Downtown Preservation Board

Preservation Board Considering Cupples Station Building 7 Demolition

by Michael R. Allen

The Graham Paper Company Building (now known as Cupples Station Building 7) shown in a photograph in the Station Masters files in the collection of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation.

On November 9, Kevin McGowan applied for a demolition permit for Building 7 at Cupples Station (originally the Graham Paper Company Building). The city’s Cultural Resources Office denied the permit, and McGowan appealed the denial to the Preservation Board. The appeal will be considered at the Board’s meeting on November 28. Since it is an appeal, the matter requires a quorum of Preservation Board members to be present for any vote. (Currently eight of the nine spots are filled.)

On appeal, the threshold for approval of demolition is high. The Preservation Board will face arguments from McGowan that the building cannot be stabilized at a reasonable cost, including his recent assertion that demolition costs $2 million less than stabilization. Board members might hear that the building was far too gone to be saved when McGowan originally purchased it in 2004, despite the fact that his company purchased it for rehabilitation.

The burden of proof rests with the appellant, so Preservation Board members need to dig deep in learning the facts. What was the condition of the roof and collapsed structure when McGowan purchased it? What measures has his company taken to prevent the spread of damage? How many building code violations have been found, and when, and did McGowan’s company ever take steps to comply with the code? Have there been offers from other developers to purchase the building, and, if so, why has a sale not taken place? And, of course: How much money does stabilization really cost, and can it be phased?

Cupples Station is an architectural treasure that has faced countless threats over the years. In fact, over half of its original warehouses are gone, leaving just eight remaining. Yet the importance of the remaining buildings has been recognized by St. Louis mayors going back to Vincent Schoemehl, who rescued the complex from demolition to build a new hockey arena.

Preservation of the warehouses has been a goal of nearly every city administration since then, and now only two warehouses are vacant. One of these is slated for rehabilitation, and the other should be. Assembling a workable plan for Cupples Station Building 7 with an intractable owner will be difficult, and will take time. Preservation Board denial of the appeal is a first step in making sure that a plan emerges. Yet Mayor Francis Slay needs to go further and protect the building from an emergency demolition order from the Building Commissioner — a step that would thwart the Preservation Board’s authority.

Industrial Buildings North St. Louis Preservation Board Riverfront

Preservation Board Considering Procter & Gamble Demolition Monday

by Michael R. Allen

The west elevation of the massive Procter & Gamble plant.

On Monday, the Preservation Board will consider an application by Procter & Gamble to demolish 16 buildings at its landmark north riverfront plant (official address, 169 East Grand Avenue). There are no immediate plans for reuse of the cleared land, but Procter & Gamble claims that it needs a “shovel ready” site for expansion. (“Shovel ready” gets thrown about a lot, but not often is the phrase applied to creating vacant land.) Cultural Resources Office Director Betsy Bradley is recommending approval of the application; read more in the meeting agenda.

This section would be left standing.

The demolition plan does not affect the southernmost building in the long, multi-height row of buildings that give the plant its recognizable form on the city skyline. This portion, which meets Grand Avenue at the sidewalk, is in use as offices and will stay in use. The rest of the buildings are already being gutted, with many windows removed. Even earlier today demolition workers were loading scrap metal dumpsters. According to Bradley’s report, the plant was built between 1903 and 1924 as the William Waltke & Company Soap Factory.

UPDATE: The Preservation Board approved all of the demolition application by a vote of 3-2. Members David Visintainer and Anthony Robinson voted “aye,” and members Mike Killeen and Melanie Fathman voted “nay.” Chairman Richard Callow cast a tie-breaking “aye” vote.

Preservation Board Schools SLPS

City Schools Exempt from Preservation Review

by Michael R. Allen

With the attention turned toward the St. Louis Public Schools’ proposal to demolish historic Hodgen School in the Gate District, several people have asked me about whether the demolition will be reviewed by the Cultural Resources Office or the Preservation Board. The answer, unfortunately, is “no.” The only review of any demolition permit for Hodgen — or any other historic city school — will take place at the Building Division, and it won’t involve any cultural considerations.

The city’s preservation ordinance states: “The provisions of this ordinance shall not apply to any Improvement or property owned or controlled by the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Public Library, the Board of Education, the state or the United States government, or formerly owned or controlled by the former Art Museum Board of Control.”

This provision was part of the version of the ordinance that the current ordinance superseded in 1999. Most local design or preservation review ordinances expressly state lack of authority over the property of higher levels of government. Many — but not all — do exclude the property of other districts or boards funded by special levies, so St. Louis’ ordinance is not particularly deficient in its lack of protection. The guiding principle in our ordinance is that review of the St. Louis Public Schools’ property could constitute an “unfunded mandate.” That theory seems reasonable when it comes to window and door regulations in local historic districts, and not as much when it comes to demolishing buildings that are neighborhood landmarks.

Of course, not all taxing districts and boards are exempt under the ordinance — the Zoo has had to have projects reviewed by the Cultural Resources Office in recent years, as has the Great Rivers Greenway District, Metro, Tower Grove Park and the Metropolitan Sewer District. At least one aldermanic candidate, Bradford Kessler running this year in the sixth ward, has proposed removing the Board of Education’s exemption from preservation review. Whether the Board of Education would consent to voluntary review or removal of its exemption as it pertains to demolition permits is uncertain, but either move would definitely benefit the city.

Forest Park Southeast Preservation Board

Preservation Board Approves Split on Arco Avenue; Denies SLU High Appeal

by Michael R. Allen

From left: 4225 Arco, 4223 Arco, 4221 Arco and 4217 Arco.

Yesterday, the Preservation Board voted unanimously to accept the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) staff recommendation to approve demolition of the one-story brick houses at 4223 and 4225 Arco Avenue and deny demolition of those at 4217 and 4221 Arco. CRO Preservation Administrator Jan Cameron testified that the structural failures of the side and rear walls of 4223 and 4225 Arco justified their demolition, but that the other houses are sound. Jim Morrison from Restoration St. Louis, the owner, argued for demolition of all four — a position endorsed by Alderman Joe Roddy (D-17th) and Park Central Development Corporation. Landmarks Association of St. Louis Assistant Director Andrew Weil stood against Restoration St. Louis’ proposal and spoke in favor of the CRO staff recommendation.

The group of houses is almost intact, save the sister house at 4219 Arco pushed to an early death without a building permit recently.  All of the houses on this block are contributing resources to the Forest Park Southeast Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.  According to the nomination, 4217, 4221 and 4223 are presumed to date to 1908 but 4225 dates to 1903.  The nomination’s authors did not locate builders or architects for the houses.

Demolition Forest Park Southeast Preservation Board

Preservation Board Considering Demolitions on Arco

by Michael R. Allen

Tomorrow the St. Louis Preservation Board will consider the demolition of four houses on Arco Avenue, located at 4217, 4221, 4223 and 4225 Arco Avenue. The owner and applicant is Restoration St. Louis, a company whose commitment to historic preservation is strong and well-known. The Cultural Resources Office recommends that the Preservation Board allow demolition of the damaged houses at 4223 and 4225 Arco but deny demolition of the other two, which despite decay are sound.

All are contributing resources to the Forest Park Southeast Historic District, which is why their demolition can go before the Preservation Board. I made the following video of the current condition:

Alex Ihnen posted an article on these houses on urbanSTL, and in an update stated that he feels they are “goners.” The Forest Park Southeast neighborhood association has endorsed demolition of all of the houses. Yet the Cultural Resources Office’s professional staff thinks that the eastern two are not, which is a reasonable assertion. Tomorrow’s Preservation Board meeting — held at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street — should be interesting.

Gate District Preservation Board

Chouteau Buildings May Be Demolished

by Michael R. Allen

The Preservation Board of the City of St. Louis was set to again consider demolition of the row of commercial buildings at 2612-30 Chouteau Avenue (southwest of the intersection with Jefferson Avenue) at its meeting on Monday. The item was pulled from the agenda and will not be considered this month, but will likely return next month — perhaps with more support than before.

The buildings are owned by Crown Mart, Inc., which purchased them to prevent a competitor from opening a gas station on the site. Crown Mart plans to demolish them and replace them with a vacant lot.

The chief sin of these buildings may be the layers of unattractive, unmaintained paint that owners have applied over the years.  Underneath the paint is brick and, in the case of the building shown immediately above, cast iron and red sandstone.  Few ho have seen the city’s renaissance in recent years could doubt the reuse potential peeking out from under the battleship gray and bright red.

The buildings have found supporters, too — and a spot on the region’s preservation watch list.  After the Preservation Board unanimously denied demolition on preliminary review in April, the Landmarks Association of St. Louis placed the buildings on its Most Endangered Places list.

Fox Park Lafayette Square North St. Louis Old North Preservation Board South St. Louis

Preservation Board Approves Fox Park Expansion, Denies Old North Demolition

by Michael R. Allen

Yesterday the St. Louis Preservation Board met with members Richard Callow, Melanie Fathman, Mike Killeen, David Richardson, Anthony Robinson, David Visintaner and Alderwoman Phyllis Young present. The most likely contentious matter on the agenda was consideration of the expansion of the boundaries of the Fox Park Local Historic District accordint to the boundaries below.

Fox Park Neighborhood Association President Ian Simmons explained the purpose of the expansion simply: to put the entire neighborhood on equal footing for design review and development potential. Four other people spoke in favor, including DeSales Housing Corporation Executive Director Tom Pickel. Mark Whitman spoke against the expansion with great conviction, stating that he found the expansion to violate the United States Constitution and to represent gentrification of the southern part of the neighborhood.

The Preservation Board voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Aldermen approve the boundary increase. The next step is introduction of the boundary increase as an ordinance at the Board of Aldermen by Alderwoman Young and Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett. The ordinance will get a committee hearing before the full board considers it.

The Preservation Board also unanimously approved on a preliminary basis the above design for new construction at the southeast corner of Lafayette and Mississippi avenues in Lafayette Square (1922-24 Park Avenue). Designed by architect Paul Fendler, the new two-story building would combine retail on the first floor and residential space above. The board approved a different plan for the site two years ago.

Another interesting case was the return of a front door replacement at 2841 Shenandoah Avenue in Fox Park. After last month’s stalemate on the matter, Andrea Gagen on the Cultural Resources Office staff located a supplier who could provide an acceptable paint-grade wooden door for less than the cost of a door that the owner wanted to install that did not meet the Fox Park Local Historic District standards. The owner asserted that the supplier contacted by Gagen could not make the door he wanted for the cost she stated, and that installation using his contractor would cost $500 regardless (an amount that is incredible for such worl). The Board then voted 4-1 to uphold staff denial of the first application.

The Preservation Board also unanimously upheld the appeal by Louis Ford of denial of a demolition permit for 3219-21 N. 20th Street, pictured above. Located in Old North and the Murphy Blair Historic District, the house has been vacant for years. Ford purchased the house to keep it secured from criminal activity. Ford stated that he would save the house if he could find money for work, but he had no interest in endlessly keeping it boarded and stable. Perhaps the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group would be able to accept the house as a donation.

Central West End Hospitals Preservation Board

BJC Seeking Demolition of Jewish Hospital Nursing School Building

by Michael R. Allen

UPDATE: The Preservation Board unanimously voted to deny the demolition on a preliminary basis.  Board Member David Richardson made the motion to deny, and Melanie Fathman provided the second.  Anthony Robinson voted “aye” and Chairman Richard Callow abstained from voting.  Mary Johnson arrived after the vote.

At the meeting of the Preservation Board today (Monday, July 26), the board will consider preliminary approval of demolition of the College of Nursing Building at the Washington University Medical Center. BJC Healthcare is requesting preliminary approval so that it can demolish the building for open space until it is ready to build a new building on the site.

Built in 1926, the College of Nursing Building is a sturdy, attractive flat-roofed building with a limestone base and red brick body. The building is fine, but not very significant, as a work of architecture. What makes the building significant is its original use as the Training School for Nurses for Jewish Hospital. The building is sound and human-scaled on a campus suffering from undistinguished giantism in recent construction. Besides, BJC has no immediate plan for redevelopment. By ordinance, presence of a redevelopment plan is a key consideration in Preservation Board determination of whether preliminary approval of any demolition is appropriate.

The city’s Cultural Resources Office rightly is recommending that the Preservation Board withhold preliminary approval at this time. The Preservation Board meeting is at 4:00 p.m. at 1015 Locust Street, 12th Floor. Written testimony may be submitted to the board via Secretary Adona Buford,

Central West End DeVille Motor Hotel Preservation Board

Friends of the San Luis Not Appealing Ruling; Legislative Change Needed

by Michael R. Allen

Today’s press release from the Friends of the San Luis (for which I serve as president).

While the Friends of the San Luis had hoped for a ruling by the Court of Appeals that would have affirmed the public interest rights of the community, we accept the ruling issued last week. We will not appeal the cause further, but instead will rededicate ourselves to the outreach and education needed to prevent future losses.

At the start, we sought remedy to a loophole in the St. Louis preservation ordinance (Ordinance 64689) that requires a stay of demolition to appeal meaningfully an action by the Preservation Board. We have always maintained that stakeholders should not have to undertake extraordinary legal measures to assert a right of standing implicit in the ordinance.

However, we appealed the circuit court ruling expressly to clarify that right for future preservation battles – even after we lost the building that united us. Our hope has been that no other citizens would have to go to the troubles that we have. Unfortunately, they probably will. While the aldermen who passed the ordinance apparently intended for there to be a legitimate right to appeal – a necessary check and balance system — the Court has found that the wording is insufficient to explicitly endorse that right.

The Court of Appeals ruling suggests that the ultimate remedy is not judicial but legislative. The city preservation law is a wonderful example of government recognition of the public interest in historic preservation and urban planning, but it has a major weakness in leaving the public right to appeal as clear as red brick. That should change.

While we are disappointed, we are at least encouraged that the ruling has unequivocally identified an aspect of the city’s preservation ordinance that needs to be clarified by our representatives in order to ensure due process in the fair and transparent mediation of disputes.


Central West End DeVille Motor Hotel Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern Preservation Board

Missouri Court of Appeals to Hear San Luis Appeal Tomorrow

by Michael R. Allen

Demonstrating against the San Luis demolition, June 2009.
Tomorrow at 11:00 a.m., the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals hears oral arguments in Friends of the San Luis v. the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The court meets on the third floor of the Old Post Office downtown, and supporters of the Friends of the San Luis are invited to attend. The Court of Appeals will issue its ruling later.

What is happening? After the Preservation Board approved by a thin 3-2 margin a preliminary application for demolition in June 2009, the Friends of the San Luis (disclaimer: I serve as the organization’s president) filed a petition for injunction to halt the demolition of the mid-century modern San Luis Apartments (originally the DeVille Motor Hotel) 1t 4483 Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End. Under city preservation law, a preliminary grant of demolition cannot be appealed until a demolition permit is issued. That stipulation makes appeals moot, at least beyond procedural review.

Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker, Jr. dismissed the Friends’ petition with prejudice. Dierker opined that preservation laws were an encumbrance on private property rights, and that only persons with direct financial interest — essentially, adjacent property owners — have standing under the city’s preservation ordinance. (Dierker’s forthcoming ruling in the Northside Regeneration suit should be interesting given that he must choose between the divergent interests of private property owners.) The ruling cut against city government’s own interpretation of the ordinance by granting only narrow right to redress.

Given Dierker’s conservative judicial activism, the Friends could have let the matter go. Yet we appealed to ensure that Dierker’s ruling does not stand as precedent in the future. Who knows when and why citizens will need rights to appeal the Preservation Board’s decisions? All we know is that the right to appeal should apply to any citizen of the city of St. Louis. After all, the ordinance states that “[t]he intent of this ordinance is to promote the prosperity and general welfare of the public, including particularly the educational and cultural welfare.”