Demolition Historic Preservation North St. Louis The Ville

Some Frame Houses in the Ville

by Michael R. Allen

The Ville has lost plenty of buildings in the last fifty years, but remarkably many frame houses remain from early development. Still, the frame houses don’t last long when abandoned. The photograph above shows three similar frame houses in the 2500 block of Whittier (across from the old Homer G. Phillips Hospital) back in 2004.

The house at 2420 Whittier dated to 1885 and was built by James Chadwick, an active developer in what was then known as Elleardsville. This house was for sale in 2004. The original clapboard siding was still in place under later asbestos tile siding. Now it is a burned out pile of building debris. The fire revealed that the original wooden shingles were still present under layers of newer roofing!

The only house remaining from the group of three that I photographed in 2004 is the house in the middle at 2518 Whittier. The date of construction is unknown, but it was probably built around 1885 too. In 1906, it was moved to this site. Today it is well-kept (although the original siding is either missing or covered) and occupied. The house at 2518 Whittier is included in an architectural survey of the Ville neighborhood conducted by Lynn Josse and myself under the supervision of the city’s Cultural Resources Office.

Schools SLPS The Ville Tower Grove South

Adams Recommends Closing Six School Buildings

by Michael R. Allen

At last night’s meeting of the Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools, Superintendent Kelvin Adams recommended closing the following six school buildings:

Gallaudet School for the Hearing Impaired, 1616 S. Grand; built in 1925; Rockwell Milligan, architect.

Alternative South at Lyon School; 7417 Vermont; built in 1909; William B. Ittner, architect.

Ford Branch School; 1383 Clara Avenue; built around 1960.

Fresh Start at Turner Middle School; 2615 Billups Avenue; built in 1939; George Sanger, architect.

Bunche at Madison School, 1118 S. Seventh; built in 1910; William B. Ittner, architect.

Pruitt Middle School (Cleveland Junior Naval Academy), 1212 N. 22nd; built in 1954.

Lyon School And Turner Middle School (formerly Stowe Teachers College) are already listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Gallaudet, Madison and Pruitt are eligible for such designation. Ford Branch might contribute to a historic district listing.

Six schools that Adams once suggested closing, including Mann Elementary School at 4047 Juniata Avenue in Tower Grove South (built in 1901-16 and designed by William B. Ittner; listed in the National Register), will be placed on a new “turnaround model” with new principals and at least 50% new teaching staff.

Four schools are going to be placed on “restart” — closed as public schools and reopened as chartered schools. One of these is the venerable — but academically failing — Sumner High School at 4248 Cottage Avenue in the Ville (built in 1908-9 and designed by William B. Ittner; listed in the National Register).

North St. Louis Schools SLPS The Ville

Marshall School Awaits New Use

by Michael R. Allen

This week’s news of a reprieve for Sumner High School brought relief to the Ville neighborhood, where another public school remains vacant after closing this summer. Stately John Marshall School stands at 4342 Aldine Avenue between Newstead and Pendleton avenues. The three-story building in the Classical Revival style dates to 1900 and is one of architect William B. Ittner’s first uses of the E-Plan layout.

The entrance is imposing and formed by brick piers supporting a massing terra cotta entablature. Brown terra cotta is used there and surrounding the doorway, over which a bust of John Marshall watches.

Like Sumner, Marshall School is a crucial part of the cultural legacy of the Ville. During segregation, the school became an African-American intermediate school in 1918 and an elementary school in 1927. Many students who would pass through the doors of mighty Sumner High School, also designed by Ittner, would first pass through Marshall School.

What future may be in store for the shuttered Marshall School is uncertain. With deed restrictions against charter school purchase lifted by the St. Louis Public Schools, educational use is possible. For now, however, all that is certain is that the Ville does not need another vacant school building.

Demolition LRA North St. Louis The Ville

Time Passing on Cote Brilliante

by Michael R. Allen

3901 (right) and 3909 Cote Brilliante Avenue in July 2008. This is at the northwest corner of Cote Brilliante’s intersection with Vandeventer Avenue.

The same scene in November 2009.

3909 Cote Brilliante, owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority, was wrecked in August 2008. 3901 Cote Brilliante remains owned by Kathleen and Leslie Ann Cannon.

Historic Preservation North St. Louis Northside Regeneration O'Fallon Public Policy The Ville Urban Assets LLC Wells-Goodfellow

Private LRA in the Works Across North St. Louis?

by Michael R. Allen

The house shown here, located at 4448 Athlone Avenue in the O’Fallon neighborhood, is just one of the 225 vacant properties purchased by a holding company named Urban Assets LLC in the last six months. The spending spree has attracted the notice of neighborhood leaders and elected officials across north St. Louis. Urban Assets has purchased across a wide swath of north St. Louis, mostly between Delmar Boulevard on the south and Natural Bridge Avenue on the north — all of the way from Grand Avenue on the east to the city limits on the west.

Here is a crude map of the holdings made by this writer using Geo St. Louis:

The holdings are spread across nine wards and include 120 vacant lots and 85 buildings, mostly historic. The wards and number of properties are as follows: Ward 1 (7), Ward 3 (4), Ward 4 (64), Ward 5 (5), Ward 18 (39), Ward 19 (11), Ward 21 (4), Ward 22 (64) and Ward 26 (27).

There are distinct concentrations in the Ville and Greater Ville neighborhoods as well as the Wells-Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods. There are a handful, like 4448 Athlone, standing alone far from other holdings. Urban Assets began aggressively purchasing properties at Sheriff’s tax sales in September 2008. Most of the holdings come from tax sale purchasing, with prices often less than $2,000 at auctions with no other bidders.

This purchase pattern is reminiscent of the start of purchasing by McEagle holding companies like the infamous Blairmont Associates LC — and the same real estate broker is making the purchases for the parties behind the holding company.

On June 6, 2008, real estate broker Harvey Noble of Eagle Realty incorporated Urban Assets LLC online. The incorporation filing and the registered agent listing on the Secretary of State’s website misspell Noble’s name as “Nobel” and incorrectly state that the zip code for Noble’s office is 63102.

On the record with KWMU and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Paul J. McKee, Jr. denies any involvement with Urban Assets. Examining the acquisition patterns of Urban Assets, one sees that there is no overlap with the McEagle project and a few intense concentrations that suggest efforts to buy out other areas. Whoever is behind Urban Assets could very well soon be in competition with McEagle for the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act.

While Urban Assets seems to be buying whatever it can acquire in certain small areas, generally the company seems interested in vacant property in as much of north St. Louis as possible. The acquisitions almost seem like a private land bank like the city’s Land Reutilization Authority.

The only apparent incentive to this type of far-flung land banking, however, is the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit. In order to receive that credit, a developer must be appointed redeveloper by the Board of Aldermen. Redevelopment rights don’t necessarily mean that a developer will clear-cut a redevelopment area. Those rights fundamentally mean that a developer acts as gatekeeper for all investment within a redevelopment area — allowing some in and keeping others out.

Is Urban Assets seeking to become a gatekeeper for north St. Louis, or is their acquisition simply a land-banking scheme?

Historic Preservation National Register North St. Louis The Ville

Full Text of Chuck Berry House Nomination Now Online

by Michael R. Allen

The full text of the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Chuck Berry House, located at 3137 Whittier in the Greater Ville, is now online. Read the nomination here.

Among the features of the house noted in the nomination is the plain concrete block addition in the rear. Why is that addition so special? Because Chuck Berry himself had it built while he owned the house, making it the music legend’s first foray into architecture.

Abandonment Demolition Fire LRA North St. Louis The Ville

Lost: The Store at Maffitt & Lambdin

by Michael R. Allen

I was looking through old photographs and found this one, taken in June 2004. The subject matter is the peculiar corner storefront once located at the southeast corner of Maffitt and Lambdin avenues in the Ville. (The address properly is 4282 Maffitt Avenue.) The Land Reutilization Authority still owns the lot on which the store buidling and a smaller concrete block building on the alley stood, and has owned the lot since at least 1989.

As the photograph indicates, a fire had struck the building and eaten much of its structural timbers, flooring and roof sheathing. What testament to our city’s masonry that the walls held despite the loss of many joists. The building truly was an exquisite wreck. I remember looking down into the basement from where the corner stoop would have been, and seeing charred wood from the upper levels atop years of accumulated debris. A man walking by said that demolition was on the way. He was proven right when the Building Division issued its demolition permits in January 2005.

The building had been vacant nearly twenty years at that point, although its architectural character was still evident. The chamfered, recessed entrance tucked under the projecting corner bay was a wonderful way to both call attention to the commercial tenant and shelter those entering and leaving the store. The tiled, sloped third floor with its timbered dormer was another fine trait. There aren’t many corner storefront buildings like this in the city, and we will never know for sure how many there ever were.

Housing National Register North St. Louis The Ville

Chuck Berry House Listed in National Register of Historic Places

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph by Lindsey Derrington.

On Friday, the National Park Service listed the Chuck Berry House at 3137 Whittier Avenue in the National Register of Historic Places. The listing is the result of the diligence of my colleague Lindsey Derrington, Researcher for Landmarks Association of St. Louis. Last year, Lindsey identified the house and its National register eligibility. She pursued the nomination against long odds — the National Park Service has a long-standing policy to not list properties whose significance comes from association with living people.

Lindsey demonstrated that the significance of the house lay in the work Berry wrote while living there some fifty years ago — not recent achievement but music that has long been recognized as foundational in American rock and roll. The staff of the State Historic Preservation Office, especially reviewer Roger Maserang, joined the cause and persuaded the federal staff to review the nomination. Now the house has its official place in history, and a modicum of protection against demolition. The owner of the vacant one-story house is a holding company based in Washington state with no discernible intent to rehab the house. The next step is finding a responsible owner for the important house. Meanwhile, we can celebrate the big step taken through Lindsey’s work.

Housing Hyde Park North St. Louis O'Fallon Old North The Ville

"Junction" Not Among Projects Recommended by MHDC Staff

by Michael R. Allen

The Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC) has published staff recommendations for tax credit allocations to be made at the December 12 MHDC meeting. Noteworthy is that the Junction development in Old North (“‘The Junction’ and Old North’s Housing Balance,” November 29) is not among the projects recommended for approval of 9% federal low income housing tax credits. St. Louis projects recommended for approval are the Dick Gregory Place project in the Ville and new phases in the North Newstead Association’s ongoing project in O’Fallon and Better Living Communities’ project in Hyde Park.

Historic Preservation Housing North St. Louis The Ville

Buildings on Dick Gregory Place, Martin Luther King Drive Slated for Rehabe

by Michael R. Allen reports good news from the Ville that has been rumored for awhile: rehabilitation of several buildings on Dick Gregory Place and Martin Luther King Drive by the Ville Neighborhood Housing Corporation, Northside Community Housing and the power-house Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance. The project will create 40 affordable rental residential units. Since Missouri Housing Development Commission application is pending, the good news won’t be great news for awhile. However, the prospect alone is welcome in the Ville, where preservation is a thorny question. Kudos to the parties named here and Alderman Sam Moore (D-4th), who had to suffer a You Paid For It slam for his willingness to help this project move forward.