Central West End Local Historic District North St. Louis Preservation Board South St. Louis

Chairman Callow, Boring Buildings and a Denied Demolition Permit

by Michael R. Allen

At its Monday meeting, the Preservation Board elected a new chairperson: Richard Callow, the public relations consultant who edits Mayor Slay’s campaign website. New board member David Richardson nominated Callow after Melanie Fathman nominated architect Anthony Robinson, a reasonable voice who would have done well in the position. Callow received the votes of Richardson, Luis Porello, Mary “One” Johnson (who presided over the vote rather clumsily), John Burse and new member Michael Killeen. Robinson received Fathman’s vote, and the nominated parties abstained. Mary Johnson was the only nominee for vice chairperson, although she so quickly called the vote after her own nomination was seconded that observers at the crowded meeting wondered if there was a chance for another nomination.

Callow demonstrated the tenor of his chairmanship by conducting the meeting much more efficiently than usual, although hopefully his motivation is to respect people’s time and not to glide over potential controversy. His customary pointed questions certainly enhance his chairmanship and give good direction to debate often marred by divergence and anecdote.

Is Callow’s election a political move or a pragmatic one? While the Preservation Board’s decisions can be overturned by less democratic bodies like the Planning Commission, the decisions often hold sway public perception of urban design and preservation issues. The approval of a plan or demolition permit by the Preservation Board can give proponents great backup for painting opponents as unreasonable. Time will tell what game, if any, is being played here.

One wonders if Mayor Slay will again write about the Preservation Board in his blog, given the new circumstances.

The Board unanimously granted preliminary approval to a bad new development project that would demolish the South Grand YMCA for a stale, wide block of Chicago-style tedium. Claire Nowak-Boyd registered an objection.

Another unanimous vote included final approval of the condominium building at Euclid and Lindell proposed by Opus Development, which although improved in design has a few problems with the scale of its base along Euclid and with the unmitigated expanse of its shaft. Alderwoman Lyda Krewson and politico Lou Hamilton were in attendance, presumably to monitor this vote.

The Preservation Board denied the Department of Public Safety’s request to demolish the house at 5309 Cabanne. The denial seems superfluous given the approval of demolition of the YMCA Building, which seems better posed to find reuse in the near future than the house. Also, of course, denial of the permit will not stop water, wind and fire from taking their toll. However, I am glad that the Board and Cultural Resources Office staff still regard the integrity of Visitation Park as an important thing to preserve. That neighborhood stands to benefit from the creep of the Delmar Loop’s success.