Monday, March 31, 2008

Sad fate of a house on Hebert

No, this is not one of Paul McKee's Blairmont properties. No, it was not the victim of brick rustlers. Until a last Monday this house on Hebert in Old North St. Louis was undergoing a full gut rehab, having been a formerly abandoned LRA property. So you may be asking yourself what the hell happened? What happened is possibly one of the most blatant acts of gross negligence and stupidity I have heard in a long time... over week later I am still trying to wrap my mind around this one.
So the shell work had been completed, including full tuckpointing, masonry re-building in some areas, new floor joists and sub-floor, new windows, new roof, etc. and work had apparently already begun on interior finishes. Apparently there was some foundation underpinning that needed to be done. OK, I'm going to stop here and state the obvious: that foundation underpinning is something you do in small sections at a time. The foundation contractor, who obviously has a complete absence of common sense, excavated the dirt away from the rubble stone foundation all the way to the bottom along the entire east side of the house. This act alone is not advisable for a 100+ year old rubble foundation, as in many cases, they need re-pointing, and exposing the entire length can make the foundation become unstable. Then he precedes to dig under the footing, and keeps digging, until...well you see the result.

To make matters worse than they could have been, the the new floor joists were not simply inserted into the old masonry pockets as they would have been when the house was built. If this were the case, it is feasible that a good part of the shell would still be standing, since the floor and joists would have been able to fall away from the shell. Instead, the genius bolted band boards to the exterior walls and attached the joists to the band boards, so when a portion of one wall started to collapse, the floor structure dragged the rest of the house down with it. It is unclear at this point what will happen here, but my guess is will end up a vacant lot.


17 comments:

john w. said...

Despite the scolds, I feel bad for the owner because rehabbing a century-old house in a recovering area demands a lot. No one deserves this, however careless the missteps were. It's bad for the neighborhood as well as the owner.

Michael R. Allen said...

This shows how much education many contractors need on historic architecture. This is just one particularly bad instance of negligence one sees on a smaller level in many projects, including tax credit projects.

john w. said...

Despite their obvious responsibility for this tragedy, you have to feel terrible for them. Be careful out there folks.

Robert Powers said...

This is really, really terrible. I feel awful for the family that was rehabbing this house.

Thanks for the detailed description of what happened -- I'm taking notes here!

Robert Powers said...

A question -- old brick St. Louis houses commonly have metal "stars" on their party walls, which I always assumed were the caps for iron rods running all the way through the width of the house to keep the walls going too far out of plumb. Wouldn't that traditional means of construction have had the same result of dragging down the entire house? Or am I mistaken about the purpose of those stars?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see the answer to Rob's question, too. Wouldn't the tie rods have the same effect?

john w. said...

Those stars are in fact the tie rod anchor plates, and the rods were intended to prevent lateral creep of the exterior masonry walls. The rods would run continuous in the floor joist plane from wall to wall, preventing the the bowing that might otherwise occur at the floor line. The band board ledger that was described in the post would be a continous face mount condition, ensuring the collapse of the ENTIRE wall if the opposing wall were to collapse, which is what apparently happened. The tie rods are only intermittent and intended only to stablize the walls. My assumption would be that significant damage would have occured either way, but historically the joists were pocketed into the brick wall cavity, and may have been firecut at the ends in the event of partial collapse. With the continuous face attached ledger, the exterior wall has no where to go but follow the floor diaphragm wherever it goes.

Michael R. Allen said...

Actually, most of the wall ties on 19th century buildings consist of a threaded rod extending from a tapered flat iron bar fastened to the joist itself. The rod would extend through the turnbuckle (usually a star) and be held with a bolt. Continuous rods didn't come into wide use until the mid-1910s.

One of the other problems at 1517 Hebert was that at least one of two former rear walls was removed entirely. The house had two additions with masonry walls running the width of the house where the original house and first addition ended. Those walls added stability, and should not have been removed.

I am deeply sorry for the homeowners.

Vanishing STL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vanishing STL said...

I feel really awful for the owners as well. My scolding is to the contractors. Thanks John and Michael for the explanations. I was not aware of the removal of the lateral masonry walls. This would bring instability to such a long house (it was over 70' long).

Forgot to ask, does anyone know when these walls were removed?

Anonymous said...

While that wall may have helped slow down the eminent demise of the building, it'd been gone for roughly 4-6 months, I think, and things were fine (and looking fantastic I might add) till the digging started the week before the Monday it started coming down. The west side sagged, and over 2/3rds of that masonry came down. 15-30 minutes later most of the east side masonry came down, I thought mostly from the pull of remaining woodwork leaning to the fallen left side, but rumor says that the right side was dug too, so flip the coin. The following Sunday during the Big Big Tour she twisted into the stomach turning heap of new lumber we see today. Who knows, had those other walls still been there, they might have been dug under too. I think the overwhelming amount of rain during and prior to this happening is lightly worth mentioning too.

Chris said...

Any update on whether brick thieves have set their eyes on this place? I saw it the day of the Big Big Tour; it really is unbelievable. My brother who is an attorney, dealt with a similar case in Chicago. I'm not a lawyer, but I think the contractor could be liable.

Anonymous said...

Someone has started stacking brick on palets this week, reg work hours, and had a sign up till the 2day wind storm.

Anonymous said...

It is gone, leveled dirt and straw remain.

Anonymous said...

Be careful who your contractor is. Any thought that they may have a connection to Mckee and his "undercover" work crews. Make sure your contractor is a "true" preservationist or pick another who is. I had a true love for this building and it was the 1st of many that I looked at before buying my home in Old North.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this site while researching a project. We are the family of 1517 Hebert and truly miss the house. Our story since the collapse has been a nightmare. We wish only the best for Old North and the preservation of all the old buildings.

Enrique Garcia said...

True, it's not as as building a twenty first century house from the ground up. Houses were built differently in the late 1800s to early 1900s you have to know what you're doing when taking on a significant project such as this one.