Monday, March 20, 2017

Demolition of the Southern Funeral Home Nears

A few weeks ago the founder of Refab, Eric Schwartz messaged me to say that Refab was going to be salvaging items from the interior and exterior of the Southern Funeral Home on S. Grand Boulevard and asked if I would like to photograph it before it was demolished. Of course I replied: Absolutely! 

The Southern has been vacant since 2010 and was put up for sale in 2011. A proposal that year to demolish the funeral home to construct a Dollar Store was denied, but in 2015, a proposal from Vecino Group of Springfield, Missouri that involves rehabilitation of the adjacent Parkside Apartments that fronts Carondelet Park was approved the St. Louis Preservation Board by a vote of 3 to 2. 

The St. Louis Cultural Resources Office had determined that the 1929 Spanish Colonial Revival style funeral home by architects George Kennerly and Oliver Steigemeyer was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, which would have made the building eligible for both Missouri and Federal Historic Tax Credits if it had been rehabbed.

Instead of rehabilitation, the Southern Funeral Home is being demolished so that an addition can be added to the Parkside apartment building.

The interior of the Southern Funeral Home features a beautiful large chapel, that with the exception of some minor vandalism, is in very good condition. Most of the multi-colored leaded glass windows had been stolen.

A close-up of one of the decorative plaster air grills at the front of the chapel.

The rear wall of the chapel was composed of decorative plaster grills. Other than the graffiti, the grills are in perfect condition.

The entry hall outside the chapel has a fair amount of water damage, but considering that I have seen video of smoke billowing out of this very window from a fire in 2014, this room and the interior of the funeral home in general was in better condition than I anticipated.

Another long hall that runs the length of the funeral home parallel to the chapel and is in worse condition, with a fair amount of water damage. The damage however would certainly be repairable. Other than the crown molding, the hall was not ornamented.

Another small room north of the main hall is also heavily water damaged. 

A reception room where the long hallway and the entrance hall intersect features a beautiful beamed ceiling that is in much better condition, with some smoke damage evident, but little to no water damage.

The office in the northwest corner of the first floor contained one of the few fully intact multi-colored leaded glass windows. 

 The apartment upstairs was also in much better condition than I had imagined it would be, with flaking paint and some vandalism being the main issues.

 The apartment features several kitschy trompe l'oeil murals throughout the living and dining rooms.

In the kitchen, beneath some yucky 1970's sheet vinyl, there was some amazing multi-colored diamond patterned linoleum.

The basement was somewhat of a mess with a couple rooms that were the apparent location of the 2014 fire. Fire damage however, was limited to a few rooms on this level. The construction of the building's floors are concrete joists with clay tile infill between, which is fairly common for 1920's commercial construction and was used due to its resistance to fire. While we did not do a thorough investigation, it was apparent that there was no structural damage to the building do to the fire.

Terra cotta ornament was used sparingly on the buildings exterior. This multi-colored door surround was one of the most detailed examples. For the past week or so, Refab has been working to salvage all of this beautiful terra cotta, the remaining leaded glass windows as well as interior decorative items, doors, moldings, etc. Within a few weeks, demolition of the building will commence.

If you are not familiar with Refab, they are a non-profit organization that provides training and employment opportunities for homeless veterans salvaging building materials and deconstructing buildings that are slated for demolition. Refab has a warehouse at 3130 Gravois where they sell the salvaged building materials. You can find just about anything you want in this treasure trove including doors, windows, decorative trim, hardwood floors, plumbing fixtures, hardware, cabinets, appliances, and a seemingly endless variety of one-of a kind vintage items.

The vacant Parkside apartment building at the corner of Grand and Holly Hills is slated to be renovated as part of the development to be dubbed the Intrada. The development will provide a mix of affordable apartments seniors and supportive housing for youth aging out of foster care. Both of these are greatly needed uses, and the fact that the vacant Parkside building will be rehabbed is a very positive aspect of this development. I wish however that even a partial creative re-use of the Southern Funeral Home could have been either integrated into the development or developed along side it.

This site plan that was recently published on NextSTL shows the existing L-shaped Parkside building fronting on Holly Hills with the new addition to the north, which will turn the building into a U shape. Surface parking will replace the Southern Funeral Home. 

One of the frustrating things about this demolition is that the empty asphalt lot behind MJ's on the Park is part of the funeral home property and is currently owned by the developer, but appears to be left out of this project. If the newer portions of the funeral home were removed (the rectangular area behind the red tile roof), retaining the original building, enough parking probably could have been created using the space behind and the unused lot to serve both the apartments and a new use for the funeral home. The parking lot immediately east of the Parkside building is owned by the New Testament Christian Church, which is located just across Tennessee Avenue. 

At the very least, the Preservation Board should have required that the new addition be rotated so that it fronts on Grand Boulevard, but instead, surface parking will now be the prominent street frontage replacing the funeral home as illustrated by the fenced area in the elevation drawing above.

The Southern Funeral Home was likely doomed by a Development Report by ND Consulting that was done in 2009 for the Carondelet Housing Corporation, which discusses the potential for rehab with Historic Tax Credits, but then says that due to the configuration of the building, it should be demolished and the site should be redeveloped for something new such as a "stand-alone restaurant". This report was cited by the Cultural Resources Office in the Preservation Board agenda where it recommended the demolition request be approved.

The loss of the Southern Funeral Home is unfortunate due to the rarity of good examples of Spanish Colonial Revival style buildings in St. Louis. If this demolition occurred in southern California or another area where this style is more prevalent, it might be just a mere blip on the radar screen, but in the Brick City, this loss really stands out.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Missouri Historic Tax Credits Threatened with Elimination

An RFT story from January 1995 documenting the impending demolition of the Ambassador Theater Building in Downtown St. Louis (3 years before Missouri Historic Tax Credits began).

According to the Historic Alliance for Missouri, state Senator Andrew Koenig is sponsoring the “Corporate Welfare Elimination Act”, which would essentially shut down the Missouri Department of Economic Development in a misguided and ill-informed matter of “principle”: SB226 prohibits the transfer, sale, or assignment of tax credits under two dozen current programs including the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Brownfield Tax Credits. 

Senator Koenig zealously opposes state government participation in economic development planning, subsidy, investment, or competition for new business with other states. He erroneously includes the Missouri State Historic Tax Credit program in the same category as subsidies. In fact, the Missouri Tax Credit program is a profit center for the State of Missouri, bringing in more tax revenues that it costs. The Missouri Growth Association has documented that since its inception in 1998, the Missouri Historic Historic Preservation Tax Credit has produced $8.2 billion in direct economic development in Missouri and more than 40,000 jobs.

What is at stake if Missouri eliminates Historic Tax Credits? 

Quite simply, rehabilitation projects become far less feasible to financially work, which means empty historic buildings will continue to sit abandoned and many will end up being demolished sharing the fate of Ambassador Theater Building. The Ambassador and several other notable National Register buildings were demolished in the 1990's prior to the enactment of the Missouri Historic Preservation Tax Credit. If the program had begun a few years earlier, these landmarks would still be here today. Killing the program would return Missouri to the not-so-good old days.

So what can you do?

If you are able to, please attend Preservation Day at the Missouri State Capitol this Wednesday, February 1st from 9 AM - 4 PM. Join with several preservation organizations across the state for an annual gathering at the capitol to let Missouri State Representatives and Senators know face to face how important the Missouri Historic Preservation Tax Credit is to our states economy! Even if you can only attend for a few hours, visiting your lawmakers in person can be extremely effective.

Call some Senators:

If you cannot attend in person, Please take a half an hour out of your day on Wednesday to make some phone calls to Missouri Senators and urge them to defeat SB226 or any other bill that would eliminate or significantly cut the Missouri Historic Preservation Tax Credit. Here is a phone directory for all Missouri Senators and here is a district map. Prioritizing calls to Republican Senators in rural areas is advised. 


Friday, December 9, 2016

BOA HUDZ Approves SLU Urban Renewal, Pevely Fate Sealed

Wednesday St. Louis Public Radio's Maria Altman was live tweeting from the St. Louis Board of Alderman HUDZ committee where St. Louis University's proposed Midtown urban renewal program which covers nearly 400 acres surrounding the SLU Medical Center passed with a 5-1 vote. SLU calls it a "redevelopment plan", but I prefer the term urban renewal since the proposal calls for carte blanche demolition of a dozen buildings including the remaining main building of the Pevely Dairy, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, without concrete plans for new development with the exception of the recently announced plans for a new SLU-SSM replacement hospital and the retention of the historic Desloge tower. 

This is eerily similar what happened in the 1960's when the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood between SLU's main campus and Union Station was obliterated and over 50 years later parts of the area are still vacant and/or underutilized. The only difference being that SLU has already cleared much of the land in the proposed area, creating its own "blight" where neighborhoods once stood. Photo from NextSTL's Flickr Mill Creek Valley album.

Alderwoman Megan Green, who was the only no vote, questioned the proposed demolition of the historic Pevely Dairy and a SLU rep responded that the building "couldn't be renovated". Really? I find this very hard to comprehend considering the multitude of examples of universities re-using exactly this type of building.

Clemson University in Charleston, is moving it's Clemson Design Center, which includes the architecture and historic preservation programs into a rehabilitated 19th century cigar factory not unlike the Pevely Dairy. Future expansion of the Design Center will include the Center for Health Facilities Design & Testing, graduate programs in Architecture + Health and the masters program in Urban Design.

In downtown Chicago several universities are housed in historic commercial buildings including Columbia College just south of the Loop. 

On State Street, this large commercial building is home to part of the Loop campus of DePaul University, one of the largest Catholic universities in the US.

Another Chicago landmark, Adler & Sullivan's Auditorium Building is home to Roosevelt University. Photo by Michael Allen.

Here in St. Louis, Webster University's Gateway Campus occupies 2 1/2 floors of former retail and office spaces in the historic Arcade Building, which was abandoned for over 35 years before re-opening following a $110 million restoration last year. Across Olive Street in the historic Old Post Office, Lindenwood University has expanded their Downtown campus in the space formerly occupied by Webster.

SLU only needs to look in the mirror to find an example of innovative adaptive reuse. In 2012 SLU received a donation of a 265,000 s.f. building on Tucker Boulevard in Downtown St. Louis and made the bold decision to move their new law school there. This was not a historic building and it was in fact to put it mildly a dog of a building with small windows spaced far apart and a relatively low floor to floor height. Photo by Mark Groth.

While it may not have seemed a good candidate for reuse,  with some choice removal of sections of floor to create a few double height spaces, replacing sections of the exterior wall with glass and a rooftop addition, Lawrence Group Architects turned this dog of a building into a very nice law school for SLU.

I could go on listing examples, because they are literally everywhere where universities exist in major cities, but the point is that there is NO valid reason that SLU cannot renovate the Pevely Dairy building. 

The lobby of the historic Pevely Dairy

It would be one thing to consider if SLU had a grand plan to replace the Pevely Dairy building, but apparently they have none. At the HUDZ hearing Altman tweeted "SLU hasn't finalized what will happen with site at Pevely, but it will be academic". In other words, they don't have a plan. Instead, their "plan" seems to be to continue to knock down buildings and let ground sit vacant until someday maybe they will build something, as they have done for many years.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Undue Praise for Piecemeal "Preservation"

Esley Hamilton, who served as St. Louis County's Preservation Historian for 38 years, recently informed me that the November issue of St. Louis Magazine recognized Kristen Sorth, Director of St. Louis County Library in their annual "Power List" for overseeing the ongoing renovation and replacement of several aging branch libraries. I had skimmed the list but hadn't taken time to read the bios. Specifically STL Magazine praises Sorth for "saving the famed Emil Frei stained-glass windows and reinstalling them" in the new replacement for Frederick Dunn's Mid-Century Modern Lewis & Clark Branch Library.

If St. Louis County Library had reinstalled the entire Emil Frei composition, such praise might be deserving, but they didn't. Instead, as you can see above, the chose only the individual figures of Lewis, Clark and Sakajawea and installed them out of context in a plain storefront of clear glass panels. To top off this travesty, the figure panels were installed inside out and extra pieces of plain frosted glass were scabbed in at the top and bottom of each panel. I guess they didn't bother to measure first.
The original stained glass window composition was an integral part of the architecture of the now demolished library by architect Frederick Dunn. The windows gave the otherwise simple shed building its identity and served double duty as its signage.

Esley Hamilton nailed it in his brief letter to Jeannette Cooperman, editor of St. Louis Magazine, which unless I missed it, has not been published:

"If the curators at the St. Louis Art Museum took George Caleb Bingham’s painting “The Jolly Flatboatman,” cut out the central figure of the dancing man, reframed it as a separate painting, and consigned the rest of the picture to who knows where, would you praise the museum for saving the painting? I don’t think so. Yet you praise Kristen Sorth, director of the St. Louis County Library, in your November issue for doing exactly that to the Emil Frei windows at the Lewis and Clark Branch Library. 

I’m attaching and pasting in two pictures showing exactly what I’m talking about (2 images above).  The original figures of Lewis, Clark and Sakajawea were parts of a larger composition that included several other smaller images that evoked and symbolized their journey as well as anchoring them in the architectural structure of the building. Now the three images are floating in clear glass. Public libraries are supposed to be citadels of civilization, but our County Library not only destroyed the most significant work of architecture in their system but in the process trashed an irreplaceable work of art that they held in trust for the public. Whatever Ms. Sorth may achieve in the future, these acts will remain indelible blots on her record."

The window composition depicted some of the many sights seen by Lewis, Clark and Sakajawea including buffalo, fish, snakes and forests. The meandering red line likely symbolized their journey across the then uncharted Louisiana Purchase Territory.

Inside the now demolished building, the windows composition filled the space with a warm colorful glow, the effect of which is completely gone in the reinstallation of the singular figure panels.

Interior and exterior photos illustrating how the original composition wrapped the corner of the original building.

For the panels depicting fish and trees, Emil Frei emplyed a technique known as plating where different images were painted onto the interior and exterior faces of the glass. When the sun passes through the translucent panels the effect creates additional depth in the composition. This technique was widely used by Tiffany.

A night view shows the inverse of the interior daytime view. The glowing composition became a colorful beacon to all who passed by. A reporter covering the opening of the replacement building was apparently told that the remaining pieces of the original window composition are "in storage".

"Saving" is NOT the right term for what happened at the Lewis & Clark Branch Library. I would say local architect, MCM expert and blogger Andrew Raimist's description: "Cultural Vandalism" best sums it up.

Photos in this post are by John Guenther, Esley Hamilton & Andrew Raimist.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Route 66 - Changing Courses & Landscapes Through St. Louis

Last week I was invited to an evening tour of the Missouri History Museum's recently opened Route 66 exhibit. One of the more interesting aspects of the show was seeing the evolution of Route 66 as it was designated to travel through various parts of St. Louis over its history. This was the time before interstate highways when Route 66 and all of its travelers went right through the heart of the City. For some, Route 66 is about nostalgia, but for those of us younger than the interstate system, Route 66 seems more like mythology of a bygone era. The History Museum exhibit brings aspects of this mythology to life.

The exhibit starts off with a great interactive map that allows you to trace the various paths that Route 66 took through St. Louis.

Beside the interactive map, there are several great vintage maps of Route 66 and the other major ways that people traveled through St. Louis before the interstates carved their wide paths of destruction through the City.

Since I did not get a chance to photograph the various routes on the interactive map, I found this one from by Norma Merit Bolin, who has authored two books about the Mother Road. 

Throughout the exhibit you can see the many changes in the urban landscape that have occurred along the Route 66 paths through St. Louis. since the building of the interstate highway system (and before). 

Originally built for the Columbia Club, this beautiful three story building on Lindell Boulevard was occupied by AAA of Missouri for many years before it was destroyed by fire in 1975. 

It was replaced by a modern elliptical shaped building by W.A. Sarmiento. that was threatened with demolition recently for a new CVS store. Fortunately, a compromise was reached and the CVS was built farther west of site, sparing the AAA building.

Further west on Lindell Boulevard, this amazing sign once graced the top of the Chase Hotel. It is hard to imagine today that there was a time when the future of the Chase was in doubt. After seven decades as one of St. Louis' grandest hotels, the Chase closed in 1989 after years of declining business and competition from newer hotels such as the Ritz Carleton in Clayton. The neon sign was taken down and ended up in the History Museum's collection where it sat for years until being restored for this show. Through the early 1990's there were fears that the Chase might be demolished as no plan was in sight. Fortunately with the enactment of the Missouri Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit in 1998, feasibility of a revival was possible and the Chase was one of the first large buildings to be saved by the program in combination with Federal Historic Tax Credits.

Large rooftops signs were once more commonplace around St. Louis. One of the more prominent locations was the Standard Red Crown sign at the intersection of Skinker Boulevard and Clayton Road. This sign composed of thousands of individual red and white light bulbs was eventually replaced with an internally lit plastic faced "Standard" sign, which was later changed to "Amoco". When BP bought out Amoco they apparently thought that they would not be able to switch the sign to their sun logo since rooftop signs are now technically prohibited, so the giant Amoco sign remains one of the few in active use.

The giant Amoco sign as it appears today

Further west on Clayton Road at Big Bend was the Parkmoor, which was the first restaurant in St. Louis to offer in-car service like you can get at Sonic drive-ins. The Parkmoor ended car service and built a new orange roofed restaurant in 1969. The restaurant closed in 1999 after being in business for over 70 years and was replaced by a Walgreens.

On Chippewa, which became part of the principal Route 66 after 1933, this iconic building at the northwest corner of the intersection with Kingshighway housed the Southtown Famous Barr department store from 1951 until its closure in 1992. The building was demolished in 1995 and after the surrounding community said no to the idea of a new K-mart store, the site sat vacant for several years. Eventually a shopping center containing a Petsmart, an office supply store, a Walgreens and several small retail stores was constructed on the site.

Further west on Chippewa at Hampton Village this colonial revival style grocery store sat in the middle of the parking lot about where the McDonalds is today. It was built as a Bettendorf's and later became a Schnucks. By 1991 it was demolished and replaced by a larger grocery store at the south end of the Village.

Also located at the same intersection was this early White Castle.

As you headed west on Route 66 through St. Louis County on Watson Road, there were several motels that popped up along Route 66. The most famous was the Coral Court, which featured streamline moderne style buildings, many of which featured individual garages. Although probably not the original purpose, these garages allowed patrons to come and go unseen, which gave the motel a reputation as a location for secret rendezvous.

Interior of one of the units shortly before demolition with its signature glass block visibly bowing outward.

The Coral Court Motel was closed in 1993 and razed two years later. The motel was actively on the market for nearly 3 years but no one was able to make the numbers work to preserve the existing buildings with an inflated $1.5 million pricetag plus an estimated $1 million for renovation. Had it remained standing another 3 year, Missouri's Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program that came on line in 1998 could have made rehabilitation feasible. 

The exhibit features several pieces of memorabilia from the Coral Court including one of the lights that marked the entrance on Watson and some of the glazed blocks from which the buildings were constructed.

Further west this 1986 aerial view shows a recently expanded Crestwood Plaza across from the 66 Park-In Theater. The drive-in theater had parking for 800 cars. It was closed in 1993 and was demolished in 1994 for another shopping center, much of which now stands empty. As you are probably aware, Crestwood Plaza was finally demolished earlier this year to make way for a not-so-mixed-use redevelopment consisting of free-standing single use buildings in a sea of surface parking. Maybe I should withhold judgement until it is built, but the conceptual plans made public so far make the Streets of St. Charles look like great urban planning in comparison.

Part of the exhibit features a large mural depicting the 66 Park-In Theater with it's lot full of vintage cars that was painted by a Muny scenic artist. Ironically the mural was painted with a red sky, which was probably meant to be a beautiful sunset, but in my mind it looked like apocalyptic clouds foretelling the coming end for the theater.

The beginning of the end earlier this year for the former Stix Baer & Fuller/Dillards department store, which anchored the east end of Crestwood Plaza. 

A majority of the photos above are from the Missouri History Museum Route 66 exhibit. A few vintage photos and postcards are from Joe Sonderman's Online Route 66 Archive, which is a treasure trove of thousands of photos and postcards of just about everything you ever wanted to see along Route 66 from its start in Chicago to its end in Santa Monica, California. Photos of the Coral Court are some I shot shortly before it was demolished.

If you want to learn more about Route 66 as it traveled through the St. Louis area, go check out the History Museum's awesome exhibit that is currently open and runs through July 16, 2017. Despite some of my commentary above, the show is quite the opposite of depressing and is very informative. The exhibit also features a over a dozen fabulous neon signs that once graced Route 66 through our area, an Airstream trailer with fully vintage interior decor and a beautiful 1963 Corvette Stingray built right here in St. Louis!