Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Disappearing Block - 39-40xx Washington - Part 1

Back in Midtown, just two blocks west of Grand Center, between Vandeventer and Sarah lies a block of Washington Avenue where I have witnessed six home demolitions over the last 15 years or so, leading me to call it the disappearing block. Three more homes remain in a state of decaying limbo, a separate story I will share later.

The block was once lined mostly by large stately homes, many in the 4,500-6,000 s.f. range (with the exception of a small convent complex mid-block). As you can see from the map above not much is left. The magenta forms are locations of documented demolitions, and the cyan are the three in limbo. The L shaped building is a senior apartment building built a few years ago.

Unfortunately, this story has played out on dozens of blocks in various neighborhoods of the city in the same period. This just happens to be the one that I photographed the most.The first home I photographed was 4060 while back in St. Louis on holiday break from college sometime around 1990-92 (unfortunately I did not make a habit of dating my photos). The large home had recently suffered a devastating fire, leaving its roof hanging perilously near collapse.

The decorative brick band just below the eave extended all the way around the home.
The home's entry was recessed behind a large red sandstone arch. Apparently the stone steps up to the curving porch had already been pilfered.
By the following summer, the home was gone.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Laclede Gasometer - Newstead & Chouteau

On the northwest corner of Chouteau & Newstead a Laclede Gas Gasometer rises high above the surrounding neighborhood. It is a landmark that most St. Louisans are familiar with, but likely take for granted, but after 106 years, it is scheduled to be demolished. The photo below shows the launch of a gas balloon race in 1907 which drew contestants from around the globe. The site, which according to city records is still owned by Laclede Gas, contains the gasometer, a pump house which was built in 1911 (and will be preserved) and a paved parking/storage yard where a second gasometer once stood (unsure of dates of construction or removal)
The Post-Dispatch reported recently that developers Steve Trampe and Jerry King will be taming up to redevelop the site with housing and possibly some commercial. According to the article, there is no definitive development plan for the site.
The fact that the developer's plan to demolish the structure is interesting considering that it was Steve Trampe who renovated one of the toughest buildings (in terms of its condition and degree of difficulty) in recent memory, the Continental Life Building. Admittedly, a gasometer is very different than a beautiful but derelict high rise office building, and it would take a great deal of creativity and ingenuity to adapt the structure for say residential use.

For more photos of the gasometer at Chouteau & Newstead, see: Built St. Louis, and Flickr

So what can you do with an old gasometer? There are many examples of creative re-use out there, including this one in Vienna, which reuses the shells of four old iron and masonry gasometers. Here are a few photos from the web site about this project.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Raleigh Residence - 3664 Washington & Sheldon Annex - 3656 Washington

About a hundred feet east of the Beaumont on Washington stood the the Raliegh Residence (also known as the Argonne), a stately 5 story apartment building. I do not know the exact date of construction, but its style, structure and detailing tell me that it dates from the 1920's. It was demolished not long before the Beaumont for a surface parking lot, since apparently someone thought there was a shortage of this on the surrounding blocks! If the Raleigh had been renovated, it would not only have meant the retention of an elegant structure, but would have helped create something that Grand Center desperately needs, that is a critical mass of residential density.
Just east of the Raleigh stands a structure that I believe was built in the 20's as a parking garage. The original facade of the garage was a restrained Gothic revival design executed in cream terra cotta and buff brick.
The good news is that in 1998, the garage structure was renovated and became the Sheldon Annex (the beautiful Sheldon Memorial is next door to the east), providing gallery and reception space.
The bad news is that the historic facade which had two tiny storefront spaces flanking the garage entry was hacked off of the building along with the first15-20 feet of the front of the structure in order to provide a large concrete slab in front a new fairly plain brick facade set back off the street.
An entrance on the east end of the facade had ornate detailing.
A close-up of the windows on the 2nd & 3rd levels (most likely not original) and terra cotta spandrel panels

Update: Urban Review STL posted a photo today that shows the terra cotta in the photo above re-installed on the side of Bellon Wrecking's office/pizzeria on Vandeventer.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Beaumont Medical Building - 3716 Washington

Not far from the Olympia, at 3716 Washington Avenue in Grand Center, stood the Beaumont Medical Building. It was built in 1927 and was designed by LaBeaume & Klein. The Beaumont included a feature unusual for the time, an indoor parking garage in the building. The garage entrance can be seen in the photo below between two storefront windows on the left side of the building.

In an act that can only be described as the complete absence of foresight, the Beaumont was imploded in 1997, the same year legislation was written to establish the Missouri Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, which became effective on January 1st of the following year. Fast Forward ten years, and large historic buildings are viewed as an important asset to Grand Center, with renovations bring new apartment and condo residents and possibly a hotel
Photo from "Missouri's Contribution to Architecture" published in 1928 by the St. Louis Architectural Club.
The Beaumont not long before it met its doom

Gone in Sixty Seconds. For some better photos of the implosion, check out Built St. Louis
The sites of the Beaumont and the smaller building to the west are occupied today by the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Both are great buildings and important ingredients in the revitalization of Grand Center. Both could have been built on vacant land or one of the many surface parking lots around the area, in fact an Ando exhibit several years ago at SLAM showed the original site for the Pulitzer on the site where Channel 9 built a few years later.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Olympia Apartments - 3863 West Pine

For my first post, I present the Olympia Apartments which stood at the corner of West Pine and Vandeventer. An ideal urban building, it had retail along Vandeventer, entry & lobby off West Pine, and six floors of apartments above.
According to St. Louis Landmarks & Historic Districts, the Olympia was designed in 1926 by David R. Harrison with terra cotta ornament from the Winkle Terra Cotta Company of St. Louis. It had been listed on the National Register in 1986, which meant it would have been eligible to receive Federal and State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits. However in July 1993, the Olympia was demolished as part of SLU’s decade long quest to create a unified campus. Ironically, a several years later, SLU would build several new low rise apartment buildings just to the southeast of the site.

The Olympia could have been a great anchor for the west end of SLU’s campus, but instead it is anchored by surface parking lots. Kitty corner to the Olympia also stood the highly ornamented Vesper Buick Building, which SLU demolished in 1995 for another surface parking lot.