Friday, January 18, 2008

Being a Slumlord is Hard Work

It's hard work to be a slumlord, so why bother. Tenants are messy and often want you to keep the buildings they live in from falling apart. Most tenants would complain if you bought the building they lived in and the windows and doors mysteriously disappeared. They would also probably get a little aggravated if they came home from work one day to find that the back of the building where they live was gone!
When you buy a building it's much easier to just evict everyone... but then what? It costs a lot of money to have the building demolished yourself. It would be much easier to get the City to condemn your building and order up an "emergency" demolition. For this to happen your building has to be in fairly bad shape, so you may want to enlist some "help" to get the building in the right condition to have the City step in and "take care of it" for you... such as having someone strip off the rear of the building brick by brick!
While its difficult to prove he connection here, the fact stands that there have been many buildings in certain north St. Louis neighborhoods that have fallen victim to what is known as brick rustling, in other words stealing brick, entire walls of brick (or in some cases the entire exterior) from standing buildings. For an alarming look at brick rustling take a look at this entry from Built St. Louis. Like a high percentage of buildings that are being ravaged by brick rustling, these buildings at St. Louis and Glasgow Avenues are owned by a certain developer from St. Charles County, best known for the sprawling, want-to-be a place with an ounce of character, known as Hellhaven. The Serial Building Killer owns literally hundreds of buildings and vacant lots in North St. Louis that he is compiling for some kind of massive new development... maybe "North Hellhaven"?... or maybe a giant industrial park like the one that his company is building east of Lambert Field? For the whole story about this one-man systematic quest to destroy North St. Louis, check out the The World of Blairmont section at Ecology of Absence.
This grouping of buildings, all of which have been ordered demolished by the City, lies at the southeast corner of the intersection. The ensemble consists of a three story multi-unit rowhouse building, a corner store with two stories of apartments above, and an alley house along Glasgow that gives urban form to what would ordinarily have been the side view of a back yard. It is a text-book example of the ubiquitous urbanism that St. Louis is losing at an alarming rate.

The sad irony in the loss of this group of buildings is that this very urban typology we are losing is now being emulated in some new outlying developments. Despite its marketing which might lead you otherwise, Hellhaven is a wormy mess of cul-de-sacs with many instances of homes backing, yes backing to the main roads of the development. However not far from Hellhaven a development called New Town at St. Charles is doing things a bit differently. Its planning and building forms emulate the way communities were built prior a century ago, before the automobile was made the sole center of the universe around which all planning rotates. The Aerial photo below is of Glasgow and St. Louis Avenues. Below is photo of a corner at New Town showing almost the same building arrangement with a pair of townhomes facing the main street and an alley house that is a separate residential unit fronting the side street. Parking access for all units is off the alley.

As for the current condition of the buildings, one could say that they are too badly damaged to save, right? I would say however that they are still able to be rehabilitated, based on examples of buildings in similar or worse condition. The corner building has sustained almost no damage, although the alley house admittedly is pretty bad. The photo below is of the rear of a pair of townhomes on Chouteau near Mississippi taken several years ago. The pair has since been fully re-built and restored.

The beautiful turreted corner building below is at the northeast corner of the intersection is known by some area residents as the "flatiron". It's more like a Flatiron in reverse, since it is wide at the front facing St. Louis Avenue, and tapers to almost nothing at the rear. Unlike the buildings to the south, this one has so far not been a victim of brick rustling. While there are signs of neglect, the only major damage to this building seems to be a small portion of the west wall around a window that is falling apart. This would only require some minor masonry re-building, yet the building and the group accross the street are being demolished this week!


Doug Duckworth said...

Nice, Paul, you better be at drinks on the 24th.

john w. said...

Excellent post. I particularly like the comparison to the urban pattern at the corner in the New Town aerial photo. This corner pattern shown is oft-repeated in this new town of artiface, and is one of the few admirable qualities that can be counted from this Disneyesque plastic town. Upon entering New Town past the bombastic axis-terminating obelisk and along the contrived water canal, the residental section to the right is actually respectable. The mission style courtyard 4-plex is good, and in addition the to the corner patter shown in your aerial photo there are several other instances of in-law flats above semi-detached garages which delimit some desireable rear garden spaces. It's these PATTERNS that could be instilled into the redevelopment of north St. Louis, while needless pastiche is left behind. I would like for McKee to come around to seeing the value at least in the storefront corner building, but alas it's sure to fall as well.

Chris said...

The storefront building is still standing, as of Saturday.

john w. said...

That sure is encouraging news. It's a great artifact, but that looming demolition permit says more needless removal is about to take place. I just hate some things in this life.

Anonymous said...

The flatiron w/ the turret is gone, and it sucks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your interest in these properties on the St. Louis Avenue and Glasgow corners. I grew up on the southwest corner, across from my great-grandma's grocery store.