As the Preservation Research Office team conducts its architectural survey of the O’Fallon neighborhood of north St. Louis, it has noted the presence of several intact historic brick alleys. Paved with “paver” bricks made by local manufacturers in the last 19th and early 20th centuries before the rise of concrete street paving, brick alleys are part of the built landscape of the neighborhood — and the city. Unfortunately brick alleys have disappeared along with brick streets. O’Fallon is fortunate to have some remaining in good repair. Those shown here can be found in the H-shaped alley network between Fair, Green Lea, Clay and Penrose streets.
From the Acts Partnership
The Acts Partnership is partnering with Alderman Antonio French to purchase a beautiful, vacant, historic church building to house services for youth and seniors. The response has been great since we first put out the call for help last week. We’re almost there! But time is running out. THE SALE CLOSES ON MONDAY! So if you haven’t yet, please make a donation today to help a great 21st Ward non-profit purchase this historic vacant church building to make it a home for services for youth and seniors.
Channel 2 covered the effort this week:
The building, located in the O’Fallon neighborhood just a block away from O’Fallon Park, stands on the corner Red Bud and Rosalie Streets. The Incarnate Word Foundation, a great partner and supporter of north St. Louis, has agreed to matching generous donation so if you can donate $50 today, The Incarnate Word Foundation will match your donation with another $50! So give today and help us stabilize the community and provide services to seniors and youth this summer.
Yesterday, we conducted the first of several intensive photographic excursions needed for our survey of the O’Fallon neighborhood. By the time we are done with photography this month, we will have photographed an estimated 1,796 buildings in the area roughly bounded by Newstead/Pope avenue, O’Fallon Park, Warne Avenue, Fairground Park and Natural Bridge Avenue. Our work yesterday took us around the Plymouth Park subdivision just south of O’Fallon Park, where we walked Carter, Clarence, Holly, Red Bud, Harris, Fair and Rosalie avenues.
Next we will write a narrative description of each building. Simultaneous to all of this work, we are examining the city’s building permit records on microfilm to learn the date of construction, cost, designer, builder and original owner of each building. This is a tall order, but needed to create a National Register of Historic Places historic district for the entire O’Fallon neighborhood.
As we work, enjoy some of yesterday’s photographs.
by Starr Meek and Lynn Josse
This article first appeared in The Northsider.
The buildings found in the entire O’Fallon neighborhood and in O’Fallon Park should be an official historic district in early 2012. Over the next year, historians from the Preservation Research Office will be found in every part of the O’Fallon neighborhood and in archives all over town. They will be putting together the story of the neighborhood in order to nominate it to the National Register of Historic Places. Alderman Antonio French funded the project for The Acts Partnership in order to increase investment within the neighborhood by enabling property owners to benefit from historic preservation tax credits.
This work takes place at the same time that a similar project is taking place in Penrose, meaning that almost all of the 21st Ward could be included in historic districts in the next year. Currently, Holly Place — the 4500 block of Holly Avenue — is the only historic district in the ward.
“National Register historic districts lead to tremendous benefits for urban neighborhoods,” said team leader and Preservation Research Office Director Michael Allen. “They contribute to a sense of community pride, build identity, and can bring resources and investment.” Unlike local historic districts, the proposed National Register district will not involve any additional restrictions on properties — just benefits such as Missouriâ€™s 25% historic rehabilitation tax credit.
The O’Fallon neighborhood has a long and interesting history. Subdivision development began as early as 1859 with the subdivision of the White familyâ€™s farm. Other major landholders in the area are now familiar names, including Shreve, Vandeventer, Carter, and of course O’Fallon. In 1875, the city purchased portions of John O’Fallonâ€™s estate, dedicating 158 acres as O’Fallon Park in 1875. Amenities were added with the lake in the 1890s and the boat house in 1908.
The development of O’Fallon Park led to development of the area just south through the O’Fallon Heights, Plymouth Park and Wanstrath Place subdivisions. Early transit lines to the area were limited to parts of Natural Bridge in the 19th century. Streetcar service was later added on Florissant, Lee, Newstead and Fair/Harris avenues. These subdivisions generally were developed between 1890 and 1930 with buildings using prevalent locally-sourced materials like decorative and standard brick, limestone, and clay roof tile. Major buildings include the Boathouse in O’Fallon Park, Holy Rosary Church and Full Gospel Apostolic Church.
To be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, a neighborhood must have significant architecture or history. O’Fallon retains a consistent density and use of common building materials that unites the neighborhood. The entire process will take a little more than a year from project beginning in February to its end next spring.
Oral History Project
As part of the survey and historic district project, the Preservation Research Office is conducting interviews with O’Fallon residents. Our intern Christian Frommelt, a senior anthropology major at Washington University in St. Louis, has a special interest in oral history that we are utilizing this spring. The historians especially want to get stories from long-time residents. Since much of the neighborhood was built a long time ago, the team wants to make sure that current residents are also part of the recorded history of O’Fallon. Team members will collect residents’ stories about the neighborhood at the Acts Partnership office at 4202 Natural Bridge throughout the spring.
by Michael R. Allen
It’s an exciting busy day in the city, and an appropriate start to this year’s Historic Preservation Month. Open Streets has just wrapped up, and while giving a walking tour on Lindell with Toby Weiss I saw dozens of pedestrians and cyclists taking advantage of the street closure. Can’t wait for it to happen again!
Up in the 21st Ward, today is a big blitz of home repair by Rebuilding Together. Alderman Antonio French already has posted a video.
While big rehab projects garner most headlines, most homeowners in the city don’t need or can’t afford expensive projects. Neighborhood stabilization requires many showcase projects but many more efforts to retain existing residents. Kudos to the volunteers working today in the 21st ward!
Good Times in O’Fallon Park
by Michael R. Allen
Last night, vocalist Denise Thimes closed out the last night of the O’Fallon Park Jazz Concert Series. Hundreds of people, including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, attended the concert, which was packed with a spirited long set from Thimes.
More than once, Thimes proclaimed her genuine giddiness that once again people were spending a beautiful late summer night at a concert in O’Fallon Park. Thimes and the crowd both shared the great feeling that things are on a different track for the historic park and its surrounding neighborhood.
The concert series is one of the many initiatives of the area’s recently-elected Alderman Antonio French (D-21st), and it is definitely a fun, visible way to proclaim that change is here. With the forthcoming groundbreaking on the new recreation center in the park, O’Fallon Park is finally getting its due, and along with it north St. Louis.
Video can be found on the 21st Ward website, and photographs are on Flickr.
No slight is intended toward two of my other favorite north side park-based concert series: the Whitaker Urban Evening Series at St. Louis Place Park and the Concerts at Ivory Perry Park. Alas, these have also concluded — make sure you check one out next year!
by Michael R. Allen
The house shown here, located at 4448 Athlone Avenue in the O’Fallon neighborhood, is just one of the 225 vacant properties purchased by a holding company named Urban Assets LLC in the last six months. The spending spree has attracted the notice of neighborhood leaders and elected officials across north St. Louis. Urban Assets has purchased across a wide swath of north St. Louis, mostly between Delmar Boulevard on the south and Natural Bridge Avenue on the north — all of the way from Grand Avenue on the east to the city limits on the west.
Here is a crude map of the holdings made by this writer using Geo St. Louis:
The holdings are spread across nine wards and include 120 vacant lots and 85 buildings, mostly historic. The wards and number of properties are as follows: Ward 1 (7), Ward 3 (4), Ward 4 (64), Ward 5 (5), Ward 18 (39), Ward 19 (11), Ward 21 (4), Ward 22 (64) and Ward 26 (27).
There are distinct concentrations in the Ville and Greater Ville neighborhoods as well as the Wells-Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods. There are a handful, like 4448 Athlone, standing alone far from other holdings. Urban Assets began aggressively purchasing properties at Sheriff’s tax sales in September 2008. Most of the holdings come from tax sale purchasing, with prices often less than $2,000 at auctions with no other bidders.
This purchase pattern is reminiscent of the start of purchasing by McEagle holding companies like the infamous Blairmont Associates LC — and the same real estate broker is making the purchases for the parties behind the holding company.
On June 6, 2008, real estate broker Harvey Noble of Eagle Realty incorporated Urban Assets LLC online. The incorporation filing and the registered agent listing on the Secretary of State’s website misspell Noble’s name as “Nobel” and incorrectly state that the zip code for Noble’s office is 63102.
On the record with KWMU and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Paul J. McKee, Jr. denies any involvement with Urban Assets. Examining the acquisition patterns of Urban Assets, one sees that there is no overlap with the McEagle project and a few intense concentrations that suggest efforts to buy out other areas. Whoever is behind Urban Assets could very well soon be in competition with McEagle for the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act.
While Urban Assets seems to be buying whatever it can acquire in certain small areas, generally the company seems interested in vacant property in as much of north St. Louis as possible. The acquisitions almost seem like a private land bank like the city’s Land Reutilization Authority.
The only apparent incentive to this type of far-flung land banking, however, is the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit. In order to receive that credit, a developer must be appointed redeveloper by the Board of Aldermen. Redevelopment rights don’t necessarily mean that a developer will clear-cut a redevelopment area. Those rights fundamentally mean that a developer acts as gatekeeper for all investment within a redevelopment area — allowing some in and keeping others out.
Is Urban Assets seeking to become a gatekeeper for north St. Louis, or is their acquisition simply a land-banking scheme?
by Michael R. Allen
In honor of Tuesday’s election of Antonio French as 21st ward alderman, here are two storefront additions found in the 21st ward. While I can’t claim that French shares my enthusiasm for these strange and often-awkward works of architecture, I have to say that his preservation-minded platform hints at great things to come in the 21st ward over the next four years.
The storefront addition at 4218 Lee Avenue just west of Harris Avenue might be the ugliest one featured in this blog to date. The brick addition, built around 1920, blocks the view of a frame house dating to 1896. Later parging and permastone application don’t help matters. Still, the small commercial space created by the addition could be an office, small shop, studio or other use. The house/storefront combination could be made more attractive and the building repurposed as live/work space.
The storefront addition at the corner of Penrose and Fair is very discreet, almost blending seamlessly into the four-family dwelling to which it is attached. The storefront dates to 1920, and the parent building to just a few years before then. Thus, the architectural vernacular of the residential building — since obscured by replacement of the original parapet materials — was still in vogue when the addition went up, making a harmonious match easy.
Again, the modest scale cries out for reuse as the home of a human-scaled enterprise. Located at a fairly busy corner, this could be a sandwich shop, ice cream stand or any number of things.
Both of these buildings are owned by the Land Reutilization Authority. There is no coincidence in the fact that both Lee and Fair avenues had streetcar lines in the 20th century; these additions lie near intersections where the cars would have stopped frequently throughout the day. Perhaps these hybrid buildings will be ripe for 21st century commercial revitalization. The streetcars are gone, but the population density of the ward remains high, and the future is looking good.
by Michael R. Allen
The Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC) has published staff recommendations for tax credit allocations to be made at the December 12 MHDC meeting. Noteworthy is that the Junction development in Old North (“‘The Junction’ and Old North’s Housing Balance,” November 29) is not among the projects recommended for approval of 9% federal low income housing tax credits. St. Louis projects recommended for approval are the Dick Gregory Place project in the Ville and new phases in the North Newstead Association’s ongoing project in O’Fallon and Better Living Communities’ project in Hyde Park.
by Michael R. Allen
The other day, I passed the southwest corner of Warne and Greelea avenues in the O’Fallon neighborhood and noticed that the apartment building once on the site was gone. The photograph above shows that building, whose address was 4225 Warne, in August 2005. The Land Reutilization Authority wrecked the building in August 2007. Vacant since 1991, the building deteriorated badly under the ownership of Jourdan and Jo Ann Jordan who finally defaulted on taxes, although the couple took out small building permits for work in 2004. Once LRA obtained the property, the roof was missing over half of the building, with massive water damage inside.
So went one of the city’s most picturesque multi-family buildings. The Tudor Revival building had a sense of whimsy, as evidenced by the irresistible small turret and the crenellation. The differentiation of setbacks also showed a smart sensibility on the part of the architect. From among a cluster of modest frame buildings arose this masonry jewel on Warne Avenue. Just west, on the opposite side of the street, is Harrison School. Just north is the commercial strip on Florissant Avenue with its southern dip down Warne. This building clearly intended to line up alongside the fancy commercial buildings and hold its own architecturally. For many years, it did.