Statement on the Hotel Indigo Project
October 28, 2008
At the October 27, 2008 meeting of the St. Louis Preservation Board, Assistant Director Michael Allen read the following statement on the proposed Hotel Indigo project at 917-23 Locust Street. Landmarks' concerns were echoed in testimony from Randy Vines and architect Paul Hohmann, but ultimately the Board unanimously approved the project on a preliminary basis as well as the requested demolitions.
First of all, we would like to thank the Roberts Companies, Karen Baxter and Mike Killeen for engaging Landmarks on this project. We spoke as recently as today to discuss details of the design, where we reiterated our concerns about the first concept for the hotel addition, which was inappropriate for the site. The revised concept design incorporates some of our advice and is much more urban in form than before. We do recommend further refinement of the design so that the driveway is less visible and that the bulk of the façade is not monotonous. The differentiation of façade styles, materials and heights that block face has now should guide enhancement of the proposed addition. After all, we all agree that this needs to be a high-quality project worthy of a major downtown location.
Nevertheless, as you can understand, in our pursuit of our mission statement, ultimately Landmarks cannot support the demolition of any downtown building that could be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. We concur with Karen Baxter's assessment of the stucco-and-timber-covered corner building at 923 Locust. Although we cannot truly evaluate its significance in its current state, we concede that it is ineligible for National Register listing at present due to integrity issues.
On the other hand, we have gained appreciation for the building at 921 Locust Street. Architecturally, it is not individually significant although its spare, handsome façade enhances the urban character of Locust Street. Its commercial history seemed unremarkable at first glance, and early research turned up little that would recommend its listing in the National Register. Yet we have now learned that 921 Locust had an important tenant from the mid-1910s through 1946 in the Leacock Sporting Goods Company, distributor and seller of St. Louis-made Rawlings sporting goods, baseball bats and baseballs. At least one bat with the Leacock imprint can be found in the St. Louis Cardinals' Hall of Fame Museum. We have not had time to thoroughly research this connection.
We cannot support granting a demolition permit without further research into strategies for listing 921 Locust in the National Register of Historic Places. Even if singular eligibility is not possible, there is another option. While inclusion in the Washington Avenue National Register Historic District is indeed impossible, there are at least two other prospects. A historic district on Locust Street including this block of several round it would certainly include 921 as a contributing resource. The second possibility would help us avoid situations like the one we face now, where a developer is lead to seek demolition of what seems like an unremarkable building -- a Multiple Property Documentation Form for remaining downtown small-scale commercial buildings. There is a class of buildings, mostly narrow and two to four stories in height, that fill in the space around the obvious architectural gems. Collectively, they are highly significant and impart to downtown a sense of pedestrian scale that has been widely eradicated through demolition.
In conclusion, we did not learn until today that while the project design is undergoing only preliminary review, demolition permits for both 921 and 923 Locust Street would be approved by an affirmative vote today. Construction permits unfortunately are not yet under consideration, meaning that approval of demolition today would come without any guarantee of timely construction. While we think the Roberts are serious about completing the project, we urge the Preservation Board to not approve any demolition permit for redevelopment without first having construction permits in hand and a firm work start date. Any of us needing convincing of the wisdom of that approach should visit the southwest corner of 14th and Washington streets.