Brick Theft Historic Preservation North St. Louis St. Louis Place

Brick Thieves Assail Presumed Legacy Property

by Michael R. Allen

Criminals can work pretty damn fast, as the condition of the McEagle Properties-owned house at 1930-6 St. Louis Avenue shows. Two weeks ago, the vacant house was sound. Last Wednesday, the side wall had started to come down at the hands of the north side vultures (see “The Precarious Condition of Two Houses on St. Louis Avenue,” (August 12, 2009). Today, almost all of the ell of the old house stood destroyed. The bricks no doubt have cycled through Pope’s or one of the other yards around 25th and University, then on to hands more legally clean of fencing stolen goods but no less complicit.

Meanwhile, McEagle has taken no visible step to safeguard the over 150 historic buildings that it owns in north St. Louis, or work with residents to report brick thieves, who prey also on other buildings. Perhaps no one has seen the activity here. After all, thieves picked apart many buildings to the south of this house, McEagle emptied the three houses to the east of this building and two of the three buildings across the street is vacant. Four years ago, the brick thieves would have been afraid to pick on this block, and now they seem to be able to rule the roost.

However, what is done is done. Complaining about the past won’t secure a future for the McEagle-owned historic buildings across north city. What will do the trick is actual preservation planning: architectural survey of St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou, listing of eligible buildings and districts, placement of the 5th and 19th wards in preservation review (solely the responsibility of the alderwomen) and strict rules about security and stabilization as part of the redevelopment ordinances facing the Board of Aldermen. If McEagle and planner Mark Johns of Civitas are serious about saving “legacy properties,” it’s time to tell us how they will do that.

The facts on one hand: Brick thieves demolishing McEagle buildings. Historic buildings deteriorating and left open to the elements. On the other: A promise. Promises don’t save historic buildings, or we’d all be rehabbers. I don’t mean to condone or chastise McEagle for the past failures, but urge the developer and city leaders to take action now as part of the negotiation. If McEagle lacks the capacity, then it should work openly with the city and other developers who can bring funds for preservation planning, stabilization and rehabilitation. We can’t save everything, and we’ve lost a lot. (We lost more in St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou before McEagle arrived, in fairness.) Yet we can take the circumstances we have and turn a developer’s promise into action that will reassure residents of north St. Louis that McEagle is as serious about the attempt as it is about the sell.