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Fine Building on MLK Razed; Ward not in Preservation Review District

IMG_0062.jpgLast April the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects conducted a design charrette in the historic Ville neighborhood. During the event I scootered up and down MLK getting photos of buildings both in the Ville and in areas east and west. Upon showing pictures of this building to one team, they asked to use the images. One member of that team was Architect John Burse, a resident of Old North St. Louis and a member of the St. Louis Preservation Board.

Burse felt this building was a great model to show how you can mix residential buildings with commercial storefronts. Additionally, all felt the design of the building was quite nice with great proportions and detailing.

IMG_5456.jpgThe photos are all that remain of this building that, if rehabbed, could have made a nice contribution to the streetscape. Instead another vacant lot will join all the others along MLK.

I took this photo on Saturday afternoon and sent it to John Burse last night. Neither of us recalled seeing it on a Preservation Board agenda (again, he is a member of the Preservation Board). Today I looked up the property address and it is no wonder it did not come before the Preservation Board: it is located in Terry Kennedy’s 18th Ward in one of the many neighborhoods that border MLK.

I don’t believe any of the 18th Ward is in a Preservation Review District — a designation that provides for the review of an application before a demolition permit can be issued. I say I don’t believe because no map of what is in the Preservation Review is available online. I don’t know that one is available even if I asked. One can look up individual properties to see if they are in such a district or a Historic District but that doesn’t show what areas are, in effect, demolition zones.

The irony here is that Ald. Kennedy, as chairman of the Public Safety Committee, sits on the Preservation Board. Ald. Kennedy is up for re-election in March 2007.


Currently there are "24 comments" on this Article:

  1. LisaS says:

    What a shame. So far as I’ve been able to tell (from poking around because of my own entrepenurial interests) you’re correct about the 18th Ward having no Preservation Review Districts. I asked the question in reference to Fountain Park, which has so much potential–and was told that such requirements were not “affordable”.

    I wish that we had photos of many of these building before their destruction or “remuddling”. The losses are staggering.

  2. Jim Zavist says:

    Is this being demolished or was it damaged in the wind storm earlier this year? It looks more like it’s collapsed and needs to be demolished, not like its’ being actively torn down . . .

  3. DB says:

    I agree with Jim Zavist. If this building was being demolished, no reputable demolition company would allow people to walk on the sidewalk in front of it, and they would put up a lot more than yellow police tape to keep people out.

  4. 15thWardSTL says:

    Without any specific knowledge of the reasons for its current condition, the photo is consistent with a building that is being systematically taken down (not of “natural” causes). Note the pallets of brick that are visible at various locations, the bricks being removed row-by row, and the absence of any “dangling” structure (particularly rafters.

    It’s a damn shame… I am confident the building that will eventually replace this one will have much less detail and character.

  5. rudy rude says:

    The indivudal bricks are probably worth more than the building was standing in its dilapidated condition.

  6. Multimodal says:

    From the photos it resembles MANY demolition sites I have seen around the city (reputable demo company or not). The bricks will most likely be shipped off to Texas as we have been doing for years. It’s a shame that we systematically dismantle our city because people in other places find more value in it than we do.

  7. Patrick Wessel says:

    that’s a crying shame. makes me sick to my stomach.

  8. Thanks for covering this!

    I was going to write about it, and realized that I had only one image from the day after wrecking started. Thankfully, I’m usually luckier, and have amassed thousands of photos of buildings that have been demolished or threatened. I started taking these photos in 1994 or 1995, and while I’ve missed many important buildings, have quite a few. Only a handful are published on Ecology of Absence, but I am happy to share what I have with anyone who contacts me.

  9. Douglas Duckworth says:

    No Kennedy’s Ward is not in a preservation review district.

    Steve this is the building which I called you about during my drive down MLK on Friday. The individuals taking the bricks, as I said, did not appear to be employees of any contractor. They were not wearing hard hats, dressed in any uniform, and there were no construction vehicles on the property. Maybe the contractor hired people off the street to reduce costs of the demolition?

    In any event this makes me completely furious because this building is beautiful and could have been rehabbed.

    I have talked to Kennedy on this issue and his argument is that the requirements are too expensive for the residents. He argued that he did not want to go against the wishes of the neighborhood associations yet one has to look down this street, look at these buildings, and say damn the neighborhood association. If a neighborhood association would approve demolition of this building then I wonder what they represent.

    I guess Martin Luther King Drive is not a place where rehabs can occur. LetÂ’s honor Dr. King by destroying our historical buildings! Better yet letÂ’s simply create another vacant lot! Martin Luther King Drive should be one of the best looking streets in the City, yet where a local business could have resided there will probably be a hole in the ground! This is a fine example of how to encourage economic development and neighborhood revitalization!

    I do not understand how people can stand for this. MLK still has great potential yet is being neglected and in this instance actively destroyed.

  10. Adam says:

    i don’t understand. what’s the point of demolishing the place if there aren’t any plans for the lot? is it just to avoid the cost of upkeep? if so, then it should be mandatory for the owner to at least attempt to sell the building for preservation before demolishing it.

  11. Urban Reader says:

    Urban Readers,

    Welcome to the world of hard knocks, distressed community, frustrated neighborhood renewal efforts.

    When Doug damns the neighborhood association for supporting demolition, he hasn’t lived next to the rotting, vacant eyesore for the past umpteen years.

    Nor does his Dogtown neighborhood have similar derelict vacant structures so dangerous and crime ridden that neighbors want nothing more than to see them cleared.

    And most Dogtowners don’t live in dilapidated buildings, left to kids of little means by parents of little means.

    It’s hard to appreciate “historic” when historic to you means abandonment, redlining, and crime.

    While we love older buildings, we need to remember that it’s the people in the neighborhoods who are the most important strengths of the community.

    When Steve starts opens this thread by talking about a “fine building” being demolished, I can only imagine what some of the long time residents around it might think about Steve’s idea of a “fine” building…

  12. Douglas Duckworth says:

    I don’t live in Dogtown.

    The fact that this building was able to reach its horrible state is the first offense. The second is believing that tearing down buildings can improve the neighborhood. The third is that if the resources were allocated, this building and others could be saved, rehabbed, and open to renters/owners.

    Wait, North St. Louis is not a priority, I forgot.

  13. Urban Reader says:

    Sorry Doug,

    Maybe it was Clifton Heights? If so, then you’re in an area with fewer deteriorated houses than Dogtown.

    Either way, the point here is empathy.

    Change your perspective from southside progressive, to hardscrabble neighborhood resident.

    Then re-evaluate your priorities.

    When you say “resources allocated” you’re making a v-e-r-y broad statement.

    The city doesn’t have the money.

    Maybe we could bomb a few less cities in the Middle East to the stone age? You’d have me there.

    And who says “North St. Louis is not a priority”?

    There’s lots happening north.

    Not everyone sees things the same way.

    And in this case, apparently the local residents and alderman decided demolition was the best option available.

  14. Matt #598 says:

    Urban Reader:

    But the potential good to the community that is lost in that building’s demolition might be greater than the harm its vacancy caused in the past (which, with its location on a “busy” large street, I’ll bet was minimal).

  15. “While we love older buildings, we need to remember that it’s the people in the neighborhoods who are the most important strengths of the community.”

    Well, exactly. For as many vocal pro-demolition voices in a neighborhood, there are probably at least as many people who would rather see a building re-used. The difference is that demolition is the political safe ground, and in a leadership vaccuum may seem the only viable option. I live in a distressed northside neighborhood that is on the upswing, but there are many challenges ahead. There are vocal voices in favor of demolishing certain buildings here, but also a lot of long-time residents who couldn’t tell you what a pediment was who think the old buildings are worth more money and should be preserved. However, they often aren’t as loud as the others.

    [UR – Good points. I’ll add that my own experience with the “tear’m down” folks is they simply don’t see any other solutions. For many that is all they’ve seen — one demolition after another. Alternatives are not even on the radar screen so naturally they are going to speak in favor of demolition because to them it is either that or let is sit around for a number of years until it burns or falls down. Sometimes actually talking about alternatives and showing examples of other solutions you can actually give people hope rather than the short-term political answer that in the long-term makes it harder and harder to revitalize not just the immediate area but the entire city. We cannot demolish our way to prosperity!!!!!

  16. Douglas Duckworth says:

    Forgive my passionate comment as I am wrong on the “damn the neighborhood association.” This is not the democratic way to address the concerns of the neighborhood.

    Every City is in fiscal crisis however I believe that resources should be allocated to those areas in greatest of need. One could criticize national policy with the ending of revenue sharing and other policies like suburbanization. Regarding priorities, I think it is pretty clear that North St. Louis is not on the top of the agenda.

    Again, rather than demolition, with the creation of Historic Districts and allocation of Historic Tax Credits, along with the 5k forgivable home improvement loans, plus abatement, and finally SLPS improvements, we could see vast improvement. With a private-public partnership organization working with elected officials, planners, neighborhood groups, and business leaders, we could see improvement.

    A partnership with local businesses could be made in which the business pays for employee college tuition at Forest Park CC/UMSL, and the City exempts property/earnings tax. The City should definitely ask for State and Federal assistance in this matter. This will benefit the company as the employee demonstrates loyalty, increased morale thus productivity, and it benefits the City as the workforce becomes more educated thus the job market is more appealing to higher tech companies. This will not occur instantly but a turnaround is possible in St. Louis.

  17. Jim Zavist says:

    Doug – your socialist side is showing through. “Allocating funds to those areas in greatest of need” conflicts with your idea of “exempt[ing] property/earnings tax[es]”, especially in a “City in fiscal crisis”. Money dosn’t grow on trees. The City can’t (continue to?) spend money in an unequitable manner. If the “better” parts of town don’t continue to get services and continued (re)investments, what’s to keep those residents there? Do you want the “better” parts to start looking like the “not-so-good” parts?!

    From what I’ve heard and from what I’ve read, there are many parts of town that were once thriving, well cared for and full of proud residents. A “lack of investment” on the part of the City IS NOT why they look like they do now. Suburban flight (by both residents and employers), redlining, white flight (or more-appropriately, flight by the middle class, both black and white, by those “who could”) and racism are ALL direct causes, as is an inability and/or a choice by the residents of a home / block / neighborhood to not maintain their properties, not support their local businesses and to blame everyone but themselves for their condition!

    Neighborhoods take work. Neighborhoods take investment, both finacial and personal. And as I keep saying, no neighborhood stays the way it is. It’s either getting better or it’s getting worse. Some are doing it quickly and some are doing it gradually. And there’s a limit to the challenges most people will put up with, and after fighting for so long, it’s just easier, in many cases, to just “vote” with your feet.

    Would I like to see this building saved? Sure I would. But, for better and likely worse, we have a whole lot more old brick buildings around here than we have people with either the interest and/or the means to preserve them. Will we regret their demolition in 20, 30 or 50 years? Maybe yes, maybe no. The problem is that it’s falling down now, nobody’s “stepped up” (yes, you can check the tax rolls and find out who owns it) and the owner is stuck with an unsafe property and no viable use, and likely no resources and no market to justify renovating it!

    We don’t live in a socialist economy. Property owners do have rights, including doing things we don’t agree with. And NO, the CITY can’t and shouldn’t save every old brick structure! They (we?) can do more to attract new businesses and residents, and to keep existing ones (and getting rid of the city income tax would be a big step in the right direction), but trying to incentivize preservation, especially at a higher level than what’s already in place, will likely produce more negative returns than positive ones . . .

  18. Douglas Duckworth says:

    I am not a socialist!

    The City influences the market with economic development tools and I don’t see why more effort shouldn’t be thrown into the North Side. There are many great buildings up there which are being neglected.

    I am not saying every brick structure should be saved but this one clearly could have been rehabbed. ED could have facilitated the rehab. Maybe in a few years there could be a business or two with residents as well.

    Property owners have rights but when a structure like this is demolished its historical value is erased and that affects the vitality of the neighborhood. In this instance there was a better solution.

  19. Anon3 says:


    What is your “better” solution? Seriously. You talk about ED…and tenants in a few years?

    Presumably you are thinking of some publicly subsidized development. The problem is, even publicly subsidized projects need a *market*!

    I am reminded of a similar situation going back a few years in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

    The city paid to rehab a historic mixed use building on Salisbury. Then they filled it with a propped up, publicly funded bicycle shop.

    Eventually, (maybe after a year), the bike shop closed.

    Then they housed a wanna-be developer in the space, pretty much rent free. He was gone in less than a year.

    Next they housed a neighborhood nonprofit in the space. Pffft. The nbrhd group office closed.

    8 or 9 years later, and now the building sits vacant, hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money spent, with a vacant building left to show for it.

    Had this venture required private money, none of the above would have happened. The building would have sat empty for a few years, become more and more deteriorated, until finally, it would become demolition bait, with maybe $5,000 of public money spent to tear it down.

    Sorry Doug. This stuff just ain’t that simple.

  20. GMichaud says:

    So what’s wrong with being a Socialist? My late wife was from Finland, A country with roughly the same population as Missouri and with a slightly larger land mass. I specialize in looking at the slums in new cities I visit. You know the areas where the buildings for demolition are targeted. In Finland I could find nothing in the country resembling a slum, nothing at all, absolutely nothing. I could hardly find a vacant building, even in the countryside. Lets see there is health care for all, a transit system country wide that is so well designed many people live without cars, and low crime rates, almost nonexistent compared to American standards. Maybe Socialism should be part of the debate in America, but of course our leaders and their press wouldn’t have that, now would they. They don’t allow it. Instead of debate, discussion is dismissed with ranting and yelling by Rush Limbaugh and others like him.

    While in Finland, I went across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Which, except for the medieval center, was run down, slum infested and reminided me so much of St. Louis. And that was after 50 years of Soviet rule. The parallels of Soviet Russia and Democratic America was an eye opener to me. Especially when contrasted to Finland.
    But to return to the subject of Demolition, I am a board member of a small North St. Louis Community Organization called Union West near MLK. it is not far from the building in question here. The people don’t necessarily want buildings demolished. They only want neighborhoods cleaned up. Ultimately I would fault the leadership of St. Louis. Perhaps not all areas can be saved, but planning efforts should be made to join, gather, and maintain areas in a way that keeps large sections of the old city intact. Instead they demolish buildings randomly not allowing areas to develop the continuity needed to succeed. In other words reasoned decisions and plans should be made to sanction and encourage the saving of structures.
    A few more comments on demoliton. It is important to follow the money. Not only looking at who is gaining off the demolition itself, but understanding the necessity of demolishing Old St. Louis to support the power structure and their desire to contribute and profit of of the never ending sprawl that is St. Louis.

    I have to dig out my old City Plans, but I believe it was the 1956 Plan that called for abandoning the decentralized urban city for the centralized nodes that supported auto traffic. This plan had nice color drawings showing the projected demise of commercial property in St. Louis neighborhoods.
    Yes this stuff isn’t that simple, but there are many places to look for answers. The demise and demoliton of St. Louis is no accident, it has been supported by many higher ups over the years. They are the same people who like to call themselves leaders in the compliant press.
    Rebels were in the past and are still now ignored by the press, so it is always difficult for them to get a foothold. And if they appeared in the press at all, they were ridiculed. Now we are in a new age of direct communication, allowing the free interchange of ideas without filtering by the status quo. It should help solve some of these problems, but it will take a little time and some hard work.

  21. jason says:

    You sure this was a legitimate Demo? I have heard the urban ledgends of orange trucks pulling up to abandoned buildings, tearing them down like this and carting them off before anyone ever questions it.

    [URYes it is legit, I verified the demolition permit via the Geo St. Louis database.]

  22. Douglas Duckworth says:

    First there should be a comprehensive plan for this area instead of ‘demolition here, demolition there.’ The planning agency along with aldermen, neighborhood groups, and business leaders need to sit down and formulate an actual plan for these areas. Economic Development tools like abatement, TIF, historical tax credit, etc., can be used to attract developers, rehabs, small businesses, or local entrepreneurs. MLK has great potential to be redeveloped and there are buildings, like this one, which could be rehabbed and reopened if a comprehensive plan was formed. There should be a private-public partnership formulated during or after the plan is laid out to make sure the plan happens. We need this group to include local business leaders, neighborhood leaders, ministers, and regular citizens. This partnership will promote the plan thereby attracting residents/businesses to the area, and it will also be responsible for locating outside capital. Model the plan from Grand Center Inc., as its mission statement reads:

    We are responsible for spearheading the physical redevelopment of the area and furthering its establishment as the Creative and Cultural District of St. Louis. By promoting capital investment and planned real estate development, we will rehabilitate the key buildings in the District and attract desired residential and commercial occupants.

    Basically the partnership will be responsible for enforcing/developing the plan, attracting the target market through ED, and working in and with the community for true revitalization.

  23. Douglas Duckworth says:

    Chicago Metropolis 2020:

    The other development in the core area of Chicago over the last decade has been the explosion in residential development, all within a few miles of the city center. Some are newly constructed units on formerly vacant railroad yards (e.g., Dearborn Park on 31 acres immediately south of the Loop), or on sites where older residential or commercial buildings were torn down. Many more of the new residential units have been created by converting former office and warehouse buildings and by rehabilitating old, deteriorated residential buildings.

    In some of Chicago’s neighborhoods that have suffered the greatest economic deterioration, job loss, and depopulation over the last few decades — neighborhoods with high rates of crime and drug use — there are examples of rejuvenation, e.g., North Kenwood/Oakland and Woodlawn on the South Side, North Lawndale on the West Side, and Logan Square on the near Northwest Side. The plan places a high priority on further strengthening the community development efforts that produced much of this rejuvenation of residential and retail uses.

    The strategy here is to destroy the existing stock of high-rise public housing, move to a new era of mixed-income and mixed-use developments, and put an end to the terrible physical isolation of poor African-Americans. Metropolis 2020 urges the CHA to proceed expeditiously with the three interim models that it has concluded will be most effective in improving the quality of life of the residents.

    The Cabrini-Green model will lease a certain percentage of the newly developed units in the prime Near North location for sublease to tenants who are displaced by the planned demolition of one third of the buildings. The Henry Horner model scatters public housing units across the Westhaven neighborhood where 50 percent of the households have one member who holds a full-time job, earning fifty to eighty percent of the median household income for the region. The other half of the Westhaven residents are very low-income families. The Robert Taylor model is a plan to create an industrial park to improve economic conditions of residents while carrying out a ten-year project to demolish the 28 identical 16-story buildings, a project that should be accelerated to allow its residents to be relocated as quickly as possible to other public housing units or given vouchers for private market rental units.


  24. Anon3 says:


    There is an organization actively working in the Ville area.

    They are the Ville Area Neighborhood Housing Association. They are interested in the revitalization of MLK as part of the Ville neighborhood.

    The Executive Director is Phillip Johnson. His telephone number is 314-535-4200. Email him at: pjohnson@vanhastl.org

    The 4th ward Alderman is OL Shelton.

    While it may appear to the casual observer that things are not happening in some areas, there can be a lot going on that isn’t immediately obvious.

    I’m sure they would like some help, especially any tax deductible checks made out to VANHA support their ongoing existence as an organization.

    In the meantime, in light of conversations circulating about the 20th Ward in South St. Louis, readers of the blogosphere might find the following ordinance being written for the 4th ward interesting:

    May 5, 2006

    Page 1 of 3BB# 50 Sponsor: Alderman SheltonBOARD BILL NO. 50 INTRODUCED BY ALDERMAN O.L. SHELTON

    An ordinance repealing Ordinance 66155 and enacting a new ordinance prohibiting the issuance of any package or drink liquor licenses for any currently non-licensed premises within the boundaries of the Fourth Ward Liquor Control District, as established herein, for aperiod of three years from the effective date hereof; containing an exception allowing, during the moratorium period, for the transfer of existing licenses, under certain circumstances, and the issuance of a drink license to persons operating a restaurant at a previously non-licensed premises; and containing an emergency clause.


    SECTION ONE. Ordinance 66155 is hereby repealed and in lieu thereof the following provisions are enacted:

    SECTION TWO. The existence of alcoholic beverage establishments appears to contribute directly to numerous peace, health, safety and general welfare problems including loitering, littering, drug trafficking, prostitution, public drunkenness, defacement and damaging of structures, pedestrian obstructions, as well as traffic circulation, parking and noise problems on public streets and neighborhood lots. The existence of such problems creates serious impacts on the health, safetyand welfare of residents of single- and multiple-family within the district, including fear for the safety of children, elderly residents and of visitors to the district. The problems also contribute to the18deterioration of the neighborhood and concomitant devaluation of property and destruction of community values and quality of life. The number of establishments selling alcoholic beverages and the associated problems discourage more desirable and needed commercial uses in the area. In order to preserve the residential character and the neighborhood-servingcommercial uses of the area, there
    shall be a moratorium on the issuance of new liquor licenses within the area beginning at the intersection of the centerlines of N. Vandeventer Ave. and Evans Ave., and proceeding along the centerlines in a generally clockwise direction west to Marcus Ave., north to Cote Brilliante Ave., west to N.Euclid Ave., north to Ashland Ave., east to Shreve Ave., north to Palm St., east to Marcus Ave., south to Lexington Ave., east to Fair Ave., south to Ashland Ave., east to N. Vandeventer Ave., south to the point of the beginning. Such area shall be known as the Fourth Ward Liquor Control Area.

    SECTION THREE. The Excise Commissioner is hereby prohibited, for a period of three years, beginning as of the effective date of this Ordinance, from approving the issuance of a package or drink liquor license for any premises which is located within the boundaries of the Fourth Ward Liquor Control District established in Section Two of this ordinance.

    SECTION FOUR. Notwithstanding the provisions of Section Three of this Ordinance, the Excise Commissioner shall have authority to: (1) Approve transfer of an existing license to another premises within the petition circle of the currently licensed premises, pursuant to the provisions of subsection (B) of section1514.06.330 of Ordinance 61289; and(2) Issue a drink license for a premises which currently is or will be, upon opening, operated as a restaurant, as such term is defined in section 14.01.390 of Ordinance 61289.18(3) Approve the renewal of an existing license under the provisions of Section1914.08.090 of Ordinance 62656.20

    SECTION FIVE. EMERGENCY CLAUSE. This being an ordinance for the preservation of public peace, health and safety, it is hereby declared to be an emergency measure within the meaning of Sections 19 and 20 of Article IV of the Charter of the City of St.Louis and therefore this ordinance shall become effective immediately
    upon its passage and approval by the Mayor.


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