by Michael R. Allen
The weary old St. Louis Carnival Supply building — or, rather, buildings since two buildings comprise the structure — is being pushed into the Big Sleep. The south St. Louis landmark, located at 3928 S. Broadway in Marine Villa, is being demolished this month to make way for expansion of a parking lot serving a strip retail center next door. In December 2009, the St. Louis Preservation Board unanimously approved demolition on the condition that the owner, KOBA LP, first obtain a building permit to make facade improvements to the three-story commercial building to the north, which was originally proposed for demolition.
At this point, readers would learn very little from any further complaint about the demolition. How easy is it to take a stand against something that already happened? Oh, easier than tying your shoes — but not as useful. There is a bigger lesson to be learned for ever-wired local preservationists: politics is still local.
When I spoke on historic preservation matters at a meeting of the Chippewa-Broadway Business Association (CBBA) in August 2009, the proposed demolition was a hot topic. Nearly all local parties were opposed to the demolition, although not simply on the basis of architectural merit or urban character. There was considerable concern that the proposed Grace Hill clinic slated to move into the retail strip center will draw patients away from St. Alexius Hospital across the street. St. Alexius has been a neighborhood fixture for over a century, and active in local affairs, including the Business Association.
The community rallied around the hospital, and the first attempt by KOBA LP to secure a demolition permit from the Preservation Board in August — for both buildings — was denied. Aldermen Ken Ortmann (D-9th) and Craig Schmid (D-20th) as well as the CBBA were opposed. Things changed, though, and agreements were reached. The opposition withered. the Preservation Board’s action made it clear that KOBA LP would not be able to get a permit for the building at 3928 S. Broadway, so they withdrew plans to wreck it. By the time of the December Preservation Board meeting, I was the only person to speak against demolition. The game had changed, at the community level.
The demolition contractors did not remove the 1960s metal panels from the 1890s-era commercial building, so the only glimpses of the colorful older signs on the facade come through big holes. The old signs look playful and fun; hopefully there is a photograph of the building before cladding somewhere.
Alberta Street runs between the building under demolition and the building being preserved. This intact street is typical of Marine Villa. Vernacular brick houses of varied form, height and setback create a delightfully organic streetscape. Alas, the solid frame of two corner commercial buildings will soon be gone, and a parking lot exit will spill out onto this quiet residential street.