Historic Preservation Missouri St. Louis County

Fairfax House, Rock Hill Presbyterian Church, Route 66 Bridge Make Statewide Endangered List

This week, Missouri Preservation announced its 2010 Most Endangered Properties list. St. Louis area listings are the Route 66 Bridge over the Meramec River as well as the adjacent Fairfax House and Rock Hill Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill.

Rock Hill Presbyterian Church is in urgent need of a preservation plan. From Missouri Preservation’s announcement:

After being moved several times because of increasing commercial and residential development, the Fairfax House has ended up on another former Marshall property. In February 2010, it was discovered that the Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery was seeking to sell the Rock Hill Presbyterian Church, presenting a threat to the historic church building and an additional threat to Fairfax House. This property is now situated at the intersection of two busy St. Louis county roads. It is a target for commercial development as the City of Rock Hill, which does its own zoning and has no current historic preservation ordinance, has zoned this property “commercial.”

Demolition Housing Mid-Century Modern St. Louis County

Olivette Tear-Down

by Michael R. Allen

Last week I spotted this tear-down on Dielman Road at Engel Lane just south of Olive Boulevard. Another fine postwar ranch house, built sturdy of brick and concrete, will meet its death. Oh, recession, you were supposed to bring calm to the troubled waters of suburban real estate!

Mass Transit Midtown St. Louis County

Proposition A

by Michael R. Allen

This United Railways streetcar line map from 1903 reminds us of what is possible with mass transit. The red lines mark streetcar lines, which augment the street grid with a separate network of traffic. In 1903, that separate network was primary to many people. The streets where the street car lines ran gave rise to commerce and pedestrian traffic. The streets around them saw secondary benefits.

Now, 107 years later, county residents are faced with a choice on whether to approve Proposition A to fund the region’s public transit system, now doing business as Metro. That the funding comes through a sales tax increase that triggers an already-approved sales-tax increase in the city has generated concern. A sales tax increase is not desirable, but neither is the funneling of tax revenues to a state infrastructure agency, the Missouri Department of Transportation, that exclusively fund roadway construction. The money raised for state highways ought to stay in the region to begin with, to fund the transportation that best serves an urban area — just as Chillicothe’s transportation dollars are probably best spent on roads. If the money must go to the state, then it should return in the form of funding for mass transit operations in addition to highway funding. There is a board political goal from which our leaders cannot shirk after tomorrow, no matter what outcome.

Back to the 1903 map: density of transit lines created and sustained commercial districts at the turn of the last century. The map here shows midtown St. Louis, which soon afterward would be dubbed the “second downtown.” This is entirely due to the placement and density of mass transit street car lines. Today, we don’t have such stark benefit but we have a regional core where bus and MetroLink service is sufficient to support the location of major employment.

In 1903, mass transit made Midtown more desirable than other parts of the city of St. Louis. Today, mass transit makes the core more desirable for major employers than exurban locations. County voters are not voting to build up the city, but to sustain their own place in the regional economy — a place staked by relative density of population and transit lines. Without the sustaining the Metro system, what gives a county municipality like Brentwood a distinct business advantage over St. Peters? Or, for that matter, Chesterfield over Wentzville?

When we lost the street car lines, we found out what would happen when Midtown had to compete with the county in the absence of a strong mass transit system. Midtown faded away. So it could go with St. Louis County. Whether the city or St. Charles County ultimately benefits from the decline of Metro is a gamble of unknown odds. Somehow I doubt that defeat of funding for mass transit will benefit the urbanization of an already too-dispersed region. Yes, if Proposition A fails, the system is not dead — but it will shrink immediately and the prospect of service restoration will diminish. Passage of Proposition A allows time to build a better funding system without regional havoc or further economic dispersal.

Neon Signs St. Louis County

Neon Signs at Antique Warehouse

by Michael R. Allen

On Sunday, February 21, the Antique Warehouse hosted a fundraiser for the St. Louis Sign Museum. Guests were able to see the amazing private collection at the Antique Warehouse, which includes numerous neon signs, banners, signs, vehicles, tractors, campers, sewing machines, cash registers, pinball machines and so many other things a list would fill a small book. Greg Rhomberg is the mad genius behind the Warehouse, and has been collecting for years. One of the hallmarks of Greg’s work is thorough restoration of items that require it. In the case of neon signs, that means repainting and re-tubing. Here are a few photographs suggesting the scope of the Antiques Warehouse neon sign collection.

Yes, the Lake Forest Pastry Shop sign is alive and well!

Infrastructure Mass Transit St. Louis County

Metro Funding Serves County’s Interest

by Michael R. Allen

This week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch carried a commentary by NiNi Harris entitled “County residents should vote own interests”. Harris makes the case for St. Louis County voters’ approving the sales tax measure for Metro that will appear on the April 6 ballot.

Instead of the usual — and correct — arguments in favor of mass transit as something the region needs to have to be competitive and maintain an urban quality of life, Harris demonstrates that the sales tax measure will help St. Louis County maintain its quality of life. The services that county voters take for granted are dependent on workers’ being able to easily get to jobs in the county. For many workers, that means catching the bus.

Voters might not consider the fact that even health care costs are associated with the availability of public transportation:

The quality of hospital care is not only determined by the physicians and registered nurses, but also by the LPNs, the people who do the laundry and cleaning and food service staffs. The quality of overall care can be maintained without mass transit only by increasing wages or providing other transportation.

After all, according to Harris:

It’s not just a few workers about whom we are talking. Last year, Metro buses, MetroLink and the Metro service for the disabled provided rides for almost 53 million boarders.

Can the county maintain its quality of life with diminished Metro service? Absolutely not.

St. Louis County

Big Plans for Jefferson Barracks

by Michael R. Allen

Friday’s South County Times carried the article “Plans In Place To Transform Jefferson Barracks Complex Into A National Tourist Destination”. The article reports that the St. Louis County Economic Council has developed a master plan for $68 million in improvements, including an interpretive center and a “presidential museum/library”:

According to the master plan, the complex would be transformed into a regional and national visitor attraction, done so in phases over the course of 20 years.

Jefferson Barracks is indeed an underutilized cultural asset to the region. Many other places have promoted military history, a substantial sector of American tourism. It’s about time that the county thought seriously about Jefferson Barracks. Still, it’s important to note that there are existing efforts to draw visitors to the historic barracks. For instance, the Missouri Civil War Museum has been feverishly working on renovating a building and is set to open soon.

There is a presentation on the master plan today:

The St. Louis County Economic Council will hold open house to unveil the master plan on Monday, Jan. 25, 4 to 7 p.m. at the Jefferson Barracks Visitor’s Center. A presentation will be held at 6 p.m. Jefferson Barracks County Park is located at the end of South Broadway.

Downtown Mid-Century Modern St. Louis County

"Up in the Air": A Shining Moment for St. Louis’ Modern Architecture

by Michael R. Allen

Finally seeing Up in the Air this week, I was able to relish a great moment for St. Louis modern architecture. Readers know that much of the film was shot in St. Louis, and the film rolls out familiar scenes: a street in Lafayette Square, Flora Place, the Cheshire Inn, the Gateway One building downtown, Mansion House and the interior of the General American Life Insurance Building are all spotted. Fans of local postmodern design no doubt took comfort in the fact that our downtown landmarks of the 1980s are so generic that they can double for Omaha’s. That placelessness is a triumph for the style, at least by Fredric Jameson’s measure.

However, the actual shining moment for St. Louis was the prominent feature of the main terminal at Lambert International Airport (shown above unsullied in 1970). Lots of the film takes place inside of the airport — again, the triumph of place-erasing architecture — but there is a splendid moment in front. George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham has to get a snapshot of a cut-out of his sister and her fiancee in St. Louis for a display board of such photos at their rehearsal dinner. Bingham selects Lambert Airport, a choice questioned by his colleague Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick).

The doubt pulls from Bingham a soliloquy about the role of the Lambert terminal in the development of modern airport architecture. Of course the soon-to-be newlyweds would want their cut-out photographed in front of the Lambert terminal. After all, this is the first modern terminal that set the standard before JFK or DeGaulle were designed. Despite the clutter we have tacked onto Hellmuth, Yamasaki & Leinweber’s 1956 terminal, it looks great in this scene. The terminal’s modernity shines through, and provokes one of several moment in which Bingham seems to break from his detachment to show love.

Bingham basically reiterates the words of critic Robert W. Duffy, who wrote a few years back that the Lambert terminal was “the first airport building to make a formal statement about aviation and aerodynamics.” The thin-cast concrete shell demonstrated that architecture could respond to the curves and contours of industrial design in an original expression.

Coincidentally, St. Louis’ other great modernist temple of travel also had a moment of film fame. Schwarz and Van Hoefen’s Greyhound Terminal (1964) on Broadway (interior seen here), demolished for the domed stadium we seem posed to soon demolish, was used in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. John Hughes chose to shoot the interior scene elsewhere, but the exterior was projected onto thousands of screens around the nation.

To some, the idea that St. Louis and modern jet-set travel — of which I make no claim that Greyhound is a part — are intertwined would seem foolish. Yet how did a supposedly complacent region embrace and build one of the landmarks of postwar international travel, and a bus station finer than almost any other ever built? We had great designers whose wellspring of innovation was too great to be harnessed by innate local conservatism. That conservatism was as strong in 1956 as it is in 2009, too, so we don’t get to cop out and rest on our cynicism. If a place-loathing cynic like Ryan Bingham can show some love for St. Louis’ modern architecture, why can’t we?

Churches Demolition St. Louis County

Bethany Deaf Church in Kirkwood Demolished

by Michael R. Allen

Kirkwood’s local historic district ordinance did not prevent the new owner of the Bethany Deaf Church (photograph via link) at 310 E. Argonne from demolishing the building around Christmas. A reader writes that the wreckers destroyed the front doors rather than salvage them, but that the rose window may have been saved.

Mid-Century Modern St. Louis County

Mid-Century Modern in the Hanley Industrial Court

by Michael R. Allen

I found myself in a situation that I normally avoid during the month of December (or any month, really): I had to go shopping at a store on Brentwood Boulevard. Coming from the southeast of my destination, I headed north on Hanley Road and decided to slip through the reliable Hanley Industrial Court short-cut.

Am I glad that I did! What I found brightened my day and made the otherwise excruciating experience worthwhile.

Voila, at 318 Hanely Industrial Court stands the home of Arcliff Wholesale Distributors. The mod building dates to 1960, and is in pristine condition down to the swanky metal letters above the roof life. The center is cut away, opening to an employee parking area that separates the showroom from the storeroom. The building’s roofline changes to underscore the separation, creating welcome variation and presenting an almost Potemkin-like front to what is actually two very small sections and a lot of parking.

The storeroom section is accented with brown tile tapestry that underscores the tile sold wholesale by Arcliff. What a gem! Few of the other Hanley Industrial Court buildings demonstrate this much care in their design, so I was quite surprised to see this. I took a wrong turn to get there, so perhaps the serendipity was inevitable.

Adaptive Reuse Demolition Forest Park Southeast North St. Louis St. Louis County

Some Thoughts on Our Gasometer(s)

by Michael R. Allen

The impending demolition of the two gasometers in Shrewsbury draws me back to the demolition of the gasometer in Forest Park Southeast. Once one of two gasometers at Laclede Gas Company’s Pumping Station G and built in 1901 (rebuilt in 1942), the Forest Park Southeast gasometer was a landmark for over a century. When Highway 40 was first built, the gasometer’s prominence greatly increased, and it was one of several iconic structures — the St. Louis Science Center’s McDonnell Planetarium, the grain elevator at Sarah and Duncan, Barnes Hospital — that gave a magically urban character to an otherwise dull trip down the highway. Within Forest Park Southeast, the gasometer’s web of steel served as a backdrop to views from backyards, bedrooms and sidewalks. The gasometer was a strange remnant that had outlived its purpose — regulating the supply of the city’s gas system — but not its industrial charm and connection to the past.

In 2006, developers successfully listed Pumping Station G in the National Register of Historic Places (read the nomination by Susan Sheppard and Doug Johnson here). The State Historic Preservation Office insisted that the gasometer be included, and the gasometer was listed as a contributing structure. However, the official landmark status provided no protection. The developers had never intended to try to save the structure.

An eloquent plea for preservation from historian and then-St. Louis University professor Joseph Heathcott, “Getting creative with the region’s exceptional industrial heritage”, appeared in the February 8, 2007 issue of the St Louis Post-Dispatch, but there was no strong effort to preserve the gasometer. There was plenty of discussion, however, among architects, Forest Park Southeast residents and preservationists. The alternative ends for the gasometer were obvious. Several European cities, including London and Vienna, have converted iconic gasometers into equally iconic apartment and office buildings. Others have maintained the structures as urban artifacts. Heathcott’s article alluded to the imaginative possibilities.

Photograph of Viennese gasometer reuse project from Wikipedia.

Alas, imagination did not win out. Neither did National Register protection; the city’s Cultural Resources Office approved demolition of the gasometer without bringing the matter to a public hearing at the Preservation Board. Demolition of the gasometer was completed in the middle of 2007.

Today, the Pumping Station G site is largely vacant. The pumping house (1911) still stands, vacant but slated for rehabilitation. The developers who wrecked the gasometer sold the site to different developers, who have yet to devise plans for the site. In the end, the gasometer could have remained standing as a resource for its neighborhood and a icon for the city. Perhaps a new owner would have been interested in the challenge of finding a new use for the structure. Now, the gasometer is gone, and two of its three sisters soon also will be gone.

That leaves St. Louis only one chance to reclaim a gasometer: the gasometer at the vacant Pumping Station N, located just south of Natural Bridge Road on Chevrolet Avenue in north St. Louis. Can we rise to the challenge of retaining an endangered structural type, or will we let it fall too?