Hyde Park LRA Preservation Board

Callow Urges Urbanists to Buy Houses on Blair

by Michael R. Allen

Preservation Board Chairman Richard Callow made an interesting post to Urban St. Louis yesterday. The post, entitled “Why Not?”, urged readers to consider purchasing one of the two LRA-owned houses on the 3900 block of Blair Avenue in Hyde Park whose demolitions were denied by the Board on Monday.

Writes Callow: “Drive by 3961, in particular. Wouldn’t it be more interesting living there than in a former warehouse with something called Shoppes in the ground floor?”

While it takes more than a forum post to sell an LRA building, at least Callow is trying.

Some readers may recall that Mayor Slay seemed appreciative of two frame houses on 19th Street in Hyde Park also threatened with demolition last year. Hmmm.

Historic Preservation Hyde Park North St. Louis Preservation Board

Preservation Board Denies Demolition Permits in Hyde Park, Dogtown

by Michael R. Allen

At yesterday’s meeting of the Preservation Board, the board unanimously voted to deny both Hyde Park demolition permits sought by Alderman Freeman Bosley (D-3rd) and the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). The alderman and the city’s real estate wing wanted to level both of the frame houses at 3953 and 3961 Blair Avenue, which the LRA has owned since 2001. Staff from the Cultural Resources Office recommended approving demolition of the modest but mostly intact Italianate house at 3953 Blair while denying the permit for the rare Greek Revival house a few lots down. While the dire circumstances in Hyde Park may suggest such either-or piecemeal decision-making, what the neighborhood needs is comprehensive planning. Neither building is structurally unsound, and frame buildings of such size and age are becoming rare in the city no matter what architectural style. (Style is important in appraising the significance of individual buildings, although a trivial concern in terms of building successful neighborhoods where many factors must be balanced.) Steve Patterson and I each spoke in favor of preserving the two buildings.

The demolition permit for the house at 6452 Nashville in Dogtown also was denied. The owners paid almost $100,000 for the house only to apply for a demolition permit without a redevelopment plan. Huh? This is one of the city’s most stable neighborhoods, after all, making their application somewhat baffling.

Another good vote from the board was a 4-1 vote (with Mary Johnson dissenting) to defer consideration of plans for two model homes at 1922 and 1928 Whittier in The Ville. Frankly, the plans were terrible in terms of proportion, ornament, size and compatibility with context although Johnson saw redeeming qualities in their “French Victorian” style. Developer Sandra Nobles certainly did well in explaining the need to build on vacant lots in the Ville, but she could not answer questions about the design very well. More time and input from the staff at Cultural Resources should lead to better design.

One noteworthy presence of yesterday’s meeting was that Alderman Terry Kennedy (D-18th), who is a member of the board, was present. This was his first appearance at a board meeting in nearly one year.

Hyde Park North St. Louis Preservation Board South St. Louis The Ville

Preservation Board Agenda Available

by Michael R. Allen

This morning, the St. Louis Preservation Board posted the agenda for today’s meeting. It’s fairly short, actually, and no item is very controversial. Yet who has time to read the whole agenda and the summaries before the meeting if it’s only posted in the morning?

Among the items are the proposed demolition of two city-owned vacant houses on Blair Avenue in Hyde Park, the demolition of a house in Dogtown owned by an investment company, permits for lackluster new houses in the Ville and some appeals related to renovation work in violation of local historic district ordinances.

Also this morning, Steve Patterson of Urban Review posted his thoughts on the Preservation Board: “The Preservation Board A Public Hearing Or Not?”

The Preservation Board meets at 4:00 p.m. on the 12th floor of the building at 1015 Locust Street in downtown St. Louis.

Preservation Board

Preservation Board Again Fails to Publish Advance Agenda Online

by Michael R. Allen

’twas the Friday before the Preservation Board Meeting, and not an agenda could be found!

The Board’s website no only does not have an agenda today, but it lists the next meeting date as “August 28, 2006.” While this oversight is no fault of Board members and likely not that of the Cultural Resources Office staff, whoever is in charge of updating this website needs to be chastised for constantly failing to provide citizens with the information they need to know well enough in advance so that they might plan to attend these meetings. The website is how most people get the agenda; few have time to go to the Cultural Resources Office to pick up a copy.

While I am a historic preservation professional and can easily attend these meetings because it is part of my job, others are not so lucky. Most city residents could not attend a meeting about a demolition permit if they only found out about it Monday morning and the hearing was at 4:00 p.m. That’s barely enough time to send in a statement via e-mail. Meanwhile, developers who know about the permit long in advance can attend and in the absence of citizen testimony state that no one in the neighborhood cares about the issue since no one showed up.

Really, there is no reason why the agenda could not be published one week prior to the meeting. Items that came in late would simply have to be placed on the next month’s agenda.

Central West End Local Historic District North St. Louis Preservation Board South St. Louis

Chairman Callow, Boring Buildings and a Denied Demolition Permit

by Michael R. Allen

At its Monday meeting, the Preservation Board elected a new chairperson: Richard Callow, the public relations consultant who edits Mayor Slay’s campaign website. New board member David Richardson nominated Callow after Melanie Fathman nominated architect Anthony Robinson, a reasonable voice who would have done well in the position. Callow received the votes of Richardson, Luis Porello, Mary “One” Johnson (who presided over the vote rather clumsily), John Burse and new member Michael Killeen. Robinson received Fathman’s vote, and the nominated parties abstained. Mary Johnson was the only nominee for vice chairperson, although she so quickly called the vote after her own nomination was seconded that observers at the crowded meeting wondered if there was a chance for another nomination.

Callow demonstrated the tenor of his chairmanship by conducting the meeting much more efficiently than usual, although hopefully his motivation is to respect people’s time and not to glide over potential controversy. His customary pointed questions certainly enhance his chairmanship and give good direction to debate often marred by divergence and anecdote.

Is Callow’s election a political move or a pragmatic one? While the Preservation Board’s decisions can be overturned by less democratic bodies like the Planning Commission, the decisions often hold sway public perception of urban design and preservation issues. The approval of a plan or demolition permit by the Preservation Board can give proponents great backup for painting opponents as unreasonable. Time will tell what game, if any, is being played here.

One wonders if Mayor Slay will again write about the Preservation Board in his blog, given the new circumstances.

The Board unanimously granted preliminary approval to a bad new development project that would demolish the South Grand YMCA for a stale, wide block of Chicago-style tedium. Claire Nowak-Boyd registered an objection.

Another unanimous vote included final approval of the condominium building at Euclid and Lindell proposed by Opus Development, which although improved in design has a few problems with the scale of its base along Euclid and with the unmitigated expanse of its shaft. Alderwoman Lyda Krewson and politico Lou Hamilton were in attendance, presumably to monitor this vote.

The Preservation Board denied the Department of Public Safety’s request to demolish the house at 5309 Cabanne. The denial seems superfluous given the approval of demolition of the YMCA Building, which seems better posed to find reuse in the near future than the house. Also, of course, denial of the permit will not stop water, wind and fire from taking their toll. However, I am glad that the Board and Cultural Resources Office staff still regard the integrity of Visitation Park as an important thing to preserve. That neighborhood stands to benefit from the creep of the Delmar Loop’s success.

Preservation Board

Preservation Board Has Two New Members, Will Elect New Chair

by Michael R. Allen

While the agenda for Monday’s Preservation Board meeting has not been posted online, two items are certain:

The Board will induct two new members recently appointed by mayor Francis Slay, one to fill an open seat and one to replace a current member.

The Board will elect a new Chairperson.

The meeting begins at 4:00 p.m. Monday, August 28, in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street.

Green Space Mayor Slay Preservation Board

Did You Know That the Preservation Board is Meeting Tomorrow?

by Michael R. Allen reports less than 24 hours head of time that tomorrow is a special meeting of the Preservation Board to consider changes to Government Hill in Forest Park.

What’s the hurry to get a plan approved? Why the under-announced meeting?

The revised plan, by the way, is somewhat better than the one previously submitted to the Preservation Board. I have not reviewed it in detail, and unfortunately cannot attend tomorrow’s meeting since I already have plans.

Historic Preservation Local Historic District Preservation Board

Local Historic Ordinances Require Education

by Michael R. Allen

One issue that constantly comes before the city’s Preservation Board is that of the contractor ignorant of the city’s local historic district ordinances. Time and time again, residents are caught by neighbors or building inspectors having just installed vinyl or glass block windows, clad cornices in aluminum, reconfigured double entrances with one doorway or some other violation of the ordinances (and often of good taste) and without a permit.

When brought to the Cultural Resources Office for adjudication, the homeowners usually appeal their cases to the Preservation Board. The most common defense used by these building owners is that their contractors assured them that the work was legal. (For now, I’ll leave aside the aesthetic issues involved in dreadful remodeling projects.) Contractors routinely flaunt historic district ordinances out of ignorance. Building owners are equally ignorant, and don’t think to question the words of trusted professionals.

While the volume of these cases is moderate, perhaps some education is in order to prevent this routine occurrence as much as that is possible. It’s clear that contractors are not required to know about local historic district ordinances in order to get licensed in Missouri. That could change by requiring knowledge of the ordinances by contractors who want to work in the city.

Building owner education is also in order. Many people are not aware of the restrictions of the ordinances, nor of the benefits of local and national historic district status that allows them to use state historic tax credits for rehab work. Perhaps the city government would be interested in creating an educational program for this purpose under the Cultural Resources Office. While property owners often have only themselves to blame, the number of historic district ordinances is growing, and the ordinances themselves aren’t always clear to people who lack familiarity with building materials and architectural jargon. It’s easy for people observing a Preservation Board hearing to sympathize with property owners who wrongly removed wooden windows to install vinyl ones with aluminum wrapping on the brick-mold. The enforcement of the ordinances seems punitive rather than supportive, and education could be key to changing public perception.

Of course, even better would be a basic citizen’s course in property ownership covering historical designations, basic architectural information, building and zoning codes, home repair and financial planning. That’s a big and expensive program, so for now I’d be content to see the city try to provide better education about historic district ordinances.

Historic Preservation Parks Penrose Preservation Board

Preservation Board Will Consider Demolition of House in Penrose Park

by Michael R. Allen

The house on June 20, 2005. Photographs by Michael R. Allen.
Built in 1902, the house at 4961 Penrose Avenue is located inside of Penrose Park and is slated for demolition in favor of road and park improvements. The design of this house is an uncommon blend of Queen Anne and Arts and Crafts tendencies; the slate jerkin-head roof and side entrance add variation to what otherwise may have been a common red-brick period house. The demise of the house is predicated on its supposed separation from the surrounding parts of the Penrose neighborhood, but it actually is less than a half-block from the nearest occupied house.

Although the house had been put into use at the residence of the Keeper of Penrose Park as early as 1906, enough of the surrounding neighborhood remains to give it a visual relationship to the neighborhood. Across the street is Scullin School, and to the southeast are mostly intact blocks of brick and frame houses and two-flats. In fact, with widespread demolition in north city, a passer-by would likely assume that the space between this house and the next one to the south are simply vacant lots produced by demolition. This is not far from the truth — houses did stand there, forming a street wall in which this house was located. The cleared lots and this house became part of park, though, which seems to be making the difference in the Board of Public Service’s drive to tear it down.

Road improvements to nearby Kingshighway are in progress and did not entail demolition, although the work is creating a road between this house and others on its side of the street. A planned amphitheater on this site could be re-designed to let the house stand.

Perhaps when the city’s last park-keeper moved out in the 1980s, the city should have returned the house to the neighborhood by selling it. The time is not too late for the city to make the right move now. If the house does not sell, perhaps some park-related function could be found for the house. Park houses are a valued part of south side city parks, and the city does not push to demolish them.

Consideration of the Board of Public Service’s demolition application by the Preservation Board in May 2006 led to a vote in favor of a one-month deferral. Staff from the Cultural Resources Office recommended approval of the demolition on the condition that documentation be made. This position stemmed from the seeming hopelessness of trying to save a building supposedly isolated and in the way of public works projects. However, memebers of the Preservation Board led by Luis Porrello seemed posed to deny the permit until member Richard Callow moved to defer a vote one month, to the June 2006 meeting. Callow wanted staff to photograph the interior so that the board could more thoroughly assess the potential for reuse.


At its June 2006 meeting, the Preservation Board again heard the matter. A staff member from the Board of Public Service attended, waived his right to have a quorum hear the matter, and then proceeded to merely endorse the staff recommendation to approve demolition instead of actually providing testimony. Michael Allen, Steve Patterson and Claire Nowak-Boyd provided testimony on the re-use potential of the building as a cultural centerpiece of Penrose Park. Commissioners John Burse, Richard Callow and Anthony Robinson all voted to deny the permit.

View to the southeast down Penrose Avenue.

Baden Demolition North St. Louis Preservation Board

Preservation Board to "Reconsider" Lutheran Altenheim Home Decision

by Michael R. Allen

The Preservation Board of the City of St. Louis meets May 26 to consider several items. One item that jumps out to me on the agenda is a “request for reconsideration” of a demolition permit for the old Lutheran Altenheim Home in the Baden area of north city. The owners, multi-state residential-care operators Hillside Manor LLC, have already contracted with Spirtas for demolition and started removing interior items. In April, they appealed the permit denial of the staff of the Cultural Resources Office to the Preservation Board, which upheld the denial.

While Hillside Manor has no use for the old building, and it stands in an awkward spot between Hillside Manor and another residential care facility, they have yet to prove that they need to demolish the building, or that they have considered other uses of the building.

Thankfully their “request for reconsideration” goes to the Preservation Board and not to the Board of Alderman as legislation. However, the Preservation Board should refuse reconsideration. No doubt that Hillside Manor will be pushing some high number on rehab costs that would be a “financial hardship” under the Preservation Review Ordinance. If so, it’s hogwash — Hillside Manor has expanded into a large network of locations and does not seem to be short on money for expansion.

There still are uses for the old building, but they would require creative thinking. It might make a great apartment building if more parking could be created. (Has Hillside Manor considered allowing a developer to build a second level of parking over their existing lot?)