Friday, July 4, 2008

Regal Theater and nearby buildings

The Regal Theater like the soon to be demolished Shady Oak was a single screen neighborhood theater located at 3144 Martin Luther King just east of Compton. It was built for the Arthur chain in either 1931 (per Cinema Treasures) or 1937 (per Ecology of Absence). Its facade was fairly simple with art deco patterns of textured above where the marquee would have been located and windows of glass block (probably original) The first floor was clad in a blue marble like material, likely Vitrolite. A photo by Eric Post in his book Ghost Town shows some of this remaining at the center ticket booth as well as some lovely art deco decoration.
The building had been owned by LRA since 1986 and I presumed it was demolished (in 2006) for expansion of parking for a newer church just to the south. The church owned the smaller commercial buildings just west of the theater and those buildings were demolished shortly after the theater. City records show a 2007 aerial however shows both demolition sites as empty vacant lots and LRA still owning the theater site.
There was a sign on the building until its demolition that read "Neighborhood Recreation Center", which the area could probably use. I am not sure if it was ever used for this purpose since there were still seats in the auditorium at the time of demolition. The building could have also made good expansion space for the church.

A block east across the street at the corner of MLK and Glasgow sat a small group of buildings which ingeniously held the 50 +/- degree angled corner. Along MLK stood 3 regularly shaped townhomes set back about 4 feet from the sidewalk. Attached to the east, the corner building boasted a graceful curved cast iron storefront with a small townhome unit on MLK and an additional apartment above the commercial space. North of this facing Glasgow were two small sawtoothed townhome units, with the second one having a depth of no more than 20 feet.
Like the theater, these buildings at MLK & Glasgow were owned by the local concentration camp for buildings, the LRA, and while abandoned and in need of rehabilitation, they were structurally in very sound condition. They were demolished seemingly for no reason with an "emergency" permit in July 2004.
As with the
recently lost corners of Glasgow & St. Louis Avenues, this group of buildings anchored the block with a wonderful way of handling a difficult site, and one which sadly is likely to not ever be repeated. Without the adoption of form based zoning or an "urban code", the ultimate replacement for once great corners like this will be suburban style mediocrity.


Doug Duckworth said...

It's horrible to see the loss of such wonderfully scaled neighborhood building which ironically are being emulated in suburbia vis-à-vis New Urbanism!

I suppose neighborhood design is popular it's simply plopped into a corn field, but when it comes to urban infill and rehabilitation, except for places like Old North, leadership therefore political will seems curiously absent.

I love this City but it's hard to believe in a uniformly prosperous future, especially for areas of the North Side which so need reinvestment not in the form of suburban St. Charles Office Parks or Alderman Sam Moore strip malls. But who's going to make the case for a new direction? When the Roberts Brothers irrationally annihilate the building at Kingshighway and Page what hope exists?

Anonymous said...

This city's leadership is as bad as it gets. Who trades away what resident, irreplaceable value neighborhoods have but leaders with no vision? I think I'll follow their lead and trade all my gold bars for tin, and then call it a good, sensible move for economic future. At a time when a looming energy crisis should be telling us all about the unmatchable high value of proper urban densification, this city's leadership still seems to be stuck in the mode of thinking borne of Urban Renewal, given a stay by the Ronald Reagans of the world, and fucking it up right to the bitter end. It's astonishing to witness the utter stupidity being practiced. said...

My family owned and operated the Regal, Criterion and Laclede Theaters in St. Louis for many years, keeping many local residents employed until one by one the City of St Louis took them over for back taxes. Ike and Tina Turner performed live on stage at the Regal in I think 1958. I may have some photos of the Regal in better days.