Although heavily deteriorated, and possessed by a shadowy real estate speculator, the lonely large residence at the southwest corner of Cook and Whittier avenues remains a stunning example of local Richardsonian Romanesque residential design. The house was built around 1892, with its definite architect a mystery and its origin enmeshed in a design exercise whose details are also elusive. Underneath a high-pitched slate-clad hipped roof with dormers is a two-story brick building on raised basement. A curious corner bow is open at the second story, framed by Iowa sandstone elements and rising to an intersecting rounded hip.
Out of sight, out of mind? Not brick theft. Brick thieves continue to strike abandoned buildings in north city, although the territory of operation has shifted westward. Two years ago, brick theft was prevalent in JeffVanderLou and St. Louis Place. With many targets hit, and fewer vacant buildings left, those neighborhoods have seen a drop in activity. Today brick thieves are more likely to be working in The Ville, Greater Ville, Fountain Park, Fairgrounds and Lewis Place neighborhoods.
The thieves are even taking down buildings located on major thoroughfares in north St. Louis. Today I noticed two buildings damaged by obvious illegal demolition activity whose locations are very prominent. The first of these was at 4477 Page Boulevard, just east of Taylor Avenue in Lewis Place. This vacant building may have been marred by fake stone veneer and heavy paint, but its solid structure was intact until very recently. The house stands not far from the campus of Ranken Technical College, and on a block where most buildings are occupied.
In the fall, the “other” North St. Louis assemblage team picked up three more beautiful historic buildings at the Sheriff’s land tax auction. These companies are those represented by Eagle Realty Company and its agent Harvey Noble that include Urban Assets LLC, Prudent Investor LLC, Feasible Projects LLC, Diligent Properties LLC, Incentive Properties LLC and others (see “Private LRA in the Works Across North St. Louis?”, May 21, 2009). No ownership link is definite, but the companies are buying in the same wide swath of north city using the same real estate firm that handled acquisition for the Northside Regeneration LLC shell companies.
The multi-family building at 5172 Page Boulevard is located inside of the Mount Cabanne-Raymond Place Historic District in the Academy Neighborhood. The building is in the 26th Ward. Feasible Properties LLC purchased it for $3,000 at the auction held on September 21, 2010. Because the 26th ward has demolition review, and because the building is a contributing resource to a National Register of Historic Places historic district, the building has some demolition protection.
The two-flat at 5134 Wells Avenue is located on the very dense but increasingly vacant 5100 block of Wells Avenue. Feasible Projects LLC purchased the building for $2,878 at the Sheriff’s auction on September 21, 2010. The building is located in the 26th Ward. Because the 26th ward has demolition review, thanks to Alderman Frank Williamson (D-26th), the building has some demolition protection.
The house at 4946 Wabada Avenue may be the saddest story of the three new purchases. This house was under rehabilitation, and the owner applied for a building permit after the sale to shell company Inventive Properties LLC. I suppose that party did not realize that its property taxes were unpaid for the three years prior to the auction. Incentive paid $4,500 at the Sheriff’s auction on September 21, 2010. This lovely single-family American Foursquare is the only vacant house on its block in the Kingsway East neighborhood of the 18th Ward. The 4900 block of Wabada is an immaculately maintained block — the sort of block where owners will utilize nuisance laws against a negligent owner. Unfortunately the house is not in a historic district and the 18th Ward lacks demolition review, so there is no protection against demolition of the house at 4946 Wabada Avenue.
The Eagle Realty-managed shell companies have not recorded any purchases since these three on September 21, 2010. Still, their holdings number nearly 300 parcels inclusive of over 90 historic buildings across the city’s 4th, 5th, 18th, 19th, 21st, 22nd and 26th wards. The parcels remain too spread out to add up to a real development plan, but too numerous to ignore.
Severe storms that hit the city on December 31st have left lasting destruction in parts of north St. Louis. In the Ville and Greater Ville area, winds of over 70 miles per hour struck after noon and left blocks of houses with damage ranging from missing fascia cladding to entire collapses. Nearly two weeks later, building owners struggle to get damage repaired amid snowfall, cold weather and — in a few tragic cases — lack of insurance. And some of the buildings hit hard are owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority.
The storms on December 31 tracked just east of the path of the devastating tornado that hit St. Louis on September 29, 1927 — a disaster that struck coincidentally at 1:00 p.m. during the week. Over 75 people perished then. Luckily, no one died in the city on New Year’s Eve. However the face of neighborhoods may be changed socially and physically as families are forced to leave their homes and neighborhood landmarks are demolished.
In the last decade, Ville has been hard hit by waves of demolition, arson, brick theft and disinvestment. The storm’s path sadly cuts through the heart of a fragile neighborhood. Some solace can be taken in the fact that not only did the storm just barely avoid Dick Gregory Place — where a $9.5 million redevelopment is taking place — but also did not disrupt work. Workers worked through the storm inside of the 15 historic and two new buildings that comprise the project.
Here are some images of the damage that struck the Ville.
The house at 1352-4 Bayard Avenue on May 11, 2010.
Harvey Noble, Vice President of Eagle Realty Company and agent for many of the holding companies used by Paul J. McKee Jr. for his Northside Regeneration project, is back in action. On May 4th, Noble used his shell company Feasible Projects LLC to acquire the house pictured above, located at 1352-4 Bayard Avenue in Fountain Park (18th Ward). After McKee went public with his project, Noble emerged again as the agent for a holding company called Urban Assets LLC as well as six new companies incorporated in February 2009. Those companies are Diligent Property LLC, Feasible Projects LLC, Incentive Properties LLC, Marketable Property LLC, Premises Property LLC and Prudent Investor LLC.
As of last July, Urban Assets owned 230 properties, Diligent Property owned three properties and Prudent Investor owned one. No purchased had been made since then until last week. The properties owned by these companies are located in a wide swath of north city that includes wards 1, 3, 4, 5, 18, 19, 21, 22 and 26. McKee as well as Michael Roberts have denied to reporters having any involvement with the operation fronted by Noble.
The most recent deed reveals little information except that one of the dormant shell company names is now being used. Here’s a look at the top of the first page:
And here is Noble’s signature on the last page:
The signature line states that Noble personally is the sole member of Feasible Projects LLC. That could be true. Although Eagle Realty is best known as a broker/agent and appraiser used by city development agencies, its officers — Noble and President Steve Goldman — have owned property in north St. Louis since the 1950s under various company names. On deeds for McKee’s holding companies, Noble signed as “Manager” rather than “Member” of the shell companies.
And the award for boarding up almost every window on a front elevation of an abandoned north St. Louis house surrounded by occupied houses goes to: Urban Assets LLC, for 1414 N. Euclid Avenue in Fountain Park!
Douglas Duckworth posted this video that he took at yesterday’s aldermanic Housing, Urban Development and Zoning committee meeting. Toward the end of questioning by Alderman Antonio French (D-21st), Paul J. McKee Jr. — on public record — denies any intention to purchase land outside of the NorthSide project area and any involvement in land-grabbing shell company Urban Assets LLC.
How does one identify the holdings of Urban Assets LLC? Of course, the most reliable method is to use the plat maps at the Assessor’s office and then examine deeds at the Recorder of Deeds’ office. Geo St. Louis is a good back-up. Still, when one is far from City Hall or the Internet, there is a fairly reliable way of telling.
Look at the photograph above, showing the north face of the 4200 block of Page Boulevard in the Vandeventer neighborhood (officially “West Page” here.) See the Urban Assets property?
Aha! Here it is: the lovely home at 4255 W. Page Boulevard. Unfortunately, the house was condemned for demolition on June 1 and sits in the 19th Ward, where there is no preservation review.
How about across the street? My guess is that this one is obvious.
Yes, it’s the fine old house at 4230 W. Page. The tell-tale sign of Urban Assets is the use of unpainted OSB boards to cover window and door openings. OSB board is not the most water- or vandal-proof material out there — how about 3/4″ plywood or breathable metal covers used widely in Chicago on vacant buildings — but it’s better than nothing. This is the same style of board-up used by Urban Solutions on McEagle’s properties.
The Land Reutilization Authority mostly uses plywood for board-up and always paints the boards it installs. Urban Assets’ board-up jobs are stark and easy to spot. On one hand, a bright new OSB board is a sign of neglect, but on the other it is a canvas for aspiring artists of every medium. Is there a connection between Urban Assets and the Heidelberg Project?
North St. Louis aldermen should beware these names turning up on new deeds. Noble is the broker behind both McEagle’s secretive buying scheme and the new slumlord machine Urban Assets LLC. So far, these new companies have not made any moves beyond one purchase by Prudent Investor LLC, and their purposes are unknown. Urban Assets remains at large.