Gravois Park Hyde Park LRA North St. Louis South St. Louis Storefront Addition

Storefront Additions: Two Inserted Fronts

by Michael R. Allen

All across the city are examples of residential buildings adapted to later commercial use. As neighborhoods changed, so did uses. In early 19th century walking neighborhoods, commercial uses needed to be abundant to serve residents who could not travel far to get food, shoes or a hair cut. Later, after the streetcars gave middle- and working-class residents greater mobility, residential buildings located along street car lines were ripe for commercial use, especially in areas where property values declined because of the new street car lines.

Many examples of the common storefront addition involve the construction of connected one- or two-story buildings in the lawn space of houses and flats. However, in neighborhoods east of Grand, many early converted buildings stood at the sidewalk line. Here, the best way to create commercial space was through the insertion of storefront openings in existing front elevations. Typically, cast iron columns and combined beams would “jack” the new opening in the brick wall. Often, floor levels inside of the building would be altered to draw the shop floor down to sidewalk level from is common position at the head of foundation walls.

Two examples of similar buildings from different neighborhoods illustrate how this practice happened across the city.

3104 Cherokee Street
The flats at 3104 Cherokee Street in Gravois Park date to the middle 1880s, some time after G.M. Hopkins published his atlas of the city in 1883. The side-gabled house is two bays wide, with some decoration evident in the brick cornice. The roof bears a single dormer. Each floor originally was configured as three rooms laid out shotgun style, front to back with no hall. The first floor has obviously been changed, with a storefront opening inserted. The side entrance, angled wall, beam box above the opening and generous window sizes are typical of the period of alteration, the 1890s.

In some ways, the house at 1419 Mallinckrodt Street in Hyde Park is the sister to the house at 3104 Cherokee. Size, fenestration, cornice treatment, roof line and original floor plan match. The building does appear on the 1883 Hopkins atlas. However, the storefront inserted is much different and later than the other. A simple beam heads the store opening, supported by two cast iron columns with Doric capitals forming a central entrance. To each side is brick infill with double-hung wooden windows in segmental arch openings. Now the building is vacant. Broclyn Real Estate Investment of Jefferson City purchased the building from the Land Reutilization Authority in 2006, but has completed no work to date and is close to a Sheriff’s sale for back taxes owed.

Architecture Demolition Storefront Addition

Storefront Additions: Delmar Boulevard West of Vandeventer

by Michael R. Allen

My recent post on the demolished Delmar Foods storefront addition reminded me of the trove of storefront additions on Delmar Boulevard between Vandeventer and Whittier streets. Some were lost before my time, for sure, but the remaining examples are impressive.

Of course, I cannot attest to whether or not the storefront addition and house across the street from Delmar Foods was impressive. On June 10, 2006, I photographed the storefront addition at 4162 Delmar in the midst of demolition:

The remaining gems are one block east, all on the north side of the block. Two fancy additions stand adjacent to each other at 4033 (right) and 4035 (left) Delmar.

The vacant storefront at 4035 Delmar dates to the early 1930s, and its parent house is a Second Empire town house from 1884. The storefront at 4033 Delmar houses Tennessee’s Lounge, and is less obviously an addition. The original house also dated to around 1884, and the addition to 1925. However, this was not the usual attachment, because the developer severely altered the house, removing its original roof line and building the addition into the house to completely
obscure it. According to records, the house at 4033 Delmar was the home of Gus C. Meissonier, a member of the Merchant’s Exchange. The conversion of the house of a member of the civic elite into commercial space was quite a big change.

A similar storefront addition project happened at 3963 Delmar eastward on the block, and coincidentally the space is also occupied by a lounge, Waldorf’s.

These additions tell us about the rapid and abrupt changes of our city in the early days of the twentieth century. We were booming!

Demolition North St. Louis Storefront Addition

Storefront Addition: Delmar Foods

by Michael R. Allen

The bow-front, limestone house at 4171 Delmar Boulevard was once an elegant home in the Queen Anne style. Later, it became the backdrop for a one-story commercial bump-out that ended its days as Delmar Foods. Like many homes on the Delmar streetcar line, this one let traffic and density guide the way to a storefront addition during the peak years of St. Louis population boom. the house was empty by 1994, but the storefront remained occupied for another decade. Demolition of both came in 2007. The photograph above dates to November 2006.

South St. Louis Storefront Addition Urbanism

A Fine Storefront Addition

Storefront additions to residences were very common between 1920 and 1950 between on Lafayette Avenue between Jefferson and Compton in south city. I have written about two others (read them here and here) in this stretch, and neglected to point out a robust corner storefront addition at the southeast corner of Lafayette and Nebraska avenues. On the front of an eclectic Craftsman-inspired house with false mansard and front gable, we have the finest storefront addition on Lafayette. Actually, the addition houses two commercial spaces. Cast iron columns frame generously-glazed traditional storefront openings (which wrap the side), and an intact dentillated tin cornice with a second order of brackets provides a refined crown. Many of these additions bear the programmatic inelegance of their utility. Not this one.

Historic Preservation JeffVanderLou North St. Louis Storefront Addition

Remuddled Row in JeffVanderLou

by Michael R. Allen

Continuing to explore storefront additions to houses in St. Louis, I came across these three buildings at 1349-53 Garrison Avenue in JeffVanderLou. While the storefront additions add character, I’m not sure that’s good character. Then again, these old houses have been remuddled past the point of recognition, and far beyond being able to contribute to any historic district. We have original dormers and cornices removed, mansard roofs clad in weatherboard (although apparently over the slate tiles!), window openings altered and a whole front stone elevation relaid in concrete block.

What a mess! No doubt the buildings are still sturdy and salvageable, but historic restoration would be challenging. Not impossible, but challenging. Who is up to that challenge? And what other ways of rehabilitating the buildings beyond a historic-tax-credit rehab exist?

Architecture Historic Preservation South St. Louis Storefront Addition Urbanism

A Side-Style Storefront Addition

by Michael R. Allen

As I navigate the city, I am always on the lookout for storefront additions to historic homes. Regular readers will recall some recent posts of mine celebrating the sometimes-ungainly but always-intriguing vestiges of a city teeming with commercial life. The example above is located on the 2800 block of Lafayette Avenue just east of one that I chronicled seven months ago (Just Another Vacant Building?, December 21, 2007). That example was one of the prevalent types that stand in front of the parent house.

This one here, located at 2819 Lafayette Avenue, is of the gentler type. Built on the side lot of a stately single-family residence, the one-story flat-roofed addition creates more square feet of space on one level than the sort placed directly in front. I’m sure the builder’s concern was with the economy of the structure, but the end result led to an addition that left alone the lovely front elevation of the Romanesque Revival house next door, built in 1893. That move proved fortuitous, as the front elevation retains original its limestone porch, granite details and wooden windows. The addition itself, probably built in the 1930s, is complementary without being dull. Spaced courses of pale brick, a continuous soldier course over the storefront opening and a framed frieze of angled brick offer simple but forceful masonry expression. We still have dozens of these additions left, and each one is a unique compromise between cost and ambition, change and history, old and new. These additions remind us that cities are creatures built for growth, and “historic” architecture is a tangle of buildings — including historic buildings that block other, prettier historic buildings buildings.

Architecture Historic Preservation Midtown Storefront Addition

Thoughts on Storefront Additions

by Michael R. Allen

Sometimes I wonder if the mid-twentieth century practice of adding storefront sections to the front of historic homes is a St. Louis phenomenon. Certainly, we have many interesting examples here on major east-west streets like Delmar, Natural Bridge, Cherokee and Forest Park. These are symptoms of explosive population growth and changing land uses.

The example shown here is located at 3808 Olive Street, between Spring and Vandeventer, in Midtown. (The Central Apartments stood across the street.) Here we have a limestone-faced Queen Anne home dating to the 1890s. The architect may be Jerome Bibb Legg, a prolific residential architect who designed the other home remaining on this desolate block; Legg’s name appears as owner or architect on several building permits on this block.

In front we have a pressed-brick storefront from the middle part of the twentieth century. A door at right leads to the original entrance of the home. This photo does not show the quirky gesture in which the builder reused stone from the porch to build a side wall that connects the house to the storefront.

Weird? Yes. Useful? Also, yes. While not a candidate for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a 19th century house, the hybrid building offers some interesting potential for reuse. Perhaps the alteration of the house itself could make it eligible for National Register listing. What is needed is a local survey of such storefront-bearing houses, followed by national comparison. This strange building could be a treasure!

Abandonment Architecture Gate District Historic Preservation South St. Louis Storefront Addition

Just Another Vacant Building?

by Michael R. Allen

I don’t think there is such a thing as an average run-of-the-mill vacant building in St. Louis. For instance, look at this building located at 2831 Lafayette Avenue:

On first glance, the yellow-toned plywood sheets and blue awning jump out from a nearly all-white building. Looking at the building longer, details emerge. Behind that projecting storefront is a different, older building. The building appears to be an old house. A close look brings out clues.

This two-story building has a pretty sandstone front; the large filled-in window openings must have been gorgeous when they were glazed. Underneath white paint and stucco repairs are fine carved details around the windows. The sunbursts centered over each window are impressive and typical of the finely detailed nineteenth century stone masonry we have in St. Louis. Right at the top are sill brackets, showing that the building once stood another story taller. The presence of such fine details, the use of sandstone and the style of the facade suggest a construction date in the 1880s. In fact, building permits show that this block face was built out with houses (mostly single-family and many with significant construction costs) between 1880 and 1895. There are three permits for three-story houses: in 1880, 1889 and 1894.

Owners added the storefront addition at 2831 Lafayette by the 1930s, although fire insurance maps show that the building retained its third story into the 1960s. The first floor of the building was in use a dry cleaners as soon as the storefront was finished. Apartments were above. Essentially, the building joined many others in the city located in well-to-do walking neighborhoods that changed dramatically in the early twentieth century as the upper and middle classes migrated west to quieter streets farther from downtown. The large houses of the migrating residents often were divided into rental housing or businesses; many were expanded, and altered and some were eventually demolished as new commercial uses moved into once-genteel neighborhoods. One under appreciated result of these changes was that population density increased. This building is a frank reminder of twentieth century changes in use and demographics on the near south side.

Deed research could clear up which one corresponds to this house. For now, I am glad to have given it a long look and learned that the old building tells an unexpected story. While the house has lost its third story and its original appearance, the remaining traces still provide beauty. There is no reason that future reuse of the building could not highlight the remaining traces and incorporate them into a new design. While the building is rendered ineligible for any landmark designation through loss of historic appearance, there are many futures for it beyond simply tearing it down.

All over our city are similar old houses — many with storefront additions, missing floors, mangled entrances and strange alterations. These are the buildings that cannot be considered contributing to historic districts but who still lend historic character to our streets. Historic rehabilitation tax credits will never be available for these buildings. Some would knock them over, because of the financial problems of rehabbing them without tax credits. Hopefully others will see that, however twisted or obscured, these buildings still have architectural potential — and still tell the stories of their construction and show the scars of changing use. This stretch of Lafayette Avenue gains far more character from 2831 Lafayette in its current state than from the new homes of the Gate District, or the Holiday Inn.