Stained Glass Theft On the Rise Again

by Michael R. Allen

This morning, there were three messages posted on Rehabbers Club list serve about recent theft of stained glass windows. Three of the five incidents reported were in Tower Grove South. All of the thefts took place in the last month.

Owners of vacant and for-sale buildings with stained glass windows should protect the windows by boarding them up. Architectural antique dealers should ask for proof of legal ownership before buying stained glass windows.

We all should be vigilant when we are at local antique stores. Are the windows for sale legally obtained? Find out. If you have doubts, call the police.

Abandonment Historic Boats Riverfront South St. Louis Theft

U.S.S. Inaugural Still a Fixture on the Riverfront

by Michael R. Allen

The U.S.S. Inaugural remains a fixture on the St. Louis riverfront, just south of the MacArthur Bridge. Since breaking loose from its moorings and capsizing in a bizarre incident during the great flood of 1993, the old minesweeper has been stuck on the riverfront. After spending a generation as a tourist attraction, the war vessel has become part of the lore of local urban explorers — and the subject of many schemes to profit from the tragedy.

The ship’s remains are almost too easy to find, located just a short walk through a gate in the flood wall. On a sunny Indian summer day, the wreck conveys a sense of tranquility. Later, in the winter, when the water gets lower the ship will beckon explorers. John Patzius has held the salvage rights to the boat since 1998, and had attempted to move the Inaugural out of the river. The mighty gun from the bow of the Inagural is located at Bob Cassilly’s Cementland; that relocation by Patzius is theft by his own admission (although rightful theft, by his judgment). Future plans remain unknown. For now, the wreck is a splendid landmark to behold on a weekend ramble. Some days one will find artists hard at work creating murals on the flood wall, almost always atop the work of others. Inexplicably, no one has ever tagged the wreck just a few yards away. (Red Foxx, are you reading?)

More information is available in the U.S.S. Inaugural Online Scrapbook.

Brick Theft Historic Preservation North St. Louis Northside Regeneration St. Louis Place Theft

A Hebert Street Story

by Michael R. Allen

Our story starts in the heat of the summer, 2007. Two one-story shotgun houses sit on a block of Hebert Street between 25th Street and Parnell in St. Louis Place. Both houses have sat side by side since 1895, when they were built. On the left, 2530 Hebert Street is occupied by a family. On the right, 2532 Hebert is boarded up and has been owned by a holding company called N & G Ventures since December 2005. The overgrowth is evident, with tall woody growth and mosquitoes presenting a nuisance to the family next door.

Draw back for a bigger picture, and we see that the two-story house to the east of the occupied house is also vacant and boarded. A company called MLK 3000 purchased that house in March 2007, requiring that its owner evict the tenants before the sale closed. We see that other buildings have fallen vacant and been demolished on this block, leaving vacant lots in varying degrees of maintenance.

The family living at 2530 Hebert Street have lived through tough times that got worse. In 2007, the identity of the holding company owner became public knowledge. McEagle Properties was buying land and buildings in north St. Louis for a large development. Details of the plan were unknown.

In May 2008, a string of arson hit this area of St. Louis Place. Ten vacant buildings went up in flames within a three day period. Police arrested a suspect who was released uncharged. No one has been charged with the arson. However, off the record officers say that the arsons were connected to the brick theft that has plagued north St. Louis for years and has escalated in St. Louis Place since 2006.

Perhaps it is not surprising that our family on Hebert Street sold their home to a McEagle holding company, Union Marin, in July 2008, for $75,000. Who else would have paid the family that much to relieve them of living on what had become a desolate block? They could have sold directly to McEagle for a decent price, or to one of the middle-man speculators who would have paid them $50,000 and sold to McEagle at $75,000.

Let’s move forward a year and see what happened to the houses on Hebert Street.

Ah, the brick thieves struck the fine little homes! On May 25, 2009, not only was 2532 Hebert Street reduced to a foundation, but the house that had been occupied less than a year earlier was down to three walls. That’s what happens when there are no eyes and ears on a block to watch out for criminals.

The brick thieves have been striking this area for years, often taking their bricks to nearby dealers around 25th and University streets. The thieves work in broad daylight and on weekends, and yet few ever get caught by police.

No matter — this week the house at 2530 Hebert Street is down to fewer than two full walls. The scene is garish, with the well-painted front doors and their decorative surrounds leading into a wrecked home. The water runs in the basement, where a washing machine can be seen. The sagging floors are ready to collapse any day now.

Next door, the formerly-solid two-story house has now been hit. The thieves have struck this house since May 25, because there was no damage evident then. What sort of city lets this sort of crime happen so brazenly? That’s a question for another story.

Perhaps none of this matters at all: on the slides that McEagle showed at a meeting on May 21, this block was part of a large “employment center” where many extant historic buildings were replaced by large new ones. If the city assents to this plan through a redevelopment ordinance, many other buildings will disappear. However, the shocking and illegal campaign of brick theft is not a fair or civilized way to prepare the development area.

I hope that our story ends with the arrest and conviction of the thieves who destroyed the house son Hebert as well as the dealers who fence brick knowing the illicit source. In fact, a happy end would have the larger penalties assessed against those who profit the most from brick theft — not the poor guys with pick axes, but the people who sell the brick out of town to build the McMansions of the Sun Belt. Then, we would have an open conversation about historic preservation and the McEagle project, reach consensus, watch a great project get built and all would live happily ever after.

East St. Louis, Illinois Historic Preservation Theft

Murphy Building Secured

by Michael R. Allen

Someone has finally re-boarded the front entrance to the lovely and decaying Murphy Building in downtown East St. Louis. On March 6, we reported that thieves had removed the boards and stolen three terra cotta keystones.

Historic Preservation Theft

The Stained Glass Fence

by Michael R. Allen

On one of those rare instances where we watch network television news, we caught a report on a KTVI Channel 2 news program about the South Patrol’s efforts to return stolen stained glass windows to south city building owners. Buried at the end of the reports was this tidbit:

The thief sold all of the windows to a single local antiques dealer who cut a deal with police to escape prosecution.

There’s the real story. The police can catch every “stained glass bandit” and these dealers remain, ready to sell stolen goods and fueling the market in thievery by creating demand.

Who was this dealer? KTVI didn’t release the name.

Media Theft

The Case of the Stained Glass Bandit — And His Patrons

by Michael R. Allen

In the latest Riverfront Times comes this article: The Case of the Stained Glass Bandit by Kristen Hinman. Hinman does a good job of reporting on the story, and talked with the right people. Yet the fact that she doesn’t mention which dealers bought the stolen windows is distressing. The captured thief surely divulged his patrons’ names, and that would be available publicly.

The article seems to imply that this thief is more responsible for the rash of stolen windows than the unscrupulous dealers who fuel the thievery by fencing stolen goods. Ten guys will step in to fill Tanter’s place — and the dealers will buy from them, too, so long as out-of-town buyers can be had…

East St. Louis, Illinois Metro East Salvage Theft

Murphy Building Vandalized

by Michael R. Allen

Vandals have been pillaging the Murphy Building in the last few weeks. On Sunday, March 6, we arrived to find that three of the ornamental terra cotta keystones above the fifth-floor windows on the main facade had been removed. The vandals had removed the boards covering the front door of the Murphy Building — until then mostly inaccessible — and left the boards lying on the sidewalk outside. They had crudely removed the keystones, leaving jagged openings.

The building is owned by the City of East St. Louis, which did not authorize the removal. This is an illegal act.

If you come across the keystones or other parts of the Murphy Building, please contact your local police department.

Facade shot showing the missing keystones.

One of the locations of a keystone. The crude cut of the vandals is evident.

The vandals removed the plywood on the front door.