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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

4608 Washington Under Demolition!

EDIT: Michael Allen has said that this is a handwreck demolition, which could take up to a month. There is still time to protest this demolition, even if it is only symbolic.

Bowood Farms has moved quickly to demolish 4608 Washington.

Word from Michael Allen is that demolition is already underway (possibly completed?).

RIP 4608 Washington Blvd. Next time, we need to act more quickly. In the meantime, contacting Bowood Farms (314-454-6868) would be a good way of letting them know this is not a sound business practice and a terrible way to sustain the Central West End. Also, make sure to let Terry Kennedy, alderman for this area, know that you support extending the Central West End local historic district onto Washington Boulevard so that this does not happen again! Why do you support this?

Because you do not want a bifurcated Central West End, where half of the neighborhood suffers from blight and vacancy, and where the other half is active, lively, urban, and diverse.

Mr. Kennedy has communicated that his constituents are not as concerned with preservation as those that often email him. He has said that the African American residents of this portion of the neighborhood believe there is a social divide between these two halves. Today, that divide has grown stronger and more visible.

Demolishing historic buildings when sound alternatives exist is senseless.

For more background on this issue, see my March Archive, which contains several posts on this matter.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Jane's Walks Coming to St. Louis (, I met Roberta Gratz!)

In just a short month (May 2-3), a handful of the nation's neighborhoods will be taking their feet and eyes to the street in honor of late urbanist Jane Jacobs. The event is called a Jane's Walk; it's a free neighborhood walking tour whose emphasis is on bringing neighborhood residents together to intimately observe the fine-grained facets of their 'hoods.

I am happy to say--with a note that this is preliminary--that St. Louis will be among the cities to participate. So far, the Soulard, Southwest Garden, St. Louis Place, Tower Grove East, and Tower Grove South neighborhoods have expressed interest and may be holding walks. They're all currently in the planning phase.

Who is responsible for this wonderful idea? The Center for the Living City, founded by Roberta Brandes Gratz, a famous preservationist and author of the work "The Living City: How America's cities are being revitalized by thinking small in a big way".

From Miscellaneous Items

(Google Books capture)

I had the pleasure of meeting her in New Orleans at a speech she gave to a preservation class at the University of New Orleans. Her speech was more of an open Q&A session in which students inquired into her interest in New Orleans and asked her opinions regarding sustainable and organic recovery. She should know; she's writing a book on New Orleans' revival post-Katrina, examining the ways in which the city's unparalleled civic culture has not only survived but thrived in the wake of devastation.

I mentioned to her that I was from St. Louis and was very passionate about it; in fact, that morning, I had just posted on the results of the Preservation Board meeting re: 4608 Washington. She seemed distressed that St. Louis would sacrifice more of its architectural heritage, mentioning that her visits to downtown St. Louis have left her frustrated at the disconnectedness and piecemeal feeling to that portion of the city.

Determined not to leave her completely down on St. Louis, we spoke after the class on the revival St. Louis has undergone and the vibrancy that exists despite all of the surgery to the built environment. I forwarded her some photos of St. Louis (again, thanks JiveCitySTL!) along with an old streetcar map of the city (she said she collected these nationwide). She seemed intrigued by the photographs and is very happy to hear that a Jane's Walk or two will likely hit the sidewalks of St. Louis in May.

If you'd like to be a part of any Jane's Walk in St. Louis (whether a walk in one of the neighborhoods mentioned above or a different one), please contact me at and I'll help point you in the right direction.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Idea: St. Louis CAN

I was just thinking the other day of the various impediments St. Louis faces when it comes to civic connectedness. There are physical and psycho-physical barriers, like wantonly destructive interstates and their autocentric interchanges, lost corner anchors at major intersections, overly large roads, street barriers, invisible barriers (north of Delmar, the "State Streets", etc.), and others. Many community networks were torn up during the modern era in St. Louis, and they either dispersed or never recovered.

Then there are cultural-historical impediments, too, like racism, classism, parochialism, etc.

The internet provides many of us today (true, though--not us all) with an opportunity to connect in a low-stress environment. There's an added bonus (sometimes a liability) of anonymity. We can't immediately typecast the blogger based on his or her skin color, sexual preference, etc., because these are not immediately obvious. Not even gender is known, sometimes (my apparently sexist mind assumed Toby of B.E.L.T. was male until much too recently considering how long I've perused that blog!).

This led me to an idea. We have already seen activism arise over various St. Louis bloggers' laborious work and advocacy. Steve Patterson's Urban Review has us all squinting at developers' renderings, critiquing a lack of pedestrian-friendliness and a sufficient contextual level of urbanism. Michael Allen's Ecology of Absence has introduced many St. Louisans to the notion that the blueprints for progress lie in retaining connections to our storied past.

But even these blogs are limited to an audience that returns to them for, on some levels, "entertainment", if not education. All blogs with a particular vision must limit themselves to their arena of coverage that is self-assigned.

This got me wondering if St. Louis needs a "Civic Action Network"--the St. Louis CAN.

This would be a website, with a forum, blog, blog roll, and host of links that connected people to various events going on in St. Louis. The purpose would be to highlight those that connect St. Louisans to the wider city and to their constituent neighborhood as well. This would include (in no particular order):

-neighborhood meetings
-happy hours
-protests and other civic activity (such as the newly formed City Affair group's meetings)
-house and garden tours
-real estate open houses
-new neighborhood business openings
-movies in the park, movie screenings, etc.
-farmers' markets
-speaker series and other academic events
-political forums and other discussions of politics (think, for example, the Royale's events)
-art markets
-community yard sales
-and on, and on...

Such a website could be a "one-stop" shop for events going on in St. Louis, with an eye to those that build "social capital" and enhance civic connectivity.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Notes from Soulard

1) The "Charleston-Style" House at 909 Geyer.

From Soulard

See it, front and center? No, the side wall has not collapsed on this stately Soulard rowhouse. Rather, it's adopted a style known better in Charleston, South Carolina than in St. Louis. If that picture's too small for you, click here.

Charleston has a unique building type that often includes, on either side of the structure, a screened porch on the first floor and a full gallery running the length of the building on the second (and possibly third) floor, creating the effect of a wider house. While in Charleston, this meant better air circulation in a sticky climate, who knows what inspired the builder of this home to emulate such a localized style? Perhaps a native South Carolinian?

Here is an example of the Charleston variety.:

So it's not an exact match, but you can see the inspiration, right?

2) On that same block (900 Geyer), there are parking lots at both ends, disrupting an otherwise very intact historic fabric. These must be built on! And when they are, how about a creative, contemporary take on the smart, clean Federal style so present throughout the neighborhood?

See for yourself:

From Soulard

3) The old Carnegie Library will have a tenant once more! It's a nightclub called, well, the Library. While it's becoming cliche to renovate old institutional buildings into posh rock joints, it will be nice to see the old Lafayette Avenue library in action again. This is good news, overall. Here's to hoping it doesn't mysteriously shutter as did the Lucas Schoolhouse...

Photo courtesy of the Riverfront Times' A-Z Blog.

For those that haven't read Eric Sandweiss's "St. Louis: The Evolution of an American Urban Landscape", the construction of the Carnegie Library was a strategy by the City Beautiful elite downtown politicians to try to forge a unified civic identity out of a city with myriad immigrant groups. Soulard was a so-called "fenced off corner"--a largely autonomous, foreign-born pocket of the city that felt little connection to City Hall at the turn of the century. So, what to do? Well, tear down a block of the immigrant city, make it into a park, and flank it with a grandiose and oh-so-American and in-vogue building style that those foreigners would simply have to proudly rest their fists on their hips and exclaim, "This is St. Louis, and I'm a part of it!"

Future post: Soulard alleys. They're laden with character and provided a secret window into this old city that was so unfettered and therefore feared by the aforementioned City Beautiful politicians.

Lots Going on in St. Louis...

First, a tour of the North Riverfront!

Join us for a walk...

Walking Tour of the North Riverfront Industrial District

Saturday, March 28 at 1:30 p.m.
North Riverfront Trail Parking Lot, Lewis at Biddle Street

Lynn Josse, author of the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the district and Michael Allen will lead a guided tour of the industrial world of the north riverfront. See the St. Louis Cold Storage warehouse, the still-operating Ashley Street Power House, a charming former bath house renovated using green technology, the birthplace of graniteware and other sites.

We will conclude by going inside of the Belcher Bath House, rehabbed by the William A. Kerr Foundation to platinum LEED certification!

Tour is approximately 90 minutes, reservation required.

Please call 314-421-6474. Spaces are filling up quickly.

Next item is:

From Miscellaneous Items

Landmarks Association of St. Louis presents Jesse Irwin, The Monads, and TheRed-Headed Strangers in concert to benefit the Alliance to Save Cleveland High on Friday, April 3rd. Doors open at 9pm at The Wedge, 442 Bates at Virginia. $7 cover. Located just off Grand Boulevard at 4352 Louisiana Avenue, Cleveland opened in 1915 and served the Dutchtown neighborhood for over ninety years before being shuttered by the St. Louis Public Schools in 2007. All proceeds from the show will go to the Alliance to support its efforts to reopen this invaluable neighborhood resource as a school once more. Landmarks is particularly excited to be holding this event at The Wedge, Carondelet's newest restaurant and music venue and part of the Grand-Bates Suburb Historic District which is headed for the National Register. Join us for a night of great music to support our city's historic architecture and the people and institutions which bring it alive!

Lastly, don't forget the Big Big Tour this Sunday! It's one giant urban open house, with properties splayed all across the city. Don't let the recession scare you away--it's a buyer's market, after all.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Celebrate Benton Park and Defend the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits All at Once!

I received the following from Benton Park resident Lysa Young-Bates. It's tomorrow, so take note! The South Side Consumer Dairy is one of my favorite rehabs in the entire city; it's a great note to start off with defending the value (and the necessity) of Missouri's generous historic tax credit program.

Photo Courtesy of Millennium Restoration

Very short notice, but your [Benton Park neighbors] are hosting an event tomorrow at 2919 & 2921 Salena, celebrating a massive revitalization project that was accomplished with historic tax credits. The event includes a documentary viewing of BP's South Side Consumer Dairy — including historic footage, interviews with individuals who once worked in the dairy, and information on the combined efforts and shared vision of multiple organizations to see the property converted from a neighborhood eyesore to award-winning residential housing.

Thursday, March 26 2009
5:30 to 7:00 pm

- documentary viewing starts at 6:00 at 2919 Salena
- wine reception & light refreshments at 2921 Salena

The event has been organized by the Community Development Administration (CDA), City of St Louis, STL-TV 10, Benton Park Community Housing Corporation, Benton Park Neighborhood Association, and Millennium Restoration.

We'd love to see a strong showing in support of our tax credit program!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Preservation Board Determines No Jurisdiction Over 4608 Washington; Building Division Will Likely Allow Demolition

At yesterday's Preservation Board meeting, it was determined that the Board had no jurisdiction over 4608 Washington, which is neither in a local nor a National Register historic district.

Therefore, like any other demolition permit, it will likely be processed through the Building Division and demolished as soon as the owner, Bowood Farms, wishes.

Now is the time to act to save this building! Central West End's northern fringes must not succumb to the same empty, piecemeal-demolished fate of portions of Delmar, a block north.

First, contact Bowood Farms to let them know you oppose this demolition. Call them at 314-454-6868.

Second, contact Alderman Terry Kennedy by email or by phone to let him know that this demolition is nonsensical; several vacant lots that Bowood Farms already owns could fit an open storage lot. Their success as a business is clearly not dependent on establishing a storage lot contiguous to their property.

Third, contact me at to start a group to oppose this demolition! We need to be quick, of course, because this building, built in 1900, will not live to see its 110th birthday!

More details to come.

From Miscellaneous Items

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cornerstones Project - New Orleans

The Cornerstones Project in New Orleans is another innovative, civic-boosting, history and heritage honoring pioneering project of the citizens of New Orleans.

It's essentially a "National Register of Historic Places" with a couple major differences. One, this Registry covers sites of cultural importance--community cornerstones--that are uniquely meaningful to life in New Orleans. And two, any citizen can nominate a site with relative ease.

Here is a short description from the site:

Generally in New Orleans, places have been designated as important landmarks based on their architectural significance or their role in official histories. We hope our featured cornerstones help you consider other ways spaces are meaningful to our communities, such as adding playful design and color to our streets, grounding cultural traditions, storing local histories, or offering a sense of neighborhood belonging.

Once someone nominates a site, if it's accepted, it appears on this sleek-looking city map:

From Miscellaneous Items

And here is a capture of what a particular feature of the Registry looks like. It's the Sound Cafe, where I discovered this project. Outside of the registered place, there is a cardboard sign standing to honor the place and tell of the project's intent.

From Miscellaneous Items

New Orleans' Tulane University assists in maintaining the site and adding nominated places to the Registry.

To me, this sounds like an excellent project for any willing St. Louis University urban affairs undergrads or any Urban Planning and Real Estate Development Master's Students.

Why? It celebrates the history and culture of a place that only a local would know and allows that place to be recognized for its contribution to the local scene. It bolsters small business, is potentially good for tourism and general civic image, and can foster the idea of a connected, holistic St. Louis.

I can think of several sites that would deserve recognition in St. Louis:

Crown Candy Kitchen - An Old North St. Louis mainstay that has remained open despite radical (and ongoing) neighborhood transformation throughout its nearly 100 year life span. Lots of other businesses deserve recognition for their dedication to their respective neighborhoods considering the turbulent change that St. Louis has undergone: Dad's Cookies in Dutchtown; the Carondelet Bakery in the Ivory Triangle; the South Public Market in the Patch; Hanneke Hardware on the Hill; and so many others.

Mokabe's - A gay community advocate and landmark.

The Royale - An unabashed St. Louis booster opens a bar that's a practical 3-D love letter to the city and is also the quintessential South Side hipster hangout.

Courtesy Diner - Right across the street, Courtesy is a place where everyone has a story. Staring across the street to the Royale, it is almost a statement on St. Louis's growth patterns. Itself an autocentric mid-century diner, and the Royale a turn of the century corner bar, their incongruity is a strange and somewhat uniquely St. Louis delight. Ditto for Uncle Bill's, by the way.

Plus there are those ineffable landmarks like the Bevo Mill and the Water Towers that probably need some registering as well.

And on, and on, and on. Anyone wanting to get this program started in St. Louis?

Page-Style Housing

Page Boulevard seems to have its own aesthetic: the Victorian-esque bay window attached to the otherwise modest four-bay, two-story red brick vernacular St. Louis home. It works quite well:

From Miscellaneous Items

Whenever you find one, it almost invariably is located somewhere near Page.

For more photography of St. Louis's inimitable architecture, please see JiveCitySTL's two incomparable photo threads (Skyscraperpage) of the city's built environment here and here. Thanks Jive!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cultural Resources Offices Recommends Approval of Demolition of 4608 Washington

...subject to two conditions (do they both need to be met, or either one?)

The staff recommends that the Board approve the proposed demolition, pending:
1. a favorable recommendation by the MO SHPO [State Historic Preservation Office] for the Certification of the smaller Central West End District Extension, which excludes Washington Avenue.

2. Bowood Farms, Inc. should commit to the development of a Land Use Plan for its
land holdings and proposed site development with the City of St. Louis Planning and Urban Design Agency. In this way, the City and its Agencies could assist with potential Zoning, design review, and proposed demolition, among other considerations, so that the entire development can be managed appropriately from a land use aspect.

Check out the PDF of the CRO Agenda Item here. It includes a fuller comment by the CRO Staff as to why they made these recommendations. Click here to see my pictures of the property located at 4608 Washington.

I honestly don't understand these provisos. The first sends the message that the CRO agrees Washington Boulevard (4500 and 4600 blocks) is not worthy enough to join the Central West End Certified Local Historic District. Why didn't the CRO state it thus: "approval only if the Missouri SHPO rejects staff recommendation that Washington Boulevard be added to the CWE Local Historic District..." Does that sound too punitive towards the applicant? Maybe.

The second one is much less sensible to me. Who cares if Bowood develops a land use plan for their holdings if they set this terrible precedent to begin with? You can't recommend a good plan after approving a bad planning course, in my opinion. Demolishing a sound, attractive structure a stone's throw from new investment (a couple new homes have gone up nearby, which you'll see when you read the PDF) is a bad plan, especially when the replacement is an open storage lot. Opportunities for this open storage lot exist all around the site. The PDF includes a map of Bowood Farms' land holdings all around its business. The CRO acknowledges that other lots exist for this development.

While both conditions would be hard to meet, and their imposition almost seems like a roundabout way of saying "no" to the demolition, it still appears to me to set the stage for the Preservation Board to simply approve the demo minus the recommendations set forth by the CRO staff during the meeting tomorrow afternoon.

I hope I am wrong. Thanks to Bowood Farms, in large part, this block could be a real catalyst to connecting the disparate and disconnected revitalized "zones" of St. Louis's central corridor: Downtown, Midtown, and the Central West End (including Gaslight Square). A demolition will not serve this purpose.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Too Important

Missouri's State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit is too important to be capped and eventually phased out. Its availability and liberal application all across the state has allowed the state of Missouri something it doesn't often get to claim: an accolade. Yes, Missouri's historic rehab tax credit has allowed it to brag about being #1 in the country for preservation credits. Missouri is finally #1 for something positive, right?

Well, a bunch of conservative politicans opposed on principle to tax credits has taken to dismantling Missouri's most successful economic development program in decades. These politicians would rather fuel the flames of urban resentment across the state than admit to the fact that dozens of counties and municipalities across the state have benefited from the tax credit. Don't believe me that it's a clear statement against Missouri's often maligned cities?

Read this piece of the proposed legislation:

The department of economic development is required to limit tax credit authorizations for St. Louis and Jackson Counties, and the City of St. Louis to the percentage of each fiscal year's allocation that each such city or county bears to the state's population.

The wording makes clear that outstate politicians are angry that the cities have so benefited from this tax credit. Their proposed legislation would limit the tax credit to 50 million dollars annually, and to phase the credit out by June 30, 2011.

Several urbanists are getting together to protest this proposed amendment to this highly successful tax credit on the steps of the state capitol in Jefferson City. Read more about that event over at Vanishing STL--and please, if you can, attend. This tax credit is too important to the future of St. Louis and the economy of the state as a whole.

If you need some numbers and some evidence of the tax credit's effect on St. Louis specifically, the Post-Dispatch Editorial Board has written an excellent piece on the need to wage an all out war to save the tax credit. Cliche as it may be, St. Louis's future may depend on it.

The P-D is correct; it is definitely time to mobilize.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pictures of 4608 Washington

Thanks go to my sister, Kelsey, who works at Cafe Eau in the Chase Park Plaza for running up to 4608 Washington to snap a couple pictures yesterday. This is the structure to be demolished by Bowood Farms if their request is approved by the Preservation Board on Monday.

From Miscellaneous Items

From Miscellaneous Items

From Miscellaneous Items

The bones look solid. The blockface would surely suffer from this loss.

Bowood Beware?

I received this comment by email re: Bowood Farms' proposed demolition of 4608 Washington (which I'm keeping anonymous, by the way).

Quick note: If Bowood tears down the building at 4608 Washington, I will no longer shop there, nor will I return to eat at Cafe Osage. Perhaps there are more than a few like-minded people. I suggest an on-line petition or an email chain letter as a first step.

More and more St. Louisans are feeling connected to the city as a whole; we want and deserve that holistic city.

Beautiful Marine Villa Bookends

View Larger Map

I had never been down this block where these three beautiful structures sit cheek to jowl. Check them out yourself on the 1900 block of President Street, two blocks south of Cherokee near the venerable Off Broadway.

Though it's technically not an "architectural ensemble" (matching buildings on each side), the visual effect is similar and not often seen in St. Louis

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ballpark Boondoggle

From Miscellaneous Items

By now, all of St. Louis is abuzz with the news that our once lofty Ballpark Village will be, by the time of the All Star Game, a softball field and accompanying parking lot.

The parking lot announcement is particularly troubling, because, in my opinion, nothing could make a sports stadium seem more lifeless than to be surrounded by parking garage monstrosities on most sides--and a surface lot.

When I say nothing is worse, I mean nothing. Literally, leaving it is a grassy lot would have been better.

Pull in a giant T.V. screen, a makeshift stage and seating area; have performances and live media events atop the grass. That's a temporary solution. A parking lot sounds scarily permanent.

The moment the pavement hits the ground for that parking lot, we will be stuck with it for three years minimum; perhaps much, much longer. That is a risk we can't afford to take in downtown St. Louis.

Read apt commentaries by Downtown St. Louis Business blog here and Random Talk on Urban Affairs (RTUA) here.

It is past time to subdivide the land and sell it to smaller developers. It's perhaps the one area in St. Louis that could thumb its nose at the daunting recession we're in. And I value RTUA's Doug's historic preservation take highly; when we demolish historic landmarks, we deserve better than a parking lot and softball field. There should be measures in place to ensure that this site is developed on within a set amount of years or it will be handed over to the city.

EDIT: Michael Allen's Ballpark Farms is definitely worth a look as well!

Correction: Bowood to Demolish 4608 Washington for Open Storage, Not a Parking Lot

It turns out that Bowood is not actually seeking to develop a parking lot on the site of 4608 Washington as previously reported.

It's to be an open storage lot.

Much better, huh?

Most of the earlier points therefore still stand. This structure could be and should be reused. Why doesn't Bowood use the adjacent lots that are already cleared? What are the plans for those?

Sorry for the confusion.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bowood Farms to Press for Demolition of 4608 Washington...for a Parking Lot

(Please note that, as of March 18, 2009, it has been reported that Bowood Farms intends to use this site as open storage, not a parking lot. Read the relevant update here.)

As reported on Sunday, Bowood Farms intends to demolish 4608 Washington Boulevard, a two and a half story home.

What is the intended replacement: a parking lot.

The Cultural Resources Office will apparently recommend denial of a demolition permit for such a use.

Bowood Farms' website challenges its visitors with this when they first enter the site:

Enter our plant filled garden oasis and you will forget that you are in the urban Central West End of St. Louis, Missouri.

How true that statement is when a neighborhood business proves itself a decidedly anti-urban neighbor with such an action! Don't get me wrong. Bowood deserves much credit for rehabilitating their old auto repair warehouse into a gem of a business in an overlooked portion of the Central West End. But this proposed demolition is absurd.

Bowood likely has a full parking supply from on-street parking alone. The case for a parking lot is weak, in my opinion (zoning may have something else to say...). Even if a parking lot is strongly desired, it should not go atop a lovely home that could be put to better use.

I wrote the following on the Bowood Farms community bulletin board, only to see it removed within hours:

Even as a new member of the Central West End community, Bowood Farms has already established itself as a fixture of the neighborhood. The once neglected northern portion of the Central West End is now being seen as an area laden with potential for redevelopment.

I was shocked, therefore, to hear that Bowood intends to wreck the gorgeous 2 1/2 story home at 4608 Washington. Nothing could be more destructive and damaging to that historic block (which has suffered too much already over the years). Further, this is a waste of that inimitable structure's embedded energy; its innards will end up in a landfill. Somehow, a business that encourages ecology of any kind demolishing a perfectly fine building seems contradictory.

Bowood: I ask you to withdraw your demolition permit if you wish to be a better community steward. Too many vacant lots exist already, and the loss of this home for that block might just be a death knell to its realization as a connected and vital piece of the Central West End.

This demolition must not be allowed. The folks who are against the demolition of the San Luis Apartments on Lindell for a surface lot should take note. Even though 4608 Washington is just one, somewhat small building in comparison, the horribly anti-urban sentiments of the plan are very similar.

1. A perfectly re-usable building will be felled;

2. The site of the demolished building will become a (presumably) unsightly parking lot;

3. Central West End's urbanity and architectural heritage will suffer.

Please do what you can to protest this demolition. The first step would be to call/email 18th Ward Alderman Terry Kennedy. Let him know this plan is unacceptable for an urban, diverse, vibrant neighborhood. Washington Boulevard has been neglected for far too long, and this plan only further erodes its potential. You could also call Bowood Farms itself and gently let them know you think they are making a mistake. Being confrontational would help no one, though, so keep that in mind.

The next step, and the most important one, would be to show up at the Preservation Board meeting to testify against the demolition. The next meeting is on Monday, March 23, 2009 at 4:00 p.m. The location is 1015 Locust, Suite 1200.

It is important to protect landmarks both big and small in neighborhoods that wish to remain urban, livable environments.

GuardFrog keeps watch over scared dormer in Fox Park

From Miscellaneous Items

On Geyer. February 14, 2009.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Preservation Board will review demolition of Central West End mansion

This month's agenda includes a proposed demolition of a two and half story structure at 4608 Washington Boulevard in the northern portion of the Central West End.

With no Google StreetView on this block, the best I can offer is this Microsoft Live view:

From Preservation Board

The applicant is Bowood Farms, a neighboring business on Olive who is also constructing a greenhouse (at 4610 Olive) that appears on the Board agenda as well. Bowood Farms seems a natural neighborhood anchor and a potential catalyst for redevelopment of a long overlooked area of the Central West End. It is upsetting to think that they'd tear down an attractive mansion. I admit I do not know why they are pressing for demolition of the structure yet since the Cultural Resources Office has not yet put the individual agenda items online as of this time. Still, this important structure on a sensitive block is one to watch as the March 23 meeting draws nearer.

Is it significantly deteriorated? Is it the unhappy victim of parking pressures? Is it the unlikely site of an urban farm?

Whatever the answer, something is not right. Bowood Farms already owns two vacant lots on Washington Boulevard on the opposite side of the street--directly across from the proposed demolition (at 4605 and 4611 Washington Blvd.). In addition, Washington Boulevard, starting from Jefferson all the way down to Euclid, has seen far too much demolition for such a grandly constructed and well located street. This means there already exists a presence of vacant lots that might better serve whatever is the purpose of Bowood Farm's proposed demo at 4608 Washington.

It's also worth noting that the 4600 block of Washington Boulevard is conspicuously absent from the local historic district of the Central West End, falling short by one block.

I will follow up on this proposed demolition (including, with any luck, a better and more current photo of the site). I have already called Bowood Farms and did not receive an answer as to what the plans for the site were. For now, I am upset and dismayed that a welcome neighborhood newcomer like Bowood might demolish yet another wholly fine and reusable mansion in the Central West End. Washington Boulevard has lost too many already (see here and here).

Bye bye, Harlem-Baden?

A sort of low key feature of the St. Louis stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or ARRA) was the request for funding of the Harlem-Baden Stormwater Detention Basin.

Where, and what, is Harlem-Baden?

It's a secondary watershed--a drainage basin that empties a portion of north St. Louis city and county. Harlem and Baden are actually two separate secondary watersheds that are located in the larger Bissell Point Watershed, shown on the map below.

From Miscellaneous Items

The Harlem and Baden secondary watersheds are located in north St. Louis city and county, in the center-right of the map.

A low point in the watershed is located near Natural Bridge and Clara Avenue, near the city limits on the northwest. The area is subject to frequent flooding and causes regular damage to residential units (mostly in basements). According to this document, the Board of Freeholders, founders and organizers of the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) in the early 1950s, mentioned this problem area as a reason that the City and County needed to work together to handle sewage and flooding. Two children had recently died in a severe flood in the Harlem-Baden area, which is actually today's Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood.

From Miscellaneous Items

To make matters worse, this area is a chief culprit for combined sewer overflows (CSOs), which introduces raw sewage into the Mississippi, where this sub-basin ultimately drains.

The stimulus package request, linked here, suggests that most or all of the housing in the area outlined above will be demolished (am I right?). This includes some attractive four-families and a series of modest, modern-style homes. Building conditions vary. Check out these St. Louis Community Information Network photos of homes in the area:

From Miscellaneous Items

From Miscellaneous Items

From Miscellaneous Items

Certainly no landmarks are present here, but, at minimum, functional, usable urban buildings exist nonetheless. Here's an aerial overview (Maps.Live's Bird's Eye View):

From Miscellaneous Items

The benefits of the project seem clear; the city summarizes them below:

• Surface and basement flooding in areas of the City and County where stormwa-
ter is directed into the new basin will be reduced.

• Deteriorated and vacant properties in the Wells Goodfellow neighborhood will be
replaced with an attractive amenity.

• Combined sewer overflows downstream from the new basin will be reduced.

• Values of remaining affected properties will improve due to removal of problem
and nuisance properties and elimination of flooding hazards.

• New development in the area will be possible without extraordinary costs associated measures to hazards on an individual property basis or danger of flooding
in the new development.

Still, I ask, is demolition necessary? What, exactly, will be constructed? Some of the city's most important contributors to the much-spoken legacy of St. Louis as one of America's greatest, largest, busiest cities are its four families residential structures. These dense living arrangements once communicated smart and affordable living, often near or adjacent to convenient transit. Now, in our efforts to stabilize neighborhoods, they seem condemned outright. Certainly, a lot of this sentiment is justified in the face of absentee landlords and their deferred maintenance. But their importance to the city's built heritage and their loss due to such a bias is palpable.

Forgive me--since this project seems to strive for a great public benefit in flood control and urban runoff mitigation--but I can't help but react with sadness when chunks of neighborhoods disappear from the landscape, no matter the reason.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pirated St. Louis Bricks: Exhibit A

A long time ago, I wrote a piece on stumbling across some bricks with "ST. LOUIS" on them. They were located in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans. At the time, I was camera-less.

Well, I snapped a photograph of one of the bricks. It dawns on me now, of course, that this might simply be a legitimate brickmaker and not evidence of pirated bricks after all. But, a promise is a promise, so here's the offending (?) brick:

From Miscellaneous Items

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dick Gregory Place in the Ville to Receive Emergency Surgery

According to this month's Preservation Board Agenda (which is having a special meeting tonight), the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance (RHCDA) is tackling a redevelopment of Dick Gregory Place in the Ville.

Dick Gregory Place, a National Register District ("Wagoner Place Historic District"), is in an extremely delicate situation, with several buildings at the point of ruins. Nevertheless, RHCDA has assigned itself the daunting task of rescuing 15 of the grand street's suffering structures! They're also constructing two new homes on vacant lots. One building, a small commercial addition to a beautiful Romanesque commercial building at Martin Luther King and Marcus, is slated to be demolished.

All pictures below are screen captures from the linked PDF document.

From Dick Gregory Pl

From Dick Gregory Pl

From Dick Gregory Pl

From Dick Gregory Pl

It seems ironic to me that, in a neighborhood plagued with vacancies, this wonderful project that will rescue an extremely fragile historic district must include a demolition--for a parking lot, of all things. And it's difficult to accept the whole "well, it's a great bargain" argument. But, even accepting this as a negative to the project, the whole undertaking is quite impressive and is exciting for a neighborhood inured to demolition and neglect.

With the Ville being one of St. Louis's most culturally significant neighborhoods, and with Dick Gregory Place a highly significant symbol of housing integration within it, the RHCDA must be commended for this project. I especially love how the commercial building on MLK and Marcus is to be restored. Setting this precedent could help to inspire imitators all along the neglected, once busy commercial row.

From Dick Gregory Pl

Please explore the Cultural Resources Agenda item for more information.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jefferson Expansion National Memorial General Management Plan

I received an email request from the National Park Service to post this video to the blog. I'm happy to oblige. You'll notice that this blog has been mum on the issue; others, including STL Rising and Ecology of Absence, have been more proactive and involved. I, like you, have deferred to them for information.

The Arch and adjacent grounds are the most iconic features of the St. Louis region. Plans to alter the monument and its historic site plan deserve careful thought, attention, and commenting. The public comment period for the Archgrounds redevelopment is coming to an end, so please, heed the advice of the video and let your opinions be known.

Click here for the plan (including the alternatives). Click here to submit comments.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Will you take a Jane's Walk through St. Louis?

WHEN: May 2-3, 2009
WHAT: (See below)

What's a Jane's Walk?

Jane’s Walk is a series of free neighborhood walking tours that helps put people in touch with their environment and with each other, by bridging social and geographic gaps and creating a space for cities to discover themselves.

Jane’s Walk honors the legacy and ideas of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning. Jane’s Walk helps knit people together into a strong and resourceful community, instilling belonging and encouraging civic leadership. Jane's Walk raises urban literacy by combining the simple act of walking with personal observations, urban history, planning, design and civic engagement. They help knit people together into a strong, connected and resourceful community.

Several cities across the country are scheduled to participate this year: Boston, Chicago, New York, Ogden, Salt Lake City, Washington D.C., Anchorage, and, yes, New Orleans (which I'm thrilled to say I've been asked to help out in).

The idea is that local residents would lead a tour of their own neighborhoods on foot to showcase one or more of many things: quality of life issues faced by the neighborhood and how they could be improved; architecture, history, and heritage; a vibrant business district; sites of cultural import; spots that have inspired civic action (think, for instance, the San Luis!).

The ultimate goal is to get people to discuss the potential of urban neighborhoods (examining both their assets and their shortcomings) while observing the neighborhoods through the best vehicle of all: your two feet (or wheelchair wheels, for some). Walking through the neighborhoods instead of driving or biking is more intimate, allows people to dwell on sites that interest them, and, of course, allows for the discovery of hidden, fine-grained urbanism that Ms. Jacobs so enjoyed!

If anyone would like to organize this event in St. Louis, I would love to help out in any long-distance way I can! I'll help write brochures and help plot the routes.

Here is just one example:

Old Frenchtown St. Louis: This tour would allow the observer to walk through some of St. Louis's best urban neighborhoods and some of its worst urban planning blunders, and everything in between. The tour could start at the corner of Missouri and Park in Lafayette Square, showcasing the Victorian splendor of the Painted Ladies along the park (and discuss that the neighborhood nearly fell victim to an urban renewal project--Lafayette Park itself almost became a truck stop. No lie!). It could continue down Park through the business district and talk about recent revitalization. Historic preservation could be a big focus here. Discussions could take place on how to appropriately design new construction/infill for well-established, high-integrity historic districts.

Keep walking east on Park through the new King Louis Square development. Talk about the ravaging of the near South Side (Frenchtown) for mid rise public housing projects in the modern era (Darst Webbe, chiefly). Speak about the planning process for the new development and whether or not it's a fitting replacement. Proceed east along Park until you arrive at South 9th. Walk the tree-shaded blocks of the LaSalle Park neighborhood before circling back via the pedestrian pathway on 10th Street. This would be an appopriate time to talk about the Purina complex and urban renewal efforts in LaSalle Park.

Keep south on 10th until the pedestrian bridge over I-55. Discuss the interstate's effect on Frenchtown.

Cross the pedestrian bridge (it's still open, right?) and end up on Ninth Street in Soulard. Walk south to (and through) the Soulard Market. From here, it's kind of open--many Soulard blocks would be worth a walk to show off old Frenchtown. The tour should eventually make its way back to Lafayette Street and proceed west towards Tucker. The last leg before returning to Lafayette Park (this time, walk through the park!) would be Bohemian Hill. Discuss the controversy of this 21st century renewal project and examine the remaining buildings.

There you have it? What do you think?

I'd love to help develop brochures for these "walks". Another walk possibility, in conjunction with Landmarks Association's Architecture St. Louis exhibit, would be Lewis Place, which would be a much shorter walk but no less interesting.

Old North St. Louis and Cherokee Street walks seem inevitable, too. Again, contact me and I will begin writing/planning!

For more information, please visit the website and let me know ASAP if you're interested!

Friday, March 6, 2009

West End Eclectic

From Miscellaneous Items

Photo by me, February 13, 2009.

I know this was in the general West End/Hamilton Heights neighborhood, but I can't remember where I took it. Oops. I need one of those cameras that automatically geocodes the location of the photo upon its taking.

Regardless, this spacious multi-skinned-but-predominantly-frame Queen Anne is rare for the City of St. Louis. It's on a larger-than-usual lot, is perched on a hill, is not red or buff brick, and, well, is a Queen Anne. Though several St. Louis Foursquare style structures adopt minimal Queen Anne detailing (or, simply, the bay windows often associated with Queen Anne), there are few uncontested high-style examples within City limits. Clifton Heights on the South Side features a couple of exceptions.

Anyhow, it's an eye-catching home and a contributor to the North Side's architectural diversity.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lose an Institution, (Re)Gain an Institution

Sadly, Hamilton Jewelers downtown--in business for 72 years--will be closing.

If you're depressed, take in the joy of a local restaurant classic's return. That's right. Sauce Magazine's "Scoop" blog reports that Chuy Arzola's, AKA Chuy's, will be reopening.

No, not in Dogtown, but in Midtown--in the space that Joe Boccardi's will soon be vacating inside the Coronado.

-1 for Downtown
+1 for Midtown
? for Dogtown

Old Chuy's...

Meet New Chuy's!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Battle of the Banners: Benton Park vs. Marine Villa

Both Benton Park and Marine Villa have recently adopted new banners/logos. The two neighborhoods stare across Cherokee Street at one another--and now their rebranding efforts go head to head as well.

Which do you prefer: Benton Park's clean, classic banner utilizing the colors of the St. Louis flag or Marine Villa's stylized crest emblazoned with the landmark Lemp Brewery?

From Miscellaneous Items


From Miscellaneous Items

You decide.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Beauty in Brutalism

I saw the Wall Street Journal article "The Beauty in Brutalism, Restored and Updated" linked on Planetizen. It's a great read.

I particularly love how Ada Louise Huxtable sets up the history of recent-past preservation so eloquently and yet so concisely:

For a maverick movement begun by little old ladies in tennis shoes fighting bulldozers in the urban renewal demolition wars of the 1960s, historic preservation has achieved some astounding successes, from the passage of landmarks preservation laws and the establishment of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to the recognition, restoration and reuse of an impressive part of this country's architectural heritage. Guidelines have been established for a wide range of buildings, from the monumental to the vernacular -- repair first, restore second, rebuild last; make clear what is new or added, and honor the original materials and construction.

But when the vernacular expanded to the popular and kitsch joined high art in the pantheon of taste, nothing, potentially, was unworthy of serious consideration and a good argument could be made for almost any building that had survived. The new cultural ideals were inclusive and pluralistic. Objective scholarship was sidelined for subjective, emotional associations fueled by partisan passions. Familiar standards simply fell apart, and so did the comfortable operating consensus of the preservation movement.

It was at this moment of disequilibrium that modernist architecture came under attack, its aging landmarks threatened with destruction. These buildings broke with every convention of design and construction, but beyond disagreements about criteria, there were the failed experimental technologies of a now historic avant-garde. Preservationists were faced with a whole new set of problems.

Even so, amidst all the attempts to vilify Brutalism, perhaps modernism's most unapologetic and brash expression, Yale University has restored a brutalist gem, Paul Rudolph's Art and Architecture Building.

Huxtable goes on to attack Boston for its well-publicized hatred of its brutalist City Hall. Boston is not alone in its disdain for the 1969 put it at the top of the list of the "World's Top 10 Ugliest Buildings and Monuments".

Huxtable's piece is a great defense of brutalism, and a call to re-examine our attitudes toward modern buildings. Surprisingly, she does not advocate for a full restoration of the building as it once was in the case of these experimental designs. As she notes in her first couple paragraphs, preserving modernism changes the whole game of preservation. The whole modern movement was founded upon the unrelenting notion of progress; whatever new materials and experimental construction techniques were available were then used. No modernist looked back; that was antithetical to progress. When we, nearly half a century later, look to the re-use of these buildings, we may have to recognize a need to retool them. Huxtable, of course, says it better, and in fewer words:

Nothing is the same when you reach the 21st century. Suddenly a 20th-century heritage is in crisis and in desperate need of a revised, realistic agenda to keep its landmarks useful and alive.

As we all well know now, modernism is the current battleground for preservation. The fifty year mark that is the rule of thumb for deeming a building "historic" now puts us at 1959. The label "historic" will soon sail into the tumultuous 1960s.

Because these threatened mid-century modern buildings were so landmark for their time, and still appear unique and apart from earlier eras, their loss is particularly noticeable. This is great for efforts such as the one to save the San Luis, which is not Brutalist, of course, but is also unabashedly modern and under threat. We will regret the loss of these buildings, and they are reworkable, even if not in their original, literal, experimental sense.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Post-Dispatch and Metro

From Miscellaneous Items

The above story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is a great slap in the face to the St. Louis County voters who rejected a sales tax increase that would have bolstered a financially ailing Metro agency back in November 2008. But where was this story in November 2008, before the vote? Sure, the details of the extent of Metro's cuts were not known at the time, but this is no excuse. Most St. Louisans knew these cuts would adversely affect many people within the region--urban dwellers dependent on transit, the elderly, disabled, etc. I just wish this story were printed pre-vote.

We need proactive--not reactive--government, citizens, and, yes, media.

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