Mid-Century Modern National Register St. Louis County University City

Murphy Residence Listed in National Register

by Michael R. Allen

On May 10, the National Park Service listed in the Joseph and Ann Murphy Residence at 7901 Stanford Avenue in University City in the National Register of Historic Places. The Murphy Residence, owned by Joseph Murphy’s daughter Caroline and her husband Vincent DeForest, is one of St. Louis’ first truly modern residential designs. Completed in 1939 and expanded in 1950 and 1962, the home was key in introducing International Style-inspired modernist design to the St. Louis region. While Murphy became best known for his later work, including the Climatron and Olin Library at Washington University, this house represented an early accomplishment in his career and in the story of modern architecture in St. Louis.

Read the full text of my National Register of Historic Places nomination here.

Fox Park National Register South St. Louis Tower Grove East

Historic Districts In and (Mostly) Around Tower Grove East

by Michael R. Allen

Last night’s Tower Grove East Neighborhood Association meeting included a presentation by Lynn Josse on the different types of historic districts, how they work and how they get created. Lynn distributed a flier that included the following map.

As the map shows, a large swath of Tower Grove East and the southern end of Fox Park are surrounded by districts but not included in any. All or part of 45 blocks in Tower Grove East have no historic district status, and thus no availability of rehabilitation tax credits being used all around south city.

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.

Central West End Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern National Register

Momentary Reprieve for Two of Lindell’s Modern Buildings

by Michael R. Allen

The view here might exist for awhile longer. Today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that CVS’ plan to demolish the three buildings at the southwest corner of Sarah and Lindell avenues is off. CVS no longer plans to pursue purchase of the buildings. Observers had seen a conspicuous for-sale sign go up in front of one of the buildings a few weeks ago.

Sometimes the market is the strongest preservation force. Of course, the market will be up again, and financing for new construction on the sites of these buildings could be easy to obtain. Thus what happens next is important. These three buildings are attractive, usable urban buildings.

On the corner, at 4100 Lindell, we have Hellmuth Obata Kassebaum’s Sperry-Rand Building (1956), most recently the home of the St. Louis Housing Authority. The minimalist modernism has a lot of potential for commercial or retail space.

The small building next door at 4108 Lindell, originally home of the St. Louis Society for Crippled Children, dates to 1960. This is a supporting player in the cast of local modern architecture, but handsome in its own right. The St. Louis Housing Authority also owns this building.

The final building, located at 4120 Lindell Boulevard, is a two-story Colonial Revival office building from 1937 much larger than its front elevation suggests. The setback may not meet the urbanist formula, but the density of site use is pretty solid. However elegant, the Colonial Revival buildings on Lindell are admittedly not as architecturally significant as their modern brethren.

The modern buildings form an architectural context recently demonstrated in the successful listing in the National Register of Historic Places nomination of the at 4630 Lindell. Not all of the modern buildings on Lindell can be listed individually. Clearly, however, the modern buildings on Lindell as a group have sufficient significance to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places under a multiple-property cover. That action would make it easier for interested owners to list their buildings and be eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits. Then, the market might be more than a momentary ally in preservation efforts.

National Register North St. Louis Old North Wells-Goodfellow

Year Ends for the Better in Two North St. Louis Commercial Districts

by Michael R. Allen

St. Louis Public Radio aired my latest commentary this morning. Listen to it here. The extended script follows.

This year ends with positive changes for two of north St. Louis’ most distressed neighborhood commercial districts – the 14th Street district in Old North St. Louis and a section of Martin Luther King Drive in the Wellston Loop area.

In Old North, the $35 million Crown Square redevelopment project has transformed two blocks that once were the commercial center of the neighborhood. In 1977, using federal funds, the city of St. Louis closed the street to create a pedestrian mall. Eventually that mall killed the foot and vehicle traffic necessary to sustain the businesses.

Thankfully and improbably, most of the buildings fronting 14th Street on the two blocks between St. Louis and Warren streets survived abandonment. Now, these buildings have been beautifully rehabilitated into residential and commercial spaces. 14th Street is set to reopen to traffic early next year. Old North will regain a vital center.

The good news in the Martin Luther King Drive in the Wellston Loop area comes from an earlier chapter in the renewal story than the news from Old North. In November, a state review council approved a National Register of Historic Places nomination for 65 buildings on or around the north side thoroughfare from Clara Avenue west to the city limits.

The designation honors the cultural and architectural significance of what was in the late 1940s the city’s busiest shopping district. However, the designation also makes available rehabilitation tax credits long sought by building owners in the area. Such credits were crucial in rebuilding Crown Square.

Commercial districts are barometers of neighborhood health. Once they die, a neighborhood may be gone forever. By all indications, Old North and the Wellston Loop have a lot of life left in them.

Adaptive Reuse Historic Preservation Midtown National Register

Transformation on Forest Park Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

Step one: Take one leap of faith to believe that underneath an ugly slipcover is a building that can be rehabilitated. Take a peak under that cover.

Step two: Utilize historic rehabilitation tax credits, get your drawings and permits in hand, find financing and start the recovery of a badly-remuddled building.

Step three: Keep going.

Step four: Complete work and enjoy the good work done.

I’m oversimplifying the many steps that went into the transformation of the building at 3963 Forest Park Avenue (at Spring Avenue) into the lovely Spring Street Lofts. The story actually started back in 1923, when the Davis Boring Machine Company built the west side of the three-story factory. Designed by C.G. Schoelch, this fine brick factory building originally was symmetrical. The shaped parapet, classical terra cotta entrance and decorative brickwork on the front elevation gave a basic concrete box some style.

By 1929, the Davis company ceded the building to the Ramsey Accessories Manufacturing Company. This was a shift from one automobile-related factory to another; the Davis company manufactured machine tools for engine boring and the Ramsey company made piston rings. Both businesses were part of a vibrant St. Louis automotive industry centered around the Midtown area with showrooms and distributors on Locust Street and large-scale manufacturing on Forest Park and adjacent streets. In the late 1920s, St. Louis was in a close second behind Detroit as the center of American automobile manufacturing.

Ramsey expanded the building in 1934 from plans by Brussel and Vitterbo. Later, in 1969 after the automotive heyday, Victoria Products company “modernized” the building with a stucco veneer. Help arrived in 2006, when McGowan Brothers Development sized up a diamond in the rough. Complications ensued with the developers not wanting to remove the slipcover without some certainty on use of historic tax credits. The National Register of Historic Place designation that would allow tax credits to be used on the rehab required architectural integrity of the building. Fortunately, the slipcover did not destroy the original front elevation. Historian Matt Bivens’ persistence with a draft nomination and Karen Bode Baxter’s assistance allowed for eventual listing on April 16, 2008 — in time for the depth of recession.

The McGowan Brothers plunged ahead, though, and the project today is complete. Only five of the 48 apartment units are available, according to the building’s web site. A bar is set to open in the first floor. St. Louis University gains more urban activity just a block away, and a historic building again looks historic.

Of course, this dramatic transformation is not new to Forest Park. Just across Spring from the Spring Street Lofts is the home of the Aquinas Institute. Built in 1903 as the home of Standard Adding Company (G.N. Hinchman was the architect), the building had been partially clad in corrugated metal siding. The Institute opened its doors in the beautifully rehabilitated space in 2006, and the project won one of Landmarks Association of St. Louis‘ Most Enhanced Places awards that year.

Holly Hills National Register South St. Louis

Grand-Bates Historic District Listed; More to Come

by Michael R. Allen

On September 16, the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places listed the Grand-Bates Suburb Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places. The district encompasses the residential area roughly bounded by Grand Avenue on the west, Bates Avenue on the north, I-55 on the east and Iron Street on the south. the nomination was written by Andrew Weil, Research Associate for Landmarks Association of St. Louis and funded through the work of Alderman Matt Villa (D-11th).

Missing from the nomination is an area between Iron and Carondelet Park that could not be included due to the architectural gulf between it and the more consistent part of the district. Thus, landmarks like the Corinthian Baptist Church on Idaho Avenue (anchor of Carondelet’s historic African-American enclave), First District Police Station and the Seventh Church of Christ Scientist on Holly Hills Boulevard, the Southern Funeral Home on Grand Boulevard — all eligible for listing as single sites or as part of another district — are not covered. Hopefully they will get listed as well.

Downtown Mid-Century Modern National Register

Farm & Home Building’s Modern Slipcover Now Historic

by Michael R. Allen

Downtown development may be crawling along right now, but one stand-out project is leaping ahead. LoftWorks is redeveloping the Farm and Home Building (to be known by its 10th Street address as the “411”) at the northwest corner of 10th and Locust streets. Several things are notable about the project, which is well underway and due for completion next year. For one thing, the end use will be the original — office space with ground-floor retail. For another, the 60,000 square-foot building will get a green rehab, with a vegetation roof and gray- and rainwater recycling systems. The $12.7 million project shows that LoftWorks is downtown’s Little Engine That Will. LoftWorks just completed rehabilitation of the Syndicate Trust Building, opened Left Bank Books across the street from the Farm and Home.

What is most astounding to me, however, is that the rehabilitation will preserve the existing exterior appearance of the building. In most cases, that’s a given, but the Farm and Home Building is actually a morphed version of the Kinloch Building. In 1954, the owners of the Classical Revival building designed by Widmann, Walsh and Boisselier decided to join the downtown modernization trend. With construction materials scarce and expensive after World War II, many owners tried inexpensive projects to give their buildings a mid-century vibe. Some simply removed cornices. Others reclad just the ground floors so that the sidewalk views were clean and modern. Others went all-out and completely clad historic buildings in modern materials.

The Farm and Home Building is one of the most extensive of these projects — not only was the masonry building reclad, but its terra cotta ornament ground off to accept the new granite, concrete and metal panels. (Other notable projects from this period include the Dorsa Building, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Building and the Mercantile Library Building.)

While the Farm and Home is not a knock-out work of mid-century slipcover design, it’s handsome. Other recladding jobs, like the garish work that covered the Post-Dispatch Building at 1139 Olive Street, dated rather quickly and raised the question of whether or not they were actually an improvement. Many developers have chosen to remove their cladding, like at the Post-Dispatch Building, and mostly the recladding work has proven reversible. Not so at Farm and Home.

In order to qualify for the National Register of Historic Places and thus for state historic rehabilitation tax credits, a building must exhibit integrity of historic design. To nominate the Farm and Home Building as the Kinloch Building would have required extensive reconstruction work — not eligible for credits — before a nomination could even take place. Hence, LoftWorks successfully explored a different strategy: list the Farm and Home for what it now is, an early example of extensive mid-century modernization design. The National Park Service listed the Farm and Home Building on the National Register on October 29, 2008. The Farm and Home Building now is officially historic because of its slipcover.

Historic Preservation National Register North St. Louis The Ville

Full Text of Chuck Berry House Nomination Now Online

by Michael R. Allen

The full text of the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Chuck Berry House, located at 3137 Whittier in the Greater Ville, is now online. Read the nomination here.

Among the features of the house noted in the nomination is the plain concrete block addition in the rear. Why is that addition so special? Because Chuck Berry himself had it built while he owned the house, making it the music legend’s first foray into architecture.

Housing National Register North St. Louis The Ville

Chuck Berry House Listed in National Register of Historic Places

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph by Lindsey Derrington.

On Friday, the National Park Service listed the Chuck Berry House at 3137 Whittier Avenue in the National Register of Historic Places. The listing is the result of the diligence of my colleague Lindsey Derrington, Researcher for Landmarks Association of St. Louis. Last year, Lindsey identified the house and its National register eligibility. She pursued the nomination against long odds — the National Park Service has a long-standing policy to not list properties whose significance comes from association with living people.

Lindsey demonstrated that the significance of the house lay in the work Berry wrote while living there some fifty years ago — not recent achievement but music that has long been recognized as foundational in American rock and roll. The staff of the State Historic Preservation Office, especially reviewer Roger Maserang, joined the cause and persuaded the federal staff to review the nomination. Now the house has its official place in history, and a modicum of protection against demolition. The owner of the vacant one-story house is a holding company based in Washington state with no discernible intent to rehab the house. The next step is finding a responsible owner for the important house. Meanwhile, we can celebrate the big step taken through Lindsey’s work.