by Michael R. Allen
Frame houses on Vista Avenue slated for demolition.
Forest West Properties is seeking demolition permits for 30 buildings in Forest Park Southeast, and the permits will be considered at the Preservation Board meeting on Monday, April 24, 2006. Forest West is the real estate arm of the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation and acquired these buildings from negligent owners. After a year of ownership and silence to the neighborhood about their intent, Forest West now emerges with a plan for demolition that would severely impact the neighborhood and may stunt efforts to rehabilitate its valuable historic buildings.
4437 Swan Avenue, slated for demolition.
There are good reasons to postpone the application for further review:
The demolition does not correspond to any approved redevelopment plan. Alderman Joseph Roddy (D-17th) earlier this year secured passage of Board Bill 400, which created a redevelopment plan for scattered sites in Forest Park Southeast. However, none of these addresses were included in Roddy’s bill.
At least 19 of these buildings are of strong to moderate architectural merit. Without a long period of public notice of the application, we have been unable to conduct thorough assessments of each building. A preliminary review of architectural style shows that 19 buildings are of high or moderate architectural significance as examples of vernacular styles prevalent in this neighborhood. Among the styles represented are brick shaped-parapet buildings from the period of 1890-1910, some of which are two stories tall, as well as front-gabled frame shotgun buildings from a period of 1875-1895.
The demolition will significantly impact the integrity of the southern part of the neighborhood and could preclude extending the National Register district boundaries. The southern part of the neighborhood, called Adams Grove, has been marked by significant demolition and deterioration. Further demolition may weaken historic integrity to the point where it would be impossible to extend the boundaries of the Forest Park Southeast Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A boundary extension would make historic rehab tax credits available for the many eligible historic buildings in the southern part of the neighborhood. Without availability of tax credits, rehabbing these historic buildings may be cost prohibitive.
None of these buildings needs to be demolished. While some are of low architectural merit and a few are inappropriate for the neighborhood (such as 4395-7 Chouteau), all of the buildings appear to be structurally sound even though they have problems common to structures of their ages. The masonry buildings in particular are similar to those in the neighborhood being renovated by Restoration St. Louis, RHCDA and other developers.
Residents of Forest Park Southeast have not been given the chance to review the application. Many residents have wondered what Forest West has been doing with these buildings, and have never received answers to their questions. Likewise, residents only learned of the application when the Preservation Board agenda was posted in mid-April.
We are amendable to working with Forest West to revise their plans, and encourage them to re-examine the thirty buildings for alternate possibilities. Other developers may be interested in purchasing the buildings for rehabilitation, especially if the boundaries of the Historic District were extended. Forest West could explore issuing of a request for proposals for the buildings. Most of these buildings are architectural assets to the neighborhood and to the city, and thus economic assets waiting to be renewed.
Buildings by Street
Chouteau Avenue: 4375-77, 4379-81, 4395-7
Donovan Avenue: 4365, 4367, 4369, 4371, 4375
Hunt Avenue: 4215, 4247, 4371
Norfolk Avenue: 4420-22, 4429
Swan Avenue: 4429, 4431, 4435 (Rear), 4437
Vista Avenue: 4415, 4417, 4418, 4419, 4448-50, 4452, 4454, 4456, 4460, 4462, 4473, 4484, 4486-90
Monday, April 24 at 4:00 p.m.
1015 Locust Street (northeast corner of 11th and Locust), downtown 12th floor