Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Yet Another SLU Demolition: the David P. Wohl Sr. Mental Health Institute

Wohl Institute
From early November through last Monday evening, the preservation community in St. Louis was focused on saving the landmark Pevely Dairy at Grand and Chouteau.  The Preservation Board voted 3-2 for a compromise to prevent SLU from demolishing the most significant portions of the Pevely complex, the corner office building and the smoke stack, while allowing the milk plant and garage buildings to be demolished. Just down Grand from Pevely however, this week St. Louis University Hospital is process of demolishing a lesser known but equally significant structure, the David P. Wohl Sr. Mental Health Institute with little to no outcry.

During his testimony at the Pevely Preservation Board hearing Steve Smith, principal of the Lawrence Group stated that the Pevely Dairy was not designed by a prominent architect and cannot be found in any books about St. Louis architecture. This is true, but this same argument could be said about several buildings near SLU's main campus that have been renovated with historic tax credits in the last several years including the former Warehouse of Fixtures building, the Aquinas Institute of Theology, and the Spring Street Lofts.

Wohl Institiute aerial
The Wohl Institute however was designed by a very prominent architect, Gyo Obata of HOK, and is featured in the book Modern Architecture in St. Louis. In the book, Obata describes the design of the building as alternative to the asylums where psychiatric patients were locked away from the rest of the world. The facility reflected the most modern and advanced treatment theories expressing openness with several garden courtyards cut into the two story structure. Architectural Record published the design in October 1959, titling the article: "Pleasant and Open Plan for Psychiatric Patients. City of St. Louis property records indicate that the building was completed in 1962. The buildings three 2-story wings were designed around landscaped garden courtyards.

SLU applied for a demolition permit for the building on May 20th, 2011. Despite being designed by prominent architect and included in a book of significant modern architecture in St. Louis, the building was not on the National Register, in a historic district, or in a Preservation Review area, so the request to demolish the Wohl Institute was never Reviewed by the Cultural Resources Office nor presented to the Preservation Board.

Ironically in July, as SLU was ripping down the small neighborhood of sturdy brick single family homes behind the Wohl Institute, the Preservation Board had a special agenda item regarding a grant for a thematic survey of Modern Movement Architecture in the City from 1040-1975. Had this survey already been completed, the Wohl Institute just may have been given the recognition and potential protection it deserved.

I could not find any information information about where the psychiatric treatment services formerly housed at the Wohl Institute have been relocated. All information on SLU's website still lists the address of the building now undergoing demolition. A site plan presented at the Preservation Board - Pevely meeting shows surface parking lots on the site of the Wohl Institute and the now vacant lots where homes stood on Hickory & Rutger west of Wohl. The lots would presumably serve the new ambulatory care center that SLU is planning to construct on part of the Pevely site.

St. Louis Armory 1959
Before the Wohl Institute was constructed, the site on Grand was home to the St. Louis Armory - Battery A - Light Artillery, a massive castle like structure. This photo from the St. Louis University Pius XII Memorial LIbrary Special Collections was taken Christmas week 1959. The Pevely Dairy ice cream plant that was lost to fire in 2009 and the surviving office building with rooftop sign are seen beyond. This photo shows a jagged toothed edge of the brick a the corner of the building along Rutger, which seemed to indicate that part of the building had already been demolished. Most armories typically included a large clear-spanned space that would be used for practicing field drills and holding other events.

Hickory-Rutger Context 1909 Sanborn
An 1889 photo from the Missouri History Museum showing the building at its completion however shows the same tooth like brick at the edge of the building. If it was planned to be larger, like the structure eventually built in 1937 on Market Street in the nearby valley, it was apparently never built. The 1909 Sanborn map above also verifies this. If anyone has further info, please share.

Monday, December 19, 2011

SLU Denied Demolition of Pevely Office Building

Pevely Dairy from Grand
Last night the Preservation Board voted 3-2 to uphold the Cultural Resources Office staff recommendation to allow demolition of the Pevely milk plant and garage buildings, but to deny demolition of the Pevely Dairy office building at the corner of Grand & Chouteau and the smoke stack. Interestingly enough, the plan for SLU's new ambulatory care center presented by Lawrence Group principal Steve Smith last night should not need to change too much due to the board ruling. The site plan below shows a rectangular green space at the corner with a curved drive leading to the new building (shaded purple). The green space is about the length of the of the corner office building and should only require minor adjustment of the plan, if any. The plan already had incorporated preserving the smoke stack just east of the new building.

SLUCare Site Plan

The colored aerial photo below shows the small rectangle of the site occupied by the office building (shown in yellow). The plan above shows future wings (lightly shaded and barely visible) extending east and west from the main building. This assumes acquisition and demolition of the building just south of the smoke stack, although the new main building does not appear to conflict with this either.

SLU Med Buildable Land

SLUCare Rendering
A rendering of the SLU's proposed ambulatory care center with the historic Pevely smoke stack. With last nights ruling, the building will only need to work with the Pevely office building. There seems no reason why the two cannot coexist minus of course a big empty green space and a fountain!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Preservation Board to Consider Pevely Demolition December 19th

Pevely Dairy from Grand
The Preservation Board will consider SLU's proposed demolition of the Pevely Dairy complex at a special meeting on Monday, December 19th at 4:00pm. The meeting will take place at 1015 Locust Street, suite 1200.

As you may recall, SLU pulled Pevely from the agenda of last months Preservation Board meeting and then issued a statement to the press that their plan to construct a new medical office facility for SLUCare on the site has not changed. A SLU spokesman said that the delay gives them more time to prepare their case for presentation to the board. SLU representatives will no doubt show up with renderings of the new SLUCare facility and present arguments that the Pevely corner is the only location amongst the dozens of acres of vacant land that they own in the immediate vicinity where they can build the new building.

After SLU's presentation, the Preservation Board will allow testimony from concerned citizens, so if you are opposed to demolition of this National Register landmark please attend the meeting. If you cannot attend, please email your statement to Betsy Bradley, Director of the Cultural Resources Office at bradleyb@stlouiscity.com Emailed statements will be entered into the record and used in the final analysis by CRO staff that is presented to the Preservation Board.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

AAA: Zoning, Landmarks & Sustainability

AAA Building - Lindell Blvd


Today at 1:30 in Rm 208 of City Hall there will be a public hearing by the Board of Adjustment on Rezoning the AAA property on Lindell Boulevard so that CVS can build a new store on the site, the plan for which currently includes demolishing the iconic AAA "space ship". The public is invited to speak their opinions at these hearings, so please attend if can.

This brings up a host of questions about how and who should be making these kinds of decisions. The problem here is and is not zoning. Changing the property to Zone H is not the issue in what it allows. In my opinion the entire length of Lindell should be zoned to a allow 20 story towers if someone wants to build one. The problem is what Zone H does not prohibit. It would not prohibit a cookie cutter fake stucco CVS box set 75 feet back from the street. This is why we need comprehensive zoning change including form based zoning city-wide.

Then there is the issue of landmarking. How is it that our City has a Cultural Resources Office and this building is not protected in any way shape or form?

The City is starting the process of taking a leadership role with an Office of Sustainability, which happens to be hosting a public Summit on Sustainability tonight at the History Museum. Part of this new leadership in sustainability needs to involve the built environment including preservation, walkability, TOD, construction standards, etc.

Finally, no Alderman should be making these types of decisions. Yet Alderman Kennedy has discouraged Landmarks Association from attending 18th Ward Block Unit public meetings where the future of the AAA building and site are being discussed!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lost on Laclede

4001 Laclede 01
Friday morning I saw a photo posted on Facebook of this building on Laclede between Vandeventer and Sarah being demolished. The building had a very attractive terra cotta facade that had been painted.

4001 Laclede detail
Detail of the terra cotta facade. The building is similar to one almost directly across the alley facing West Pine. Several photos of that building can be seen on an August post from Seeking St. Louis. Both buildings have terra cotta fronted rectangular elements with bow truss garages behind. My guess is that these were auto dealerships.

4001 Laclede aerial
The building had apparently sustained some wind damage in 2010. This aerial shows some roofing had been blown off and one column of terra cotta on the facade has been replaced with concrete block in what looks like a recent repair. From the exterior appearance, there is nothing though that would seem to warrant demolition.

4001 Laclede Streetview
A Google streetview shows the building in context. In the distance is the 6 North apartments which nicely bookends the block. Across the street is a large vacant lot where the Center for Emerging Technologies hopes to build a new building. Combined with the post office parking lot, now there will be a pretty large hole on the north side of the street.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Preservation Board Upholds Denial of Demolition for Cupples 7

Cupples 7 43
Last evening the Preservation Board unanimously upheld the Cultural Resources Office denial of the permit for demolition of Cupples Station warehouse #7. The preservation board raised many concerns over application including the lack of details establishing financial hardship and the fact that the owner, a partnership of Kevin McGowan and Nat Walsh, has owned the structure since 2006 and did nothing to stop the acceleration of deterioration.

Cupples Building 7 Aerial 2011
Aerial of Cupples Station #7 from 2011 showing extensive collapse.

Cupples 7 Aerial 2006
Aerial from 2006 when McGowan Walsh bought the building shows a much smaller holes on the east side and possibly one small hole on the west side. At this point creating inexpensive temporary structures to span over the holes and keep water out of the building would have still been feasible.

The estimated cost of demolition was stated as being $675,000. Preservation Board member Alderman Antiono French brought up that the owner has not paid taxes on the building for the last three years, and there was also mention that the owners had lost Cupples buildings 8 & 9 to foreclosure. This makes one wonder how they planned to pay for the demolition cost.

One of the more intriguing testimony statements came from a lawyer for the St. Louis Treasurers office. He said that the Treasurer has been in discussions with the current owners of Cupples #7 about purchasing the property to protect their investment in the parking garage that the Treasurer built south of buildings 7 & 8. In this scenario the building would be gone, but he said they would also be happy if the exterior walls were stabilized so that the barriers could be removed from the streets. He did not indicate whether the Treasurer would buy the building at that point.

At the end of the testimony, the Board ultimately agreed with Betsy Bradley's assessment that the exterior walls should be stabilized to preserve the outer significant masonry structure. The question now becomes how that happens and who pays for it? Would the Treasurer be willing to chip in, or maybe the City which had offered up a $3,000,000 TIF for the redevelopment? Ultimately McGowan & Walsh should be forced to pay at least the amount they were going to spend for demolition.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Loss of Cupples 7 Would Further Deplete a Sparse Section of Downtown St. Louis

South of Market Parking & Open Space
Yesterday St. Louis University pulled its proposed demolition of the Pevely Dairy from this months Preservation Board meeting, but the proposed demolition of Cupples Warehouse #7 is still on the final agenda for next Monday the 28th.

The graphic above shows starkly how Downtown south of Market still bears the scars of devastation from Urban Renewal planning of the middle part of the last century. Compounded with the fortress like structures dating from the 1960's through 1990's including the Ballpark Hilton, Bank Of America, the US Federal Courthouse and others, result in an urban landscape that is bleak at best (magenta is parking lots and garages and yellow is vacant land, parks & plazas).

The fact that this portion of Downtown is so fragile is reason enough that we cannot lose another major historic structure to demolition. For the area to continue toward a critical mass of life and activity from what has been gained over the last decade through renovation of the Cupples warehouses along Spruce, Building 7 must be retained, stabilized, and eventually re-built from the inside.

Cupples Warehouse District 1932
Beyond the potential to reinvigorate the area, demolition of Cupples Building #7 would push the total loss of the Cupples Warehouses to over half the original content (magenta = 1960's demolition, yellow = 2001 demolition, cyan = warehouse #7). This would not trigger a de-listing from the National Register of the remaining buildings, but from an architectural standpoint reduces the overall significance and cohesion of the district (all designed by Eames & Young) that made this collection of buildings unmatchable in St. Louis and arguably the entire midwest.

Cupples Elevations 1907
Elevations of the original district along the south side of Spruce. The first pair of buildings tied together by a multistory connector over an alley and the next long building tied by two bridges over what are now the Metrolink tracks comprised a massive complex within the overall district. The single elevation below (longer than any two of the other buildings combined) was along 8th south of Spruce. This complex was lost to demolition for the construction of Busch Stadium which was completed in 1966.

The fourth building in the row is Warehouse #9 which is scheduled for renovation by the Koman Group for offices and retail to be completed in 2012. The fifth building was demolished for highway ramps to and from Highway 40/64. The sixth is Warehouse #8 for which renovation into the Ballpark Lofts by Kevin McGowan's Blue Urban partnership was completed in 2008. The last in the row is Warehouse #7. If it is demolished, there would only be two building's left of the original seven along the south side of Spruce.

Cupples west from 8th
Looking west along the south side of Spruce from 8th Street (photo from the 1928 publication Missouri's Contribution to American Architecture). The building in the foreground, had it survived, would be across from the Westin Hotel.

Cupples 10th Street
A view looking south along 10th Street from just south of Clark Street (photo from Geo St. Louis). The center building in this photo was allowed to be demolished due to what were claimed to be structural problems as part of an ill-fated plan to turn the entire block into a four building office complex linked by a giant curved glass atrium. This would have involved new buildings at 10th & Spruce and 11th & Clark.

Cupples Plan & Reality
A rendering of the four building scheme inset into the reality of what we ended up with. Several years after that deal fell through, Conrad Properties renovated the historic building at 1000 Clark Street into office space a ground floor restaurant, but the site of the demolished building remains a surface parking lot. HRI renovated the warehouse at 11th & Spruce across from #7 into apartments completed in 2006.

10th & Spruce Parking Lot
The northwest corner of 10th & Spruce today. We cannot allow this to happen to Warehouse #7! Please attend the Preservation Board meeting next Monday, November 28th a 4:00 pm at 1015 Locust Street, suite 1200 and tell the Preservation Board to say NO to demolition. If you cannot attend, please email your comments to the board's administrative assistant at BufordA@stlouiscity.com

Monday, November 21, 2011

CORTEX clearing land north of Pevely Dairy

As concerned citizens gathered Saturday afternoon to rally for preservation of the Pevely Dairy, we noticed that demolition of some small industrial buildings was occurring directly across Chouteau from the Pevely Dairy. Several of us had heard that SLU had acquired the property and we assumed they were behind the demolition.

After rechecking City real estate records, it appears that an entity associated with CORTEX owns the large site along Chouteau that is currently being cleared. The entity is SLLC Real Estate EI LLC, and a related company SLLC Real Estate LLC, whose address is the CORTEX building at 4320 Forest Park, owns five smaller parcels at the corner of Chouteau and Grand. Directly north, SLU does own two large parcels the abut the south end of the Grand Boulevard bridge.

Exactly what CORTEX has in mind for the site, which is somewhat distant from it's current focus of development, is unknown. Overall plans for the ultimate build-out of the CORTEX technopolis do include linking BJC/Wash U medical center with SLU's medial campus and possibly further down the Chouteau corridor.

Demolition of one of the buildings underway Saturday.

The buildings were utilitarian truck freight transfer stations set far away from Chouteau, so their demolition is inconsequential.

SLU Land North of Chouteau
An aerial view shows the site and structures being cleared including the three long buildings and the double barrel vaulted building. The site right across from the Pevely Dairy and specifically the portion fronting Grand Boulevard would be an ideal location for a new SLUCare facility. Siting the building right on Grand would give greater access to patients arriving by Metrolink and walking over the new Pedestrian friendly bridge, as well as the 70 Grand bus while allowing easy vehicular access for drop-off and parking off Chouteau.

Cortex Grand Demolitions
City records show that these three structures fronting Grand Boulevard just south of the foot of the bridge were demolished earlier this year. While these structures are not very historically significant, the relationship they have with the street is exactly what is needed for people going back and forth from SLU's main and medical campuses or from Metrolink to make it feel like they are not walking in an urban desert.

Pevely Preservation Rally 11.19.11
Keeping a significant structure like the Pevely Dairy on the street and especially at the corner of Grand & Chouteau is one of the many reasons that 30-40 people including myself showed up Saturday afternoon to show our support for preservation and re-use of Pevely.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cupples Building 7 CAN and SHOULD be Saved!

Cupples 7 02
Last week Kevin McGowan applied for a permit demolish Cupples Building #7 saying "he had not choice". Whether he gets a demolition permit will be decided by the Preservation Board on Monday, November 28th, the same night that the fate of the Pevely Dairy will be decided.

There are however other choices besides demolition for Cupples 7. McGowan says that it would be $2 million cheaper to demolish the building than to stabilize it. As someone who works on historic renovation projects for a living, I understand that fully stabilizing the collapsing interior structure would be an expensive endeavor. There is however an alternative that would be significantly less costly than fully re-building the interior timber structure, which is something that should eventually be done as part of the building's redevelopment.

Russia Wharf Facade Bracing - Boston
Erecting structural steel bracing on the exterior is something that is often done to stabilize unreinforced masonry facades. On Boston's Russia Wharf the facades of two warehouses were braced while the interior of the buildings were dismantled to make way for a new hi-rise development that incorporates the facades. In the case of Cupples 7, the four exterior masonry walls would be braced and the collapsing interior left as-is, to be stabilized in the future.

Russia Wharf Facade Bracing - Boston
Another view of Russia Wharf showing that the scale of the facades is similar to that of Cupples 7. While the cost of this type of bracing would not be chump change, neither would demolition of a massive masonry building. In 2001, according to City records, the unfortunate demolition of another Cupples warehouse (#4) across the street at 10th & Spruce cost $147,760.00. Cupples 7 is at least 1 1/2 times the size of the demolished warehouse and with 10 years of inflation, the cost of demolition for Cupples 7 could be at least twice as much. It should be noted that demolition of the Cupples #4 building was done under the auspices that the building was "structurally unsound" AND would be replaced with a similar scaled office building instead of the parking lot that eventually replaced it.

Church with facade bracing
The exterior walls of the United Methodist Church in Burlington, Iowa were braced after a devastating fire gutted the building. The congregation plans to re-build and expand into an adjacent vacant downtown department store.

Some might argue that bracing the facades of Cupples 7 would render portions of Spruce and 11th Streets as well as sidewalks unusable for years.

braced building facade
This does not necessarily need to be the case as with this example in Memphis (photo by Cathy Jones). The sidewalk is fully usable and there are even temporary displays in the storefronts! In Washington DC, where this technique has been used many times for various projects, the exterior of the former Gales School was structurally braced while awaiting renovation.

While this method may not be a familiar sight in St. Louis, it is a proven way to preserve at least the exterior of historic structures that otherwise would be lost forever. In the case of Cupples 7, while much of the interior is crumbling, you might be surprised how it is possible to save portions of the timber that remain and rebuild what is collapsed.

My first loft project was a building that had suffered what would appear to be catastrophic damage but was resurrected into the M-Lofts, which consists of 40 apartments and commercial space in Lafayette Square. In 1999, the former factory building of the International Shoe Company had seen better days. Almost 30% of the floors of the building were collapsed in the basement, and about 80% of the roof structure had fallen to the floor below.
Looking into the one of the debris pits at the west end of the building
Floors bending down into the hole
Much of the roof and clerestories had collapsed onto the floor below
Portions of the interior structure that had collapsed were carefully cut away and removed, then re-building began from the first floor up. All of the interior rebuilding was eligible for Missouri and Federal Historic Tax Credits because it was a restoration of existing building elements. This made what otherwise would not have been affordable workable for the projects proforma. In the case of Cupples 7, which has a larger floor plate, planning an atrium in one of the collapsed areas could further reduce the cost of re-building the interior structure.
Massive new timbers replicating the originals were imported from Canada
The completed building shows how something that looks insurmountable can be accomplished successfully. If Kevin McGowan is not up to the task of rebuilding Cupples Building 7, then he should sell the building to someone who is willing to do so. In the mean time, structurally bracing the walls from the exterior is the best solution for stabilization so that this National Register landmark can be preserved for the future.

McGowan said himself that "millions of people walk by that building every year going those Cardinals games, going to the hockey games, going to the various courthouses, even living across the street and next to the building in apartment buildings", which is all the more reason that Cupples 7 should not become yet another giant vacant lot like the Ballpark Village site.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pevely Preservation Rally this Saturday at 2:30 pm

Pevely Dairy from Grand

This Saturday afternoon please join the Pevely Preservation Coalition to show your support for preservation of the Pevely Dairy building and smoke stack at Grand & Chouteau.

Bring your friends, family signs and enthusiasm to celebrate your affection for the Gateway to the South Side. Lets come together to support PRESERVATION over demolition!

Here is the Facebook event page so you can RSVP. Hope to see you Saturday!