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Doering Mansion Should Not Be Razed for Mississippi Bluffs Condos

 

doering1The Doering Mansion has clearly seen better days. Like thousands of nice but ordinary buildings all over the city this one has been allowed to slowly decay over a period of decades. Sadly, the ordinary building has no champion. We have the Landmarks Association which speaks up when… well… a landmark building is threatened. But we are a city of ordinary buildings. It is the streetscape of ordinary accented by the occasional landmark structure that gives our city its character and appeal. Raze enough of the normal, everyday buildings and the attraction of the city is lost.

My interest in saving the Doering Mansion is not that as a single structure it is historic, although by many standards it is. No, my belief is that we have lost all the ordinary run of the mill buildings we can afford to lose. In some areas, such as parts of North St. Louis and mid-town, we’ve razed too many buildings to have much appeal at all. Yet, we continue to raze buildings that are individually insignificant in the name of that old standby reason, progress. St. Louis has a preservation review ordinance for a reason, to examine the value of buildings before granting a demolition permit. Later today we’ll know the fate of the Doering Mansion.





From the Suburban Journals:

The city’s Preservation Board Monday will take up the issue of whether Developer Michael Curran can demolish the historic Doering Mansion on the north side of the 8.2-acre former Good Samaritan Home property at 5200 S. Broadway.

If the Preservation Board doesn’t issue Curran a building permit, Curran said he won’t develop the 56-unit townhouse project.

“If they don’t let me tear it down, the project’s done,” Curran said. “I’d have to sell the project to somebody who’d do something else.”

Curran is employing the tried and true developer tactic of threatening to take his marbles and play elsewhere if we don’t go along with his game plan. I’m certain he’ll argue that much time and money has been invested in planning the project — too much to stop now. But, today is the first opportunity for the public to have input on the project. Rather than risk months of time and thousands of dollars on planning he should have sought a demolition permit earlier. But, therein lies one of the flaws in the process. If a developer has any reasonable expectation of getting a demolition permit they must indicate what they indent to do and show why it will be an improvement. So, by design, developers are stuck with a big investment in time and money before they know for sure if they can raze a structure. In that time they can become attached to their design concept and unwilling to consider viable alternatives.

 

doering2Listing units for sale and beginning the marketing of the new units is not a flaw in the system but a clever strategy for showing support for the new project. Walking into the Preservation Board meeting with pre-sales virtually eliminates the board’s concern about the project actually happening after razing a building. It also gets the public attached to the new design. Pressure to reevaluate the design to work with an existing structure is lessoned as time goes on. People throw up their hands and once again say, “It was bound to happen.”

The Doering Mansion is located at 5108 S. Broadway on a separate 1.7906 acre parcel of land. This property plus the remaining land totals roughly 8.2 acres according to an article by Jim Merkel of the Suburban Journals. Tax records show the total sale price was $1,650,000 or just over $201,000 per acre. Proportionately the Doering Mansion’s 1.7906 acres is worth around $360,300. Even in its current state I think a 4,000 sq ft home on nearly two acres of land with spectacular views only minutes from downtown would sell for upwards of half a million.

 

Some have suggested the entire property was on the market for a number of years and that if someone wanted to buy the house they had the chance. Technically that is true. Someone with over a million and a half dollars could have purchased the entire property to get the house and then attempted to sell the remaining land and buildings. The mansion and its land have never been offered on the open market.

It would cost him about $900,000 to renovate it, he said. A similar mansion on the bluff sold for $800,000.

“It’s a very expensive building to restore,” Curran said.

 

doering3The house next door at 5024 S. Broadway sold in July 2005 for $795,000. Where this argument falls short is that this house was not listed on the St. Louis MLS system either — it was a private sale. It might have fetched a higher price had it been available to the general public. It is also not the best comparison in that it only has 2,476 sq ft and sits on a smaller site (1.35 acres). But assuming Mr. Curran is correct that it would take $900,000 to renovate the home and the land is worth say $400,000 we’d need a sale price of at least $1.3 million. Even at that, it doesn’t leave any room for developer profit. This is why the developer should sell the mansion and land to an owner to renovate for their own home. A sale price of $500,000 or so would be a nice return on his investment, saving the cost to raze and remove the structure. This would leave over 6 acres left for a new project.

 

You see, unlike the Century Building vs. parking garage debate this is not an either or situation. It is hard to say that without razing the mansion the remaining 6+ acres is not developable.

Curran said that keeping the house would mean he would have to reduce the number of townhouses. That would make the project unfeasible.

“The only way you can afford to develop that property and keep the mansion would be to have a four- or five-story condominium building,” he said. There would be more than 120 units in such a development, he said.

Curran planned 56 units on 8.2 acres. Keeping his same concept and the mansion would require a reduction down to 42 units, says Curran in the paper. Selling the mansion for half a million still would not make up the difference in the reduction. Curran is being a bit dramatic when he says the only way to make a profit would require a 4-5 story building with 120 units. If he can make a profit from 56 units on 8.2 acres he can make a profit on 56 units on 6+ acres. But I’m starting to like the idea of a 4-5 story building with 120 units. Why is that so bad?

 

doering4What would be better for the city, 56 new residences or a restored mansion and 120 residences? I’ll take the latter thank you very much. This would give us more residents in the city and a restored mansion. It is a win-win.

But it wouldn’t need to be 120 units to return a profit. The exact number doesn’t matter too much, the real debate is about Curran’s low-rise concept vs any alternative that includes the Doering Mansion. Curran is attempting to say his low-rise concept is superior to a 4-5 story building. I disagree. If you look to the South of the site you have two nursing homes, both reasonably new and not going anywhere anytime soon, each in excess of five floors. A very linear low-rise project actually has less to do with the neighbors than a mid-rise building would. To the North of the site is the previously mentioned house at 5024 S. Broadway. North of that is another former single family house that has had an unfortunate addition. North of that is another old mansion with nearly 4,500 sq. ft. This is a pretty consistent row — we should not begin taking it away.

 

This brings us back to the question of the Preservation Board’s decision later today. At this time the Cultural Resources office has not posted the meeting agenda so I do not know what the staff recommendation will be. [Update 11/28 @ 10:30am – here is the agenda.] However, based on my personal experience I’d say they will recommend the application for a demolition permit be denied. The staff has probably denied the application thus far and this hearing will be considered an “appeal of staff decision.” If you read the enabling ordinance (#64832) you will see the criteria to be used by the Preservation Board must consider when making a decision. A very relevant section is 5B:

B. Architectural Quality. Structure’s architectural merit, uniqueness, and/or historic value shall be evaluated and the structure classified as high merit, merit, qualifying, or noncontributing [emphasis added] based upon: Overall style, era, building type, materials, ornamentation, craftsmanship, site planning, and whether it is the work of a significant architect, engineer, or craftsman; and contribution to the streetscape and neighborhood. Demolition of sound high merit structures shall not be approved by the Office. Demolition of merit or qualifying structures shall not be approved except in unusual circumstances which shall be expressly noted.[emphasis added]

I’ll be the first to say the building most likely does not qualify as “high merit” nor is it insignificant enough to be considered a “noncontributing” structure. This leaves merit or qualifying. Given the size and details of the building I’m guessing the staff will rank it as “merit.” But what are the unusual circumstances that would warrant razing this structure? None in my view. An interesting design is not unusual nor is a developer grandstanding, saying he’ll walk.

Another qualifier to consider is condition:

C. Condition. The Office shall make exterior inspections to determine whether a structure is sound. If a structure or portion thereof proposed to be demolished is obviously not sound, the application for demolition shall be approved except in unusual circumstances which shall be expressly noted. The remaining or salvageable portion(s) of the structure shall be evaluated to determine the extent of reconstruction, rehabilitation or restoration required to obtain a viable structure.

[subsection 1] Sound structures with apparent potential for adaptive reuse, reuse and or resale shall generally not be approved for demolition unless application of criteria in subsections A, D, F and G, four, six and seven indicates demolition is appropriate.

Based on application of the ordinance the Preservation Board should deny the request for demolition: potential does exist for rehab and/or resale of the property, it is at least contributing and I doubt the developer can justify a financial hardship. This ordinance is nothing new. The developer and Alderman had to have known when they started promoting the project. My prediction is the Preservation Board will give in to political pressure and grant the demolition permit. If that happens it will be a sad day for the validity of our Preservation Review ordinance. If the Preservation Board upholds the denial the developer has the right to appeal the decision in court. Conversely, if the Preservation Board allows the demolition a city property owner may appeal the decision in court.

A friend told me recently, “we can’t save everything.” True enough. But the question about what we do and do not save is a valid subject for open public discussion, not backroom politics. This is not an either or situation — saving the mansion leaves a site bigger than 6 acres that someone will want to develop if Curran backs out. In a rare case we can have our cake and eat it too.

– Steve

 

Currently there are "25 comments" on this Article:

  1. Brian says:

    If wishing to save an old elitist enclave, I would focus the fight on the Clemens house on Cass. Clemens too went downhill with its institutional reuse, but this more unique home in North City is of greater historic value than this more common house in South City.

    As for the “Doering,” I think there are plenty of old large homes still left along South Broadway that our City’s class-based heritage won’t be lost with the Mississippi Bluffs development.

    Besides, it’s not as if the proposed development is a parking garage, but rather several townhomes. And with the added density, more folks will be able to enjoy such unique riverside bluff views within the City.

    [REPLY – Yes, the Clemmens house is far more historic and should be saved for that reason. The Doering Mansion should be saved based on being part of the streetscape. Only three other vintage houses over 3,000sf exist on the bluff. How many is enough? And again, this is not either or situation — we can have the mansion AND a new develoment with density. – SLP]

     
  2. dude says:

    What about the young Jay Doerring, Realtor, who still frequents Carondelet?

    Did he grow up in the mansion? Is he the seller?

    Does he have an opinion on the proposal?

    What about the neighborhood organization? (Which neighborhood is it?)

    Where do they stand on the proposal?

    I bet most neighborhood organizations would welcome such a high-dollar housing development.

     
  3. Brian says:

    I don’t understand the mansion being a crucial part of the streetscape, since it sits a significant distance from the street. But in that case, so will the new townhomes. So, along Broadway, you’ll still experience a wide front yard setback– just newer, denser development will line the bluff instead of the mansion and adjacent dormitory wings.

    Now if talking about the townhomes being of different character than other large single-family homes lining South Broadway, then this site already set a precedent of change earlier when it added its institutional dormitory-looking wings. So then, ironically, this development would return the area to more high-end residential, albeit denser.

    If you were a complete preservationist, you’d ask for similar large single-family homes similar in proportion and siting to the mansion to replace the nearby out-of-place wings. But while that would also keep the streetscape and character of this block, replica infill would hardly add much density to the area.

    Sure, there are things I don’t care for about this development, especially it being gated, but overall, I think it will add vitality to the area, with 56 new townhomes proposed.

    [REPLY – I go by the site nearly every day and the character of the area is about houses set back from the street. We’ve got a nice row of original buildings that should not be altered. I’m not a preservationist at all — that is not what this is about. It is about character. Yes, requiring single family houses would be an undue burden and too low density. But what is wrong with having both the mansion and a new development? Why must it be one or the other? – SLP]

     
  4. Who thinks that the design of the “townhouse” buildings looks terrible? These buildings are like ski-lodge-style motels.

     
  5. hepcat says:

    is that the same guy as jay dearing (not doering or doerring), 1997 republican mayoral candidate?

     
  6. jyoseph says:

    Steve, very sorry for this off-topic comment but I thought you’d be interested in this:
    http://www.housingmaps.com/

    Currently St. Louis isn’t on it but I figured it’s only a matter of time.

     
  7. Brian says:

    If the wide front yard setback stays the same as it is now, I fail to see how the new development dramatically changes the streetscape of South Broadway.

    If we were to never permit older homes of the rich be torn down for increased density, the loft district would never have replaced Lucas Place homes similar to the Campbell house. Redevelopment for denser land use is truly an urban phenomenon.

    The massing of the new townhomes will provide similar height to the demolished mansion. But building a denser mid-rise to retain the mansion would actually more so replicate the current boxy grouping of institutional dormitory wing buildings that kind of stick of out now as a sore thumb.

    And sure, the new townhomes do sort of look like a ski lodge, but the existing mansion sort of resembles a country manor. In other words, the area already had a pastoral feel, whether existing manor or proposed “lodge.”

    [REPLY – After seeing a section through the site tonight I’m even more concerned. Forget all about your statement of “if the setback stays the same” because it will not. The “hilltop” buildings will encroach on about half the front yard. Plus, the total height of this building is higher than the current buildings. So, substantially closer to the street combined with higher overall building is not good. In making the “hilltop” they are raising the grade substantially which will change the grade. A number of trees will be lost. Now I’m not only upset about losing the mansion but about losing the trees and open space that is a great hallmark of the site now. – SLP]

     
  8. Shaun Tooley says:

    Steve,
    Can you add to this forum about this issue at hand over tonight’s Preservation meeting and if they can persuade the developer for the mansion and 120 condos?

    I am rooting for the win-win scenario but that means more work for the developer to change his plans, and the City (looking out for its interests) should help the developer with changing to the mansion and condo building.

    [REPLY – I will be doing a new post to summarize the meeting and where things stand. At this point I’ll just say they took a political out by requiring a letter indicating why the building cannot be saved. A letter will get them a demo permit. Most likely the Doering will be razed. – SLP]

     
  9. nosy says:

    Does the developer have a letter of community support?

    What about aldermanic support?

    [REPLY – Neighbors spoke both in favor of demolition and against demolition. Alderman Villa basically hand picked this developer after rejecting ideas from other developers — some of which included saving the mansion. – SLP]

     
  10. _jason_ says:

    So what happened at the meeting??

     
  11. nosier says:

    So, as far as community support, no actual neighborhood organization has taken a position, just individual residents speaking out in favor or against?

    Does the area have a neighborhood organization? What do they do?

     
  12. Joe Frank says:

    Although the Broadway Bluffs Historic District is part of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, it is separated from the rest of the neighborhood by I-55.

    This may not be entirely fair, but I have the sense the neighborhood assoc is primarily concerned with the areas west of I-55. At least, that was the impression I got several years ago from somebody who lived east of Broadway, on the bluffs.

     
  13. The Preservation Board voted in favor of the staff recommendation to approve the project with design changes and a drafting of a letter stating why the Doering Mansion cannot be included in the design (perhaps a giant drawing of a dollar sign will suffice).

    Here’s the vote breakdown:

    Yea: Johnson, Callow, Porrello, Fathman
    Nay: Burse, Robinson

    [UPDATED 11/30 @ 8AM – This comment incorrectly indicated that Terry Kennedy voted in favor of the motion, however, he was not present at the meeting. But, the vote count was correct because member Luis Porrello voted in favor of the motion. The above has been changed to reflect the vote. – SLP]

     
  14. uhhh says:

    Michael’s post is confusing…

    Callow voted with the staff recommendation and Burse did not?

    What did Burse want that he didn’t get?

    [REPLY – The motion and vote was a political way of saying give us a letter for our file and we’ll give you a demo permit. I’m assuming Burse & Robinson voted against the amendment because they would have preferred to deny the demo permit — I don’t know that but that is my assumption. I’ve not spoken to either since that night. – SLP]

     
  15. city looker says:

    No one has posted about the developer, Mike Curran. He has been the go-to guy for major impact projects in Carondelet-Maddox School and Stein Row.

    Those were the biggest and best housing developments to come to Carondelet since…?

    It’s no wonder Alderman Villa wants to work with Mike Curran.

    And guess what? My wife wants to move down to Carondelet and buy one of those bluff condos!

     
  16. Brian says:

    The good news is how an experienced neighborhood developer will now be able to continue improving the greater Carondelet area. And so our urban history of tearing down antiquated lower density structures for new increased density continues.

    As folks want to move back to the City, we’ll have to find ways to increase our number of housing units. As another example, near The Hill, neighborhood residents about the closed St. Al’s church and the alderman are likewise supportive of another experienced area developer to tear down this former institution to make way for new housing. With renewed interest in City living, you can expect more teardowns for increased density to be a growing trend.

    [REPLY – Couple of points. First, I love density. We need more of it and the sooner the better. But in the case of the bluffs we can actually have both — a great old mansion perhaps reborn as a B&B and density. In fact, the developer says it would take 120 units to return a profit if he can’t raze the mansion. Great, even more density!

    If we are wise (questionable) we’ll rebuild the areas of the city that are currently empty — mostly North St. Louis. Sites like the old Pruitt-Igoe site are idea for quality but dense housing on the edge of downtown. The future Northside MetroLink line can play a key role to rebuilding the North side and hopefully in a dense manner. Right now all over the city everyone wants new development to be single family only — we’ve got to get over that and soon. – SLP]

     
  17. Ron says:

    I live in this area, and would hate for this building to be razed in favor of townhouses. Buildings like this were a significant factor in my decision to purchase in the city and more specifically in Carondelet. If I had the means, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. I can only hope that someone who thinks it is as fantastic as I do will get the opportunity to purchase it and restore it to its former glory.

     
  18. Brian says:

    I too believe new development should be targeted towards underutilized and antiquated sites, especially failing retail-strip grayfields. But more pedestrian-oriented site plan requirements will help ensure that these new developments be more urban-friendly, not strict preservation review.

    To date, the SLPS greenhouse, Truman nursing home and now Doering mansion were all antiquated structures of low density that were largely out of place from their greater neighborhood surroundings. So, replacing these odd sites with greater residential density is great for the City as a win-win already (lowering vacancy while adding density).

    However, these new developments actually being gated developments or giving off such feel remains my urbanist concern, not the loss of these out-of-place structures.

    [REPLY – Assume for a minute that Good Samaritan had sold the Doering Mansion separately from the remaining 6 acres. Would you be arguing that 6 acres just isn’t enough space and we must take the additional 1.8 acres to make it worthwhile? Why not take the one to the north as well — that adds another 1.5 acres to the total and could add probably 10 more units. I hate the idea of losing the sense that large mansions ever existed on the bluff but that is where we are headed. We are also going to lose the nice open green space with trees because of the type of development proposed. I’d rather put a 20-story building at the rear of the site (with or without mansion) than build what they are proposing. – SLP]

     
  19. Brian says:

    Did we lose the sense that private homes of the rich once occupied downtown, midtown or other locales since largely built over?

    History is not found in keeping everything as it is, but rather experiencing the cumulative result about us. Not everything of age should be preserved, but rather those things most greatly contributing to our heritage-formed sense of place.

    Considering that other similar homes to Doering will continue to line this bluff in the near future, that history has not been lost, just altered as all history is– a cumulative, changing heritage.

    [REPLY – Yes, St. Louis has evolved over the generations. The lofts we enjoy were built where mansions once stood. Duly noted. We’ve also spent the last 50 years unnaturally accellerating this natural process by building highways, “urban renewal” projects and urban abandonment. We’ve destroyed 200 years worth of buildings in 50 years time.

    And do the math on Broadway. In my view only one other house really gives that large mansion feel (3 doors north). The one next door to the North sorta does but it is a much smaller house on a smaller lot. It works well because the two combined give that feel — this is the ONLY place where you have two of the big homes side by side. – SLP]

     
  20. Thanks for the correction, Steve. I was working from memory.

    I have no idea why the poster singled out Callow and Burse. The issues before the Preservation Board are too important to be reduced to personalites and trivia. But since the poster was not at the meeting, I’ll elaborate.

    Burse stated at the meeting that he wanted the plan revised to preserve the Doering Mansion and to protect the grade of the bluff, which will be virtually destroyed under the Curran plan. (That’s perhaps the bigger preservation issue here.) Some of the Preservation Board members who voted in favor of the staff recommendation seemed to have issues with Curran’s design but entrusted the staff to work out the flaws with Curran.

    Curran is a major developer who has done good projects, but his prior work does not excuse any of the problems with this project. In fact, his past record indicates that he can put together a project much better than this one.

    [REPLY – I agree. I would think that Curran and his architect could do a great project that retained both the existing grade /trees and the mansion. I’d just like to see the mansion go on the market for 3-6 months while the other buildigns are razed. If it doesn’t sell to someone that has the means to restore it then go ahead and raze it — we can at least say we make a real effort. – SLP]

     
  21. Shannon says:

    I had heard that the Doering mansion had been previously split into a 2-family. Would it be feasible to evolve that concept by restoring the mansion itself into townhomes, say 2-3 units? That would provide more density than a solitary mansion, AND the structure would not be razed. Plus I’m sure it would be a more profitable than restoring it as a single family. Seems win-win-WIN to me. Thoughts?

     
  22. Robert says:

    Interesting that you favor more density. In the shaw neighborhood we’ve been trying to decrease density for years. Changing 4 families to 2, etc.

    I’ve often wondered why St. Louis river side views weren’t more popular.

    I favor saving the Mansion looks like a cool building. Seems like a good architect could fit both on the site.

    [REPLY – Density is our friend. Vibrant cities are that such because of density. The future of our city will depend upon increasing, not decreasing, density of population. – SLP]

     
  23. Jackie says:

    Interesting that Robert mentions that Shaw has been diligently trying to reduce density in the belief that this improves neighborhoods.

    It doesn’t. Shaw continues to experience problems, I believe, precisely because of the “renewal” tactics employed there. When shopping for a home recently, I considered and then rejected Shaw. The deciding factor was an article in the neighborhood association newsletter–explaining with great pride how the association has worked to eliminate commercial and retail establishments within the neighborhood, opting for “passive use” (i.e. lawyer’s offices and such that don’t generate foot traffic) and pushing the shops and restaurants to Grand Avenue. The neighborhood has little positive foot traffic–it’s mostly petty crime on the street–and the rehabbed houses seem like islands in an unfriendly sea. There’s little interaction between the livelier street life among the blocks of rental houses and the dead zones of the upscale rehabs. The Thurman Cafe has failed–in part because there is no real community street life. The yuppie clientele to whom the place was marketed rarely come out on the street except to jog or walk the dog. More foot traffic, at various hours, as people visit shops, restaurants, and other businesses could have an informal neighborhood “policing” effect that’s sadly missing now. And, imagine this, people might actually interact with their neighbors of all social and economic varieties.

    A similar approach along Broadway–pushing for residential areas with no mixed use commercial and retail spaces–will only encourage the area’s decline. The area where the Doerring is located already has a strike against it in that Broadway itself, as a literally “broad” street, forms a barrier to neighborhood interaction. The strip between Broadway and the river needs a mix of dense housing, larger homes with land to provide visual openings to the river, parks, and, yes, commercial and retail development to draw people to, and keep them in, the area.

    Those who want to save the mansion aren’t necessarily trying to promote an elitist way of life. I’d be just as happy if the building were reused as something other than an expensive private residence–as long as the architectural details are preserved and something of the shape of the bluff and open space remain, with the denser housing nearby. It never was typical to have much density on the bluffs over a river–these are typically places for big houses or military structures. Really dense riverfronts develop at much lower grades where transitions between water and land are easier. So, either we create a sort of microcosm in that sliver of land so the density will survive, or we leave it to larger, more isolated structures and get over hangups about the evil of preserving monuments to robber barons of the past.

     
  24. Emily DOERING says:

    Hmmmmm. . I would very much like to know if I’m related to these Doerings

     
  25. Roxanne says:

    As a child who grew up down the street from this magnificent home, and whose parents still live in one of the smaller of the “mansions” on Broadway, but on the other side of the street — I can tell you that EVERY time I saw this home, my breath was literally taken away as I would romanticize it in it’s heyday! What a beautiful home this must have been. So often I dreamed to someday buy that beautiful home and make it beautiful once again, not knowing the criteria behind it’s sale. I literally cried when I saw it had been demolished. For those of you unfortunates who weren’t able to see it in person, you truly missed a wonderful piece of history that can never be replaced. It’s unfortunate the new construction could not be completed without demolition of that wonderful building!! And to be honest, in my humble opinion, they have absolutely NONE of the architectural ambiance as the Doering Mansion did. What a shame progress can be when forget where we came from!

     

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