O. Morse Shoe Company

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph taken on June 14, 2006 (Paul Hohmann).

LOCATION: 235 Boyle Avenue; Central West End; St. Louis, Missouri
DATE OF CONSTRUCTION: 1924
DATE OF DEMOLITION: October – November 2006
ARCHITECT: L.S. Schaffner

The sturdy building familiar to most people as the Shaughnessy-Kneip-Hawe Paper Company Building dates to 1924, when it was built as a factory for the O. Morse Show Company. The architect was L.S. Schaffer, and the factory cost $30,000 to build. At the time, the design was very much on the cutting edge in its anticipation of the Art Deco style, which had yet to be formally identified in America.

The concrete-framed building was two stories tall will a tall basement story, and was articulated in brown brick with projecting piers and large steel-sash windows providing the variation on the base. The building was fairly massive on its two street-facing elevations: it was thirteen bays wide on Boyle and seven bays wide on Duncan. The form was functional and streamline. However, the architectural significance lay in the buff terra cotta ornament found in the frieze under the cornice and in rosettes at the second floor of each pier that feature a projecting lion’s mouth (echoed in other local buildings, notably the Robert E. Lee Hotel, built in 1927). The center five bays on Duncan and the center nine bays on Boyle rose to a somewhat higher frieze than do the outer bays, and the frieze on those sections featured abstract rosettes with conical projections that were somewhat exaggerated in a manner straight out of the Art Deco style. The lower friezes featured intertwined floral elements in a rolling wave pattern that are somewhat abstracted. The terra cotta’s color and execution were dazzling.

The beauty disappeared as part of the CORTEX project. The site was selected by city planners as the site for a new headquarters building for biotech company Solae. This building would be neither the first nor last architectural casualty of CORTEX, envisioned by city planners as a nationally-significant biotech district. The CORTEX redevelopment ordinance encompasses 246 acres and numerous historic buildings in the Central West End and Midtown, in an area roughly bounded by Vandeventer Avenue on the east, Chouteau Avenue on the south, Taylor Avenue on the west and Forest Park Avenue on the north.

There has yet to be substantive public debate on the urban planning aspects of CORTEX. The blighting and redevelopment ordinances for the project, introduced by Alderman Joseph Roddy (D-17th), sailed through the Board of Aldermen with unanimous votes. Most opposition comes from business and building owners who do not want to be displaced. Many people who would have critical perspectives, including architects, planners and preservationists, learned of CORTEX only after it was a done deal.

There was some question as to whether the Morse Shoe Company Building’s demolition would have to be reviewed by the city’s Preservation Board, since the building stood in a preservation review district. CORTEX’s enabling ordinances apparently trumped existing preservation review laws, and the Board never reviewed the permit.

Many people don’t realize what redevelopment powers CORTEX is granted by law. The impact of those powers needs to be debated fully and mitigated so that sensible urban planning and preservation can guide the redevelopment of the area. There is no reason why a building like the Morse Shoe Company building could not be successfully rehabbed as part of CORTEX. No reason, that is, other than the fact that those who might suggest such a course have not been included in planning.

Of course, it’s not too late to have debate and make changes to the big plans for CORTEX.

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