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Agriculture Demolition Hyde Park North St. Louis

Turnverein Site Empty For First Time Since 1870

by Michael R. Allen

The former front of the Nord St. Louis Turnverein along Salisbury Avenue.

Architectural historians often stop their work when a building reaches its sure death. Without a chance at preservation, an already-decrepit building is just a historic shell. Articles written, consulting fees paid, photos taken — what is left to do? Plenty. As a building is lost through neglect and later demolition, its body is battered until a flood of historic memory is released. Perhaps a vacant building means even more to a community during its demolition. The cleared site serves as an empty signifier — signifying many things to many people. One of those things may actually get built.

So the Nord St. Louis Turnverein’s rapid demolition last week under the capable hands of Z & L Wrecking was an instructive moment in local architectural history. The rapidity of demolition, the cleaning of brick and the removal of all complete traces of building in one week is an accomplishment unmatched in execution and intensity by the work of any architect or builder.

Looking across site toward 20th Street.

In just one week, Z & L Wrecking removed a building that had occupied the site starting in 1870. The northern half of the site had not been unbuilt for 141 years. The southern half across the alley had been the site of a building for 113 years. The rapid liquidation of so much material and civic memory was a quiet symphony of demolition, or perhaps an unrecorded dirge.

Door to nowhere along 20th Street.
Pallets of our city's clay, headed for...Florida? Texas?

Yet the story has not ended for the Nord St. Louis Turnverein. The architectural history of the building itself remains incomplete, and the site itself is not one of absence but strange and hopeful presence. For one thing, the site is now graded with dirt cleaner and purer than any on the site in over a century. Bits of building remain, but the soil cover with its rippled folds is like an ocean of potential.

Looking south across the cleared site from Salisbury Avenue. Photograph by Lynn Josse.
Sharing ideas for the site.

As the starting event for this year’s Chautaqua Art Lab, yesterday evening RJ Koscielniak convened a one-hour memoriam event for the lost Turnverein. Yet rather than look backward to mourn a lost building, RJ decided to focus on yielding the site to community desires. He built a blackboard at the corner of 20th and Mallinckrodt streets, and provided chalk for Hyde Park residents and visitors to write down ideas answering the question of what the site should become. RJ and others planted flowers in a box on the site, and built a fire pit out of Turnverein bricks poking out of the edges of the dirt fill.

Alley house or farm house?
RJ Koscielniak convened Sunday's event.

The chalk boards will be up for awhile, and people are invited to continue using them to express ideas for the site’s future. Whatever words are left there are interjections into the site’s architectural history. The Turnverein site remains a key location for Hyde Park’s civic life, and whatever its future, something will be built there.  Or, rather, something will follow the chalk board, flowers and fire pit.  Rebuilding is already underway.

6 replies on “Turnverein Site Empty For First Time Since 1870”

so who owns those bricks now? the original owner? does the owner yield the remains to the demo company? does the demo company sell them to a brick yard? is it possible they might stay in saint louis?

Great post. I mourn the loss of the Turnverein, but I think Hyde Park is on the cusp of renewed grandeur. It’s great to see people like RJ (and of course you, Michael), so dedicated to building a prosperous future for this great old city.

The board continues to fill up, we’ve had probably a couple dozen ideas thrown down. Should we continue to grow, we may just keep adding more boards. In fact, all of the supplies I used (minus the laminations) were actually sourced from the illegal dumping around the neighborhood. Come on out and see what we’re trying to do. To Rick, I think they did a pretty comprehensive job.

I’v talked to the owner of Z&L Demolition in the past and he said he likes his his bricks to stay in St. Louis.

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