by Michael R. Allen
On December 12, the Building Division issued a demolition permit for the distinctive four smokestacks at the former Scullin Steel works near Ellendale Avenue and the River Des Peres. While the Scullin plant is tucked away south of the St. Louis Marketplace, the stacks are visible in many directions and are prominent landmarks for those driving down Interstate 44.
The Scullin works closed in 1981, and much of the site of the plant was remade as the largely failing St. Louis Marketplace. The casting building to which the stacks are attached is still in use, but the stacks have not been used since the plant closed. However they are in sound structural condition and occupy very little of the site.
Perhaps the smokestacks seem fairly expendable. Certainly, their utility has lapsed, and their location is remote. Yet the problem here is short-changing the future. As the River Des Peres’s life evolves in the 21st century, public access and improvements of the banks seems likely. Some day there may be paths along the river in this stretch similar to those found in the southern bend. What traces of the industrial heritage of Scullin will remain to inform users of that trail of the land’s industrial history?
The city’s Preservation Board unanimously voted to uphold denial of demolition of the landmark Pevely Dairy smokestack at Grand and Chouteau, and St. Louis University (owner of the stack) agreed to preserve it. That is some public recognition of smokestacks as cultural resources that provide visual delight in the cityscape. Yet many stacks, like those at Scullin, evade such care under the city’s preservation ordinance.
Last year, the robust mid-century stack at the old Carondelet Coke works was demolished. That smokestack had some noticeable defects in its masonry, and was part of a planned site reuse that seems to be less than certain. Yet some day a South Riverfront Trail will pass directly through the site, with perhaps an interpretive sign board marking the site’s past instead of a tangible and delightful architectural link. So it shall be at Scullin as well.