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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Personal Rapid Transit?

I have always thought even mass transit would turn to a more "private" experience. Check out these little personal transportation pods present at London's Heathrow Airport:

Thanks, Planetizen. Do you think there's a possibility to take this concept to city streets?

(EDIT: Oops! I forgot about Morgantown's PRT, which is actually mentioned in the video! I was thinking of Morgantown's example as more of a short-car light rail system like Detroit's People Mover.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hip Hop and Preservation in Detroit

Watch these videos and tell me you're not the least bit interested in packing up and moving to Detroit. The suffering is palpable, but so are the outcries against the continued downward spiral that the city's leadership has failed to stem. The city continues to rip the city's history and heritage down, but the economy isn't looking any better.

Thanks to my friend Karen Gadbois of the excellent New Orleans preservation-and-activism site Squandered Heritage. for alerting me to the presence of this thoughtful and intriguing duo.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cultural Resources Recommends Approval of New Shaw Development; Denial of Demolition Permit

The Cultural Resources Office has put the full April Preservation Board agenda online.

To read more about this agenda, please see my earlier post.

The main item is the proposal to construct 11 single family and 4 two family buildings on the 4100 block of DeTonty. Contained within the proposal is a proposed demolition of an existing corner structure at 4100 DeTonty. (Read the full agenda item PDF here.)

The CRO has stated that they support the new construction in Shaw, but oppose the demolition, calling 4100 DeTonty an "excellent candidate" for rehabilitation and inclusion as part of the project. I agree.

That said, what of Millennium Restoration? Why have they been booted from their original proposal for the block? The new renderings don't look quite as good as Millennium's...


From Preservation Board

From Preservation Board

I'm happy that the CRO has decided not to approve of the demolition of a sound and reusable Garden District classic home. Yet I'm wondering why Millennium was stiffed. Anyone have the answers?

If you'd like to weigh in, the meeting is on Monday (April 27) at 4 p.m. It is located at 1015 Locust, Floor 12. It should be interesting, as Terry Kennedy has abruptly shifted his role from Public Safety Chairman to Transportation. This means he's no longer on the Preservation Board. Seventh Ward Alderman Phyllis Young, then, takes his spot.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Digest

It's been a busy semester and a sparse blog as of late.

I have a lot to catch up on, and thought I would do so in rapidfire fashion:

First, the Mayor's inauguration speech. Impressive. No, really. He actually engendered a bit of civic confidence and pride. A couple standouts, though, were his calls to hire more young professionals to staff Planning and Urban Design (as well as IT and the Citizens Service Bureau), his confidence in the revitalization of North City (via Paul McKee, Jr.?), his threats against MODOT to start considering public transit, and, of course, the call to reenter St. Louis City into the County.

My suggestions? Give Planning real power in city government and then seek the professionals. Who wants to work in an "advisory" agency that has real little power? Well, okay, I would love the job, but would be extremely frustrated at the limitations of the office. Rollin Stanley surely was. The city will continue to lose these talented and energetic people if the process of government is designed to exclude them.

Re: North City, it's rumored that the Blairmont Master Plan will be introduced to the Board of Aldermen shortly...

Re: MODOT, bravo, Mayor Slay! Just think: if St. Louis City joins the County, Metro will have an easier time passing transit funding bills.

Which brings me to the next point: yes, St. Louis City entering the County is the conservative solution to undoing the Great Divorce of 1876. But it's a necessary first step, really, to the healing of a fractured regional psyche. If the City and County showed a dedication to work together to solve urban problems within both, the region could shift the dynamic away from the growing western fringes and back toward the center.

Next Up: the Walgreens coming to Lafayette just west of Tucker. Urban STL forumers who attended a recent public meeting have said that Walgreens will actually build up to the street and will add a faux-second story to better fit in with the surroundings. The new store will even attempt to match the detailing of the Georgian across the street. While I'm sure this will turn out laughable, think of the alternative: the beige or white box with way too much parking surrounding it on three sides. No thanks. I am happy to hear this news!

Next: Various local business news.

It appears that Five Bistro is moving to 5100 Daggett on the Hill (formerly Pizzeria del Piazza), leaving its Grove location empty. Yet I hear from a friend that the former El Mundo Latino restaurant at the northwest corner of Manchester and Tower Grove may be getting rehabbed as we speak. Putting that corner back in use would be a major shot in the arm to the still-struggling western end of the Grove District along Manchester.

As reported by Sauce Magazine, this nifty building in Benton Park will be host to a wine bar called Ernesto's. Check out the Streetview from 2007 and then look at the massive rehaul the building underwent.

Photo Source: St. Louis Investment Realty

Now, did I call the Patch neighborhood's coolness or what? The Post-Dispatch is reporting that a partnership between Steins Broadway, Inc. and Rothschild Development may transform the former Coca Cola Syrup Factory into 77 new lofts and the home of Lemp Beer! Awesome news.

Lastly, the Kiel Opera House is coming back to life, finally (well, I suppose we should wait and see, but it appears a done deal). This is nearly 100 percent positive news--except the parking situation. The talks are that the adjacent Abrams Building will be hollowed out and turned into a parking structure. It's time the city showed leadership on this issue. Not every development should receive its own garage. Surely the city's new Tucker/Clark garage could service most able-bodied patrons; the rest could benefit from set-asides from the Scottrade Center attached garage.

That's it for now.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

New Neighborhoods?

Every once in a while, I do a post so nerdy and nuanced that I know I'm the only one who cares.

With that out of the way, it appears the city has recognized two unofficial neighborhoods within (but not a part of) its official list of 79: Compton Hill/Reservoir Square (within Compton Heights) and Parkview (within Skinker-DeBaliviere). Parkview is actually mostly located within University City.

Given the number of unofficial neighborhoods strewn across the city, I'm wondering why these two got special recognition?

I will say, though, that the "Reservoir Square" neighborhood sounds so "big city". I like.

(I can't find the original link to the list of neighborhoods that include these two unofficial ones, but you still see how their websites are hosted by the city?)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Amberg Park

Amberg Park, located in the newly minted Dutchtown West neighborhood, is a wonderfully-sized urban park (2.76 acres).

It is large enough to be appreciated as an open, green space. Yet it's also small enough that one can see to its urban edges at nearly all sides.

Its edges are better than most St. Louis parks, too.

From Dutchtown

On the northwest and southwest corners of the park, there is retail frontage. While the Express Lane Market on the southwest corner (Gustine and Keokuk) has generated some controversy among neighborhood residents, the presence of these retail spaces could really transform this neighborhood park into a truly urban amenity.

Urbanist author Jane Jacobs once said of neighborhood parks that their life came from their surroundings and the people who use them; parks themselves could not confer vitality. In so many St. Louis neighborhoods, parks were developed solely for the purpose of providing their residents with an "oasis" in the middle of an urban environment. The parks themselves are often flanked only by residential structures. Without active edges along the park (meaning, places where people shop, work, play, and live), they're rarely used continuously. They can actually then become forbidding, empty places--unfortunate gaps in the urban fabric--despite their inherent beauty.

However, since St. Louis has tumbled in its population, and has planned for decades for the car and not the pedestrian, many neighborhoods are no longer dense enough or walked often enough to truly support these parks. When commercial uses exist adjacent to a park (think, the southwest corner of Gravois Park; the northeast corner of Fountain Park, etc.), they're usually either abandoned or have been converted to residential use.

I see potential in Amberg Park, however. Its residents are mobilized to clean up the park and make it safer for its users. It's got a series of somewhat dense apartments lining its edges, especially to the west, where an impressive twin set of multi-family Tudor building provides a pleasing visual symmetry and anchor. It's also got two commercial spaces that could be used someday to enliven the green space they overlook.

I welcome the Dutchtown West neighborhood's vigilance and dedication to make their neighborhood a better and safer place to live. It's (by my unempirical observation) one of the densest and most diverse (read: urban) places to live in the city. It's also just a short walk or bus ride away from the South Grand Business District. I hope that the Dutchtown West neighbors can take this "right-sized" park and show the rest of St. Louis how great small scale urban parks can be. They are truly a rarity in the city.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

St. Louis, Maryland?

From Miscellaneous Items

From Miscellaneous Items

Tho above screen captures are from the Maryland Transit Administration's Red Line Corridor Transit Study for the Baltimore Region. Their 3-D animated renderings must be seen to be believed! Check out the videos here.

If Metro were able to produce such renderings, maybe it could get St. Louisans to literally see the possibilities. Then again, if St. Louis were in transit-friendly Maryland, and not car-ownership-is-next-to-Godliness Missouri, maybe we'd already have a transit system to brag about.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Post-Dispatch Needs a Geography Lesson

From Post-Dispatch

Don't try to click that video from the Post-Dispatch's website (it's a screen capture); instead, ask yourself, what's wrong with that picture?

That's right. The Moonrise Hotel is in St. Louis City, not University City.

I, for one, am happy that the "U City Loop" has become the "Delmar Loop," wherein the city's side is acknowledged. Let's not set the clock back, Post-Dispatch. (Or should I say turn back the tide?)

UPDATE (4:58 p.m.): The Post has changed the video's title to read "Moonrise Hotel opens in the Loop". I guess I wasn't the only one peeved.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Keep Your Eyes on Blairmont

Even though the rumor is that Blairmont is planning a mixed-use community that will incorporate preservation, their track record remains terribly suspect.

Demolition permits seemed to have spiked in the Blairmont neighborhoods (St. Louis Place and Jeff Vanderlou, primarily). Here are a few recent permits issued by the Building Division. All that are listed have been completed, which means these buildings are no more. Images are provided by the St. Louis Community Information Network site ("Geo St. Louis").

2513 Slattery
Neighborhood: Jeff Vanderlou
Owner: Sheridan Place
Demolished: January 20, 2009

Notes: The city describes the demolition permit as "Rubble Only--Emergency". Was this a brick rustled property?

2617 Slattery

Neighborhood: Jeff Vanderlou
Owner: VHS Partners
Demolished: January 20, 2009
This one is on the same block as the previous; they were both destroyed on the same day, leaving a massive gap in the middle of a long block. Hmm...

Notes: Another rubble removal.

2303 Hebert
Neighborhood: St. Louis Place
Owner: Blairmont Associates
Demolished: February 4, 2009

2318 Hebert
Neighborhood: St. Louis Place
Owner: Blairmont Associates
Demolished: February 11, 2009
Notes: This was an emergency demolition permit.

2547-49 Dodier Neighborhood: St. Louis Place
Owner: Dodier Investors
Demolished: March 13, 2009
Notes: This one is really upsetting because it's a corner building. Once these go, the integrity of the already weak block is bound to suffer.

Other non-Blairmont demolitions in the area:

2517 Glasgow (Jeff Vanderlou)

3110 N. 23rd (St. Louis Place) - This one is another tragic demolition. It's a gorgeous Second Empire alley house (it fronts the alley between Sullivan and Hebert). Wait, I should say it fronted. The city says it's gone as of February 24, 2009. Unique properties like this need careful stewardship, not careless disregard.

2249 Sullivan (St. Louis Place)
Another lost attractive corner building.

4135 Page (Vandeventer neighborhood).
Okay, so this isn't Blairmontville, but it's still unfortunate. The left (west) twin the set was demolished earlier this year.

The number of demolitions in the City of St. Louis per year without any sort of redevelopment plans seems staggering. Though I've only included North City demolitions here, with a focus on Blairmont, there are many surprises over the past couple months. These include demolitions in rows of housing that have never seen any alterations in their history (Bevo and Southwest Garden) and a corner unit in a very historic neighborhood (Tower Grove East).

St. Louis desperately needs citywide preservation review. Every time I return to St. Louis, it's emptier in multiple senses of the word. Blairmont has caused a quick degradation of a longtime suffering bunch of neighborhoods; they appear to have ramped up their destructive efforts as of late.

Why can't we citizens have a say?

What We've Lost of Laclede's Landing.

What is technically St. Louis's oldest district is a fraction of its former self. The old Creole grid streets laid out in the 18th century survive today, but so much of Laclede's Landing has been lost that it is almost the caricature of a historic district. Compounding its piecemeal look is the new Lumiere Casino, which itself has bulldozed over a profoundly important St. Louis district and radically redefined its character.

Below is a view of Laclede's Landing in 1976, when Landmarks Association conducted an architectural survey for the nomination of Laclede's Landing to the National Register of Historic Places. At that time, plans were underway to transorm the sleepy manufacturing district that the wrecking ball forgot into a rowdy nightlife district.

I realize that the mentality that led to the clearance of the riverfront blocks for the Gateway Arch did not even include "preservation" in its consciousness. 1940 was simply too early; the nation had not yet begun its recognition of historic structures (except in Charleston and New Orleans, and a select few other places that got a head start). But when Eads Bridge intervened to save Laclede's Landing, and when plans in the 1970s called for redevelopment and not Urban Renewal, wouldn't you have assumed it would be forever "safe" as an intact district?

Think again:

From Laclede's Landing

All structures with red squares have been demolished/lost since 1976.

On the aerial photo, you may notice that, immediately south of the Martin Luther King Bridge, there is no parallel street that would be today's Laclede's Landing Boulevard. To ease traffic congestion, I suppose, someone thought it wise to exacerbate the bridge's ill effects on the area by creating another through-street and destroying several buildings in the process.

From Laclede's Landing

This is the 700 Block (east side) of North First in 1972. The buildings in the foreground are called the Brenco Corporation Buildings, while the slightly shorter Federal style structure was called the Missouri Box and Label Company.

Here is that site today:

From Laclede's Landing

Not even a parking lot. Surprising. What's that next door (just south)?

The sorely missed Switzer Building (1874), succumbed to a powerful storm in July of 2006 (as well as some good old-fashioned neglect). This Landmarks' 1972 vintage shot shows the building to be in decent condition.

From Laclede's Landing

Other felled buildings:

From Laclede's Landing

This is a 1971 view of Third and Lucas Streets. By the time of the 1976 survey, the smaller corner building had already been demolished. In 2009, none of these buildings remain. Saddest of all is the loss of the whimsical name "The Central Egg Company Building" (which belonged to the three-story structure in the foreground). The six-story building went by "Kroger". Tragically, a parking lot has been created in this spot today. To make matters worse, Lucas was closed off between Second and Third and is now a driveway for the parking lot. In other words, there is now a Parking Superblock that will likely remain for quite a while.

From Laclede's Landing

The Bronson Hide Company Building's death was covered by Vanishing STL, whom I thank for the above photograph. It once had a neighbor to its north that was demolished to make Laclede's Landing Blvd.

From Laclede's Landing

And these are just from Laclede's Landing proper. The city calls the area north of the MLK Bridge the Riverside North District in the St. Louis Downtown Development Action Plan (from the late 1990s?).

We have not yet discussed the Lumiere Place Casino demolitions in the so-called Riverside North District. Basically, Lumiere wiped out all of First Street north of the bridge for surface parking.

On Microsoft's Live Maps, some of the aerial photography appears to be from 2006, when Lumiere was under construction, while other angles have been since updated. Therefore, you can see an intact North First Street from one angle (looking south down N. First):

From Laclede's Landing

...then you can watch all of the buildings evaporate and magicly transform into a preened parking lot when you view it looking east toward the Mississippi River:

From Laclede's Landing

But many of these low-rise light manufacturing structures seemed insignificant, I guess, compared to the cast iron storefront warehouses that have been razed for the past couple decades (excepting, of course, the much-missed legendary live music venue, Mississippi Nights). Still, how do you explain the McPheeters Warehouses on L.K. Sullivan? Well, of course, Lumiere wanted the structures to come down, and so they did. There was no historic district; no forethought to the idea that the North Riverfront and the iconic Ashley Street Powerhouse might someday be the next rehabber hot spots. There was no discussion of the importance of reopening the riverfront to St. Louisans, no discussion on connecting the Central Business District to points north. There was certainly no public consultation of any kind. The buildings just came down, and with it them the chances that this "Riverside North District" would generate that interest level and maintain a physical connection to Laclede's Landing to the south.

From Laclede's Landing

Photo credit: Built St. Louis

The original plan to redevelop Laclede's Landing into a nightlife district should be commended for its attempt to put this neglected part of town back to use in such a way that might have preserved the structures within it. For a variety of reasons, Laclede's Landing seemed only to generate enough automobile traffic to create the parking pressure necessary, in city leaders' minds, to justify tearing down uber-historic buildings for surface parking lots. With Lumiere, it has only become worse. Not only have they increased parking pressure; they have increased parking supply. Vital historic districts do not contain vast tracts of surface parking.

It is more important than ever to consider emergency salvage of Laclede's Landing, which will continue to slip away if it is not able to redefine itself. The original problem was the isolation of the district. It has perhaps the hardest boundaries of any neighborhood I've ever seen: the Eads Bridge and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial parking garage to the south; the Mississippi River to the east; the elevated portion of I-70 to the west; and a semi-private street grid to the industrial north.

One of these things seems more corrigible than the others: Interstate 70. With the new Mississippi River Bridge being planned near Cass Avenue, I-70 will no longer begin north of I-55 in Missouri but will originate in Illinois and cross into Missouri from the new connection. It's been said that the remaining portion of the depressed section and the elevated section will be renamed I-44, which will be officially extended north until its meeting point with the new bridge. Echoing the Vanishing STL editorial on the same topic, the entire structure should be torn down instead, assisting the National Park Service in their attempts to connect the Arch Ground to downtown as well as serving the purpose of restitching Laclede's Landing back into the grid. This would allow better pedestrian connections and would diminish some of the parking pressures that have caused so much destruction in the entrapped district.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

St. Louis CAN-DO

In furtherance to my earlier post, the St. Louis Civic Action Network and Discussion Online (CAN-DO) is up and running. We have a quite a few members already, but not a ton of activity.

Please join. Please add community events.

For too long we've been considered a parochial backwater. Let's show our civic spirit and keep one another aware of all of the local happenings that make our city great, lively, fun, unexpected, and, most of all, connected.

St. Louis CAN-DO.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Update: 2521 Farrar in Hyde Park on Preservation Board Agenda (Not 2125)

This post is a correction to an earlier one stating that there is a demolition being reviewed at 2125 Farrar in Hyde Park. The correct address is 2521 Farrar.

Here is a Live Maps capture:

From Hyde Park

It's a Second Empire micromansion by the looks of it. Anyone know of its current condition?

UPDATE: Ecology of Absence has posted on the circumstances between 2521 Farrar's demolition. Read more here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Found: McKinley Heights Flounder

View Larger Map

Located on the 2200 block of Charless in McKinley Heights.

Sadly, there used to be two side-by-side flounders on this block, a rare housing type found, for the most part, only in St. Louis and a handful of other cities. As you can see, it is characterized by a simple facade and a steep side roof pitch that translates to half of a second story. This is from the McKinley Fox National Register District nomination, circa 1984:

From McKinley Heights

There was another flounder on the 2200 block of Gaine, one block north of the Charless examples. It is now a vacant lot. It is pictured below (again from the McKinley Fox National Register nomination, again Circa 1984):

From McKinley Heights

For more information on St. Louis flounders, see Michael Allen's Ecology of Absence.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April Preservation Board Also Contains Two National Register Nominations

In furtherance to the previous post, this month's Preservation Board Agenda features two important possible additions to the National Register of Historic Places.

The first is one of the remnants of old St. Louis, with its narrow commercial lots--the William A. Stickney Cigar Company Building at 209 N. 4th Street. Click here to see a Google Street View of the building.

The second is very exciting: the hulking National Candy Company industrial building at 4230 Gravois, which is technically in Dutchtown but, since I grew up in Bevo, I always claimed it as my neighborhood's heritage.

Imagine Schools is the applicant. Through a website search, it appears they're planning on opening an "Imagine International Academy of Arts" in this spot. They're likely going to use the Missouri state historic tax credits to renovate this large building into a workable condition. What a great building and wonderful re-use of the site!

View Larger Map

Early April Preservation Board Agenda Contains Two Proposed Demos

Click here for a link to the agenda, which does not yet contain the Cultural Resources individual staff reports.

On the chopping block this month is a two-family structure in Shaw on the 4100 block of DeTonty. Based on the description provided, this could be the corner structure (4100 DeTonty) or the next actual structure located all the way down at 4158 DeTonty. Both are attractive, historic buildings. The block, though, is almost entirely vacant lots. The proposed 11 new single family homes and 4 town house units would be great for Shaw. Millennium Restoration still owns these lots.

Millennium applied for demolition of two structures in the middle of this now mostly empty block back in 2006. Click here for that CRO report.

This is under the "Background" section of that 2006 report:

The original applicant for this site was McBride and Son, who proposed to construct 15 single family houses using designs created for the Botanical Heights subdivision in the McRee neighborhood, a few blocks north. At its meeting of September 26, 2005, the Preservation Board found that both 4118 and 4126 DeTonty Avenue are structurally
unsound and rehabilitation is not feasible. The Board also required that revisions be made to the design of the proposed buildings to make them compatible with the historic buildings in the neighborhood. Subsequently, McBride chose not to make the required revisions and withdrew from the project.

The current applicant, Millennium Restoration and Development, proposes 17 new
houses in place of 15, with detached garages at the alley.

Apparently, plans have changed a bit. The proposed 17 units has gone down to 15 once more.

Here are the buildings that were ultimately demolished (pictures are captures from the Cultural Resources Office reports):

From Preservation Board

From Preservation Board

And here are the two buildings that were spared before, one of which, likely 4100, that may get demolished after all:

From Preservation Board

The renderings for the original project are also contained on that 2006 agenda:

From Preservation Board

Is Millennium still on this project? Do these renderings still stand? What will the town house units look like? Once we answer these questions, we can begin to critique this demolition.

While I am not so much a fan of purely historicist new construction, Millennium certainly have shown themselves capable creators of a historic aesthetic in new construction.

Again, I'll have to reserve judgment for when I see the (potentially new) designs for this site. In the meantime, here are Millennium's older renderings that are available on their web site.

The second proposed demolition is an LRA property at 2125 Farrar in Hyde Park.

The city doesn't seem to think this address exists on its city data website. The application for demolition is for a "2-story, single family brick structure." Since odd-numbered addresses are on the north side of the street, and since the north side of the 2100 block of Farrar is a large industrial complex, I don't know where this property is. It could, of course, be a typo.

More information will be posted as it becomes available.

Attention New CVS at Gravois/Germania!

New CVS, have you started construction yet?

I hope not. Why? Because I know you probably think you're in a suburban enough area to go ahead and put spacious parking in the front of your store. In some ways, I even understand your logic. And I commend you for obliterating a brownfield (former gas station), even if I question the need for you, considering that nearby Walgreens.

But predictable suburban building wasn't the route of Chippewa Square at Lindenwood and Chippewa--another somewhat suburban area of the city.

They chose to build up to the street and put their parking provisions behind their collection of stores:

From Pictures

Relatively nice, huh? That's all I ask for. Oh, and minimize, if not drop altogether, destruction of homes, of which three are rumored (on Austria or Germania? I don't know). Thanks.

From Miscellaneous Items

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bowood: Where are the redevelopment plans?

(UPDATE: Please note that Paul of Vanishing STL has updated the blog post referenced below after having received a comment from John McPheeters of Bowood Farms. Please see this updated post here.)

Kristen Hinman of the Riverfront Times has penned a nice article about the Bowood Farms controversy in the Central West End.

It ends thusly, with Bowood Farms' John McPheeters saying the following:

"I'm a strong supporter of saving worthy historic buildings," the nursery owner adds. "But you have to look at the local circumstances of each one."

What were the circumstances, though? The fact remains that McPheeters could have used some of the surrounding vacant land they already owned in order to fashion a storage lot. Or they could have used some of the land they had already cleared away. That's right: in case you missed it, Vanishing STL's Paul revealed that this was not Bowood's first demolished mansion of 2009. 4569 Washington has been felled as well.

Here is one of Vanishing STL's most telling images: Bowood's land ownership in the area.

As you can see, this may not be the last of Bowood's demolitions in the area.

I must also echo Vanishing STL on one final point. Please do not support Bowood Farms any longer. Take your business to Bayer's Garden Shop on Hampton instead (or another nursery of your choice).

The city should adopt, once more, citywide preservation review to avoid these incidents in the future, as Hinman covered in her article. In addition, redevelopment plans should be required. Where are Bowood's?

More on Alderman Kennedy's gentrification fears later.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Dynamic American City (or..."Old Buildings Stand in the Way of Progress")

(Updated: Now with comments and minute marks)

These videos, obtained from, are a wonderful look into the mindset of circa 1956 modern planners and "city builders". They're also painful to watch. Dozens of cities' historic building stocks crumble, tumble, and fall before your eyes. Why? Because their lots are small and they're not new. Simple as that.

While a lot of what the narrator observes is "true", little attention is paid to the force of American public policy in shaping these realities. What is most striking, though, is the sheer confidence that starting over and building anew was naturally superior. There is almost a point in this video where you hear the crisis of modernism in the context of the city: the narrator must defend density as a part of urban life while simultaneously arguing that the previous way of urban life was deficient, outmoded, obsolete. Yet cities were more dense with their scores of small- and mid-scale architecture than they became, in so many American downtowns, when office towers and parking lots replaced whole blocks.

These must be watched to be believed.


0:00 - 3:49 - Introduction (rambling about how there are proven ways "to make your city better".

3:50 - The "Dynamic American City" documentary begins.

5:04 - "The American city is dense with a narrow lot pattern". Here there is an unbelievable row of homes, all identical, probably in Baltimore (?)

5:46 - "A question of importance therefore is: why did all city dwellers adjust their lives to narrow lots?"

6:25 - ..."Throughout most of the history of civilization, man has been dependent upon animals for transportation...Man built densely because of his reliance on horses. Having built densely, on narrow lots, we created many interesting and peculiar properties..."

7:55 - "We see a typical horse and buggy lot still remaining on one of the busy Radio City corners. Thus we see that the narrow lot pattern tends to endure and can exert its influence on the mightiest of our commercial developments. Indeed, the density of all real estate, wherever it exists, stems from the primitive horse and buggy plan..."

8:48 - "What a revolutionary power the Steam Engine brought! The Steam Engine made possible for the first time in history a release from the bondage of density."

9:45 - "We still have, and urgently need, rapid transit. But the old time trolley has all but passed with the horse."

11:08 - The automobile and electricity have thrust the nation into a state of competitive change.

12:20 - Shopping Centers taking over farms is great!

13:40 - The most powerful competitive force of all is the new shopping center with its landscaped mall...surely the most competitive force of new shopping centers is abundant space for free parking at the very door of outlying stores.


0:10 - "The problems of our cities are real, however, because of the heavy hand of old-fashioned design."

0:45 - There is a twofold problem: architectural obsolescence and narrow lot patterns.

1:06 - Compete with the suburbs by demolishing all of these obsolete structures on small lots and merge them!

1:17 - "Often the substance of our urban structures is such as to resist the power of the demolition hammer. As a people however we are steadfast as we tackle problems, and the hammer of demolition will be sure to swing with determination. In this jet age, events move fast...our progress is certain to be steady as we clear away the structures that block progress..."

1:20-8:00 - Cities are innovating by building parking garages, new office buildings, beautifying and modernizing commercial buildings, etc.

8:30 - St. Louis!

12:15 - The tallest building in America to be demolished for progress ("to start over")...

13:00 - We'll be seeing lots of demolition now. The continent has not yet reached its manifest destiny because cities will, and have to, be rebuilt.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Why don't St. Louis's neighborhoods have promo videos?

...Like Detroit has.

That's the New Center neighborhood's promotional video, offered up by Model D Media. They also have some detailed and very helpful neighborhood guides.

I could definitely imagine some videos on life in Dutchtown, St. Louis Hills, Old North, Holly Hills, Lewis Place, the Hill, etc. It seems to me that newcomers to the city have to rely on real estate agents, corporate types, or other parties somewhat disconnected from the realities of city living to help them find a place to live. These videos could help shape attitudes toward urban living in St. Louis. They'd surely be a great resource.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Downtown West: Manifest Destiny?

Downtown West, bordered by Cole on the north, Tucker/12th on the east, Chouteau on the south, and Jefferson on the west, is quite simply one of St. Louis's most exciting and potential-laden neighborhoods.

First of all, it's worth noting that a portion of the neighborhood is already rather hot. The focal blocks of the Loft District are the 1200-1400 blocks where the streetscape underwent major surgery a fews years back (Check out some delicious before and after shots at Built St. Louis's Wash Ave blow out.). While some lament the loss of the gritty urban district that existed before the Downtown St. Louis Partnership targeted this area of hulking, empty, early 20th century garment manufacturing buildings, most realize now that the Loft District is a(n increasingly) lively urban neighborhood that any downtown should have.

But it goes beyond a smattering of buildings on one street. The list of amenities and landmarks in the neighborhood is staggering. Moreover, Downtown West is perhaps the best example of civic and planning experimentation in the city, with nearly all trends in planning realized, from the City Beautiful Movement around the turn of the last century to the "SoHo Syndrome" at the turn of the recent century.

First, you have the beginnings of the never-fully-realized St. Louis Civic Complex dreamed up by City Beautiful adherents at the turn of the century. This movement, which Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition's magnificent "White City" is often credited with starting, called for monumental public buildings to be arrayed along large, radial boulevards whose very prominence and order would become an analogy for the city at large. These were meant to be uncontested civic gathering grounds, where a circa-1900 urban monster like St. Louis could find some organization and constancy amidst constant change and chaos.

From Downtown West

This was the Civic League's 1907 Plan to organize the chaotic St. Louis waterfront. I couldn't find the image of their Civic Center proposal between 12th and 14th, Clark and Chestnut.

Therefore, it's not just City Hall. St. Louis's most attractive "skyscraper"--the Civil Courts building, technically in downtown proper--was then built diagonally from City Hall. But in Downtown West itself, you also have the Municipal Courts Building (presently vacant), the Kiel Opera House (also vacant, but with plans to reopen), the Soldier's Memorial, and the Public Library's Cass Gilbert-designed Neoclassical masterpiece.

The buildings therefore came; the huge paved boulevard/public plaza where pedestrians would stagger in admiration for the civic spirit's physical embodiment never did truly arrive. At least not yet.

Earlier in its history, Downtown West was both the entrymarker for hundreds of thousands arriving at the landmark Union Station and, a little farther back, a private place (Lucas Place) for the wealthiest St. Louisans beginning their inexorable westward movement out of the growing city. Luckily, Union Station survives and is as beautiful as ever. It is yet another demonstrator of a bygone planning movement--the festival marketplace craze of the 1980s. After the Rouse Company put Boston's Faneuil Hall back on the map as a place of shops, restaurants, and nightlife, cities turned to their neglected, once-magnificent public spaces and emulated the proven idea that they could be revived as urban "malls" with a dash of culture and a grandiose setting that trumped any enclosed, boxy, 1980s mall.

Lucas Place's low rise, upscale residential setting is not entirely lost either. The Campbell House Museum at 1508 Locust (once Lucas) is not only a nice example of Civil War-era St. Louis architecture but, inside, contains a history of the otherwise destroyed Lucas Place neighborhood.

From Downtown West

Lucas Place from the 1875 Compton and Dry Atlas. Source.

From Downtown West

All that's left of Lucas Place. Image Source.

It was probably the modern era (1945-75) that changed Downtown West the most. Interstate 64 sliced through the Mill Creek Valley, only exacerbating a historic disconnect between downtown and south St. Louis. It took with it dozens of blocks of residential housing dating to before the Civil War, starting at Union Station and extending to Grand, eventually. Soon, someone developed the grand idea of connecting I-64 and I-70 at 22nd Street, creating the never-realized 22nd Street Parkway. MODOT, luckily, seems interested redeveloping the interchange so that this gaping hole can be filled and urbanism can perhaps be reestablished. Urban Renewal was not limited to Mill Creek Valley. A series of blocks between Pine and Chestnut was razed for the Plaza Square development, leaving only a historic church unscathed. Today, the once colorful modernist complex has been recognized as part of the city's history and is listed on the National Register. One of the buildings has even been restored to the original, striped design and is marketed as City Blu Spaces. I'll give you a couple guesses as to which color was reintroduced.

Still, the 1980s, with the Gateway Mall, and the 1990s, with Metrolink both introduced a new character to Downtown West as well. Metrolink stops in the neighborhood twice; once at the Civic Center and once again at Union Station.

SoHo Syndrome--a term created by Roberta Brandes Gratz, to my knowledge--is a strategy used by cities to renovate empty manufacturing buildings and turn them into lofts for artists and other creative types in a "back to the city" movement that generally started in the 1980s. She calls it a "syndrome" because, she says, often cities don't understand how to integrate these fledgling SoHos into the larger urban fabric, and the result is contrived. New York's "South of Houston" area (that's House-ton, by the way) started its revival in the 1970s and did inspire countless imitators trying to present a positive image of the industrial city amidst decades of decline. Some succeeded. Overall, I would say St. Louis's Washington Avenue is one of them, but, starting in the late 1990s, it was late to jump on the bandwagon. One of the best outposts of the District prior to its renovation was the incomparable City Museum--a fantasyland developed by Bob Cassilly in the early 1990s.

More recently, SoHo Syndrome seems to be growing less a syndrome and more that organic revival that Roberta Gratz admired. Prior to the downturn, Downtown West was, compared to its recent past, booming. Locust became a two-way street from Jefferson to 14th, the library planned a jazzy expansion, Harmon Mosley announced an independent St. Louis Cinemas movie theater for a renovated Jefferson Arms (now canceled?), Loft District residents took to cleaning up long neglected Lucas Park (referred to derisively by some as "Bum Park"), Crepes in the City moved out of the Washington Ave. Post to new digs on St. Charles St. flanking the park, the Skyhouse development was announced for 14th and Washington (it's supposed to be an office tower now...), the Lucas Avenue Industrial National Register District was approved (and since expanded), the Tudor development came online along with a redesigned streetscape, several other Downtown West loft buildings were developed, a new multi-modal transit center is now open (replacing the "Amshack" disgrace), etc. Perhaps most exciting of all was the announcement of the Chouteau's Lake and Greenway project, which would create a series of lakes and pathyways over the current railway junctions (the old Mill Creek watershed). All of this is in addition to some of the Downtown West businesses that make and have made it such a dynamic neighborhood: the Schlafly Tap Room, the Tin Can, Syberg's, and formerly Everest Cafe (now in the Grove). Look for several new tenants in the Tudor Building.

So what's next for this neighborhood?

Filling in the gaps, of course. Here are a couple highlights as to how the neighborhood could continue to grow and what its priorities are (especially when this sad economy improves):

1) Redevelop the St. Mary's Infirmary (1500 block of Papin).

From Downtown West

Source: Built St. Louis

While redevelopment costs would be huge, this large building could be a premiere charter school (or a collection of several different charter schools). It's centrally located, beautiful, and is already formatted as an institutional building. Plus, if Chouteau's Lake becomes a reality, this will be an even more prime location. I-64 is a huge, double-stacked barrier, but putting the threatened St. Mary's Infirmary back online could really start the sea change that's needed.

2) Develop on the 22nd Street Exhange; Eminent Domain lots to the north of it; re-develop the area to the west of Union Station.

This area is a semi-industrial wasteland that is disconnected from the rest of the city. It once was an urban neighborhood. There is no reason it cannot be again. This would seem to me a great space to premiere the city's new stock of Class A Office Space and later residential units. As far as residential, it might be advisable to build some nice rowhouses, since human scale neighborhoods are entirely missing from downtown St. Louis and since, well, that's what used to be there!

From Downtown West

This is the 22nd Street Interchange, from MODOT's website. Note that "north" is actually west here, with Jefferson Avenue at the top of the photograph.

From Downtown West

This is the site just west of Union Station--a parking lot. Not an attractive entrance to one of St. Louis's most prominent landmarks.

From Downtown West

Here's another view, farther north, towards Market. Maggie O'Brien's is visible at right. ("North" here is actually west).

From Downtown West

The worst offender is this series of blocks just north of the 22nd Street Interchange, which includes a truck lot and a whole lot of nothing on top of that.

From Downtown West

A simple re-imagining would restore a street grid in the area and open up acres and acres for small scale, human scale development. These small blocks would be excellent for corner buildings. It has been said, by Jane Jacobs and others, that urbanism is almost directly related to the number of small blocks and, therefore, street corners you have in your city. I could see 4-story rowhouses with commercial storefronts facing Market Street, and a smattering of everything in one of the new 21 city blocks created from this current monstrosity. Like I said, bring on the Class A Office Space!

3) 1632 Delmar (and the rest of Delmar)

File this under "small scale", but this commercial building is simply a gem and should be a focal point in enhancing interest in redevelopment along Delmar itself. There is still a considerable lot to work with along this stretch.

Here is a Google Streetview:

View Larger Map

There are plenty of vacant lots on Delmar, but also a lot of surviving commercial and light industrial/manufacturing buildings that are prime for development and redevelopment.

Downtown West should be St. Louis's answer to Memphis' South End, which is just south of their traditional downtown and is of a very similar character. The difference: the South End is building some very cool, contemporary stuff, while Downtown St. Louis hasn't started the infill process yet. Check out some of their stock by clicking here or viewing the captures below:

From Downtown West

From Downtown West

Above is a new condo development in the South End.

This photo shows a historic South End streetscape.

Downtown West will become the premiere neighborhood of St. Louis--more so than it has been thus far, even--if our leaders develop a vision of this large area as a cohesive neighborhood. It offers that gritty industrial aesthetic our city is so well known for already, but it could be a fully-knit neighborhood of contrasts between old warehouses and manufacturing buildings on one hand, and sleek new mid-rise office buildings and residential units as well on the other.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

4608 Washington: Almost Gone

Bowood Farms has nearly completed the wrecking of 4608 Washington.

Their senseless act (they owned lots across the street to place their proposed storage lot) saddens me. I once referred many friends and family members to eat at Cafe Osage and to avoid the temptation of the chain store for gardening supplies by shopping at Bowood. In what could only be seen as an idle threat, with me sitting here in New Orleans, I will no longer refer anyone to dine at Cafe Osage or shop at Bowood Farms.

There was no good reason to tear down the nearly 110-year old structure.

See the "Before" and "After" shots below.

(Again, thanks go to my sister, Kelsey, for these photographs! The post-demo photos are from today!)

From Miscellaneous Items

From 4608 Washington

Streetscape - BEFORE

From Miscellaneous Items

Streetscape - AFTER

From 4608 Washington

The next step? A sit-down with Alderman Kennedy to get the Central West End Certified Local Historic District extended so that these losses do not continue and accelerate.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Top Five STL April Fool's Headlines

5. Metro Says Look on the Bright Side: Reduced Metro Buses are Now More Than “Half Full”

4. This Just In: The Campaign to Reelect Mayor Slay has hired Sherry Wilson-Coleman, Roberta Coleman, May Eda Coleman, Marie Edison-Williams-Coleman III, and Mrs. Coleman C. Coleman, all under mysterious circumstances

3. The New Plan for Ballpark Village? Plant Trees on Site and Release Cardinals—the Bird Variety—to Populate Them

2. Aldermen claim too many constituents; seek to double ward total to 56.

1. Loughborough Commons development welcomes first sidewalk; officials say pedestrian traffic is brisk

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