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Preservation Board to Hear Appeal to Raze 19th Century House (Updated)

A first glance, it doesn’t look like much. Perhaps even the second and third glance you may not see the appeal. The home at 4716/4722 Tennessee in the 25th Ward should not be razed.

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The above home is on today’s agenda at the Preservation Board, a developer seeks to raze the home. In its current state, it looks pretty rough. For years this home was covered in a newer “low maintenance” siding which is now half removed. With the lower windows boarded and the dormer windows removed the home looks much worse than it really is.

As I had long suspected, the original clapboard siding was hiding under the newer siding and remains in amazingly good condition. The porch is original.

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Even though the front door is now boarded you can see the original transom peaking out above the red partical board. The original porch detailing is a rare find these days. A portion of the rear foundation is damaged but certainly repairable.

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A later back stoop is falling down, as it has been doing for years. You see, I know this particular building better than most as I lived next door for 10 years.

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Above is the 2-family I purchased in August 1994 and sold in January 2006 after having moved into my current place a few blocks away in the fall of 2004. Having lived next door, I knew the owners of the property during this period and through many conversations, much of the history of the structure. I have attempted to reach the prior owners but I could not track down them down.
Before I explain some of the interesting history, however, I want to talk about the demolition review process and where things have gone wrong. Ald. Kirner, whom I challenged in the March 2005 election, is under the impression it is her responsibility to broker deals and if she can’t make a deal for a purchaser then it is OK to allow a building to be razed. Aldermen should not be brokering real estate deals. Demolitions should not hinge on their ability to make a deal or not.

The Preservation Review ordinance has a number of criteria which must be met in order to permit a building within Preservation Review Districts to be razed. We will see if the appliant provides sufficient information to meet the criteria. I believe if the house were sold by itself, without the extra building lots between it and my old place, that someone would be interested in buying and rehabbing it. I attempted to explain this concept to Ald. Kirner a couple of weeks ago but I don’t think she got it — she kept talking about trying to see if a previous guy was interested in buying it. Remember, I am the licensed real estate salesperson, not her.

Back to the history.

When I purchased my 2-family in 1994 I bought it from John Held, of Held Florist next door. His grandfather had purchased the old frame house along with quite a bit of land on both sides in 1904. The only thing on the land, besides the frame house, were some greenhouses — the house and greenhouses dated to the 19th century. The Held’s continued the tradition of raising & selling the plants on this land. Over time the business passed to John’s father who built my 2-family in 1924. I was the first person, outside the Held family, to own this 2-family. At the time, in 1994, the frame house, extra lots, greenhouses with storefront and florist business were all for sale. John Held was ready to retire and his kids didn’t want to continue the business. For a brief time I considered buying the whole mess and going into the nursery business — but as a group it was way too much for me to take on. It was too much for anyone really as it had not been as cared for as it should have.

The entire collection sold in 1998 — about five years after he started selling it. The new owner, Michael Dunham, bought the property and business and did a good job starting to clean the place up until he became ill. He was in recovery in the country for a few years and the future of the property was uncertain. He was not able to return to the business and once again the entire collection of real estate was put on the market. Last year it sold but this time a new step was taken – the commercial storefront with greenhouse was legally separated from the frame house and adjacent vacant lots. An excellent move in my view, allowing the new owner of the storefront and greenhouse to renovate that structure (which she has done) without the burden of the rest.

And now a developer wants to raze the frame house and construct three new houses on the site. Although I was sitting in Ald. Kirner’s office at city hall, I was not shown any drawings of the proposed houses. The agenda for tonight’s meeting is not yet posted so I do not know what is planned for the site — other than three new houses. I just cannot support razing a viable 19th century house for some as yet unseen project from unknown developers with an unknown track record — neither should the Preservation Board. As many of you will recall, it has been 18 months since the Preservation Board approved razing the Doering Mansion on Broadway and yet construction has not begun on the replacement project — and that was with a well-known developer with an excellent track record.

I believe the current owners need to plan for two new homes on the vacant land while marketing the existing home with a narrow yard. With alley access new owners of the old frame house could construct a garage out back. If more living space is required, a new addition to the rear could easily be blended in with this frame structure. Again, I’m just saying before we toss the building aside see if anyone is interested — the house has never once been for sale by itself — it has always been part of a bigger ensemble.

The home is a classic center stair house — very 19th century. The kitchen, located in the south end, was remodeled in the 1950s I would guess. The north end is a living room. Upstairs are two rooms. The basement is the best part — it contains a brick barrel vaulted meat locker which would make an excellent wine cellar. The home has a nice presence on the street which is a hodge podge of various styles and periods although most date to the early 20th century. Three new homes were constructed in the late 1990s on the south end of the street at Delor.

Once again we are going about this all wrong. The proposed development is a secret, the elected legislator is playing real estate deal maker and lack of any real design standards could mean a proposal for front-garage houses despite an alley serving the land. I doubt we will have much more information at 4pm when the Preservation Board takes up this and other matters. The meeting is held on the 12th floor of 1015 Locust.
CORRECTION: Today’s meeting will be held at 4pm in Room 208 (Kennedy Hearing Room) in city hall.
Ald Kirner can be contacted here. The Preservation Board can be reached via the Cultural Resources staff here.

UPDATE 6/25/07 @ 10:15pm

This evening the Preservation upheld the staff denial of the demolition request — the house is safe for now. I will use this as a case study in a separate post to talk about some of the issues this brings up as they relate to the Preservation Review ordinance. In short, the appliant failed to meet the various requirements in the ordinance necessary to justify the demolition. The big question is what next? Hopefully the house can get rehabbed (by current or future owner) and a couple of new houses can get constructed on the balance of the site.
In preparing for today’s meeting I ran across a picture I took in March 1994 when I was looking to buy the place next door:

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Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    I’m conflicted on this one. It looks like a decent little structure that should be renovated and reused – it doesn’t appear to have any significant structural issues and it’s in context with the rest of the neighborhood. It also sounds like the developer is taking the easy way out by scraping the site clean and likely doing three relatively-identical new structures. And while I’m no fan of Preservation Review Districts, I hope the current standards are applied fairly and consistently to each property in the district. My conflict comes from trying to “save” every old structure and from trying to tell a private property owner that they can’t make significant improvements to (and to profit from) their property. Contextually, three similar, larger structures, especially if they’re appropriately detailed, may be more in keeping with the rest of the neighborhood’s housing stock than a frame Victorian – they would undoubtedly be less “brain damage” and more profitable to the developer. Should every old miner’s shack be saved in Dogtown? Where do we say it’s old and expendable versus something we need to push hard to keep?

    And, no this is not a “real estate development” that demands or deserves public scrutiny – it’s three lots that will be receiving three new structures that will need to meet all city requirements. If the city requirements are flawed or inadequate, THAT needs to be addressed. Expecting to have every new structure in established neighborhoods vetted, critiqued, and (presumably) held to some un- or ill-defined “higher standard” by “interested neighbors” who are not participating financially in the project is both presumptuous and ludicrous! Yes, many of us care, sometimes passionately, about what’s being done to “our” neighborhoods. But we also need to respect both private property rights and the limits of governmental regulations. The government needs to provide a level playing field and to protect all its residents. The alderman’s role here is relatively minor (unless they’re working to subvert PRD standards). The big issue, as you pointed out in your closing paragraph, is “lack of any real design standards”!

    [SLP — Agreed!  We should scrutinize our design standards so that each and every project is not a battleground.  I’m all in favor of changing the system so that is not the case.  In the meantime, I will continue to raise concerns about projects in areas where good standards are lacking.  Our elected leaders are the ones in the position to change the way the system works (well, doesn’t work).

    No, we don’t need to save every building simply because it is old.  That is why I like to have the old and the proposed in front of me so that I can look and, perhaps agree, that the replacement is a better use for the site than the old structure.  I don’t have that benefit in this case.  Often at these Preservation Board meetings the new proposals are shown to the board members but not to the public, even those in attendance at the meeting.]  

     
  2. 15thwardstl says:

    Correction: According to the Preservation Board Agenda this afternoon’s meeting will be held in room 208, City Hall, not in the traditional location.

    They are expecting a significant turnout for the McKinley Heights Historic District petition – both pro and con. I wish I could be there for the fireworks, but the hearing will probably run well into the evening.

    [SLP – Thanks, I hadn’t noticed that change of venue.]

     
  3. Joe Frank says:

    I do think that house could be saved, but it might be a hard sell without historic tax credits.

    I always enjoy finding an old frame farmhouse — even if it has been coated in vinyl — mixed among 1920s, 30s, or 40s bungalows in South St. Louis.

    Of course, my family (the Goeke side) had small vegetable farms (“truck gardens”) at various places in South City, including what’s now an industrial facility at Spring and Bingham, less than a mile from the Held property.

    Likewise, I wish the SLPS Greenhouses had had some small portion of the complex preserved, rather than the bulldozed site we see today.

    Most remnants of the early 20th Century agricultural heritage of South St. Louis, built by the long hours and toil of mostly German immigrants, are long gone. It’s too bad we’re likely going to lose yet another reminder of that relatively recent history.

    [SLP — It is probably impossible for the developer to rehab the house and break even.  I’m suggesting they sell the house and a sliver of land to someonen for them to rehab as their home.  Put the house and just enough land on the market to see if someone comes along as a purchaser.  If nobody does, then proceed with demolition.  In the meantime, they can begin preparing for two houses on the vacant lots and perhaps a third if the old house does not sell.  But, give the house a fair chance by offering it on the open market — don’t limit the market to simply whatever kinda deal Ald. Kirner might try to make.]

     
  4. Thor Randelson says:

    You know what gets me the most? The City of St. Louis has a wealth of great brick homes, but for frame homes? Very few high quality historic homes. This thing is far more rare and special than most of the homes that have or will come before the Board.

     
  5. Kevin says:

    Of course the bricks outlast the sticks….we little pigs.

     
  6. Maurice says:

    I would agree with Jim on this particular point. Though the house truly appeals to me and I would think that any developer would rather rehab then raze, but I guess there is economy in numbers and is easier to build 3 in a row then skip a spot, but what do I know?

    What makes the house look so bad is the siding…and that is just a visual as the roof lines and other aspects seems to indicate the house is still in good shape. Even with the large tree removed from the front yard.

     

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