Demolition Preservation Board

Expiration Date for Pevely Demolition Approaching

by Michael R. Allen

Today Riverfront Times reporter Sam Levin has a good article about the status of the Pevely Dairy building at Grand and Chouteau. The main question on people’s minds: What is going on with the Pevely Dairy building?

Downtown Parking Preservation Board

More Parking Lots in Downtown St. Louis: Unacceptable

by Michael R. Allen

The red arrow marks 1105-9 Olive Street. The letter P denotes all surface and structured parking in the vicinity.

Yesterday the St. Louis Preservation Board unanimously voted to withhold preliminary approval of Larry Deutsch’s plan to demolish the historic building at 1105-9 Olive Street and replace them with a surface parking lot. Deutsch’s attorney, former alderman and City Counselor Thomas Connelly, attempted to divert consideration of the ordinance criteria with unrelated arguments about the viability of downtown development, tenants’ demands for parking spaces and the loosely-documented structural condition of the building’s east wall.

Downtown Preservation Board

Part of Music Row Threatened

by Michael R. Allen

The building at 1107-09 Olive Street before Maurizio's Pizza closed.

With demolition threatening the building at 1107-09 Olive Street, a look back at the history of the building shows that the building is part of the important “Music Row” cultural district on Olive Street between 10th and Tucker. Today, the narrow buildings on these two blocks that conform to the traditional city lot size share space with larger buildings like the Laclede Gas Building (1911, Mauran Russell & Crowell) and the former St. Louis Post-Dispatch Printing Plant at 1111 Olive Street (1942, Russell, Mullgardt, Schwarz & Van Hoefen). Historically, the encroachment of these big buildings has threatened the little ones, but today the supposed parking needs of the Laclede Gas Building, owned by storied downtown real estate developer Larry Deutsch, is the threat.

Local Historic District Preservation Board Public Policy

New Solar Panel Standards Proposed for City Historic Districts and Sites

by Michael R. Allen

This afternoon Cultural Resources Office Director Betsy Bradley will recommend that the Preservation Board adopt new standards governing solar collectors installed on City Landmarks and Sites and on buildings within Local Historic Districts. The board’s approval will allow the office to put forth new standards for public comment and then adopt a final version as official city policy. Today’s action could put St. Louis ahead of many other cities with historic districts. Nationwide, the preservation community is debating how to fix local ordinances written before solar panels were widely being installed. Although historic preservation and environmental laws are often compatible — and while historic preservation laws are environmental laws — recently there have been conflicts between new energy policies and practices and old approaches within historic preservation.

Solar panels installed on a historic house in Madison, Wisconsin. Photograph from Flickr by Emily Mills.

Locally, there has been at least one recent case in which the owner of a building within a local historic district initially faced denial by CRO of a permit to install street-facing solar panels, but won a new hearing and later approval from the Preservation Board.

Preservation Board

Preservation Board Gets New Member: Alderman Craig Schmid

by Michael R. Allen

Today’s Preservation Board meeting will be the first for its newest member, Alderman Craig Schmid (D-20th). Schmid recently was elected to serve as Chairman of the Public Safety committee of the Board of Aldermen, following the untimely death of previous chair Alderman Greg Carter (D-27th). Under the specifications of Preservation Board composition in the city’s preservation ordinance, the Chairman of the Aldermanic Public Safety Committee is a voting member of the Preservation Board.

Schmid’s vote largely replaces that of Alderman Antonio French (D-21st), who attended Preservation Board meetings in the last two years as the designee of Alderman Carter. French voted against nearly every demolition request that appeared before the board, including those for Sts. Mary and Joseph School (now completely demolished) and the AAA Building (now off the chopping block under a new CVS plan). French surprised some when he voted on the minority side of the 3-2 vote in November 2011 that blocked St. Louis University’s request to demolish of the Pevely Dairy Plant’s corner office building at Chouteau and Grand. French, however, stated that because the university planned a new ambulatory care facility on the site he could support the plan. Alderman French opposed demolition without plans for replacement development.

Schmid has appeared before the board multiple times, most often opposed to demolitions in his ward. In 2009, Schmid led a march against the St. Louis Public Schools’ planned closure of several south side schools, including Shepard School in Marine Villa. Additionally, Schmid has been one of a few aldermen actually willing to repair brick alleys rather than pave over them. Schmid most recently appeared at the board in June in the matter of a city-owned frame flounder house at 3719 Texas Avenue, and agreed to a six-month window of time to find a reuse plan before considering demolition again.

Had Wells Fargo not removed its appeal of a denied demolition permit for the building at 3006-8 Cherokee Street, Schmid’s first demolition vote might have considered a matter in his own ward. In the future he may well get more chances to shape the outcome of demolition matters in neighborhoods like Gravois Park which reside within his ward and have high rates of vacancy.

Downtown Preservation Board

Circuit Court: Bring Facts, Not Claims, to the Preservation Board

by Michael R. Allen

Amid a heat wave and the pop-pop of homegrown independence celebration came an easy-to-overlook but significant preservation victory: the St. Louis Circuit Court’s affirmation of the Preservation Board’s decision to block demolition of the warehouse at the Cupples Station complex known colloquially as “Cupples 7.” Upon appeal by owner Kevin McGowan’s company, the Preservation Board upheld the Cultural Resources Office denial of a demolition permit at its meeting on November 28, 2011. McGowan appealed the decision to the Planning Commission, which voted to take no action.

Cupples Station Building 7 before the barriers went up in 2011.

Under the city’s preservation ordinance, the final appeal is to the Circuit Court. McGowan followed in the footsteps of legendary developer Larry Deutsch, who in 1995 famously obtained a Circuit Court ruling overturning the predecessor Heritage and Urban Design Commission’s denial of demolition of the former Miss Hullings Building at 11th and Locust Streets. McGowan’s Ballpark Lofts III LLC joined creditor Montgomery Bank in a suit against the city in Circuit Court seeking demolition as well as inverse condemnation. On Friday last week, McGowan lost on both counts.

The Circuit Court ruling affirms all of the Cultural Resources Office and Preservation Board findings, yet it concedes that the point of Cupple 7’s soundness under the definition of the preservation ordinance “presents the Court with its most difficult assessment of the evidence.” Yet the Court disagrees with the conclusions submitted by McGowan’s structural engineer. Most importantly, the Court ruling finds that McGowan failed to explore temporary structural stabilization of the building — a point that preservationists brought up at the Preservation Board meeting.

Perhaps the most significant part of the ruling is its dismissal of claims made by McGowan attorney Jerry Altman that structural stabilization of Cupples 7 would cost $7-8 million and full rehabilitation would cost about $52 million. The Court’s response is summed up as “prove it” — the Court finds that McGowan submitted no independent analysis to prove these figures had any basis. Likewise, the Court dismissed Altman’s assertions about the loss should McGowan’s company sell the building for less than its mortgage of $1.4 million. Again, no evidence.

The Circuit Court ruling on Cupples 7 affirms the strength of the city’s preservation ordinance, and the need for Preservation Board decisions to be considered on the basis of fact. On the surface, this seems to be a very simple ruling. Yet its timing makes it very important. Besides McGowan, recent demolition seekers at Preservation Board meetings, like the AAA, have brought forth claims about architectural merit and reuse potential that lack legal, financial or professional base. The Cupples 7 ruling reminds everyone that those arguments don’t hold any legal weight, and that the Preservation Board should continue to stick to the facts.

Local Historic District Preservation Board Soulard South St. Louis

Soulard Solar Collectors

by Michael R. Allen

Looking northeast on Russell Avenue from Menard Street. The Bastille building is at center.

On May 21, the Preservation Board denied an application for solar collector installation from Robert Hiscox, owner of the Bastille bar at 1027 Russell in Soulard. Hiscox proposed installing black collector panels on the south-facing rear sloped roof of his building, shown at the center of the photograph above. Soulard is a local historic district governed by design standards last updated by ordinance in 1991.

The Soulard local historic district standards are not explicit about solar panels, which means that their installation requires a variance. The standards mandate that the character of sloped roofs be maintained through adherence to one of several times of approved roofing (most of which were not in use before 1900, I might point out). In a few instances, the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) has recommended that the Preservation Board grant a variance, and the Board has done just that. This time, however, CRO recommended denial of a variance based on the public visibility of the Bastille’s street-facing rear roof.

In her report to the Preservation Board, CRO Director Betsy Bradley wrote that “Russell Avenue is one of the wider streets in the district and links the historic district with interstate highway access and neighborhoods to the west, and therefore a street important in the perception of the historic character of the Soulard district.” Certainly, the Bastille’s roof is very visible and panels would change the visual character of the block. The Preservation Board made the right decision based on the current standards, which need to be rewritten to provide clear rules about solar collectors.

In an article by David Hunn in last week’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, there is discussion of the need to revise the Soulard standards and other local district standards to create definite guidelines for the use of energy efficient technologies like solar collectors. Should new standards permit solar collectors to be installed on street-facing roofs? Perhaps. Standing-seam galvanized roofing was once a roofing material widely used on gable roofs in Soulard. A manufacturers’ challenge is to make solar panels that could mimic such a material, which could then be incorporated in revised standards.

Yet another consideration came from my colleague Mike Jackson at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, who e-mailed me after the story came out. Mike made the point that solar panels’ efficiency are generally only 10%, making them far less “green” than they seem. Purchasing power from regional off-site sustainable sources like wind farms, while undertaking efficiency measures on building envelopes, actually is more efficient for historic building owners than a few solar panels. Solar panels will become more efficient, but they may not be the greenest way to enhance historic buildings. Thus we should be careful when revising local district standards based on current technology.

Demolition Preservation Board South St. Louis

Planning Commission Votes to Demolish Pevely Complex, Smokestack and All

by Lindsey Derrington

To start: no matter what the result of last night’s Planning Commission meeting, public input counts. If any historic building under threat of demolition is to have a fighting chance in this city, your emails, testimony, and public demonstrations are essential. Tonight, in the case of the Pevely complex, when the long-standing ordinance forbidding its demolition was hardly addressed and when new public testimony was not allowed, prior community support for its preservation was noted numerous times. This support ultimately failed to tip the scales in favor of Pevely, but it was certainly better than having the record state that “there were no emails, there was no one who cared enough to stand up for these buildings.”

Pevely Dairy Plant photograph by Michaela Burwell-Taylor.

That said, the meeting resulted in the overturning of every facet of the Preservation Board’s December 20th decision to deny demolition of the Pevely corner building and smokestack, and of its prior decision to grant demolitions of the milk plant and garage on the condition that St. Louis University apply for a building permit for its new facility first. Instead, the Planning Commission voted almost unanimously to allow the demolition of all four structures. The small measure of “compromise” struck was that the corner office building cannot be demolished until the university applies for a building permit. Only one commissioner, Patrick R. Brown from the office of Mayor Francis Slay, voted against the motions.

The two-hour long meeting was convened at SLU’s behest, for under the city’s preservation ordinance property owners denied demolition permits may appeal that decision to the Planning Commission, which ostensibly judges the “correctness” of the other body’s ruling under city law. Only Cultural Resources Office Director Besty Bradley was permitted to testify in support of the Pevely buildings, while SLU’s attorney, school president Father Lawrence Biondi, and architect Steve Smith of the Lawrence Group argued in favor of demolition. SLU’s representatives repeated many of their earlier arguments from the Preservation Board meeting.

Pevely Dairy Plant photograph by Michaela Burwell-Taylor.

Hyperbolic statements ruled the evening: if SLU doesn’t build this building on this site, it will lose competitiveness, doctors will flee, the university will close its medical school and move to the suburbs. Barnes, its only urban counterpart, has no green space, but SLU needs green space surrounding its new building for walkability and patient use, despite the fact that SLU’s current lawn around the Doisy Center across the street is wholly barren and that similar open green space fronting Grand would be undesirable for medical patients undergoing treatment. The corner Pevely building, currently slated for that green space, would cost too much too rehabilitate, although such rehabilitation would be a mere fraction of the $80 million SLU has for new facilities on the site. When asked by the commission why it rebuffed conditions mandating that it present concrete building plans prior to receiving demolition permits — a seemingly reasonable compromise — SLU’s attorney responded that it was a “psychological issue,” that the university felt it deserved the flexibility. Despite earlier statements to the contrary, SLU now says that the historic smokestack is a hazard, making it clear that it never intended to retain it.

Only fleeting mention was made of the massive lot directly north of the Pevely site on northwest corner of Grand and Chouteau, owned and recently cleared by SLU, a site which would be ideal for the new ambulatory care facility but for which the university has not released plans. None of the discussion focused on whether the Preservation Board had correctly upheld the city’s preservation ordinance, which clearly states that sound National Register-listed buildings such as those in the Pevely complex should not be demolished.

In the end, community members who sought to preserve the Pevely did what they could within the system that we have. Renderings showing how the building could be reused, generated during the design charrette co-sponsored by the Preservation Research Office and the Landmarks Association, were given to the Planning Commission prior to the meeting, as were all emails sent to the Cultural Resources Office and the transcript of public testimony recorded at the Preservation Board meeting. Convincing the Preservation Board was something of a first. We can only build on that experience for the future.

College Hill North St. Louis Planning Preservation Board South St. Louis Southampton

Thoughts on Citywide Preservation Review

by Michael R. Allen

On Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article by reporter Tim Logan that raised the issue of the city’s lack of citywide demolition review. The article, which ran on the front page above the fold, took as a starting point the sudden, lonesome death of the Avalon Theater on South Kingshighway. Since the Avalon was outside of one of the city’s preservation review districts, it bit the dust — or, rather, became dust bitten by passers-by — without any review.

Multi-family buildings in the 5000 block of Winona Avenue, in the Southampton neighborhood.

Logan’s article included a promising set of quotes from two aldermen. The first came from Carol Howard (D-14th), who represents the eastern part of the Southampton neighborhood where the Avalon was located. The demolition experience has spurred Howard to seek demolition review for her ward, one of south city’s only wards that lacks review. Howard also endorses a return to citywide review, which St. Louis had before 1999. “It’s a tool, I think, that makes for better decisions,” she told Logan.

A view that could be read as dissenting came from Alderman Antonio French (D-21st), whose constituents include this writer. French’s first bill upon being elected in 2009 put the 21st Ward into preservation review for the first time since 1999. Yet the alderman wants to remove review for part of the College Hill neighborhood added to his ward in redistricting. French wants to concentrate preservation efforts on the intact largely Penrose and O’Fallon neighborhoods in his ward. “What works for Penrose and O’Fallon may not work for College Hill,” said the alderman.

The building at 1431 Prairie Avenue in College Hill is one of the last buildings left on its block.

Am I the only person who sees that both Alderwoman Howard and Alderman French are right? St. Louis does need citywide review, and building conservation strategies for depleted neighborhoods like College Hill — where many blocks are devoid of more than five or six historic buildings — need not entail preserving every remaining historic building.

Yet the crux of these two points’ convergence is that these decisions need to be made by qualified professional planners working in the interest of all city residents. Aldermen who serve geographic areas whose boundaries change every ten years, who lack training in urban planning and historic preservation, and who have to seek re-election are not the best people to make decisions for the long-term interests of the city’s built environment. Yet aldermen create the legislation under which review takes place, establishing guidelines that represent the public interest.

Alderman French might be suggesting that a citywide demolition review ordinance be informed by theories of planned shrinkage. Again, having professionals examining demolition seems like the best way to make that happen. Citywide review does not mean preservation of everything in the city, it means a system in which preservation planning is made under legal criteria interpreted by professionals who are free from political motivations. Applicants for demolition, aldermen, neighbors and preservationists will have a predictable public process with the same rule for every building.

If that sounds familiar, it’s what this city had before the Board of Aldermen passed the current preservation ordinance in 1999.

Preservation Board South St. Louis

The Pevely Playhouse Party

by Michael R. Allen

The lobby of the Pevely Dairy plant's main building.

Inside of the Pevely Dairy plant’s office building at the southwest corner of Grand and Chouteau avenues is one of the city’s loveliest factory lobbies. The white tile walls, largely white tile floor and white ceiling make for a gleaming and modern space. Both milk itself and the advances in sanitary dairy plant technology — namely, enameled masonry wall surfaces — are echoed in the design of this space. Here Pevely Dairy maintained a retail operation and soda fountain. The lobby led to offices and other spaces in the building, including a room where a bit of local radio history happened.

From 1953 until 1979, Pevely sponsored one of St. Louis’ last live radio shows, the Pevely Playhouse Party. Charismatic bandleader Russ David hosted the program, which ran on KSD until 1969 and then on WEW for its last decade. During its run, the program broadcast live on weekdays from 12:15 until 2:00 p.m. David and his band, which played jazz and dance music, broadcast from an auditorium inside of the Pevely Dairy office building — a room whose walls were lined with white tile! (See photographs here and here.)

The Pevely Dairy plant's main building. View from the south.

Today the Preservation Board will consider St. Louis University’s appeal of a denied demolition permit for the Pevely plant. The Cultural Resources Office recommends upholding denial of permits to demolish the main building and the smokestack, the two character-defining parts of the plant complex. While the Board deliberates, members will be applying the city’s demolition review ordinance. The Pevely Playhouse Party probably won’t come up in the discussion, nor should it. Still, the Pevely Playhouse Party shows that our buildings have many lives, and are significant to different people for different reasons.