Now that my office is at the corner of Cherokee and Jefferson, I have occasion to slip eastward afoot (often for coffee at the Mud House). In the last two months, I have been delighted to find the owners of the two-part commercial building — and by two-part I mean one part store, one part flats above — at 2220-22 Cherokee Street have fully restored their cast iron storefront. The building dates to 1912 and its front is the product of the St. Louis Architectural Iron Company.
On Friday, as part of the epic Southern Graphics Council (SGC) Convention night on Cherokee Street, the St. Louis Mythory Tour made its debut. An expanded version will return soon, as will a new edition of the ‘zine guidebook, printed in a limited edition of 70 for Friday.
St Louis Mythory Tour
a collaborative tour and zine making workshop
by Emily Hemeyer & Michael R. Allen
May 12th, 2011. 6-9pm. Cherokee ReAL Garden. Cherokee Street. St Louis, MO
“[M]yth is speech stolen and restored.”
-Roland Barthes, Mythologies
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The built environment of St. Louis reveals itself through our observations, often clouded by nostalgia, ideology and comparison. We look around us and see inscriptions of what we imagine St. Louis to be, be that a “red brick mama”, an emergent Rust Belt powerhouse, a faded imperial capital or simply our home. St. Louis offers back its own narrative mythologies, presented through chains of linked sites with collective meanings. We quickly find that the city’s own presentation of itself is as veiled as our own observation. There is no one St. Louis, but there is no one archetypal St. Louisan.
The Mythtory Tour imagines a landscape of accrued building that has been neglected, in physical form and human consciousness. This tour presents one possible mythology of place centered on traditions of construction converging across disparate neighborhoods and many generations in order to show us St. Louis. Whether you can find this city out there is irrelevant, because using this map you will find some city worth your love and respect.
Thanks to the Marine Villa Neighborhood Association, the venerable Fire Engine House Number 3 on South Broadway was open to the public this past Saturday during the lively Broadway Art-A-Fair. The fire station sits on a flatiron block bounded by Broadway, Miami and Salena streets, making it a visual fulcrum in the neighborhood.
The Bavarian-influenced fire house was built in 1918 and operated as an engine house until 1968. Alderman Craig Schmid (D-20th, then D-10th) used ward capital improvement funds to renovate the building in 2001, and it is now leased to an individual user. It is rarely open to the public.
The interior is remarkably intact, with bakery brick walls, concrete floor, historic light fixtures and tin ceiling in excellent condition. The bright red paint on the doors and ceilings is a nice touch. Unconfirmed legend enshrined on a building plaque holds that the gleaming white bakery bricks used inside were left over from the construction of buildings at the Anheuser-Busch brewery, not far up Broadway. Bakery brick manufactured by local makers, chiefly the Hydraulic Press Brick Company, was widely used for interiors of industrial and garage buildings by 1918. Many buildings also used bakery brick for exterior accents or wall cladding as well.
Not knowing much about the history of Fire Engine House Number 3, I sought out Mike Seemiller at the Board of Public Service early this week and he showed me drawings for the building. Drawings dated April 1918 and signed by E.R. Kinsey, President of the Board of Public Service and L.R. Bowen, Engineer of Bridges and Buildings show that the fire station’s current appearance is almost exactly as it was built. The drawings also show that the building is the work of staff designers at the Board of Public Service. The building’s Bavarian style is similar to that of Bavarian and Tudor Revival tavern buildings built by Anheuser-Busch in the teens, including the Stork Inn (1910), Gretchen Inn (1913) and Bevo Mill (1917). All of these were designed by the firm Klipstein & Rathmann, leading some historians to suspect that the fire station was also the work of the firm. The Stork Inn occupies a similar flatiron-shaped block, bounded by Virginia, Idaho and Taft streets. However, the architectural drawings for Fire Engine Station Number 3 show that its beautiful, picturesque design is the work of lesser-known public servants.
The historic former fire house at South Broadway and Miami will be open for tours tomorrow during the Broadway Art A Fair, 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Here’s some of what’s going on at the Art-A-Fair tomorrow:
A dozen local artists showcasing their talents, have a portrait sketched of yourself, significant other or children, by long time MV [Marine Villa] resident Bob Dielman, Enjoy music by MV’s very own, Ned and Pee Wee followed by the infamous Box of Nerves. Performances by the St. Louis Hoops group…Did I mention FIRE, Oh Yeah! The day rounds out with a fantastic Capoeira performance, this Afro-Brazilian art form combines, music, dance and martial arts and is sure to amaze onlookers!
Reader Anthony A. sent me these photographs of the St. Louis Carnival Supply Company buildings being demolished. These photographs date to March 22nd and show some of the painted signs underneath the metal cladding. Since the wreckers did not remove the cladding first, the signs were never fully revealed. The buildings are now reduced to rubble piles.
The weary old St. Louis Carnival Supply building — or, rather, buildings since two buildings comprise the structure — is being pushed into the Big Sleep. The south St. Louis landmark, located at 3928 S. Broadway in Marine Villa, is being demolished this month to make way for expansion of a parking lot serving a strip retail center next door. In December 2009, the St. Louis Preservation Board unanimously approved demolition on the condition that the owner, KOBA LP, first obtain a building permit to make facade improvements to the three-story commercial building to the north, which was originally proposed for demolition.
At this point, readers would learn very little from any further complaint about the demolition. How easy is it to take a stand against something that already happened? Oh, easier than tying your shoes — but not as useful. There is a bigger lesson to be learned for ever-wired local preservationists: politics is still local.
When I spoke on historic preservation matters at a meeting of the Chippewa-Broadway Business Association (CBBA) in August 2009, the proposed demolition was a hot topic. Nearly all local parties were opposed to the demolition, although not simply on the basis of architectural merit or urban character. There was considerable concern that the proposed Grace Hill clinic slated to move into the retail strip center will draw patients away from St. Alexius Hospital across the street. St. Alexius has been a neighborhood fixture for over a century, and active in local affairs, including the Business Association.
The community rallied around the hospital, and the first attempt by KOBA LP to secure a demolition permit from the Preservation Board in August — for both buildings — was denied. Aldermen Ken Ortmann (D-9th) and Craig Schmid (D-20th) as well as the CBBA were opposed. Things changed, though, and agreements were reached. The opposition withered. the Preservation Board’s action made it clear that KOBA LP would not be able to get a permit for the building at 3928 S. Broadway, so they withdrew plans to wreck it. By the time of the December Preservation Board meeting, I was the only person to speak against demolition. The game had changed, at the community level.
The demolition contractors did not remove the 1960s metal panels from the 1890s-era commercial building, so the only glimpses of the colorful older signs on the facade come through big holes. The old signs look playful and fun; hopefully there is a photograph of the building before cladding somewhere.
Of course, the buildings are both sound and without the later concrete block addition at the rear of the property, there is now plenty of space for extra parking behind the historic buildings.
Alberta Street runs between the building under demolition and the building being preserved. This intact street is typical of Marine Villa. Vernacular brick houses of varied form, height and setback create a delightfully organic streetscape. Alas, the solid frame of two corner commercial buildings will soon be gone, and a parking lot exit will spill out onto this quiet residential street.
Last fall, chemical giant Sigma-Aldrich Corporation purchased the historic building housing The Brick bar located at 3548 S. Broadway in Marine Villa. The bar quickly shuttered and the building, built in 1887 by brick maker Paul Oehler, is now vacant. So far, Sigma-Aldrich has not announced plans for the building, although speculation of eventual demolition has begun. The Sigma-Aldrich plan sprawls on the southeast side of this stretch of South Broadway. In recent years, the company has wrecked many buildings on Broadway across from the Lemp Brewery complex.
That the building is the work of a brick maker is no surprise. The masonry details of the corner building are unusual for a south city corner storefront. The strongly articulated piers, recessed planes, fine arches and what remains of the blind arcade on the top of the wall reward many viewings. The spandrels (areas under the windows) combine brick patterns and stucco in a manner that suggests later Arts and Crafts experimentation.
Oehler came to St. Louis from Germany in 1861, and quickly established one of south city’s largest brick manufacturing operations. His yard was locate don nearby President Street. Among the founders of the Concordia Turners, Oehler was prosperous. Oehler bought the corner lot in 1885, and by the end of 1887 had completed the substantial three-story building and adjacent one-story feed store.
The cast iron storefront is impressive, with ornate columns and tapered headers. (The false doors and stained glass transoms in the openings are not original.)
Oehler’s company did not make the transition from hand-made brick to hydraulic press production, and the business died with him. However, the family was quite well off from real estate investment alone. After Paul Oehler’s death in 1891, widow Franziska Oehler constructed the three residences at 3542-46 South Broadway in 1893.
The row’s staggered fronts articulate the bend that Broadway makes here. These are typical Romanesque residential buildings for their time. Handsome Roman arches create the window and door openings, ornamental brick friezes and cornices mark the top of the second floor and modest mansard roofs form the third floor. One of the brick dormers retains an original metal finial. The foundation fronts are trimmed in cut limestone. While the mansards are covered by later materials, the row recently was renovated by developer Ben Simms. The units are rentals — nothing fancy, just good apartments with a lot of historic character.
The residences and the the corner building comprise the National Register of Historic Places listing for the Oehler Brick Buildings (8/1/2008), written by Andrew Weil and myself for Landmarks Association of St. Louis. The listing recognizes the unique origin of these buildings, which provide a strong anchor on a changing section of South Broadway. With the Lemp Brewery across the street, and the houses and storefronts of old Marine Villa surrounding Broadway, the solid forces of old industry and brick architecture are palpable here. Sigma-Aldrich can help keep it that way.
Yesterday, the St. Louis Preservation Board voted unanimously to permit demolition of the old St. Louis Carnival Supply Company building at 3928 S. Broadway (see “Old Carnival Supply Buildings Return to the Preservation Board”, December 18. The motion to permit demolition made by David Richardson is conditional; owner KOBA LP must first obtain a building permit for facade improvements to the building at 3924 S. Broadway.
Alderman Ken Ortmann (D-9th) and the Chippewa-Broadway Business Association had previously opposed demolition of both buildings. At the meeting yesterday, Cultural Resources Office (CRO) Director Kate Shea announced that she had received letters of support for demolition of 3928 S. Broadway from both parties and that CRO was changing its position as well. Five residents of the Marine Villa neighborhood sent letters of opposition. I was the only person to testify against the demolition, following KOBA LP owner Ken Nuernberger (ordinarily a preservation-minded developer). As I told the Preservation Board, no matter what cladding covered 3928 S. Broadway and no matter what happens to the other building, the decision still was one between a historic corner commercial building and a surface parking lot.
A Row House By Any Other Standard…
Another matter before the Preservation Board was also of great interest. The owner of the house at 2248 Nebraska in the Fox Park Local Historic District wants to install aluminum windows on her home. CRO staff said they would have approved the windows, except that the house is part of an adjoined row of houses and that the windows would alter the character of the row. CRO recommended denial, but the Board voted unanimously to allow use of the windows. Richardson and Mary Johnson both stated that they believed that the local district standards applied to fee-simple houses and contained no language that enabled CRO to take into consideration neighboring buildings — even if connected — in making a decision about an individual permit.
The two buildings at 3924 and 3928 South Broadway may look like a contrasting pair. One makes a robust display of unpainted, unaltered brick work that includes many patterns. The other building’s front wall is covered in metal paneling, and its side elevation is caked in old paint. Separated by Alberta Avenue, these two buildings were the long-time home of St. Louis Carnival Supply.
Now, these corner anchors sit vacant. This summer, the present owner, KOBA LP, tried to persuade the city’s Preservation Board to permit demolition of both buildings so that the owner could expand the parking lot of an adjacent strip mall where a Grace Hill clinic is located. In August, the Preservation Board voted to deny both demolitions on a preliminary basis. Now, KOBA LP returns with a proposal to demolish the metal-clad building and retain the other.
The city’s Cultural Resources Office (CRO) does not accept the compromise. In a report to the Preservation Board for the Monday, December 21 meeting, the CRO recommends denial of both permits. CRO maintains that the metal-clad building is likely intact under the siding and its appearance could be restored. Furthermore, loss of the building would alter the nearly-intact Alberta Avenue street scape.
CRO is right. The building at 3924 S. Broadway is obviously worth rehabilitation, and the owner’s earlier attempt to demolish it made no sense. However, the other building may be just as obvious a candidate for preservation once the metal siding is removed (an easy preliminary step). Perhaps KOBA LP will have evidence to dispel CRO’s recommendation, but without removing the siding any argument merely will be a good guess.
The Preservation Board meets Monday, December 21 at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street downtown. Testimony may be submitted via e-mail to Adona Buford at BufordA@stlouiscity.com.