Housing JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Refaced House on James Cool Papa Bell

by Michael R. Allen

This small refaced house at 2911 James Cool Papa Bell in JeffVanderLou attracts my attention. (The fact that it is owned by one of Paul McKee’s holding companies doesn’t hurt.) Although the new jack-arched window opening is a bit small, the polychrome brickwork is done well. There is even a recurring pattern in the bond found at the roof line and on each side of the window. There are many examples of historic houses being refaced with inappropriate materials, covered with paint that damages the face brick and partly relayed with new brick that doesn’t match. Then there are houses like this one, built in 1890 and refaced after World War II, where the changes add a new and interesting dimension. Perhaps my outlook reflects the fact that I read How Buildings Learn long before I read the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. So be it.

Housing South St. Louis

Wild Style: Near-Twins on Wyoming

by Michael R. Allen

The flowering of Bradford pear trees on Wyoming Street is a good opportunity to showcase the cool, strange buildings at the northeast corner of Wyoming and Minnesota in Benton Park West. These two four-family buildings were built in 1896 by one D. Steimke for the cost of $3,700. A lot of construction was underway in Benton Park West at the time, although the July 1903 Sanborn fire insurance map page that includes this block shows more vacant than built-upon lots in the vicinity.

Now the area is one of the city’s most densely built-out and populated areas with a racial diversity unmatched in the city. The blocks upon blocks of brick buildings, the prevalent pedestrians of all walks of life, the playing children, the street trees — this adds up to city life at its best. Back in 1896, this big picture was still a handful of pieces, and the flats at 3023-25 and 3029-31 Wyoming were among the most unique pieces. They still are.

These regal buildings are twins in plan, mass, fenestration pattern and setback. The differences show a colorful architectural imagination at work. The corner building takes the plan and emphasizes horizontal lines with stone belt courses, flattened segmental arches and a dentillated cornice underneath a shaped parapet. A front porch forms a balcony. The windows on the front elevation probably have no twin anywhere else in the entire city.

The inner building takes the plan and goes upward with verticality noted in each gesture. False pilasters with inset bricks of a different color rise up to robust Roman arches on the second floor windows. The shaped parapet forms bases for four urns topped by heavenward-directed finials. Here the center porch repeats the Roman arch shape in its curve and rises to form a tower that terminates in a conical turret. For the porch assembly alone, this house earns its rank as one of south city’s most unique.

These two homes are fine illustrations of the late 19th century drive to experimentation in St. Louis residential architecture. Their eclectic classical revival style shows a wide range of influences and forms greatly enabled by the use of varied masonry units. Throughout the city, builders, draftsmen and architects of the period were crafting a turn-of-the-century sensibility truly unique to the city.

Dutchtown Historic Preservation Housing LRA South St. Louis

The Corner Anchor at Osceola and Grand

by Michael R. Allen

This amazing four-family building in Dutchtown is located at 4400 South Grand Boulevard just south of the large Cleveland High School athletic field. Whether or not this fits in the Tudor Revival or the Craftsman styles does not matter — this is one cool building. The building dates to 1923, when row housing had long faded from the residential vernacular of local architecture. Yet, as a double two-flat, this building acts like the old row housing found in older neighborhoods. The double front porches reinforce the distinction between the two sections, while the roof overhang with its might brackets and the central half-timbered gable pull the sections together.

This is an outstanding example of the 1920’s south city multi-family architectural vernacular, and an impressive anchor for the corner that frames the view of Cleveland High School from Grand. I’ll note the bad news last: this building has been vacant for years, and it’s owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority. The Citizens’ Service Bureau records for the property number 107. Despite the woes, the building has solid architectural integrity.

What a great rehabilitation project this could be! Matthew Sisul, Housing Development Analyst with the Community Development Administration, reports that:

LRA purchased this property in April 2008 using CDA’s federal development funds from the 25th Ward. CDA is actively seeking proposals for the rehabilitation of this building (see RFP). The selected developer will be required to adhere towards Section 106 Design Review Guidelines. Assistance towards acquisition and construction costs may be available through CDA. Interested parties should contact me for additional information or to schedule a viewing of the property.

Matthew Sisul can be reached at (314) 622-3400 ext. 322 or

Housing Hyde Park Infrastructure North St. Louis Urbanism

Cut Off From Hyde Park

by Michael R. Allen

Eleventh Street continues north of Branch Street for two blocks, abruptly dead-ending where it meets the embankment of I-70. I-70 hems in the street and the pocket of residential Hyde Park that remains severed from the neighborhood. The city furthered this severance by officially drawing the Hyde Park boundary at I-70, which is certainly a barrier but nothing that defines any boundary of a neighborhood that has always started at the Mississippi River.

I love these two houses on the west side of Eleventh Street north of Branch. There are many small shaped-parapet bungalows in Hyde Park, built of pressed brick with wooden front porches. Houses like these line Agnes and Destrehan streets back in official Hyde Park. These homes date to the 1920s, when they went up en masse on undeveloped sites in the south end of the neighborhood. Few of those houses enjoy as dramatic a setting as these two now do. The highway in the back yard, giant billboards on each side — the only comfort found in one of these houses is its well-kept neighbor. The brick sidewalk in front adds another reminder of the lost connection with the historic world of Hyde Park.

Flounder House Housing Hyde Park North St. Louis

Small Houses on Vest Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

This house stands in Hyde Park on the west side of Vest Avenue just north of Bremen Avenue. Despite some obvious maintenance needs, the house is a treasure. This is one of the small houses that have a front-gabled salt box roof profile. I think of these houses as cousins to our city’s flounder houses, whose roofs make a slope from one side to the other. The salt box variation has a roof profile common around the country, but the basic form and size of the house is akin to the small flounder houses that one still finds all over the city east of Grand Avenue.

On the next block of Vest to the south stands another small house. This one is of a different but common type, that of the two-story mansard-roofed home in which the mansard roof forms the second floor. These houses are more common than either the flounder or the saltbox, but typically are also small in size.

Taking the wide view of this block, we see two other small houses and some vacant lots. Some two-story houses are down the block and across the street.

Looking up to the next block north, we find vacant land and the one-story salt box house. Some two-story houses are down the block and across the street.

This west end of Hyde Park developed slowly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the results are neither as consistent or as dense as the eastern part of the neighborhood. The west end was far less desirable as a place to live due to the presence of the meat packing industry, which was centered on Florissant Avenue. The Krey’s Packing plant and a few other packing-related buildings stand, but much of the rest is gone. The packing industry was largely lost to the National City Stockyards in Illinois by the early 20th century, so later residential development in western Hyde Park produced larger buildings. The early houses were modest in scale, many only one story tall. The residents worked nearby at the packing houses or the Hyde Park brewery.

The 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map shows over a dozen one-story houses on the two blocks of Vest Avenue profiled here. Less than six remain. The remaining small houses point to a residential economy lost to rising Gilded Age fortunes. Nowadays, in the wake of the McMansion glut and with the American economy on the brink of collapse, small houses do not seem so bad. Necessity led to construction of the small houses on Vest, and necessity may make them attractive 21st century housing options.

A new ballpark is proposed east of here on Florissant Avenue, and revitalization efforts around Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Irving School have changed this west end of the neighborhood into a livable place. New housing has gone up on 22nd and 25th streets, but the larger market-rate homes have limited demand. Perhaps an alternative market-rate infill project is in order on Vest Avenue. The vacant lots offer the opportunity to again build small houses there to create affordable, low-energy houses. Small houses already cost less to heat and cool, and are easier to make passive than larger homes. The size makes them more affordable, and also expandable. The first home shown above has an addition on its south side, and others shown on the Sanborn map have one or two rear additions. Such flexible, small houses are in short supply in St. Louis. Development of more needs to happen.

Adaptive Reuse Historic Preservation Housing North St. Louis SLPS

Harrison School Slated for Rehabilitation

by Michael R. Allen

On December 12, the Missouri Housing Development Commission approved issuance of 4% low income housing tax credits to the Harrison School Apartments project. Developer George Kruntchev’s North Tower Group plans to rehabilitate the historic Harrison School at 4163 Green Lea Place in the Fairground neighborhood as affordable rental apartments.

Harrison School has sat vacant since its closure by the St. Louis Public Schools in 1996. In 2003, the building was finally put up for sale at the behest of a new majority on the Board of Education that sought to lower the district inventory. In 2007, after sitting nearly four years on the market, a developer purchased the school and secured listing in the National Register of Historic Places before selling the school to North Tower Group.

Benjamin Harrison School is a magnificent example of the earlier St. Louis Public School buildings. The basic plan comes from architect August H. Kirchner, who designed the original 1895 section of the building. (Coincidentally, Kruntchev’s other school project, Grant School in Tower Grove East, also involved a Kirchner school.) That one-story, four-room section was designed for expansion. After all, the city and the Fairgrounds neighborhood were growing rapidly, and until construction of Harrison the only other school in the vicinity was Ashland School, first opened in 1870. Kirchner made attempts to overcome the limitations of previous school buildings, which were dour, crowded and devoid of proper ventilation and light. Kirchner made the classrooms large with substantial windows for light and air. His ideas would influence his successor as district architect, William B. Ittner, who expanded Harrison School with additions in both 1899 (adding additional floors to the 1895 section) and 1909 (adding the north wing).

The result of the architectural evolution is an imposing Romanesque Revival school whose brick body is articulated through buff brick and red Iowa sandstone. The design is very similar to other Kirchner schools later expanded by Ittner, including Adams and Euclid schools. One of the striking features of Harrison is a kindergarten in the 1909 addition that placed two trapezoidal bay windows on either side of a hearth, an Ittner innovation that was not repeated.

Now, over twelve years since closing, the school finally is finding a new life. That’s a cautionary lesson to the Special Administrative Board (SAB) governing the St. Louis Public Schools. The SAB will be approving a facilities management plan early in the new year that will include what is anticipated as as substantial round of schools closings. Hopefully successful conversion projects like the one at Harrison will convince the board that there are many possibilities other than demolition or abandonment. I remain impressed by the wide array of adaptive reuse plans that developers have found for St. Louis schools. The again, the architecture itself, with its spaciousness and care for natural light, is hospitable to almost any human activity.

Demolition Fire Housing McRee Town

Folsom Avenue Blues – Part Two

by Michael R. Allen

Here are some images showing the 3900-4000 block of Folsom Avenue in McRee Town on October 31, 2004. As the images show, the castellated two-flats were more abundant then, providing a sense of their effect on the block.

One of the buildings had recently experienced a suspicious fire.

Abandonment Historic Preservation Housing North St. Louis Old North

The "Mini Mansion" Over Thirty-Five Years Ago

by Michael R. Allen

Here’s the “mini mansion” at 1501 Palm Street in Old North in better days. Rather, here it is in slightly better days. The photograph dates to July 1972, and was taken by a volunteer surveyor working on the Heritage/St. Louis project. Heritage/St. Louis was an all-city architectural survey coordinated by Landmarks Association of St. Louis that nearly succeeded in documenting every historic building in the city (and many others) with a photograph and short evaluation sheet. Between 1970 and 1975, volunteers surveyed thousands of buildings, leading to more intensive later surveys and eventual National Register historic district nominations across the city.

As the photograph shows, the house was then occupied and not boarded. Wooden sash are intact, as is a recessed entrance foyer. The cornice is in place, as is part of a cast iron fence. However, the surveyor who took this photograph noted that the condition was only “fair” and the future was uncertain. This was long before Paul McKee’s holding company purchased the house, and even before it sat vacant for 16 years. Even while occupied, the house was not in great shape.

The reality of the near north side sinks in: the work needed goes beyond remediation of recent dereliction. Many of these houses have been in disrepair for thirty years or longer. Most houses in Old North marked “fair” or “poor” in the Heritage/St. Louis survey are gone, and many that would have been were gone before the surveyors arrived. What we now have is a remainder of building stock, and the vacant buildings we now have require extensive repair. Fortunately, this odd little house has survived to an age where there finally is massive rehabilitation efforts underway in Old North.

(For more information on this house, read “The “Mini Mansion” on Palm Street Needs Urgent Assistance,” November 26)

Historic Preservation Housing Preservation Board South St. Louis

Dutchtown Center Hall House on December 22 Preservation Board Agenda

by Michael R. Allen

On Monday, December 22 the St. Louis Preservation Board will again consider demolition of the frame center-hall house at 4722 Tennessee Avenue in Dutchtown. New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) applied for a demolition permit in the fall that the city’s Cultural Resources Office denied. NLEC appealed the denial to the board, which was set to consider the matter at its November 2008 meeting. (See “NLEC Seeks Demolition of Frame Center Hall House on Tennessee,” November 23.) NLEC obtained a deferral, and the item was moved to the current agenda.

The Preservation Board previously denied an appeal of a staff denial in 2007. NLEC purchased the house after this denial. Alderwoman Dorothy Kirner (D-25th) is opposed to demolition, and many neighbors are opposed to NLEC’s presence in Dutchtown. Seems like the smart path would be for NLEC to act on Kirner’s opposition to find assistance in rehabilitating the historic house.

At the last Preservation Board meeting, the NLEC representative who attended testified that NLEC might want to explore rehabilitation of the house. I have no knowledge if NLEC has decided to suspend plans for demolition or not. As far as I know, the Board will be considering the appeal on Monday, and citizens need to be prepared to testify on behalf of preservation then.

The Preservation Board meets Monday, December 22 at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street downtown. Written testimony can be sent to the board via Adonna Buford,

Housing National Register North St. Louis The Ville

Chuck Berry House Listed in National Register of Historic Places

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph by Lindsey Derrington.

On Friday, the National Park Service listed the Chuck Berry House at 3137 Whittier Avenue in the National Register of Historic Places. The listing is the result of the diligence of my colleague Lindsey Derrington, Researcher for Landmarks Association of St. Louis. Last year, Lindsey identified the house and its National register eligibility. She pursued the nomination against long odds — the National Park Service has a long-standing policy to not list properties whose significance comes from association with living people.

Lindsey demonstrated that the significance of the house lay in the work Berry wrote while living there some fifty years ago — not recent achievement but music that has long been recognized as foundational in American rock and roll. The staff of the State Historic Preservation Office, especially reviewer Roger Maserang, joined the cause and persuaded the federal staff to review the nomination. Now the house has its official place in history, and a modicum of protection against demolition. The owner of the vacant one-story house is a holding company based in Washington state with no discernible intent to rehab the house. The next step is finding a responsible owner for the important house. Meanwhile, we can celebrate the big step taken through Lindsey’s work.