This WAS the future


"[w]e believe that the revitalized spirit of St. Louis as symbolized by the Gateway Arch and the new Busch Memorial Stadium and other progressive developments has shown that St. Louis is a city on the move and is rapidly growing toward becoming the center of progress in the Middle West."
-- Joseph Vatterott [in a Globe-Democrat article on the construction of the DeVille Motor Lodge]

Preservation board votes 3-2 to approve preliminary demolition review for The San Luis Apartments for a surface parking lot

It was a long and lively night night at 1015 Locust. In addition to the San Luis there were five other issues on the agenda. Beginning at 4pm the meeting finally adjourned with the decision at 10pm. Most of the people who packed the twelfth floor conference room had not eaten since lunch, but still they stayed to contribute to the process. Noticeably absent from the entire hearing were preservation board members Mary "One" Johnson, John Burse, David Visintainer and Terry Kennedy. Over twenty citizens spoke ranging from the project architect and the principal of Rosati-Kain high school (who needs 30 odd parking spaces for teenage girls so badly she intimated moving the school if demolition were to be denied) as well as residents and citizens from every stripe. A trump card for the diocese, the former building superintendent, inadvertently summed up the attitude of the applicants after his remarks stating
"When I look around this room I realize my Marine discharge card is older than most of the people in this room."

With this literal example of patrimonial superiority out of the way, other less blatant examples continued. It was extremely interesting to detect that Cultural Resources director Kate Shea, Christner Project Architect Dan Jay and Preservation Board chairman Richard Callow all referred to the architect of the building in question, Charles Colbert, as an "insignificant regional architect" despite Colbert's elevation to a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and career as Dean of Architecture at Tulane, Columbia, and Texas A&M. This message belies not only a smug superiority but a seemingly improper level of coordination between the applicant and those that must rule on the application. In addition the numbers used by Shea were dubious at best and considered restoration costs to be upwards of $300/sf. Testimony by Chicago-based developer Steve Anrod and local architect Paul Hohman quickly refuted these numbers.

[Architect Paul Hohman testifies before the preservation board]

[Developer Steve Anrod testifies before the preservation board]

[Lynn Josse testifies that the "green" surface parking lot does not meet existing zoning guidelines]

In my statement I underscored the vital role the preservation board plays in safeguarding what little urbanism remains in Saint Louis. I explicitly highlighted the importance of such areas to the future viability of Saint Louis:
"If Saint Louis is to remain a viable city in this century we must attract young educated orofessionals to the city and staunch the flow of educated Saint Louis youth to more vibrant cities around the country.

If we are to be more than our sister cities Detroit, Youngstown and Gary, Indiana [At this point Preservation Board Chairman Richard Callow, visibly agitated, interrupted me to put me on notice that this was my "one warning". I continued...]

We must directly compete with New York , San Francisco and Chicago. I entreat the preservation board to realize that it is the stewardship of the urbanism of neighborhoods like the Central West End and the preservation of their built density that will do more to raise the image and status of our 52nd most-important city than any chinese freight hub industrial development."

I continued by touching on the site of the Buckingham Hotel, still a surface lot almost 40 years later, the deleterious effect of the surface lot on the context of the urban pocket park proposed immediately north of the site, and the negative traffic impact the parking lot exit would have on Taylor Avenue.

[Parking lot architect Dan Jay issues a final rebuttal]

Despite Kate Shea's earlier assertion that the "basis in preservation law is economic reuse" Alderwoman Lyda Krewson demolished this statement by claiming in essence that since the diocese wouldn't sell or otherwise repair or redevelop the building the board should just approve demolition. This is a perilous stance for an Alderwoman who represents the most urban and intact areas of St. Louis and it is a stance which, once applied to powerful and monied interests throughout the city, will inevitably result in the destruction of what little remains of urbanism in St. Louis.

At around 9:45pm Ald. Phyllis Young was called on to introduce a motion to approve preliminary demolition review. The vote was as follows:

Anthony Robinson - Against
Melanie Fathman - Against
Phyllis Young - For
David Richardson - For
Richard Callow - For

In hindsight it is interesting to compare the outcomes for the last two items on the agenda. The previous item was a one story cottage rehab in the Fox Park Historic District. The owner, one Brian Dunn, had gone through proper channels to build a side porch but had installed three windows that were non-compliant according to the historic district code. As an employee for the city water department he did not have the resources necessary to replace the new windows with compliant windows with an arched upper sash. It was estimated these windows would cost in excess of $4000. He asked to retain his new windows or as a compromise he asked for forbearance as he could not afford to replace the windows and continue the project.

At one point Alderwoman Phyllis Young inquired about his current house in the Compton Heights neighborhood. He indicated that he was still months away from occupancy in the Fox Park house and that he was not sure what he would do with his mortgaged current residence when he moved. Young then intimated that he should sell his current residence to finance the windows for the project.

In other words, the diocese is allowed to refuse to maintain or sell a property. Based on those decisions they are granted preliminary approval to demolish a functional twelve story building for a surface parking lot while a homeowner struggling to rehabilitate a long derelict structure is harassed over the difference between three windows with an arched upper sash and windows with a half-round transom. It is good to see our elected officials and public stewards have the courage and vision to fight for the preservation of what really matters! With attitudes like these it is amazing we have any neighborhoods left.

Perhaps like Youngstown we will blindly continue to accept demolition until we have no unique city left to preserve. If Richard Callow and the city patrimony continue on the present path it may not be just a rhetorical overstatement.

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