McRee Town South St. Louis

4343 McRee Avenue Offered for $1

by Michael R. Allen

Tom Pickel, Executive Director of the Garden District Commission is offering the unique house at 4343 McRee Avenue for $1:

The Garden District Commission, a community-based non-profit, owns a unique historic house at 4343 McRee Avenue in the Botanical Heights neighborhood that is threatened with demolition. The GDC would very much like to see the building preserved and rehabbed and is prepared to deed it for $1 to a capable rehabber. Must have the skills, experience and funding to undertake a substantial project. The building is located within the Liggett & Myers National Register Historic District and 10-year tax abatement is available. The re-use of the property could be either residential or commercial.

You will be hearing much more about development in Botanical Heights in the coming months and this is a great opportunity to be part of some exciting things.

Interested buyers can contact Tom Pickel at

The house enjoys one of the most unique sites in the neighborhood.  It sits on the south side of the intersection of east-west McRee Avenue and an alley that runs parallel to diagonal Vandeventer Avenue.  Consequently, the house has a wedge-shaped profile with a delightful rounded corner.

According to Lynn Josse, who wrote the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Liggett and Myers Historic District, the house dates to 1892 and is one of the most peculiar examples of the Queen Anne style in the district.

However, the house at 4343 McRee Avenue is part of a group of three Queen Anne-influenced eclectic houses on the south face of a lovely block.  The house is just down the block from the building at Tower Grove Avenue and McRee recently rehabilitated to house Urban Improvement Construction and Central Design Office, firms operated by Brent Crittenden and Sarah Gibson.  Just one block east onthe 4200 block of McRee, UIC and CDO are working on a redevelopment plan to construct 12 new houses and rehabilitate 16 others.  That momentum makes 4343 McRee Avenue a great investment.

McRee Town Rehabbing South St. Louis

Rehabbing at McRee and Tower Grove

by Michael R. Allen

In 2004, the building at 4301 McRee Avenue (at Tower Grove Avenue) was vacant. The terra cotta wrapped double entrance surround at the corner attract many an eye due to its ornate pediments. The pediments feature a mortar and pestle at center that commemorates the building’s original drug store tenant. Yet the rest of the building was rough, with all second floor windows missing. The Garden District Commission had acquired the building, and its future was unknown.

The unknown future arrived through architects Brent Crittenden and Sara Gibson, who purchased the building in 2006. In 2008, the building was rehabilitated as the home for Crittenden and Gibson’s enterprises, Urban Improvement Construction and the Central Design Office.

Crittenden and Gibson have a vision for a reborn Tower Grove Avenue in McRee Town, and the corner pharmacy is not their only finished project. When neighborhood anchor Tower Grove Hardware closed — and this writer was among those who did mourn the passing — the duo purchased the two-story store building at 1624 Tower Grove Avenue across the street from their offices. Rehabilitation was complete by the end of summer 2009. The large storefront openings now are inviting with large windows, after having been covered in boards for decades. Both this building and the corner building at 4301 McRee Avenue are now contributing resources to the Liggett and Myers Historic District.

McRee Town National Register South St. Louis

Hope for McRee Town

by Michael R. Allen

As part of the Garden District Commission’s Botanical Heights project, the six eastern blocks of the McRee Town neighborhood bounded by 39th, DeTonty, Thurman and Folsom streets was nearly completely demolished. The project required a Memorandum of Agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office due to the extensive demolition. Part of the agreement entailed removing McRee Town’s National Register of Historic Places listing, the Tiffany-Dundee Place Historic District, and then re-listing the Tiffany neighborhood east of 39th Street and McRee Town west of Thurman.

In 2007, the Garden District Commission hired Lynn Josse, the city’s leading expert on creating urban historic districts, to undertake the difficult task of trying to re-list the severed section of McRee Town. However, the resulting Liggett and Myers Historic District not only included all remaining previously-listed buildings west of Thurman but ended up including several buildings never before listed. The district listing certainly is encouraging to efforts to create historic districts in similarly-compromised sections of the city.

Boundaries of the Liggett and Myers Historic District

Josse’s district nomination establishes the significance of the former Liggett and Myers Tobacco plant (designed by Isaac Taylor and constructed starting in 1896) at the north end of the neighborhood, and ties many residents of the historic dwellings to the south to employment at Liggett and Myers.

The former Liggett and Myers Tobacco plant, looking northwest from Folsom Avenue.

The district includes a wide range of building types, with most buildings being residential buildings built between 1890 and 1930. There are a few storefront commercial buildings, a former synagogue and a booster station included as well. Some modern infill housing is also included, as well as a number of vacant lots. No form or style dominates. In short, this collection of buildings was not an easy one to list as a single, unitary historic district — but not an impossible one.

Many gorgeous Craftsman bungalows line Lafayette Avenue; this view shows Lafayette just west of Klemm.

This row on Blaine Avenue between Thurman and Klemm combines a Romanesque cornice replete with consoles and a frieze and cast iron lintels over the entrances more typical of earlier styles.
McRee Avenue west of Thurman is lined with many two- and four-flats in the Craftsman style.

These industrial buildings on the west side of Tower Grove Avenue are included in the district.

This corner commercial building at the northeast corner of Blaine and Tower Grove avenues is a rehab opportunity.

Some of the oldest buildings in the district are on the north side of McRee Avenue west of Tower Grove.

The Queen Ann style house at 4343 McRee Avenue sits on a diagonal alley line (left) and thus has an irregular shape. The Garden District Commission owns the house.

This L-shaped Italianate house is located at 4235 Blaine Avenue.

The new historic district demonstrates a commitment by the Garden District to a careful strategy of rehabilitation for the remaining section of McRee Town. This approach would have worked east of Thurman, in my opinion, but that chance was lost. Thankfully, the rest of the historic neighborhood has regained its historic district status and, with it, a powerful boost to its future endurance.

Clearance Events Historic Preservation McRee Town People South St. Louis Urbanism

Talking About McRee Town

by Michael R. Allen

Jackie Jones introduces her presentation.

Yesterday afternoon St. Louis University doctoral student Jackie Jones presented her dissertation thesis, “Picturing a Neighborhood: McRee Town in Saint Louis, Missouri,” to a crowd at the Royale, 3132 S. Kingshighway. The interesting venue for Jones’ presentation and resulting discussion offered a relaxed setting for what remains a controversial topic: the wholesale clearance of six blocks of an urban neighborhood by the Garden District Commision and resulting replacement by new housing. Jones disavowed any stance on the clearance, instead focusing on how images were used to justify the clearance in the press — and how other images contradict the story told by the Commission’s carefully-selected images.

Here’s Jones’ own description of her presentation:

In 2003, the Garden District Commission demolished more than two hundred buildings on the eastern half of the McRee Town neighborhood in Saint Louis. The Commission, a private coalition headed by officials from the nearby Missouri Botanical Garden, demolished six blocks of historic brick homes and apartment buildings that housed primarily low-income renters and homeowners, relocated hundreds of residents, erected twenty-five acres of market-rate, single-family, suburban-style housing on the cleared land, and ceremoniously renamed the area Botanical Heights. This presentation explores how visual representations of McRee Town between 1998-2003 helped legitimize this urban renewal project and the dislocations it caused in the lives of McRee Town residents. It engages viewers with the photographs of burned-out, boarded-up, weed-infested buildings that populated newspaper reports and public relations documents during these five years, and juxtaposes them with photographs taken by Genevelyn Peters, a McRee Town resident prior to the neighborhood’s destruction. These images – of family, homelife, play, and community – complicate and challenge the dominant understanding of this neighborhood and its residents as criminal and atomized by presenting images that depict a vibrant neighborhood community.

People listen to Jones’ making a point.

The people present included someone involved in the decision to clear the six blocks, residents of Botanical Heights (the new housing development), the area’s Neighborhood Stabilization Officer Luke Reven and others. While I had to leave before discussion was over, discussion touched on the damaging impact of I-44 construction in the early 1970s, the way in which similar images as those taken in McRee Town galvanized Lafayette Square and Soulard residents to pursue preservation instead of clearance, the deceptive nature of photographs and whether or not the term “suburban” applies to Botanical Heights.

Looking west down McRee Avenue from 39th Street.

On another note, if Royale proprietor Steven Fitzpatrick Smith is attempting to revive the tradition of the discussion salon, count me in!

Demolition Fire Housing McRee Town

Folsom Avenue Blues – Part Two

by Michael R. Allen

Here are some images showing the 3900-4000 block of Folsom Avenue in McRee Town on October 31, 2004. As the images show, the castellated two-flats were more abundant then, providing a sense of their effect on the block.

One of the buildings had recently experienced a suspicious fire.

Demolition Historic Preservation McRee Town

Folsom Avenue Blues

by Michael R. Allen

The houses at 4042 and 4046 Folsom Avenue.

The house at 4062 Folsom Avenue.

Three houses remain on the south side of the block of Folsom Avenue between Lawrence and Thurman avenues in McRee Town. Last month there were four, until the Garden District Commission had the other one wrecked.

As the backgrounds in these photographs indicate, these houses are survivors — more remnants than fabric. These houses are located in the six block section of McRee Town slated for total demolition by a 2004 redevelopment ordinance, and how they survived to the present day is pure chance. These should have wrecked in the architectural massacre that played out in 2004, and should have been gone in time for the residents of the new Botanical Heights to never get a sense of the working class vernacular that made McRee Town a special place.

Instead, the four identical two-flats remained for awhile. The flats at 4056 and 4062 Folsom had long been vacant before demolition started at 4056 Folsom last month. However, the flats at 4042 Folsom remain occupied and privately owned. The Garden District Commission intends to have all gone at some point. Of course, the architectural character of this block was once created through intense repetition. There were once 20 of these bay-fronted, castellated two story flats in a row. The effect must have been exquisite. Right across the street from the mighty Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company plant stood a row of modest rental flats whose iconography proclaimed in chorus: every person’s home is his castle!

Alas, the three remaining buildings are probably too broken-hearted to proclaim anything. Maybe there is a soft whimpering “save me,” but fate is sealed. These houses are not to stand the test of time, but be replaced with new houses whose relative extravagance may proclaim exactly the same message as before, only louder and more insistently.

Yet there is hope for other remaining sections of McRee Town: on the December 22 agenda of the St. Louis Preservation Board is consideration of the Liggett and Myers Historic District, a National Register historic district funded by the Garden District that would get the other six blocks of McRee City and related industrial property onto the National Register (again, in the case of the six residential blocks and the Liggett and Myers plant that were de-listed in 2004). The working class castles west of Thurman may get to sing for some years more.

Hyde Park McRee Town North St. Louis Preservation Board Shaw South St. Louis

At the Preservation Board Today

by Michael R. Allen

The agenda for today’s St. Louis Preservation Board meeting contains some interesting items. Under the item “4104-54 DeTonty” we find that McBride and Son wants to retain some of the existing buildings on the block. Still, McBride wants to level two great Craftsman-style four-flats that, while derelict, are structurally stable enough for rehab (and vastly superior in materials and detail to any new houses I’ve seen in the city). Under “4008 N. 25th Street” — one of two Hyde Park items on the agenda — the Cultural Resources staff is urging preservation of a sound, small fachwerk (part brick, part timber) building that Alderman Freeman Bosley wants demolished.

Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: June 2005

Looking east near the intersection of McRee and Lawrence avenues.

Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: May 2005

by Michael R. Allen

By May, only a handful of buildings remained in the clearance area. These were the buildings whose owners had held out to appeal the prices set through condemnation hearings or buildings whose tenants insisted on remaining until their leases were up. On the 4000 block of Lafayette, 4035 and 4037 remained occupied throughout May while 4055 and 4057 had recently emptied and were under demolition. 4037 Lafayette looked like it had been renovated in the recent past; its demolition seemed totally pointless. As of January 2006, the four-flat building at 4035 still stands.

4035 & 4037 Lafayette Avenue

4055 & 4057 Lafayette Avenue

Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: March 2005