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Negligent Board Giving Away Charless Home

Despite the spin in the Post-Dispatch back in April the Charless Home, founded in 1853, is not “merging” with or being “acquired” by Bethesda Health Group. The folks I talked to tell me Charless’ Board is essentially paying Bethesda to take the south side landmark. The Charless Home has prime real estate at I-55 and South Broadway (map) yet the board has voted to give the real estate and millions of dollars to Bethesda in exchange for… well, nothing.

The board, comprised mainly of Clayton & Ladue socialites, is making a huge mistake. I’m told the Charless Home has nearly $17 million in the bank, hardly a distressed non-profit. A few board members voted against giving Charless to Bethesda and instead suggested they take on medicaid patients and consider constructing independent living housing on their grounds.

The one-sided article in the Post-Dispatch says staff didn’t want medicaid patients due to the paperwork. Wrong. The issue is the country club board didn’t want to spend any money upgrading the facility, instead finding it easier to give away the 153-year old institution. The grounds, just two blocks from my house, are spectacular. The setting is ideal for constructing new independent living apartments facing Osceola St. &/or Nebraska Ave.

Bethesda is talking about ensuring the facility remains open for at least three more years but I can’t see families entrusting their loved ones here with the possibility of future closure. Also, I’ve heard talk of Bethesda building some new building in St. Louis County and calling it “Charless at Bethesda” or a similarly offensive name.

Back to the location. I have fears a deal is already in the works to sell the property and raze all the structures and mature trees. I suspect city and Ald. Ortman (9th Ward) will use the “we need retail & sales tax” argument to go along with the demolitions. The property, originally 8 acres, was reduced to just over 1.6 acres over the years as the adjacent neighborhood developed. Still, I can see a big box developer eyeing the property’s easy highway access and visibility and try to get a couple of more adjacent blocks razed for a big development.

And before I hear the now tired “it is not in your ward” argument let me state that the other three corners of my intersection are the 9th Ward. So while I am in the 25th Ward I look at the 9th Ward daily. Furthermore, a potential buyout of homes and demolition to create a large site could end up directly across the street from me.

While this board is off playing golf with their country club buddies from Bethesda it will be those of us in the city left to deal with the consequences of their actions. If they didn’t want to take the responsibility to see the 153+ year old facility continue they should have resigned from the board so that community leaders with vision for the future of the city could take their place.

At the very least I would like some assurances the property is not leveled. The building and setting are spectacular and has great reuse potential. Our city continues to face critical urban development decisions but the decision makers are woefully inadequate.

– Steve


Currently there are "25 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jon says:

    Speaking of one-sided…

    “The issue is the country club board didn’t want to spend any money upgrading the facility”

    “While this board is off playing golf with their country club buddies from Bethesda”

    [REPLY – I make no pretense of being a journalist or offering both sides of an issue with way a daily newspaper is expected to do so. The P-D failed to offer the other side of the argument. – SLP]

  2. Hmm…
    Worse case scenario:
    1. Senior Citizens Home built at old S. Grand McDonald’s site. New McDonald’s built at Grand and Winnebago.
    2. Charless residents moved to new Senior Citizens Home on S. Grand
    3. Charless Home demolished
    4. Wonderful shopping mall placed at Charless home site.
    5. Steve shoots himself.

    [REPLY I’m not an advocate of guns. But, it is more like St. Louis continuing to shoot itself in the foot. – SLP]

  3. Dustin says:

    Does the old “Home for the Friendless” have no friends?

  4. clock watcher says:

    1853 means pre-Civil War.

    I’ve visited the building. The interior of the original structure (the one in Steve’s photo) is remarkably intact.

    Looks like time for another south side demolition, as no one at the aldermanic level seems to prioritize historic preservation.

  5. B.J. says:

    As much as everybody on this forum hates big box redevelopment, I have believed for many years that this area has the best potential in the city for it. I would love to see the whole swath of land east of Broadway from Walgreens down to the highway redeveloped into a more cohesive and productive shopping destination. However I fear the pending Wal-Mart and other retail at Weber and 55 severely limits the number of potential tenants so close to that site.

    [REPLY – The area east of Broadway does need some help, I’m working on a post on that subject. I do not want to see any big or small box development encroach West of Broadway. – SLP]

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    The odds aren’t in your favor. As you point out, it’s a great retail location, I doubt that there’s money be made by the “little guy” in trying to provide long-term health care here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bethesda more interested in buying the business than the property (although being able to flip the property at a profit would certainly be a bonus). That said, it would be disappointing to see a solid structure like this knocked down and replaced with a big box with a twenty- to thirty-year useful life. But, as with most things in both real estate and urban development, it’s a) “location, location, location” and b) “if you don’t own it, you don’t control it”.

    I don’t care if it’s “Clayton & Ladue socialites” or the Little Sisters of the Poor. As home and landowners, we do have certain property rights, including the right to sell, the right to buy and the right to redevelop. Not every old structure can be saved in the face of “progress”, nor can every old property become a park or a museum just because the neighbors like living near an estate.

    I do support your efforts at persuasion, but I don’t support a preemptive historic designation nor a downzoning. The best we can hope for is that various city subsidies aren’t “given” to facilitate redevelopment. That might buy you another 20 or 30 years of the staus quo (if the urban fabric continues to densify) or it might buy you a vacant, declining parcel (if the numbers don’t “work” here). Or, ideally, you can use both your real estate and urban design skills to connect Bethesda (if they, in fact, end up owning the property) with a development group that can produce a project more to your liking . . .

  7. SMSPlanstu says:

    What the argument!

    3 posts mentioning demolition as if a building from pre-civil war days is an easy throw away. Sure, the debacle over the Century is terrible, but surely the idea of demolition for this 1853 landmark should not be in question. What does Micheal Allen of Landmarks St. Louis say? Do we have dedicated preservationists to block big box? Isn’t this important enough that the mayor would see the harm in demolition?

    Give it to the MO Botanical Gardens and have a southeast southside garden and historical building. Can’t the aldermen/women be petitioned (is the current person greedy for more taxes or what?)

    [REPLY I should state again that no plan has been proposed. I am speculating that given the location it is something that might come up in the future. – SLP]

  8. Jim Zavist says:

    “Make it a park” can’t be the answer for saving every old structure . . .

    [REPLY – Agreed! I think it actually works quite well as an assisted living facility. It is attractive and quite spotless inside. The main areas are very nice and the chapel is interesting. As I said, I think this board should have given up their seats if they were not interested in continuing the 150+ institution. Instead they are just going to give it away to another group and wash their hands. – SLP]

  9. What do I say? Demolition of the Charless Home should be an outrage. How many institutional buildings from the 1850s remain in the city? Probably one or two. How many stone buildings from before 1900 remain? Very few.

    The buildings are without a doubt eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

  10. travis reems says:

    Rather than sniping, let’s get ahead of the game on this one and get organized. The Charless Home is a great structure and can be a pinnacle for that area of the neighborhood–either maintaining it as a going concern, or as a preserved destination, such as a first class B&B, restaurant, or the like. But, in order to ensure the future of The Charless, we need to get out ahead of the issue. How quickly can we get it designated a historic landmark?

  11. maurice says:

    Steve, I’m not sure you grasp the picture here. The home is old. Very old. It also is assisted living. You mention building independent living on site. How do you propose they make that profitable (or should a business not be in the business of making a profit or at least coming out even). The paperwork required for govenment funding (HUD, Medicare, Medicaid) is quite simply astronomical. Many times it doesn’t even break even to delve into that pool. Then there is construction. It’s an old building. I thought you were in building design. You should know how astronomical it is to revamp a building for wheelchairs and such. And finally, what does it say when the children (now in the 40s and 50s) and living in the county want mom and dad close to them out in the COUNTY. The problem is that there are very few assisted living senior places in the city and even fewer independent living places. And those are having a tough time trying to stay full.
    This is so much more than just a building unfortunately.

    [REPLY – I guess I didn’t make myself clear, the board has become bored with this little project. The facility is in great shape, they have a decent amount of money in the bank and several board members are ready to do what it takes to get medicare patients as well as add some buildings to the grounds that offer more independent living. But, the majority are taking the easy route to be done with it. – SLP]

  12. travis reems says:

    The highest and best use for the building might well be something other than a retirement community/assisted living facility, but while searching for the best use we should restrain ourselves to those options that maintain the building on the site, rather than tearing it down for new development. There are plenty of places for new development in the city that we needn’t tear down historic structures.

  13. volunteer says:

    Can someone nominate a building for the National Register without the owner’s consent?

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    Why focus on roadblocks like historic designation when the most successful course is developing viable reuse scenarios? Part of the beauty of this (and many other) old structures is its context (a large, wooded site). Due to this site’s proximity to I-55, its value lies in the land not the structure(s). Making the structure “historic” may “save” it, but if the site goes away and becomes retail / commercial, you end up with something like the old house at I-70 & I-170 . . .

    Better to come up some viable ideas – office condos? residential condos? luxury pet boarding? charter school? residential care facility for sex offendors? high-end bed & breakfast?

    [REPLY – I don’t think listing on the National Register was intended as a roadblock. Instead I think that was meant to help with getting tax credits for a for-profit adaptive reuse. – SLP]

  15. Brian W says:

    “5. Steve shoots himself”

    Steve wouldn’t shoot himself, he’d ritualistically throw himself in front of a single-occupant SUV speeding down a cul-du-sac in St. Charles county. Wearing a Wal-Mart Uniform. While eating a Big Mac.

  16. mrh says:

    >>>”The highest and best use for the building might well be something other than a retirement community/assisted living facility, but while searching for the best use we should restrain ourselves to those options that maintain the building on the site, rather than tearing it down for new development. There are plenty of places for new development in the city that we needn’t tear down historic structures.”

  17. Joe Frank says:

    Bethesda seems to have turned into a ruthless profit-motivated business. They closed their small hospital on Vista, and then the day care center on Big Bend by the Dilworth campus. Is the Town House (Plaza Square) now closed as well?

    Hopefully, they will keep the Charless Home open and provide Medicare/Medicaid beds. But, Steve’s projections may be more realistic, unfortunately.

    As for the money: the South Side Journal article stated “The trustees of the Charless Home will become the Charless Foundations. With the money from the purchase, it will make grants to non-profit organizations serving the needs of St. Louis seniors.”

    Is that a lie?

  18. Jim Zavist says:

    I haven’t been by to look at the whole facility, but my gut (along with the aerial photos) says that while the original (pictured) center section (that makes up less than 10% of the overall footprint) is worthy of preservation efforts, the rest of the wings probably aren’t . . . if so, can the wings be removed and 50% – 70% of the site put to “higher and better” uses while preserving the historic core and an appropriate pastoral setting?

  19. Joe Frank says:

    It should be noted the Charless Home property is currently NOT zoned commercial. It is zoned “B” Two-Family Residential.

    The new Land Use Plan identifies it as an “Institutional Preservation and Development” area.

    While not in an historic district, the 9th Ward is still a Preservation Review Area.

  20. maurice says:

    Steve, thank you for clairfying. But in someways there isn’t much one can do in some situations. If the board is bored with the project, isn’t that their right to sell? Taken to the extreme and the city protecting everything, would you want to be told what you can and cannot do to your property or who you could or could not sell it to? So I guess what I’m saying is we can push, we can yell, we can picket, but we can’t MAKE them understand and want to preserve if they just don’t care. I guess thats one of the bad things of living in a democracy as well.

    Oh, and if you do die in a wal-mart shirt, would please have the decency to use your last ounce of strength and rip the damn thing off your back?

    [REPLY I agree that sometimes we can’t do anything except voice our objections. I would not advocate any sort of governmental action to require this board to keep the facility as an independent entity. I would hope that some good common sense would take care of that. The deal has not yet closed.

    Again, it is not being “sold”. The board is paying Bethesda to take the property, not the other way around. – SLP]

  21. travis reems says:

    Perhaps a coalition should be formed to purchase the property, or maybe it can be done through the neighborhood association, which I believe to be financially strapped, or through a community corporation, such as Grand Oak Hill did for the South Side National Bank. After which the property can be put to reuse as the community sees fit. Maybe a nice mixed use of boutique shops, a B&B, and a nice restaurant. THAT would really help this part of the neighborhood I think.

  22. checker says:

    This one smells a mile away. Down I-55 a couple of miles a developer tried getting land across the highway from the Schnucks/Lowes for a QuikTrip. The alderman, Matt Villa, said “no way” (not a direct quote–relayed from propositioned property owner who is a friend). I wonder what might be put there, though.

    Everyone wants that highway access and visibility now. I doubt the shopping along I-55 is over.

    Who needs another f*&*ng Walgreens? There’s one less than a mile north of the Charless already. That is a ridiculous argument.

    Just my non-architect non-planner $0.02…

  23. chilly willie's says:

    “Down I-55 a couple of miles a developer tried getting land across the highway from the Schnucks/Lowes for a QuikTrip. The alderman, Matt Villa, said “no way” (not a direct quote–relayed from propositioned property owner who is a friend).”

    QuikTrip shops for very specific locations to corner markets and cut off competition. They build in areas where convenience shoppers and impulse buyers are in abundance.

    I-55 and Loughborough must meet their site location requirements.

    They will not go away. They will make offers, pay option payments, and hold their position until the cows come home.

    They would gladly buy the old Y, demolish it, build a QT, and serve “Chilly Willies” to Carondeletters until kingdom come.

  24. holly says:

    Has anyone considered the possibility that big, bad Bethesda might not be big and bad. Yes they have closed some businesses but were they really business that fit the operating plan and their mission? (Child care and hospitals are not housing for seniors) I haven’t seen one suggestion about those poor Charless residents… who will take care of them? At least Bethesda is in THAT business and from most reports runs good buildings for the seniors. Those of you who are so concerned that the property might be razed for a strip mall or other monstrosity should put some effort into bringing friends and family INTO our neighborhood and help make this place a success rather than lamneting it’s demise prematurely. Successful businesses don’t usually close and they aren’t typically sold. Is there a way to SUPPORT this change in leadership and aid in creating a true jewel for the neighborhood? If we are going to be active… then let’s be active!

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