by Michael R. Allen
On Tuesday, the St. Charles City Council voted 9-0 to declare the Lt. Robert E. Lee “boat” an official city landmark. While I am often in favor of preservation protection for structures built in the 1960s, this is one case where I have to side against landmark designation. The “boat” is actually an ersatz old-time riverboat whose wooden superstructure dates to 1969. The hull dates to the 1930s. The Lee opened as a moored restaurant on the St. Louis riverfront in 1970, but closed in 2006. The current owners wish to relocate the boat to St. Charles, where there is an ordinance barring wood multi-story construction on structures brought into the city. The landmark status trumps that ordinance.
However, the use of the landmark status here is an abuse. The council subordinated reasonable interpretation of city landmark law as well as the formal recommendation of the city planning staff against designation. Economic development should not shape preservation law. If the council needed to exempt the boat from the ordinance forbidding the Lee’s relocation to the city riverfront, its members should have used different legislation.
I wonder how many St. Charles buildings built in the 1960s have ever received landmark status.