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Preservation Board to Determine Fate of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Complex

staloy1.jpgLast month the St. Louis Preservation Board, appointed by the mayor, rubber stamped the demolition of the Doering Mansion on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. That same rubber stamp will likely be pulled from the political desk drawer to approve the razing of the St. Aloysius Gonzaga complex for 23 single family homes.

From the Suburban Journals on 9/28/2005:

Father Vince Bommarito, the priest of St. Ambrose Parish, said there was a conscious decision to not have the buildings of St. Aloysius remain intact.

“That church is actually older than St. Ambrose. People are committed to the brick and mortar. To turn that over to somebody else would be difficult for the people to handle in the long run,” Bommarito said.

St. Aloysius Parish was made part of St. Ambrose Parish when the archdiocese closed St. Aloysius at the end of June.

Huh? It would be difficult to see someone else reuse their old church so leveling the site is somehow better? The neighbor I spoke to is glad the area will be used for residential but likes the old buildings and trees. When I spoke to her today she was under the impression it was a done deal. With that pro-demo rubber stamp awaiting the preservation board it might be a done deal. But I’ve never let political pressure stop me from speaking my mind before.

The approach to St. Aloysius from the East is spectacular as the sanctuary commands your attention as the terminus to Magnolia Street (above). Such placement of important buildings was a key factor in 19th century cities and is often used in New Urbanist projects.

The church and additional buildings sit in what is a slight break from the grid (left). Magnolia is on the middle of the right side of this image, the top is North. Pearl is the short North-South street that crosses Magnolia and runs in front of the Church. January is the North-South street shown on the left side of the image, making up the West edge of the development.

The church existed long before most of the surrounding homes. The adjacent residential is mostly modest homes although new homes have been built on some formerly vacant land and the area is beginning to experience some tear-downs.

Back to the Suburban Journals article:

James T. Wohlert said his company, Wohlert Company LLC, will purchase the property and act as the developer. He said DiMartino Homes would be the contractor and Paul Findler and Associates would be the architect. He said the goal was to built 20 to 24 homes on the property, but the number would likely be 23.

Wohlert said the lots on North Magnolia Avenue and South Magnolia Avenue would measure 30-by-117 feet. He said the lots that face Pearl and January avenues would be a different size. He said the entire plan would be presented to the Southwest Garden Neighborhood Association at its next meeting. Home prices would start at $200,000

The narrow and deep lots of the proposed development are certainly appropriate for the area, although I’m concerned how the view from Magnolia will be handled. I was unable to find a site plan or any other information online.

Standing the front of the church and looking toward the North you see the old rectory which will also be razed. Mature trees fill the Eastern portion of the 2.1 acre site and make for a really nice composition.

I can imagine that many neighbors located here for the church, school and tranquil setting.

The old school to the South of the church would be razed along with everything else on the site. This structure, along with the rectory and sanctuary seem to be ideal candidates for adaptive reuse.

I’m not even including the old gym in my images. It is an interesting structure just like the others but I could concede it being razed if the main buildings were saved.

The Northeast corner of the site as seen from the intersection of the streets. The juxtaposition of the various structures, materials, textures and colors is unique. I can’t think of another such setting anywhere in the region.

We should not be quick to level such a magnificent grouping of buildings and trees.

For years we’ve seen talented developers, architects and contractors work magic with old train stations, warehouses, convents, hospitals and churches. Though not perfect, these buildings are in relatively great condition. We have the talent in our city to make these beloved buildings into housing for future generations.

The spin doctors will be in full force on the 19th at the Preservation Board meeting. They’ll try to paint this as the only option to the buildings sitting vacant for years to come. Anyone that has ever walked through the St. Agnes condos knows better.

In exchange for razing these buildings and trees I’m sure we’ll get some attractive housing…


Again, I don’t know exactly what will be built on the site but the new house shown at right is across the street and built by the same builder.

More from the same Suburban Journals article:

The city is requiring that the homes have brick fronts, because the builder is seeking a 10-year tax abatement for buyers of the home[s]. Alderman Joe Vollmer will seek the abatement before the Board of Aldermen.

Sorry, but 23 of these or something like it is not worth losing such a complex. As I said, we’ve got some really creative types in this city that could work magic with these buildings. They’d possibly end up with more than 23 units as well, giving more needed density to the area to support local businesses, schools and remaining churches.

It is time the Preservation Board got the message, do your job and follow the Preservation Review Ordinance. If you share my concern about this project please give the board a call or send them an email, both are located here. It wouldn’t hurt to send Alderman Vollmer an email as well. While you are at it, please send Mayor Slay an email too.

I chose to live in the City of St. Louis for the last 15 years for the architecture, the urban potential and priceless character. We can renovate and add new structures (and density) without sacrificing the very things many of us treasure. These parts of our city are worth fighting for. If they are going to continue using the rubber stamp to erase parts of our city I’m going to continue calling attention to them and speaking out against such actions.

The next Preservation Board meeting will be held at 4pm on Monday, December 19, 2005. The location is the 12th floor of 1015 Locust. See you there!

[UPDATE 12/11/05 @ 8:45PM. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the final vote! Chairman Tim Mulligan typically votes only to break a tie. Voting in favor of razing the structures will be Mary ‘One’ Johnson, Richard Callow, Ald Terry Kennedy and Luis Porrello. Melanie Fathman will likely vote against demolition unless one of the above is not present to vote in favor. If that happens she’ll vote in favor of demolition. With a majority voting the way of the political wind it will allow architects John Burse and Anthony Robinson to vote against demolition. What is fun is watching members that you know are going to vote one way act like they are actually deliberating the decision at the meeting.]

– Steve


Currently there are "38 comments" on this Article:

  1. Matt says:

    If I didn’t have a stats exam at that exact same time on Monday I would be there. I will send an email though, and I’ll let your voice work for me.

  2. Dustin says:

    It is worth noting that you photographs were taken AFTER the archdiocese stripped the building of its precious stained glass. It now has the appearance of a run-down complex but that is not what it looked like a few short weeks ago. The archdiocese AND the catholic community at large should be ashamed. The same gutting has just occurred in Carondelet at St. Boniface

  3. arena angel says:

    The old gym is worth saving, even if only for the “lamella” roof framing. It’s a mini-version of the old Arena.

    What about contacting Jim Shrewsbury?

  4. Brian says:

    From your own quotes of Wohlert, the lots closest to Pearl (corner lots at Magnolia) will be different than other lots measuring 30′ x 117′. Brick will be on the front of all homes, plus sides, where a corner lot, such that brick will face the Magnolia entrance.

    Also, your example of the home on January is a poor comparison, since it has the garage in the front with side driveway access, while these new homes will have an alley with rear access. The builder builds a variety of styles, unlike the standard Pyramid detached rowhome. Other examples include the new live-work units on Southwest, as well as three new homes (one already up and framed) on Sublette.

    The complex formerly known as St. Al’s was built as a neighborhood institution, with rather difficult access for anyone outside the neighborhood. If the property cannot be reused as a neighborhood institution, its reuse by an outside institution would likely damage the social fabric of the area. Most surrounding households are still largely Catholic, just now absorbed by St. Ambrose parish. Thus, the majority of area residents hate to see the complex demolished, but would even more dislike the idea of another use not serving area residents moving in.

    [REPLY – The lots on the ends will be different yes but Magnolia will not have such a terminus. I’ve not seen a site plan but I do know a number of new houses around the area have front-facing garages — including just North on January.

    The wallpaper of front brick just doesn’t cut it anymore. I’d rather see all siding (not vinyl) like the houses in New Town than another row of boring boxes dressed up to look like they are brick.

    Hard working families built and mantained this complex for decades, we should not be so cavalier with it. This could be great residential and an asset for the neighborhood. – SLP]

  5. same old says:

    How much do you think concern over the possibility of an African American church group owning the property enters into this?

    Remember, these are the same neighbors who opposed a Head Start opening there.

    [REPLY – I’m not going to go down the race road. I don’t know enough about the specific situation to even guess if that warrants speculation. – SLP]

  6. Brian says:

    It’s true that parishioners or neighborhood residents (much the same in this rather close-knit area) did vehemently oppose the leasing of the closed school by the Archdiocese to the YWCA for a Head Start center. But I imagine, even if Mormons or any largely white denomination wanted to reuse the church, that this largely Catholic neighborhood would be opposed to such reuse.

    In the hearts and minds of surrounding residents, since largely parishioners, this complex ceased to be a church, school, convent, rectory and parish hall when the Archdiocese closed it. Holy Family in the Grand-Oak Hill area faces the same dilemma. But with the gentrifying forces of Tower Grove South, it seems more have already accepted a degree of transition in that former parish. Plus, fairly close-by St. Ambrose, itself a dominant neighborhood institution, allows St. Al’s former blocks to more easily remain tightly knit than Holy Family’s break-up.

  7. Brian says:

    Keep in mind how different churches are in different neighborhood markets. St. Al’s will be sold as new homes on The Hill, an ethnic neighborhood with St. Ambrose as its social center. Holy Family will likely be sold as an unusual location in an up-and-coming area of change offering creative possibilities, with nearby eclectic South Grand as its social center. Holy Innocents, within an area lacking any distinct social center, was the church and school sold as a visible complex (on South Kingshighway) for any congregation.

  8. Joe Frank says:

    Thank you, Steve, for chronicling this beautiful complex.

    St. Aloysius Gonzaga isn’t really part of The Hill per se – I think it started as a German parish, and later had some Italian spillover. It is still very much a white neighborhood, but not nearly as solidly Italian as the areas a few blocks north. I don’t know how accurate it is to say it is a mostly Catholic neighborhood anymore, but certainly the Catholic influence is very strong.

    In any event, my question is this: Part of the justification for demolishing St. Al’s is that the clay mines caused the church itself to sink and split in two.

    Is there any reason to expect that the newly built houses on that site would not experience the same foundation settling problems?

  9. Vicki Mabrey says:

    Old churches make gorgeous apartments… Why can’t that be done there??
    I’m from St Louis but don’t live there now, so please explain how one gets on the Preservation Board??

    [REPLY – Architecturally I see now reason why this could not be apartments/condos. Politically is another story. The mayor appoints members of the Preservation Board. One seat is currently vacant. – SLP]

  10. poster says:


    (playing devil’s advocate here…)

    As a Realtor, surely you have respect for the free market and the desire to make a profit.

    If the landowner (the Arch Diocese), wants to sell, and they find a developer willing to take a risk and build a subdivision for potential profit at the site, and since there’s no historic district covering this property (or providing incentives to assist in its rehab), why shouldn’t the private parties to this transaction be able to carry out their plans?

    That said, can’t we all just accept that once you travel *west* of Kingshighway and *south* of I-44, things are not (making those little quotation marks in the air with both hands now…) “historic”, and just leave these good people alone?

    Didn’t everyone already learn this lesson over the old Art Deco Apartments demolished in favor of a new Hampton Village Walgreens?

    Perish the thought that someone might actually propose a real live historic “district” for any neighborhood in Southwest St. Louis…

    [REPLY – Yes, as a REALTOR® I will not deny one’s right to profit on real estate. In fact, I encourage it. If the developer can prove it is financially unfeasible to renovate these properties into housing then let the wrecking begin. However, given what we’ve done in the past in this city I think these can be saved and make a profit. Maybe not this developer but it could be done.

    On the subject of property values, what about the folks around this property. What about the people that bought adjacent houses because of the character these buildings added to their own? What about the value of the mature trees? If I lived across the street and was about to lose such as asset I’d be quite upset.

    The seller of land doesn’t get to determine future use, regardless of who they are. The public through zoning and ordinances determines what is best for the city as a whole, not just private land owners. This is what keeps a hog processing plant from being located next door to your home. We have to balance public interest against private interest.

    To that end in 1999 the city established a number of Preservation Review Districts. Unlike historic districts that come with a long list of standards for things such as replacement windows/doors but with reward like tax credits the main purpose of review districts is to retain those buildings which contribute to the character of a neighborhood. This ordinance and the requirements were fully known to the church, develoepr and alderman.

    We have so much in this city which probably isn’t historic that still merits saving. In some cases the reverse is true, we have some historic buildings that may not be worth saving anymore. This is why a true and open discussion should take place. Instead, we are going to have the Preservation Board walk all over the Preservation Review District ordinance once again. It sickens me!

    To write off much of the city, in my view, is to write off the city and region and not worth having anything of age or urban merit. What do we have then, a few token bulidings such as the old Cathedral completely out of context on the Arch grounds. Excuse me, time to go take my blood pressure medicine… – SLP]

  11. Brian says:

    But in this case, surrounding residents actually favor demolition. Many feel they already lost such “asset” when the school and then parish were closed. But since nearby St. Ambrose absorbed St. Al’s, the residents are staying, having now an alternate social center.

    Obiviously, residents would have liked to save the church complex as just that- theirs. Most moved there or stayed there to be close to St. Al’s, their Catholic parish. But having already lost the identity of this block as their social center, surrounding residents would rather see the complex demolished for new homes than risk seeing what was always St. Al’s in their mind risk taking on a new life that does not serve them.

    St. Ambrose has replaced St. Al’s as the social center for these residents. Thus, area residents no longer seek to reuse this complex, but rather wish to welcome additional families and expand the opportunity for others to raise families in the now expanded and popular St. Ambrose parish. And there is such demand for new homes within St. Ambrose that a successful neighborhood developer is willing to take the risk and build a new one-block subdivision.

    [REPLY – The residents wanting to see the demolition is churhc BS, not fact. If you put it to them objectively as would you rather see these structures renovated as owned-occupied condos or razed and replaced with single family homes I think you’ll get a different picture. Instead fear mongering was used to suggest the buildings would be vacant for decades or some other “radical” chuch group would locate there. The local residents never knew the option of renovating for condos was an option. – SLP]

  12. poster says:

    Good points Brian…more eloquently stated than I could have.

    Similar argument though. Steve asks about the property values of neighbors; you point out that neighbors want the demolition…

    Reminds me of the situation over at the Broadway bluffs…

    New $200-$300 thousand dollar river view condos, 50% sold out, supported by most adjacent property owners, and the alderman; a proven developer ready to risk many millions on a new project in the ward, no historic district, providing an injection of new middle income residents into the area.

    Seems in such a context, historic preservation takes a backseat. Almost every time…

    How does that saying go? “You want to preserve (fill in the blank) historic
    structure(s)? Then buy them.”

    …otherwise, get outta my face.

    See? I said you were more eloquent than me.

    [REPLY – The neighbors are probably afraid of speaking up out of fear of being excommunicated from the church. But what if they were vocal against demolition? Would that change things? The ordinance still reads the same? The law doesn’t recognzie quantity of residents on one side or the other or how many new units have been sold — those are mute points relative to the applicable ordinance! – SLP]

  13. m.a. says:

    Being a neighbor and a St. Al’s parishoner, and having family roots all within St. Al’s parish, you all have no idea how much the tear-down of the church saddens me. I was always hoping that a rehabber would save the church, the convent and the rectory — do something creative with the church, and make the convent and rectory bed-n-breakfasts, or single-family elegant homes (the spiral wood staircase in the rectory is breath-taking!). But, to my knowledge, no architects or rehabbers stepped forward to even seriously look at the property. True, there’s a big crack in the church, but I figured that could be fixed. At this late date I think it’s all a done deal, but it’s a heartbreaking deal for so many of us in the parish. We will fondly remember St. Aloysius Gonzaga!

    [REPLY – Thank you! I must stress that this is not such a late date. Monday is the FIRST public opportunity to speak on the demolition. As long as the buildings and trees remain it is not too late. The Preservation Board can tell this developer sorry, no deal, these must stay. This is a great complex and if they don’t do it we have a number of great developers in this town that could do a great job with it. Even if it takes a year or so I think it is worth the wait. – SLP]

  14. Michael says:


    Your argument seems to ignore the political clout one must have in order to buy certain historic buildings. Two proven developers wanted to put their money where their mouth was regarding the Century Building, but the city and state would not back the sale because another sale had been fixed. Similarly, I know of two potential buyers of the Clemens House on Cass who cannot get a return call from the owner, Blairmont Associates LC (or, Harvey Noble and Steven Goldman possibly acting for McEagle Development). Bevause the buyers aren’t tied in with the alderwoman or any other influential person, they can’t get a fair shake at buying it. Certain developers could probably “get” the House if they just asked for it.

    As for situations like St. Al’s and the Doering Mansion, it’s hard to tell how united the neighborhood really is. In the case of the Doering Mansion, even at the Preservation Board hearing we heard from neighbors who opposed demolition. The developer had plenty of buyers at the hearing, but they aren’t yet residents of that neighborhood no matter how hard the spin doctors try to claim that they are. Besides, the speakers at the hearing only represented people who can take off work at 4:00 p.m. on a Monday — hardly a large portion of any neighborhood’s population.

    And, of course, all development has a citywide impact — which is the reason the Preservation Board exists at all. Cutting through the ward-based decision-making that almost always prevails in development was one of the most admirable goals of the charter reform effort — and the Patterson for Alderman campaign. Demolition of a singular urban context like St. Al’s affects the whole city in a bad way.

  15. Michael says:

    By the way, the clay mine issue has been blown way out of proportion. There is no conclusive evidence that there is any settling clay mine under St. Al’s. It’s pretty likely, but remember that clay mines as old as the ones under this part of the city resembled veins and spread out far and wide. If there is a mine under the parish complex, it likely extends throughout the surrounding neighborhood and is affecting surrouding homes in the same ways as it is affecting the parish. The settling of the 1925 church building is not severe enough to justify demolition; but how would anyone know since a reliable engineering report has never been completed on the buildings. The archdiocese should have prepared such a report before soliciting offers on the property. It’s not too late to do so now.

    As someone who has spent time researching clay mines and examining the present-day conditions around Fairmont and Cheltenham, I would be very surprised to learn that there is any undue settling at this site.

  16. Brian says:

    An interesting thing about St. Al’s is that more so than Doering, it had a very open sale process. Bids were solicited and ultimately the Archdiocese said they wouldn’t just take the highest bid, but actually seek a reuse that would not inflict any added emotional distress on the closed parish community.

    Other churches included in such a public sale have actually seen creative reuses proposed. But if no one came up with such a realistic plan previously for St. Al’s, I don’t think it’s “scare tactics” to say St. Al’s didn’t have much interest, even among “radical churches.”

    Given the public sale process, private developers had ample opportunity to offer creative reuse plans for St. Al’s complex, but the only marketable plan submitted was that involving demolition for new homes. And ultimately, the Archdiocese would approve such sale, knowing that former parishioners are willing to accept such proposal, albeit with fond memories for a former identity with little chance of ever being revived.

    [REPLY – The open sale process was done so with the knowledge the structures were in a Preservation Review District and would be subject to a public hearing before a demolition permit would be issued.

    Just because the seller of a property chose to sell to a certain private company does not invalidate the ordinances of the City of St. Louis. As Michael pointed out, these issues go beyond a few blocks and a particular religion. Such decisions affect the entire city. – SLP]

  17. Brian says:

    And obviously, St. Al’s had a more open sale process than the Century. With the Century, the City did squash any opportunity for private alternatives. An RFP wasn’t issued until the Century was under demolition for only the remaining Syndicate.

    However, St. Al’s and other closed churches followed much the same process as the closed public schools, only the Archdiocese instead of the School Board approving sales. But like the schools, various properties will have varying results. Field School will be rehabbed. Lindenwood will see rehab plus new construction. But the greenhouses will make way for a new subdivision. Varying results are happening with the closed parish properties now too, but as an open bidding/proposal process.

    Unlike the demolished greenhouses, however, St. Al’s won’t be cleared for a gated community. The homes will be on narrow lots with minimal front yards, sidewalks, and an alley. Plus, the homes will have brick on all sides facing public streets (Pearl, January, Magnolia-N, Magnolia-S). Granted, it would be nice to have brick wrap around the entire house, but since the homes will be very close to each other for their sides, and even their rears face each other across the alley (a new alley were one has never been previously btw), all existing homes in the area will visibly see brick.

    [REPLY – Brian, you continue to dance around the real issue and that is who determines if the buildings get torn down or not. It is not the seller of the property, the former users of the property or the purchaser of the property. It is the City of St. Louis at large through a body appointed by the mayor and charged with upholding criteria in the enabling ordinance.

    I don’t care if they were building $500k houses in full brick on the site the evaluation process should be the same. The city’s Preservation ordinance has merit and should be applied evenly. But instead it is applied only when the demolition does not have support of the alderman & mayor. If either or both support demolition the criteria of the ordinance is conveniently overlooked. That is wrong! That is now how we should be determining the future of our city.

    Yes, saving the buildings is more challenging than razing all and putting up frame houses. Renovation is almost always more challenging than new construction. No surprise there.

    This buyer knew, or should have known, going into the purchase that the preservation review ordinance could prevent the demolition. I personally think the archiocese, developer, alderman and mayor’s office conspired to doom the buildings without proper public input. When we get to the decision everyone says it is too late. When is the right time for the public to determine when its own ordinances apply? – SLP]

  18. poster says:


    It sounds like you are pointing your finger of blame at the Mayor’s office, bogus commissions, the ward’s alderman, perhaps the Arch Diocese, the priest from St. Ambrose, and some short-sighted neighbors.

    Don’t you think the issue really rests with the alderman…and then truly the alderMEN?

    Aren’t they all culpable based on following aldermanic courtesy?

    So whether it’s the Century Building, or some small project in your ward or mine, isn’t a system where all the elected officials protect each other to get things done at the ward level the real problem? The mayor certainly didn’t create that system. In fact, he was one of the only elected officials in the city to actually *support* charter reform.

    If you’re going to point the finger, who deserves to be left unscathed? In order for a bill to be passed by the Board of Aldermen, it takes a lot more than a vote by the ward’s alderman.

    Shoot…does the mayor even get a vote on an ordinance? Doesn’t he just sign it after the Board passes it?

    And with only one vote out of three at the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, the mayor doesn’t even control that body.

    [REPLY – 7:15pm – Well, it you really want to point fingers I’ll point to all the people that don’t vote, the ones that don’t question their alderman on these types of issues and don’t run for office themselves. They do what they do because the public has never stood up and said not to do so.

    But simply an alderman wanting a project to go through doesn’t mean it will. But a call from the mayor’s office will change the political climate over at cultural resources. You can tell when it is a routine application and when the city’s political machine is in full force. – SLP]

  19. Brian says:

    Okay Steve, I propose a compromise that I think the preservation board should seriously consider.

    Accept the concept of new homes on this block as a good proposal, but ask the developer to consider demolishing only the gym and school, creating a T-alley behind the saved church, rectory and convent. If the developer balks, ask him to show that the church, rectory and convent are beyond saving structurally.

    With this scenario, you still get new homes served by an alley, plus the convent and rectory become homes or condos. That just leaves the creative reuse of the church, maybe condos similar to former churches in Shaw and Lafayette Square.

    [REPLY – 7:20pm – I never went into a discussion about the remainder of the site. I was mostly focused on the eastern section of the site. I did mention that while the gym was interesting that it could go in the interest of saving the balance.

    That was my assumption all along, using a t-shape alley behind the existing structures. That would allow for off-street parking for the condos in the rectory, school and church and access to garages for new residences on the remainder of the site. To make the financial picture work these would likely need to be attached row houses. I could even see having the row houses take on a more modern architectural appearance. Ideally we’d get as many or more units on the total site plus we’d have an excellent example of creative thinking. – SLP]

  20. poster says:

    Here’s a quick test…

    Let’s forget for a moment whether or not the church and its adjoining structures should be demolished.

    Instead, let’s try and see how much of a true St. Louisan we all are here…

    Steve already noted that he didn’t know enough to say whether race plays an issue in this development situation.

    Okay, so here’s a possibly easier question…

    How do you pronounce “St. Aloysius”?

    St. Uh-loy-shus?


    St. Al-Oh-Wish-Us?

    ‘Cause when the old buildings are all dead and buried, isn’t that the sort of St. Louis question that really matters most?

  21. Brian says:

    It’s Al-Oh-Wish-Us among locals. But poster’s tacky humor suggests you shouldn’t comment at the Preservation Board unless you can pronounce the name. That certainly would be the St. Louis way of closed-doors, insiders-only mentality.

    As for race, resident opposition to a Head Start center did involve some us-verses-them mentality St. Louis is sadly known for too. But the Mayor’s office actually backed the Head Start center concept, when Craig Schmid was then doing double-duty as alderman of both the transplanted 10th and 20th wards.

    Now that Tom Vollmer represents the area, Wohlert and DiMartino are about as much of favorite developers of Vollmer’s as Villa’s favorite on Doering.

    As such, St. Al’s preservation vote may be Doering-II, especially the developer’s argument that without the full block, he can’t make his development work. But I suspect some on the board may be a little more hesistant on a former church than how they came down on a former mansion.

    Why I offered the compromise in an earlier post, however, is because we’re now talking detached single-family homes. With the alley truncated, in theory, fewer single-family homes could still be built (or even townhouses), so in this case, I think it’s harder for the “I need the full site” argument.

  22. james says:

    i’m sure at least one of the pres board members will have the name overpronounced, so he can throw it in the face of each person who testifies against the project…

  23. jesse says:

    As a neighbor of St.Al’s, a graduate of the grade school and a member of the parish, it breaks my heart to see the property destroyed. Everyday we drive by this gorgeous church and see it taken apart piece by piece (the widows are being removed in an effort to at least preserve that small part of parish history and the big beautiful trees have started to be cut down). When they first announced the church closing, we all hoped that a developer would come in and find a creative use for the incredible building. The church and rectory are just too beautiful to let go… However, most unfortunately, no one came forward with such a plan.

    The only alternate use proposed was a head start program. And let me say as a voting member of the neighborhood association, the choice against the headstart program was absolutely NOT a race issue (and it wasn’t about the children). There were two main reasons I personally did not want to see the program occupy that space. First, there would be a major traffic flow issue. The tiny streets surrounding St. Aloysius (they are all one way and just large enough for one car to pass through) would not handle the major traffic flow involved with bus-ing children in for such a program. Additionally, the people of this neighborhood and parish have deep roots here and care deeply about what happens here. The homes surrounding St.Al’s are by no means opulent, but the people there do take pride in their homes and neighborhood. None of us want to see this block become a social services area. The head start program was not voted against because of race, it was due to the use of the property. We want to see this property put to good use to benefit the neighbors in this community. Voters did not want to deal with the traffic flow, loitering and general disturbance that would come with such a facility. This is not a race issue or even a religion issue; it comes down to the best use for the community.

    I went to school at St. Aloysius, I went to Mass there, I was an alter girl. St. Aloysius is like my second home and for many of us represents our strong ties to this community that we have grown up in and continue to love. However, even more than tearing down the church, it would sadden me greatly to see the property sit vacant. Unfortunately, no one has stepped forward to save this beautiful property, and at this late date we have settled ourselves with the conclusion that St. Al’s will have to be torn down. While this is a sad thought, it is better than the building staying vacant and being vandalized while this decision is agonizingly prolonged in a last ditch effort. If someone truly wanted to save this property, they should have stepped forward a year ago when its closure was announced. The property has already been sold; the deconstruction has begun with the window and tree removal… I drove by and a bull dozer was outside just the other day. So PLEASE, if anyone really does have a viable proposal to buy and reuse this property, please step forward right now. Otherwise, please do not prolong this process by fighting anymore about it. I already miss my school and church, but I hope that the best can come out of this for the parish and the community as a whole. Thank you to everyone that has tried to save this beautiful property! St. Aloysius Gonzaga, you will never be forgotten! Thanks for the memories!

  24. poster says:


    Your post is interesting to read, and I’m sorry for your personal loss regarding the buildings of your old parish, but I have to ask you one question.

    When the neighborhood organization decided to oppose (or not support, whichever is more accurate) the proposed Head Start facility, did you understand that you might have also been accellerating the potential loss of the St. Al’s complex?

    In other words, was it a conscious decision on the part of the neighborhood organization to risk the loss of the buildings rather than support Head Start, or is this more an example of the rule of unintended consequences?


  25. Brian says:

    Holy Innocents did lease its school and yet that parish still closed as well. Both parishes saw their schools close first a couple years prior to the more recent parish closures. So, poster’s hypothetical question is really a moot point.

    I too always wanted to see the church saved, but felt the current subdivision proposal was the best one could hope for, since the church and its complex were recently on the market for open bidding. At such time, I had hoped someone would come forward with a creative plan, yet knew anything of another social institution, if largely not serving surrounding residents, could face opposition.

    But I now concede that Preservation Review is a set process that any buyer should have known would be applicable, even if the seller, in this case, Archdiocese, approved a concept requiring demolition. So, Steve’s argument of upholding process won me over to think there might still be a glimmer of hope to try saving the eastern end of the complex one last time.

    If the developer thinks redeveloping the church, convent and rectory are too risky, why couldn’t he start building new homes on the western end of the complex for profit in the meantime? The success of a development just on the western end of the block may still attract yet another developer, to whom this one could maybe then later sell his landbanked church-end of the block.

    And yes, such process and compromise could have been applied for Doering, but I guess call me more sentimental for a church than a mansion.

  26. jesse says:

    Actually, the head start program was the proposed use for the old school building (which is not nearly as historic or as eye-catching as the Church and rectory). When voting on that program, the neighborhood did not discuss the actual church building itself. This discussion surrounding the use of the school took place quite a long time ago (before the church was actually closed), as I recall. The school building sat vacant for a number of years, but was still the property of the Archdiocese. The YMCA would have been leasing the school property from the Archdiocese for the head start program. The neighborhood association had to approve this arrangement due to zoning issues, hence the vote. At this point we were still hoping someone would come forward with a creative way to restore the Church after its scheduled close in June. The Church and the school are viewed as completely separate facilities. Even if the school had been leased to the head start program, that would not necessarily have had any effect on the saving of the church building, as the head start program would not have been occupying that space.

    Sorry, I probably should have been more clear in my earlier post. I was addressing the head start program more to combat the suggestion that the neighborhood was racially or religiously motivated in our reasoning. It was not a concious decision to reject head start and risk losing the church, nor was it unintended consequences, because as I understand it, the two did not have to go together. Depending on the decision, one could be kept and the other could go and vice versa. We were just hoping the Church would be spared.

    Our real concern with this property is the Church and rectory, as these are the buildings with the real history. At least for me, there is no overwhelming reason to save the school building, other than it isnt in too bad of shape. And so far, no one has come forward with any sort of proposal for the church and rectory at all, other than the developers that want to level it to squeeze in 23 new homes.

    I think it is sad to say, but this all comes down to money. The school was closed a few years ago due to lack of attendance (there were only 18 students in my graduating class in 1997), and then the Church was closed this June because services were poorly attended (and thus poorly funded) and the upkeep costs to support a structure that old were just too much for the parish to bear. I do not belive that the Archdiocese wants to see the Church destroyed either, but understandably, they also do not want lost revenue. I believe if someone had come forward a year ago with a plan and sufficient funds to re-vitalize the church and put it to some creative use, a deal could have been worked out. But at this point, no one is willing to take on that endeavor, and the Archdiocese, as well as the neighborhood, does not want the building remain vacant. It would be great for someone like that to come forward now, but I just don’t see it happening. Plus, who would want the building now that the 60+ stain glass windows have been removed? Sorry to say, but I feel like this whole discussion, while well intentioned, is several days late, and hundreds of thousands of dollars short.

  27. jesse says:

    Good point Brian about developing the west-side first. However, don’t you think if someone was going to step forward to develop the church property, they would have done it by now? I think the worst possible thing would be to have the Church sit vacant, open to vandalism, loitering etc, just waiting on a wing and a prayer that someone will come around….

    Believe me, myself more than anyone, does not want to see the Church go. Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of getting married at St. Aloysius…. it will definitely be a very sad day when the walls do come down. But regretfully, I think that day is here…..

    [REPLY – Jesse I appreciate the passion you’ve brought to this discussion. I must strongly disagree that we are too late. Simply because a developer wasn’t selected by the seller of a property does not mean someone could not be found. It might take listing the complex on the National Register of Historic Places to make tax credits available. This has certainly been done before in other parts of the city.

    As I keep saying, we have a review process in place that if not followed simply makes a mockery out of the entire law and Preservation Board. New windows would likely be required for residential use. The trees being cut down is unfortunate but new ones can be planted.

    If we all just sit back and accept things as done we might as well repeal the review ordinance and not go through the theatrics of pretending to have an open and public disucssion of those buildings we value. – SLP]

  28. jesse says:

    Thanks Steve. I really appreciate your commitment to this cause and I can assure you this community really appreciates it too! One question though, doesn’t it matter that the property has already been sold? It is the developers that bought it that have begun to take down the windows, trees, etc. After the sale has been made, isn’t it too late? Shouldn’t the Preservation Board have had to approve prior to the sale?

    [REPLY – The Preservation Board does not address the question until a property owner (or someone with a contract on a property) makes an application to the city to raze a building(s). This law has been on the books since 1999 and therefore the buyer should not have assumed they could raze the structures. It is not too late!

    The Preservation Board has the legal right to deny a property owner permission to raze a structure they own. As St. Louis citizens and taxpayers, we all have an interest in what happens in our city.

    Many buildings we now treasure sat vacant for decades before being renovated. Where would we be if the first purchaser of buildings all over this city razed them for something lessor? We wouldn’t have much of South Grand, West End, Lafayette Square, Soulard or the new loft district. We are at a critial turning point.

    This is the one and only time when the public has a chance to speak up on the demolition application. It is not the public’s fault the developer took the financial risk by buying the property without first applying to the Preservation Board. We, the citizens of St. Louis, have a process by which these are reviewed. These include criteria by which the Preservation Board is supposed to reach a decision. Monday is the day.

    Sadly, I’m not hopeful the buildings will be saved. Politics is going to run amock once again and completely ignore the law. We only have ourselves to blame if we allow our elected & appointed officials to walk all over our ordinances and history. – SLP]

  29. jesse says:

    Well, I wrote emails to the Preservation Board, Alderman Vollemer and Mayor Slay…. Not sure how much good it’ll do, but at least if we all speak out, St. Aloysius will not go down without a fight! It is up to us to speak up for what we think is important as taxpayers, citizens and concerned residents of St. Louis! Thank you to everyone who is helping in this effort, and please write the above people and let them know your concern too! St. Al’s has too much history, character and beauty to fall through the cracks!!!

  30. paul says:

    I visited the site this morning to photograph the buildings. Having never seen it before, I was awestruck that at this amazing noble group of buildings set out in the center of its surroundings.

    Here are some thoughts in response to a few previous posts:

    Site not in historic district: My answer to that is that the site would most likely qualify for individual listing on the National Register as a single site. Many individual buildings of much lesser historic caliber have recently been listed successfully in order to qualify for tax credits. Example: the Warehouse of Fixtures complex near SLU is a group of fairly plain almost totally unornamented utilitarian warehouses that were listed and now being converted to apartments.

    For the residents of the neighborhood to want to demolish the complex now simply because it does not “serve them” as Brian suggests is quite selfish and irresponsible, and they should be ashamed of themselves. A concept that my church often emphasizes is stewardship… that is taking care of something… in this case, buildings. Just because the buildings no longer serve their original purpose should not mean that the stewardship that the residents once had for the complex should immediately end. They should be helping to find a productive new use for the buildings, not turning their back on them. There are many examples of buildings around the city that local residents have had a hand in steering towards a new and productive reuse. Maybe stewardship is a concept the neighbors and the St. Louis Archdiocese should look into (no offense to the many neighbors who do care about the buildings as Jessie has stated).

    Which leads me to my next point that someone mentioned: “a seller cannot control the use of a property by a buyer”: Not true. A grand old mansion in disrepair was sold a few years ago in Old Town Clayton with a deed restriction that it could not be demolished, as so many old homes in that area have been. The home was beautifully renovated by the new buyer.

    If the Archdiocese had an ounce of care for the buildings they closed – their history – they would have at least started the nomination process themselves to have the churches listed on the National Register, to help assure a future for them. This could have actually made the buildings more valuable, giving assurance that they would be eligible for tax credits, which would make renovations much more feasible. Instead, they seem ok with simply throwing them out like yesterdays trash (snatching away the stained glass first of course), accepting a bid knowing that the intension is to destroy the buildings.

  31. poster says:


    Cool post. Curious, though. You say you’ve never seen the properties before, even though they are clearly visible when standing in front of (I think) Cunetto’s and looking west.

    Are you a newcomer to the St. Louis area?

    Granted, St. Al’s does sit sort of tucked away in its surroundings, even though it is only a solid nine-iron away from Hampton Avenue.

    Your architecturally astute comments suggest two things…

    First, yes, the architectural legacy of this town is awesome, appreciated even more by first time observers.

    Second, we (in the broad aggregate), caught up in our own busy routines, are so generally blind to the unique beauty of St. Louis, that a potential landmark collection of buildings such as St. Al’s goes virtually unnoticed until it is slated for demolition.

    Makes you wonder how many previous similar cases have happened down through the years?

    Along these same lines, I wonder how long it might be before some enterprising housing developer proposes building 500 (+/-) new homes on the western reaches of Calvary Cemetary…that is Archdiocesan real estate, too, isn’t it? 😉

  32. First of all:

    “Along these same lines, I wonder how long it might be before some enterprising housing developer proposes building 500 (+/-) new homes on the western reaches of Calvary Cemetary…that is Archdiocesan real estate, too, isn’t it?”

    So funny it’s probably going to happen, eh?

    I know Paul and he is from around here. St. Al’s certainly had a low profile among city parishes in recent years, and only a handful of outsiders even knew the notable Joseph Conradi connection. I’m not surprised that people don’t know more — and I won’t be surprised if Pres Board members end up knowing the least of anyone.

  33. Anthony says:

    I too know Paul, and I am thankful for his post, and the photos. I am one of eight commissioners on the Preservation Board, and I am thankful for all post for and against the renovation of St. Aloysius. I have forwarded Paul’s photos and this blog to the Director of Historic Preservation for the city. It will be entered in the record for our meeting on Monday. I hope to see all of you who have voiced your concearns here at the board meeting on Monday.

  34. Thank you, Anthony, for using your real name here.

  35. kurt says:

    i have a good friend who bought a house accross from st.als on magnolia just for the reason of value increasing after the new homes are built.so just the rumor of modern development has helped this neighborhood. i also worked for the caputa construction firm for 6 years,he is now retired and lives at the corner of magnolia and january and he wants it raised and redevloped into single familly residential homes. so as far as i can tell the neighborhood wants this old church removed for redevelopment.

  36. jesse says:

    Kurt- sorry, but two people out of an entire neighborhood does NOT constitute the majority of the neighborhood wanting the chruch torn down! DID YOU READ ANY OF THE POSTINGS ON THIS SITE? Anyone who thinks that these new homes will be better than the beautiful historic buildings obviously was not a parishoner of St.Al’s and DOES NOT have an appreciation of the beauty, architecture, and history that makes St. Louis such a special city!

  37. Rubykaelin says:

     I am seeking assistance in finding who will help in getting a very large DEAD tree so dead it doesn’t even have and bark left on it.  It is a hazard to the home owner’s house as well as tthe house on both sides of it.  Who do we contact to get this process started? the dead tree is at 1801 San Luis Rey Parkway Fenton Mo. 63026

  38. Rubykaelin says:

     I am seeking assistance in finding who will help in getting a very large DEAD tree so dead it doesn’t even have and bark left on it.  It is a hazard to the home owner’s house as well as tthe house on both sides of it.  Who do we contact to get this process started? the dead tree is at 1801 San Luis Rey Parkway Fenton Mo. 63026


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