Downtown Hamilton Heights Historic Preservation Midtown National Register O'Fallon SHPO St. Louis County The Ville

Eight St. Louis Area Sites Headed to National Register

by Michael R. Allen

At its quarterly meeting Friday in Joplin, the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation voted to approve the following St. Louis area nominations to the National Register of Historic Places and forward them to the Keeper of the National Register:

  • Holly Place Historic District (prepared by Carolyn Toft, Michael Allen and Tom Duda for Landmarks Association of St. Louis)
  • Plaza Square Apartments Historic District (Carolyn Toft and Michael Allen for Landmarks Association of St. Louis)
  • Glen Echo Historic District (Ruth Keenoy, Karen Bode Baxter, Timothy P. Maloney and Sara Bularzik)
  • Ramsey Accessories Manufacturing Company Building (Matthew S. Bivens for SCI Engineering)
  • Harrison School (Julie Wooldridge for Lafser and Associates)
  • Hempstead School (Julie Wooldridge for Lafser and Associates)
  • Olive & Locust Historic Business District (Julie Wooldridge for Lafser and Associates)
  • Wagoner Place Historic District (Kathleen E. Shea and Jan Cameron for the Cultural Resources Office, City of St. Louis)

All votes were unanimous, although the Plaza Square Apartments Historic District is being sent for substantive review due to its construction date within the past 50 years. Nominations forwarded by the Advisory Council are typically listed on the Register within 45 business days of approval.

Notable among the approved nominations are the Plaza Square Apartments district, a local milestone of midcentury urban renewal and modern architecture. Under national regulations, nominations of properties that have achieved significance with the past 50 years require a demonstration of exceptional significance. Such nominations are infrequent, but contribute to greater recognition of the architectural achievements of the middle of the twentieth century.

Detail of one of the Plaza Square Apartments buildings.

Also interesting was the deliberation over the Ramsey Accessories Manufacturing Corporation Building at 3693 Forest Park Boulevard in St. Louis city, a nomination that raised issues of integrity due to the yet-incomplete removal of the stucco and concrete slipcover added in 1969 that covers the three-story building,. built in 1923 with addition in 1934. Fortunately, Bivens unearthed a wealth of information on the Ramsey Corporation that manufactured the “Ramco” piston ring and showed that the primary elevation is largely intact underneath the slipcover. The McGowan Brothers have an option on the building and hope to restore its original appearance.

One nomination not approved was that of Big Boy’s Restaurant in Wright City. The Council tabled the nomination due to concerns about an underdeveloped statement of significance while generally finding the building eligible for listing. With some improvement, the nomination should be in good shape by the next quarterly meeting in August.

Mid-Century Modern North County SHPO St. Louis County

Two North County Municipalties Making Progress in Preservation, Design Review

by Michael R. Allen

Black Jack creates architectural review board – Brian Flinchpaugh (Northwest County Journal, March 13)

Critics including Toby Weiss and I have long lamented the lack of preservation review in parts of St. Louis County where mid-century buildings lack protection and appreciation. Others have lamented the lack of sound planning policies in the county, and pointed to the inherent difficulty of creating meaningful policy amid 91 different municipalities. At least Black Jack is making the best of the current system.

Program could help Normandy preserve historic structures – Sonia Ahuja (North County Journal, March 13)

Meanwhile, Normandy is examining participation in the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office’s Certified Local Government program. The mayor and several aldermen are already backing participation, which would entail the establishment of a preservation commission.

Mid-Century Modern St. Louis County

Bonetti Looks at St. Louis’ Threatened Mid-Century Homes

by Michael R. Allen

In “Out with the Old”(January 14) and “St. Louis Architectural Legacy is Fading Fast” (January 21), St. Louis Post-Dispatch art critic David Bonetti offers a serious look at the current rash of demolitions of mid-century modern homes in St. Louis. He examines threatened and recently lost works by William Adair Bernoudy, Harris Armstrong, Samuel Marx and Isadore Shank.

It’s refreshing to find that the daily paper’s critic is tackling an important preservation issue. While the onslaught of demolition of all building types continue, there still is a window in which a greater cultural appreciation of mid-century architecture can be forged.

The critical questions are: Will that appreciation come to pass? And, if it does, will it come too late to make a difference in efforts to preserve more than a handful of examples?

Demolition St. Louis County Wellston

Checks Cashed, Open During Construction

by Michael R. Allen

The old building still stood on June 10, 2006. Photograph by Claire Nowak-Boyd.

If one demolishes all of a building before building its replacement, where does the occupant go in between? Might be easier to stay put. The owners of a check cashing shop on the 6100 block of Martin Luther King Drive in Wellston just outside of St. Louis chose to keep their building standing as they built a new one. However, the story is interesting because the footprint of the new building overlaps with that of the old.

The solution? Knock down as much of the old two-story brick building as necessary while leaving the business open during construction!

Here’s the side view.

Some plywood kept the old building secure until the new building, set far back from both Martin Luther King Drive and Kienlen Avenue, could open. Subsequently, the old building was completely demolished.
Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern North County St. Louis County

What We Can Learn from Jennings

by Michael R. Allen

Internet happenstance led to my discovery of the website for the Jennings Historical Society. Jennings is a small city in north St. Louis County, located not far from the city limits of St. Louis. While Jennings was incorporated in 1946 and saw rapid growth after the opening of Interstate Highway 70, settlement there dates back to 1839. While the Historical Society’s website isn’t deep in content, its presence and wonderful design suggest that there is an effort going to take an interest in the history of one of north county’s most interesting cities.

Jennings was instrumental in the development of the shopping mall in St. Louis. Both Northland Shopping Center in the 1950s and River Roads Mall in 1967 were innovative, albeit auto-centric, development projects that fell into vacancy and disrepair before demolition. Northland fell last year for a new big-box strip, and River Roads is under demolition at the present moment for a new subdivision developed by the Pyramid Companies.

Jennings, however, lives on. While the city faces the same problems as other municpalities in St. Louis County that went from great early suburban development to stangant economies, it could stand to preserve some of its recent past. The suburban development of the 1950s is increasingly the subject of serious research, and its atomic-age modernism seems rather intimately-scaled when compared with suburban development that followed it. Jennings is still the site of 20th century retail, gas station and other commercial buildings that tell the story of the postwar settlement of St. Louis County — as well as older buildings that show the development that the once-rural county supported before highways.

Historic preservation is needed in Jennings as well as other “inner ring” suburbs. The rush to increase revenues may wipe out a lot of interesting places and buildings there. I hope fellow preservationists look at mid-century suburban architecture as seriously as they do early 20th century urban office buildings. Places like Jennings are very important antidotes to development projects like WingHaven that undercut all sense of place and totally condemn the pedestrian. Jennings developed into a car-friendly place that also retained a specific character. Those of us who despise the suburbs can find things to like about these cities — and our involvement can redirect development efforts from replacement sprawl to urban development that builds on local character. A site like that of River Roads would have been a great place for the New Urbanists who are instead building non-places on the remote corn fields of St. Charles County.