Demolition South St. Louis Southampton

For Sale, Cheap: Hole In Ground Where Historic Movie Theater Once Stood

by Michael R. Allen

The Avalon Theater under demolition, December 2011.

Lately, the unkempt stretch of dirt — not shown here, too bleak for the holiday season — where the Avalon Theater once stood has sported a for-sale sign with a slapped-on price of $125,000. That price seems to be missing one zero, compared to where the price for that parcel stood in 2009:

Avalon Theater Site Pricing

2009: $1,000,000 (with building and unrealistic asking price)

2011: $249,000 (with building)

2013: $125,000 (without building)

According to the 2011 demolition permit, the demolition cost $27,500. That non-deferred expenditure removed $124,000 for the sales price, and who knows what really from the final sales price. In 2012, when the building fell, many rejoiced that an “eyesore” was coming down. Yet today the demolition seems economically questionable.

Available: Economic asset.

The economics of demolition are simple: removal of buildings almost always decreases the worth of a property. The years of having the building listed at an artificial price, the years of city officials not taking reuse proposals seriously, the expenditure of city time and money to get the building demolished — all add up to reducing the parcel value and lowering revenues to city government.

Demolishing the Avalon Theater has already reduced the property taxes on the parcel:

Avalon Theater Assessed Valuation

2011: $111,700 (with building)

2013: $80,300 (without building)

If the city of St. Louis wants to be “open for business,” as elected officials often claim, it must retain assets that drive economic activity. Demolishing the Avalon Theater was a step in the wrong direction for South Kingshighway.

College Hill North St. Louis Planning Preservation Board South St. Louis Southampton

Thoughts on Citywide Preservation Review

by Michael R. Allen

On Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article by reporter Tim Logan that raised the issue of the city’s lack of citywide demolition review. The article, which ran on the front page above the fold, took as a starting point the sudden, lonesome death of the Avalon Theater on South Kingshighway. Since the Avalon was outside of one of the city’s preservation review districts, it bit the dust — or, rather, became dust bitten by passers-by — without any review.

Multi-family buildings in the 5000 block of Winona Avenue, in the Southampton neighborhood.

Logan’s article included a promising set of quotes from two aldermen. The first came from Carol Howard (D-14th), who represents the eastern part of the Southampton neighborhood where the Avalon was located. The demolition experience has spurred Howard to seek demolition review for her ward, one of south city’s only wards that lacks review. Howard also endorses a return to citywide review, which St. Louis had before 1999. “It’s a tool, I think, that makes for better decisions,” she told Logan.

A view that could be read as dissenting came from Alderman Antonio French (D-21st), whose constituents include this writer. French’s first bill upon being elected in 2009 put the 21st Ward into preservation review for the first time since 1999. Yet the alderman wants to remove review for part of the College Hill neighborhood added to his ward in redistricting. French wants to concentrate preservation efforts on the intact largely Penrose and O’Fallon neighborhoods in his ward. “What works for Penrose and O’Fallon may not work for College Hill,” said the alderman.

The building at 1431 Prairie Avenue in College Hill is one of the last buildings left on its block.

Am I the only person who sees that both Alderwoman Howard and Alderman French are right? St. Louis does need citywide review, and building conservation strategies for depleted neighborhoods like College Hill — where many blocks are devoid of more than five or six historic buildings — need not entail preserving every remaining historic building.

Yet the crux of these two points’ convergence is that these decisions need to be made by qualified professional planners working in the interest of all city residents. Aldermen who serve geographic areas whose boundaries change every ten years, who lack training in urban planning and historic preservation, and who have to seek re-election are not the best people to make decisions for the long-term interests of the city’s built environment. Yet aldermen create the legislation under which review takes place, establishing guidelines that represent the public interest.

Alderman French might be suggesting that a citywide demolition review ordinance be informed by theories of planned shrinkage. Again, having professionals examining demolition seems like the best way to make that happen. Citywide review does not mean preservation of everything in the city, it means a system in which preservation planning is made under legal criteria interpreted by professionals who are free from political motivations. Applicants for demolition, aldermen, neighbors and preservationists will have a predictable public process with the same rule for every building.

If that sounds familiar, it’s what this city had before the Board of Aldermen passed the current preservation ordinance in 1999.

Demolition Southampton Theaters

Without Review, Avalon Theater Demolition Underway

by Michael R. Allen

One day after my call for an imaginative path away from demolition of the Avalon Theater, wreckers started destroying the south city landmark. This morning, after considering it since December 22, the Building Division approved the demolition permit. Down came theater walls and steel trusses, headed up to North Broadway scrap yards.

If the Avalon had been protected under the city’s preservation ordinance, the demolition permit would have required the additional approval of the city’s Cultural Resources Office. Failure to get that approval would have caused a denial of the application.

Unfortunately, the 14th Ward is not in preservation review, and the Avalon had no local or national landmark status that would have led to review under the preservation ordinance. Yet the Avalon was eligible for National Register of Historic Places listing, on its own or as a contributing resource to larger districts.

South St. Louis Southampton Theaters

Coming Soon: The Future of the Avalon Theater

by Michael R. Allen

Is the Avalon Theater poised to be revitalized as a two-screen neighborhood cinema, a concert venue or a cafe with three-seasons dining in a re-purposed auditorium? Unless the owners drop a pending application for demolition, the answer is “we will never find out.”

Avalon rendering by Jesiey Mead.

On December 22, owner Greg Tsevis applied for a demolition permit for the shuttered Art Deco movie house. So far, the Building Division has not approved the application (#495332). Yet there is nothing standing in the way of approval — the Avalon lacks any protection from demolition under the city’s preservation ordinance. The Avalon Theater is not a City Landmark, is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is not located in one of the 20 city wards that have preservation review. The 14th Ward, where the Avalon is located, is one of only two south side wards without demolition review. (Alderman Stephen Gregali kept the 14th Ward out of preservation review and his successor, Carol Howard, has not placed the ward under review.)

Demolition seems a hasty move given that the Avalon has only been listed on the market since August at $250,000, after having sat for years with an unrealistic asking price of over $900,000. Since the price dropped to a reasonable amount, several parties have tried to assemble rehabilitation plans for the Avalon. Yet all would-be buyers need historic tax credits to make the costs of rehabilitation work, and the building needs to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places first. The process of listing can take up to six months. No one will close on purchase without securing rehabilitation financing.

South St. Louis Southampton Theaters

Avalon Theater: Price Reduced

The Avalon as it appeared in August 2009.

The listing price for the Art Deco Avalon Theater at 4225 S. Kingshighway has dropped to $249,900. View the listing here.

Suffering from deterioration since closing in 1999, the 647-seat Avalon is one of the city’s few remaining neighborhood single-screen theaters and part of our early modern past. The Avalon was built in 1937 and designed by A.F. and Arthur Stauder, a prolific father-and-son firm that designed many modern churches in St. Louis (St. Gabriel the Archangel, St. Nicholas).

South St. Louis Southampton Theaters

Change in Alderpersons Will Impact the Avalon Theater

by Michael R. Allen

The recent resignation of Alderman Stephen Gregali (D-14th) could have an impact on the future of the Avalon Theater at 4225 S. Kingshighway in Southampton. The languishing Art Deco neighborhood movie house, built in 1937 and designed by A.F. and Arthur Stauder, faces an uncertain fate. The owner is a defunct corporation, the Sopo Corporation, although for years Greg Tsevis — son of the deceased Sopo Corporation owners — asserted ownership rights. The last film screening at the Avalon was in 1999, and in subsequent years damage to the roof and terra cotta on the north parapet has occurred. Alderman Gregali and the city’s counselor’s office pushed forward a suit in 2009 that sought to name the City of St. Louis as successor trustee for the Sopo Corporation and give the city power to dispose of the property.  (The judge named an individual as successor.)

On April 20, 2010, Judge Robert Dierker, Jr. entered an order in the case that the parties were willing to settle for a quit-claim deed of the Avalon to the city. However, the deed was not filed by a July 12 deadline. Judge Dierker has set a hearing in the case for August 30th.

If the settlement can be reaches, or if the case results in the city’s being names successor trustee, the future of the Avalon rests with city government. And that means that Gregali’s successor, who will be elected this November in a special election, will have substantial power to determine the fate of one of our city’s few remaining Depression-era neighborhood movie houses.

Historic Preservation South St. Louis Southampton Theaters

Avalon Theater Now Sports For Sale Sign

by Michael R. Allen

The Avalon Theater at 4225 S. Kingshighway is sporting a for-sale sign for the first time since it closed in 1998. Why didn’t this sign go up years ago, before much of the deterioration started? Well, the City of St. Louis was not trying to gain trusteeship over the defunct Sopo Corporation that owns the Avalon. On May 11, the City Counselor’s Office filed suit against the corporation seeking to have the city appointed trustee to dissolve the corporation’s assets — namely, the Avalon Theater. The next hearing is scheduled for September 14 before Judge Robert Dierker, Jr.

For years, Greg Tsevis has acted as owner of the theater, and has told people that the historic neighborhood theater is for sale at prices ranging from $1 million to $2 million. The trouble is that Tsevis’ parents never appointed successor trustees to their corporation before passing away, meaning that Tsevis technically not the owner.

The listing price is familiar: $1 million. How valid would a sales contract with Sopo Corporation be? That’s a good question, but the high listing price almost certainly guarantees that question won’t be asked.

Historic Preservation South St. Louis Southampton Tower Grove East

Saving a Sense of the City

If you haven’t seen it yet, last week’s South City Journal feature “Saving a sense of the city” offers an overview of endangered south city buildings, ranging from the Avalon Theater to the smokestack at the Carondelet Coke plant. Sean Clubb assembled the story and Erica Burrus photographed the sites.

Demolition South St. Louis Southampton

Avalon Demolition Threat?

Gregali: Tear down the Avalon – Shawn Clubb (Southwest City Journal, January 10)

Tear It Down (Brick City, January 10)

Demolition JeffVanderLou Martin Luther King Drive North St. Louis South St. Louis Southampton Theaters

Coming Down This Week

by Michael R. Allen

Urban Review St. Louis reports that the Doering Mansion is almost gone. Demolition began last week.

Also nearly gone this week is the art deco Regal Theater on Martin Luther King Boulevard. I have been following the saga there and hope to post more information and photographs on our website soon. In the meantime, the other endangered art deco movie house in town, the