by Michael R. Allen
The buildings still standing on June 8, 2005. Photograph by Michael R. Allen.
Built in the period of 1893-1895 by Clemens Eckhoff, the buildings at 2013-15, 2017-19 and 2023-25 Palm Avenue in Old North were sturdy Mansard-style four-flat buildings. Eckhoff owned the Eckhoff (later Valley) Furniture Company operating across the alley from these buildings at 21st and Branch and developed much of the area around his factory. In addition to these buildings, he also built two buildings on 21st Street in the same period.
Sadly, these three buildings fell empty in the 1970s and 1980s and sustained the usual structural problems brought to old buildings by water and stupid people. Vandalism came quickly, followed by collapsing rear walls. Unpaid taxes led the ownership of 2013-15 and 2023-25 as well as the buildings on 21st Street to the hands of the city’s Land Reutilization Authority. In the 1990s, the owner of 2017-19 Palm wrecked the building and recently sold the cleared lot to a suspicious group of speculators organized as Blairmont Associates LC.
2023-25 Palm Street on June 8, 2005.
2033-15 Palm Street on June 8, 2005.
In summer 2004, I suspected that demolition may be on the way. Palm Avenue is not enjoying as much reinvestment as the rest of Old North St. Louis and that reinvestment is a fragile things itself. Buildings in more desirable neighborhood locations have fallen in the last three years, too. We visited the buildings and took photographs. We saw a hopeful sign: Someone was working on a gut rehab across Palm that is now nearing completion. The buildings slipped out of active recall as I progressed on purchasing and rehabbing a home in the neighborhood, until we learned from a resident on Palm that demolition had commenced.
According to this resident, demolition of 2013-15 Palm began on Saturday, November 5, 2005 and was complete within a week. The lot has already been graded and a new sidewalk poured. Our neighbor says that demolition of 2023-25 Palm began on Monday, November 7. Much of the building still stands, although wreckers have been working steadily at taking it down.
The specifics of the demolition of these buildings are distressing. First of all, neither building’s demolition went through demolition review by the city’s Cultural Resources Office. Such review is mandatory for all buildings considered contributing resources in a National Register of Historic Places district. The buildings on Palm Avenue are indeed contributing resources to the Murphy-Blair Historic District (listed in 1984). Secondly, no one in the neighborhood received notice of the forthcoming demolition. Lastly, on the day of the demolition, a representative of a private development company visited the site and observed the proceedings while talking on a cellular phone. Could this person be connected to Blairmont?
Also distressing is that this unlawful demolition cannot be stopped. The city government enforces its own laws, so its actions occur largely outside of the scope of law enforcement. The only recourse in this case would have been a lawsuit seeking a restraining injunction, and that recourse is meaningless once work has already commenced (as painfully learned in the Century Building case).
The only good news is that the city government stopped an illegal demolition by a private owner at 1501 Palm Avenue recently, and intervened before much damage had been done. For some reason, however, fortune was set against the buildings down the block.