Monday, July 15, 2013

Preservation Board Should Deny Blossom House Demolition

Late last week I looked at the Preservation Board Agenda for this months meeting on next  Monday, July 22nd, and was surprised to see an application to demolish a large two and a half story home at 5331 Enright located in the Visitation Park local historic district. Signs on the chain link fence around the house leave no guessing as to the intensions of the owner.

The house is owned by Helix Realty, who according to City property records acquired the property in June of this year. According to Helix Realty's website, they own and manage apartments mostly in historic buildings in the Central West End and U-City. They own and manage the Savoy Court apartments, which consists of several historic buildings just south of the house at the northwest corner of Delmar and Union.

The home has been known as the Blossom House and was most recently used known as the Blossom House Youth Development Center, a low cost health and dental clinic. 

Blossom House
The home was occupied at least through October 2005. Photo by Marjie Kennedy. The Roberts brothers acquired the house in 2005 at the same time they purchased the former Smith Academy and Manual Training School buildings from the St. Louis Public Schools.IMG_0920

The Roberts transformed the school into loft apartments and planned to rehabilitate the Blossom House as part of a for-sale home development that was to be built along Enright, in front of the former school buildings. The Blossom House is just east of the few of the for-sale homes that were built before the housing market crash. Helix Realty also manages the loft apartments in the former school, but according to City records, the building is still owned by the Roberts.

While the house has been vacant for 7-8 years and the windows and gutters were removed, the house is in surprisingly good shape. The missing stucco on the round bay facing east is the only real visibly needed major exterior repair needed (other than windows, gutters & paint).

Decoratively cut roof joists are a defining feature at the eaves of the house.

A garage was added to the house at some point.

A permit for full rehabilitation of the house was applied for in December 2006, but the only work completed was selective interior demolition. Plaster and lath was removed from interior walls and ceilings and all mechanical, electrical and plumbing was removed. The decorative wood stair is fully intact in the entry hall.

Plaster remains at the exterior walls as well as wood moldings at doors and windows. Most of the floors appear to be 1 1/4" wide oak and while likely need re-finishing, are in good condition.

Upstairs, railings are fully intact at the stair.

The east bedroom has a door to a balcony over the round bay.

For a home that has been vacant for 7-8 years it is in very good condition. The original tile roof must be in pretty good shape because there is surprisingly very little water damage anywhere except some isolated floor damage directly below the roof of the bay.

The ceiling of the finished attic is intact and also appeared to be free of the type of water damage that would normally be a big problem for a home like this.

Overall the condition of this historic house is very good and there is absolutely NO reason or justification for its demolition. The Preservation Board should deny the application for demolition. If Helix Realty didn't want to rehab the house, which is eligible for historic tax credits, they should not have bought it last month. 

The house sits at the southwest corner of the Public School Stadium grounds and Soldan High School can be seen out this window at the northeast corner of the second floor. City records show that Helix Realty also acquired the stadium grounds at the same time they acquired the house. The strange thing about this is that a permit was granted in April of this year for renovations to the grandstand structure and restrooms there. The work includes replacing all of the brick at the rear wall of the grandstand that faces Union. Why would SLPS start this work, which is listed as over $1.1 million then sell the property midway through the work?

Blossom House Sanborn 1909
The date of construction of the home us not readily available as the date listed on the City's property records (1960) is inaccurate. From the style and type of construction I would estimate that it was constructed sometime in the 1910's or 1920's. The home does not show up in the 1909 Sanborn map above, but a larger earlier home, which is where the name "Blossom House" is derived, does appear in the center of the property, which was only recently sub-divided when the Robert's bought the home. The earlier home was documented in the early 1930's by the Historic American Building Survey. The earlier home was demolished in 1942, probably when it was purchased by St. Louis Public Schools for construction of the stadium. Even in 1942 though, someone saw value in preserving the "newer" home that was not located right in the center of the stadium football field.

Blossom House HABS 1933
This is the HABS description of the mansion: 
Significance: Built ca. 1852. Land bought by Professor Jonathan Jones, head of a business college, in 1851. He built six room frame house. Lost all his money in 1861, and property was sold at foreclosure to Chalmer Dwight Blossom, who added large front section to original Jones' house. Blossom occupied the house in 1862. House later occupied by Miss Christine Glass, who operated a pre-kindergarten school there. House demolished 1942.


Cara said...

I agree 100%.

Charlie said...

Hopefully someone will save this grand old building.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

We used to use the Blossom House in the early 1990s. It's so sad to see what the building has become.

Anonymous said...

We used to use the Blossom House in the early 1990s. It's so sad to see what the building has become.

Anonymous said...

It will again be very beautiful and much loved as it once was.

Silvia Jacinto said...
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Wayne Brasler said...

I was a student at Harris College in 1958-59 and 1959-60 and my freshman year was class vice president and sophomore year managing editor of the campus newspaper The Collegian. Harris was an exciting, vibrant college with an outstanding faculty and one of the few truly integrated schools anywhere at that point. Blossom House actually was the caretakers' home for the blossom estate. It was used as Harris' Student Union. We would have big fancy lunches there, speakers and in the afternoons could reserve the house to gather with friends, enjoy music, do homework. A beautiful, cozy building it was and we loved it. So sorry to see what happened to a place we cherished a half-century ago.

Vanishing STL said...

Wayne, Thanks for the information! You will b glad to hear that the house has been fully renovated. Guy Slay of Mangrove Development bought it and did a beautiful job with the restoration. It is now used as a single family house.