Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Dark Night for Preservation in St. Louis

Dark Night for Pevely
By now most of you have heard the news that the St. Louis Planning Commission overturned the Preservation Board decision that called for preserving the Pevely Dairy office building at the corner of Grand and Chouteau.

This act is just one more example that the City's archaic myriad of governmental departments, agencies and fiefdoms are devoid of visionary thinking, much less even basic planning… in short designed for failure. We all know this and we put up with it on a daily basis, but what the Planning Commission did tonight is the kind of shit that drives people away. There's a reason people move away from St. Louis, because there's not enough people who care about the City as a place. Even the Mayor's one direct representative on the Planning Commission, who voted to uphold the Preservation Board decision, could not overcome the votes of the other members nor the bullshit rhetoric and blatant threats from SLU and their paid representatives. 

I hate to bring religion into this, or anything for that matter, but it seems that there is an unwritten rule that the Catholics get their fucking way with whatever they want to do in this small minded town. The St. Aloysius Gonzaga parish complex was demolished, the Cathedral got their un-needed parking lot on Lindell at the cost of a mid century landmark, now SLU, which has been on a seemingly endless demolition roll gets the Pevely Dairy complex clear cut for an ambulatory care center that could be built on any of several vacant sites, including a large site right across the street or even part of the Pevely site itself. These were not the first, and pobably won't be the last 


Jason Stokes said...

Paul -

I've said it before, and you're absolutely right - it's things like this that push people away. My wife and I want to live in an urban city. If St. Louis wants to kowtow to special interests every step of the way and become less urban, fine.

We'll gladly take our children, our advanced degrees, and our income to somewhere that appreciates the urban form.

I don't want to be a drama queen, and it's not THIS decision that pushes us away - but it's the accretion of these decisions that make us realize that somewhere else would likely be a better fit.

If St. Louis can't keep avowed urbanists, and certainly can't keep suburbanites, what are we left with? SLU and its students? People who have no other option but to move? Those last few suckers who remain dedicated to a sinking ship?

I'm as disgusted as everyone else seems to be today. It's monumentally frustrating.

Notes From Flanders said...

It's sad that the unique character of St. Louis continues to be erased and replaced with generic mediocrity devoid of any soul or style.

Anonymous said...

Biondi is to historic architecture as Tomás de Torquemada was to the Jews.

Anonymous said...

It was a one sided argument.. SLU threatened taking all its jobs to the county. And I bet Biondi had several 'conversations' with commissioners before the meeting to make sure things will go his way. I am left wondering what the point of the preservation board and public testimony is when you are dealing with a powerful economic entity such as SLU or any other corporation

Chris said...

"People who have no other option?"

Jason, that is a large percentage of St. Louis's population, unfortunately.

Brick City said...

Well said. Why would anyone want to stay in a City that is so neglected and that so few care about?

Anonymous said...

Visionary thinking and basic planning?

No dude, you need to realize that certain types of complexes require starting from scratch.

You don't rehab an old-ass building into a medical facility that
treats patients. There's not only the litany of federal and industry
regulations that must be adhered to for patient safety (hallway and
room sizing and placement of every outlet, fixture and window), the
infrastructure for electric, plumbing, oxygen and about ten other types of gas lines, biohazard pipes and filtration is far too complex and expensive and redesigning all of it around existing structure would make it near-impossible.

I've seen the disaster that is the
tunnels under the BJC campus. Complete nightmare for the maintenance and infrastructure workers there.

Beyond that, I'm almost certain that the majority of patients, given the choice, would prefer to be treated at a new, modern facility than some hundred year old rehab.

BJC has all the opportunity in the world to rehab their existing
towers into modern facilities, but what are they doing? Tearing them
down one by one over the next ten years to build brand new ones that
are both future-ready and industry-compliant.

If SLU just wanted to put in some lame office space, then sure, rehab
it, but in general, halting economic and scientific progress to save some old shit just because it's listed as "historic" on some paperwork that only ten people have ever read is BS.

And I realize your anger against SLU at the moment, but your comment about Catholics getting their way all the time is way out of line and has no place in this argument.

NYC said...

Yep, stuff like this is why I have zero interest in moving back home. Really sad.

Anonymous said...

It seems like the city, by their very decisions, is invalidating its historic preservation ordinances. If someone with means were to challenge them, the long list of cases like the Pevely Dairy would be precedence for eliminating all preservation review in the city. You can’t selectively enforce your laws.

Anonymous said...

so glad to finally see this happen. this will be great for st. louis.

Anonymous said...

the reasons people leave st. louis have nothing to do with decisions like knocking down pevely. the reason people and businesses leave st. louis is because of it's high taxes, poor school districts, and high crime rates. dt st. louis is embarrassing and its because of people like you. if you want to make st. louis great and encourage growth take a few lessons from someone other than this fool (paul hohmann). you should be thankful institutions like slu have invested so much in the community. we all want the same thing. you're just making it hard to get there.

Adam said...

^no, i'll continue taking my lessons from paul. you haven't a shred of evidence to support any of the vomit that just fell out of your mouth (figuratively, of course, it actually fell out of your fingertips and onto your keyboard). i think your assertion that people like paul ruined DT is fucking hilarious. why, that new never-even-remotely filled garage that replaced the century building sure is turning things around! no, the types of lessons that you extol have been destroying saint louis for seventy years now. PLEASE try to argue that preservationists are the reason that saint louis has been declining for seven decades. PLEASE. i need another good laugh.

Adam said...

"No dude, you need to realize that certain types of complexes require starting from scratch."

no, dude, you need to realize that this isn't rocket science, and that there are numerous examples of modern medical facilities that have adaptively reused/incorporated historic buildings. why don't you take 5 minutes and do a google search. SLU just didn't want to be bothered.

Dr. Sociology said...

For a moment, imagine Midtown St. Louis without Saint Louis University's presence. It would be a 1.3 square mile parcel of low-income housing. Furthermore, imagine the area immediately surrounding the campus. The current gentrification would be unimaginable. SLU is one of the strongest forces propelling St. Louis forward. Stymieing economic development in a city vying for jobs and attention, in order to preserve a structure with no unique architectural characteristics, is foolish.

SLU is not demolishing your prized Pevely Diary for a parking lot. Rather, a $70M+ state-of-the-art medical facility.

The comment posted by an anonymous reader perfectly delineates the reasons that people leave St. Louis:
"the reason people and businesses leave st. louis is because of it's high taxes, poor school districts, and high crime rates."
This is correct. Demolition of buildings like the Pevely Dairy isn't causing people to leave.

Jason Stokes- if you feel compelled to use your real name and seize the opportunity to brag on the Vanishing STL Blog, please take your family and your advanced degree elsewhere. You will not be missed.

Adam said...

Dr., your hypotheticals and unsupported assertions aren't very convincing. i can make up a bunch of hypotheticals too. but i don't have to; people said the same thing about the central west end, soulard and lafayette square, now some of the city's most thriving neighborhoods. it's no surprise that the healthiest neighborhoods in saint louis are the ones that have kept the majority of their dense, historic building stock. you're correct, though, that the demolition of Pevely alone probably won't cause many people to leave. However, 70 years of accumulated demolitions sure as hell has. It's sad; the powers that be in this city never learn, and are apparently destined to make the same mistakes ad nauseum while other, successful cities have learned to leverage their historic architectural character and retain the density that makes them appealing. but, then, saint louis has suffered from shitty, arrogant, self-interested leadership for a couple hundred years. why would it change now?

"SLU is not demolishing your prized Pevely Diary for a parking lot. Rather, a $70M+ state-of-the-art medical facility. "

yeah, they already demolished all those other buildings for parking lots and empty fields. have you been to midtown lately? go to the Pulitzer, stand outside on the terrace and look around at the sea of parking. it's disgusting and pathetic.

Imran said...

For the umpteenth time:

1 SLU has no shortage of land to build their we-will-die-without-it medical building

2 Dont buy a building on the historic register if you dont plan to honor it.

3 The Pevely buiilding DOES NOT have to house patients. It could be medical records or housing for patient families.

Dude :)

Sisyphus said...

At best, short-sighted decisions like this one by SLU and the Planning Commission belie a deep and troubling deficit of optimism and imagination. At worst, decisions like this demonstrate that powerful players like SLU can get whatever they want whenever they want it, the rules be damned.

I don't intend to move away from the City anytime soon, but I agree that the accretion of decisions like this make people leave. People look around at a landscape pock-marked by demolition and punctuated by ugly new buildings that don't belong, and a sadness creeps into them. Decisions like this rob St. Louis of its identity and heritage, and make it seem cold and foreign.

Long after the Peveley is gone, I think it will be missed. It will be missed by people who never saw it, who don't know they are missing it, and who aren't actually conscious that anything is missing. It will be missed because it will leave an empty and palpable sadness behind, and because the new building will never fit into that corner the way the Peveley did.

People will look around and subconsciously think, something just isn't right here, something feels a little off, and they won't know it, but they'll be missing the Peveley building.

Adam said...

^ and, i might add, then they will travel to a city that respects itself more than Saint Louis, say Washington DC or Boston or even Baltimore for the love of god, and they'll quickly forget about Saint Louis. i see it all the time.

john w. said...

Should these battles be fought on a per-threatened-site basis? Or, should a longer-view strategy have preservationists and urbanists solidifying to both demand a city-wide, form-based zoning ordinance and move rapidly toward a consolidated platform for such zoning?

Adam said...

^certainly, a city-wide form-based ordinance would be a step in the right direction. but the real problem in this case, as i see it, is not a lack of regulation but, at best, a lack of enforcement and, at worst, collusion between SLU and the planning commission. in a just world - even though Pevely gets demolished - this would be taken to court so that it could be shown that the planning commission acted outside of their authority, that Biondi and company blatantly lied and illegally influenced the commission's decision, and that all involved parties would be punished appropriately. until that happens this will never end.

Adam said...

bigger battles have been fought and won. it's not impossible. after all, we're just talking about small-time politicians here, and the president of a mediocre university.

john w. said...

Adam, the zoning would have forced proper site development to begin with, so the back room deals would have been solely about the circumvention of the very weak STL City Preservation Board ruling. The Pevely issue is two-fold. There is the matter of urban form (already spoiled by the Doisy, and also presaged by it), and the matter of preservation of not only strong urban fabric, but regiserted historic architecture. Had there been FBZ, the site may not have been selected for the construction of the ambulatory center to begin with as the extant fabric would have required a build-to-existing. This is an important distinction to be made. Preservationists and urbanists are generally allied in their concerns and pursuits, but the Venn diagram of big bubble urbanism does not always include small bubble preservation, and vice versa. A city-wide, form-based zoning code would have resulted in a totally different site solution that the one brought about by SLU.

Anonymous said...

Peter said...

Can we please take a step back, change gears, and breathe a fresh whiff of reality? We have to question the real costs of preservation versus innovation. After so many years of "preserving" historic landmarks, has anyone ever paused to ponder: what's the point? Just look at what these frankly HIDEOUS buildings are doing to the land values of the SLU area, especially of the medical campus. Sure, the Pevely building has extensive history, but other than for the casual reminiscing of old-timers, they serve no other purpose than harbor crime, waste space, and repulse tourists. "Preserving" these out-dated buildings is akin to keeping a former general alive on life-support. He's 105 years old, is in a persistent vegetative state and is covered in bed-sores, but for the sake of "history," activists insist on keeping him alive (barely) while plenty of talented new officers are eager to write history anew. Life is about moving forward. We write history anew through our children, and buildings can be the same; why not design new buildings with the architectural DNA of St. Louis? STOP "preserving" the past and INNOVATE the future!

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

As much as Pevely has history, what good is a building that is making no revenue, is vacant and really more of a drain?

Preservation shouldn't come at the cost of rebuilding the city.

Ann said...

Destruction has already begun. :( I totally pulled off to take a few shots of the sadness... Let me know if you want to see them.