Monday, March 11, 2013
A Case for Mothballing
Last week a resident of the 4400 block of Washington Boulevard informed me that this beautiful three story home at 4474 Washington had recently been demolished. I had included a few photos of this house and it's twin neighbor 4476 in a post I did last year about a another demolition on the same block.
This photo by the resident of the block shows the home reduced to pallets of brick wrapped in plastic. Its twin with a different dormer design still stands next door.
The home had been vacant for many years, but was in relatively good condition except for a portion of the rear wall and a small section of roof over this area. A rear porch which shows up in an aerial view from just a few years ago had collapsed from what appears to be fire damage. The main house though was only damaged in the rear where the opening in the wall occurred. The isolated collapse was likely caused by water pressure from a fire hose.
At just over 3,000 square feet, the house which was built in 1905, was not small, but it was still smaller than many houses on this stable block that have been rehabilitated in the last several years. The home was condemned for demolition by the City in June 2012 and according to the City's property records, it's recent demolition cost the City $9,300.00.
This home is a perfect example of where a mothballing program by the City of St. Louis could have resulted in preservation of this handsome structure. A temporary roof at the rear section of the home and framing in the three story opening in the rear wall, which would secure and stabilize the house until rehabilitation, could likely have cost less than the demolition.
A view of the east side of the house shows the structure in sound condition, with original windows still fully intact. The fire escape indicates that the house may have been divided into apartments at or used as a rooming house at one time.
The home had been owned by a corporation with an address in Maryland, and according to City records, property taxes had not been paid for 2010, 2011 or 2012, meaning that instead of being demolished, it could have gone to a tax sale early this year and been bought by someone who would rehab it. If no one happened to bid on it, LRA would have taken ownership and an RFP could have been issued for purchase and rehabilitation of the home. While the real estate market is not (and likely won't be) where it was before the crash in 2008, a local real estate agent told me last week that demand for existing homes in the City is outpacing supply of for sale homes this spring.
A view inside the rear of the house shows some smoke and water damage at the ceiling, but the structure is still fully intact. The fire had not spread through the main portion of the house. While the photo above isn't pretty, the home was still very much in restorable condition.
The surviving twin at 4476 Washington is also vacant but is well secured. The owner according to City records lives in the 5700 block of Pershing, and there are electrical permits listed as recent as 2005.
It should be noted that the demolition of 4474 Washington took place without a review by the Cultural Resources Office. The home was located in the 18th Ward, which lacks Preservation Review and it is also located on a block that was excluded from an expansion of the Central West End Historic District by Alderman Terry Kennedy. The map below shows the expansion of the Central West End Historic District district in blue and the blocks of Washington that were excluded by Alderman Kennedy in pink. The red colored lots are the locations of the demolition last year of 4411 and the recent demolition of 4474 Washington. Including these blocks would ensured review by the Cultural Resources Office that could have resulted in preservation of these homes. The homes would also have been eligible for the 25% Missouri Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit for substantial rehabs.
At a mayoral forum held by the American Institute of Architects - St. Louis the week prior to the primary election, Mayor Slay pitched the idea of a revolving fund to mothball vacant buildings. This strategy is outlined as a short term goal in the Urban Character, Vitality & Ecology section of the City of St. Louis Sustainability Plan that was formally adopted by the City in January. It is time to enact this strategy, which would result in fewer un-needed demolitions and could actually save the City some money. Enacting City-wide Preservation Review would also elevate historic preservation from a political shell game to a strategy for revitalizing the entire City.