by Michael R. Allen
One of the best preservation stories to come out of north St. Louis this year was the rehabilitation of the Winston Churchill Apartments at 5435-75 Cabanne Avenue in Visitation Park. The apartment building had long been the scourge of a changing neighborhood — and not because it was a vacant eyesore. The Winston Churchill was fully occupied and generating as many as 300 calls to the police from neighbors before the apartments closed in 2005. In some cases, shutting down a nuisance property is only a trade between an occupied nuisance and a vacant one.
Because of the Friedman Group, Ltd. and Dublin Capital, the Winston Churchill instead was rejuvenated through a $12 million rehabilitation designed by Klitzing Welsh Architects and built out by E.M. Harris Construction Company. The building reopened with 101 affordable housing units. Many new houses have been built to the west of the Winston Churchill on Cabanne Avenue. Reopening the apartments ensures that the neighborhood offers housing to residents who are not in the market for owning a brand-new house or a large old home.
Built in 1927, the eight-story, concrete-framed Winston Churchill is an imposing, somewhat austere building. The brick architrave at the top is often mistaken for patchwork that replaced the original cornice, but the building never had any such cornice. The stark termination of the building is original (see two historic photographs here. The first two floors provide a softer neoclassical base clad in native Missouri limestone. The firm Avis, Hall and Proetz designed the apartment building, which is named for the once-renowned St. Louis novelist whose fame preceded that of the British statesman.
At the time of construction, the Winston Churchill stood in the shadow of a more imposing building, the Visitation Academy by Barnett, Haynes and Barnett (1891) across the street. The eclectic French Renaissance Revival academy was the second St. Louis home of the school and convent of the Sisters of the Visitation, who had migrated to the city in 1844 following a devastating flood that destroyed their building in Kaskaskia, Illinois. The Sisters’ tenure at Cabanne and Belt would last through 1962, when the order opened a new school and convent on Ballas Road in St. Louis County.
The building on Cabanne was demolished one year later, and the site donated to the City of St. Louis. The park is now known as Ivory Perry Park, well-known for its summer concert series. The Winston Churchill Apartments is now the architectural anchor of the corner of Cabanne and Belt avenues, providing necessary housing as well as visual interest.