Fire West End

Lost: Wabash Triangle Café

by Thomas Crone

The Wabash Triangle Café. Photograph by King Schoenfeld.

The Wabash Triangle Café burned on Friday, March 18, 1994, its last day of business. Though that date’s one I needed to look up, the timing’s also quite vivid in my memory. I was in Austin, TX, on that morning, attending the South by Southwest Music Festival. Though I’d have a couple more days of music, Shiner Bocks and cavorting ahead of me, I distinctly remember that the phone call from home, a co-worker at the RFT detailing only the barest facts about the Wabash fire. It was a call that pretty well squashed any fun for the rest of the weekend.

Calvin Case behind the espresso machine. Photograph by King Schoenfeld.

For a chunk of my early 20s, the Wabash Triangle was my default destination, a venue that brought nightly music and culture to the very footprint that would eventually become the Halo and the Pageant. In the golden days before cell phones and instant communication of all sorts, it was the kind of place you could roll into with the reasonable assumption that something interesting was happening and someone you knew would be home. And “home” is the feeling that the place gave off. Part diner, part coffeehouse, part bar and full-time oasis to the misfits, the Wabash allowed for interesting conversations to blossom and for friendships to grow in a room that never quite felt like the rest of that moment’s St. Louis.

Partially, that disconnection was a result of location. Though owner Calvin Case had a building found just east of the University City Loop on Delmar, the mental and physical geography of Delmar in the early-’90s was different than today. Few, if any, of the Loop’s regulars walked as far east as the Wabash. If you bought books at Paul’s, or caught a movie at the Tivoli, or headed to Cicero’s for a band-and-pizza, you tended to stay on the west side of Skinker. Without the Metrolink stretching the block, and with east-side-of-Skinker destinations like Pi and Big Shark Bicycle far-off in the future, the Loop really was limited to University City’s piece of the map. And those heading from down the busier end of Delmar often drove the few blocks, rather than heading there on foot.

The area may’ve been a smidgen rough, but once inside the mood was always upbeat. Except when it wasn’t. On some nights, slam poets took over the entire space and the energy was raw and palpable. Other days, especially in the early evenings, you’d find just a couple people playing board games in a corner, while Calvin held court with his tiny cast of workers at the bar. Most days, Calvin was up; some days, Calvin was down. Kinda depended upon business. And on a lot of business days, the dozen customers each buying a cup of coffee didn’t exactly keep the register ringing.

Calvin Case and the chef. Photograph by King Schoenfeld.

Even before the fire, there was always the vague sense that the Wabash Triangle could be gone. Calvin tried everything to make the space click. Early morning hours. Late hours and some Sundays. Menu changes a’plenty, along with “a real chef” in the kitchen. Matching the crazy-quilt interior, musicians of every possible stripe were booked, with varying degrees of success, from Calvin’s preferred folk to hardcore to indie.

In that space, they performed to an odd cast of regulars and an equally odd decor. Dozens of Michael Draga photographs ringed the ceiling of the former automobile showroom. A huge painting of western pioneers dominated the wall behind the stage. And throughout the venue, a mish-mash of retro furniture, true antiques and alley-rescued castoffs provided all the bohemia any post-collegian could want. The odd, low-slung building was even attached to an auto glass business, which seemed odd at the time, but now seems just right. Describing the look’n’feel of the Wabash is tough, but if you’ve been to a show at the old Frederick’s Music Lounge, or the newer Fred’s Six Foot Under, you’d have an idea of the vibe, with the substitute of Calvin Case for Fred Friction. Calvin was the constant, consistently tossing out ideas, suggestions and bits of collected wisdom.

And while Calvin provided the room’s heartbeat, there were many elements of the space that made it what it was, from the staff (Beth, Rich and Brett), to the crazy clientele, to the impression that you were crashing a space that not everyone knew about. Just blocks from the center of alterna-culture in St. Louis, there you were, in the City’s true underground.

To date, I’ve shamefully not yet seen David Dandridge’s new documentary, The Roof is on Fire, a look-back at the room and its then-prolific slam scene. Maybe it’s because I have a feeling that the memories would be a little bit too… much. With due respect to the Way Out Club, the self-professed “home away from home,” there are only so many places you can truly call that in your lifetime.

The Wabash Triangle Café. The three-story building at left still stands, Photograph by King Schoenfeld.

For a couple of too-brief years in the early ’90s, the Wabash Triangle Cafe was my home.

I miss that special place, still.

Thomas Crone publishes; and hosts “Silver Tray” on KDHX, Fridays @ noon.

Historic Preservation North St. Louis Rehabbing West End

West Cabanne Place Living

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph courtesy of Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

The city’s West Cabanne Place opened in 1888 as a semi-rural private street, located away from the urban core of St. Louis. Many prominent businessmen and a few architects — including Charles Ramsey and Theodore Link — purchased lots and built large homes on West Cabanne. Built in 1889 for E.O. Pope of the Jones-Pope Produce Company, the house at 5927 West Cabanne was one of the earliest residences on the street. The designer of the eclectic home remains unknown. Jane Porter, author of the National Register of Historic Places nomination for West Cabanne Place, suggests that a contractor rather than an architect designed the Italianate-influenced house, which mixes elements rather freely.

In the 1990s, 5927 West Cabanne Place appeared to be at risk of being lost. Landmarks Association of St. Louis included in the house in its annual Eleven Most Endangered Places list for several years. Eventually, however, the home fell into the hands of an owner who gave the house needed rehabilitation work. The exterior was restored by removing asphalt siding and repairing and replacing wooden elements. Now the spacious residence is for sale for the unbelievable price of $119,000. This truly must be a buyer’s market, for a rehabilitated home on West Cabanne Place to be offered at that price!

Architects Architecture North St. Louis West End

Lost: St. Ann’s Orphan Asylum

by Michael R. Allen

St. Ann’s Orphan Asylum stood at the northwest corner of Page and Union from 1904 until the late 1970s, when it was demolished. Operated by the Roman Catholic Church, the asylum relocated to the city’s west end from a downtown location at 10th and O’Fallon streets. The building permit dates to June 22, 1904 and lists a construction cost of $200,000 and the architects as Barnett, Haynes and Barnett.

The high cost went for high quality. The 3 1/2 story asylum was large, and its Elizabethan Gothic architecture was elegant. The building featured an expansive lawn on four sides, affording the orphans with grounds for recreation surpassing the modest court at the downtown location. Here we see the late Victorian ideals — lovely architecture masking a function of social utility as well as a belief in the social and health benefits of planned open space. The asylum rose as the World’s Fair was taking place not far to the south in Forest Park. The fair reinforced the faith in planned open spaces and architectural grandeur found in the asylum. Coincidentally, the architects of the orphan’s asylum also designed the Palace of Liberal Arts at the fair.

In 1904, Barnett, Haynes and Barnett was one of the city’s best-known and most revered firms. The firm’s principals were George D. Barnett, John Haynes and Thomas P. Barnett, and together the men had already designed many homes and commercial buildings in the thriving west end. The firm also enjoyed a good relationship with the Archdiocese, an had designed the romantic Visitation Convent (1894, demolished) located at Belt and Cabanne in the West End, Sacred Heart Church (1898, demolished) at 25th and University in St. Louis Place, and the Scholastic Building at St. Louis University (1896). On Page Boulevard alone, the firm was responsible for designing St. Ann’s Church at Whittier and Page (1897) and St. Mark’s at Page and Academy (1901). The pinnacle of the working relationship would be the firm’s design of the great Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard. The firm’s institutional work shows a tendency toward the romantic, with picturesque buildings placed on landscaped lawns, and St. Ann’s Orphan Asylum fits in that range. Stylistically, however, the Elizabethan Gothic is unique for a large institutional building by the firm but parallel to the contenporary work of school architect William B. Ittner.

The asylum eventually became a retirement home before being demolished by the Archdiocese. The site today is occupied by the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center and the Peace Villa, which maintain to some extent the site’s devotion to social service. The eastern end of the site is used by a grocery store.

(Postcard courtesy of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation Library.)

Historic Preservation LRA North St. Louis Preservation Board West End

Preservation Board Spares House on Bartmer

by Michael R. Allen

At its monthly meeting on Monday, the St. Louis Preservation Board wisely voted 5-2 against the demolition of a Shingle Style frame house at 5594 Bartmer Avenue in the city’s West End neighborhood. The house was built in 1898 and while not the most exquisite example of the Shingle Style in the city (that may be on nearby Cabanne Place) is one of probably less than two dozen remaining homes in the style. The demolition was proposed as a preliminary review, with no actual permit under consideration. Preliminary review is often used by potential applicants and staff of the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) to gauge Board opinion without beginning formal application process.

In this case, Alderman Frank Williamson (D-26th) brought the matter to CRO two months ago, citing citizen complaints about the condition of the home. The house has been vacant since at least 1998 and is owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority. The house is located outside of any national historic district where tax credits would be able to be used in its rehabilitation. However, the 5400 and 5500 blocks of Bartmer show an unusual collection of large historic homes with consistent deep setbacks and early 20th century period styles. Blocks to the west also show consistency. There is no doubt that some historic district on Bartmer is possible.

Two months ago, CRO staff presented the matter to the Preservation Board, which elected to defer consideration for 60 days while staff prepared a thorough report on the building’s condition and reuse potential. Ald. Williamson appeared at the first meeting and said that he wanted to tell the citizens something was going to happen, although demolition was not the only outcome he would accept.

CRO staff prepared a report that covers issues of condition, historic integrity and potential market value. Among other conclusions, the repprt showed that not only is the house “sound” under the definition established by the Preservation Review ordinance, it retains almost all of its original architectural features inside! Staff strongly recommends preservation of the house. Meanwhile, Ald. Williamson decided to support demolition. Two citizens sent letters of opposition, including blogger Douglas Duckworth (read his letter here). On Monday, the Board heard testimony against the demolition from myself and in favor from Myron Jefferson, who is building a new house at 5596 Bartmer to the west. Jefferson stated that he would not have built his house if he had known the house next door was not going to be torn down.

According to CRO Director Kathleen Shea, the LRA has agreed to make the house at 5594 Bartmer a priority for its limited marketing efforts. Apparently LRA will not seek its demolition until it has drawn attention to potential buyers. While the gesture is small, it’s the most that LRA can do — and more than usual. Ald. Williamson might want to coordinate with LRA in finding a creative future for the house.

Board Member Mary Johnson told the Board that the board would impede the “development project” of “developer” Jefferson unfairly if it voted down the demolition. Johnson cited Joe Edwards’ Moonshine Hotel project in the Delmar Loop as an example where the Board allowed demolition of a historic building, the Ronald Jones Funeral Chapel, for a development project. Edwards is demolishing the chapel but reconstructing its front and some of its side elevations as part of the hotel project.

Board Member David Richardson retorted that Jefferson was not the owner of the property next door. Jefferson does not seek to purchase the house at 5594 Bartmer and was not the applicant for demolition. In making the motion to accept staff recommendation, Board Member Anthony Robinson explained that builders can’t control vacant property when building a new house. Robinson said that when he built his residence, his block had five vacant houses and six vacant lots. All of the houses have been rehabbed and all but one of the lots built upon since Robinson finished his house a few years ago.

Voting in support of the CRO staff recommendation authored by Director Kathleen Shea were Melanie Fathman, John Burse, Robinson, Mike Killeen and Richardson. Voting against were Johnson and Ald. Terry Kennedy (D-18th). Chairman Richard Callow abstained from voting.

Academy Neighborhood Central West End Demolition Historic Preservation Hyde Park Local Historic District North St. Louis Preservation Board South St. Louis West End

Preview of Monday’s Preservation Board Agenda

by Michael R. Allen

The St. Louis Preservation Board meets Monday at 4:00 p.m. at the offices of the Planning and Urban Design Agency on the twelfth floor of 1015 Locust Street. Meetings typically last three hours.

Here are some highlights from the agenda:

Preliminary Reviews

5594 Bartmer Avenue: The proposed demolition of a beautiful and rare Shingle Style house appeared on the Preservation Board agenda two months ago and was deferred pending study of the reuse potential by the staff of the Cultural Resources Office. Staff has written an excellent report on the building condition and reuse feasibility based on a thorough site visit; read that here. Staff recommends denial of the permit and exploration of a National Historic District for Bartmer Avenue. This house and its neighbors fall outside of any historic districts that would enable the use of historic rehabilitation tax credits.

2300 Newhouse Avenue: The proposed new construction of six frame homes with attached garages in the western edge of Hyde Park manages to add yet another absurd faux historic design to the architecturally mongrelized neighborhood. Here we have brick fronts with shaped parapets imitating 20th century buildings that can be found in Hyde Park, but there is a twist: the parapets are actually gable ends on a front-gabled building! The sides and rear show the pitched roof and reveal the illusion the front barely conceals. Furthermore, the developer includes attached garages and has not submitted a site plan showing setbacks. Staff recommends denial as proposed.

Appeals of Staff Denials

5286 Page Avenue: The appeal of staff denial of a demolition permit for the two-story commercial building at the southeast corner of Page and Union has been on the agenda for months, always being continued at the request of the owners. Another continuance is possible. The building is a contributing resource to the Mount Cabanne/Raymond Place National Historic District and the last remaining commercial building at a prominent intersection degraded by a Walgreens across the street. Staff urges upholding their denial.

4218 Maryland: The unlawful alterations made to this house transformed it in disturbing ways: rebuilt bizarre porch, new cheap door and sidelights that don’t even fit the opening, alteration of brick pattern and color on front elevation and removal of two front bay windows and replacement with flat openings. Yikes! Staff recommends upholding their denial.

Appeal of Preservation Board Denial

2013-15 Park Avenue: The builder of infill housing in Lafayette Square wants to amend earlier plans to face the side elevations with brick and instead face them with vinyl siding. Staff recommends upholding their denial of this request, and wisely so. Here we have strong neighborhood support for a strict local historic district ordinance that expressly prohibits sided primary and secondary elevations. One expects Lafayette Square to be the last local district where vinyl siding should be approved; the neighborhood is both bellwether and inspiration for the power of local district ordinances to shape attractive neighborhoods. (The Lafayette Square standards can also be an example of the the blind spots of such ordinances, but not regarding the use of vinyl siding.)

Abandonment Schools West End

Hamilton Branch Elementary School

LOCATION: 5858 & 5859 Clemens Avenue; Saint Louis, Missouri
DATES OF CONSTRUCTION: 1963 (two-story building); 1967 (one-story building)
OWNER: People’s Health Center, Inc.

This drab set of school buildings, across the street from each other, sit empty on a block that is rapidly being transformed. The St. Louis Public Schools built these buildings to relieve overcrowding at the original Hamilton Elementary School, 5819 Westminster. The district closed the branch school in the 1994 round of school closings. Private developers are building new — albeit anti-urban — homes in the 5800 blocks of Clemens, Enright and Cates. People’s Health Center has purchased the former school buildings for conversion to use as a neighborhood health center.

Photographs from August 2003 by Michael R. Allen

Added July 2004