“Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse of sun and moon, and that the affrighted globe should yawn at alteration.”
– Othello, Act 5, Scene 2
Yesterday, the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival ended this year’s run of Othello, and the quote included here reminded me of where I had been on Saturday. On Saturday, I spent some time with a journalist examining the sites of north city buildings that were sound and saveable but whose ends were near or already passed. While the ongoing depletion of north city’s neighborhoods is not the sudden and intense calamity that fell upon Cyprus in the play, it certainly represents a tragic eclipse occurring slowly and deliberately.
The globe of the city seems to yawn in response indeed, even though the results of building loss render some corners more rural than the Bootheel. At the northwest corner of Evans and Newstead avenues, we came upon the unearthed foundation of a corner storefront freshly demolished. Seven years ago, I walked this block of Evans to be greeted by a medley of brick buildings richly detailed with abundant ornamental brick, terra cotta, stamped metal and carved wood.
Now, the view from the corner makes the eye aim a half-block to hit a building wall. What the eye catches there is a vacant building, whose own life seems at a close. To the north, there is meadow and tree line for two blocks. Upon the soil no longer is rendered city, but some decomposed self. Like Othello, we have been blinded to the truth of our condition. Yet no schemer’s machinations lead us astray — just the neglect of inadequate policy.
Out of sight, out of mind? Not brick theft. Brick thieves continue to strike abandoned buildings in north city, although the territory of operation has shifted westward. Two years ago, brick theft was prevalent in JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place. With many targets hit, and fewer vacant buildings left, those neighborhoods have seen a drop in activity. Today brick thieves are more likely to be working in The Ville, Greater Ville, Fountain Park, Fairgrounds and Lewis Place neighborhoods.
The thieves are even taking down buildings located on major thoroughfares in north St. Louis. Today I noticed two buildings damaged by obvious illegal demolition activity whose locations are very prominent. The first of these was at 4477 Page Boulevard, just east of Taylor Avenue in Lewis Place. This vacant building may have been marred by fake stone veneer and heavy paint, but its solid structure was intact until very recently. The house stands not far from the campus of Ranken Technical College, and on a block where most buildings are occupied.
This year’s Lewis Place Festival took place on Saturday, September 17, and commemorated the community’s perseverance against the tornado damage that struck on New Year’s Eve last year. The Festival is sponsored by Lewis Place Historical Preservation, one of the city’s most committed neighborhood organizations.
This year, Lewis Place Historical Preservation gave out Distinguished Service awards to Centennial Christian Church, Alderman Terry Kennedy (D-18th), Preservation Research Office Director Michael Allen, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Missouri and Nile Trice for their efforts to help Lewis Place secure funding and assistance to deal with the tornado. Nile Trice’s efforts deserve special commendation; the 13-year-old raised $1,600 for tornado relief at her birthday party and plans to use her birthday parties as fundraisers for worth causes for years to come. We were honored to be part of efforts that include this inspiring young lady.
Today on the median of Lewis Place, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay joined Alderman Terry Kennedy (D-18th), Lewis Place Historical Preservation President Pam Talley, Health and Human Services Director Bill Siedhoff and Preservation Research Office Director Michael Allen to announce that the city was close to putting together $1 million in home repair funds for uninsured Lewis Place homeowners affected by the tornado on December 31, 2010. (More of our coverage, including photographs showing the extent of damage, can be found here.)
After over six months, some much-needed relief will arrive if the Board of Estimate and Apportionmate approves matching $500,000 in state disaster aid funds with an equal match out of the city’s major projects allocation of Community Development Block Grant funds. MayorSlay.com has details of the program here. Mayor Slay, Comptroller Darlene Green and Alderman President Lewis Reed, the three members of the board, all support the package. While there are still issues faced by underinsured homeowners, today’s announcement signals that major relief is finally on the way.
St. Louis Rehabbers Club Tour of Lewis Place
Saturday, February 19, 2011
9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Location: 4535 Lewis Place, St. Louis, MO 63113
The St. Louis Rehabbers Club will feature Lewis Place. The neighborhood is immediately north of the Central West End and was recently in the news for extensive tornado damage. Our tour will not only look at rehabs, but will also view the tornado damage to these historic properties.
Our first stop of the day is 4535 Lewis Place. The new home owner and rehabber has lots to show on the work completed. With a setback from the tornado, the property owner is eager to move forward on other projects around the house.
Next, we will move to #50 Lewis Place. This young family purchased her grandparents’ home several years ago and have done an excellent job fixing it up.
We’ll look at the damage on Enright and Newberry Terrace before visiting 4604 Newberry. This gentleman inherited this home almost two years after his 90 year old dad passed away. He has been working on this house since then and is happy to show his rehab progress.
Lastly, we’ll ride and view the damage on Page, Martin Luther King Dr, Aldine, Cote Brillian, and Evans. If time permits we will visit 4530 Evans. Work has been done on the living room, dining room and kitchen though it too sustained some tornado damage.
We look forward to seeing you on Saturday morning. Call Scott McIntosh, St. Louis Rehabbers Club Vice-President at 314-719-6507 with questions.
St. Louis Rehabbers Club tours are FREE and are open to anyone interested in the City of St. Louis. St. Louis Rehabbers Club is program of ReVitalize St. Louis, a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization. For more information, please visit www.rvstl.org.
On September 29, 1927, a massive tornado made its way across the city on a northeasterly track. The path of destruction widened in a part of north St. Louis stretching from Fountain Park to Hyde Park. The worst damage was just west of Grand Avenue between Delmar Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue, but every place in the path was wrecked badly. The Report on the St. Louis Tornado of September 27, 1927 by the Joint Committee of the Engineers’ Club and St. Louis Chapter, American Institute of Architects displayed the staggering destruction of the built environment, chronicled the human loss and called for upgrades in construction techniques. A subsequent major tornado in 1959 spared north St. Louis but left major damage in the Dogtown and Central West End neighborhoods.
Compared to the 1927 and 1959 tornadoes, as well as the famous 1896 “Cyclone,” the tornado that struck the city on December 31, 2010 was mercifully weak. Still, the track of the officially-declared EF1 tornado is longer than the damage suggests. The National Weather Service has published track maps of the recent St. Louis area tornadoes that shows the north St. Louis tornado to have left a 2.1-mile track starting around Lewis Place and moving northeast toward Fairground Park before lifting. The tornado touched down at 12:08 a.m. and lasted for three minutes.
The track of the 2010 tornado is notably similar to the 1927 track. Although the tracks and damage areas do not overlap, they follow a similar shape. The origin of the 2010 tornado is slightly west of the outer path of tornado damage in September 1927, although it is still farther from the actual tornado track. Another difference is that the 1927 tornado did not lift until it reached the river.
While the city was spared a major disaster on New Year’s, it endured a tornado that caused severe property damage and left at least a dozen households homeless. History shows worse could have happened, but also that north St. Louis has been hit by a tornado before. Disaster preparedness, urged in 1927 by leading engineers and architects, remains a crucial matter for the city.
Today Lewis Place, still dealing with damage caused by a New Year’s Eve tornado, received some powerful assistance. The day started when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published its annual Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. Day editorial on the need for the region to get behind Lewis Place. (Read the editorial,“Dreams in the Wind”.) The eloquent call for action was written by editorial writer Eddie Roth.
At 10:30 a.m., big news was delivered directly to the residents of Lewis Place. Mayor Francis Slay, Alderman Terry Kennedy (D-18th) and United Way Chief Executive Officer Gary Dollar arrived at the 4500 block of Lewis Place to announce that the United Way has created a tornado assistance fund for Lewis Place. Mayor Slay also officially proclaimed today Lewis Place Day and presented a framed proclamation to Lewis Place Historical Preservation President Pam Talley.
Pam Talley talked to reporters about what the neighborhood has gone through between the tornado strike on December 31 and today. Here’s a clip.
A declaration of major disaster in pending at the federal level. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon requested the declaration Friday so that Federal Emergency Management relief funds can be made available to residents of Lewis Place and other areas of the state affected by the tornadoes.
Still the residents of Lewis Place rejoiced today that the region’s largest charitable organization was standing behind them.
Today’s announcement is an amazing show of support, but it’s only the start of the effort to rebuild. I urge my readers to contribute to the United Way fund to lend financial support, and to contact me to donate construction, architectural or engineering services. Even after the last storm damage is repaired there will be work to do — the work that the residents were doing before this interruption.
Today we are two weeks away from the day when a severe squall line moved through St. Louis, but for some people that is not a lot of time. On the north side, several neighborhoods are still dealing with widespread property damage and the looming uncertainty of whether homes will remain homes. Some owners lack insurance, while others may have policies with deductibles above the costs of repairing damage. Those costs may still be prohibitive for elderly and poor residents.
Yesterday this blog showed scenes from the Ville (see “Ville Area Still Recovering from New Year’s Eve Storm”). Today let us turn our attention to the Lewis Place neighborhood to the southwest of the Ville, where damage to the historic buildings there is even more widespread. Lewis Place has made it through the ravages of demolition, abandonment and disinvestment and has been on the upswing in recent years. Disaster was the last thing Lewis Place needed.
On Sunday, Lewis Place Historical Preservation, Inc. President Pam Talley showed myself and Lynn Josse the damage that compels our assistance — and yours. What we saw demands St. Louis’ full attention.
Just one block south of the apartment building at Deer and Aldine avenues that suffered a collapse is an ornate two-story, terra-cotta clad building on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. The former dry cleaning plant, with its baroque facade, is little more than a front wall after New Year’s Eve. The one story rear wing collapsed completely and much of the two-story front section fell in on itself. Demolition of the privately-owned vacant building is next, no doubt, but the front elevation ought to be salvaged.
One block south, damage is intense in the 4500 and 4600 blocks of Evans Avenue. Few houses escaped broken windows, many lost or small large parts of their roof and some even lost their wooden or metal porches.
Lewis Place storm damage was not limited to historic buildings. New houses on Page Boulevard lost siding and shingles and suffered broken windows. However, like most neighborhoods in north city, Lewis Place’s housing stock is mostly composed of historic buildings. That means most damage affects older homes that are more difficult to insure adequately and that already have maintenance problems that often drive up repair costs.
We saw damage on streets throughout Lewis Place, including Vernon Avenue, Newberry Terrace, McMillan Avenue, Kensington Place and Enright Avenue. Pam reported that the city’s Forestry Division — usually not a timely factor in Lewis Place events — swept in quickly after the storm and worked throughout New Year’s weekend to clean up the large amount of tree debris generated by the storm. Still, such debris was piled everywhere. Most of all, at every turn we saw boarded windows, asphalt roofing material on the grounds, brick bats from chimneys and parapets, sagging porches, maimed fences and signs that something terrible had happened. Simply, we were tracking the path of a disaster.
When Pam took us to Lewis Place itself, our hearts sunk. The houses that were so essential to the civil rights struggle that made what we now call St. Louis possible stood with yellow caution tape in front. Some had collapsed front parapet walls. Others had boarded up windows, missing roofing and — in one particularly unnerving instance — a frozen waterfall under a window on a vacant house. Even #10 Lewis Place was ailing with its front porch collapsed. Dr. Robert and Fredda Witherspoon, who in the 1940s organized fair-skinned African-Americans to purchase homes on Lewis Place to break down restrictive covenants, called this house home for decades.
Pam told us that the Building Division rushed in after the storm, and had condemned houses the day of the storm. This is standard operating procedure following a disaster, because unsafe buildings must be vacated, but it still seemed insensitive to residents. Lewis Place Historical Preservation raised the money to hire a structural engineer for one resident who is being threatened with condemnation and eviction. Others face potential fines for code violations due to storm damage. This is a sad state for a street that has been a National Register of Historic Places historic district since 1980 and whose residents care deeply about both their neighborhood’s past and future.
While the Building and Forestry divisions of the city treated the storm in Lewis Place like a disaster, other entities have not been so swift. While state officials and mayoral chief of staff Jeff Rainford visited the day after the storm, government assistance has not arrived yet. Pam says that the Salvation Army took eight days to send volunteers. Still Pam has not let the lack of response down — she has secured tarps, blankets and other items for needy residents. By the snow fall on Monday, only three houses with roof damage lacked tarp protection. Pam and her neighbors are used to doing things for themselves, and really are quite good at it. Still, they can’t do it alone — nor should they.
What You Can Do
Lewis Place needs our help! This historic neighborhood is part of our collective heritage, and we need to shoulder it through this rough moment. Consider helping by making a donation.
Assistance for the residents — a high percentage of them senior citizens — is welcome. Items needed are:
• Food items, both perishable and non-perishable, water, juice
• Blankets, toiletries such as toothpaste, tissue, mouthwash and soap
• Clothing such as gloves, caps, scarves, socks and underwear
• Trash bags
Donations can be made at Centennial Christian Church, 4950 Fountain Avenue, St. Louis 63108 between 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. The contact at the church is Cheryl Poynter at 314.367.1818.
Financial donations are needed, too, to assist homeowners with repairs and rebuilding. Checks can be made out to Lewis Place Historical Preservation, 3920 Lindell Blvd., Suite 206, St. Louis, MO 63108, and Attention Pam Talley. For information about how you can help, contact Talley at 314.535.1354.
At about 8:30 p.m. on August 8, I was driving toward downtown on I-64/40 and saw a huge gray smoke cloud against the also-gray night sky. I noticed bright orange flames reaching skyward. I took the Grand Avenue exit and headed north, then west until I pinpointed the location near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Taylor.
I arrived near the building at 8:38 p.m., passing two newly-burnt buildings on the way (the damage on both was anywhere from one day to one week old). When I got close, I watched firefighters battling an intense blaze behind a two-story commercial building west of the corner of Newstead Avenue and MLK. The address of the building is 4416-22 Martin Luther King Boulevard.
I left because I could not get close enough to see the building well, and the smoke on the ground was thick enough to preclude good viewing from the sidewalk.
I tuned in various AM radio stations, hoping to catch a breaking news report. Nothing. Later tonight, I watched the local television news reports on KMOV Channel 4 and KSDK Channel 5. There were stories of suburban fires, but none about this one. I had spotted a helicopter circling the fire and had assumed it contained a television news camera person.
I just searched the websites of those stations as well as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and located no stories about the fire. I did, however, find stories about fires at the following north city locations within the last 48 hours:
2400 block of Sarah
5200 block of Maple
The building at 4416-24 Martin Luther King Boulevard on August 10, 2005. Photograph by Claire Nowak-Boyd.
I returned to the fire on MLK the next day and also did some research.
The building that burned was a two-story commercial building at the rear of 4416-22 Martin Luther King. I write “rear” because the building that burned down was not originally attached to the storefront building that faces Martin Luther King and was only joined with a crude connector — good news for the building, I suppose.
Looking toward the fire damaged one-story building on August 9, 2005. We could not get any closer per the work crew’s presence. Photograph by Michael R. Allen.
The rear building was reduced to a pile of rubble and only a few sections of the outer brick walls stand, none higher than eight feet.
Saint Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church owns the buildings. Who knows what will become of the two-story building, with its graceful Union Foundry cast iron storefront columns and elegant lines. (Note the already-removed cornice and the odd-sized window sills.)