by Michael R. Allen
Blame it on a bad mood at the moment, but seeing last night the Hardt Building at the northwest corner of Chippewa and Brannon bearing a huge wooden growth was quite a shock. The “growth” appears to be a one-story frame penthouse addition; a search of Geo St. Louis shows no corresponding building permits.
Here we have one of the finest examples of art deco architecture on the south side, standing in the dense and intact historic “Northampton” or Kingshighway Hills neighborhood. The Hardt Building’s stark, streamlined look is reinforced by the later, neon-robbed curved Keller Apothecary sign at the corner. Its visible addition of a third floor and its kissing cousin on Hampton (discussed by Toby Weiss here) add some intrigue; the obvious bow of the Chippewa elevation wall adds drama.
What does the addition add, besides more office space? It adds architecture at odds with the dramatic lines and parapets of the building below. It adds a visual focal point that overpowers the building below, capturing the eye and pulling it away from the bliss of jazzy polychrome masonry.
To get a better view of the addition, I headed west in the alley north of Chippewa. While the streets of this area are obviously packed with lovely brick buildings from the early-to-middle twentieth century, the alleys retain an amazing abundance of historic garages. Here we have an area west of Kingshighway and south of Arsenal more ripe for historic district status than many areas that are already listed on the National Register of Historic Places or City Landmark rosters. While a local district status is unfathomable for this area at present time, a national district would bring the tax incentives to discourage inappropriate alterations like the one rising on top of the Hardt Building.