Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Loss of the William Stix & Elias Michael Schools

The William Stix Elementary and Elias Michael schools were both designed by Rockwell M. Milligan who followed William b. Ittner as Commissioner of Buildings for the Board of Education from 1917 until his death in 1929. Stix was opened in September 1921 and was named for William Stix who was a co-founder of Rice-Stix Dry Goods, which built and occupied the Merchandise Mart on Washington and two annex buildings on St. Charles which are now the 10th Street Lofts and the 1015 Locust Buildings.

A side view of the Stix School

The Michael School was opened in September 1925 and was named for Elias Michael, a prominent civic leader and member of the Board of Education. His wife Rachel Stix Michael founded the Missouri Occupational Therapy Association and after her husband’s death was instrumental in establishing the Elias Michael School for Crippled Children in his memory. The building was the first public school built specifically for children with physical disabilities.

The Michael School was located at the southeast corner of Forest Park Boulevard and Euclid Avenue. The Stix School was just south of Michael and terminated the vista of Parkview Place as it made a slight jog south at Euclid. Today Parkview Place is terminated by what seems to be the building replacement option of choice in St. Louis, a parking garage.

The corner of the Michael School at Euclid & Forest Park

Here is an overall photo of the Michael School from the intersection of Forest Park & Euclid from the Missouri History Museum collection.  The Stix School can be seen behind.

In 1995 BJC and SLPS a land swap deal was stuck in which BJC would secure ownership of the Stix and Michael Schools and SLPS would have a new Stix School built largely at BJC's expense on land BJC owned at Tower Grove Avenue and Highway 40. In 1997 the new school was completed and in the fall of that year both historic Stix and Michael Schools were demolished. The Michael School's programs were transferred to the then recently built Gateway School on Jefferson.

A large new parking garage was immediately built on the Stix site and somewhat overlapping the Michael site. The eight story Parkway Hotel was then built at the corner of Forest Park and Euclid on the remaining Michael School site. A few years later BJC demolished a small three story building east of the hotel and proceeded to pave a surface parking lot.

The parking garage now terminates Parkview at Euclid

There is no doubt that BJC needed space for expansion. As part of an ongoing building program at the BJC complex a large parking structure that had spanned Parkview Place was demolished and the 14 story Center for Advanced Medicine was built on that site.   New parking was needed to replace the demolished garage and there was an obvious need for hotel lodging adjacent to the hospital complex.

A 1995 aerial view showing the location of the two schools

The same aerial view today

Unfortunately there was failure with both SLPS and BJC to see the value of the historic school buildings.  The School Board swapped the historic buildings for a school knowing that they would be demolished setting a dangerous precedent.  BJC failed to make any attempt to incorporate the historic buildings or even portions of them into the new programmatic need to be built on the site.
The Parkway Hotel at Forest Park & Euclid

Sometimes it takes out of the box thinking to creatively incorporate historic structures into contemporary needs. In this case, the parking structure could have been built to the east of the Stix and Michael Schools and extending onto the parcel that is now surface parking. The Stix School could have been renovated as an extended-stay lodge to house families who need to stay near the hospital. The classrooms would have been an ideal size for the small apartment style units in this type of lodging. A new hotel tower could have been constructed on top of the one story Michael building by coring out the center of the building and incorporating the facade and exterior rooms into the lobby and Applebee's restaurant space.
A garage entrance as well as the bridge to the Center for Advanced Medicine could have been slipped between the two historic structures.  Admittedly, the Michael School was fairly utilitarian compared to Stix, and having the hi-rise hotel right on the corner is attractive from an urbanistic standpoint, but the parking garage is no replacement for the Stix School.

A diagram of how the hotel and garage could have been 
developed with the existing buildings

The loss of the Stix and Michael Schools are just one more example of the general lack of stewardship for the irreplaceable historic SLPS buildings by the Board of Education in recent memory. With a Facilities Management Plan written by an out of town and out of touch consultant calling for closing and uncertain futures for 30 buildings on the verge of being adopted by the current board, vigilance will be need to avoid repeating the fate of Stix and Michael.  This Thursday, February 26th the SLPS Special Administrative Board will be meeting at 6:00pm at the Gateway School on Jefferson.  The board will likely be voting to adopt the Facilities Management Plan that evening.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

1965 Video Offers Glimpses of Lost Downtown Landmarks

Vintage 1965 Super 8 posted recently on Dawn Griffin's site offers views of several lost or altered Downtown landmarks and a rare view of an unfinished Gateway Arch.  The footage begins heading east on Market in front of Union Station with a view of the Blue Cross building, an international style gem that received an unfortunate re-muddling in the 1980's. Next there is a glimpse of the Buder Building which stood at 7th & Market until its implosion in 1984.  Then there is a sweeping view of the construction of the first Busch Stadium Downtown followed by a closer view of the unfinished Arch.

The video then jumps to Forest Park, all of which is still in existence with a somewhat dumbed down re-built of the fountain at Government Hill.  Thanks Dawn!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Whats Next for North St. Louis?

Although we are in the middle of a recession and new home building has sunk to the lowest level in decades, a source that wishes to remain anonymous has been told that the elusive Paul McKee, the Godfather of "Blairmont" is poised to announce the long awaited plans for North St. Louis sometime this spring. Much of the plan would apparently involve new residential construction.

While the area is certainly in need of new investment, as always, the devil is in the details. Will there be mass demolitions of the hundreds of historic buildings that the Blairmont entities currently own to clear land for the new development like what occurred in the Garden District? Or will McKee look at what has worked in countless St. Louis neighborhoods including nearby Old North, a comprehensive plan of preservation, renovation, and infill that respects the existing urban fabric.

As Rob Powers with his
204 Daily Doses of Blairmont, and many others have has shown us for well over a year now, McKee has not been a great landlord nor a good steward of historic properties. While not all the Blairmont buildings should be saved, a majority of the ones that have miraculously survived the fires, brick rustling, window removals and general lack of any concern have historic value and are worthy of preservation.
2900 St. Louis Avenue, an abandoned 2,460 s.f. Victorian home built in 1889
awaits its fate. The home is just west of the demolished Pruitt corner building.
It is owned by Sheridan Place LC, a Blairmont shell company

This spring we will either be pleasantly surprised by details of the coming plan or forced to react once again to another threat to eradicate the built history of our City.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Show the Archdiocese how much you love the San Luis

Join us at noon on Valentine's Day, this Saturday, February 14th at the northeast corner of Lindell & Taylor to show your Love for the San Luis!
As you are probably aware by now, the Archdiocese of St. Louis has proposed demolishing the San Luis and replacing this unique Mid-Century Modern landmark with of all things a surface parking lot.  

On Valentine's day we will gather to peacefully demonstrate how much we love this building (an how we would hate to see it fall for a parking lot).  For additional information, visit

The image above is an approximation of what the proposed parking lot would look like.  As you can see, we would be left with a giant hole in the urban streetscape of Lindell Boulevard.  Adding more trees will not hide the great void that we would be left with.  Original photo by Jeff Vines.  So please come Saturday at noon and show your love.

Monday, February 2, 2009

MGT is out of touch with reality about the value of SLPS historic schools

Bunche Middle School

MGT, the out of town consulting firm that wrote the proposed St. Louis Public Schools Facilities Management Plan is out of touch with reality when it comes to the value of historic school buildings. Of the 30 schools MGT proposes to close, over half are historic structures, many of which were designed by William B. Ittner.

Although the management plan itself clearly states that historic preservation is important to the community and that many people interviewed by the firm, including students, said that SLPS should continue to "use the old buildings because they have a charm about them but they should be renovated and maintained", 5 of 20 "Repurpose Possibilities" (recommendations of what to do with the closed schools) involve demolition.

MGT does not seem to have done their homework when it comes to the value of historic school properties, as they do not mention the millions of dollars of potential income that would come from selling closed schools to developers. 2 of the 20
"Repurpose Possibilities" talk of selling school building for $1.00! This is not the late 1980's, and even LRA no longer sells properties for $1.00! An article in Friday's Post highlights the continued interest by developers in renovating historic school buildings for new purposes using historic rehabilitation tax credits.

Public comments are being taken online about the proposed facilities plan through February 8th. Please take a few moments to tell MGT about the importance of preserving historic school buildings. Click here to read the full draft of the management plan.

In addition to missing the boat on how to properly re-use historic schools, MGT recommends building two new elementary schools as replacements for existing historic schools instead of retaining and renovating existing buildings. Noticeably absent from the management plan is the use of green building practices. Arguably there is no greener way to build than re-using an existing building. It is also less expensive to renovate. MGT's own budget numbers show the range of cost to renovate elementary schools is from $4.0 -9.4 million and the cost to build two new ones: $12.36 million.

Below are photos of schools to be closed under the MGT plan. All photos from SLPS website and Google Streetview

Baden Elementary
Clark Accelerated Elementary
Cote Brilliante Elementary
Gallaudet School for the Deaf
Gateway IT High School
Henry Elementary
Mallinkrodt Elementary
Mark Twain Elementary
Meramec Elementary
Scruggs Accelerated Elementary
Shaw Elementary
Shenandoah Elementary
Shepard Elementary
Sherman Elementary
Simmons Elementary
Turner Middle School