Downtown Hamilton Heights Historic Preservation Midtown National Register O'Fallon SHPO St. Louis County The Ville

Eight St. Louis Area Sites Headed to National Register

by Michael R. Allen

At its quarterly meeting Friday in Joplin, the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation voted to approve the following St. Louis area nominations to the National Register of Historic Places and forward them to the Keeper of the National Register:

  • Holly Place Historic District (prepared by Carolyn Toft, Michael Allen and Tom Duda for Landmarks Association of St. Louis)
  • Plaza Square Apartments Historic District (Carolyn Toft and Michael Allen for Landmarks Association of St. Louis)
  • Glen Echo Historic District (Ruth Keenoy, Karen Bode Baxter, Timothy P. Maloney and Sara Bularzik)
  • Ramsey Accessories Manufacturing Company Building (Matthew S. Bivens for SCI Engineering)
  • Harrison School (Julie Wooldridge for Lafser and Associates)
  • Hempstead School (Julie Wooldridge for Lafser and Associates)
  • Olive & Locust Historic Business District (Julie Wooldridge for Lafser and Associates)
  • Wagoner Place Historic District (Kathleen E. Shea and Jan Cameron for the Cultural Resources Office, City of St. Louis)

All votes were unanimous, although the Plaza Square Apartments Historic District is being sent for substantive review due to its construction date within the past 50 years. Nominations forwarded by the Advisory Council are typically listed on the Register within 45 business days of approval.

Notable among the approved nominations are the Plaza Square Apartments district, a local milestone of midcentury urban renewal and modern architecture. Under national regulations, nominations of properties that have achieved significance with the past 50 years require a demonstration of exceptional significance. Such nominations are infrequent, but contribute to greater recognition of the architectural achievements of the middle of the twentieth century.

Detail of one of the Plaza Square Apartments buildings.

Also interesting was the deliberation over the Ramsey Accessories Manufacturing Corporation Building at 3693 Forest Park Boulevard in St. Louis city, a nomination that raised issues of integrity due to the yet-incomplete removal of the stucco and concrete slipcover added in 1969 that covers the three-story building,. built in 1923 with addition in 1934. Fortunately, Bivens unearthed a wealth of information on the Ramsey Corporation that manufactured the “Ramco” piston ring and showed that the primary elevation is largely intact underneath the slipcover. The McGowan Brothers have an option on the building and hope to restore its original appearance.

One nomination not approved was that of Big Boy’s Restaurant in Wright City. The Council tabled the nomination due to concerns about an underdeveloped statement of significance while generally finding the building eligible for listing. With some improvement, the nomination should be in good shape by the next quarterly meeting in August.

Demolition Housing North St. Louis O'Fallon

Florissant Center Apartments

by Michael R. Allen

The sturdy 36-unit Florissant Center Apartments are undergoing demolition, to be replaced by new construction. The demolition is representative of a larger planning hostility toward large-scale unsubsidized multi-unit apartment buildings. The city government is discouraging the renovation of apartment buildings for apartment use, favoring either conversion into upscale, larger condominium-style units or outright demolition and replacement with new construction. The only sort of multi-unit apartment building that city planners seem to favor is the federally-subsidized, income-restricted sort. While income-restricted apartment buildings are certainly needed, market-rate apartment housing is equally needed by thousands of people. There are many people who cannot qualify for mortgages, or who would rather not own property, whose presence in the city is beneficial. Students, young couples, elderly people, disabled people and others who may prefer apartment living aren’t the undesirable folks city planners make them out to be nowadays. Renters bring energy to a neighborhood.

The planners’ disdain for rental housing, though, stems less from a hatred of renters than from a tendency to not question the profit-drive desires of developers who can make more money from selling larger living spaces than from rental units — without having to stick around and maintain the buildings they renovate or build. Developing and maintaining quality apartment housing requires patience and commitment, values many developers don’t have — or won’t allow themselves in their rush to make money.

The trend to destroy apartment buildings is short-sighted, of course. Apartment housing usually is more dense than what replaces it, and thus makes for more street life and greater population. A city as desperately in need of increasing its population as St. Louis will kill itself if it does anything but increase the number of new apartment units (along with numbers of other kinds of units, of course). Planners who view apartments as obstacles to big projects and big sales are hurting St. Louis.

The Florissant Center Apartments are better-built than whatever will replace them. Dating from the late 1910’s, the building exemplifies the best tendencies in simple Craftsman stock design, with ample fenestration and restrained ornament. (I am pleased to mention that Larry Giles salvaged nearly all of the ornamental terra cotta from the building.) The interior courtyard affords some privacy for tenants as they enter and exit the building but also encourages interaction among them in what is a transitional space between public and private. The materials used are among the best from that time: birch wood, solid Hydraulic-Press-Brick face-brick and stock terra cotta ornament of local design. Even in the early stage of demolition, the building is sound enough to rescue. The still-level floors that we saw inside indicate that the structure could have stood at least another 100 years. The location across the street from O’Fallon Park is simply lovely.