by Michael R. Allen
In “Daily Dose of Blairmont #12” back in March 2008 (the daily series is now up to #137), Built St. Louis author Rob Powers presented the graceful mansard-roofed four-flat at 2341 University Street in St. Louis Place. Powers’ chronicle of historic buildings in north St. Louis owned by developer Paul J. McKee Jr.’s holding companies shows us both solitary survivors and houses that contribute to groups of historic houses. This building was one of the latter — while the block face across the street is gone, the north side of the 2300 block on University is fairly intact toward its west side.
In his blog post, Powers asked the question: “Will this row, like so much around it, become nothing more than a memory, leaving no trace of what this neighborhood once was?”
Sadly, the answer has come: Yes.
On June 9, the city’s Building Division issued an emergency demolition permit for the building. Unlike many other McKee-owned buildings on the near north side, this house was protected by occupied neighboring houses. The brick thieves never arrived to carve up the fine house. Although vacant and deteriorating since at least 1989, the house was in pretty fair shape as vacant north side buildings go. The house was pretty rough when McKee’s Blairmont Associates LC purchased the house from Ruth Erbschloe in 2006, but not unsound under reasonable interpretation of city code. An emergency order seems rash, even from the perspective that the house needed wrecking.
Then again, we don’t have means for making very careful choices about houses like this one. The 5th and 19th wards, where McKee’s holdings mostly lie, lack preservation review for demolition. Even without the questionable emergency order — not the first in this neighborhood for a building that seemed sound under city ordinances — there would have been little to stop this demolition, save the owner. The owner, of course, has made no plans clear. With no comprehensive plan for land use and preservation coming from either the city or McKee, much of St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou stand in a torpor — except that which will no longer stands. Add the house at 2341 University to the list.
What a shame this loss truly is. As Powers notes, that block is pretty solid architecturally. The house immediately to the east is obviously well-tended, retaining many original architectural features including its iron fence. Obviously, that house should be an anchor for spreading redevelopment on a block still residential in character. There are plenty of blocks in St. Louis Place where one can find large expanses for new construction. Those retaining historic residential fabric and homeowners need a careful approach we’re not likely to get without a public planning process. The real “emergency” is the lack of coordination between city government, McKee and stakeholders in St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou.