Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cultural Resources Recommends Partial Preservation in Kosciusko

150 Victor.png
On Monday the Preservation Board will consider the proposed demolition of a grouping of buildings occupying two thirds of a full block of Kosciusko bound by Victor, Dekalb, Sidney & 2nd Streets. Much of the complex, which is located in a Preservation Review Area, consists of non-historic one story metal and concrete block buildings, but at least three buildings date from the late 1800's. The Cultural Resources Office has rightly recommended preservation of 150 Victor Street (photo from the Preservation Board agenda above), which of the older buildings is the least altered and in very good condition.

Victor & Dekalb.jpg
A view of the complex at Victor & Dekalb, with 150 Victor is at the right. Next left is another pair of mansard roofed townhouses covered with stucco. looking south on Dekalb you can see the roof line of the third older building.
150 Victor began as three townhouses, but later were converted for commercial use. At the time the hand painted sign was installed it housed a the offices of a meat packer and later an automotive company was added to the mix. Today the entire complex is owned by R & R Contracting Services, a company that supplies porta-potties.

Victor Aerial.jpg
The site of the proposed demolitions, outlined in yellow above, is just a block west of the site of a demolition that occurred last year. 107 Victor, a three story corner building at the intersection of Victor & Kosciusko had been placed on the preliminary Preservation Board agenda for September 2009, but was mysteriously pulled before the meeting. Demolition of the building without further oversight followed in April 2010.

Like many neighborhoods near the Mississippi River, Kosciusko had long been composed of a mixture of manufacturing and residential buildings. Directly across from 150 Victor, is the Hager Companies, which was founded in the same location in 1849. Hager, which started as a maker of hinges, is now a large manufacturer/supplier of quality commercial architectural hardware for construction projects around the world.

Kosciusko Aerial 1958.jpg
This was Kosciusko in 1958, as it had been since its beginning, a dense mixed use community. This would not last much longer though, as planning for its destruction had begun the previous year. The area had been considered blighted and the solution was to rid the area of residential uses. According to a history of urban renewal in St. Louis (p. 26), acquisition and mass demolition began in 1960.

Kosciusko Aerial 1971.jpg
By 1971, Kosciusko was almost unrecognizable and had mostly been replaced with large single story trucking warehouses and surface parking lots. The Hager Companies, 107 Victor, the buildings currently under consideration, and a few other scattered buildings were the only evidence that remained of the neighborhoods previous life.

The townhouses just east of 150 Victor. Although covered, the alterations here are only skin deep. When an entire facade is covered in this manner, the stucco is typically applied over another substrate, such as metal mesh which would have been attached to the facade. Removal would likely be an easy task. The original cornices are remarkably in good condition except for needing some paint.

Alterations to the building on Dekalb are more intensive with partially blocked windows, stucco likely direct-applied to the masonry, but while altered, it still retains quite a bit of character. The small pediment over the boarded double door, while not original, is at least somewhat interesting.

The Hager Companies complex is perhaps one of the finest examples I have seen where a large scale manufacturer has preserved and incorporated its history into its current operations. The original unassuming townhouses on Victor Street house the private offices of the fifth and sixth generation family owners of the company.

While working on the now defunct Arcade Building renovation, myself and several Pyramid Architects co-workers who were working on the project with me were treated to a full tour of Hager's St. Louis headquarters. Included was a wonderful home-cooked lunch in their beautiful conference room in one of the old townhouses which is furnished with fine family heirloom antiques complete with a stuffed pheasant on the wall.

Behind the townhouses, one of the former early 20th century factory buildings has been converted to house the main offices of Hager Companies. Most manufacturing is now done at their Montgomery Alabama facility as opposed to over-seas.

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