Forest Park Southeast Historic Preservation Preservation Board

Massive Demolition Coming to Forest Park Southeast

by Michael R. Allen

The agenda for the Preservation Board meeting on Monday, April 24 shows an application for demolition permits for 30 buildings in Forest Park Southeast. These buildings are owned by Forest West Properties, which is tied to Washington University. Apparently the demolition is related to an infill housing project.

A quick memory scan and drive-by shows that at least ten of the buildings are of high local architectural merit and are structurally sound. I was surprised at how many of these buildings are masonry and how many are two-story buildings. I’m sure that the infill housing developer and their friends in city government will be talking “density” even though they will be replacing four unit buildings with single-family homes. Some of the wood-frame buildings on the list are of questionable architectural merit and are quite dilapidated, but probably 10-15 of these buildings are clearly worth preserving.

We will be developing a site section with photos and short evaluations; in the meantime, we managed to find photos of three of the buildings in our collection:
4371 Hunt Avenue; 4484 and 4486-90 Vista Avenue.

Historic Preservation Hyde Park North St. Louis

DHP Got Bargain Price for the Turnverein

by Michael R. Allen

Most sources have reported the December 2003 sale price of the Nord St. Louis Turnverein to troubled DHP Investments at $100,000. Before yesterday, I had not learned the real sale price: $44,000.

Of course, the Turnverein likely needs $3-5 million in work to complete a full renovation — so even the lowest price is a hard bargain. But still, if the previous owners were willing to sell for such a low price, any developer had a chance at the building. I suppose in 2003 DHP Investments seemed like a good developer for the property, although I know almost no one involved in historic renovation work that ever had any contact with the company. I know of no projects that DHP completed.

The good news is that the Turnverein now can be had for at least as low as $44,000, if not much lower.

Historic Preservation Mullanphy Emigrant Home North St. Louis Old North

Lone Star

by Michael R. Allen

A wall tie with no wall to anchor on the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. May the weather be mild for the rest of the week.

Historic Preservation Hyde Park Mullanphy Emigrant Home Old North

Demolition Held Off on Mullanphy, Turnverein buildings

by Michael R. Allen

Jim Shrewsbury, President of the Board of Aldermen, and Barb Geisman, Deputy Mayor for Development want to help preserve the Mullanphy Emigrant Home and the Nord St. Louis Turnverein. Geisman should be commended for stepping in to hold off on the emergency demolition that the Building Division seeks.

The cost of demolishing the Mullanphy Emigrant Home and the cost of rebuilding the wall seem to be the same, and slightly less that the $100,000 that owner Paul Hopkins seeks for a sales price. The results of either approach could not be more different: the loss of a historic building that enhances the near north side and also is a valuable economic asset, or demolition for a relatively worthless vacant lot.

Either way, the city fronts the money for work costing less than the money the owner seeks. How does demolition make sense?

If the owner’s insurance will pick up the demolition cost, it could pick up the cost of rebuilding the wall and enhancing the value of a historic building. However, without a development plan the building may face similar hurdles in the future. What it needs most of all is a change in ownership. Hopkins will have to take a loss to keep the building standing.

As for the Turnverein, there is less certainty on its future but no immediate danger of further collapse, since all that fell were walls already destabilized by a roof collapse. Some bracing on the remaining ports on those walls and removal of the building material inside would buy some time — but, again, we must not stop working to find a real future.

Time is of the essence for a historic assets that are worth something to more people than just the owners. I am glad that some city officials understand what needs to be done.

Historic Preservation Hyde Park Mullanphy Emigrant Home North St. Louis Old North

Update on Turnverein and Mullanphy Buildings

by Michael R. Allen

The Building Division has issued emergency orders of condemnation for the Nord St. Louis Turnverein and the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. These orders would bring about demolition. The Building Division is waiting a few days before proceeding to see if staff at the city’s Cultural Resources Office or other interested parties can put together plans to stabilize both buildings. These plans inevitably involve changes in ownership, and normally cannot be effected too fast.  If you can help, call the Cultural Resources Office at 314-622-3400.

The owner of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home, Paul Hopkins, does not want the building to be demolished. He is interested in any reasonable offer for his building. To arrange to make an offer, please call Sean Thomas at the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group at 314-241-5031.

Abandonment Historic Preservation Hyde Park North St. Louis

New Photographs of the Nord St. Louis Turnverein

Photographs from February 5, 2006 (Michael R. Allen)

Exterior Photographs from March 11 and 14, 2006 (Michael R. Allen)

Interior Photographs from March 14, 2006 (Michael R. Allen)

Historic Preservation Media Southwest Garden St. Aloysius Gonzaga

National Trust Covers Plight of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church

Houses Could Replace St. Louis Church – Megan Hogan (Preservation Online, February 1)

The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s online magazine offers this coverage of the proposed demolition of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church, featuring quotes from my report for Landmarks Association of St. Louis and from Steve Patterson. I’m glad that they actually care about this historic St. Louis building.

Columbus Square Historic Preservation LRA

Neighborhood Gardens Coming Back to Life

by Michael R. Allen

Today, I stopped by Neighborhood Gardens Apartments and chatted with developer Dan Dalton. His crew is working steady, and the results are apparent. The site is a beehive of activity during the day, and the buildings are starting to look much different. Windowpanes have even been installed in one building facing 7th Street. Dalton told me that 99% of the original steel cast window sashes were restored for the project — that is impressive. Window sashes typically don’t survive rehab projects, often because they are wooden and have not been maintained well enough to warrant saving.

When Dalton and company are done with their work, Neighborhood Gardens Apartments will be a shining example of what good can come of persistence and sensitivity to historic materials. Dan and his brother Jim have taken a large, neglected LRA-owned landmark and restored it without the fanfare and financial assistance that other developers have received. Good work, guys!

Downtown Historic Preservation

Roberts Brothers Buy Buildings on Locust Street

by Michael R. Allen

Roberts brothers take bigger stake in Old Post Office district – Lisa R. Brown (St. Louis Business Journal, January 13)

The Roberts Brothers have acquired the buildings at 919-21 and 923 Locust Street, just west of the St. Louis Design Center where the offices of Landmarks Association of St. Louis are located. The Roberts Brothers now own the entire north side of the 900 block of Locust, with the Board of Education Building at the other end of the block.

The building at 919-21 Locust is a rather plain, four-story brick commercial building, likely built between 1900 and 1920. The other building, though, is of great historical importance: It may very well be the last remaining Civil-War-era commercial building in the Central Business District (excluding Laclede’s Landing). The building consists of two sections, a three-story portion at the corner of Tenth and Locust and a two-story section facing Tenth. Aside from later cast iron columns on the first floor, the building’s older features are completely covered by stucco and timber in a kitschy mock-Tudor style. Underneath the stucco, the buildings are probably very simple Federal style buildings with red brick walls adorned with stone windowsills and lintels. Perhaps a dentillated cornice in brick exists. Few buildings like this one are left in the entire city, and no other in the downtown core.

The brothers are contemplating demolition of the newly-acquired buildings, although they have no certain plans. One idea is to build a new condo tower on the site, which would confirm the old rumor that the Century Building Memorial Parking Garage exists not just for the Old Post Office but for a secret new tower project. Who knows? Discussion is underway on the Urban St. Louis forum.

Demolition is ill-advised on one of the few downtown block faces that has not had any demolitions in the 20th or 21st centuries. The 900 block of Locust only recently had intact faces on both fronts, complementing the also-intact 1000 block of Locust and the 800 and 900 blocks of Olive. What a dynamic urban context this was, and still could be. The wise choice would be to renovate the two buildings on Locust, with a full restoration of the old building at 923 Locust. The recovery of the original appearance would add even greater visual complexity to this part of downtown.

Building any new buildings on the north side of the 800 block of Olive seems logical; there is an entire city block front that could host a stunning, modern design that would provide space for a new, taller residential building that would fill in one of downtown’s most glaring visual gaps. The proposed downtown plaza and its associated public urination would never come to fruition, but no matter — there is too much open space downtown as it is, with the old Ambassador Building site already providing a lifeless park one block east. Why not rebuild that space instead, build up the 800 block of Locust and restore the 900 block of Locust? Locust Street needs a boost, and the resources are at the ready.

Historic Preservation South St. Louis Southwest Garden St. Aloysius Gonzaga The Hill

Neighborhood Sentiment on St. Aloyisus Gonzaga Church

by Michael R. Allen

I attended Monday’s meeting of the Southwest Neighborhood Garden Association and listened to many residents speak about the “Magnolia Square” project that calls for demolishing the church. The section of the meeting devoted to the project was conducted as a sort of “town hall” with neighborhood association president Floyd Wright acting as moderator between residents and the assembled crew of developer James Wohlert, Alderman Joseph Vollmer (D-10th) and Father Vincent Bommarito of the neighboring St. Ambrose parish. Eleven speakers spoke against demolition of part or all of the existing church building, one spoke in favor of Magnolia Square and six people asked pointed questions of the developer. Although there was reference to supposed outside-the-‘hood opposition to demolition, it became clear on Monday that residents who are informed largely don’t support demolition. What they would support as reuse is a matter of debate, though. Steve Patterson spoke against demolition and presented an alternate plan that would place several condo units inside the church. Half of the people who opposed demolition reacted negatively to his idea.

Yet condominium conversion is only one possible reuse for the church. While even more unconventional ideas, like office space for a small company or a restaurant, would certainly find no support from the neighborhood, other plans might. I think that neighbors of the church love its beautiful and serene site — and don’t want any use that would generate more vehicle traffic than the church did. Perhaps the church could become a community center or art gallery. I hope that neighbors who oppose demolition and condominiums can suggest a reuse that would be economically feasible.

If the owner of the property had an open mind, such a brainstorming could produce a wonderful compromise that would preserve the church, convent and rectory — I’m not counting on the never-finished original church to be a popular rallying point — while allowing for new home construction on the rest of the site.

However, it’s also clear that Wohlert has no intention of backing down with his plan. He is supported by Alderman Vollmer, who did most of the talking on Wohlert’s behalf on Monday. (Smart move, I suppose.) While the alderman was diplomatic, he also seemed to ignore resident commentary by repeatedly making statements suggesting that demolition was inevitable, even after it was clear that almost no one was buying them.

Vollmer’s answer to the question of whether he would take Ward 10 out of preservation review if the Preservation Board would not reverse its preliminary denial of a demolition permit was only mildly encouraging. He said that he did not want to remove the ward from review, but removal existed as a “last resort.” He also stated later that there was almost no exceptional architecture in Southwest Garden — a neighborhood containing State Hospital, St. Aloysius Gonzaga and many interesting vernacular buildings — and that people moved there for the neighborhood, not for architecture. While I’m sure that his thoughts are more elaborate than they sounded, he came across as crudely disrespectful toward his own ward’s historic buildings.

Wohlert came under fire even from people who don’t think preservation is realistic. Many people asked him about his hideous new house on January Avenue, which is on of the least urban buildings in the city. They wondered whether he could build good-looking buildings, and furthermore if he could sell them (his speculative house only now found a buyer after months on the market). He assured people that he is incorporating every one of the Cultural Resources Office’s recommendations for reworking his project, but did not convince many people of his ability to building thirty-six new homes in an urban context.

The next step will be a meeting of the aldermanic Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee on Monday, January 16 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 208 of City Hall. The Committee will hear Vollmer’s bill that declares the St. Aloysius Gonzaga block “blighted.” It’s full steam ahead for the project’s backers, even if the residents of Southwest Garden have objections.

Meanwhile, has lauched.