CRO Falters: Several High Merit Buildings Recommended for Demolition
On April 25th, the Cultural Resource Office of St. Louis (CRO) in direct contradiction to the city's ordinances governing demolition, surprisingly recommended the destruction of sixteen connected industrial buildings exhibiting high merit historic characteristics at 169 East Grand Avenue. Proctor and Gamble, owner of the property since the 1920's, filed permits for demolition citing the sixteen buildings as obsolete. The purpose of the demolition is to have the property shovel ready for new construction. Although the staff of the CRO recognized that the buildings in the complex are considered High Merit or Merit structures, they recommended that the demolition permit be granted because "These industrial buildings are just in the wrong place for reuse..." In a 3 to 2 vote, the Preservation Review Board voted to accepted the recommendation of the CRO and granted approval of the demolition permit. With this vote, another piece of St. Louis' historic industrial architecture falls to the wrecking ball and a dangerous precedent has been established. Future applicants for demolitions will have the opportunity to argue that their historic buildings - even those of High Merit - are just in the wrong place for reuse.
| Image from CRO agenda showing 169 E. Grand proposed demolition.|
Additionally, earlier in the evening, the CRO recommended the demoltion of three historic buildings along Jefferson Avenue for the construction of a new building that does not satisfy the Fox Park standards for new construction. In its own review, the CRO noted that the proposed building does not comply in regard to mass and proportion and only partly complies in regard to setback, scale and ratio of solid to void. Even though the building fails to meet the standards for new construction, it was argued that the proposed buildings "will not have an negative effect on the surrounding historic districts and is a vast improvement on the site's current condition."
According to Title 24, Chapter 24.40, under Demolition Reviews, Section G. Architectural Quality, the city's legislation clearly states that "A Structure's architectural Merit, uniqueness, and/or historic value shall be evaluated and the Structure classified as High Merit, Merit, Qualifying, or non-contributing... Demolition of Sound High Merit Structures shall not be approved by the Office." According to the staff report concerning the industrial complex, buildings 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the complex are considered High Merit structures and buildings 12, 15 and 19 are Merit structures that contribute to the historic industrial complex."
The connected industrial buildings at 169 East Grand Avenue sit within a Preservation Review District. Review Districts were established in 1999 under ordinance 64832 and stipulate that portions of the city of St. Louis contain a stock of well designed buildings exhibiting certain unique characteristics. Unneccesary demolitions, such as 169 East Grand Avenue, erode the areas building stock and contributes to the degradation of property values. Whenever an application is made for the demolition of a building or structure in a Preservation Review District, the Building Commissioner shall submit a copy of such application to the Cultural Resource Office. A decision to approve or disapprove of all application for demolition permits will be made by the Preservation Board of St. Louis with a recommendation from the Cultural Resource Office. The basis of the decision and the recommendation are based upon criteria which are listed in order of importance.
All demolished buildings and structures must have an approved redevelopment plan. Protor and Gamble do not have an official redevelopment plan. They intended to leave the lot empty and shovel ready for when a plan is developed.
According to Ordiance 64689 and 64658, demolition of sound high merit buildings or structures shall not be approved by the Cultural Resource Office. The designation of a high merit building is based upon the overall style, era, building type, materials, ornamentation, craftsmenship, site planning and whether it is the work of a significant architect, engineer or craftsman and contributing to the streetscape and neighborhood. The Cultural Resource Office deemed building one, two and three of the sixteen connected buildings as high merit that form the historic core of an industrial property with local historical and architectual significance. The construction of the complex began in the late nineteenth century for the William Waltke and Company, a soap manufacturer, whose products achieved wide distribution. The design of the red brick industrial buildings epitomize masonry industrial buildings with intergation of paneled pilasters, corbel tables at each floor, closely set windows and parapets. According to the Cultural Resource Office, the collection of building are an excellent example of the engineering aesthetic that relied on the functional articulation of brick. Buildings twelve, fifteen and ninteen are also regarded as merit buildings by the Cultural Resource Office which contribute to the historic industrial complex.
In accordance with the City Ordinance regarding demolition of building in a Preservation Review District, buildings that are structurally sound with potential for adaptive reuse and or resale shall generally not be approved for demolition. CRO considers the buildings to be sound under the definition of the ordinance.
The potential renovation and reuse of the building, based on similar cases within the city, shall be evaluated under the stipulations of the ordinance. The CRO Preservation Board agenda for April 25th states that Proctor and Gamble investigated the cost of rehabilitating the complex and found it to be prohibitively expensive. The former William Waltke and Company complex is considered eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Therefore, the building complex would be able to obtain state and federal tax credits if the group of buildings would remain standing. The application for a demolition permit states only Building One of the complex would remain standing. With the loss of it historic context, Building One on its own would not be eligible for tax credits.
Economic hardship that may be experience by the owner if the application for a demoltion permit is denied must be evaulated by CRO. Information concerning the economic hardship faced by Proctor and Gamble was not provided to CRO.
Due to the high merit of architectural and historic significance of the complex, lack of economic hardship, the absence of a redevelopment plan and the potential for reuse the City Ordinance states that the application for a demolition permit shall not be approved by CRO or the Preservation Board of St. Louis. However, CRO broke procedure and concluded that, "These buildings are just in the wrong place for reuse and it seems that the public good is served by their demolition and the continued presence of a modern manufacturing operation."