Demolition North St. Louis Schools SLPS South St. Louis

Hodgen School Under Demolition

by Michael R. Allen

Historic View of Hodgen School. Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1884.

The Hodgen School rose from the good soil of St. Louis in stages starting in 1884. Then, 128 years later, the St. Louis Public Schools destroyed it. The Hodgen School displayed no signs of stress, decay or lack of reuse potential. Its limestone foundation and brick walls were sturdy, and its ornamental details — carved limestone blocks, rounded bows, sheet metal cornices — all were proof of the prowess of St. Louis craftsmen during the Gilded Age.

Do the blows dealt by the demolition team’s sledge hammers match the precise gestures by stonemasons long ago? Of course not. Yet they exemplify the change in attitude from the era in which St. Louis’ aspirations were palpable in the designs of architects like Otto Wilhelmi, who designed Hodgen’s main section. Today, as Hodgen School falls to create playground space serving an underwhelming replacement building, we can see this city’s casual disregard for its own future. The St. Louis Public Schools’ choice to use funds raised by the sales tax for building renovations is a travesty.

The underutilized park wast of the new Hodgen could have accommodated a playground. The old Hodgen building was deemed eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places by the State Historic Preservation Office last year, based on an eligibility assessment prepared by Lindsey Derrington of Preservation Research Office. National Register listing would have allowed historic rehabilitation tax credits to be used for reuse. The building’s views of the Gateway Arch and near south side location made it a likely — if not immediate — candidate for reuse. Sustainability — embodied by reusing second-nature resources that include whole buildings — ought to be a value that the St. Louis Public Schools teaches its students.

The Special Administrative Board raised $150 million for building improvements through Proposition S in August 2010. Voters did not know that any of this money would be used to demolish a historic, National Register-eligible building — a use that does nothing to help education in a struggling school district. The district instead could have raised money by selling Hodgen School, which taxpayers had already renovated at a cost over a half million dollars around 1990. The Special Administrative Board not only wasted money today, they wasted money spent 22 years ago. Yet St. Louis is not alone, which is why statewide advocacy group Missouri Preservation categorically placed School Buildings of Missouri on this year’s statewide Most Endangered Places List. That listing and the Hodgen demolition should make St. Louisans mindful of what built record of our values we are giving to the next generations.

Schools SLPS South St. Louis Tower Grove South

Investing in Mann School

by Michael R. Allen

Throughout 2009, the preservation community was startled by the February announcement by St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams that 17 schools were closing. Among the superintendent’s recommendations was the consolidation of Mann School (located at 4047 Juniata Avenue) in Tower Grove South with Sherman School in Shaw at the site of Mann School, which would be demolished for a new building.

Thankfully, that plan did not come to pass. Mann School survived the 2010 round of closings and Adams never again mentioned demolition or closure of the building, built in 1901 and 1916 according to designs by nationally-renowned master architect William B. Ittner.

Although Mann survived closure, the future of the building was not certain. That has changed. In May, the Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools allotted contracts for restroom renovations and tuckpointing at the building. The investment in the building is good news to Tower Grove South, where Mann School is an important neighborhood anchor.

One of the reasons for Adams’ 2009 recommendation was the performance of students at this elementary school. Concerned neighbors formed the Alliance to Preserve Mann School, and parents and teachers worked on school performance. The closure proposal was a sobering reminder that architectural pedigree alone does not keep schools open. Public buildings are expressions of public culture. Mann’s construction reflected the ideals of the early 20th century, and its maintenance today reflects continued neighborhood investment in the school’s future.

Gate District National Register Schools SLPS

Hodgen School “Clearly Eligible” for National Register

by Lindsey Derrington

This article is adapted from a National Register of Historic Places Eligibility Assessment that the Preservation Research Office submitted to the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office. The response from the State Historic Preservation Office is emphatic: “What a waste it would be if this lovely schoolhouse were to be demolished. Hodgen Elementary School is clearly eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C for Architecture, and may be eligible under Criterion A for Education as well,” states the response dated March 23, 2011.

Historic View of Hodgen School. Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1884.

History of Hodgen School

Hodgen Elementary School is located on the southeast corner of Henrietta and California Streets in the Eads Park neighborhood of St. Louis’ Gate District, bounded by Jefferson and South Grand avenues to the east and west and Chouteau Avenue and Interstate 44 to the north and south. Characterized by middle class row houses and multiple-family flats, this area developed in the early 1880s and 1890s as part of the Compton Hill District, today known as the Compton Heights and Fox Park neighborhoods.

View of Hodgen School today, looking southeast from the intersection of California and Henrietta avenues.

Plans for Hodgen Elementary were drawn during the summer of 1883 at the behest of local residents to accommodate the rapidly-growing area’s needs. Otto Wilhelmi, elected Architect and Superintendent of Repairs by the city’s school board earlier that year, was responsible for its design. Hodgen was his first, if not only, design for a new school building for the district, and was named for nationally-renowned surgeon and educator Dr. John Thompson Hodgen who had died in 1882.

Hodgen Elementary was completed for $32,330 in mid-1884. It stood three stories tall with a full basement and contained fourteen rooms, each with access to four large windows to provide students with the maximum amount of light. The school was well-received by the school board and the community. Soon the neighborhood’s burgeoning population necessitated a six room addition that added three bays to both the school’s east and west facades. H. William Kirchner, who had served as school board architect during the term prior to Wilhelmi’s and was elected again in 1886, designed the addition. His brother August H. Kirchner served as school board architect from 1893 to 1897 and in 1894 designed another three-story addition to Hodgen to bring it to its present appearance. This addition added a four bay wing to the building’s east façade and a three bay wing to its west façade at a cost of $15,000. William B. Ittner almost certainly oversaw $103,948 worth of alterations to the school in 1909, though the nature of this work is unknown.

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.

Gate District Schools SLPS South St. Louis

More on Hodgen School

by Michael R. Allen

On Thursday, the St. Louis Public Schools announced plans to demolish historic Hodgen School, one of the district’s few remaining buildings that pre-date the tenure of celebrated school architect William B. Ittner.  Hodgen’s central section was designed by Otto J. Wilhelmi and built in 1884.  Wilhelmi served as School Board Architect from January 1883 through January 1886, at a time when architects were elected by the school board in often-contentious elections.  The school was expanded in 1894 and 1909.  Later, a temporary building was built to the north, but it was replaced by the “new” Hodgen School that opened in 2000.  After Hodgen was renovated in the 1990s, the district closed the old building in 2003.

Now the district wants to tear it down for a new playground and parking lot.  The plan seems less like a necessary (or even wise) proposal than as an easy way to get rid of an unwanted building.  Examine the site for yourself on Google Maps and look at the folly of demolition here.

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Hodgen is located in a strange pocket of the Gate District where many streets are closed or simply do not go through. Hodgen faces Henrietta Avenue, but Henrietta is closed in front to provide space for a playground. A large, multi-story senior citizen apartment building is located on to the east on dead-end Henrietta. Across the street is a senior center. The apartment building generates little parking demand, and the senior center has a surface lot. There are potentially plenty of on-street spots on Henrietta that the school could utilize.

To the south of Henrietta west of Ohio on Lafayette Avenue is the shop and yard of Architectural Artifacts, Inc., owned by salvager Bruce Gerrie. To the east of Ohio on Lafayette is another shop and storage yard owned by Bob Cassilly. Further east is the moribund Foodland site, a gas station and a Holiday Inn Express with its own parking lot.

Most striking among the bizarre condition of the current site is the presence of Eads Park, a city park with perversely little street frontage. Just west of the new Hodgen School is a large arsenal of tennis courts that are underutilized — likely because they are invisible to the public. Utilizing Eads Park for the playground needs of Hodgen School makes much more sense than demolishing old Hodgen.

I should point out that Joe Frank wrote about this area with prescient concern back in July 2005 in a blog post entitled “The Destruction of the Urban Environment” (reprinted on the old Ecology of Absence website). When Frank found Henrietta Avenue closed in front of old Hodgen School, he observed that “[t]his makes the old building, which I believe was for sale, significantly less marketable, since its original front entrance no longer has street access.”

The front lawn of the new Hodgen School, shown above, is mostly a surface parking lot. That fact is a reminder that most students don’t walk to classes here, but it takes care of some of the needs. There is a second lot on the east side, plus parking on Henrietta. Parking on California is not allowed on the east side.

The view of stately old Hodgen school front the east shows that school employees park at the dead end of Henrietta.

Of course, as Joe Frank stated over five years ago, the street closure is not a helpful factor for selling Hodgen. However, neither is the school district’s bureaucratic mindset that cannot separate by-the-numbers calculations of parking and playground needs from creative design strategies. Besides, the district ought to consider the economics of the situation: the old Hodgen School was listed for sale at $1 million, and building a playground in Eads Park while better using existing parking are options that would cost nothing for land acquisition. Factor the cost of demolition, and the St. Louis Public Schools could be choosing the most costly plan.

Gate District Schools SLPS South St. Louis

SLPS Plans to Demolish Historic Hodgen School

by Michael R. Allen

Hodgen School in 2009.

In August, voters approved Proposition S to raise $150 million for capital improvements in the St. Louis Public Schools system. Not once did the district tell voters that they were voting to demolish historic schools — but some of the money will demolish at least one, historic Hodgen School on California Avenue in the Gate District. Completed in 1884, Hodgen School is one of the oldest surviving schools in the district. Hodgen was designed by German-American architect Otto J. Wilhelmi. The school building was closed a few years ago when a replacement building was built to the north.

According to an article in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hodgen will be demolished to create a parking lot and playground for the current Hodgen School building at 1616 California. The school already has a playground in space between the old and new buildings.

In September, I wrote about a row house demolition just one block southwest of Hodgen School (see “Row House on Lafayette Avenue Slated for Demolition”, September 10, 2010). Little did I suspect that an even bigger loss of context was in the works. That’s because I assumed that Proposition S was going to pay for what its proponents told me it was paying for: improvements that made the quality of education better, not easier parking for teachers and parents.

SLPS had Hodgen listed for sale through Hilliker Corporation, and a sales brochure is still available on the Hilliker site. The brochure touts “extensive renovation in the 1990s” — renovations paid for by our tax dollars in a previous SLPS capital improvements campaign. That sort of wasteful duplication of expenditures is exactly what the current district management has tried strenuously to avoid, so the plan to demolish Hodgen is baffling.

ADDITION: I should point out that the city’s preservation ordinance specifically exempts property of the St. Louis Public Schools, so neither the Cultural Resources Office nor the Preservation Board will have jurisdiction over the the demolition permit. Authority rests with SLPS and its Special Administrative Board. I’ve posted contact information in the comments section.

Schools SLPS The Ville Tower Grove South

Adams Recommends Closing Six School Buildings

by Michael R. Allen

At last night’s meeting of the Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools, Superintendent Kelvin Adams recommended closing the following six school buildings:

Gallaudet School for the Hearing Impaired, 1616 S. Grand; built in 1925; Rockwell Milligan, architect.

Alternative South at Lyon School; 7417 Vermont; built in 1909; William B. Ittner, architect.

Ford Branch School; 1383 Clara Avenue; built around 1960.

Fresh Start at Turner Middle School; 2615 Billups Avenue; built in 1939; George Sanger, architect.

Bunche at Madison School, 1118 S. Seventh; built in 1910; William B. Ittner, architect.

Pruitt Middle School (Cleveland Junior Naval Academy), 1212 N. 22nd; built in 1954.

Lyon School And Turner Middle School (formerly Stowe Teachers College) are already listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Gallaudet, Madison and Pruitt are eligible for such designation. Ford Branch might contribute to a historic district listing.

Six schools that Adams once suggested closing, including Mann Elementary School at 4047 Juniata Avenue in Tower Grove South (built in 1901-16 and designed by William B. Ittner; listed in the National Register), will be placed on a new “turnaround model” with new principals and at least 50% new teaching staff.

Four schools are going to be placed on “restart” — closed as public schools and reopened as chartered schools. One of these is the venerable — but academically failing — Sumner High School at 4248 Cottage Avenue in the Ville (built in 1908-9 and designed by William B. Ittner; listed in the National Register).

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

More St. Louis Public Schools to Close

by Michael R. Allen

On Tuesday, the St. Louis Beacon published an article by Dale Singer covering a presentation by Superintendent Kelvin Adams on the state of the troubled St. Louis Public Schools. Not surprising, perhaps, is the prediction by Adams that more school closings are ahead. Singer writes:

Of the district’s buildings — 74 currently in use, 39 decommissioned — the average age is 75 years, he said, ranging from six years to 132. Last year more than a dozen schools were closed, down from the 29 closings that a consulting firm had recommended, but more are certain to be on the closing list this time around.

Mann School in Tower Grove South, previously considered for demolition and replacement or closure, likely will again be threatened with closure. Given the district’s financial state, however, demolition and construction of new school buildings seems unlikely.

That the average age of a city school building is 75 years means that the average city school student attends class in a historic neighborhood school. While that fact alone does not produce desired educational outcome, it is reassuring. Our students are interacting with their city’s heritage and most are attending class in humane buildings with ample natural light, ventilation and classroom space. Imagine if the troubled district was mostly housed in the bleak, low-ceiling, fluorescent-lit educational hot-houses being built today. Performance could be much worse.

North St. Louis Schools SLPS The Ville

Marshall School Awaits New Use

by Michael R. Allen

This week’s news of a reprieve for Sumner High School brought relief to the Ville neighborhood, where another public school remains vacant after closing this summer. Stately John Marshall School stands at 4342 Aldine Avenue between Newstead and Pendleton avenues. The three-story building in the Classical Revival style dates to 1900 and is one of architect William B. Ittner’s first uses of the E-Plan layout.

The entrance is imposing and formed by brick piers supporting a massing terra cotta entablature. Brown terra cotta is used there and surrounding the doorway, over which a bust of John Marshall watches.

Like Sumner, Marshall School is a crucial part of the cultural legacy of the Ville. During segregation, the school became an African-American intermediate school in 1918 and an elementary school in 1927. Many students who would pass through the doors of mighty Sumner High School, also designed by Ittner, would first pass through Marshall School.

What future may be in store for the shuttered Marshall School is uncertain. With deed restrictions against charter school purchase lifted by the St. Louis Public Schools, educational use is possible. For now, however, all that is certain is that the Ville does not need another vacant school building.

Academy Neighborhood Demolition North St. Louis Preservation Board Schools SLPS

Good News and Bad News on Page Boulevard

by Michael R. Allen

Preservationists should send their thanks to Better Family Life, a cultural and educational organization that is uplifting African-American St. Louis while rehabilitating one of our city’s irreplaceable historic schools. In 2005, Better Family Life purchased the shuttered Ralph Waldo Emerson School at 5415 Page Boulevard. This year, the organization began a $4.5 million rehabilitation that will convert the school into an educational and cultural center.

Currently, a construction fence surrounds the school. Workers are on site most days, and a lift was in front today. The daily activity at Emerson School has not been this high since the school’s last day of classes in June 2003. When the school closed, few predicted that any serious buyer would step forward so soon. The landmark could have become an abandoned wreck.

Designed by William B. Ittner and completed in 1901, the brick school is one of the earliest of Ittner’s schools in the hybrid “Jacobethan” style that he helped popularize. Ittner began working for the St. Louis Board of Education in 1898, and did not turn to the Renaissance styles until a few years into his tenure. Emerson School is a handsome early work utilizing the architect’s open floor plan. The grace of the landmark shall be with us for generations, thanks to Better Family Life.

If only all good news from St. Louis’ built environment did not have to be counterbalanced by bad news. Just two blocks east of Emerson on the south side of mighty Page Boulevard at Union Boulevards, another north side landmark is meeting a sad end. The corner commercial block at 5986-98 Page Boulevard, written about on this blog several times before, is finally falling to the wreckers. I offer here an image of the building in better days, and will spare readers yet another demolition photograph.

The corner building is a younger building than Emerson School, with a completion date at 1905. The two-story building is part of the Mount Cabanne-Raymond Place Historic District and could have been reused utilizing historic tax credit programs. Surely, commercial storefronts and apartments enjoy far more demand in the city than cultural centers. However, the building had the wrong owner, the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church, which will be building a parking lot on the site.

In February 2008, the city’s Preservation Board voted 5-2 to deny a demolition permit for this building. Then, in June 2009, the city’s Planning Commission arbitrarily overturned the Preservation Board decision.

The story got stranger after that when the church failed to meet the requirements of the Planning Commission decision but began demolition this summer without a permit. City officials called a halt to the wrecking, but the wreckers had already delivered fatal damage by removing most of the roof. Now the rest of the building will be removed legally. Page Boulevard will have a completely disjointed, unhinged intersection with Union Boulevard. Two prominent thoroughfares shall meet at an intersection as full of character as any generic suburban intersection anywhere in the United States. This city, it should be stated, deserves better. It deserves what it had before.