Housing JeffVanderLou LRA North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

’27 Tornado Survivors on Montgomery Street

by Michael R. Allen

I have long admired the group of four narrow-faced, one-story houses on the 3000 block of Montgomery Street. Located on a little wedge between Garrison and Coleman streets, the four houses seem to comprise a coherent group of small shaped-parapet dwellings. The western two, 3005 and 3007 Montgomery (left), have front entrances. The other two, 3001 and 3003 Montgomery (right), have side entrances and paired windows on their faces. All are clad in machine-rolled, rough-faced brown brick with abundant white bakery brick patterns. Raised basements provide well-lit potential additional living space.

The setting is enhanced by the placement of the houses not parallel to Montgomery Street, but parallel to the side lines of the irregular lots on which they sit. Thus the houses roughly step out from east to west, creating visual interest from the side.

These houses have always been architecturally compatible, but there is a twist — or twister, if you will. These houses began their days as stone-faced homes built around the turn of the twentieth century. One block west stood the massive Mullanphy Hospital. In 1927, the great tornado ran northeast across the city and struck this block. Like most buildings that survived the disaster, the buildings were rebuilt using contemporary masonry rather than restored. While the repairs are within a common range, the grouping and the deliberate effort to match all four houses is unusual.

While not stone-clad, the three one-story, flat-roofed houses one block to the east on the south face of Montgomery Street give some indication of the form of the re-clad homes. The decorated wooden cornices were common on these small raised-basement houses built across north city roughly from 1880 through 1905. Often the high porches sheltered stairwells that led to basement apartments. The three houses pictured above are now so decimated by brick thieves that their demolition is inevitable.

Alas, the four houses to the west are also vacant — three owned by Northside Regeneration and one by the Land Reutilization Authority — and unprotected by landmarks status or demolition review. However, they are not sitting alone.

The four tornado survivor, marked by a yellow asterisk on the map above, are adjacent to blocks built up again by Habitat for Humanity. The four small historic houses could some day sit amid a rebuilt neighborhood, reminding people of a time when the city had the fortune and foresight to rebuild even small one-story houses. The brick-rustled neighbors here bear a strange resemblance to houses depicted in photographs of 1927 tornado damage. Houses that went through the tornado and back remind us that even the worst disaster is not the end of the world — not even necessarily the end of a building.

Benton Park West Historic Preservation Housing LRA

Last Chance for 3244 Iowa Street

by Michael R. Allen

This week I received an e-mail about 3244 Iowa Avenue (pictured above) from JoAnn Vatcha, Housing Analyst for the Community Development Administration. The email stated that the city was issuing a “last chance” call to respond to a Request for Proposals issued last year for the beleaguered property.

The diminutive 19th century alley house — 600 square feet — in Benton Park West is owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority and has been considered a vacant building by the Building Division since 2003. The citizen complaints on the house keep coming, and the front wall has suffered spalling. Still, the house is in sound shape and is just a block off of Cherokee Street. This block is intact with historic buildings lining both sides of the street, and its loss would create a hole. The small size is perfect for a single person or couple wanting to be close to the buzz of Cherokee.

Hopefully a developer will answer the call. Meanwhile, some cities have historic preservation organizations that buy, rehab and sell houses that are facing the “last chance.” Should St. Louis follow suit?

(The city has posted all residential building RFPs here.)

LRA North St. Louis

21st Ward Real Estate

by Michael R. Allen

Citizens often complain that St. Louis aldermen are in impediment to selling Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), but Alderman Antonio French (D-21st) is actually trying to help. French has launched a 21st Ward Real Estate website with information about available LRA-owned property in his ward.

Why do people complain? LRA requires a letter of aldermanic support before selling a parcel to an interested buyer, and aldermen often have parcels removed from the sale list when they are needed for community development corporation or private development projects.

LRA also has maintained a rather old-fashioned website with only a handful of properties having photographs. With no dedicated funding for marketing, LRA cannot do more.

That’s fine. Alderman French is showing us that LRA marketing is possible without additional appropriation to LRA. Other aldermen or community groups can — and should — do what French is doing.

Flounder House Housing LRA North St. Louis Old North

Old North, Infill and Historic Reference

by Michael R. Allen

Image courtesy of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group.

Last week, residents of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood got a look at a preliminary site plan and renderings for 17 new homes to be built by Habitat for Humanity and five homes to be built by EcoUrban homes. As the plan above shows, these houses will be built on Dodier, Sullivan and Hebert streets between Blair and Florissant Avenue. All will take the place of vacant lots owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority in a part of Old North adjacent to the neighborhood’s most dense northern section.

Amid deep recession, this is great news. Old North will get its first-ever major wave of new construction not developed with the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group as a partner. This private market activity is essential for the neighborhood, and the timing is hopeful that even more development will arrive when the economy recovers. Most important, the new development expands homeownership without compromising the economic diversity of Old North.

Image courtesy of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group.

On top of the other positive aspects of the development, the design of the new Habitat homes is most certainly contemporary. (EcoUrban has yet to submit elevations.) The homes at left above are two-story, narrow, modified flounder houses. The others are basic modern flat-roofed, single-story homes. The houses share a design vocabulary, eschewing any historic reference or even material use. The lines are rectilinear and crisp. The cladding for all of the new houses will be concrete fiber board on the front sections in a jack-on-jack layout, with concrete weatherboard on the rear elevations. My one concern is that the deep recess of the entrances makes each home’s connection with the sidewalk needlessly remote.

There is nothing about the designs that make them inappropriate to Old North. In fact, their juxtaposition with existing historic brick buildings will make for a pleasant realization of the neighborhood’s aspirations of continued development. If Old North is to grow in the 21st century, it will grow with 21st century architecture. To date, save for the handful of Section 235 houses built there in the 1970s, neighborhood infill efforts there have relied on historical reference that has been pleasant if not progressive.

Historic reference is infill is not necessarily undesirable or inappropriate in Old North or other city neighborhoods. Perhaps the lack of solid materials and smart use of historic elements has soured referential infill to many critics and designers. There certainly are few examples of “faux” historic homes in the city worth their architectural salt. However, the anti-replica argument ignores the fact that the city’s prized 19th century styles, such as Italianate or Second Empire, were in their heyday referencing European styles. Early 20th century styles like Georgian Revival or William B. Ittner’s Jacobethan school style were attempts to renew and reinterpret older styles. Few today complain about the results.

Still, the Habitat and EcoUrban homes bring architectural sensibility that is of its own time. While many city neighborhoods have local historic district ordinances that forbid minimalist infill, Old North does not. The loss of historic fabric there makes any such design code unworkable. A neighborhood with more vacant lots than buildings cannot hold new construction to standards set by its buildings — they will some day be outnumbered by new. The new buildings might as well be good work from their time, as the proposed buildings are. The remote possibility that someone might intelligently revive a historic style found within Old North, however, should not be foreclosed by current fashion.

Hyde Park LRA Old North Preservation Board The Hill

Today’s Preservation Board Meeting: Old North and Hyde Park Buildings, But No Southwest Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

UPDATE 12:09 p.m.: The Old North item has been pulled from the agenda.

The final agenda of today’s Preservation Board meeting is online.

The two buildings on Southwest Avenue that this blog covered on November 14 are no longer on the agenda.

However, one of the several city-proposed demolitions in Old North St. Louis remains on the agenda on preliminary review: demolition of the building at 1942-44 Hebert Street. Typically, requests from the Building Division to demolish city-owned buildings appear on the preliminary agendas of the Preservation Board but get denied by the staff of the Cultural Resources Office prior to Board meetings.

On this building, the staff is seeking direction from the Preservation Board rather than making a recommendation. The direction needs to be denial. Last month, a contributing building in the Murphy-Blair Historic District collapsed. Others are vulnerable. In light of the ongoing near north building depletion and possible wave of demolitions for the NorthSide project, preservation in Old North has become very important. The condition of 1942-44 Hebert Street is rough, but certainly not fatal. Perhaps the city can apply the $25,000 paid by the Haven of Grace to demolish building at 2619-21 Hadley Street in Old North toward the stabilization of this fine building on Hebert.

Another item on today’s agenda is the appeal of CRO denial of a demolition permit for the building at 3959 N. 11th Street in Hyde Park. The Preservation Board heard this item in October, and upheld denial. Not sure why the item is back.

As usual, the meeting begins today at 4:00 p.m. on the 12th floor of the building at 105 Locust Street. Citizens may send comments to Preservation Board Secretary Adona Buford at Note that in a preliminary review, the Board is not required to review e-mailed comments before making a decision.

Demolition LRA North St. Louis The Ville

Time Passing on Cote Brilliante

by Michael R. Allen

3901 (right) and 3909 Cote Brilliante Avenue in July 2008. This is at the northwest corner of Cote Brilliante’s intersection with Vandeventer Avenue.

The same scene in November 2009.

3909 Cote Brilliante, owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority, was wrecked in August 2008. 3901 Cote Brilliante remains owned by Kathleen and Leslie Ann Cannon.

Brick Theft JeffVanderLou LRA North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

NorthSide Depletion Continues

by Michael R. Allen

The corner commercial building at 2501 Glasgow Avenue in better days, 2007.

Call it collateral damage, block busting, destruction or just the cost of large-scale development — the term doesn’t matter. The reality is that within the boundaries of McEagle Properties’ NorthSide project, historic buildings continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Natural forces have claimed a few buildings, but brick thieves and scavengers are slaying the rest.

Let us look at the loss of buildings on a single city block in the last two months. Our city block is 2539 in JeffVanderLou, which is bounded by Montgomery, Slattery, Benton and Glasgow streets. Now, the condition two months ago was not great: in the sixty years preceding, some 75% of the historic building fabric on the block was lost. Yet what was left three years ago was nearly all occupied. McEagle’s purchases changed that.

Two months ago, enough of the block’s historic fabric remained for at least the possibility of inclusion in a historic district. Even if a district was impossible or undesired, the block’s remaining owners — including the St. Louis Equity Fund — are keeping their buildings in good shape. The Equity Fund is rehabbing its building on Glasgow Avenue. Building loss through neglect is an insult to the owners and residents keeping this block alive.

At the start of this essay is an image of the corner storefront building at 2501 Glasgow (at Benton) in 2007. Owned by a McEagle affiliate, this building suffered a partial collapse in storms in September. Brick thieves have started picking, and the photo above taken in early October looks idyllic compared to the current scene.

Up the block to the north stands an imperiled row of three historic houses owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). The front has been altered to shrink the size of window openings, but a magnificent wooden cornice remains. However, the back and sides of the row were part of this fall’s brick harvest at the hands of thieves.

Across the alley on Slattery Street, both the houses at 2616 (owned by Carmen McBride) and 2614 Slattery (McEagle) have been brazenly damaged by thieves. The front walls are being picked apart in plain view of the few remaining residents of the block. Conditions like these explain the continued fear and resentment expressed toward McEagle by north side residents. While there are many residents of the project area hoping for McEagle’s development to transform their blocks, there are many who look at scenes like this one and find little good faith effort on the developer’s part.

During the aldermanic committee hearing on the first bills relating to the NorthSide redevelopment agreement, Paul J. McKee, Jr. stated that his company could not deal with problems like the brick-rustled buildings until after he received the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credits later this year. Of course, those credits reimburse 100% of demolition and maintenance costs, so both security of intact buildings and clearance of destroyed ones could happen now. Why didn’t McKee direct his companies to engage in clean-up before seeking the largest tax increment financing deal in city history?

McKee and his consultants talk a lot about preservation, urbanism and sustainability. In no way is willful neglect of once-occupied historic buildings compatible with any of those values. Depletion of historic housing stock destroys urban character, wastes precious and irreplaceable natural resources and robs neighborhoods of affordable housing and small business spaces. We are losing solidly built, easily rehabilitated buildings for the uncertainty of a multi-phased project that places areas of St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou dead last in order of development attention.

Don’t get me wrong: Much progress has been made toward making the NorthSide project better for everyone. I am willing to applaud — and have applauded — real steps that safeguard north side neighborhoods. The redevelopment agreement binds McEagle to identify buildings for preservation and demolition by the end of 2010 — albeit without professional preservation planning. While the contracts and ordinances contain hopeful language, however, the reality is contradictory — and it’s a long way toward the end of 2010.

Historic Preservation LRA North St. Louis Old North

Old North Moving Foward on Stabilizing Historic Buildings

by Michael R. Allen

While people are debating larger projects, the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group started a small but very important one: stabilization of several vacant historic buildings in the neighborhood formerly owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). This comes after the group issued a request for proposals that led to two vacant houses finding owners who plan full rehabs.

Above is the house at 1300 Monroe Street, a very stunning corner house that has seen some rough days. The Restoration Group has already secured all of the openings with boards. The next steps are major masonry repairs and new roofing, on the flat roof as well as the projecting bay. When work concludes, what started as a hard-to-handle city-owned vacant building will be a rehab-ready, structurally-sound shell. The Restoration Group will place the home on the market.

No matter how long the buildings take to sell, they will stand safe and secure. Meanwhile, the Restoration Group will have demonstrated how a community development corporation can act to safeguard vacant historic buildings and get those buildings out of the LRA inventory and into a more sale-ready situation.

Support these remarkable efforts this Friday evening at a silent auction from 7 – 9:30 p.m. at 1331 North Market. The auction benefits the Restoration Group’s plans to fully rehab one of the vacant buildings. A mere $5 is the suggested cover, but of course you can be more generous! Details are here.

Brick Theft LRA North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place

The Precarious Condition of Two Beautiful Houses on St. Louis Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

Brick rustlers have returned to the lovely stone-faced house at 1930-6 St. Louis Avenue (see ““Who Would Destroy This Building?”, January 7, 2007). Most recently a funeral home, the house was first built in 1873 by wholesale grocery merchant Bernhardt Winkelman. Winkelman was one of the numerous new-money German-Americans whose lavish homes gave St. Louis Avenue the nickname “Millionaire’s Row.” Today, a different millionaire owns the property: developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. through holding company N & G Ventures.

The damage from 2007 concerned only a one-story flat-roofed addition behind the home, but this week’s damage concerns the side wall of part of the house. Since joists run laterally and rest in the brick side walls of most 19th century buildings, this damage will eventually cause collapse of the roof and floors. However, the thieves have only struck an addition to the Winkelmann house’s ell, so the original section is not yet damaged.

On May 21 and other occasions, McKee mentioned having a list of 60 “legacy properties” in his possession worthy of preservation. Is this house one of them? It should be. However, the list is a mystery to myself and many people in city government and the development world with whom I have discussed preservation issues related to the NorthSide project. We do know that the house at 1930 St. Louis Avenue made an official list that gives it undisputed historic status: the house is a contributing resource to the Clemens House-Columbia Brewery Historic District. It ought to be preserved, and McKee should secure it against further attack.

Across the street is another fine stone-faced house with a lovely wooden Italianate cornice. The house at 1925 St. Louis Avenue dates to 1879 and is owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). The house is outside of the present historic district boundary. The front looks ragged but sturdy, but a walk around the side reveals the sad truth.

The east side wall of the ell is in shambles, although the second floor and roof are holding on for now. The condition of this house raises a preservation question related to NorthSide that has not been widely discussed: what happens to the numerous vacant historic buildings within the NorthSide footprint not owned by McEagle Properties and its subsidiaries? Most of those buildings are on the list of needed properties that McEagle submitted to the city’s Tax Increment Financing Commission in May. Is the building at 1927 St. Louis Avenue one of the 60 “legacy properties”? There are more than 60 historic buildings owned by McEagle worthy of preservation, and at least as many in the project area owned by LRA and other entities.

City officials should not wait for the list of legacy properties to set into motion a sensible preservation plan for the NorthSide project. If public financing is on the table, that can be leveraged to ensure that buildings like the two above can be mothballed for eventual redevelopment in future phases of the NorthSide project.

Abandonment Hyde Park LRA North St. Louis Tower Grove East

Doug Hartmann Gets Two Years, Life of Shame

by Michael R. Allen

The fire-damaged Nord St. Louis Turnverein is just the most spectacular instance of the impact of Doug Hartmann’s real estate empire on the city of St. Louis. During Hartmann’s negligent ownership, the Turnverein went up in a huge blaze on July 6, 2006. Hartmann’s wild ride was already over, actually, and a sale of the property to developer Peter George was underway. George went on to close, and plans to rebuilt the landmark at great cost. If only Hartmann had been half as generous.

The Turnverein is an egregious example. Most of Hartmann’s nearly 150 properties in the city ended up like the corner storefront at the northeast corner of Wyoming and Arkansas avenues in Tower Grove East. Built in 1906, the building was shabby but occupied before Hartmann’s DHP Investments purchased it in 2006. Some work took place, including removal of the second floor windows. Then, everything stopped. Eventually, the building reverted to the city’s Land Reutilization through tax default. To this day, the weeds regularly grow waist high around the building, and a reuse timeline is not certain.

The building at Arkansas and Wyoming is like others that Hartmann accumulated to keep his Ponzi scheme afloat: occupied when purchased, and left a vacant nuisance. Hartmann’s grand plans of taking stable but not gut-rehabbed old buildings and turning them into top-dollar rehabs convinced many investors and banks to finance his fraudulent scheme. In retrospect, the buildings were better off as-is, and the whole mess was a symptom of a momentary development binge.

Last Thursday, Hartmann, of the 1300 block of Crooked Stick Drive in O’Fallon, Missouri, received the lenient sentence for which he had bargained with prosecutors: two years, plus $34 million in restitution that U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey admits will likely never be collected. (Have investigators checked for a Hartmann Swiss bank account?)

Acting United States Attorney Michael W. Reap ought to be ashamed for this pathetic sentence deal. The damage that Hartmann has done to city neighborhoods has taken more than two years to sort out, and much remains to be sorted. Hartmann could be a free man before the corner building at Arkansas and Wyoming is rehabbed.

The sad fact is that the drug runners who use Hartmann’s buildings for operations will face stiffer time in the slammer when they get locked up. If only these folks could meet Hartmann in prison! Of course, our white suburban fiend gets the justice that he does not deserve: a slap on the wrist in a cozy white-collar jail for bankrupting good people, cheating investors and leaving neighborhoods more vulnerable. Those who protest the inequity of our justice system are vindicated again. However, Hartmann will hardly be a free man upon return. We know his crimes too well now.