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.

IMG_7568
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

IMG_5354
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.

IMG_5360
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

IMG_5063
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.

IMG_5061
A close-up of the southeast corner shows some previous repair work failing possibly due to isolated differential settling of the foundation.

IMG_5065
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.

5880 Enright July 2013 01
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.  

5880 Enright July 2013 02
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.

IMG_0931
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.

Monday, July 7, 2014

North Sarah Phase III to Include Demolition of Occupied Homes?

4208-10-12 Finney
Last week a friend tipped me that the St. Louis Community Development Administration had posted a listing of funding awards from this years affordable housing applications. The list includes Phase III of McCormack Baron Salazar's highly successful North Sarah development. Phase III will contain 76 rental new construction rental units to be located on 39 parcels, which are listed by address. All but 3 parcels are currently vacant land, but parcels at 4208, 4010 and 4212 Finney Avenue are existing houses, two of which appear to be occupied, one recently occupied and all in very good condition. It would appear from the list, that these three houses pictured above, all of which are privately owned, are doomed to be bought out and demolished to make way for new construction.

North Sarah development Phase 3 west
That such a thing could occur in a neighborhood that is both struggling to re-build from decades of neglect and abandonment and has a large amount of completely vacant land on which to build is both baffling and extremely frustrating. The map above shows portions of the existing North Sarah development (Phases I & II with larger buildings along Sarah Street) outlined in blue and planned Phase III shaded blue and red. The red is the three homes at 4208-12 Finney. The green shaded areas are the numerous vacant parcels in the immediate vicinity of the existing and planned North Sarah development that could be used instead of demolishing the existing houses. The area is just south of the much publicized 26 scattered site home demolitions.

North Sarah development Phase 3 east
The North Sarah development has also built along the west side Vandeventer Avenue outlined in blue above with a planned expansion shaded in blue on the east side between Bell Avenue and Windsor Place. The area east of the planned expansion is a large community garden owned by Gateway Greening.

4208-12 Finney aerial
An aerial view looking southeast of the homes on Finney showing a large available piece of land across C. D. Banks to the south (directly above the houses in the photo). The Kingsway Baptist Church at Finney and Wittier will apparently be spared.

4208 Finney 5-1-09
A photo of 4208 Finney in 2009 shows the home occupied and well cared for.

4210 Finney
By 2013, 4208 Finney appears vacant but other than partially boarded, the home appears in good condition. 4210 in the center and 4212 at right both appear to be occupied and in very good condition as well. The three brick homes are an attractive group with almost identical massing but individual in detail. They were likely all constructed by the same builder.

4212 Finney001
The first floor window of 4212 appears to have been altered at some point, but the alteration leaves the integrity of the house intact.

IMG_8031
McCormack Baron Salazar's North Sarah development has thus far brought much needed life into the eastern blocks of the Vandeventer neighborhood including several live/work units included in the larger buildings along Sarah Street and Vandeventer Avenue. The architecture is a refreshing blend of contemporary and contextual that doesn't try to copy existing buildings but rather fits well as an addition of its time.

IMG_1687
Ironically, the middle building above has very similar massing to the three homes on Finney that appear to be marked for destruction for the next phase of development. With the amount of vacant land available for new construction in the area, it is inexcusable for new development to cannibalize existing stable homes and residents. The North Sarah development and Vandeventer neighborhood as a whole would be better off in the long run if the current plan could be changed to infill new development around the existing homes on Finney. If St. Louis neighborhoods such as Vandeventer are to survive and thrive through the rest of this century, it will be through sustainable development practices that include both new infill and rehabilitation of existing buildings that give the place its unique character, not failed Modern era practices of total clearance for new build.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Urban Renewal Mentality Alive & Well in North Central STL

4201 W Cook 6-3-14
Recently, with much fanfare, the City of St. Louis announced that is is demolishing 26 buildings in the Vandeventer Neighborhood east of Ranken Technical College. The purpose of demolitions as stated in the Mayor's Office press release is to "reduce crime and prime the area for redevelopment". The first part of this reasoning, crime reduction, has seen arguments supporting the case that demolition reduces crime, as well as arguments that demolition doesn't reduce overall crime rates and simply displaces crime to other areas of a city.

The second part of the reasoning for demolition however files in the face of almost every  success story about the rejuvenation of neighborhoods in the City of St. Louis and elsewhere. Rarely have mass demolitions resulted widespread and sustained resurgence of neighborhoods.

4201 W Cook 2-12-14 cropped
While there is a percentage of buildings coming down in this program that are less feasible to rehabilitate due to extreme deterioration, there are also many that could have been seen as assets to a reviving neighborhood and marketed for rehabilitation in an area the press release states is "ripe for reinvestment" due to proximity to strong anchors and areas of successful neighborhood resurgence. Nonetheless, with this project, any condemnation by the Building Department has assured destruction regardless of the overall condition of the building.

The home pictured above at 4201 W. Cook is one of these examples. While obviously in need of work, the solid brick shell of this house has already seen some repair work and the roof appears solid. 

4201 W Cook rear 5-3-09
While the rear addition appears potentially sketchy, this could easily be removed leaving a solid home.

4210 Cook 2014
Almost directly across the street this lovely stone front 2-family home at 4210 W. Cook that is being demolished as part of the project.

4210 Cook rear 2014
The home was likely condemned because it is missing a portion of its back wall, which is an all too common condition leading the demolition of otherwise very sound buildings. This occurs frequently due to theft of gutters and downspouts, leaving the back wall a virtual waterfall every time it rains, accelerating mortar deterioration. This is the reason that back wall re-construction is often a part of rehabilitation of a brick home.

The stupid thing about condemning a building with this condition is that like this one, most seem to have floors and roofs that span side to side with a bearing wall in the middle. This means that barring a direct hit from a major wind gust, a backless building can stand for a very long time. A 6-family in Skinker DeBaliviere stood in this condition for years.
4212 w cook009
Next door at 4212 W. Cook is a very similar situation. With this one, an isolated masonry failure over the front window is likely causing this house to be demolished.

4212 W. Cook002
A photo of the rear shows this house fully intact while simply needing some tuckpointing over the 2nd floor windows.


4255 w page009
A block north on Page just east of Pendleton this pair of Queen Anne style homes are being demolished.

4253 W. Page001
Again this house at 4353 Page appears to be in overall sound condition from the front (above) and rear (below)

4243 Page rear

4425 EVANS001 copy
A block north of Page, this attractive 2-family house at 4425 Evans is being demolished.

IMG_0084
A closer photo reveals a highly articulated facade with detailed brick pilasters, raised quoins and a header with decorative garland all executed in Roman iron spot brick. Not to mention the decorative cornice and slate roof with a distinctive vent detail at the dormer.

_MG_8787
A side photo shows a small masonry failure over a basement window and some missing brick at the top of the stepped parapet.

IMG_0085
At the rear there is a wooden porch that is missing its 2nd floor and a few missing brick at the top of the wall. None of these conditions would hardly seem to be be cause for demolition.

4217 E. Evans001
Further east on Evans is this two story home with very unique roof and dormer geometry as it appeared in 2007 and unfortunately below as it appears today. Unfortunately this house does have a partial roof collapse near the rear, which would have made rehabilitation more costly had this been even considered.

4217 Evans 2014
The Mayor's press release states that of the 26 buildings, "none is historic nor in a historic district". If they are judging the term "historic" only by whether a building is located in a historic district, then they are correct. I prefer to believe that "historic" is a more relative term. In the City of St. Louis, unfortunately, "historic" means that at some point the Ward Alderman agreed with someone's suggestion that a historic district should be created (or as fortunately has occurred in the 21st Ward, the Alderman steps up and makes this suggestion himself, knowing that designation can greatly help stabilize neighborhoods through incentivized rehabilitation).

Ranken 2014 Demolition Map
A map of the area showing the demolitions in red, Ranken Technical College outlined in blue and McCormack Baron Salazar's North Sarah development outlined in green. Just north of the area of demolition (outlined in purple), lies the lower blocks of the large Ville Historic District, (light purple shading) in the 4th Ward, which was expanded in 2006. The lower half of the demolition area and most of the Vandeventer neighborhood  is in the 18th Ward, whose Alderman Terry Kennedy has largely resisted creating or enlarging historic districts in the ward because he sees them as a burden to residents. Meanwhile, much of the Vandeventer neighborhood has disintegrated.

Could all of the homes presented here have been saved and have been financially feasible to rehabilitate? Probably not. Could and should have some of them been rehabilitated? Yes. Can and should we as a City start to think smarter and creating better policies about levels of building condemnation, about what is repairable and able to be saved, about what should be stabilized and mothballed for rehabilitation and what should ultimately get demolished? Absolutely!!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ittner's Hempstead School Damaged but Should be Saved!

IMG_5366
News coverage of the fire Saturday evening at the William B. Ittner designed Hempstead School made it seem that damage to the structure was far worse than actually occurred, with a fire fighter quoted as saying they were unable to save the building and reports of a partial collapse. I feared the worst when I decided to detour my Sunday morning run due north up Hamilton Avenue to have a look. 

IMG_5418
The did fire completely destroyed about a quarter to a third of the sloped tiled roof structure, but the remainder of the roof, while somewhat damaged is structurally intact. The buildings brick exterior walls remain completely intact with no collapse as had been reported.

IMG_5417IMG_5406
A close up of a collapsed dormer over the east stairwell. Notice also that the windows below tis area of the worst fire damage are also fully intact, meaning that the fire itself did not fully reach and destroy the 2nd floor classrooms. How is this possible you may ask? The answer is "Fireproof Construction", which essentially means that the structural elements of the floors, interior and exterior walls and probably the 2nd floor ceiling structure separating the building from the attic we built of non-combustable materials. Ittner was an early advocate of using fireproof construction in all new schools that he designed, and a 1908 Annual Report of the Board of Education lists 34 new "fireproof" schools, including Hempstead built in the previous 11 years. The ceiling structure of the attic of the fireproof Sherman School, which I recently had a chance to tour, is concrete.

It was fairly typical to allow combustable construction in the attic since roofs and attics can be replaced, but children in classrooms below cannot. Today's building codes still have a lower fire resistance rating required for roofs in some construction types.

IMG_5399
Tiles of the roof west of the entrance are damaged, but the structure is intact, it appears flames did reach the west dormer before being extinguished.

IMG_5376
The beautiful main entrance of Hempstead School facing Minerva Avenue.

IMG_5433
The rear of the school from the southeast shows some additional attic damage over the rear of the east wing, but again seemingly no fire damage to rooms below.

IMG_5436
The flat roofed center rear wing also appears undamaged. The chimney at the upper right shows where the portion of sloped roof over the front of the school was completely burned.

IMG_5363
A view from the southwest shows the west wing roof also fully intact.

IMG_5389
A close-up view of one of the crenelated entrance towers.

While fire has destroyed a significant portion of the decorative roof, the school building itself remains fully intact and sound. While Hempstead School closed in 2003, It has been surprisingly well maintained, including the very important gutter system, which appears to be relatively new. It is very possible to construct a relatively inexpensive low-slope temporary roof structure to replace the missing portion of the decorative sloped roof to protect it from weather until a full restoration can be done as part of a larger project to rehabilitate the building. 

The St. Louis School Board should at a minimum fund this action to mothball Hempstead School until a new owner or use is found. This would be far less costly than un-needed hasty demolition, and would preserve this beautiful National Register asset for future use.