest advocates for modern architecture in St. Louis were developers, civic leaders and architects.

    Today, the advocates are going to have to be us. Care to join?

    Modern STL makes its public debut on November 18th from 5-8 PM at Atomic Cowboy.  We will be accepting our founding members ($20 individual / $30 family annual dues) at this event.  You can be among the first to stand up for our mid-century modern architecture by joining next week.

    If joining the cause of modern architecture preservation and attending a fun party aren’t enough enticement, try this: The first 25 people to become a Modern STL member (and here’s why you should join) get a gift bag stuffed with MCM souvenirs personally hand-picked by thrift-shopping board members. There will also be raffle tickets that give you the chance to win two ultra-modern watches.

    See you there!