Fire Shaw South St. Louis

The Lost Twin at Shaw and 39th

by Michael R. Allen

At the northeast corner of 39th and Shaw avenues stands a three story brick building at 3867 Shaw Avenue that has been fully rehabilitated.    The building sports newly-painted wooden replacement windows and a developer’s sign out front.  Where once its red-brown brick walls showed signs of the grime of age, now is is clean testament to a building’s redemption.

The building, which dates to 1914, is a handsome example of our city’s eclectic Craftsman vein of building and the concurrent rise of mass-produced building products.  The Hydraulic pressed brick, the machine-cut limestone that sparingly adorns the wall and the galvanized metal cornice with its perfectly stamped brackets all show the creative potential of machine age ingenuity.  The stone entrance set into jack-on-jack brick (brick laid corner to corner) within a round-top relieving arch is a particularly fine feature.

The building at 39th and Shaw also stands as the remainder of a set of perpendicular twins that doubled the density of the corner parcel. The twin neighbor of the same age met a horrible end just a few years ago yesterday. I took the photographs here on October 31, 2004.

Between the hours of 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. on October 26, 2004, the St. Louis Fire Department responded to three alarms within a four-block radius. Three buildings — all owned then by the Garden District Commission — were ablaze: a two-flat in the 4000 block of Folsom Avenue, a house in the 4000 block of McRee Avenue and the three-story apartment building at 1854 South 39th Street. All would be demolished in subsequent months.

The twin neighbor was obviously damaged severely by the fire. Rescue would have been possible, but expensive since the roof and top floor had completely collapsed at the building’s north end.

Demolition of the apartment building at 1854 S. 39th Street took away one contributing resource from the Shaw Historic District as well as the existing residential density of the site. Perhaps some day the site will again give rise to a building. Mean time, the next door neighbor stands as a reborn twin separated at death.

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