Forest Park Southeast Historic Preservation Preservation Board

Massive Demolition Coming to Forest Park Southeast

by Michael R. Allen

The agenda for the Preservation Board meeting on Monday, April 24 shows an application for demolition permits for 30 buildings in Forest Park Southeast. These buildings are owned by Forest West Properties, which is tied to Washington University. Apparently the demolition is related to an infill housing project.

A quick memory scan and drive-by shows that at least ten of the buildings are of high local architectural merit and are structurally sound. I was surprised at how many of these buildings are masonry and how many are two-story buildings. I’m sure that the infill housing developer and their friends in city government will be talking “density” even though they will be replacing four unit buildings with single-family homes. Some of the wood-frame buildings on the list are of questionable architectural merit and are quite dilapidated, but probably 10-15 of these buildings are clearly worth preserving.

We will be developing a site section with photos and short evaluations; in the meantime, we managed to find photos of three of the buildings in our collection:
4371 Hunt Avenue; 4484 and 4486-90 Vista Avenue.

Preservation Board South St. Louis St. Aloysius Gonzaga St. Louis Board of Aldermen The Hill

St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church Loses Two Votes

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday, the Land Clearance for Redevelopment authority approved the project known as “Magnolia Square,” that would demolish venerable St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church to build 36 new houses.

Today, the aldermanic Housing, Urban Design and Zoning (HUDZ) Committee unanimously voted — without roll call — to send Board Bill #361 (sponsored by Alderman Joe Vollmer, An ordinance establishing a Planned Unit for City Block 4054.11 to be known as “Magnolia Square Subdivision”), to the full Board of Aldermen. Alderman Vollmer and developer James Wohlert presented their plans briefly. Wohlert told the committee that DiMartino Homes primarily buys vacant lots for new construction or old houses for demolition and new construction; he did not mention any experience in historic rehabilitation. The presenters barely acknowledged that the project failed to receive preliminary approval from the city’s Preservation Board.

Local Historic District Preservation Board Visitation Park

#19 Windermere Revisited

by Michael R. Allen

There’s a good turn of events for #19 Windermere Place: At the Preservation Board meeting last night, the owners withdrew their application to alter it after a lengthy and productive discussion with staff from the city’s Cultural Resources Office. Instead of destroying the veranda-like porch, they will be exploring the possibility of a renovation using state historic tax credits.

Local Historic District North St. Louis Preservation Board Visitation Park

Windemere Place Owners Want Inappropriate Alteration

by Michael R. Allen

The owners of #19 Windermere Place want to cut up their historic front porch to add off-street parking to their home. They have applied for a permit to alter the home to create a parking lane that would run at yard grade under the existing canopy — a plan that would remove a section of their original porch deck. What a mistake that would be!

While other houses on the street have off-street driveways, they are either original to the home or did not get built through alterations to the houses. The homes on Windermere Place are part of the Visitation Park Local District (made a City Landmark in 1975 and expanded in 1987). Owners of homes here have to adhere to historic district standards that preclude major alterations like this one; they must get a variance from the Preservation Board to go against the standards.

Rarely does anyone seeking a variance aim to do anything other than damage the architectural quality of both home and street scape. The owners of this house are no exception to the norm.

These owners and those of other properties will be appearing before the Preservation Board at its meeting on Monday, January 23 at 4:00 p.m. at 1015 Locust Street (12th floor meeting room). Thankfully, the Cultural Resources staff recommends denying the permit.

Read the Cultural Resources staff summary of the application to see photographs of the home as well as plans for the remuddling.

Historic Preservation Preservation Board South St. Louis St. Aloysius Gonzaga

Victory for St. Aloysius

by Michael R. Allen

Today, the Preservation Board not only voted against permitting the demolition of the St. Aloysius Gonzaga parish complex but also voted separately to deny the permit outright. As someone who has followed the demolition saga since September and as someone who presented testimony today, I am greatly encouraged by today’s meeting. Activism works! All of the efforts that Steve Patterson has put into the issue this week raised awareness and led people to send letters and testify. This church that seemed obscure and doomed in the fall received enough appreciative attention to convenience the Preservation Board to preserve it.

I note that no one from the neighborhood attended save demolition advocates Alderman Joe Vollmer (D-10th) and Father Vincent Bommarito of St. Ambrose Church. Did anyone there really know about this important decision?

The votes were interesting. The vote on a motion by Commissioner Luis Porello (second by Mary Johnson) to grant the demolition permit went this way:

Yea: Porello, Johnson
Nay: John Burse, Melanie Fathman, Anthony Robinson, Richard Callow

The vote on the motion to deny the permit, made by Richard Callow and seconded by John Burse went this way:

Yea: Callow, Burse, Fathman, Robinson, Johnson
Nay: Porello

Citizens interested in urban design and historic preservation can make a difference when we work together to challenge the status quo. In this case, we turned the situation around and got the Preservation Board to flat-out deny demolition. Although this is a preliminary review, and the developer can return to the Board for approval again, the vote shows that they will have to redesign their plans to save at least the church to make it past the Board. It’s likely that the developer will keep trying to get the plan exactly as it is, though, so we’ll see how long this victory lasts.

Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern Midtown National Register Preservation Board

Council Plaza into the Future

by Michael R. Allen

Bricks continue to fall from the mural on the east side of one of the two towers at Council Plaza in Midtown. (See this December 7 report from TV station KSDK.) While it’s sad to see the mural deteriorate, good news came at the most recent meeting of the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation: approval of a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places for all of Council Plaza, which was developed starting in 1967 by local Teamsters as a “Model City” demonstration project.

For an odd reason, the St. Louis Preservation Board had recommended that the nomination be tabled until the mural could be repaired, even though the current ownership group stated that it needs tax credits to be able to restore the mural. Well, a motion to recommend approval of the nomination almost sailed through until member Richard Callow moved to table the nomination and reconsider it after the mural issues could be resolved. Never mind that the nomination of Council Plaza was only invoking “urban planning” and not “architecture” or “public art” as a criteria for significance. The Preservation Board unanimously voted for Callow’s motion.

Wisely, the state council went ahead with the listing so that the mural can be restored — provided that the owners intend to honor the promises they have made publicly at the Preservation Board and Missouri Advisory Council meetings. Even though the towers are rather clunky concrete boxes, the murals and brickwork on the windowless side elevations add depth and human scale that redeems the heavy-handed site plan.

At least the old spaceship-style gas station building, now Del Taco, stands intact. That may be the most attractive building on the site. (See a photo by Toby Weiss here.)

Hyde Park McRee Town North St. Louis Preservation Board Shaw South St. Louis

At the Preservation Board Today

by Michael R. Allen

The agenda for today’s St. Louis Preservation Board meeting contains some interesting items. Under the item “4104-54 DeTonty” we find that McBride and Son wants to retain some of the existing buildings on the block. Still, McBride wants to level two great Craftsman-style four-flats that, while derelict, are structurally stable enough for rehab (and vastly superior in materials and detail to any new houses I’ve seen in the city). Under “4008 N. 25th Street” — one of two Hyde Park items on the agenda — the Cultural Resources staff is urging preservation of a sound, small fachwerk (part brick, part timber) building that Alderman Freeman Bosley wants demolished.