Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A New Hole Opens in the Loop

Last June, the St. Louis Preservation Board approved demolition of a one story building at 6118-20 Delmar in the Loop for replacement with a surface parking lot with entrance off Delmar. Recently the building came down and renovation began on the adjacent building, which formerly housed Original Cast Lighting. Demolition of the building is not an issue of losing an important historic building, it is an issue of opening a large hole in the streetscape of a vibrant pedestrian oriented retail/restaurant district.

The owner of the building being renovated claimed that a restaurant tenant for the building would not sign a lease without dedicated parking next to the building. In what is normally typical in suburbia, the owner/developer has given the complex of building with attached dedicated parking lot a special name: "Loop Center South". Maybe it would be better as "Loop Centre South"? The developments website does show the space adjacent to the parking lot as leased, although no announcement has been made of the tenant even thought he building is under construction.

The fact that the commercial leasing sign has been tagged with graffiti for some time does not give me much confidence in the leasing broker for the other spaces, nor I suspect would this give confidence to prospective tenants.

Just a hudred feet west of the Loop Center South building Chinese Noodle Cafe has been going strong for over seven years now and just west of that, Pi enjoys seemingly unending popularity, with hour plus waits on Friday and Saturday nights. Like most restaurants and retail spaces in the Loop, neither has any dedicated parking of its own. Patrons of Loop businesses who arrive by car park in one of many public parking lots (including the nearby Metro park & ride), private lots (including the large lot owned by Joe Edwards behind the Pageant & Moonrise Hotel), or U-City public garage. Of course many patrons of the loop arrive on foot from nearby neighborhoods, Washington University, and of course the Delmar Metrolink station a block away.

Here is a simple concept of economics, but amazingly some just don't get it:
If you open a retail business with a strong idea behind it or a great restaurant in the Loop, people will seek you out and you will thrive. If you open a retail business based on something that people do not want or need or your restaurant is only marginal, you will not last. Dedicated parking will not make the difference between survival or demise. If your business is of the type that will only survive with people driving up to your front door, your business does not belong in the Loop!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Grand Avenue Viaduct

There won't be much to miss about the old Grand Avenue Viaduct that closed Monday morning for demolition. Rusted superstructure, spalling concrete exposing the re-bar on the supports and crumbling narrow sidewalks with holes covered by steel plates don't add up to cause for reminiscing about the old bridge.

The old narrow sidewalks and Jersey barriers will not be missed.

A close look from the Metrolink platform (now termporarily closed as well) though reveals a few details left over from an age when bridge building was an art form, not just an engineering exercise. Construction on the current viaduct began in 1960, but while that year was well into the Modern era, some of the design elements of the structure recall an age 20+ years prior to its construction.

The formed finials and double reveals evoke a more streamlined approach which was featured in bridges of the original Highway 40 (now demolished), constructed in the late 1930's through the first half of the 1940's.

New Grand Avenue Viaduct
Drawings of the new Grand Avenue Viaduct show that much of the new structure will not be a bridge at all, but will be built on earth fill between retaining walls. This is apparently less expensive method of construction. Ironically, details of the new structure attempt to look back to the original suspension structure that was completed in 1889. While I'm looking forward to the wide sidewalks above, it will be interesting to see how the new structure below turns out as well.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kansas City Public Schools Earns an A+ for School Repurposing Plan - St. Louis Public Schools: F

Westport High School - Kansas City

The Kansas City, Missouri School District has recently announce a "year-long community engagement and planning process to develop community-driven reuse plans for the district's closed school buildings". Yes, you read that correctly! Kansas City's public school district will develop community-driven reuse plans for the district's closed school buildings! Here in St. Louis of course this would be a foreign concept. In stark contrast, the St. Louis Public School district treats many of its closed historic schools like garbage to be put in the alley to rot or worse to be destroyed outright.

Last year the Kansas City Missouri School District closed 28 of its 61 schools due to dwindling enrollment and a $50 million deficit. Below is a map of Kansas City's closed public schools, including Westport High School (photo above from KCMSD) that would be repurposed with this new initiative. Some of the schools will apparently be kept and mothballed by the district.

Seven Oaks School -Kansas City
The closed Seven Oaks School near Armour Boulevard - photo from The Pitch.

Over the last 20 years or so, St. Louis Public Schools has consistently threatened several closed historic schools with demolition, sold to them new owners who intended demolition, or demolished the historic structures themselves. Demolished historic SLPS buildings include: Marquette Elementary (1995), Benton Elementary (1996), William Stix Elementary & adjacent Elias Michael Schools (1997) and Bates (1997).

Stix School 04.jpg
The William Stix School was demolished for a new BJC parking garage.

CityMuseum 10
The entrance to now demolished Edward Bates School, now in City Museum (from
minnemom's Flickr photos)

Other St. Louis public schools that have been threatened with demolition include the Ittner designed Theresa School, which the St. Louis School Board entered into a contract to sell to Walgreens which would have demolished the school for a new store. Fortunately due to outcry from the public, the school board canceled the sale and the building was sold to Amy and Amrit Gill who transformed it into the Theresa Park Lofts.

Two years ago another Ittner school, Mann Elementary was marked for closure and possible demolition for a replacement school under an ill-conceived consolidation plan. Pressure from neighbors and preservationists combined with support from Alderwoman Florida for keeping the existing school open and ultimately a lack of funding for the new school led the SLPS administration to finally back off from this plan. Shenandoah School had also been reported as an alternate site for the new consolidated school which would have resulted in its demolition.

Mann Elementary School in Tower Grove South

This year however in what can only be termed a bait a switch, Proposition S funds, which were sold to voters last fall "for the pupose of acquiring, constructing, renovaring, repairing, improving, furnishing and equipping school sites, buildings and related facilities in the District" will be used to demolish the old Hodgen School at Henrietta an California in the Gate District. SLPS claims it is demolishing to provide an improved playground for the new Hodgen School, but this is a sorry ass excuse considering that the new Hodgen School is actually contiguous with a City park.

Hodgen School
The old Hodgen School. To my knowledge there is no organized opposition currently fighting the impending demolition of this historic school.

For closed St. Louis Public Schools that are not demolished, the fate sometimes resembles demolition by neglect. The Carr School at Carr & 15th Streets closed in June 1978. While the Carr Square Tenant Corporation has owned the former school for the last decade, City records show that the Board of Education of SLPS owned the building through 1999. From its condition today, it is obvious that little to no maintenance has occurred over the course of the first 21 years of abandonment.

Carr Aerial.jpg
An aerial view of Carr School shows extensive roof collapse and deterioration. An aerial photo on the City's property database shows that the collapse was already underway by 2002.

Kansas City, Missouri School District has not gone without criticism in the past for its handling of closed school buildings, and in October 1990 KCMSD imploded one of its most notable landmarks, Paseo High School. If KCMSD's new initiative to repurpose its closed schools through a public planning process proves successful however it could very well become a model for St. Louis Public Schools as well as other cities.

Paseo High School Aerial from 1967 Paseon
An aerial photo of Paseo High School from the 1967 Paseon.

Photos of the implosion of Paseo High School by Joe Robertson, Class of 1960.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Final Look at the Admiral

By now it is like;y that the Admiral is meeting its fate with cutting torches. These photos are from the fixture auction that was held late last November as Pinnacle milked the last few dollars out of the Admiral. You can view the whole set here on Flickr.

All that glitters is not gold. The former casino floor complete with a replica of the Arch in what was once the Admirals main ballroom.

The unmistakable shapes of the Admiral seen from a bland interior.


The lower deck below the main floor, one of the few areas where the structure was exposed.

Porthole doors

Looking back at Downtown over the roof of the accessory structure.

One of the more interesting spaces on the much altered vessel.

This bas-relief was one of the few items of interest on the interior. I'm not sure from what time period it dates. Although it was built-in to the wall, it was tagged for individual auction.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The last of the Big Three Gets Smaller

On Friday it was announced that the downsizing of Macy's Downtown St. Louis store that has been planned for over a year will finally start this week. Its hard to imagine today that Downtown St. Louis once supported three mammoth department stores: Famous Barr, Stix Baer & Fuller and Scruggs Vandervoort Barney, each boasting over half a million square feet of sales floor. Now the sole survivor will shrink from seven floors to three, shrinking from about 675,000 square feet to about 200,000.

The vacation of the sixth floor will mean the end the last traditional department store tea room in St. Louis, which occupied a large portion of the floor. The St. Louis Room was the place where your grandmother and her friends went to eat while out for a day of shopping and this was evident from the decor. The room today is almost devoid of decoration or character except for a few hints of Art Deco. Some travertine left exposed a few spots as well as the sweeping arc shape of the space make me wonder if it had some more of this flavor at one time?


Beyond the staid main dining room was a smaller room that was clearly meant as the domain for the men who worked in the surrounding business district. The space is heavy on Olde English Tudor decoration complete with half timbered rough plaster walls, a bar and a large fireplace in one corner.



While the St. Louis Room had long ago lost its luster along with most of the store above the first floor, until a few years ago it was full for lunch almost every day of the week. After Macy's closed the Midwest division and slashed almost a thousand workers from the former May Company headquarters offices on the floors above the store however it became a ghost town. The last time I ate there late last fall after false rumors of imminent closure, my friend and I were among maybe a dozen other people in the entire restaurant.

The St. Louis Room nearly empty on a weekday around 12:30.

Papa Fabarre's, the more popular and much smaller restaurant on the 2nd floor is also closing, apparently because it does not have a separate kitchen. Fabarre's had an interior that felt like you were transformed to a time of nearly a century ago, when the Railway Exchange Building was built. I don't believe the interior was was that old, but someone did a fairly decent job of pulling off the look. Check out some photos of Fabarre's at St. Louis City Talk. I always liked the antique belt driven ceiling fans, and of course the Famous French onion soup.

Another feature of the store that will face an uncertain future are the beautiful old escalators.

From the third through fifth floor, the escalators were a streamlined combination polished stainless steel and aluminum.

From five up, the escalators switched to stained wood.

Going down

The sweeping curved lines of movement between floors were featured on the panels separating the up and down escalators.

Details are everything. A bronze insert holds the corner where the escalator meets the adjacent ceiling.