“There’s Nothing Pure About Preservation” Session at Iowa Downtown Summit

PRO Director Michael Allen will join Erin Hannafin Berg of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota for a panel that will challenge what people expect preservationists to say about old buildings and economic development.

Details here.

Dates: August 26-28, 2015

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Registration required.

North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North Public Policy St. Louis Place Uncategorized

The Cost of Northside Regeneration

Compton and Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis shows what the area around 22nd and St. Louis avenues looked like in 1875.

In my latest St. Louis Public Radio commentary, “The Cost of Northside Regeneration”, I contrast the slow development of the St. Louis Place neighborhood after John O’Fallon and others filed the Union Addition plat in 1850 with the lumbering, subsidized Northside Regeneration project. Can government incentives substitute for developer risk and the micro-economics of neighborhoods? – Michael R. Allen

DALATC Eminent Domain North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Uncategorized

Eminent Domain, Northside Regeneration and the St. Louis American

by Michael R. Allen

The most recent edition of the St. Louis American‘s lively Political Eye editorial column deals with the Missouri Supreme Court consideration of the Northside Regeneration redevelopment agreement and tax increment financing bills, invalidated by Circuit Court ruling in July 2010. The Supreme Court took the case under advisement after a November 28 hearing and will issue a ruling early next year.

As a longtime observer of the Northside Regeneration project concerned with both its historic preservation and cultural impacts on north St. Louis, I was struk by one of the Political Eye’s statements:

The EYE is certain McKee would have taken the right to eminent domain had he been able to finagle it, but he was not. Both the Land Assemblage Tax Credit legislation that lavishly benefitted his project and the Northside redevelopment agreement with the city expressly forbid the use of eminent domain.

Actually the use of eminent domain has never been forbidden for Northside Regeneration by state or local statute — although Mayor Francis Slay has stated several times that he would not support the use of eminent domain on owner-occupied housing for the project.


“Why Handcuff the Voters?”

by Michael R. Allen

Ahead of the adoption of a new city charter on June 30, 1914, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized against the new Board of Aldermen proposed in the charter by the Board of Freeholders. the following editorial appeared in the newspaper’s January 17, 1914 edition. The newspaper’s words were not heeded, and the new city charter went into effect with a new Board of Aldermen composed of 28 members representing individual wards. Until 1943, when voters amended the charter to mandate ward elections, these aldermen were elected by the voters at large. The Board of Aldermen replaced the bicameral legislature consisting of the House of Delegates and the City Council.

When the new city charter was drafted, the authors offered the Board of Aldermen as a legislature that would break the city from the inefficient and corrupt ways of the House of Delegates. The Post-Dispatch wisely predicted that the Board of Aldermen might be different only by degree. Ninety-eight years later, voters head to the polls to consider Proposition R, which would reduce the Board of Aldermen to 14 members. The words of the Post-Dispatch in 1914 are almost as fresh today as they were then.

Note that the Post‘s main complaint against the structure of the proposed Board is the ward system itself. The newspaper supported an at-large legislative body, which the city had before in the 1914 charter in the form of the City Council. The City Council often was at odds with the House of Delegates over progressive reforms, and was widely viewed as less dominated by corruption and political machines. There is no proposal to return to an at-large chamber, but reformers hope that a reduced Board will make aldermen accountable to larger constituencies with more diverse interests — and thus more likely to focus on wide public policy goals than on the city services needs of small communities. Yet reduction alone will not change the statutory powers of aldermen after 2023, when the reduction would go into effect.

Central West End Mid-Century Modern Uncategorized

An Early HOK Building on Lindell

by Michael R. Allen

Last summer, things were somewhat chaotic for two early buildings by giant firm Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (now HOK) located on Lindell Boulevard. While the old IBM Building (1959; 3800 Lindell), now Adorjan Hall at St. Louis University, lost its brise soleil, the former Sperry-Rand Building (1956; 4100 Lindell), most recently the St. Louis Housing Authority headquarters, was facing uncertainty. Things have changed — just a bit.

The former Sperry-Rand Building.

Now the Sperry-Rand Building is on the market listed at a little over $1.1 million. That price might be low enough to be in “tear down” range in some cities, but in St. Louis that seems to be a price that might encourage buyers who would retain the building. Whether those buyers would retain the building’s character is another question.

George Hellmuth, Gyo Obata and George Kassabaum had only been in business as partners for one year when the Sperry-Rand Building opened its doors. Admittedly the firm would reach greater heights than this modest three-story business block, but its form and minimal treatment remain elegant. Furthermore, the Sperry-Rand Building offers a great combination of urbanistic traits: the building maintains the ample Lindell Boulevard setback, which gives that street its monumentality, while opening its first floor with large full-height windows and its floor level near sidewalk level. In short, the first floor could be adapted to retail use quite easily, adding activity on a corner close to emergent redevelopment on Laclede and West Pine avenues.

Looking east across the street wall toward the Sperry-Rand Building.

As an early work of a major firm, and part of the reconstruction of Lindell Boulevard through Modern Movement architecture between 1939 and 1977, the Sperry-Rand Building is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The building’s historic context will become even clearer as the Cultural Resources Office and its consultant completes the development of contexts for non-residential Modern architecture in the city. That project, including a survey, is underway and will be completed in 2013. Already known is that the building is one of at least 37 Modern buildings built between Grand and Kingshighway on Lindell at a time when the city was struggling to enliven its core. Corporate office buildings like the Sperry-Rand were signs of needed investment, and their confident Modern architecture reflected optimism.

The rear of the building. Lots of parking.

The Sperry-Rand Building also offers ample parking in back on a lot shared with the former Easter Seal Society Building to the west (1960), also for sale. That space could be used immediately for its function, or built out with additional construction and structured parking. Someday, we can hope, the Lindell Marketplace will be dramatically reconfigured to appropriate scale and density. The wreck of 3949 Lindell Boulevard will soon be rebuilt. Sarah Avenue has gained several establishments. This corner building is a key connector, built in an adaptable urban form. Perhaps higher density will rise around it, but there is nothing amiss with the building’s scale. This is a small gem that needs to shine again.

National Register North St. Louis O'Fallon Uncategorized

O’Fallon Park Historic District Nominated to National Register of Historic Places

Today the St. Louis Preservation Board will consider recommending approval of the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the O’Fallon Park Historic District. This meeting is the first step toward listing the historic neighborhood in the National Register. After today, the nomination heads to the biggest step: consideration by the Missouri Advisory Council of Historic Preservation at its next public meeting on August 17.

View O’Fallon Park Historic District in a larger map

If the Advisory Council approves the nomination, it will be sent to the National Park Service for final listing. Depending on the length of that consideration, the O’Fallon Park Historic District might be listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the end of October. State and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits would be available immediately.


Six St. Louisans on Leadership

Metro’s Courtney Sloger is also working on KETC’s new Nine Voices project. Courtney has just posted “6 St. Louisans on Civic Leadership,” a video featuring young leaders discussing what it takes to move the city forward. Here’s the description:

I asked six young St. Louisans that I know are working for a better community, how do we cultivate civic leadership in St. Louis? Their answers were frank and honest, and challenged my own perceptions of leadership and the needs of St. Louis.

The six include Jennifer Allen, RJ Koscelniak, Brea McAnally, Randy Vines, Jay Swoboda and PRO’s Michael Allen.


Follow Us on Twitter

Michael Allen has been tweeting for awhile, but it became time that Preservation Research Office has its own public Twitter account with multiple contributors.

Done. Follow us @PreservationSTL. The Twitter feed will announce our projects as well news and events that connect you to the architectural heritage of the St. Louis area. And we won’t shy away from sending out calls to action.


RFT Looks at Bloggers; Happy Hour Today

The Riverfront Times was gracious to include me in this week’s feature article “Blogger’s Baker’s Dozen: a sampler of St. Louis’ must-read contributors to the blogosphere”. This is not a predictable list, either — there were bloggers included whose work I had never read.

As part of the feature, the RFT asked me to select my three favorite posts. Selecting three — a more padded number like five would have worked — was a difficult task. What do you think about my selections? I tried to choose something poetic, something short and something deeply critical.

The other fun part of the feature gets underway in a few hours — a happy hour at Blueberry Hill starting at 5:00 p.m. I will be there, and hope to meet a few readers there.


St. Louis Makes National Trust Dozen Distinctive Destinations List; Needs Votes for Fan Favorite

Last week, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named St. Louis as one of its Dozen Distinctive Destinations. The annual list of historic cities recognizes historic preservation efforts and helps boost tourism.

From the announcement:

Since 2000, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Dozen Distinctive Destination program has recognized cities and towns that offer an authentic visitor experience by combining dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes and a strong commitment to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization. In each community, residents have joined together and taken action to protect their town’s character.

This year, St. Louis joins unique cities ranging from Bastrop, Texas to Sitka, Alaska. For the first time, the Trust has created the honor of a “Fan Favorite” determined through online voting. To read the full list and vote, see the Dozen Distinctive Destinations site.

St. Louis needs more votes to win!