Flounder House Historic Preservation JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Snapshots from JeffVanderLou

by Michael R. Allen

I have been working on an architectural survey in JeffVanderLou (details to come) and wanted to share some images from the area just west of Parnell and north of Cass avenues. This is a neat urban pocket filled with historic buildings dating from 1870 – 1910 that is located in the fourth phase of the proposed NorthSide project. There is the abandonment and building loss typical of this neighborhood, JeffVanderLou, but the level of historic integrity remaining is actually strong. A historic district is certainly possible here.

The image above shows one of the most splendid rows in the area: the 1700-1800 block of Leffingwell Avenue, just south of North Market. This intact street wall faces Yeatman Park (which, by the way, happens to have excellent tennis courts). Of course, this photograph shows that the four of the eight buildings at the left are vacant. However, only one of these buildings is owned by a holding company controlled by McEagle Properties LLC. Three are owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (and likely to be purchased by McEagle) and the corner unit of the corner building is owned by one Hillmon Bonds.

This image cuts against the stereotype that the NorthSide area is an urban prairie with a few decrepit houses here and there. This is a block of historic homes comparable to blocks found across the city, with as many houses occupied as vacant. Every time I am on this block, people are around tending to their yards or cars. While the fates of the four vacant houses concerns this architectural historian, those fates concern the residents and owners of the remaining four buildings even more.

Take away half of this row, and what is left is diminished. The quality of life on this block would be much improved if the vacant houses were again occupied by families. The difference between a fully occupied row of historic homes facing a lovely city park and a group of isolated survivors ringed by vacant lots could not be more stark.

There is a flounder-style house at 2627 Howard Street. Flounders are indigenous to St. Louis, Philadelphia and Alexandria, Virginia, and feature a roof slope (sometimes hipped) that runs from one side of the building to the other. The origin is unknown and the prevalence unaccounted for. All we know is that these are a precious American architectural resource. This one is owned by Dodier Investors LLC, a McEagle holding company.

The rest of this block of Howard is the typical mix of vacant and occupied for the neighborhood. This photographs shows a typical density of remaining historic resources — too dense to ignore. Second from left is a one-story flounder house that is occupied. Once again, we see that historic preservation planning in the NorthSide project is crucial. Preservation here is preservation of the livability of whole city blocks.

JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

McEagle Rubble Piles in JeffVanderLou

by Michael R. Allen

All three of these buildings in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood are owned by McEagle Properties-controlled holding companies and were destroyed by brick thieves this year or last. The rubble piles remain, one almost mockingly surrounded by cheap plastic construction fencing. Those residents of JeffVanderLou considering whether or not the owner’s NorthSide project is a good deal for their neighborhood have this evidence to consider. What else? Residents can learn more at Wednesday’s meeting of the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Commission, at which the NorthSide project will be considered for a $399 million public TIF subsidy.

The records of these properties show that two were not vacant very long before being destroyed, and that residents had tried to get the vulnerable buildings secured to prevent what happened. The two destroyed houses on Laflin are just a half-block north of Vashon High School. Many students walk this street before and after school, passing unsecured and dangerous rubble in open foundations. The present conditions violate city public safety laws.

Address: 2526 Bacon Street
Owner: VHS Partners LLC
Citizens Service Bureau Calls for Unsecured Vacant Building: 12/18/2006, 9/22/2006
Considered Vacant by Building Division: 2001 – present

Address: 1831 Laflin Street
Owner: MLK 3000 LLC
Citizens Service Bureau Calls for Unsecured Vacant Building: 10/10/2007
Considered Vacant by Building Division: 1989-1996; Since 2009 (re-occupied 1996)

Address: 1909 Laflin Street
Owner: VHS Partners LLC
Citizens Service Bureau Calls for Unsecured Vacant Building: None recorded
Considered Vacant by Building Division: Since 2009

Don’t get the wrong idea — most of JeffVanderLou does not look like this. Most buildings are occupied and there are always children playing in the streets as well as adult pedestrians. That’s why these open foundations are such a big problem. Hopefully we don’t have to wait until the developer has state tax credits in hand to get these nuisances cleaned up.

Brick Theft JeffVanderLou Northside Regeneration

Brick Thieves Strike Again on Montgomery Street

by Michael R. Allen

The 2900 block of Montgomery Street has changed a lot in the last two years, and I covered the changes back in June (A Block of Montgomery Street Two Years Later.

Brick thieves have laid claim to the small house at 2946 Montgomery, shown in this 2007 photograph just to the right of the former North Galilee Missionary Baptist Church.

Here is a view of what the west wall looked like yesterday. While the other houses and church remain sound, the architectural context will be more diminished. The other side of the street is now down to two buildings, one of which has been fatally damaged by brick thieves.

On August 16, 2007, this block was the scene for a press conference against the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act and bus tour of McEagle-owned property organized by State Representatives Jamilah Nasheed (D-60th) and Jeanette Mott-Oxford (D-59th) and Alderwomen April Ford-Griffin (D-5th) and Marlene Davis (D-19th). McEagle had already bought out most of the buildings on that block, making it a perfect example of a block that had actually become vacant and dangerous because of the developer’s acquisitions. (Coverage from the time: Urban Review and Urban Review STL Flickr.)

Times have changed, and some of the buildings are gone and two are on the way out. Also, the opinions of the elected officials involved with that event have changed significantly.

Brick Theft Historic Preservation JeffVanderLou Northside Regeneration

Building Losses Continue to Accumulate in NorthSide Project Area

by Michael R. Allen

The sad end of the McEagle-owned four-family flats at 2621 Sullivan Avenue in JeffVanderLou is complete. Brick thieves have taken down the sturdy historic building, leaving a pile of rubble. Last year, a small fire struck the building (see “Fire Strikes House in JeffVanderLou”, October 30, 2008). The photograph above commemorates an only slightly better day for the building.

Mark this as yet another historic building to be lost under the ownership of McEagle and its subsidiaries. Two years ago, this building was occupied and had minimal code citations. Then, it went vacant and soon after was visited by fire. The owner, Sheridan Place LLC, did little to address the fire. According to city records, the Building Division had to board up the building in the wake of the fire and then sent notice to the owner.

Now, the building is gone. Would this building have contributed to a new historic district? Could it have been rehabilitated using state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits? (McEagle listed a whopping $149.7 million in historic tax credits as revenue on its first-draft tax increment financing application.) Was this one of planner Mark Johnson’s “legacy properties” identified for preservation? We’ll never know, because McEagle has not divulged any of its preservation plans. We do know that this building sits in one of the projected “employment centers,” so it could very well have been doomed anyway. Yet that’s just a guess.

Citizens and their elected representatives contemplating a redevelopment agreement for McEagle’s NorthSide project need facts that demonstrate commitment on the part of the developer to back up all of its promises about historic preservation. Meanwhile, the facts that speak loudest about commitment to saving historic buildings don’t match the developer’s promises.

Ravaged brick buildings, constant fires, collapsing walls, missing boards and dozens of sound historic buildings now forever lost seem like the antithesis of the carefully-planned preservation of “legacy” buildings described by McEagle’s executives and NorthSide master plan author Johnson (of Civitas, Inc.). Certainly, this slipshod management belies Johnson’s immense professional reputation and commitment to progressive, community-oriented planning ideals. It’s hard for seasoned preservationists to believe that McEagle really wants to save historic buildings in the project area — but that is what the company and its planner keep saying they want to do.

Housing JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

Large Housing Development Underway in NorthSide Project Area

by Michael R. Allen

Thomas Avenue in the southeastern reaches of the JeffVanderLou neighborhood definitely is a construction zone. All day long, the street buzzes with the sound of large trucks, contractors speaking and power saws buzzing. The September deadline looms, and the developers are tough-minded about meeting that deadline. After all, these developers are known to be serious and uncompromising about their mission.

Has construction on the NorthSide project started in a big and visible way?

Not quite. The construction is part of a phased 90-house development, and sits fully engulfed by the boundaries of the NorthSide project. However, the developer is not McEagle Properties but the non-profit Habitat for Humanity. The project has not received tax increment financing, nor is is formally part of the larger and more visible development. The Habitat for Humanity project in JeffVanderLou is a modest, steady effort that will transform a few blocks and 90 families’ lives. If that is all that the project accomplishes — and I doubt that will be the end — it will have fulfilled a great need long before the larger project leads to even a shovel turn of earth.

Habitat for Humanity actually began this project in 2003, when it built 20 houses on Bacon, Garrison and St. Louis avenues in the northeast corner of the neighborhood. The St. Louis Equity Fund and the Jeff-Vander-Lou Initiative were development partners, and the Equity Fund remains involved in the subsequent phases. Neighborhood residents identified the need for this project as part of intensive community planning conducted as part of the Jeff-Vander-Lou Initiative process. This was development that came from the grassroots to serve the grassroots. These first homes largely consisted of two-story, flat-roofed townhouse-style buildings clad in brick and brick-like panels. Two of the double units on Bacon are shown here:

Architectural critics can pick at the details and materials, but I think that the houses demonstrate a creative use of a limited budget. The houses are compatible in form with their urban surroundings, and each one occupies a vacant lot. Construction ameliorated the effect of 20 vacant parcels in a pocket of the neighborhood. Readers who have lived in areas where there are 20 or more vacant parcels in a two-block area know exactly how transformative that can be.

Like McEagle, Habitat for Humanity thought about JeffVanderLou on a large scale. The organization identified the need for more construction in the southeast part of the neighborhood, around the intersection of Sheridan Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive north of the reclaimed Blumeyer housing project. In summer 2008, Habitat for Humanity built 27 houses on Sheridan Avenue that received the Platinum LEED certification. As the photograph above shows, Habitat built around existing occupied buildings (there was some demolition of vacant buildings) and introduced a different house model.

The predominate house model is now a front-gabled, one-story home with front porch. Habitat for Humanity’s architects developed two different models that alternate on longer expanses. There are differences in material colors, and homeowners have chosen some personal variations like substituting actual brick veneer for the concrete brick-like material more common to the development.

I think that the one-story model is charming, especially with the generous front porches. These houses embrace the life of the street, sending a strong message in a neighborhood that still has a lot of street crime. Eyes and ears on those porches will make a positive difference.

The houses now under construction on Thomas east of Elliott are 24 one-story, 1,184-square-foot houses that will sell for $77,000 each. These homes are of modest scale and materials, but there are unique things about them in addition to affordable price: these houses also meet Platinum LEED certification standards. Not only are these houses satisfying necessity in the social economy, they are doing the same in the ecological economy.

When this phase ends in September, a final phase that concludes in December will be underway. By New Year’s Eve, 90 for-sale houses will have been added to JeffVanderLou in six years. That’s an impressive feat for non-profit developers working on a community-driven process. Even more impressive will be the social impact of the houses.

As we contemplate the redevelopment ordinance that will initiate a much larger, private vision of development for this area, we should not forget that our best successes come from dreaming big but working small. Those who say that the scale of the solution must match the scale of the problem are right, but they are overlooking the scale of the community. As the Habitat for Humanity project shows, block by block makes a difference — and adds up to big results quicker than we think.

Some photographs of the Habitat for Humanity project are online here. Television station KETC’s Living St. Louis produced a segment on the project that appears online here.

Brick Theft JeffVanderLou LRA North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

A Block of Montgomery Street Two Years Later

by Michael R. Allen

Yes, the congregation eventually sold the church voluntarily. I still remember the day back in 2006 when the pastor of the North Galilee Missionary Baptist Church called us at Landmarks Association of St. Louis asking for help with a real estate agent who had approached the church for an offer. Our advice was that the buyer was likely Paul McKee, Jr. and McEagle Properties, and the church should not worry about standing firm because this was a big, long-term project and there was no need to move out right away. However, by summer 2007, North Galilee was long gone.

Now, in 2009, the cornerstone is removed. North Galilee Missionary Baptist Church has moved to Moline Acres in St. Louis County. The building that housed African-American Christian worship since 1906 — over 100 years — sits empty, with its front door constantly pried apart by vandals seeking copper. The block that the church anchored was once proud — a solid part of the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. Now, the block barely recognizes the state it was in in January 2007 when I first photographed it.

At that point, the church was surrounded by fairly well-kept brick housing that was privately owned. This block stood out in a neighborhood where much of the remaining historic housing stock east of Grand is owned by a few large owners, including the valiant St. Louis Equity Fund. Here was a block that spoke not only to the past but to the future — institutional stability, private ownership and safety. Needless to say, McEagle got a foothold in 2006 and proceeded to buy out every private owner in the next two years.

It’s day and night. When I now set foot on the block, I feel a heavy sense of loss.

Here is the view of the church and three neighboring shotgun-style houses in January 2007:

One of the houses was occupied then, while one was owned by McEagle and another by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority. The three houses remain:

Across the street stood three two-story houses. The center house still had its elaborate historic wooden porch in January 2007:

East of the group of three houses stood an already-boarded one-story shotgun house. Apparently, life at this house was happy, as now-covered graffiti left by its occupants indicated two years ago:

This side of the block has changed radically in the past two years as McEagle finished acquisition and brick thieves destroyed the group of three houses. Here’s a recent view:

When McEagle discusses saving all buildings that can be saved, what does that statement mean? For the 2900 block of Montgomery Avenue, a block that would have been an ideal block for preservation and infill, that promise is retroactive and meaningless. The buildings fell. The church moved to the county. Day is night, up is down, and the neighborhood is out one of its most hopeful blocks and a historic African-American house of worship.

JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North St. Louis Place

"NorthSide": Historic Preservation

Pay careful attention to these two slides. The first slide shows existing buildings in gray:

The second shows buildings proposed for preservation in black. Planner Mark Johnson at Civitas calls these buildings “legacy properties.” The three buildings at left (a house on St. Louis Avenue, Greater Bible Way Church and Crown Candy Kitchen), strangely, are not owned by McEagle. Crown Candy Kitchen is not even included in the project area. There was no discussion of preservation strategy beyond the promise that every building that could be saved would be saved.

McKee and Johnson both talked about how the warehouses between Delmar and Martin Luther King, including the GPX building, should be demolished because they wall downtown off from north St. Louis.

More slides available online here.

JeffVanderLou Mullanphy Emigrant Home North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North St. Louis Place

"NorthSide": Phasing and Ownership

This slide shows the possible phasing of “NorthSide, ” from A (first) to L (last). This slide shows that the first projects will be “employment centers” on the vacated 22nd Street ramps west of Union Station and at the head of the new Mississippi River Bridge. McEagle estimates that the project could take as long as 15 years to reach the final phase — a conservative estimate, in my opinion.

This slide shows ownership. McEagle holdings and proposed holdings (including currently-occupied homes and businesses and the Mullanphy Emigrant Home) are in purple, with public lands in blue. Paul J. McKee, Jr. promised that no property will be taken through eminent domain for any purpose other than creation of an employment center.

More slides available online here.

JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North St. Louis Place

"NorthSide": Wards Involved and Approval Timeline

Reader Sara Collins shared with me her photographs of the slides shown by McEagle at last week’s public meeting at Central Baptist Church. I am sharing them to help readers who were not present get a better sense of the project scope.

This slide shows the ward boundaries and project outline:

This slide shows the proposed timeline for approval of tax increment financing and a redevelopment ordinance (a pretty fast track):

More slides available online here.

JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

One Block Times One Hundred

by Michael R. Allen

2611 Howard and 2615 Howard (McEagle-owned)

2621 Howard Street.

2625 Howard Street (McEagle-owned) and 2623 Howard Street (privately-owned vacant building).
Here is one side of the 2600 block of Howard Street in JeffVanderLou. The block face is missing a few buildings (one fell in 2006) but is still retains five solid, sound historic buildings. As you can see, this is not an easy block to overlay within a large new development. This block needs strategy for resident retention and home repair, historic preservation and building stabilization awaiting eventual development of the vacant properties.

Take this block times one hundred and one sees the difficulty of trying to make development sense of St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou — and how much potential there is if the existing neighborhood is enhanced rather than supplanted. This is a huge challenge requiring smart planning. The starting point is a redevelopment ordinance that makes as much sense for blocks like this as it does for the wide expanses of Pruitt-Igoe. Is that ordinance possible?