Friday, July 22, 2016

STL & Preservation Board Should Demand Better @ SW Bank

Monday evening BMO Harris held an open house in the historic Southwest Bank Building to reveal details about the rumored redevelopment of the bank building that stretches from Southwest Avenue to Botanical through five connected structures built between 1905 and 1973. The site plan above has made two major positive change since it was first shown to neighborhood groups and preservationists in separate meetings in early June.

At that time, the plan showed preservation of the original building at the corner of Southwest and Kingshighway only. The Walgreens was about 20 feet south of what is shown above and the corner building at Botanical would be demolished. The plan has been changed so the corner building is preserved. Since the developer, Draper & Kramer of Chicago does not see any value in rehabilitating the building, they will be donating it to the Tower Grove Community Development Corporation. Also, the Walgreens had been shown with its ass end facing Kingshighway and the entrance facing what they called the "town center", a small area of pavers in the middle of the asphalt (don't get me stated on that one). This has now been reversed so Walgreens face Kingshighway.

The proposed plan still calls for demolition of two contributing buildings in the Reber Place National Register Historic District. The proposal will go before the Preservation Board next Monday afternoon at 4:00 pm in the 2nd floor hearing room at 1520 Market Street. The final agenda for the meeting was posted yesterday and as it should be, the Cultural Resources Office recommendation is "That the Preservation Board withholds approval of the demolition of the Merit Buildings unless it finds that the use of the structures proposed for demolition are not economically feasible and/or that approval of the proposed redevelopment will equal or exceed the contribution of the structures to be demolished". If you cannot attend the meeting in person, public testimony may be submitted by emailing Dan Krasnoff at and Adona Buford at

The proposed design of the Walgreens was also revealed Monday, and there were rightly several comments of disapproval from members of the audience. I tweeted that I thought it loos like a suburban Schmucks.

The comments must were obviously taken to heart because the design shown in the Preservation Board Agenda is quite different. It went from boring & suburban looking to basically a bland box. Also, what appeared to be a dual entrance facing Kingshighway and the parking to the north is now shown just opening to the parking.

If the developer wants to go contemporary, maybe they could do something that has some style like this example the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

You may be thinking this looks too small for a Walgreens, and you would normally be correct. This store however has a mezzanine level inserted into the double-height interior volume. Photos from dna info Chicago.
In New Orleans, developer Stirling Properties took an old American Legion hall and retrofitted it for Walgreens. After many meetings with area residents and retailers, they transformed the front elevation on Magazine Street with a design that fits well with the historic character of the neighborhood. More info on this project here.
In many cities examples can be found where Walgreens has gone into an existing historic building. In Downtown Atlanta, Walgreens is re-using the former Woolworths space in the historic Olympia Building. The new signage even mimics the Art-Deco style of the original Woolworths, which required extensive restoration work. Rendering from Atlanta Tomorrow's News Today.

On State Street in Ann Arbor, Walgreens went into this historic building that was once a Kresge store.

Not surprisingly, just down the street is a CVS located in another historic building. Photos from The Ann Arbor News.

In Downtown Baltimore, Walgreens went into this colonial revival, which at least on the exterior seems less suitable than the former Woolworths or Kresge spaces. The did manage to block out the windows though. Photo from Colorodo Traveling Ducks.

In Oak Park, an inner ring suburb of Chicago, Walgreens preserved two street facades of a historic two-story corner building. The contemporary entrance, which also fronts on the street is set back several feet and uses a contrasting brick color to highlight the historic facade. This project was designed by the architectural firm of Camburas & Theodore, Ltd., who also restored a historic bank in the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood for a 30,000 square foot flagship Walgreens Store. 

An interior view of the Oak Park store, which features fresh fruit!

The Oak Park example of saving a historic facade could easily be done for the proposed new Walgreens fronting Kingshighway. The 2-story circa 1928 store building in the middle of the block aligns with the new Walgreens, and keeping this Mediterranean revival facade would go a long way toward preserving the integrity of this historic block. 

Between the two story 1928 building and the 1905 bank at the corner is this 1923 one story structure. While much simpler in design, keeping the facade of this building as well would further preserve the integrity of the block. This facade should be incorporated into the one-story addition planned for the bank and the remainder used to screen the parking between the bank and the Walgreens with landscaping behind the openings where storefront windows are removed. While avoiding a curb cut here would be preferable, using 2 of the storefront openings could allow the right-in, right-out configuration currently proposed.

Walgreens has shown its willingness to either go into existing buildings or at least preserve historic facades of buildings in other cities and we should demand no less for the proposed new store on Kingshighway.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Southwest Bank is Much More than One Corner Building

Tonight BMO Harris Bank in coordination with the Southwest Garden Neighborhood Association is hosting an open house at 7:00 pm to reveal its plans for a new Walgreens on the property of Southwest Bank at the intersection of Southwest Avenue and Kingshighway Boulevard. The event will be held at the bank building and due to space constraints, attendance is limited to 100 people. Please go to Eventbrite to register for a ticket. There will be a presentation followed by questions and an opportunity to express your opinions about the proposed plan.

Most St. Louisans are familiar with the historic bank building at the corner made famous by the movie The Great St. Louis Bank RobberyBMO has already stated that they plan to keep the corner bank building and restore the structure. What remains to be seen is how much of the rest of the block face of historic structures along Kingshighway they plan to bulldoze for the new Walgreens. 

The block is part of the Reber Place National Register Historic District. The map above is from the district nomination and shows the dates of construction of the five connected buildings along Kingshighway. The last portion, built in 1973 is considered non-contributing to the district due to its date of construction. The four contributing buildings would be eligible for both Missouri &  Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits if rehabbed.

In the middle of the block stands this two story store building featuring decorative terra cotta in a Mediterranean style built in 1928 as a separate structure and later incorporated into the bank. The buildings 2nd floor windows have been bricked-in, but this facade is still an attractive composition. If the new Walgreens was to be located here, it would be an opportunity to incorporate this historic facade with windows and an entrance along Kingshighway.

At the corner of Botanical and Kingshighway, this Arts & Crafts style building was built in 1920 as a corner store likely with apartments above. While the beauty of this building has been muted by bad white paint, monotone grey trim, bad windows and garish blue awnings, this building is arguably as significant from a design standpoint as the corner building at Southwest. This building could easily be repurposed with commercial space for a restaurant or retail on the first floor and office space or apartments on the 2nd floor.

From an urban design perspective, the buildings presence at the corner is crucial to the historic nature of the intersection. Across Botanical is another corner mixed used building. While it has also had some unfortunate remuddling at the parapet, the composition of the intersection is fully intact. Losing the corner building on the Bank property would be highly detrimental to what is a very intact neighborhood and historic district. Hopefully BMO and the their architect will agree.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Huntleigh Maritz & Young Marketed as Potential Tear-Down!

A Vanishing STL reader informed me that this beautiful 5,000 s.f. home designed by the esteemed firm of Maritz & Young is currently for sale as a potential tear-down. The home at #2 Dunlora Lane, which was constructed in 1935 in Huntleigh, features 4 bedrooms including a 1st floor master suite, 3 full baths and 2 half baths. There are two separate real estate listings: One that includes information about the house and one that describes the property as a building site which happens to have an existing house "which can be deleted"! Maritz & Young designed over 150 homes for the who's who of St. Louis between WWI and WWII. For more about the Maritz & Young, read this story about a monograph of the firms work.

The spacious main rooms of the first floor feature beautiful polished terrazzo floors, something almost never found in newly constructed homes. A home of these quality materials would cost $250-$300 a square foot to construct today, meaning that if someone does demolish this home they would be flushing upwards of $1,500,000.00 down the toilet! Unfortunately this kind of blatant waste is not unprecedented. In 2006 another colonial revival home by Maritz & Young at 35 Brentmoor in Clayton was demolished to build a Mediterranean style McMansion.

A view of the dining room shows off the homes plaster crown molding, arched doorways and large windows. Photographs above from the first listing.

An aerial view of the property which also features an large pool and a separate 2-bedroom cottage with kitchen and living area. People seem to forget all too often that if a home (or any other building for that matter) doesn't suit your present needs, it can be renovated, remodeled, added onto or reconfigured to your liking. Clearing the site and starting over is not always the best option.

Also, if you have a horse or two, you are in luck. The area is zoned for equestrian use, so you can add a barn to the property of you want.

In an estate auction was held at the house. The video from the auction gives a broader overview of the house. Ignore the frumpy stuff that was sold and focus on the house. Note the coffered ceiling in the basement. Typical of homes of this size and time of construction, the entire first floor of the house is a cast in place concrete slab, which goes hand in hand with the wall to wall terrazzo floors.

Friday, April 1, 2016

New MLS Stadium To Be Built West Of Busch Stadium

A new ownership group has been formed to bring Major League Soccer to St. Louis! They have chosen a site directly west of Busch Stadium for a new 20,000 seat soccer stadium to be the home of the first MLS expansion team, the St. Louis Steamrollers.

When asked for comment about the plan, a spokesman said they really liked they concept and planning process that went into the failed riverfront stadium for the now departed Rams, but preferred a more central Downtown location. What sold them was the idea of having the existing parking infrastructure for Busch Stadium and Scottrade Center as bookends for the new soccer stadium.

A real estate broker has secured options on all of the remaining buildings at Cupples Station, which will be demolished for the new stadium and additional surface parking lots. MODOT has agreed to re-locate two ramps to maintain the present access to highway 40/64. The ownership group hoes to have the stadium ready for the 2018 season.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Does the NGA Really Need 99 Acres?

NGA preservation site overlay crop
I'll start this post by saying that I support keeping the NGA within the City of St. Louis. Not only does the City need the 1% tax revenue from the 3,100 jobs, but there are the secondary and non-monetary benefits of keeping 3,100 people employed in the center or the City. 

As you may have already seen, the NGA recently released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DIES) which is an evaluation of the social and environmental impacts and benefits of constructing the new NGA campus at each of the four locations that are in the running for the development. 

Besides supporting a location within the City of St. Louis, my comments revolve around preservation of historic and cultural features that are located within the current City site boundary. The City of St. Louis established the site boundary and with a wave of the planners hand, assumes automatic destruction of everything within the roughly rectangular area set bound by Jefferson Avenue, Cass Avenue, 22nd Street and the alley south of St. Louis Avenue. 

This practice of clear-cut demolition of everything in a 24 block 99 acre areas of the City reeks of 1950's and 60's "urban removal" planning that permanently scarred cities across the US including many areas of St. Louis. The big difference here is that most of the land under consideration is already vacant, but that should not condemn everything that is left to destruction if the opportunity exists for strategic preservation.

Does the NGA need all 99 acres being proposed? According to the DIES, NO.

The DIES states that the NGA vetted 186 potential sites prior to narrowing down to the current four in contention. One of the filters listed was that the site had to be at least 50 acres, not 100 acres. This is a big difference in site size. While the other sites under consideration are 101 acres, 167 acres and 182 acres, the fact remains that 99 acres is not a requirement according to the DIES.

NGA STL City Construction Limits
The graphic above from the DIES shows a proposed security fence that cuts into the site at the northwest and southeast corners, which correspond to the 2500 block of Montgomery, which is located within the St. Louis Place National Register Historic District and to the Rhema Baptist Church, which was at one time carved out of the NGA site boundary.
NGA Construction Limit text

NGA preservation aerial overlay cropped
The modified site plan at the top of this post and the modified aerial rendering above represent what is possible with targeted preservation of historic and cultural resources. It should be noted that the site layout and buildings shown in the base images are a theoretical plan produced by the St. Louis Development Corporation and packaged in a site briefing book meant to sell the NGA on this site.

 Buster Brown Blue Ribbon Shoe Factory
Starting near the intersection of Cass & Jefferson is the former Buster Brown Blue Ribbon Shoe Factory, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places This historic 4-story brick structure is occupied and in-use by St. Louis Sales & Manufacturing, a cabinet and countertop outlet.

Buster Brown Shoe Factory from Cass & Jefferson
While it doesn't front on the intersection, the rear of former Buster Brown factory still presents a strong urban presence at Cass & Jefferson.

Jefferson looking toward Cass
A block north of the shoe factory is a stately two story structure that was an addition to the Homeopathic Medical College of Missouri. Under current requirements for National Register listing, because the original college building located on the corner was long ago demolished, the addition lacks "integrity" and is technically ineligible for listing on the National Register. As a result, the building is ineligible for protection under Section 106 which reviews impacts of federally funded projects on historic resources. 

Homeopathic Hospital of Missouri
As Michael Allen points out in his article "Is the National Register of Historic Places Helping or Hindering Legacy City Preservation?", maybe it is time for a change to the hard and fast rules that often result in the demolition of buildings worthy of preserving. I strongly agree.

25xx block of Montgomery
A few blocks north off Parnell the 2500 block of Montgomery, which is within the proposed NGA and part of the St. Louis Place National Register Historic District (photo from the districts nomination). With 15 homes tightly spaced in a row, this is by far is the most intact block within the proposed NGA site. As mentioned above, this block lies outside the potential security NGA fence line.

Rhema Baptist Church
The Rhema Baptist Church at the corner of 23rd & Cass, while not historic or architecturally significant, could certainly be considered a cultural asset worthy of consideration.

2530 N Market built 1894
As you have probably have heard, the St. Louis Board of Alderman have approved the use of eminent domain to acquire property to assemble the site for the NGA. As of last week 66 property owners have already agreed to buy-outs including an offer to a longtime homeowner Charlesetta Taylor to move there three story circa 1894 house on North Market pictured above to a lot off-site. Taylor also happened to be a longtime opponent of the City effort to lure the NGA to North St. Louis.

The agreement to move this beautiful residence is very welcome news, but many other home owners live in beautiful structures that could be demolished. Another homeowner, Joyce Cooks, who has lived in a three story 15 room home for 40 years is rightly concerned with how she would replace such a house. The right thing to do is to offer every owner of these irreplaceable solid brick homes the same opportunity to move their homes to existing vacant lots outside of the NGA site area. This could actually strengthen the area around St. Louis Place Park by moving stable owners and their well cared for homes to the neighborhood around the park. 

Below are several examples of structures that had they been built a few blocks east would be contributing properties in one of two National Register Historic Districts, but because of "loss of integrity" the homes (and owners) are considered disposable. 
                 2236 Warren built 1893
2236 Warren Street - built in 1893

2243 Benton built 1886
2243 Benton Street - built in 1886

2318 Madison built 1892
2318 Madison Street - a rare flounder house built in 1892

2321-25 & 2325-27 Mullanphy built 1887 & 1889
2321-23 and 2325-27 built in 1887 and 1889

2220 Warren built 1891
2220 Warren Street - built in 1891

While moving these houses may be more expensive in the short run than buy-out and demolition, the long term benefit to the larger neighborhood is worth it and the money saved not buying out the Buster Brown Shoe Factory and Rhema Baptist Church would more than cover these added development costs, and would result in a more intact neighborhood instead of the appearance of a giant spaceship like building landing on wasteland in the middle of the City.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


Al's 1920s
In the discussions revolving around the proposed new St. Louis NFL riverfront stadium ranging from the destruction of an entire historic district to whether the people of St. Louis should be able to vote to use their tax dollars to whether we need a new stadium at all, one ingredient has been missing: the fate of Al's Restaurant (also known as Al's Steakhouse), which has been operating on the riverfront since 1925... and is scheduled for certain oblivion if current plans move forward.

A few weeks ago Pam Barroni Neal, a 3rd generation owner-operator of Al's started an online petition at to save Al's Restaurant. I urge you to please sign and share this share this Facebook, Twitter, etc. If nothing else makes you want to sign, this should: Al's is St. Louis' oldest restaurant locally owned and operated by a single family and in one location!

Al's - STL stadium site 9-1-15
Looking at the most recently released site plan for the stadium, Al's Restaurant is bulldozed for... you guessed it, a surface parking lot. Approximate location of Al's, one block west of the monumental Ashley Street Power Plant, is shown in red.

Al's GRG Master Plan
Surprisingly Al's is even missing in the Great Rivers Greenway North Riverfront Open Space and Redevelopment Plan which was previewed in July. The GRG plan is an ambitious well thought out urban plan calling for preservation of historic buildings, new construction residential & office infill and development of active green spaces, but somehow they managed to completely miss Al's. The rendering above appears to show Al's Restaurant overtaken by a 3-4 story jelly bean shaped building west of the historic Ashley Street Power Plant. 

Al's Streetview
Admittedly, it is easy to miss Al's, which today from the exterior appears as just another white painted windowless 1-story brick box located at the northeast corner of N. 1st and Biddle Streets. Only the black awnings and understated signage give you any indication that this is something other than another non-descript storage building down by the river. You can easily drive by and not have any clue whats inside.

Al's dining room
Stepping inside Al's takes you back decades to time of elegance with white linen table cloths, red tufted leather chairs, dark wood paneled walls and brass chandeliers. In classic steakhouse fashion, there are not menus. Instead fine cuts of meat are presented on a silver tray for selection. Long known locally as one of the best places for steak, among other national awards and lists, Al's made a CNN top ten list of historic restaurants a few years ago.

Al's Restaurant building in 1876
The building that houses Al's Restaurant has been around since before Compton & Dry created their iconic 3D map of our city in 1876 housing a combination saloon and sugar exchange.

Al's restaurant historic
This pre-1900 photo shows the front of the building on 1st Street. The towering St. Louis Grain Elevator on the riverfront which would be replaced by the Ashley Street Power Plant can be seen in the background. Albert Barroni opened his restaurant here in 1925 first serving egg sandwiches to the local factory and railroad workers in the then bustling industrial district. As industry moved on, Albert Jr. refocused the establishment to sophisticated fine dining.

Al's modernization
At some point the front of the building received a "modernization" in the form of contrasting light and dark glazed tile cladding. Later, the 2nd floor was removed and windows were bricked-in giving way to its appearance today. Most of the context of Al's Restaurant visible in the detailed axonometric drawing above has disappeared, being replaced by gravel lots and asphalt but Al's has remained still serving fine food night after night. With your help and some simple refinement by the planners, Al's might still be serving St. Louis for another 90+ years.