by Michael R. Allen
Here’s the lovely Romanesque Revival building at 1913 St. Louis Avenue in St. Louis Place. Built in 1892 and reasonably well-kept over the years, the building took a turn for the worse this year: foreclosure. The private owner could not keep up with payments on a Department of Housing and Urban Development-backed loan, so HUD foreclosed. The tenants moved out. The front doors were busted in. Aluminum storm windows walked off. The front gutter disappeared, pulling slate tiles with it. Interior items disappeared.
Every step of the way was painful to observe. The stately old six-flat
had all of its original parts — slate mansard roof, wooden doors and windows and tin gutters. I’m sure that the now-pillaged systems needed upgrading, but the building was almost exemplary in the level of care bestowed on it.
Now, what would have been a straightforward rehab for an investor or owner-occupant has become a complicated mess. The building is huge, damaged and located on a stretch of St. Louis Avenue that needs considerable redevelopment. Unfortunately, the house lies just north of the present Clemens House-Columbia Brewery Historic District, meaning the extensive work needed to repair the house is not automatically eligible for state and federal historic rehab tax credits. The bright side is that extending the district boundary would not be impossible, but such work easily adds $5,000 in professional fees to the cost of rehabilitation.
At this point, given the condition of the building and the credit crunch, 1913 St. Louis Avenue is a project beyond the means of small developers. HUD had it listed for sale, but the listing is now gone. I doubt that many people would have even considered it right now.
How do we safeguard this building for better economic times? There is no other building like this one in St. Louis Place, and its condition hardly merits even contemplation of demolition. Rehabilitation is the right thing to do. Who will do it?
(For more information about this block, see “Passage of a Block Face: 1900 St. Louis Avenue, North Face,” May 5, 2008.)