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San Luis Apartments Not A Good Urban Building

April 15, 2008 Central West End, History/Preservation, Parking 69 Comments

The St. Louis Archdiocese wants to raze the San Luis Apartments next door to The New Cathedral for a 150-car surface parking lot. Local efforts to save the building from the wrecking ball give it more urban credit than it deserves. Yes, it is far more urban than any surface parking lot would ever hope to be.

From a recent West End Word article:

A statement issued by Landmarks’ Board of Directors argued that, “Through curvilinear forms and differentiation of wall materials, the hotel possesses a striking geometric presence. With covered parking placed in the rear away from Lindell Boulevard, the Hotel de Ville promotes the pedestrian-friendly quality of the Lindell streetscape.

This building does nothing to promote pedestrian anything. Parking is actually close to the sidewalk —- the fact the building hovers over the parking doesn’t improve the pedestrian experience in the least. Walk along the sidewalk in front of the building — as you would expect from a structure that started life as a 1960’s motor hotel, the pedestrian is not really considered. You look under the building at parking and the entry is set back behind an auto drive.

The best I can say is that the mass of the building does help anchor that corner — a surface parking lot would simply create a big hole in an area lacking holes in the urban fabric. The forms of the building are pleasant enough but I would not lose any sleep over its demolition.

Asked if the proposal on Lindell Boulevard is an example of the Central West End going backward, Thomas Richter, the archdiocese’s director of buildings and real estate, said, “We don’t think it is a step backward.”

The proposed parking lot “represents an investment in the Central West End” because it shows that Rosati-Kain intends to be in the CWE for the long haul, he said.

A surface parking lot is not an investment! To use such valuable real estate to store cars is such a waste. To spend the kind of dough it will take to buy out the HUD contract, raze and pave the land just for parking is shameful. Is this really the best use of the church’s resources?

There was a time not that long ago when churches were an important part of building the physical community and now all over this city we see church leaders worshiping the automobile by razing structures for parking. How much transportation could the church provide by not razing this structure and instead selling the land. If anything they should seek a developer to build low-income housing to help diversify the neighborhood and provided needed affordable housing.


Currently there are "69 comments" on this Article:

  1. Juan says:

    I completely agree with your post. The San Luis is ugly–there I’ve said it. That said, it is far, far better than a surface parking lot, and just for that, it should be saved. I don’t know when the Catholic Church got so automobile oriented; you would think that they would be for “protecting God’s creation” by reducing pollution from autos. I guess not.

    I half expected the Archdiocese to claim that the parking lot will help local businesses, or something like that. Rosati Kain is a perfectly good school, but does it REALLY contribute to the neighborhood economically or socially? It’s a non-profit so it doesn’t pay taxes, and it seems most of its students drive from a long ways away. I know several former Rosati Kain students, and none of them moved back to the Central West End after college, so they can’t even claim that benefit.

  2. northside neighbor says:

    Lots of Rosati Kain students, like Ted Drewes custard, are from the city.

    The CWE is one tiny percentage corner of our city mosaic. If SK students graduate from Rosati, go away to college, then return to buy a home anywhere in the city, that’s a plus.

    Who cares if they return to the CWE? Most young people can’t afford the CWE, but there are plenty of city nabes within their budget.

    Rosati Kain may be a gateway to encouraging young women to stay in the city limits. That’s a good thing.

  3. dude says:

    I don’t get the catholic (well all christians really) zeal for driving to church. I think it would be wise to copy the jewish people on transportation to weekly religious service; walk. You’re idea of “diversify” the neighborhood with affordable housing is a miss. A rebuild of Pruitt-Igoe would be a step backwards. A spike in muggings and panhandling not only will deter folks from sending their teenage daughters to school there, but will probably keep a lot diners and shoppers away too. It seems like a hot piece of real estate to be used for parking. Instead of paving it, they could leave it as gravel like you previous post down at SLU.

    [slp — you can have affordable housing without Pruitt-Igoe.  Low income  people are not by nature criminals.]

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Is the parking for the cathedral, the school, or both? If it’s for the school, I’m not surprised. Every high school faces the pressure to provide more parking for students who drive and to provide more drop-off space for soccer moms (and dads). The concept of using public transportation or the yellow school bus seems so last century – what would the neighbors think, especially if some pervert grabbed my kid as they walked, god forbid, to school? Plus, once my kid gets their license, I won’t have to do the driving twice a day, that I’ve had to do for the last decade . . .
    And if it’s for the church, what’s wrong with the concept of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Special provisions are already in place to increase on-street parking for sunday services, and if more parking is truly needed, sharing parking with some of their neighbors (Engineer’s Club, to name one) should be explored.
    That said, there can be a win-win, especially if the existing structure should be replaced – mixed use, with parking hidden by street-facing office or residential uses can probably be justified economically in this neighborhood. So if the present plan moves forward, as it likely will, the best reolution is to make the surface parking temporary and convince the Archdiocese to make better, more intense and more appropriate use of the site.

    [slp — Plus there is a whole parking garage down the street at Euclid.] 

  5. northside neighbor says:

    “I don’t get the catholic (well all christians really) zeal for driving to church.”

    This statement is not an accurate reflection of how the Catholic Church in the city is designed. It doesn’t take into account the beautiful, pedestrian scaled concept of a parish.
    The St. Louis Arch Diocese is made up of parishes. In the City, parishes were so numerous, that there could be two Catholic churches within 5 or 6 blocks of one another. The church would be located in the center of the parish, within walking distance from everyone living in the parish.
    Many parishioners still walk to their churches. With populations declining in some parishes, and churches being closed with parished consolidated, distances from home to church increased, with some people needing to drive.
    In extreme cases, churches became destination churches, like The Rock Church on N. Grand, or St. Cronins in Forest Park Southeast. Members of these churches drive to them by choice. People driving in to these churches have kept them viable.
    So Catholics have a range of options. They can live in a parish with tight geography and walk to church, and know most of their neighbors (many of whom happen to be Catholic in this heavily Catholic burg). They can live in a more suburban setting and drive to church (places like Manchester Missouri and Fenton). Or they can join a destination church and keep old parishes viable in places where neighborhood/traditional parish populations have declined.

  6. Craig says:

    High schools all over the area are hurting for parking. This is especially true of city schools like Rosati that draw students from a diverse geographic background. You can’t use schoolbuses for these schools because the students come from so many places. As it is now, you have students parking on the south side of Lindell and crossing the busy street to get to school. I know, it doesn’t sound like a big deal. But if you can decrease the possibility of a girl getting hit by a car and also keep the school competitive by providing a convenient parking option, I think that justifies demolishing an existing building for a parking lot.

    As for the person that doesn’t think Rosati is doing much for the city, check out the amount of community service that those students perform throughout the area. Also, think about the private high school options for city residents. There aren’t many. Providing a well functioning high school a significant benefit to a city such as St. Louis has proven that it cannot be trusted to effectively educate its own young citizens.

  7. john w. says:

    The acreage of the motor hotel will be retained by the A-D regardless of fate of the building. This piece of land is part of their legacy and will be remain as such. The building is currently preventing the high profile urban corner, on one of the city’s most prominent boulevard-type streets, in one of the most visible and attractive neighborhoods in the city of St. Louis from becoming a disjunction in the great street wall. The creation of a suburban sprawl style parking lot along such an important urban edge is so 20th Century and of course beyond unacceptable, but regardless of the nature of its owner urban property and its condition should be subject to elevated scrutiny from the public because of the important role it plays. Steve’s assessment of the building and its relationship to the sidewalk itself is very fair, and if historic preservation (of mid-century modernist architecture) is the sole motive of outrage in this case then I believe we may be missing the larger point, which is of course the maintenance of the continuous urban street. This is a land use issue much more than a preservation of specific building issue, which then ultimately means this OR another building appropriate to this site should occupy the space rather than the stupid vacancy that would be surface parking lot. There are at least a handful of adaptive reuse options that would both allay the cost of building demolition and site preparation, and provide for an income-generating occupant that can step into a largely unmodified building. The street edge condition described by Steve’s post seems to suggest one of the best uses of the existing building is not adaptive but rather a reversion to its original purpose as a motor hotel. Another possibility is a modern traveler’s hostel or an SRO hotel of the types that are found in California, market rate apartments or even student housing. All occupancies would do best to offer ground level commercial space in the form of a café with outdoor seating visible to the street, and this would certainly help soften the current pedestrian-unfriendly curb cuts to the parking decks beyond. The building already provides a number of parking stalls in excess of what has been proposed as surface parking by the A-D, and if truly needed, parking could certainly be retained for the use of the church and its apparatus.
    For those who attended the Saturday morning meeting of March 29th at the public library regarding this proposal, it may be clear that the ultimate purpose of this action by the A-D is not to gain parking, but rather to remove a liability and preserve the acreage for church legacy. There was mention of a campus-like definition of the bounds of the A-D purview by the church spokespeople at the meeting, and the landscaped parking lot appeared to be the temporary, polished solution to the vacancy that would result from the San Luis Apartments demolition rather than a sincere response to serious need for more parking. There was some political whitewash provided by the church spokespeople of environmental sustainability inherent in the parking lot design intended to distract any opposition to the plan, and it was apparent that this flimsy conciliation held hope of quelling a furor. If parking alone were the motive for the intended action of A-D, then the existing spaces of the San Luis Apartments would be currently used as needed. It’s not entirely clear whether the church has any interest in a profit-generating entity occupying the existing San Luis Apartments building, but what is clear is that its removal, only to be replaced with suburban-style surface parking, will not show the A-D to be acting in the best interest of the urban neighborhood in which it sits. There are simply too many alternate solutions for parking to believe there is no better way to treat this important urban street corner.

  8. Michael Allen says:

    While you might not lose any sleep over the demolition, we would lose the embodied energy and materials of a 45-year-old building. There are many ways to improve the base of the building without sacrificing the whole design.

    [slp — True enough, the frame of the building is probably fine so that could be retained as the building is for a new use for the next 40+ years.  Just don’t try to convince me this is a good urban building.] 

  9. Lindsey says:

    I would appreciate having “pedestrian friendly” defined- so far, it seems to be some sort of catch phrase used to validate people’s opinion of the building’s aesthetic appeal. The building comes up to the streetline and has groud level retail space- just because it is arranged differently than what modern-day urban planners would prefer does not mean that it’s hopeless. Isn’t building diversity a positive thing? And if we were to hold every building up for scrutiny based on a laundry-list of ideals for urban buildings, wouldn’t most of the highrises on Lindell score less than a perfect ten because they are set back from the street and lack streetfront retail space? No building is perfect, so unless we want to tear all of them down to create some urban planner’s wetdream then back off of the DeVille. This nitpicking is ridiculous.

    [slp — in general I would say a “pedestrian-friendly” building actually comes down to the ground — it would not be elevated over a level of surface parking at grade.  The exception would be if a portion — that which is adjacent to the sidewalk– had functional space of some sort with frequent windows and entrances. ]

  10. LisaS says:

    I agree that the building is not a good urban building, because while it maintains the existing street wall (to an extent), the space is used for parking rather than as a yard as would be consistent with the rest of the street. I’ll defer on the rest of the aesthetic/historic building issues, except to say that even the Alderwoman (Krewson) was quoted in the Word in saying that a parking lot is not the highest and best use of the space. And how can we force an owner to maintain a building that they don’t want to keep?
    And while we might all like a world in which everyone lives within walking distance of work/school/church/shopping, few of us do, and that largely benefits the City.

  11. Randy V. says:

    Wow Steve, I must say that I’m surprised by your opinions about this building. While you may have a point that the building does not interact as well as it could with the sidewalk, I still think it’s a very urban structure simply due to its architectural diversity in the context of Lindell Boulevard. Aside from that, it had been occupied by lower-income residents, many of whom I would see walking and waiting for the bus in front of the building. That certainly contributed to the urban vitality of the streetscape. Since this recent controversy came to light, I have become more and more enamored with this building. Frankly, I think it’s cool as hell.

    I love the San Luis. I think it holds great potential for the neighborhood. I must say that I’m rather disappointed that being the urbanist you are, Steve, that you would assist in bolstering the case against this building, especially considering that its ultimate replacement will positively be a surface parking lot. Since there is no other proposal for this site, I believe we need to focus our efforts on preserving this interesting structure and therefore the fabric of Lindell Boulevard. I think the San Luis can use all the support it can get.

    Nevertheless, great to have you back!

    [slp — sorry to disappoint.  Make no mistake, Im no fan of razing the structure for a parking lot but I wanted to put an end to people giving it urban credit where it is not due.] 

  12. Lindsey says:

    “Good urban building”- again, vague. By what criteria does one decide if a building falls into that category or not? Healthy cities are full of a variety of architectural styles and building forms and that is a positive thing. While we can judge current designs by current standards of what makes a building “good” or not, when looking older buildings you have to take into account architecture and historic context as well as whether or not the building is functional. What about all of the former fraternal halls in Midtown? The Masonic Temple and Scottish Rite Cathedral certainly are’t “pedestrian friendly” or welcoming, but no one gives them any trouble because we understand why they were built and what they were intended for, and that they’re important pieces of architecture. So the DeVille/San Luis was motor hotel, and is has the features of motor hotel- lay off. The point is that it is a great example of mid-century architecture designed by an important architect and it can be reused in a host of ways to keep that corner of Lindell populated with people rather than cars (and what is more pedestrian friendly than that?). There are many definitions of a “good urban building,” so to wield that term as some infallible death blow against the DeVille doesn’t make any sense. From what it sounds like, the city would be better if it were all shiny new high-rises with condos and street front retail- preferably with frequent windows and entrances.

    [slp — good & urban has nothing to do with the aesthetics the structure is wrapped it — it is how it relates to and contributes to the public space.  The temples you cite have wonderful staircases that draw you into the structures — that is very welcoming.    And for the record I am not a fan of high rise buildings (shiny or not) so don’t put words in my mouth. ] 

  13. Anthony Coffin says:

    I would like to know who this Craig gentelman is, so well informed but making such ill-conceived arguments.
    The San Luis, when occupied, does put eyes on the street. This creates safety and some peace of mind for pedestrians, especialy at night. It may not be a pedestrian inspired building, but just because you have to cross a bit of parking lot to access the building I would not throw out all of it’s pedestrian friendliness.

  14. Dole says:

    Where did this idea come from…that to be an “urbanist” means that you need to fight to save every single structure? Sometimes even a good Urbanist has to admit when a historic building is not worth saving.

  15. Randy V. says:

    Craig, your arguments are so silly and uninformed, I am almost wondering if you’re serious. So Rosati-Kain all of a sudden has this urgent need for more parking, huh? Well allow me to propose a more sensible solution: strike up an arrangement through which students can park at existing parking facilities in the neighborhood and operate a shuttle at regular intervals during peak times to get them to and from school. That would cost less than demolition of the San Luis and would allow the streetscape of Lindell to remain intact. Problem solved.

  16. LCWE says:

    to DOLE, when the alternative is a parking lot then there is no excuse to tearing this building down. whether you like the building or not, you are no urbanist if you think a parking lot would be better. that is just plain stupid.

  17. Jeff says:

    The value of the San Luis is augmented when taking into consideration its context on the street. To the west is the mid-century HOK-designed Lindell Terrace. Across the street is the funky Optimist International building. East of that is the quintessential 1960s Jackson Arms (its lines and height complement the San Luis quite gracefully). And east of the San Luis is the the space-age Chancery building. In other words, the San Luis is not out of place– it fits in seamlessly into the existing streetscape. A city is supposed to be a hodge-podge of styles and uses. Just imagine what a little sprucing up and landscaping could do for this building. It could be a showpiece of the entire neighborhood with a little outside-the-box thinking.

    As for safety, I am scratching my head. Eyes on the street and people on the sidewalks create safe, vibrant environments. The idea of adjacent parking sucks people off the streets, creates plenty of hiding places for muggers and crooks, and a gaping hole in the streetscape.

    [slp — I’m not a fan of the context argument — ok there are individual buildings in the vicinity from the same era.  As I said the mass of the building does hold the corner.  I’m not arguing for the building to be razed, especially for another parking lot.  I also don’t buy the eyes on the street argument because then you could make the case that any building with windows is a good urban building but I know that to not be true.]  

  18. northside neighbor says:

    This thread nicely illustrates the lack of cohesion among the many various pro-city boosters. Some support demolition. Some support vouchers. Some support “vinyl sided” subdivisions. Some support the gay agenda. Others are pro-life, neocons.
    There is no one voice for urbanity, and there is no one “right answer” to the many challenges we face together. We are living a diverse, interesting, eclectic lifestyle. Our differences make this all more interesting.
    Our one common interest? We’re all neighbors. What makes good neighbors? Maybe that’s where some of our pro-urban efforts will find the most common ground!

  19. Otto says:

    “it is a great example of mid-century architecture designed by an important architect”
    This is certainly true, as this building seems to have inspired a generation of strip mall architects. It’s ironic that people are bemoaning that this building will be replaced by a parking lot when it is so clear that the architect had a fetish for parking. The building tiptoes around its own parking garage/lot, as if the architect was disappointed that he had to build over all that parking. This is probably why the building itself is just another collection of modernist grey boxes, with a couple of faux missile silos stuck on the sides.
    The only thing urban about this building is that it is in an urban area. To the extent that it is urban at all, then so are the nearby strips malls on Lindell.

  20. Matt says:

    A building need not be ultra-urban to be saved; many mid-century moderns were built without the form of the city in mind. But, as with any feature of a landscape that survives for 40+ years, collective memories absorb it into the social and cultural cityscape. Just because the San Luis Apartments is not a 19th century row of brownstones complete with community-building stoops does not mean it should be sacrificed.

    To establish this “urban” vs. “non-urban” typology so rigidly is dangerous. It sets a precedent for undermining preservation, especially of unique mid-century modern styles. One wonders if the frame structures and small bungaloids of Bevo, each spaced apart considerably and complete with front lawns, are not “urban” enough to be saved if a parking lot were ever proposed to replace them.

    San Luis may be an autocentric buidling, but the tout ensemble of Lindell benefits from its bold modernism and imposition upon the streetscape.

    Lindell used to be a Mansion Row of St. Louis; those were sacrificed for the “progress” of today’s collection of mid-rises. Why should we open the floodgates for more “progress”–which always seems to come at the price of a unique piece of St. Louis architectural heritage without offering a better building in its place?

    [slp — the spacing of those bungalows is highly urban — granted on a lower density than say row houses but still very urban.  The day someone tries to save a 1980s strip mall simply because it has been around for a certain number of years or that it represents that horrific period please shoot me.] 

  21. Randy V. says:

    Otto– I think you should look into the history of this building because you might be surprised to learn that it was not in fact designed to “tip toe” around a parking lot. The two center galleys between the towers were actually originally built as an ice skating rink and a swimming pool, both subsequently removed by later owners of the building. What an outstanding use of outdoor space.

  22. Otto says:

    No, I would not be surprised that a motorlodge included a swimming pool.
    I am also somehow not surprised that a modernist architect would think that an ice rink in the middle of a motorlodge is a good idea.

    [slp — rtflmao —good response]  

  23. northside neighbor says:

    How big was the ice rink? Was it open to the public, like the sort you find in shopping malls? Please tell us the story of the ice rink! Was it outdoors? Part of the intrigue of St. Louis is learning more about all the places that don’t exist anymore. There are so many of them, and they are a part of our story!

  24. scott o says:

    you know whats funny – I just got back from Manhattan – 10 times the population density of St. Louis – and probably quite a bit more during working hours… and yet I don’t recall seeing a single parking lot… .
    Also – building a big parking lot in 2008 seems a bit like starting a typewriter company in 1983… I mean – shouldn’t people see gas at $3.40 as the writing on the wall… we have enough parking… we need more public transportation…

  25. I think we can all agree that the Archdioceses should not have free reign to demolish whatever building they desire, especially when it’s in the CWE. We may disagree on the merits of this building urbanistically or architecturally, but that’s inconsequential. Residents of the neighborhood and the City should have a say. The decision-making process should not be dominated by one sole institution or group of elites. Whatever happens, the people must be given a voice. It’s their City, not the Church’s, the Mayors, the Board of Aldermen’s, or Hellmuth Obata and Kassebaum’s.

    Craig, if a girl gets hit by a car then blame the kid, the driver, or her parents for not showing how to live in a City. Moreover, people are more likely to be hit by a car in suburbia, where people drive like every road’s a highway. Getting hit on Delmar or Lindell would take some effort, as the cars are slow, there’s the street grid for easy sight, and there are frequent stop lights.

    As many have said this building could be modified if necessary, but that’s not important. What’s critical is emphasizing that parking is a waste. Parking creates dead zones that destroy street life. Lots/garages are used intermittently and sit idle after events or peak periods. We need residential and density. We’ve designed St. Louis in an autocrentic manner for decades. What has that gotten us? We’ve failed to become a 24/7 City because we have too much parking and too few residents.

    [slp — sorry but I don’t see enough reasons to object to the demolition.  I do, however, see plenty of reasons to object to a surface parking lot at this location. ] 

  26. northside neighbor says:

    Property values in NYC are so high that they command greater intensity of use. In St. Louis, with lower land values, it makes financial sense to operate a surface parking lot; that’s why people own them. Comparing NYC to STL is sort of silly, isn’t it?
    Also, this is America. Private property rights are protected under the US Constitution. If developing a parking lot is a legal use of the site, then the owner is within his/her/its rights to do so.

  27. To ensure a lot isn’t built you have to first protest the demolition. That’s what’s on the table currently. If we can ensure a lot isn’t done, then go from there.

    The Archdioceses isn’t proposing demolition for a tower.

  28. john w. says:

    Steve- the building is what is standing in the way of the inevitability of surface parking at this corner. I think it’s clear that this is an issue of land use in an urban area and not the merits of particular building. I think if you look at it this way you’ll see how a lot of find reason to object to its demolition.
    Northside- Owners of urban property in highly visible locations bear a burden of responsibility to the urban scape that owners should be prepared to shoulder, so I’m not much moved by the arguments for property rights over all in instances such as this.

    [slp — we shouldn’t need a building to prevent a surface parking lot on this corner but that might be our only hope.] 

  29. john w. says:

    We don’t have a large enough army of the sensible to divert the irresponsible conversion of this corner into surface parking without the existence of this squatter of a building. Say what you will about it’s merit as historical artifact or quality urban installation, but we should not fault ourselves for holding the San Luis Apartments in higher regard than the proposal put forth by the A-D. The building is what it is, but since it exists and is very usable condition it already beats the alternative as suggested by the A-D, and beats it as an empty ediface alone. Instead of assailing the demerits of the building’s admittedly weak relationship to the sidewalk, I believe we should be hailing the opportunities that this building presents to the neighborhood as amenity, and move quickly to show how it has exponentially more value to the CWE urban scape than a vacant hole with environmentally sustainable parking stalls. Please consider joining those who have already agreed that this building presents the best chance urbanists have to prevent more suburban creep into our grand old city.

  30. CWEGuy says:

    This is all a red herring. If the A-D wanted parking for RK, they could have bought the lot directly north of the San Luis. The property has been sold several times in the last decade and the A-D has ignored it. I agree with Lyda Krewson–a parking lot is not the best use of this property. There is plenty of parking in the area.

  31. I believe the area North is a part of the Hudlin Park deal. It’s being turned into a park if I’m correct.

  32. Urbanist says:

    I agree–
    Tear down the mansions on Lindell west of Kingshighway! They are highly anti-Urban, with driveways, lawns and a concentration of super-wealthy. Think of the commercial opportunities we have — storefronts along Forest Park, apartments above. Also, what about Westmoreland and Portland Places? They belong in Chesterfield.

  33. northside neighbor says:

    Is Conway considered a lame duck, or perhaps is he figuring the sliver of TGE currently in the 8th ward will be moved to the 19th or 6th come the 2010/2011 redistricting?

  34. CWEGuy says:

    Doug, you are correct. It has also been used as a dog park but it has been bought and sold since then. And completely ignored by the A-D.

  35. Dole says:

    to LCWE, no need for name calling and it’s not fair to change my question to fit your conclusion. I asked about the demolition of buildings and made no mention of replacements. Care to answer my original question? Why are some people acting like being a good Urbanist means that no existing structure can ever be torn down?

    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    However, if you want me to engage your discussion point…of course 99% of the time I would rather see a high-rise than to see a surface level parking lot on a busy corner in the Central West End. This discussion from Steve’s post is revolving around two themes, (1) can we be Urbanists and still say ‘good riddance’ to an ugly structure? (2) should Urbanists prefer dense mixed-use buildings instead of surface parking lots?

  36. john w. says:

    Dole- I’m not sure ANYONE is saying that being “a good urbanist means that no existing structure can ever be torn down”. Clearly structures not appropriate to their sites and therefore detectably not becoming of the larger context to which they belong can be demolished without protest from urbanists. I believe the large majority of opinions expressed in this thread show that the understanding of this controversy is one of land use and not building preservation. I will reserve my opinions about the architectural value of the building, because what I believe is most important is the obstruction of the unacceptable A-D plans to build a surface parking lot on this corner. I don’t think urbanists are overly desirous of high rise buildings, or ultra-high density 100% of the time, but rather see the urban fabric for what it is and what it should be.

  37. Randy V. says:

    There is such senseless irony here. I would have loved to see the old American Heart Association building at Lindell & Euclid leveled for a modern highrise, but that can’t happen because of NIMBYism. So now that nondescript, ugly building gets to remain an eyesore, while an attractive building like the San Luis (in my opinion it is a very cool looking building) will be deleted from our landscape in favor of a dead zone. So to answer your question, Dole– no, I don’t necessarily think each and every building needs to be preserved. However, we happen to be facing yet another major urban planning blunder that this city can no longer afford. Therefore, the San Luis building IS VERY MUCH WORTH SAVING. I don’t think you can look at these issues in black and white. We need to examine these issues in terms of net gain/net loss. The San Luis is a worthwhile, viable and important component of the streetscape. There are dozens upon dozens of less remarkable buildings in the area that I wouldn’t miss nearly as much. But when parking is the replacement, every building becomes important.

    [slp — well said.  Unfortunately our city’s laws for denying a demolition permit are pretty clear cut.  We need to evaluate the criteria used to allow demolitions as well as look at zoning regulations and where surface parking is and is not permitted.] 

  38. Lindsey says:

    In regard to the comments about the building’s looks or that someday we’ll be preserving 1980s strip malls:

    A good way to look at whether or not something is worth preserving is to analyze what the design was meant to express. No, strip malls will never be worth preserving because not only are they shoddily built but, at most, they express how our culture has elevated ease, expediency, and cheapness over all other values, and they actively degrade the pre-automobile kinds of behaviors that “urbanists” rightly wish to return to. The only link between the DeVille and these structures is the use of concrete- to insinuate that Charles Colbert’s HIGH-RISE built to compliment the Lindell streetscape somehow fits into the evolution of the strip mall is just stupid. Colbert himself wasn’t the kind of Miesian Modernist who at most led to the simple HOK boxes we see downtown- he was fascinated by the possibilities offered by new materials such as concrete and, with each building, sought to create an entirely new building form. I don’t think the man who wrote “In all forms of art the ultimate worth of any human creation is determined by the value of the distinguishing idea” was just some hack slopping up buildings left and right without any consideration of their design and context. All of this talk about the building’s looks or how it’s not “good” smack of the short-sighted discourse that led to the demolition of hundreds of individual buildings as well as whole neighborhoods over the course of the 20th century. Take a step back from your personal aesthetic tastes and consider that Charles Colbert was a highly honored architect and intellectual (Dean of School of Architecture at Columbia in New York, Fellow of the AIA, recieved AIA Louisiana’s Medal of Honor, featured prominently in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s exhibition on modernism), and that this building is a unique product of the early automobile/urban flight age, and that its shape and form are far more imaginative that most buildings from the latter part of the 20th century. It isn’t just any building, it’s an important building, and THAT is why it needs to be preserved.

    And as for the skating rink, if it did exist it was not in the original design and would have been added once the building was converted into a Holiday Inn so you can’t fault Colbert for that.

    [slp — perhaps we should have saved the award winning Pruitt-Igoe because it was designed by the noted architect that designed the World Trade Center?] 

  39. Lindsey says:

    That is a useless comparison. The misguided design, funding shortages, and human displacement that led to the disaster that was Pruitt-Igoe are in no way analagous to the DeVille. Similarly, the careers of Yamasaki and Colbert were nothing alike, especially since Yamasaki’s awards were given during the height of 1950s utopian modernism whereas Colbert’s greatest honors are being bestowed now, in retrospect, with cooler heads and a greater understanding of the impact of his work. In the former case, we know that the Pruitt-Igoe brand of modernism was totally faulty. In the latter, Colbert is appreciated for his contributions to design.

  40. john w. says:

    After reading Lindsey’s post, I’m even more convinced the building has little to do with what we are actually talking about here, because I can promise everyone here IT IS NOT ABOUT THE BUILDING. Take a step back from the assertion that Colbert’s historic position in the parade of celebrated of modernist architects is somehow meaningfully distinguishable from Yamasaki, Mies, Corb, Niemeyer, or anyone else we choose to mention, and you’ll see that those finite academic considerations seem awfully esoteric to the citizen otherwise interested in blocking the A-D proposal of surface parking here. I hardly agree that this building is THAT important, or that it needs to be preserved beyond its appreciated role as urban corner holder and preventer of stupid plans. How is a comparison to P-I useless if the point that was being presented by the editorial follow-up was that if ‘important’ buildings by ‘important’ architects should, in the estimation of some, be preserved than how can P-I be excluded? The success or failure of a building as determined by you, me or Kenneth Frampton doesn’t lessen it’s historic importance as I can assure you that schools and architects will be discussing the case study of P-I for many years to come while this particular building by Colson will receive no critical attention. How are we defining ‘important’ here?

    [slp — Exactly.  I know that when I was in architecture school we talked about P-I but I’d never heard of the other guy until the discussion of this building came up.] 

  41. Michael Allen says:

    The larger question here is whether good architectural design has the same desirable utility as street level retail and connections with public space. Is quality of design (aesthetics) part of what we consider “urban”? Or is the “urban” merely a description of the ways in which the built environment function? All consideration of modernist architecture is wrapped up in these questions.

    Unfortunately, what is breathing down our neck as the replacements for modernist buildings lacking functional excellence are dreadfully careless and aesthetically insipid structures that are functionally superior (by one measure of “urban”). Busch Stadium fell to Busch Stadium Two. The Doctor’s Building fell to Ye Olde Clocktower Plaza. The San Luis could fall for a “green” parking lot at worst, or probably something like the scuttled Opus tower at best. The results are a degradation of the visual quality of the built environment, even if there is a net benefit to the functional connection between buildings and public spaces. I’m not sure that’s much of an improvement in “urban” terms if the new building is as ugly as that junk going up at Euclid and West Pine. We aren’t just commercial and civic animals, after all. Our eyes don’t tend to like looking at environments that are ugly or uniform.

  42. john w. says:

    I’m pretty sure we’re not too far off from saying the same things when we zoom out to see the big picture. You are stating the esthetic is fuction as is form, and I thoroughly agree, however there seems to be a hierarchy of importance regarding the controversy of the proposed parking lot and the esthetic considerations of the San Luis are below its incidental status as ‘building that’s there- endeared to some, uninteresting to others, but nonetheless there- and disallowing a super-duper quadruple-platinum LEED certified flat, paved surface with yellow painted stripes.

  43. Jeff says:

    The simple fact of the matter is that the title of this thread, “San Luis Apartments not a good urban building” is doing a great disservice to our efforts to protect this viable building, and more generally, the continuity of the dramatic Lindell streetscape. Why give fodder to the detractors of its significance when we know full well what it’s impending replacement will be.
    We can daydream about what would be the ideal urban structure for this corner, but hello– this is modern-day St. Louis after all. I can count “good” urban replacements for demolished buildings in this city on one hand. The current market nor the Archdiocese do not present even the slightest hint that a quality building might rise in place of the San Luis. Our best shot, our ONLY SHOT, at protecting this corner of the urban landscape is to band together as urbanists in support of preservation. The San Luis is a perfectly salvagable and functional building that contributes to both the architectural and social variety that makes the CWE an interesting neighborhood.

    We can all remember what an eyesore the old Days Inn at Tucker & Washington was before it was lovingly rehabbed, and now it’s among the sexiest in the Garment District. The San Luis presents an incredible opportunity, and the reality is that preservation is really the only alternative to a surface parking lot.

  44. john w. says:

    You got it. Let’s have us a rally.

  45. Lindsey says:

    Yes, let’s have a rally, and instead of focusing on any perceived negative aspects of the building we all need to focus on the positive. Stressing that the DeVille is just a place holder for the corner only weakens the arguments against demolition, and opens the door for the Archdiocese to change its tune by dangling the potential of building “something” there in the future, which isn’t likely to happen once it gets its parking lot. We’re all against the parking lot, but no matter what, stressing that the building itself is worth something is crucial. Emphasizing the importance of its architect is essential, not esoteric, because it is THAT link that makes the DeVille eligible for listing on the National Register, which makes it all the more likely that the building will be attractive to developers who would be interested in a tax credit project. In my architectural history classes I never heard mention of any of the host of quality Saint Louis architects from the turn of the century whose buildings have been listed on the Register, rehabbed, and that now are fueling the revitalization of the city. So even for utility’s sake, we need to support this building, and, to that end, make it’s history and worth as prominent as possible. Who is going to listen to arguments for preservation if it appears that those against demolition don’t even care about what they’re ostensibly trying to preserve?

    [slp — I will certainly agree the building does have value — if only to hold the corner in the streetscape.  My original post was based on my objections to others making false claims about how urban they thought the building was.  As I previously said — the structure is likely fine so the reuse potential is far greater than the A-D claims. My goal is not to see the building razed but to stop others from attributing this building with urban qualities it does not have.] 

  46. john w. says:

    I have to agree with editorial follow-up again, however our fighting propoganda will need to stress the building’s stature as mid-century modernism threatened, and that the qualities of this era of architectural design can be celebrated as any other. The imagery we may put together, to persuade the community that this building is certainly about a thousand times better than a parking lot, will have to capture its historic essence and relate it to others like it in the CWE and yes, this is for utility. How else can we talk up this building’s virtues but to see it for what is has to offer?

  47. George Hellmuth said “The Buder, Title Guaranty, and International Buildings are the three ugliest buildings in town.” Ana Louis Huxtable agreed and was used to support the demolition of the DeMenil Building. I don’t think it’s important that we argue about this amongst ourselves. We need to stress that certainly this building has merit beyond that of a parking lot. Moreover, I think it’s rather hypocritical for us to continue the generational cycle of architectural elitism. Victorian styles were once disliked with similar fervor as those of modernism. I think there’s room for all styles in St. Louis. If cities are to be diverse and the opposite of monoculture suburbia, then we must incorporate all varieties. It may not be the most “urban” building, but it’s here. It’s not derelict. There are no proposals for anything except a parking lot. We need to present a united front, bring citizens to the table, and oppose the demolition.

  48. john w. says:

    Agreed. On to the rally.

  49. Jim Zavist says:

    The last thing we need is some sort of design police making aesthetic decisions – tastes do change. It’s also hard to argue that a parking lot is better than an/the existing structure, especially in this (urban) context. Surface parking just encourages sprawl, on both ends, while a well-designed, mixed-use redevelopment, with structured parking, would be a win-win for all involved. Thus, the question really becomes what is the master plan?

  50. john w. says:

    A well-designed, mixed-use redevelopment with structured parking would require a developer purchasing this piece of the A-D land, which won’t happen. It would be great if the A-D would have the vision to not only serve their functional needs (i.e. parking and perhaps some others) but also serve the larger community with such a great facility like you describe, as the mutually beneficial facility would allow the A-D to be seen as great benefactor to the CWE beyond worship services. I keep returning to the Fahrenheit condominium building, designed by Studio E of San Diego, with ground floor commercial space that deftly wraps a parking garage and gives the urban street the presence that it should have. See it here:

  51. Otto says:

    I’m a little amused at all the shock and outrage at the concept of questioning whether certain modern architecture is good for the urban environment. There’s a great book on urbanism versus modernism called: From a Style to a Cause: Modernist Architecture’s Encounter with the American City, by Nathan Glazer. The debate we’re having here is lively, but nothing new.
    Mid-century modernism has had its wonderful moments, but primarily in the form of museums and suburban homes. If a building is a machine for living, well then so is a city. And if one of the parts doesn’t work, then we shouldn’t be afraid to think about something better. What could be more modern than that?
    I tried to read all the theoryspeak and credential dropping above, but I could only get through about half. I’m glad that Charles Colbert recently won the Louisiana AIA Medal of Honor, but I suspect the award coincided with an effort to prevent demolition of one of his buildings in New Orleans. Perhaps Landmarks could award Colbert a Medal of Honor in the next few days.

  52. Jeff says:

    Otto, what doesn’t work about the building?

  53. Randy V. says:

    Some of the myopic comments on this thread are really surprising me, especially since many of us claim to be “urbanists.”

    Whether you regard the San Luis a significant building or not– if you are not in favor of preserving the building then you are in favor of a surface parking lot. PERIOD.

    [slp — what if the building were to be reskinned and brought down to grade?  That would retain the massing on the corner but would not “preserve” the architecture.] 

  54. john w. says:

    All- It shouldn’t be too difficult to render the San Luis Apartment building in an attactive fashion with little modification. Maybe we should just move past the matter of this building’s architectural merit, or whether it represents the best in urban design quality and know that it’s existence is what is making a counter argument against the A-D proposal even possible. I don’t love this building, but am certain that it can be rendered in a very appealing manner using its inherent attributes of modernist design. To be appalled at the idea of a parking lot at this site is to agree that saving this (ugly/beautiful/functional/crappy/valuable/valueless) building is worth the effort. We can try to prevent a parking lot by preserving a building. This seems logical enough. Let’s have a rally.

  55. LisaS says:

    In a practical sense, Randy’s right: if the building is torn down a parking lot will replace it. I’ve been told by those who know that’s the plan for at least 10-15 years.
    In a larger context, however, preservation and urbanism are two very different things. There is often common ground because urban fabric in this country is usually comprised of historic buildings, but it’s not the same thing. Reskinning the building would be a tragedy for the preservationists, but would enhance its ability to define the street at the pedestrian level and function in an urban way.
    From the neighborhood point of view, I have yet to find anyone in favor of putting a surface lot on that site, not even those who live closest to RK & the Cathedral, who deal with the “crazy teenage drivers” and Sunday parking as a regular part of their lives. Of course, none of them see the building as a contributing part of the environment, either.
    What it comes down to for me is this: tearing down a building for a surface parking lot in the CWE at this point in time brings into question the success of the neighborhood’s revitalization. Twenty or thirty years ago, when the buildings at Lindell/Euclid and Lindell/Kingshighway were demolished for surface parking, it might have made some kind of sense, but now it begs the question: if a surface parking lot is the best we can do here, what can we really expect anywhere else in the City?

  56. Randy V. says:

    Well if we’re talking in terms of what-ifs, the possibilities are endless for this and other buildings. But I think the San Luis is impressive as hell as it is. To me it is a great looking building, and quite unique in STL. I also don’t think my opinion of what I consider to be “urban” is any less valid than anyone else’s. St. Louis is a major city with plenty of room for all types of buildings and designs. With a little sprucing up and some imagination, the San Luis could be an iconic anchor of the CWE. The notion of recladding the building to make it more “urban-friendly” is not even worth talking about because it’s not even a remote option given the circumstances so why waste the energy. The ONLY hope for the corner of Lindell & Taylor at this time is PRESERVATION of the San Luis, and that is a very possible outcome if we can make a dedicated effort. I believe that we as urbanists have an opportunity as well as a responsibility to advocate for the best possible use of land in our city given the options on the table. At this time, we have only one reasonable option. We can waste our breath talking about how the building isn’t urban enough or we can band together as community advocates for the future of this neighborhood. Otherwise, we can soon expect the CWE to have a little more parking and a lot less character.

  57. john w. says:


  58. Otto says:

    Again, I think the building is functionally obsolete and suburban, and I won’t be sad to see it go. But I’ll admit it does have value in the short term as a device to prevent a surface parking lot. Perhaps your efforts will force a compromise: an urban, mixed-use facility (including parking, but no clock tower). I wish you success, but not too much success.

  59. john w. says:

    Are you suggesting we chase down the story of the Tattered Cover bookstore?

  60. Jim Zavist says:

    No, just that we should celebrate what we have, including those from the 50’s and 60’s . . .

  61. john w. says:

    This is an opportunity to present an alternative to a bad idea. There won’t be a rally without something to rally around.

  62. Leigh says:

    Rosati has been promising the parents more parking for years. When I went to school there was a small side lot that Seniors were allowed to park in if they purchased a pass. The school then charged the parents lots of money to let their children park in a “safer environment”. This all was hugely comical to all of us considering the cars that parked on the lot were always the ones getting broken into. Kids that didn’t have a parking pass carpooled 6 deep in a car to avoid huge hassels with parking on the street. However, none of this really seemed to bother us. We got to talk about all the “forbidden topics” in the car on the way to and from school.

    I really don’t think that they need a parking lot other than to attract more parents to the school. Some county parents may choose Villa, Ursaline, or Vis over Rosati for safety reasons. If they had a parking lot they may be able to convince parents with deeper pockets(donation donation donation)that their child’s car (the one that is way overpriced for a more than likely undeserving teen to be driving) is safe. It is always all about the dollar. Parking lots are cheap to maintain, if you build it they will park and pay to do so.

    I hate parking lots…..no one can parallel anymore

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