Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ten Years Ago This Month: The Crime of The Century

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As this bitter cold and snowy February draws to a close I was reminded a few times that the last of Century Building fell ten years ago this month. In early February 2005, I was sitting in the small conference room of Pyramid Companies offices on the 6th floor of the Frisco Building when conversation was suddenly interrupted by a gigantic crash followed by a few screams. I knew it could only be one thing. Like a giant game of Jenga, the last remains of the Century Building had fallen. We went running out of the room into the open office where everyone by now was crowded at the windows staring into the giant cloud of dust that had engulfed Olive Street. The photo above is from October 2004 as demolition began.

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Late December 2004... a holiday season to forget.

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Veins of grey and white Georgia marble revealed the beauty that had been covered with layers of paint. The facades of the Century were entirely clad with solid blocks marble.

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A view of the destruction from the top of the Paul Brown Building, which at the same time was being transformed by Pyramid into loft apartments.

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Near the end in early February 2005. More demolition and pre-demolition photos can be found here on Built St. Louis.

Syndicate - Century Building Alternative Proposal
Craig Heller had proposed a compromise that would save the Century and provide almost 700 parking spaces in the basement and lower floors of the Century and adjoining Syndicate Trust, but the powers that be would have nothing to do with this great idea.

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Ten years later the upper half of the Garage Mahal that went up in place of the Century sits mostly empty on a daily basis.

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Shortly before the construction fence went up around the Paul Brown to start the renovation, someone scrawled this on a dusty storefront window. It remains to be seen whether the demolition of the Century in 2004-2005 will continue to hod the title of the greatest crime against architecture in this century.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Stadium Plan that Doesn't Blitz the North Riverfront

Blitzed
This is the first thing I thought of when I saw the site plan for the proposed new NFL stadium on the North Riverfront announced in early January by David Peacock and Robert Blitz of the St. Louis NFL Task Force. I immediately started thinking of an alternative plan for a new stadium that doesn't require such wanton destruction.

North Riverfront Stadium Site Plan
As currently proposed, the stadium and its surrounding sea of surface parking lots, walkways and parking structures would completely wipe out the North Riverfront Industrial Historic District with exception of the Ashley Street Power Plant, which is still used by Trigen to feed the Downtown St. Louis steam loop. Also to be demolished would be the south half of the North Broadway Wholesale & Warehouse Historic District including Shady Jack's Saloon as well as Farmworks, a transitional housing development by Craig Heller and the Cotton Belt Freight Depot, both individual National Register historic properties.

North Riverfront Historic Districts & Buildings
An aerial view of the historic districts and individual National Register historic buildings (outlined in red) that would be demolished by the current stadium proposal (outlined in yellow). Below is a graphic provided by the NFL Task Force that overlays the stadium over the existing context of the North Riverfront. I have highlighted the buildings that would be demolished.

Stadium Site Plan Demolition Overlay

The alternative plan would build the same open air stadium as proposed by the NFL Task Force, but would simply move it just south of the Ashley Street Power Plant and across 2nd Street from Lumiere Casino and the Four Seasons Hotel. Loading and services would access the stadium via Leonor K Sullivan from the south and Lewis Street from the north under a pedestrian promenade that would extend all the way around the stadium and out over the river. The existing railroad tracks would also be re-routed on a new trestle around the east side of the stadium (the current plan re-routes the tracks west of the stadium).
No-Blitz STL Stadium PlanNo Blitz STL Stadium Legend
This stadium plan would not only significantly reduce the $90-$110 million estimated budget for demolition, environmental remediation and land purchase, but by moving it 1,600 feet south, would also better integrate the stadium with Downtown St. Louis and Lacledes Landing, positioning it to better take advantage of MetroLink and the plethora of existing parking infrastructure that is already present near the Edward Jones Dome.

The south end of the alternate stadium location would be only about 1,125 feet from the Lacledes Landing MetroLink station, well within the 1/4 mile considered to be a comfortable walk. The current planned location would be 2,725 feet or over over a half mile from the station, which could deter some from taking the train. 

The same goes for existing parking infrastructure. Why waste millions of dollars duplicating existing parking spaces when a closer stadium location would put existing garages near the Edward Jones Dome and some garages in the Central Business District, including the large garage at Broadway & Locust and the MX Garage (former St. Louis Centre) nearly as close or closer than the Kiener East & West Garages are to the Dome?
Locating the stadium nearly 1/3 mile farther north would leave garages in the CBD sitting largely empty, not to mention the area restaurants that currently fill with fans before and after football games, and other events at the Dome. 

Similar to the present proposal, the alternate plan would include some new structured parking with mixed use buildings built around the perimeter. Locating these farther south as well would allow them to be better utilized on a regular basis, serving Lacledes Landing, Lumiere Place and events at the convention center.

Locating the stadium just east of Lumiere Place could also help jump-start redevelopment of several historic buildings in the North Riverfront Industrial Historic District as well as the Cotton Belt building. Using Historic Tax Credits, these buildings could become residential and office lofts with ground floor spaces for restaurants, bars and other commercial uses... instead of becoming landfill.

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Shapleigh Hardware Warehouse #3 built in 1903 & 1906 fills the entire block between 1st, 2nd, Ashley and O'Fallon Streets. This view showing window detailing similar to some of the Cupples warehouses is along Ashley looking toward the river. Just beyond is a smaller 6 story warehouse built in 1903 for the Beck & Corbitt Iron Company.

O'Fallon Street
Looking east on O'Fallon Street, the small building on the left was built in 1894 for the Belcher Water Bath Company in 1894 and is now the home of the William A. Kerr Foundation.

Kerr Foundation green roof
Rehabilitation of the building in 2004 for the foundation achieved LEED Platinum Certification and includes a plethora of green building features including a green roof. It wouldn't be very sustainable to bulldoze it into the ground now, would it? Photo from the Kerr Foundation website.

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The Laclede Power Company Building was built in 1901 at Lewis and O'Fallon Streets just north of the Ashley Street Power Plant and was later used by Union Electric for electricity generation. More recently, in the mid 2000's, Trailnet proposed renovating the building as a multi-use facility that would include a trailhead for the North Riverfront Trail, a restaurant, bike shop, event and office space. Unfortunately the project was not completed.
1322 Lewis
This castle-like building was built in 1900 for the St. Louis Cold Storage Company at 1312-22 Lewis Street. It is one of several buildings in the district that has been proposed for residential rehabilitation in the last dozen years, but still waits.

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Measuring 750 in length, the massive Cotton Belt Freight Depot Building was built adjacent to the Cotton Belt Line railroad in 1913 entirely of site-formed concrete. Although still vacant, the building has been used for the last dozen years for the annual Artica arts festival.

Cotton Belt Mural
The east side of the Cotten Belt Building was recently transformed into a giant mural called Migrate, which is highly visible to drivers crossing the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Farmworks
Developed by Craig Heller's Loftworks, FarmWorks is a multi-use facility that streches across five buildings along Cass Avenue between 1st Street and Collins Avenue. It includes the St. Louis Stamping Lofts, which provides transitional housing with supportive services and job training, and urban farm with indoor and outdoor growing facilities, a green business incubator focusing on locally grown foods, an educational facility, an anaerobic digester that turns food waste into methane, and a CNG fueling station.

Farmworks floor plan
A floor plan rendering of FarmWorks from their website.

Shady Jacks
Along north Broadway is a series of buildings that are mostly occupied buildings that comprise the southern half of the North Broadway Wholesale & Warehouse Historic District. Probably the most well known business in this row is Shady Jack's Saloon, which has to be the worlds friendliest biker bar. If you have never been, you should go have their Simple Breakfast, which comes with 2 eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, toast and on weekends a complimentary bloody mary, all for $6.95! We cannot lose this for another parking lot! Photo by Paul Sableman

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

As Part of Athletic Center Expansion WU Demolishes Historic Francis Gymnasium

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Saturday morning I was running along Forsyth near Big Bend on my way to photograph a soon to be demolished circa 1970 bank building in Clayton when I looked north and realized that Washington University's historic Francis Gymnasium has been largely been demolished. 

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The east block of the building fronted by the twin towers and main entrance is being retained and will be renovated. The complete removal of the roof, exposing the structural frame, is indication that the interior of the remaining portion will be greatly altered. 

Francis Gymnasium Aerial
An aerial view of the historic gymnasium complex prior to demolition of the gym.

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A rendering of the expanded & renovated complex with a new south addition.

Francis Gymnsium rnovation rendering
The demolition of Francis Gymnasium took me by surprise since I had seen this rendering last year that shows the historic gym renovated a a new fitness center. The detailed description of the project on the Campaign for Washington University site also alludes to a different outcome for the gym. Boasting that the Francis Gymnasium and Francis Field are on the National Register of Historic Places and were the sites of the first Olympics in the Western Hemisphere, the article goes on to stat that the gym will be renovated into a state of the art fitness center.

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The rendering above is not so far off from this photo from the Missouri History Museum collection of the A. G. Spalding and Bros. Model Gymnasium, Physical Culture Exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904.

WU Athletic Complex
A story from Campus Life News from February of this year however states that the gym will be "replaced" with the new fitness center, locker rooms and multi-purpose rooms.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Buder & International Buildings Imploded 30 Years Ago Today

Buder & International Buildings implosion
Thirty years ago today at 7:24 am the Buder and International Buildings, which were located on the block bounded by 7th, 8th, Market & Chestnut Streets, were imploded to make way for implementation of the Gateway "Half-Mall" plan. Today the block is occupied by the Gateway One Building on the north half and a plaza/park on the south half.

The photo above is from the St. Louis Post-Dipatch archives. stltoday has a gallery of photos of the implosion and the buildings prior to demolition. For the history of the "Half-Mall" see http://preservationresearch.com/2012/01/the-evolution-of-the-gateway-mall-part-7-pride-and-the-mall/Part 7 of The Evolution of the Gateway Mall by Preservation Research Office.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Buildings No One Will Miss

Clayton & Sarah
Friday NextSTL posted a great story about the recent rehabilitation of this building at the southeast corner of Clayton Avenue and Sarah Street. What struck me first was Alex Ihnen's initial take on the building prior to it's revival: "Won't survive the CORTEX onslaught, and no one will miss it". He's right. Over the years I've driven through that intersection maybe hundreds of times and the building never jumped out at me as anything too special. I'm glad to see it put back into use and with a surprisingly interesting interior transformation to boot.

4333 W Clayton Avenue
The story made me think about a few other buildings in the area that have disappeared in the last few years without much fanfare, such as this one at the northeast corner of Clayton Avenue and Newstead that was demolished in 2012. The building had a nice limestone entrance element and streamlined eyebrows over the windows, but not enough panache to stand out too much from others of its type and era.

Clayton & Newstead aerial
The location is not exactly an urban paradise surrounded by parking lots, a non-descript lab building and a 1-story former factory building. The site opposite on the southwest corner is now home to the soon to be completed Shriners Hospital, but the site plan for the new facility is a typical suburban disaster with the building pushed to the rear corner behind a parking lot so the building can become a billboard along the highway. Also pushed against the highway is the Stix Elementary School which was built on land BJC didn't want so they could put a garage on the site of the original 1921 Classical Revival Stix School on Euclid. The location however is directly between BJC/WU Med and the center of CORTEX, one block from a future Metrolink station and close to Highway 40. All of this would make it a very attractive location for many companies, especially one that has graduated from a nearby biotech incubator and is looking for space of its own.

4333 W Clayton Avenue
City records show that BJC purchased the building and surrounding parking lot totaling 1.22 acres for $1.45 million in April 2010. In December 2011, they applied for a permit to demolish the building, which was estimated to cost $68,000. Today the building site is a vacant plot of grass surrounded by a chain link fence. Certainly the one story building that was on this site is not the highest and best use for the property assuming the CORTEX district and BJC continue to expand. One has to wonder whether the building could have served an interim use as relatively inexpensive lease space for a growing company until the area surrounding area is built-out and its time to build a larger structure.

Newstead & Clayton 1909 Sanborn
Curious about what was previously on the site before the modern era one story structure,  I looked up the 1909 Sanborn map and was surprised to find that the area was a mix of small commercial and residential buildings, a majority of which were built of wood.

4201-27 Duncan
Further east in the 4200 block of Duncan the demolition of this office and freight transfer  facility probably dating from the 1920s has less to do with the building than what the CORTEX District will ultimately become. While the eastern office block portion of the building had some appealing aspects, it is safe to say that few saw a great loss when the building was demolished last year.

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The building was located across the street and just east of the @4240 Building, the historic rehabilitation of the Western Electric - Southwestern Bell Telephone Distribution House, which has been a game changing project for the CORTEX District, proving that historic structures can be rehabilitated for new biotech uses and can become highly desirable. The project by Wexford Science & Technology has been very successful and has attracted among other tenants unexpected new branches of Boeing and Husch Blackwell.

4201-27 Duncan demo
The photo above was taken shortly after the building complex across the street was demolished to make way for a large surface parking lot to serve the @4240 building. Beyond are two large structures fronting on Forest Park Boulevard that currently house storage units and a Salvation Army warehouse. Both are ripe for renewal.

Cortex aerial 2013
An aerial view of the new parking lot under construction last year in the top right corner of the image. The large white square in the middle is the @4240 Building, which has a smaller amount of surface parking wrapped around the east and south sides. The white rectangle in the bottom left corner is the also recently opened 220,000 s.f. BJC Commons office building that is surrounded on the north and east by a sea of asphalt stretching out of the image almost 750 feet all the way to Sarah Street. The proposed CORTEX Metrolink station will be located between the two buildings.

Cortex Master Plan
In 2012 the architecture & planning firm Ayers Saint Gross was commissioned to do a master plan for the CORTEX District that showed parking confined to garages and buildings lining the streets forming an urban mixed use innovation district. CORTEX has grown exponentially in the last two years, but is starting to resemble a glorified office park rather than an urban mixed use district. While the planned linear park is currently under construction, the idea of mixed use combined with retail has apparently been thrown out the window with the massive parking lot that will be built in front of IKEA.

For CORTEX to achieve the vision of the master plan they will likely need to do a district wide taxing district to pay for the consolidation of parking and other improvements. Hopefully this is in the works and I understand that these things have to come in phases, but for now, the urban plan views such as the one above are notably absent from the Master Plan page of the CORTEX District's website. Maybe like Peter La Fluer in Dodgeball they have found that if you set goals, you might get disappointed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Recent Losses in the West End

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On June 1st I was on my way to photograph the Hempstead School at Minerva & Hamilton which had survived a fire the night before when I came upon this corner store and apartment building at Hamilton & Plymouth which had recently also suffered a fire with much more devastating results. The south half of the building had completely collapsed and the remaining portion standing lost its roof and was essentially gutted.

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Unlike the South Side and older areas of North St. Louis, corner store buildings are a rarity in the West End. With the demise of this building, only two other mixed use commercial building remains standing within the West End neighborhood bound by Union, Page, Skinker and Delmar. The remaining buildings are located southeast corner of Hodiamont and Etzel and at the southeast corner of the five-way intersection of Julian, Etzel and Clara. Across the street, a building which was originally constructed as a theater remains in use as a church. The one-story B&B Supermarket also survives on Goodfellow between Maple and Vernon. Sanborn maps show that other conner mixed use buildings existed on Goodfellow and other side streets, but the majority of corners were originally occupied by houses or apartment buildings, which was the prevalent use constructed through the 1920's

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Before the fire, the building had some minor masonry issues at the southeast corner, and from studying the facade closely, it was apparent that brick work at both corners had already been re-built at least once.

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A close-up of the southeast corner shows some previous repair work failing possibly due to isolated differential settling of the foundation.

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A pre-fire view of the building from the corner of Pymouth & Hamiliton. Glimpses of vinyl siding on both sides show how most of the buildings original context had long ago been removed and replaced with more recent construction. Portions of this suburban style apartment complex occupies all three of the other corners of this intersection. However just to the northwest across the street lies the Oakherst Place Concrete Block Historic District.

Pymouth & Hamilton 1909 Sanborn crop
A 1909 Sanborn map of the corner reveals that what was left of this corner store building before the fire was only half of the original structure known as the Plymouth Apartments.

5880 Enright July 2014
More recently I was out on a morning run when I suddenly stopped cold at this sight on the south side of the 5800 block of Enright. I instantly realized that the beautiful home at 5880 Enright in the photo below, which had also suffered a fire last year, was suddenly gone without a trace.

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Photos above and below show the solid brick home with most windows intact on the fist floor, a side dormer window intact and the entire roof intact except for eave damage at the front and east sides. The dumpster in front of the house had seemed to indicate that damage inside the home was being cleaned out and that repairs would follow.  

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Unfortunately repairs apparently never came and City records show that a demolition permit was issued on June 5th of this year.

5880 Enright October 2011
A view of the home before the fire. According to City records it was built in 1905 and was one of a handful of original houses left on this block that has mostly been re-built with new houses as part of the West End Estates development.

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Just 2 lots east of the recent demolition stands this house at 5770 Enright that has been vacant for about 2 years now and sits in a state of limbo. Hopefully it will not join the fate of its neighbor to the west.