Year End Review: A Reawakening
2011 witnessed a dramatic shift in public awareness of the preservation of the St. Louis historic built environment. An abundance of thoughtful adaptive reuses continued to materialize this year. However, the wanton demolition of our shared history endured. As applications for demolition were filed, the preservation minded public began to mobilize. Opposition to demolition and the encouragement of adaptive reuse was voiced by the community to the representatives of our city and municipalities. This outcry to save our historic buildings led to a reawakening of preservation in St. Louis.
This year, sixteen demolition permits were reviewed by the Cultural Resource Office of St. Louis (CRO) and presented to the St. Louis Preservation Board. The permits threatened to raze 48 buildings, 25 of which were either contributing resources to local or national historic districts or "merit" and "high-merit" properties within preservation review districts. CRO recommended the Preservation Board to deny 11 of the 16 permits for demolition. However, 64% of CRO's recommendations were disregarded by the Preservation Board. Thus, 7 out of the 11 permits recommended for denial by CRO were approved by the Preservation Board. A few examples of properties where CRO's recommendations were overturned by the Preservation Board are 5780 McPherson, 2612-30 Chouteau and two industrial buildings at 5570 Manchester. Typically, the same individuals, including representatives from Landmarks, would testify against demolitions on the preservation board agenda.
A noticeable lull in the review of demolition permits scheduled on the agenda for the Preservation Board occurred during the summer. From June until October, demolition permits were not brought forward to the board. This happened to coincide with the tremendous outcry to save the former Del Taco building at 212 South Grand constructed in 1967 from the designs of Richard Henmi. Because it had been blighted by the Land Clearance and Redevelopment Authority of St. Louis, the contributing resource of the Council Plaza Historic District could be demolished without review by CRO. While Landmarks was working with local, regional and national preservation groups to create a united front against demolition, the preservation-minded public began to mobilize. Mike Batchelor, an IT worker and architecture enthusiast, created the Save St. Louis Del Taco Facebook page the same day the blighting of Del Taco was released to the public. The purpose of Batchelor's page was to raise awareness of the potential demolition of the building. Expecting to attract only a smattering of people, Batchelor's Save St. Louis Del Taco page quickly swelled to over 12,000 "likes". Batchelor's decision to make the page had a decisive effect on the future of Del Taco and sparked a renewed interest and awareness of preservation in the city of St. Louis.
|212 S. Grand|
Efforts to save the former Del Taco resonated beyond Facebook. Local, statewide and national publications began to take notice. A rally was coordinated to be held at 212 South Grand to raise awareness of the proposed demolition. Retail and commercial enterprises were in discussion with Rick Yackey, the developer wanting to raze 212 South Grand, to adaptively reuse the building. With all the attention focusing on the building, citizens of St. Louis were urged to contact their alderperson if they disagreed with the blighting and potential demolition of Del Taco. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen began to take notice. During the July meeting of the full Board, the bill concerning the blighting of Del Taco and giving the green light for demolition was heard and voted upon. After the bill was introduced, the floor was open to questions and comments. Aldermen of the 23rd and 8th Wards both commented that they agreed with the bill but would vote against it due to the amount of communication they received in opposition to the bill. The resulting vote was 15-9 in favor of the bill. The vote may have been an upset to preservationists, but the opposition raised by the general public actually swayed the votes of several aldermen. Within a month, a public meeting was held to discuss the planning process of Del Taco. At the meeting, Yackey stated re-use was feasible and getting a return on his investment looked promising. This was a far cry from his sentiment the previous June at the Board of Aldermen Housing, Urban Planning and Zoning Committee meeting. At that time, Yackey believed the current building had limited parking and square footage and finding another entity to occupy the space would be a challenge. The change in heart is largely due to the efforts of preservation-minded public who made their opposition know to the representatives in the city government. The coordinated effort did not end with 212 South Grand.
| Cupples Warehouse 7|
As the summer turned into fall, more possible demolitions came to light. The National Register listed Cupples Warehouse 7 was slated to be razed when the St. Louis Building Commissioner's report deemed the building structurally unsound. Pevely Dairy Headquarters, another National Register listed property, was proposed for demolition by St. Louis University for new construction. Once again, the citizens of St. Louis protested to their aldermen, the Cultural Resource Office and the Mayor. A charrette sponsored by Landmarks, NextSTL and Preservation Research Office brought together professional architects, planners, preservationists and enthusiasts to create a plan for adaptive reuse of Pevely. The review of demolition permits for Cupples and Pevely brought new faces to the Preservation Board meetings. Roughly ten people spoke in favor of retaining Cupples 7: in contrast, public comments at the board meeting for Pevely took over two hours. Both buildings were denied demolition permits. The action taken by the general public for preservation aided in this result.
The goal of the retention and adaptive reuse of our built environment also focused on buildings not listed on the National Register. While the fight to save Del Taco was taking place, another saucer shaped building was threatened. The 1976 AAA Building at 3917 Lindell Avenue lacked protection due to its relatively young age and its location outside of a preservation review district. However, the preservation-minded public kept its eye on the building. They contacted their representatives at City Hall and voiced their opinion. Even Mayor Slay, who supported the demolition of the Century Building for the redevelopment of the Old Post Office, urged the retention of the AAA Building.
Another non-listed building on the chopping block was the 1890's residence of Daniel Brown known as Brownhurst. Located on the St. John Vianney High School Campus, the vacant building was seen as a safety hazard to the students. The Landmarks Commission of Kirkwood, with the aid of the public, sought hard to save this unique treasure of their municipality. Sadly, the building was torn down after receiving two stays of demolition in hopes of finding a purchaser to move the dwelling.
Since 1959 Landmarks' goal has been to preserve, enhance, and promote our built environment. During the past 52 years we have been fortunate to be a part of several successes such as the Old Post Office, DeMenil Mansion, Lafayette Square and most recently Del Taco, Cupples 7 and Pevely Headquarters. However, these successes are largely due to the actions of the community working for the preservation of St. Louis. This reawakening of preservation in our city has been the determining factor in saving our historic built environment and our collective heritage. As we have seen this year, your phone calls, e-mails and letters can change minds. Alderman Joseph Vaccaro of the 23rd Ward said it best concerning the results of public involvement during the final reading of the bill before the Board of Alderman to blight Del Taco this past July. Though he supported the bill, Vaccaro conveyed that, "As an elected official, I must listen to my constituents and I cannot support this bill"
Thank you, St. Louis! Let's continue this momentum for preservation moving into the New Year.