Wednesday, June 11, 2008

City of Clayton demands immediate demolition of Harris Armstrong's Vandervoort's Building

Everyone has heard that Centene is returning to their original plan to build in Clayton after playing Downtown St. Louis so that Clayton would cave-in and agree to unprecedented subsidies to lure them back. What seems to have missed the radar is that Harris Armstrong's unique Scruggs Vandervoort Barney aka the Library Limited building could have been saved at least for several years had it not been for the complete ignorance of the City of Clayton's politicians. My suspicions were confirmed in an article in last weeks West End Word stating that at least temporarily, the historic Harris Armstrong building was going to be spared.Under a revised plan, Centene was going to build a tower at the corner of Carondelet and Hanley first, while leaving the Harris Armstrong building standing for "temporary offices". The phase two second shorter tower at the corner of Forsyth & Hanley would be built at an "unspecified date in the future, dependant on market conditions". In others words, it may never have happened.It is unclear if Centene would have kept the Harris Armstrong building standing after construction was complete on the first tower, but they would have no real reason to demolish it until they planned to built on the site. They paid $12 million for the building and garage behind, so they might as well lease it out the building and get some revenue from it until the uncertain phase two, right?
Now reduced to "Bldg B", Centene could have converted the
building back to retail after building their first tower

Unfortunately, the City of Clayton demanded that the first tower go up on the corner of Forsyth and Hanley, triggering a demolition of the historic building this summer. Their concern is for revitalization of Forsyth. If Clayton was so concerned about Forsyth, they would have long ago created a master plan for active mixed use redevelopment of the street from the Parkway to Bemiston. Instead, they have sat and watched what was the premier retail street in St. Louis County become a series of vacant lots and underutilized properties characterized by inactive (non-retail) uses on the ground floors. At the same time, development of the former "Clayton hole" has moved the center of gravity one block south to Carondelet. A new tower with retail at Hanley and Carondelet would have nicely tied what is an isolated area with the core of downtown Clayton.


Anonymous said...

I've always loved this building. More evidence that this city needs 'help' making better decisions with how it allows monied corporations to decide how the urban landscape is modified.

Chris said...

This is great news! The more Clayton fucks up its downtown, the better chance St. Louis City's downtown will be more competitive!

Anonymous said...

disappointing. all the really neat 40s-60s architecture from clayton to ladue is being torn down for ugly big box crap. In 30 years everyone will look back and go...OOPS.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we have to wait 30 years to look anywhere around and go...OOPS. We'll just have to keep fighting this better fight, and hopefully a coalition of urbanists and residents of areas targeted for bad [re]development will be able to form an action-taking movement to bring to the fore these urban issues. The fore would be out front and center, confronting city agendas that should be challenged, and presenting counterproposals that might just make people care enough about our built environment to not sit idly by.

Anonymous said...

If we are seeking a media inquiry, what is an e-mail address where we can contact you?

Vanishing STL said...

You can email me at

Andrew R said...


Thanks so much for your efforts to document and make arguments for saving Armstrong's Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney Building (aka Library Limited) based on the logic of Clayton's self-interest in developing a coherent urban design plan for its downtown.

It's a shame that so often people with political and economic power to affect such decisions have such a limited and narrow-minded conception of what constitutes a "revitalized" street.

My impression is that the kind of revitalized Forsyth Boulevard Clayton has in mind would consist of a series of monumentally scaled office buildings with a little street-scaping to provide the well-dressed a place to chat, eat and smoke.

Somehow, I imagine they would prefer the clean, well-kept impressiveness of Sheik Zayed Road in Dubai to the truly urban, vibrant street dominated by people rather than buildings.

Retail can be so democratic and open to anyone at all that it becomes quite difficult to distinguish those who truly belong and those who are "outsiders".

I believe the fundamental conflicts isn't so much architectural and urbanistic, rather they are social, economic, and elitist.

Andrew Raimist
architectural ruminations