by Michael R. Allen
In the United States, historic preservation almost always is a function of property ownership. The agency of an owner to make choices can lead to some puzzling losses and some unlikely saves. Readers know that the historic preservation agenda of Northside Regeneration has been of great interest to this writer for years. Thus I was pleasantly surprised that the company chose to rehabilitate a pretty unremarkable — but solid and attractive — former truck transfer depot at Howard and in Old North as its field office.
The office is within the “Area A” of the larger redevelopment plan — an area that has a separate redevelopment ordinance still in effect unlike the vacated master ordinance. This area currently is mounded with a variegated array of crushed materials flowing to and from new river bridge. Here Northside Regeneration proposes a materials recycling center, and just behind the new field office is the landing of the old Illinois Terminal interurban trestle that Great Rivers Greenway will repurpose as a trail.
Will the little transfer depot — one of many built north of downtown in the 1930s in place of rows of tenement houses — survive the changes coming in this area? That is not certain, but for now Northside Regeneration has an unlikely first completed rehabilitation project.
Unfortunately, this spring, the same company took down a more substantial peer of the little building. The red-brick Woods & Down Box Company warehouses at he southwest corner of 14th and Florissant avenues were unornamented but humanely-scaled industrial buildings that stepped up northward to the historic Mullanphy Emigrant Home. These buildings long served the truck transfer warehouses by supply shipping boxes, but were built with a care and craftsmanship — and a fully urban scale — that the disruptive one-story transfer depots lacked. These buildings provided some badly-needed fabric in the architectural gulf between Old North and downtown, and had great reuse potential. Yet the owner’s officially-approved redevelopment plan entailed demolition, so they were wrecked without fanfare or protest.