by Michael R. Allen
This view is one of mt favorites in St. Louis Place. the view west toward St. Liborius church from Florissant Avenue is framed on the north side of Monroe Street by a row of lovely brick vernacular houses. I framed this shot to exclude the more troubling context across the street: empty lots, with vinyl-clad houses to the west. However, even in a broader view the beauty of this row, shining through decay of two of the buildings, and the church overpowers the unsightly surroundings.
However, the view is a fragile thing. The three-story Italianate style corner building built in 1876, an imposing building that is one of Florissant’s last corner anchors here, has suffered intense roof damage. Three years ago, the building retained a rusty but intact standing-seem metal roof. This was perhaps the last such roof in St. Louis Place or Old North, even though the metal roofs used to be common on buildings of many roof types. Then, in July 2006, heavy winds vitually peeled the roof back and removed a lot of the sheathing. The owner, a limited liability holding company called KGA Properties LLC, draped blue tarps across the hole. The tarps themselves were destroyed in a few months, and the building’s interior remains unprotected. What damage is transpiring would probably break a heart.
What is KGA Properties? This is a north side LLC name that is not part of any blogger litany. Well, the LLC’s registered agent is Delores Gunn, director of the St. Louis County Department of Health. Redevelopment efforts are stalled.
Next door to the west, a classic side-entrance, three-bay house at 1507 Monroe Street is owned by Paul McKee’s VHS Partners. People do know that three-letter LLC. Next door to the west is an owner-occupied home; beyond that, where Monroe bends, is a double house that is privately owned. We can see what those owners want to do with their historic homes — keep them occupied and maintained. The plans of their neighboring corporations remain uncertain. I’m sure that the owners of the occupied houses sigh each time they pass by the empty buildings next door.
The near north side is full of pockets like this one, with amazing historic architecture, some abandoned, surrounded by vacant land and new buildings. It’s the urban patchwork quilt few want to mend due to the difficulty of repair. Owner occupants hang on hoping for the best, while developers might also be hanging on in a different way, waiting for a political process in which redevelopment can happen. If the homeowners and the developers are both to be happy, we need leadership that represents the best interests of the near north side and its future to open the dialogue that will lead to redevelopment. Private interests get discussed a lot when people talk about the near north side, but what about the public interest?
There is more than just the future of individual owners and buildings at stake. After all, each of the buildings in the first photograph are privately owned, but they compose a lovely urban view free and accessible to all. Each homeowner is part of a neighborhood made of many people. Step back, and there is a big picture view of the near north side. I hope that our political leaders see it.