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 city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps…every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.” – Italo Calvino
Chouteau’s Landing, a quiet industrial district south of downtown St. Louis, seems to have been frozen in time. Known to many St. Louisans as a place to park before attending a Cardinals game, this area currently contains a handful of existing businesses. This urban landscape is defined by a once thriving river industry that was the center of the St. Louis economy. A landscape of elevated railways that weave their way through the old industrial complexes and the towering concrete interstate columns, which have detached this area from the rest of the city. The original function of these buildings has long since passed, yet something remains. Something special lingers in Chouteau’s Landing and the seven historic buildings that comprise the former Crunden-Martin Manufacturing Company complex are a large part of that something.
At the start of April, St. Louis University started demolishing the Pevely Dairy plant at Grand and Chouteau avenues. Last month, the Planning Commission overturned a series of Preservation Board decisions about applications to demolish components of the complex. The result of the Planning Commission decisions was the immediate approval of demolition of every part of the plant save the landmark corner office building, which can be demolished once the university secures a building permit for its new ambulatory care center.
Upon completion of demolition, the only building to remain at one of south city’s busiest intersections will be the esteemed work of Nautical Revival architecture, the Captain D’s franchise at the northwest corner of the intersection. Urbanists who proclaimed that removal of the Pevely plant would rob the intersection of urban character stand in the wrong.
Let us not forget to thank the Planning Commission’s members for wise and world-class judgment.
On December 12, the Building Division issued a demolition permit for the distinctive four smokestacks at the former Scullin Steel works near Ellendale Avenue and the River Des Peres. While the Scullin plant is tucked away south of the St. Louis Marketplace, the stacks are visible in many directions and are prominent landmarks for those driving down Interstate 44.
The Scullin works closed in 1981, and much of the site of the plant was remade as the largely failing St. Louis Marketplace. The casting building to which the stacks are attached is still in use, but the stacks have not been used since the plant closed. However they are in sound structural condition and occupy very little of the site.
Perhaps the smokestacks seem fairly expendable. Certainly, their utility has lapsed, and their location is remote. Yet the problem here is short-changing the future. As the River Des Peres’s life evolves in the 21st century, public access and improvements of the banks seems likely. Some day there may be paths along the river in this stretch similar to those found in the southern bend. What traces of the industrial heritage of Scullin will remain to inform users of that trail of the land’s industrial history?
The city’s Preservation Board unanimously voted to uphold denial of demolition of the landmark Pevely Dairy smokestack at Grand and Chouteau, and St. Louis University (owner of the stack) agreed to preserve it. That is some public recognition of smokestacks as cultural resources that provide visual delight in the cityscape. Yet many stacks, like those at Scullin, evade such care under the city’s preservation ordinance.
Last year, the robust mid-century stack at the old Carondelet Coke works was demolished. That smokestack had some noticeable defects in its masonry, and was part of a planned site reuse that seems to be less than certain. Yet some day a South Riverfront Trail will pass directly through the site, with perhaps an interpretive sign board marking the site’s past instead of a tangible and delightful architectural link. So it shall be at Scullin as well.
The modest two-story modernist office box located at 1400 S. Third Street south of downtown doesn’t evince its deep and important connections with historical forces as powerful as the development of atomic energy in the United States, St. Louis’ postwar effort to retain its manufacturing workforce and the mid-century modern architectural practice of a renowned engineering firm. Yet the red brick Nooter Corporation Building marks the intersection of these forces, at least through the administration of a company at the forefront of them. Here was the building that housed not the fabricators but the conjurers — those who dreamed of fitting an old boiler company into the mid-century mission of transforming America into modern nation.
Following World War II, the Nooter Corporation entered into a rapid period of growth through involvement as a supplier and erector of process vessels to the emergent nuclear power industry as well as the established chemical, petroleum, food and defense industries. Nooter embarked on a major expansion of its plant in 1947 and by 1957 the corporation decided to build a new corporate headquarters suitable for its prominence. In 1959, administrative and engineering offices moved to the building.
From this office, engineers devised plans for the construction of a reactor vessel for the world’s first atomic energy plant and the world’s first use of titanium, tantalum and zirconium in reactive vessel construction. From 1964 through 1973, Nooter successfully applied for 13 patents, marking a major period of invention for the company. Nooter had not applied for a patent since 1954 and would not apply again until 1978. So the harmless little building in a tired old part of an ancient American city was actually an intellectual powerhouse from which ideas about new ways to make energy were born. Perhaps that is not surprising, since our buildings are often quiet keepers of great stories that may not initially seem to be linked to our own daily lives.
On Monday, the Preservation Board will consider an application by Procter & Gamble to demolish 16 buildings at its landmark north riverfront plant (official address, 169 East Grand Avenue). There are no immediate plans for reuse of the cleared land, but Procter & Gamble claims that it needs a “shovel ready” site for expansion. (“Shovel ready” gets thrown about a lot, but not often is the phrase applied to creating vacant land.) Cultural Resources Office Director Betsy Bradley is recommending approval of the application; read more in the meeting agenda.
The demolition plan does not affect the southernmost building in the long, multi-height row of buildings that give the plant its recognizable form on the city skyline. This portion, which meets Grand Avenue at the sidewalk, is in use as offices and will stay in use. The rest of the buildings are already being gutted, with many windows removed. Even earlier today demolition workers were loading scrap metal dumpsters. According to Bradley’s report, the plant was built between 1903 and 1924 as the William Waltke & Company Soap Factory.
UPDATE: The Preservation Board approved all of the demolition application by a vote of 3-2. Members David Visintainer and Anthony Robinson voted “aye,” and members Mike Killeen and Melanie Fathman voted “nay.” Chairman Richard Callow cast a tie-breaking “aye” vote.
On March 31, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an Action Memorandum for the cleanup of the Carter Carburetor plant at St. Louis and Grand avenues in JeffVanderLou. This action surprised residents of surrounding neighborhoods, who had hoped for more time to understand the science behind the cleanup methods. In February, after the close of the public comment period for the action, the EPA provided a citizens’ group with a Technical Assistance Services for Communities (TASC) consultant who is still in the process of getting answers for the citizens.
Among the questions is whether the Carter Carburetor building should be demolished. The EPA’s preferred alternative of total demolition has become the action proposed in the action memorandum:
The Carter Building, Inc. (CBI) Building – The action for this area is demolition and off-site disposal. After completing the remediation of asbestos-containing material, the CBI building will be demolished and building materials disposed based on PCB concentrations.
This action uses federal funding and will trigger a Section 106 review under the National Historic Preservation Act, since the Carter Carburetor plant is likely to be eligible for National Register of Historic Places listing. The less-significant Willco Plastics building could be retained, however:
The Willco Building – Because PCB contamination in the Willco Building is relatively low, a thorough cleaning may be sufficient. If the cleaning does not reduce the contamination to below acceptable levels, the first and second floor slabs would be partially removed and replaced.
The owners of the Carter Carburetor building want to retain it and reuse it. At issue is whether heavy PCB contamination can be removed successfully from the building. Concrete floor slabs will have to be replaced, according to the EPA, but that still leaves upright and vertical concrete structural components that cannot be removed and replaced. The EPA states that these would have to be coated with epoxy that would need 5-year maintenance in order to be safe for workday exposure.
One question posed to the TASC consultant is whether such epoxy coating has ever been done on the scale of Carter Carburetor, and whether it can be effective. Also unknown, because PCB contamination usually leads to demolition, is whether there are other methods for remediation than those the EPA has offered. Anyone know of any case studies?
WHAT: Presentation on Thermal Desorption Process for Carter Carburetor Site
WHEN: Tuesday, March 29, 2011
TIME: 7:00 p.m.
LOCATION: Urban League, 3701 Grandel Square, St. Louis, Missouri 63108
EPA is following up with leaders from the St. Louis north side community on questions received about the in-situ thermal desorption process, an alternative method for addressing contamination at the Carter Carburetor Site. An expert on the thermal desorption process will be available to meet with community leaders and other interested residents.
This morning, a huge blaze destroyed the oldest building remaining at the historic Nixdorff-Krein Company factory located at the southwest corner of 9th and Howard Streets just north of downtown. The destroyed building was slated to be demolished as part of construction of the new Mississippi River Bridge project. The building dates to the 1880s and was one of the remaining mill method buildings of the north riverfront industrial corridor.
Founded in the 1850s, he Nixdorff-Krein Company once manufactured wagon parts and chain. Many companies on Howard Street west of Broadway were involved in wagon manufacturing in the 19th century. Later, the company switched to basketball and sports gear and continues to exist. A subsidiary of the company still owned the vacant buildings on Howard Street.
The 1903 Sanborn fire insurance map below shows the building (top right corner) that was destroyed today. Nixdorff-Krein added additional buildings throughout the 20th Century, and eventually expanded south by closing Mullanphy Street and connecting to the old Joseph Wangler Boiler and Sheet Metal Works.
If you have not read the Riverfront Times cover story “Meltdown in Venice” by Keegan Hamilton, please do so. The photograph above shows one of the houses in the very north end of Venice whose residents literally have the former Dow Chemical plant in their backyards. There is a pocket literally surrounded by that plant on the west, the field where Dow and its successors dumped PCB-tainted waste on the north and a foundry on the east. At the foot of this neighborhood is the city’s elementary school. The creation of such a landscape is hardly unique, and its abdication by those who shaped it only commonplace.