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

All of the San Luis is Not Lost

by Michael R. Allen

This week, the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation accepted the donation of two of the light posts from the San Luis Apartments (originally the DeVille Motor Hotel) at 4483 Lindell Boulevard. Here’s a case where cooperation transcends conflict: Friends of the San Luis board member Jeff Vines saw the posts removed and contacted Tom Richter at the St. Louis Archdiocese. Richter promptly agreed to the donation and made arrangements with Building Arts Foundation President Larry Giles for pick-up.

The light posts are headed to the Foundation’s Conservatory in Sauget, Illinois, where they will live on alongside parts of the Century Building, the Ambassador Theater and countless other lost St. Louis buildings. As a board member of both the Building Arts Foundation and the Friends of the San Luis, I thank the Archdiocese for their assistance in preserving a small part of the modern motel!

Historic Preservation Metro East Salvage

Behind the Scenes Tour at the Conservatory

by Michael R. Allen

St. Louis Building Arts Foundation president Larry Giles welcomes guests to the Conservatory.

Amid unusually pleasant weather, over 100 people attended yesterday’s happy hour and tour at the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation Conservatory in Sauget, Illinois. The event was a joint fundraiser for the Foundation and the Chatillon-DeMenil House Foundation. Guests enjoyed food and drink while exploring the 15-acre, 13-building historic steel foundry that serves as the Conservatory. The site is home to some 300,000 architectural artifacts and eventually a research library of rare literature related to architecture and allied arts.

The last time that the Conservatory was open for a public tour was nearly one year ago. While more events are planned for the future, including a fall party, the chance to get an all-access tour of the Conservatory was a rare one.

Thanks go to Lynn Josse, board member of both organizations, bon vivant Ray Brewer, grill masters Mike Rodgers and Jeff DeTie, Building Arts Foundation President Larry Giles, Chatillon-DeMenil House Foundation President Ted Atwood and many others who worked to pull the event together.

Photo by Beth Florsek.
This is one of two events for the Chatillon-DeMenil House this weekend: On Sunday, August 23rd, Doug Harding will give a talk entitled “Shadows of Immortality: 19th Century Photography.” Using examples from the DeMenil collection, Mr. Harding will delve into the history of photography and actually demonstrate how photographs were made. The public is invited to bring in their own photographs for dating. This free talk begins at 2pm at the house, 3352 DeMenil Place at Cherokee.

Events Historic Preservation Metro East Salvage

Behind the Scenes at St. Louis’ Future Architecture Museum This Friday

As a newly-minted member of the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation, I am pleased to invite my readers to a special event this week:

Photographs of the Foundation’s amazing facility across the river can be found online here. The former Sterling Steel Casting complex, built between 1923 and 1959, is an attraction in itself.

Historic Preservation Metal Theft Salvage

St. Louis Building Arts Foundation Robbed

by Michael R. Allen

Writing in The Platform blog over at the Post-Dispatch, Eddie Roth breaks the terrible news that thieves stole over 1,500 pounds of historic bronze and brass hardware from the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation this week. The article includes some photographs of stolen items.

Please help return these important items to their rightful home, for the public benefit of all and not the private benefit of thieves and dealers. While the thieves make the initial profit, we all know that some dealers make a lot more by fencing stolen property. Keep your eyes open.

Events Historic Preservation Illinois Metro East Salvage

Scenes from the Building Arts Foundation Tour

by Michael R. Allen

Over 50 people attended Saturday’s Rehabbers Club tour of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation Conservatory in Sauget, Illinois. Foundation President Larry Giles discussed the past, present and future of his unique collection of architectural artifacts and the equally-unique former steel foundry that is now its home. See more photographs here.
Events Historic Preservation Illinois Metro East People Salvage

St. Louis Building Arts Foundation Conservatory Tour on Saturday

Drawing (c. 1955) courtesy of Larry Giles.

The Rehabbers Club presents:

Tour of St. Louis Building Arts Foundation Conservatory

Saturday August 23, 2008
2:00 p.m.

Join us for a very special tour at the Conservatory of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation led by founder Larry Giles. The Foundation was created in 2002 to help realize Larry’s dream of opening a museum of architecture centered on his collection of nearly 300,000 architectural artifacts assembled during a 35-year career as an architectural salvage specialist.

In 2005, the Foundation purchased the former Sterling Steel Casting foundry in Sauget, Illinois. The site, called the Conservatory, will eventually serve as an off-site facility for the architectural museum. Till then it will serve as interim interpretive center and library.

The 15-acre site includes 13 historic foundry buildings built between 1923 and 1959 that the Foundation is rehabbing as the home for Larry’s collection, previously stored in four different locations. Larry has already completed an impressive amount of work at the complex and moved over half of the collection there.

Don’t miss this rare chance to come inside and see both a marvelous collection of architectural artifacts as well as a one-of-a-kind historic rehabilitation project!

Note: Due to ongoing work, public access is limited and there are no bathroom facilities.

If you’d like to carpool or caravan, meet at 1:30 in the Quiznos parking lot at 1535 South 7th Street in Soulard. Or you can meet us there promptly at 2:00 p.m.

DRIVING DIRECTIONS [for map graphic, approximate address, 2300 Falling Springs Road,

1. Take eastbound I-55/I-64 traveling across the Poplar Street Bridge
2. Exit onto southbound Illinois Route 3
3. LEFT turn at Monsanto Avenue
4. RIGHT turn onto Falling Springs Road
5. LEFT turn into parking area at St. Louis Steel Castings foundry


1. RIGHT turn onto Falling Springs Road from parking lot
2. LEFT turn onto Monsanto Avenue
3. Right turn onto Illinois Route 3
4. Look for westbound I-55/I-64 [left lane], enter ramp to Poplar Street Bridge

Chicago Documentation Louis Sullivan People Salvage

Richard Nickel’s Chicago: A Review

by Michael R. Allen

This article first appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of the NewsLetter of the Society of Architectural Historians, Missouri Valley Chapter.

David Norris, friend of photographer, salvager and historian Richard Nickel, once said that “I think what Richard had to teach was that if you find some way to express your deepest convictions, you should exercise that talent to the very utmost of your ability. . .even if it leads somehow to your destruction.” Nickel died in 1972 while rescuing interior ornament from Louis Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange building, then under demolition. The attitude toward life’s work that Norris summarizes is readily apparent in the vivid, arresting images in Richard Nickel’s Chicago: Photographs of a Lost City, published at the end of 2006. The book amasses many of Nickel’s images of condemned Louis Sullivan buildings, as well as his glimpses into other long-gone parts of Chicago: Chicagoans enjoying the carnival at Riverview Park; a Loop landscape prior to the Congress Expressway; downtown offices with stenciled lettering on frosted glass doors; youth making a strong show of protest at Grant Park in 1968; other hallmarks of a vibrant urban culture in which the built environment is both backdrop for human action and a pivotal character.

Richard Nickel’s body of work is the result of chance. After serving in the Army immediately after World War II, Nickel was seeking a mission in life and use of the free tuition the GI Bill offered. Newly-divorced, the young man happened upon photography classes at the Institute of Design, founded and directed by Bauhaus transplant László Moholy-Nagy. There his primary instructors were noted photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. Siskind taught a class in which he assigned his students to photograph the surviving buildings of Louis Sullivan. Because he was draft-exempt, Nickel was put in charge of the students’ efforts and an exhibition held at the Institute in 1954. No matter; the young photographer had enthusiastically taken up his assignment, and took steps that made the study of Sullivan’s architecture his life’s work. Under Siskind’s direction, Nickel embarked upon a still-incomplete book entitled The Complete Architecture of Adler and Sullivan. After completing his courses, Nickel continued the book project but began to get sidetracked. Chicago seemed to be disappearing around him, and Nickel responded by documenting doomed buildings (Sullivan’s and others’) through drawing floor plans and taking photographs and then, when demolition was certain, salvaging ornament.

Most of the images in Richard Nickel’s Chicago were never printed in Nickel’s lifetime, making the book a remarkable document. Nickel took some 11,000 photographs in his life, but mostly made contact sheets unless a client was willing to pay for development. Even more remarkable than the book is the way in which Nickel was able to capture so carefully each scene without ever seeing a large print. Somehow Nickel was able to deftly find the drama in the still life of many architectural scenes, and carefully transmit the sorrowful scenes he witnessed directly. Those images are his best known, although most in the book are new to even his admirers. Less known are Nickel’s gentle shots of people at festivals, expressing the glee, anger or longing in what seem to be private moments between subject and photographer. Those images show a breadth to Nickel’s body of work previously unknown.

The architectural images convey both respect and resignation — a painful combination. The parade of lost masterpieces is staggering — Adler and Sullivan’s Schiller Theatre, Meyer Building, Rothschild Building, Babson Residence and Stock Exchange; Burnham and Root’s Church of the Covenant and First Infantry Armory; Holabird and Roche’s Republic and Cable building. Even the photographs of surviving landmarks like the Rookery and the Auditorium Building have a weary gaze, as if the photographer has doubts of their permanence at the hands of his society. Nickel conveys the glory of these buildings while making statements about Chicago’s arrogant disregard for them; he poses wry scenes that are statements of protest in which the beauty of the building makes the loudest statement.

Ever faithful to his subjects, Nickel avoids taking photographs that are easily digested or ignored. Nickel prefers wide views and the occasional vivid close-up to iconic images. At first glance, the photographs can seem carefully workmanlike. Then, a detail jumps out — the postures of men standing in the foreground of a demolition scene, words on a church wall next to a gaping hole made by wreckers, the appearance of a church steeple in a photograph of a roof. As one studies the photographs, the intentional nature of the details becomes apparent.

Nickel thought through his capturing of the details of every building he shot, just as the architects who designed them conceived of the intricate parts. Every foreground, background and shadow was chosen. The genius of Nickel emerges; he has taken photographs that reward a multitude of viewings and whose technique emulates the subjects’ complexity as much as any documentation can. Nickel’s photographs teach us the values of patience and observation, and of the power of making careful choices. These were the values that led Nickel to study and defend the works of Sullivan and other Chicago masters. These were the values that could have kept the buildings around as long as the photographs.

Cahan, Richard and Michael Williams, editors. Richard Nickel’s Chicago. Chicago: CityFiles Press, 2006. ISBN: 0-9785450-2-8.

Historic Preservation Salvage St. Charles County

"Historical Building for Removal"

On CraigsList. The ad shows a photo of a small front-gabled frame building with shed-roofed addition. The location is New Melle, Missouri. The cost seems to be $1: “Good 100 year old lumber including wide plank floors for the cost of removal plus $1.”

Architecture Events Louis Sullivan Salvage

Elmslie and Sullivan Exhibit Opens With Talk by Tim Samuelson

by Michael R. Allen

Over 150 people attended the opening.

On Friday, January 25, the Architectural Museum at the City Museum opened its new exhibit Elmslie and Sullivan to a packed house. Architectural Museum founder Bruce Gerrie curated the exhibit. While featuring terra cotta ornament from the buildings of George Grant Elmslie, once Louis Sullivan’s chief draftsman, as well as those of Sullivan himself, most of the exhibit incorporated ornament from the Morton and Thomas Alva Edison public schools designed by Elmslie that were built in Hammond, Indiana during the 1930s. The Hammond school district demolished these schools in 1991, but recovered much of the terra cotta. Some of the terra cotta ended up in use in new school buildings, but most has ended up in storage under the city’s ownership. The last exhibition of the terra cotta in the region was in 1998 when University of Illinois professors Paul Kruty and Ronald Schmitt organized an exhibit at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The highlight of the evening may very well have been Tim Samuelson‘s rousing welcoming speech. Tim is the Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago and one of the leading scholars of Sullivan and the Prairie School. He also is a gifted orator with a compelling imagination. Tim Samuelson feels architecture, and he has that rare gift of being able to articulate that feeling. His talk began with a summary of the architectural theory of Louis Sullivan and led to a celebration of Elmslie, a quiet man who was the subject of somewhat disparaging remarks in Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography. Wright was Sullivan’s chief draftsman before Elmslie, and the two shared an office for years. Seems that Wright didn’t see much beneath Elmslie’s cool exterior. Fortunately, Tim does and shared with the crowd his understanding of Elmslie’s singular vision — a vision powerfully manifest in the Hammond schools and one on par with Wright’s.

Elmslie’s unique terra cotta designs show a mind engaging both Sullivan’s principles and the machine age architectural principles of the Art Deco style. And Elmslie’s buildings reveal the conscious effort of one designer to reconcile organic lines with geometric mass. Some of Elmslie’s work, like the Old Second National Bank (1924), almost heads off the rise of Art Deco by creating an American alternative firmly rooted in both the ideals of modernism and Midwestern regionalism.

Ever-animated Tim Samuelson speaks at the opening reception.

In all, the opening demonstrates the strong continued interest in the work of Elmslie and the Prairie School as well as the large audience for architectural programming in St. Louis. While the exhibit opening was supposed to last until 9:00 p.m., people were still viewing it and conversing with each other until well past 11:00 p.m.

The exhibit will be on display through December 2008 to anyone purchasing a City Museum admission ($12). More information here.

Art Demolition Salvage St. Louis County

Name Made from Place

by Michael R. Allen

Janet Zweig’s If You Lived Here You Would Be Home, a new public art project in Maplewood funded by Arts in Transit, rewards repeated viewings — even at high speeds. The work consists of two sculptures that spell “Maplewood” on each side of the MetroLink overpass bridge on Manchester Road. On the west side, which people face heading into Maplewood, the word is spelled forwards, but on the other side it’s spelled backwards. Motorists leaving Maplewood might catch a glimpse of the word spelled forwards in their rear-view mirror. In her project description (which includes many excellent photographs), Zweig announces her intention regarding this effect: “hey can read the word on the other side of the overpass in their rear-view mirrors, as if seeing an illusionistic image of Maplewood’s past.”

There are other ways that the art work conjures Maplewood’s past. The typeface used is borrowed from the long-shuttered Maplewood Theater’s sign. Like a theater marquee, the letters of the sign are outlined in light at night, a great decision. The materials used to comprise each sign, not especially evident on a drive-by visit, are bits from two historic homes demolished in 2006. The idea of having the place name literally created by pieces of the lost past is profound, and need not be smothered by my analysis. Go drive, walk and stand by Zweig’s work, and then think about it.