Churches Princeton Heights Salvage South St. Louis

Our Lady of Sorrows Convent

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: 5050 Rhodes; Princeton Heights; Saint Louis, Missouri
OWNER: Archdiocese of Saint Louis

Today we woke up to find a light covering of snow on the ground on Swan Avenue in St. Louis — nothing troublesome compared to the 12 inches that bogged us down one week earlier when we were packing up to move out of Chicago.  I thus continued with out plans to attend a public sale of fixtures and furniture at the convent of the Our Lady of Sorrows parish on Kingshighway in Princeton Heights.  I had received an announcement one week earlier in my email and was intrigued to learn that the 1927 convent building — with which I was admittedly not familiar — adjacent to the landmark parish church would be demolished to make way for a new school building, and that the parish was selling as much of the building as possible to raise money for a construction fund.  After all, this announcement came at a time when the Archdiocese of St. Louis is planning to close 37% of the city’s remaining parishes.

How does Our Lady of Sorrows manage to do so well — well enough to build a new school?

As we discovered, the parish is a friendly and dedicated group of Catholics who are committed to their neighborhood, their community and recycling their resources. At the sale, we spoke with many parishioners who said that they wanted to make sure none of the building’s fixtures ended up in the landfill and who spoke of concern at the alarming number of parishes closing this year. Even though they are pursuing demolition of the historic Italian Revival convent for their school expansion project, they are trying to avoid the wastefulness that seems endemic to the archdiocesan plans.

The sale encompassed door frames, doors, cabinets, windows, light fixtures, sink basins and many parts of the convent, which seemed to be in fairly good shape, not to mention a wonderfully complimentary building in the parish complex. Yet there was more: modern furniture, kitchen gadgets, suitcases, typewriters, lamps and curtains. Needless to say that I have now completed the furnishing of a new flat with items that tell a story, all for under $40.

May the parish thrive for years to come. They have placed banners on many light posts around their block proclaiming their forthcoming centennial: “1907 – 2007.” They should make it longer than that, if the archdiocese puts faith in the efforts of parishioners to keep traditions alive. The loss of the convent is unfortunate and one with which I do not agree, but it is small compared to the potential devastation that may come from the current round of parish closings.

Demolition Salvage South St. Louis

Salvaging Our Lady of Sorrows Convent

Our Lady of Sorrows Convent (built 1927) will soon be emptied out so that demolition can begin.

Mementos, furniture, house wares, interior wood trim, doors, hardwood floors, bathroom fixtures and more will be sold

General Public Sale
Saturday, January 29, 2005
9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

The OLS Convent is a bit west up the street from Rhodes and Kingshighway.

All proceeds will go to the Our Lady of Sorrows Building With Faith Capital Campaign.

Joe Daus

Chicago Louis Sullivan People Salvage

The Legacy of Richard Nickel

by Michael R. Allen

Today at the Chicago Cultural Center I attended a slide-show presentation of Richard Nickel‘s photographs of the buildings of Adler and Sullivan, given by Ward Miller of the Richard Nickel Committee. The slide-show included lesser-known color photographs of such notable buildings by the firm, including the Auditorium Building, the Ann Halstead Flats and the Jewelers Building. I was awed once again by the sensitivity to architectural detail that Nickel imparted in each of his images. He articulated buildings in another language than architecture, and thus made them greater than they were when he found them.

As a fitting summation of the day’s introspection, I found this essay online tonight: Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground by Dan Kelly. Kelly traces minor buildings and fragments of Chicago buildings by Adler and Sullivan — the ones Frank Lloyd Wright discouraged Nickel from including in his unpublished Complete Works of Adler and Sullivan — and concludes:

“…the most minor buildings that construct the city’s neighborhoods are always “missed” when they’re gone, most often because no one bothered to notice them when they were still here. It follows that preservation isn’t just about landmark status or collecting museum-quality ornamental scraps; it’s about noticing what builds a neighborhood into a neighborhood. The city’s blandest buildings can possess rich histories.”

Indeed. This insight had to be what drove Nickel to keep working, and it’s what drives this blog. Hopefully, we will help people avoid the “missing” of buildings and, with more effort, the losses themselves.

Century Building Demolition Downtown Salvage

Terror on Ninth Street

by Michael R. Allen

I visited Saint Louis last week, and spent some time in the Century Building. Yes, I was inside of the remains of the grandest marble building ever built. The experience was chilling, bizarre and intense. It would have been even more intense if I had made the visit with my colleague Claire Nowak-Boyd, but she had obligations that kept her home in Chicago while I went ahead with a truly terrible trip.

Last Wednesday morning, I was downtown in St. Louis, walking without an umbrella in the near-freezing rain to go to the Century. No one was there to let me in, so I wandered around and come back in an hour via MetroLink. As I ascended from the Eighth and Pine station, I heard a crack overhead and suddenly a light shower of glass mingled with the rain literally falling around me. I saw a set of vertical blinds flying in the strong wind many stories above. My first thought is that the workers at the Paul Brown Building had knocked their boom crane against the Arcade Building, causing a window to break. Then, a quick glance above revealed that a window had broken out in the Laclede Gas Building above.

A worker walking by turned to me and said, “That’s the problem with those windows. They don’t open and close, so they make a vacuum and the wind just sucks them out.”

Right on. Needless to say, the window now sports a plywood bandage.

I kept walking and, a few moments later, was inside of the fence at the Century Building, meeting up with salvager Larry Giles to get my hard hat. Then I went inside of the gruesome wreckage of the old gem. I watched as Larry and his two workers desparately began assembling bracing for the Ninth Street arch that he is trying to preserve in its entirety.

Water dripped consistently above the spot where Larry and his workers were working. The roof was removed weeks ago and there are some holes in the second floor due to the wrecking activities. Otherwise, the structure is fine even if slightly weakened. I believe that one could devise a workable plan to rebuild the building even in this late stage of demolition. The street frame with its exterior concrete piers is holding up well, as is the facade. Demolition of the corners has not damaged the intergrity of other spots in the building. Oh, well.

(The next day, another worker headed to the Board of Education Building rehab walks by and states to me that he thinks that the Century Building could be saved as-is if demolition stopped, and glass structures were built to encapsulate the corner areas and roof. Hmmm.)

At any rate, Larry informed me that the wrecking plan was altered to accomodate complaints from the Bell Lofts at Tenth and Olive; now, wrecking has to proceed from Locust to Olive, catching the arch in the middle. The original plan called for wrecking the corners first and then wrecking the building from the Syndicate Trust Building wall eastward toward the Ninth Street elevation. The arch would have been in the last area to be wrecked.

Hopefully, though, the salvage efforts will be completed without interference. Saving the entire arched entrance ornament system is a remarkable achievement that could only be bested by saving the entire building on-site.

Wednesday’s weather escalated into snow by mid-day, so the wreckers and Larry’s crew both stopped work after lunch.

When I returned to the site on Friday, the weather had improved and both operations were back in action, as they had been on Thanksgiving (hopefully Saint Louisans are thankful that Larry and his crew have been working seven days a week on this important and grueling task). I was able to take many good photographs that I will share on the EOA site later this week.

While the work was going on, I shuffled around the columns, open elevator shafts — some still framed with original Winslow Brothers cast iron framing — and piles of debris from the upper floors (the whole building is considerably smashed and somewhat unstable). The old Walgreens’ store space still sported macabre signs, one almost reading “BEAUTY” but missing some letters because the wall had been smashed out. The upper floors have been thoroughly gutted, but the ground floor’s shops paces are still full of furniture and a few old computers, buried under debris.

Being inside of the Century Building during demolition was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was plainly terrible to observe the signs of structural ingenuity exposed before destruction in addition to seeing the decorative beauty trampled. As the building continues to fall, more of the things that made it great are exposed in a grim irony.

As I said to Larry Giles while looking up through the archway at the Old Post Office as snow fell, this view never existed before and it’s beautiful as much as it is gruesome. But I never, ever wanted to even know that such a view existed.

Century Building Demolition Downtown Salvage

Salvaging the Century Building

by Michael R. Allen

The silver lining to the Century Building demolition is that salvage rights belong to the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation, the non-profit set up by salvage expert Larry Giles to create a museum of American architecture. Not only will the Century’s unique marble and iron pieces be used for educational purposes, but also they will be removed by someone who has the experience, knowledge and love of the building to ensure that we won’t lose anything important.

Right now Larry and his crew are at work dismantling the entire Ninth Street entrance to the building — a massive undertaking that is a race against the wrecking ball.