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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Demolition or Collapse in Lafayette Square?

While walking through Lafayette Square over Thanksgiving weekend, I happened upon this site, at 1724 Preston Place. Click here for a Bing Maps aerial view.

Per the aerial view on Bing, this looked to be a large two-family structure. Being located in the Lafayette Square Local Historic District (and very likely a contributing resource to the National Register District), I am surprised to see it in ruins. The neighborhood group, Lafayette Square Restoration Group, is usually strongly opposed to any demolition of historic and contributing structures. Furthermore, the matter never appeared before the Preservation Board to my memory.

Researching on Geo St. Louis, I find that it was issued an "emergency" demolition permit in July of this year. (An emergency permit would have automatically bypassed the Preservation Board's review). The photo above, showing the collapse or demolition, is from late November. Yet the emergency permit was canceled on December 2, 2009 and swapped for a regular demolition permit. Curiously, the original permit noted demolition of a "2-story, 2-family brick" structure while the new one says "2-story, 1-family brick". Could this have been a demolition of a rear structure, too, or is it just a typo?

Either way, the loss of this building is rather unfortunate. The host block was already halved by the construction of the bloated I-44/I-55 interchange. Now, the shortened block has a noticeably large hole in it. To be more optimistic I'd say the site is probably bound for some historicist new construction given the speed with which vacant lots in the neighborhood have been disappearing.

Still, if this is another case of the "emergency" demolition permit striking, it's clear that these requests should at least be reviewed by Cultural Resources Staff and should definitely be examined by a structural engineer except in the most egregious of cases, such as outright collapses. Even then, the remaining intact materials should be set aside for salvage by the ordinance.


Chris Yunker said...

I asked the neighbors about this during the Lafayette House Tour. According to them, this was the result of an accident. They were doing some rehab work at that house, and were replacing some support structures in the basement when the house started to collapse. It didn't happen suddenly, the top floor collapsed first, and later the rest of the house. Given that a demo permit was issued, I guess it was a partial collapse, and then they needed to finish the job and start over. Luckily nobody was hurt.

Obviously someone didn't do their homework correctly. And it still stands that way since there are some lawsuits that need to be settled.

Matt M. said...

Wow. Thanks for the quick and informative reply!

Chris said...

My brother who's a lawyer handled a case like this in Chicago. The morons next door to a Jesuit household collapsed, bringing the Jesuit house with it. The Jesuits literally had to run for their lives from their once perfectly intact house. The sued the rehabber next door for the loss of their family heirlooms.

Chris Yunker said...

Some more pictures:

Anonymous said...

I used to live on this block, and know a bit about this collapse. The owners were rehabbing the north side of the duplex, and were excavating the basement to raise the ceiling height. Now this was during a particularly wet part of the season, and the ground just shifted away. It was a real mess, and at least three groups (the homeowner's insurance, the neighbor's insurer, and the contractor's insurer) were pointing fingers of blame at one another. From what I understand the historic association was trying to preserve the facade. I guess they failed.

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