Forest Park Southeast Local Historic District National Register Soulard

Forest Park Southeast and the Human Scale

by Michael R. Allen

In the last few months, two project proposals — one for an apartment complex at Taylor and Chouteau and another for a vague commercial development along Kingshighway — in Forest Park Southeast have emerged which are both grossly out of scale and character with the historic architectural character of the neighborhood. These projects exhibit deficiencies in consideration of scale, ratio of surface parking to building footprints, form and materiality. Together, these projects would overwhelm the accumulated urbanity of Forest Park Southeast with the fly-by-night aesthetics of American suburbia. After all, good urbanism needs more than development and density to thrive — it requires beauty and the human scale.

Not right for a dense historic neighborhood. Tate Homes' Hanley Station.
Local Historic District Preservation Board Soulard South St. Louis

Soulard Solar Collectors

by Michael R. Allen

Looking northeast on Russell Avenue from Menard Street. The Bastille building is at center.

On May 21, the Preservation Board denied an application for solar collector installation from Robert Hiscox, owner of the Bastille bar at 1027 Russell in Soulard. Hiscox proposed installing black collector panels on the south-facing rear sloped roof of his building, shown at the center of the photograph above. Soulard is a local historic district governed by design standards last updated by ordinance in 1991.

The Soulard local historic district standards are not explicit about solar panels, which means that their installation requires a variance. The standards mandate that the character of sloped roofs be maintained through adherence to one of several times of approved roofing (most of which were not in use before 1900, I might point out). In a few instances, the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) has recommended that the Preservation Board grant a variance, and the Board has done just that. This time, however, CRO recommended denial of a variance based on the public visibility of the Bastille’s street-facing rear roof.

In her report to the Preservation Board, CRO Director Betsy Bradley wrote that “Russell Avenue is one of the wider streets in the district and links the historic district with interstate highway access and neighborhoods to the west, and therefore a street important in the perception of the historic character of the Soulard district.” Certainly, the Bastille’s roof is very visible and panels would change the visual character of the block. The Preservation Board made the right decision based on the current standards, which need to be rewritten to provide clear rules about solar collectors.

In an article by David Hunn in last week’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, there is discussion of the need to revise the Soulard standards and other local district standards to create definite guidelines for the use of energy efficient technologies like solar collectors. Should new standards permit solar collectors to be installed on street-facing roofs? Perhaps. Standing-seam galvanized roofing was once a roofing material widely used on gable roofs in Soulard. A manufacturers’ challenge is to make solar panels that could mimic such a material, which could then be incorporated in revised standards.

Yet another consideration came from my colleague Mike Jackson at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, who e-mailed me after the story came out. Mike made the point that solar panels’ efficiency are generally only 10%, making them far less “green” than they seem. Purchasing power from regional off-site sustainable sources like wind farms, while undertaking efficiency measures on building envelopes, actually is more efficient for historic building owners than a few solar panels. Solar panels will become more efficient, but they may not be the greenest way to enhance historic buildings. Thus we should be careful when revising local district standards based on current technology.

Rehabbing Soulard South St. Louis

Soulard’s Dave Lewis

Soul of Soulard from Jerry Michaud on Vimeo.

Anyone who is on the listserve of the St. Louis Rehabbers Club knows that Dave Lewis’ insights and tips on rehab work are indispensable. Those who have lived in Soulard in the last few decades no doubt know Dave’s work rehabbing his two buildings, his beautiful garden project or his assistance with countless projects of his neighbors. This video’s title suggests that Dave Lewis is the “Soul of Soulard,” a mantle (ouch) he would probably decline out of modesty. No matter; Dave’s life’s work speaks for itself.

Soulard South St. Louis

Historic Stahl Stables in Soulard For Sale

Now there is a rare opportunity: the chance to purchase the historic Stahl stables at 2414-16 Menard Street in Soulard and an adjacent house at 2412 Menard Street. Rehabilitated in the 1970s to house the St. Louis Architectural Art Company, the spacious stables consist of a rear building dating to 1866 and the front section, which dates to 1891. There are few comparable buildings in Soulard. The sale will benefit the current owner of the property, the non-profit St. Louis Building Arts Foundation. Read more about the buildings in the sale brochure.

Preservation Board Soulard South St. Louis

Cultural Resources Office Stands Up for House in Soulard

by Michael R. Allen

The city’s Cultural Resource Office (CRO) has published the final agenda for Monday’s Preservation Board meeting. CRO recommends that the Board uphold denial of the house at 1925-27 S. 10th Street in Soulard. The report clears up any doubt that Rehab Girls LLC is tied to developer Pete Rothschild. This action is inconsistent with Rothschild’s lauded track record on preservation.

Preservation Board Soulard South St. Louis

"Rehab Girls" Seek Soulard Demolition

by Michael R. Allen

The most troubling item on the October 26 agenda for the St. Louis Preservation Board is the only actual demolition permit on the agenda, for a house at 1927-9 S. 10th Street in Soulard. While any demolition permit for a perfectly sound historic building is troubling, this one is egregious. For one thing, the two-and-a-half brick house is located in a dense and stable part of one of the city’s most dense and stable historic districts. For another, the house at 1927-9 S. 10th Street is one of the number of remaining St. Louis buildings that appear in the pages of Pictorial St. Louis, the 1875 atlas by Richard Compton and Camille Dry. The simple brick dentils on the cornice indicate an age even earlier than the atlas — perhaps in the 1850s or 1860s, before wooden cornices began appearing on modest housing like this. Such buildings are rare enough that the Preservation Board should never permit their demolition.

What this writer knows about the back story here provides little clue as to why the owner, Rehab Girls LLC, is pushing demolition. In its fictitious registration of the name Rehab Girls, Rehab Girls LLC — registered through a third-party registrar — reported that Peggy Sheffold is Vice President and that the company office is the same as Rothschild Development Ltd., Sheffold’s employer. Rothschild owns a lot of Soulard property, including a corner mixed-use building directly north of this house.

Rehab Girls LLC purchased the house on South 10th for $50,000 on December 19, 2006. Recently, the house was listed for sale by Red Brick Management, a Rothschild company, with a $136,000 asking price. Since the purchase, there are no recorded building permits despite a full recent reconstruction of the cornice.

The work performed on the cornice indicates that the building’s brick work is fully repairable. Why Rehab Girls aborted the work and decided to pursue demolition is unfathomable. Soulard is a neighborhood that long has moved past dark days of demolition and on to significant infill construction. The “Rehab Girls” should stick to their name or sell this fine building. Meanwhile, the Preservation Board should deny the demolition request.

The Preservation Board meets at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, October 26 in the offices of the St. Louis Development Corporation, 1015 Locust Street, 12th floor.

However, citizens need not be present to submit written testimony. Testimony can be sent to the board via its secretary, Adona Buford, at or care of the Cultural Resources Office, 1015 Locust Street, Suite 1200, St. Louis MO 63101.

Flounder House Historic Preservation Soulard South St. Louis

Menard Triplets

by Michael R. Allen

The “Menard triplets” are three 19th century flounder houses in Soulard located on the west side of Menard Street just south of Russell. Many flounder roofs simply form a half-gable, running down from one side of the building to the other. These houses have a hip to their roofs that allows for a front-facing dormer. Still, the roof form is within the flounder house range. St. Louis seems to have the largest concentration of flounder houses, which are found in few American cities (Alexandria, Virginia and Philadelphia have them).

The center house (left here) was extended to the south to meet the northern house, creating a “mousehole” entrance to the gangway.

A plaque on the wall of the center house tells some of the story of the houses, including a wide range of salvage pieces that went into rehabilitation of the center house. Plaques like these are a great part of the urban fabric in that they allow buildings to tell some of their own story. Forget the Internet or a guidebook — the best way to explore is on foot, and the best way to learn about historic architecture is to study the buildings themselves. A few more clues always help.

Historic Preservation JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North Soulard St. Louis Place

Learning Lessons from Soulard

by Michael R. Allen

Photographs taken in the 1970s (probably in 1977) by a Soulard resident and now in the collection of Landmarks Association of St. Louis provide interesting parallels between that neighborhood’s renaissance and current efforts underway to renew near north side neighborhoods like Old North St. Louis and St. Louis Place.

The photographs here show derelict historic buildings. From condition to building type, these shots are a lot like those from the north side that have flooded urbanist blogs in the last two years. Perhaps few in Soulard then would have imagined that thirty-one years later the same conditions would persist and remain the subject of controversy. Certainly that neighborhood’s history is testament to the power of concerted effort to resolve thse conditions through smart historic preservation strategy. Still, there were glaring blunders in Soulard that north siders today can avoid. While Soulard in the 1970s faced a dense neighborhood with a high level of vacancy, the north side today faces conditions that combine low density with a rising level of building vacancy. Soulard could not afford the losses shown here; we really can’t afford to lose another building!

Here is the southeast corner of Menard and Shenandoah streets. One of the striking features of the row are four nearly-identical side-hall signle-family dwellings dating to the 1850s. Those first floor pediments are cast iron. Clearly, the row has experienced hard times, but the vernacular buildings retain their architectural beauty. Again, I can’t help but think of a project like Rob Powers’ “Daily Dose of Blairmont” series. This is the sort of urban grouping Powers and others have documented with passionate cries for preservation.

Here is the rear of that row. Again, conditions we now as common — and reversible. Surely, that is what happened to this row. Wrong. Developers Guy McClellan and Sedge Mead wrecked all but the corner building after these photographs were taken. Their firm, Mead McClellan, was widely recognized as the private developer that tackled Soulard on a large scale. Mead McClellan rehabbed dozens of Soulard buildings, but tore down a few as well. In the 1980s, the firm also demolished downtown’s “terra cotta” district on Olive Street These buildings would have been gold when the 1998 Missouri rehab tax credit went into effect, but their existence didn’t suit the incentives that existed before.

The hard lesson learned — and one that Paul McKee ought to consider in north city — is that large scale development tends to create collateral damage among historic properties. No developer can do it all, and none should try. The second lesson is that historic buildings will simultaneously be subjects to and victims of tax credit incentive programs. Developers will always try to discard buildings that are “unworkable” under incentive programs. That’s where city preservation ordinances do their duty.

Another sad tale from Soulard concerns this Romanesque Revival six-flat in the 2300 block of South Seventh Street. Union Electric demolished this house for a sub-station. The trade-off was so lop-sided, it is mind-boggling. No doubt the location on a neighborhood edge made the demolition more palatable. The lesson here is that neighborhood edges tend to attract retail, gas stations, utility stations and other projects that are unsightly and entail demolition. While it may seem sensible to locate such things on the perimeter off a neighborhood, every neighborhood does the same thing to the point where once-grand streets like South Seventh, Gravois, and North Florissant have become placeless seas of marginal uses.

These next two photograph show unidentified buildings.

Please send identification if you know what these photographs show.

There are obvious and much-mentioned good lessons for near north St. Louis neighborhoods to take from Soulard, but the harder lessons need to be heeded as well. The situation on the near north side makes each historic building extremely fragile, and preservation an urgent cause. McKee’s project lurks in every discussion of the area because it involves so much of the area’s remaining historic building stock. Mead McClellan never owned enough of Soulard to remove the neighborhood character from whole swaths; in St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou, McKee does. What he intends to do with that power is unknown, but what residents want him to do with it should be clear. Other property owners — ranging from churches to out-of-town landlords — also hold the future of many near north side buildings in jeopardy.

The best lesson from Soulard may be the power of vigilance at the community level. So many residents decided that they simply would not let the buildings be lost. While not always successful in individual attempts, Soulard’s residents won the larger battle of retaining the historic character of the neighborhood. Can near north side residents do the same? Can we draw the line on preserving our buildings? At this critical point, we must. Even Soulard lost the beautiful buildings I’ve shown above, and many others.

Events Historic Preservation Soulard South St. Louis

Saturday: Tour of South Soulard and DeMenil House, Big Book Sale

The Rehabbers Club brings you an exciting Saturday:

Saturday, May 17
9:30 a.m.
Start at 900 Utah Street

This month’s meeting focuses on south Soulard and eastern Benton Park/Marine Villa, historically part of the same development pattern but separated by the construction
of I-55.

Meet at 9:30 a.m. at 900 Utah (at S. 9th Street, south of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery). We will visit Ray and Maureen Kenski and hear about their long road to opening up a B&B in this gut-rehabbed former multi-family building. It’s one of several buildings in the area recently rehabbed by local developer Kraig Schnitzmeier. His project across the street at 3306 S. 9th just won one of Landmarks Association’s Eleven Most Enhanced Awards, and we’ll have the opportunity to hear Kraig talk about the transformation of this derelict property into a
stunning home.

3306 S. 9th Street. Photo courtesy of Kraig Schnitzmeier.
Our next stop will be a special Preservation Week visit to the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion (open to us at no charge). DeMenil board member Bill Hart will tell the story of the dramatic rescue and restoration of the mansion 40 years ago and give a special tour highlighting its ongoing rehabilitation challenges. We’ll also have the opportunity to view rarely seen photographs of the blocks to the east, demolished for I-55, which demonstrate the continuity of the urban grid before the neighborhood were severed by highway construction.

Our final stop on the tour will be “The Simon Complex”, as it is sometimes called, on the 1900 block of Cherokee Street. Ray Simon’s project started in the late 1980s and continues today, in the process creating a shaded, secluded courtyard shared by businesses and residents of the antebellum front buildings and the 1890s alley house. This type of semi-private space was once common in the City, but prohibitions against alley dwellings reduced their number considerably. The mix of commercial and residential uses, private and shared space is uniquely urban and
completely magical. Don’t miss it.

The final stop is also (by no coincidence) the site of the Rehabbers Club Used Book Sale, which benefits the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion. This year we have a strong collection of books including rehabbing, architecture, local interest, gardening, decorating, and tons of fiction. There are also many really nice supplies (mostly of the handled flex-file variety) for your home office. If you can’t make the tour, stop by the sale at 1912 Cherokee from 10-4 Saturday or 12-4 Sunday.

People Rehabbing Soulard

Neighborhood Baseball

by Michael R. Allen

Did you know that, once upon a time, there was a restoration baseball league in St. Louis? At least, according to historian Larry Giles, the league existed for one season in the early 1980’s. The league consisted of teams from rehab neighborhoods, although apparently one neighborhood was head and shoulders above the rest.

The championship game was a match between the Soulard “A” and “B” teams.