North St. Louis South St. Louis St. Louis Place Tower Grove East

Operation Brightside Blitz Days

by Michael R. Allen

Juniata Street looking east toward Roosevelt High School in Tower Grove East.


Dodier Street west of Leffingwell Avenue in St. Louis Place.

The two blocks pictured here both were part of today’s Operation Brightside Blitz Day. My neighbors and I were out working on our block this morning. Since there is no such thing as a self-cleaning city, citizen cleaning is essential to keeping blocks looking lovely. Government provides the basic services, but citizens create quality of life. We have to be active stewards of our houses and our blocks. No one is going to clean our alleys and sidewalks for us, even in the most ideal world. There are Blitz days coming up in other areas of the city and you should do your part. There’s nothing more rewarding than working with neighbors to make St. Louis look beautiful!

Fox Park National Register South St. Louis Tower Grove East

Historic Districts In and (Mostly) Around Tower Grove East

by Michael R. Allen

Last night’s Tower Grove East Neighborhood Association meeting included a presentation by Lynn Josse on the different types of historic districts, how they work and how they get created. Lynn distributed a flier that included the following map.

As the map shows, a large swath of Tower Grove East and the southern end of Fox Park are surrounded by districts but not included in any. All or part of 45 blocks in Tower Grove East have no historic district status, and thus no availability of rehabilitation tax credits being used all around south city.

Abandonment Hyde Park LRA North St. Louis Tower Grove East

Doug Hartmann Gets Two Years, Life of Shame

by Michael R. Allen

The fire-damaged Nord St. Louis Turnverein is just the most spectacular instance of the impact of Doug Hartmann’s real estate empire on the city of St. Louis. During Hartmann’s negligent ownership, the Turnverein went up in a huge blaze on July 6, 2006. Hartmann’s wild ride was already over, actually, and a sale of the property to developer Peter George was underway. George went on to close, and plans to rebuilt the landmark at great cost. If only Hartmann had been half as generous.

The Turnverein is an egregious example. Most of Hartmann’s nearly 150 properties in the city ended up like the corner storefront at the northeast corner of Wyoming and Arkansas avenues in Tower Grove East. Built in 1906, the building was shabby but occupied before Hartmann’s DHP Investments purchased it in 2006. Some work took place, including removal of the second floor windows. Then, everything stopped. Eventually, the building reverted to the city’s Land Reutilization through tax default. To this day, the weeds regularly grow waist high around the building, and a reuse timeline is not certain.

The building at Arkansas and Wyoming is like others that Hartmann accumulated to keep his Ponzi scheme afloat: occupied when purchased, and left a vacant nuisance. Hartmann’s grand plans of taking stable but not gut-rehabbed old buildings and turning them into top-dollar rehabs convinced many investors and banks to finance his fraudulent scheme. In retrospect, the buildings were better off as-is, and the whole mess was a symptom of a momentary development binge.

Last Thursday, Hartmann, of the 1300 block of Crooked Stick Drive in O’Fallon, Missouri, received the lenient sentence for which he had bargained with prosecutors: two years, plus $34 million in restitution that U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey admits will likely never be collected. (Have investigators checked for a Hartmann Swiss bank account?)

Acting United States Attorney Michael W. Reap ought to be ashamed for this pathetic sentence deal. The damage that Hartmann has done to city neighborhoods has taken more than two years to sort out, and much remains to be sorted. Hartmann could be a free man before the corner building at Arkansas and Wyoming is rehabbed.

The sad fact is that the drug runners who use Hartmann’s buildings for operations will face stiffer time in the slammer when they get locked up. If only these folks could meet Hartmann in prison! Of course, our white suburban fiend gets the justice that he does not deserve: a slap on the wrist in a cozy white-collar jail for bankrupting good people, cheating investors and leaving neighborhoods more vulnerable. Those who protest the inequity of our justice system are vindicated again. However, Hartmann will hardly be a free man upon return. We know his crimes too well now.

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.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS South St. Louis Tower Grove East Tower Grove South

Shenandoah School May Be Spared

by Michael R. Allen

Shenandoah Elementary School at 3412 Shenandoah Avenue in Tower Grove East received a reprieve tonight when St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent recommended to the Special Administrative Board (SAB) that the school remain open in its current building. Although the final decision of Adams’ recommendation won’t be made by the SAB until March 12, the news is a relief to a neighborhood concerned that the future a community resource might become a huge question mark.

Under the proposal from consultants MGT of America unveiled in January, Shenandoah was set to be combined with Mann Elemantary School in Tower Grove Soth and Sherman Elementary School in Shaw in a new building to be build “near” Shenandoah. Neighborhood residents feared that “near” in a dense, landlocked neighborhood meant “on” and that an architectural gem would be lost. The MGT recommendations came only a year after the SLPS had proposed closing Shenandoah outright.

The school is a remarkable building, known widely for the braided limestone columns of its striking entrance (pictured above). Designed by Rockwell Milligan and built in 1925, Shenandoah School is an excellent example of the eclectic strain in 1920s American architecture. Combining Spanish Revival and Renaissance Revival elements on an imposing buff-brick body with a red tile roof, Shenandoah is an unique school buidling and a treasure to its neighbors.

Unfortunately, Adams’ recommendations still include the closure and merger of Mann and Sherman in a new school. This time, Mann is suggested for demolition.

South St. Louis Storefront Addition Tower Grove East

Storefront Addition: 3146 Shenandoah

by Michael R. Allen

Here is another storefront addition, located at 3146 Shenandoah Avenue in Tower Grove East. The brightly-painted addition features brick pilasters at each side under a simple wooden cornice with decorative caps at each end. The addition is fairly respectful of the house behind it, allowing for a full view of its second and third floors and attractive brick cornice.

Central West End Demolition Flounder House Historic Preservation North St. Louis Preservation Board South St. Louis The Ville Tower Grove East

Preservation Board Approves Flounder House Demolition, Denies Demolition in The Ville

by Michael R. Allen

Here’s a quick report of some actions at yesterday’s St. Louis Preservation Board meeting.

2915 Minnesota Avenue: Preliminary approval for demolition of flounder house granted 4-2. Terry Kennedy, Mary Johnson, David Richardson and Anthony Robinson in favor; Melanie Fathman and Mike Killeen opposed.

4477 Olive Street: Unanimously deferred until the July meeting to provide more time to explore alternatives.

4568 St. Ferdinand Avenue: Demolition permit denied 4-3. Killeen, Fathman, Robinson and Richard Callow in favor of motion to deny; Johnson, Kennedy and Richardson opposed.

Demolition Flounder House Historic Preservation Housing Preservation Board South St. Louis Tower Grove East

Fate of Flounder House on Monday’s Preservation Board Agenda

by Michael R. Allen

On Monday, the Preservation Board will determine the fate of this old city-owned flounder house at 2915 Minnesota Avenue in Tower Grove East. The 710-square-foot home lies outside of the boundaries of the Tower Grove Heights Historic District, making it ineligible for rehab tax credits without landmark designation. Clearly, the building is eligible in its own right — there are fewer than 30 flounder houses left in the city, and the building type is indigenous. Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett (D-6th) is seeking demolition, while the Tower Grove East Neighborhood Association strongly opposes demolition. Triplett’s application was deferred by the Board two months ago to provide the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) time to develop a pro forma showing that rehabilitation is feasible.

Working with developer Will Libermann, who recently rehabbed a flounder house at 3330 Missouri Avenue in Benton Park, CRO has arrived at an impressively economical budget; see its report here. Liebermann’s plan would restore the derelict home to former beauty while creating badly-needed affordable fully-rehabbed, historically-sensitive housing. (His other flounder sold for $125,000.) With the neighborhood behind preservation, there should be a clear outcome but Triplett remains stridently in favor of demolition.

Should the Preservation Board approve demolition, there would be yet another decision creating a housing gap between upper-income residents who can afford fully-rehabbed historically-sensitive homes and lower-income residents who largely cannot. Here is the rare opportunity to cut against the gap. While the home is smaller than your average multi-family conversion, it is a great size for a single person or a childless couple.

The Preservation Board meets Monday, April 28 at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street downtown. See the full agenda here.

Adaptive Reuse Housing Schools South St. Louis Tower Grove East

Grant School

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: 3009 Pennsylvania Avenue; Tower Grove East Neighborhood; Saint Louis, Missouri
DATES OF CONSTRUCTION: 1893; 1902 (southern addition); 1965 (gymnasium)
ARCHITECTS: August H. Kirchner (original building); William B. Ittner (1902 addition only)
OWNER: Cohen-Esrey Development LLC

A dramatic transformation took the abandoned Grant School, which the St. Louis Public Schools closed in 1983, from a state of decay to one of restoration. Cohen-Esrey Development purchased the school building in 2005 and completed a multi-million-dollar renovation using state historic rehab tax credits. The new use is a complete change from the original purpose: now Grant School houses apartments for senior citizens.

This is a good turn in the life of the school, which was on the brink of terrible changes. Water coming in through the broken cupola had rotted a lot of the flooring and compromised structural timbers. The hipped-roof school building is one of the schools built while August Kirchner was chief architect for the Board of Education and was completed in 1893. Kirchner’s symmetrical Romanesque Revival design with prominent center gable is not as innovate as the later schools of architect William B. Ittner, but nonetheless is a significant expression of the local vernacular in native red brick and limestone. A later addition by Ittner is unobtrusive and adds a distinctive projecting bay that was hidden for many years behind a modern gymnasium addition that the developers demolished. The school building, named for Ulysses S. Grant, replaced the old Gravois School at Gravois Avenue and Wyoming Street that had opened in 1867 to serve the growing south side.

Photographs from August 17, 2006 (Michael R. Allen)

Photographs from November 2003 (Michael R. Allen)

Rehabbing South St. Louis Tower Grove East

3511 Arsenal

One of my favorite houses in the Tower Grove Park area is the two-flat at 3511 Arsenal Street. I love its monochromatic articulation in red brick and terra cotta, and its overdone neoclassical ornamentation, suggestive of South American influences.

Last year, I watched as it was boarded up and renovated. The house had its original windows and appeared to be in good condition; it had been occupied for its whole life until then.

Unfortunately, the result of the renovation is baffling at best (what’s with fake nine-over-nine windows?).