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The Case for the San Luis Apartments

February 25, 2009 Central West End, History/Preservation, Planning & Design 42 Comments

Last April I did a post about the now shuttered San Luis Apartments on Lindell, just West of the New Cathedral (map). My position was, and is, that the 1960s modern former hotel is not a good urban building – that it doesn’t relate well to the adjacent sidewalks. The St. Louis Archdiocese wants to raze the structure for a surface parking lot.  I visited the site last June, ariving via wheelchair.

View of San Luis from the Lindell sidewalk

So while I’m not fond of the building, it is way better than a surface parking lot. Razing it to build a good mixed use structure would have my full support. Razing it for a parking lot gets my full opposition.

View of San Luis from across Lindell & Taylor
View of San Luis from across Lindell & Taylor

Here are some additional resources and viewpoints on this structure and the plans for its demise:

This building is intact & sound. We should not be so wasteful a society where we can toss aside a structurally sound building for a surface parking lot.

I’d like to see the relationship with the public sidewalk improved upon.  “Preservation” of the existing relationship is not good enough.  Despite the shortcoming on how it doesn’t relate to the sidewalk, the overall massing of the building is pleasant and would be sorely missed.


Currently there are "42 comments" on this Article:

  1. john w. says:

    The effort to preserve the San Luis is gaining steam, and the prevention of a bad, intended plan, by the revival of this building’s purpose is a great cause. Urbanists are committed to the cessation of suburban sprawl pattern land development, and committed to the preservation of the dense and historic character of the cities they call home. This is an issue that should not be ignored by committed urbanists, and therefore there should be enough will, talent, and commitment from urbanists to show the Archdiocese how alive this building can once again be, and perhaps even a greater building than it was before.

  2. Jimmy Z says:

    Timing is everything, followed by finding a viable use for the existing structure. If it’s a parking lot for 5 years or less AND the next use is “better”, hey, it’s their property, they paid a lot for it, and they deserve to be able to use it. But, IF a viable reuse can be found for the existing structure, I’m all in favor of trying to save it, as well. What I do/would object to is simply trying to save it without having a viable reuse figured out. It’s one of too many vacant structures in St. Louis, and we do ourselves a huge disservice trying to save every one of them on architectural merit alone. Our real fight is finding and keeping jobs and employers.

  3. Chris says:

    I’ve been told by reliable sources that there ARE people who want to buy the San Luis. The same old BS about individual property rights bores me. Due to the sensitive nature of real estate we can’t just be blabbing about their identities on the internet. You do not have the right to do whatever you want to your property if it hurts other people’s quality of life. A parking lot at that corner would damage the very fabric of the neighborhood. How would you feel if your neighbor demolished his house for a parking lot? I bet you wouldn’t be championing individual property rights then, would you?

  4. Jackson says:

    “…and we do ourselves a huge disservice trying to save every one of them on architectural merit alone. Our real fight is finding and keeping jobs and employers.”

    Why can’t we preserve our built environment while we figure out how to keep jobs and employers?

    Should we level the city while we’re waiting for it to fill up again?

  5. jason says:

    just had a good discussion about this with @robhahn on twitter. Check it out on our pages. Question is- How long have they (the Archdiocese) owned the building, and what would it take to buy it from them for development possibly? my thought is that its not a money thing, but something they are just going to do with little regard for anyone else’s input.


  6. Jimmy Z says:

    You’re missing my point. I have huge objections IF the parking lot is meant to be permanent. However, parking lots, especially in locations like this, are logical interim uses. They serve a purpose, they’re easy to maintain, and in my mind, are preferable to a weedy vacant lot surrounded by a chain link fence.
    I’m also a lot like Steve. I like the building as an architectural statement, but I question its context in the rest of the neighborhood. We (I?) don’t know what the Archdiocese has planned, other than some non-specific mixed-use development in the “future”. That’s why I said timing is critical. Are we talking two years, ten or twenty?
    Yes, we have more questions than answers. Is that a valid reason to try and stop its demolition? And while there may be willing buyers for the structure, should the Archdiocese be compelled to sell? Private property rights may be “boring”, but they’re one of the conerstones of our country. We also, obviously, each have our opinions – so whose are more “correct”?
    Sure, we can “preserve our built environment while we figure out how to keep jobs and employers”. That was my other point. IF a viable reuse can be found for the existing structure, it will likely provide either more housing and/or more jobs. But without a viable new use, it becomes just another vacant building, something we have too many of already.
    Preservation is more than putting something, especially a building, in a museum, and preservation of the near past is especially challenging. I get it, to many people, it’s old enough to be dated, worn out, un(der)appreciated and just old, yet it’s not old enough to be thought of as particularily special or truly historic. That’s why I keep pushing the pragmatic side of the equation. “Make it a park” or “Don’t tear it down” is easy to say when a) you don’t own it, b) you didn’t pay good money for it, and c) you’re not liable if someone gets hurt or killed or the tax man comes knocking.
    Preservation takes education. It many times requires a fresh perspective, as well. Face it, the Archdiocese is tired of trying to make the old building “work”, plus they need more parking. They already own it, it’s next door, so their “solution” is a pretty logical one. Selling it, especially with no other likely parcels available to provide more parking nearby, also makes little sense in their world. If the building needs to be saved, it’s going to take more than arguing its architectural merits, it’s going to take either finding more parking nearby (which will likely come with NIMBY) for the Archdiocese or convincing them to move some of their operations to another site (a closed parish? with its own set of NIMBY issues?). Plus, more than few local residents would LIKE to see the “concrete hulk” go away and be replaced by “more-appropriate” brick veneer structures!

  7. Jimmy Z is preaching to the choir here. I can think of few active St. Louis preservationists who want to put a building in a museum, aside from Bob Cassilly or Larry Giles. This is the 21st century, and preservation politics have changed a lot since the 1970s. Today, actually, most preservationists are practitioners — most aren’t people like me but neighborhood residents who live in historic buildings, developers, planners and even elected officials. Some are preservationists because they love great architecture (and where is the shame in that, since we are not purely economic creatures?), some are natural-resource conservationists, some just want great neighborhoods, some want to make millions of dollars and know old buildings are a good route and some want to safeguard resources the city has the rest of the region does not. (By the way, most of the preservation practitioners post less than one blog comment per month and their names probably would not ring a cyber-bell.)

  8. john w. says:

    Thanks again for the lecture, and for the assumption that passion for the preservation of a strong urban fabric or particular buildings must be result of blinding naivete. Is a grassroots and growing effort filled with amateurs poking around to expose the particulars of land development? Of course. Advocacy almost always begins this way, eventually catching the attention of those in positions of influence or special expertise, and in absence of the practiced capabilities of the influential or expertly special the case for preservation must be built on the foundation of advocacy. Is there the very real possibility that strong efforts by urbanist advocates will not be rewarded, and that the property owners will only shrug and summarily exercise the right of ownership per their ‘logical’ plan? Of course.
    Along the way, however long it may be sustained, advocates in a preservation effort will become effectively conversant in the language of land development as required, and this is only natural. Some groundwork, however small it may seem at this stage, is already underway regarding administrative matters, but at this early stage the focus is on public awareness and message outreach. Don’t confuse an incipient civic advocacy effort for the antics of bored rabble-rousers without anything better to do. This could very well be much ado about something, but we won’t know until available avenues are thoroghly explored.

  9. Lindsey says:

    Yes, thanks Jimmy Z. for the poetics concerning preservation, but the driving trend in that field has been practical reuse for years. Advocates for the San Luis haven’t just been chanting “save it,” they’ve been citing examples of other mid-century motels across the nation which have been rehabbed into thriving, prosperous establishments and have performed a successful eligibility assessment to show that the building’s restoration could be facilitated by state and federal historic tax credits, among other things. There are plenty of viable uses for the San Luis, all of which would provide far more jobs than a surface lot and all of which would serve the greater neighborhood far more than the alternative, which would only serve the Archdiocese. And this isn’t a matter of relativism and “who’s to say what’s right,” it’s a matter of common sense – there isn’t a need for more parking, which many residents and parishioners alike have stated, and there is a parking structure at Euclid and Lindell just one block further west which is already available to the high school and the Cathedral. Touting property rights and throwing the “you didn’t pay for” bit in the context of preserving our shared built environment, which affects and belongs to us all (thus the many zoning, preservation, and cultural property laws in existence), misses the point entirely.

  10. Randy V. says:

    The notion that “it’s their property and they can do whatever they want with it” is pure garbage. Yes, it is their property, but this building falls within the CWE Historic District, which means any alterations to the building must be reviewed by the Preservation Board. It is no different than if I wanted to paint my house bright pink and park a Monte Carlo on my front lawn. It’s my property and I own it, but I can’t do whatever I want with it.

    The San Luis is ripe for rehab/reuse. Given the fact that it represents an uncommon architectural style in this city makes it all the more interesting and worth saving. People in this city need to start thinking outside the box. Turn-of-the-century buildings are not the only ones that hold historic value. Use your imagination– the San Luis is a sex machine just waiting to be tamed!

  11. We’ve proposed a good amount of substance regarding our vision for the San Luis on our website http://www.noparkinglotonlindell.com. And you will see more to come in the near future. We believe in preservation not for the sake of preservation, but because it’s an economic and architectural asset to the Central West End. Its demolition would devalue the neighborhood and squander the opportunity for a great hotel or residential development. What’s being proposed isn’t a building. And even if we had a tower proposal, demolition for a new building, of similar use, doesn’t sound very green. This building is not a structural hazard. It still holds much utility and has not reached it’s end of life by far.

  12. history? says:

    I think Jimmy Z is right. The building is old and empty. Why keep it around? Parking is a great use of space until a nice new building can be built.

    It’s kind of like the Century Building. It was really old, and apparently the owners had no use for it. It’s a good thing they had the right to tear it down. And turns out, it’s a great place for parking! Maybe someday we can have a shiny new building there too.

    {slp — Many formerly old & empty buildings have new life these days — Union Station, The Paul Brown, Ludwig, numerous warehouses along Washington Ave, The Fox, The Coronado, etc….]

  13. Jimmy Z says:

    Getting back to Steve’s original concern, the relationship to the street, after looking at the aerial photos and the other websites, it looks like any new structure would have to have a similar footprint – everything else on both sides is equally set back from Lindell. The big difference is that most of them haven’t been using their front “yards” as parking lots, like this hotel/senior housing always has. So, if the San Luis is preserved, its front-yard parking would, technically, need to be preserved, as well, to “respect” the original design. But if it were demolished, how likely would it be for the city to require that any parking, either as a surface lot or in a new development, be placed behind the current setback line, recovering the setback area as green space?
    Bottom line, this is nice mid-century building, but it’s not the most noteworthy, either in this neighborhood or in the city as a whole. I think we all agree that we don’t want to see a new “permanent” surface paking lot going in, even if it’s nicely and highly landscaped. Where we apparently differ, greatly, is the wisdom/need of saving and reusing the existing structure. Can it be done? Sure – anything is possible with time and money and compromise. Should it? I really don’t know. Given the relatively low floor-to-floor heights and its relatively shallow bay depths, the most logical reuse would be for either apartments or condos or for a boutique hotel. While it could be repurposed as an office building, it wouldn’t be very efficient. But as for being green, give me a break – an uninsulated, single-pane curtain wall system is not green. Uninsulated concrete is not green, either. And changing either affects the historic character of the building!
    The big challenge here is an institutional owner (and not just because they’re a church). Institutions, be they the Archdiocese, SLU, Wash U or Monsanto, when it comes to real estate, like to control their destinies. This parcel is contiguous to an important asset of theirs; convincing them to sell now will be challenging, to put it mildly. So, the only way to realistically hope to “save” the structure is to figure out what would work for THEM! A retirement home for priests and nuns? An income stream from a boutique hotel? Off-campus student housing for a nearby university? SRO hotel for the homeless?
    Just remember that the Archdiocese is facing the same economic challenges as everyone else. They’re shutting down and selling off parishes. They have a hard time getting financing. Recent court cases haven’t been going their way. IF the building were working for them and/or didn’t have some significant deferred maintenance issues, demolition would be less of a reality. But (my guess) is that cost of fixing whatever’s currently wrong is simply too high to justify. It’s going to cost them some significant dollars to tear it down, plus more to do the parking “right”, so it’s not a decision that’s being made lightly. But, ultimately, if there are significant structural issues (and not uncommon for concrete buildings of this age), demolition may, unfortunately, be the only real “answer”.

  14. Chris says:

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. I supposed we could demolish the building, wait five, ten or twenty years and build something new. Can you at least admit that we’re right when fifty years from now the site is still a parking lot, because “things just never quite got off the ground” at the archdiocese?

  15. The archdiocese does need sources of revenue and a high school parking lot hardly provides that when compared to a newly rehabbed historic building.

  16. High Noon says:

    “Bottom line, this is nice mid-century building, but it’s not the most noteworthy, either in this neighborhood or in the city as a whole. I think we all agree that we don’t want to see a new ‘permanent’ surface paking lot going in, even if it’s nicely and highly landscaped. Where we apparently differ, greatly, is the wisdom/need of saving and reusing the existing structure.”

    Yes, 12:00 p.m. is noon.

    “The big challenge here is an institutional owner (and not just because they’re a church). Institutions, be they the Archdiocese, SLU, Wash U or Monsanto, when it comes to real estate, like to control their destinies. This parcel is contiguous to an important asset of theirs; convincing them to sell now will be challenging, to put it mildly.”

    Yes, 12:00 p.m. is noon.

    “Just remember that the Archdiocese is facing the same economic challenges as everyone else. They’re shutting down and selling off parishes. They have a hard time getting financing.”

    Yes, 12:00 p.m. is noon.

    Jimmy Z., how much do you know about this subject? Have you talked to the No Parking Lot on Lindell folks, or even e-mailed them? Have you talked to the AD? Gone to any of the public meetings on the issue? I appreciate your interest but find your lengthy comments to be poorly-informed and detached from the actual issue.

  17. history? says:


    I’m a little confused. You seem to be implying that it’s a good thing that Union Station, the Paul Brown, etc were given new life. Certainly they could have been torn down and new buildings built in their place too. These new buildings could have been even better. They would be newer and better suited to 21st century living!

  18. john w. says:

    History?– You are more than a little confused. The home you now occupy is older that what is currently being built, which is certainly better suited to 21st century living. Give me your address, and I’ll come tear it down for you. While we’re at it, why don’t you drive your somewhat older car into a lake, because, after all, those brand new cars sitting on the dealer’s lot must be better suited to 21st century living. In fact, why don’t you trade in your educational background and current job, because any new job created is obviously better suited to 21st century living! Your new house could be even better! Your new car could be even better! Your new job could be even better! So what are you waiting for? Tear down your current life’s surroundings and get on with what’s newer and better suited to 21st century living?

    “It’s kind of like the Century Building. It was really old, and apparently the owners had no use for it. It’s a good thing they had the right to tear it down. And turns out, it’s a great place for parking! Maybe someday we can have a shiny new building there too.” — are you serious?

  19. dumb me says:

    #history?, you sound like you’re trolling. Is that what you’re doing? C’mon! You know these days that new office buildings are seldom built. You’re point is bogus!
    Questioning whether the rehab of Union Station was a good thing? Have you ever been inside the place? Or the outside? It’s the Castle Du Lou! C’mon!!
    And Jimmy Z, what about High Noon’s questions? Have you engaged the process at all, or are your comments purely academic? Oops, sorry. I guess I shouldn’t be asking if a discussion is “academic”, for I am too dumb to know the difference. Dumb me.

  20. history? says:

    I’m just trying to understand Steve and Jimmy. The San Luis is old, vacant, the owners don’t like it, it would take work and money to rehab, etc. This is the reasoning for tearing it down that I’m hearing.
    But then Steve thinks these other rehabs of even older buildings are good. I’m trying to understand why. Wouldn’t they have the same issues as the San Luis?

  21. Adam says:

    “It’s one of too many vacant structures in St. Louis, and we do ourselves a huge disservice trying to save every one of them on architectural merit alone. Our real fight is finding and keeping jobs and employers.”
    not sure how a parking lot will find/keep jobs/employers, except maybe for the guy/gal who sits in the ticket booth. most likely renovating the San Luis will create more jobs than dumping a slab of asphalt.
    also, who said the archdioscese has any future plans other than the parking lot? it is my understanding that this parking lot is to be, for all intents and purposes, a permanent extension of the new cathedral’s “campus”. funny how you can make even a crater sound urban if you call it a “campus” instead of a giant hole in the ground.

  22. Adam says:

    it costs money and produces waste when old things are torn down. there are not demolition fairies that carry old buildings away piece by piece to the planet Fairulon. but you know this. you are not as naive as you are pretending to be.

  23. Jimmy Z says:

    High noon, you’re right, my perspective is primarily “academic”, although I’m more prone to say “pragmatic” – most of what I know comes from the various resources cited in Steve’s original post, combined with a lot of years working with actual clients who have had their visions compromised by, in many cases, a vocal minority who had no direct investment in a project. I’ve also been involved in several projects very similar to this one, so yes, I do know many of the more prosaic and pragmatic issues associated with trying to save a structure like this. To quote:
    “Most Love-In attendees were not residents of the Central West End; those that were lived blocks away. This Love-In was a statement of a wider vision for the City of St. Louis, one where institutions and developers see that any action of the built environment should include its citizens, who are also its stewards and admirers. We are stakeholders, no matter where in the city we live, and we deserve a voice in proclaiming the direction of our city’s future.” Umm – in my world, that’s pretty presumptuous, and will likely lead to a lot of disappointments.
    “Unfortunately, due to recent age, the San Luis Apartments are not considered a contributing resource to the Central West End Historic District. Thus the building is not eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits.” So, even the government has yet to see the intrinsic architectural value of the structure.
    Down in my lowly ‘hood, much of the St. Louis Hills Medical Building was recently demolished for probably similar structural reasons. It had several floors of office space built over a ground-level parking lot (http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=6500+Chippewa,+St+Louis+MO&sll=38.589894,-90.307171&sspn=0.011774,0.019226&g=6700+Chippewa,+St+Louis+MO&ie=UTF8&ll=38.592053,-90.30163&spn=0.011774,0.019226&t=h&z=16&iwloc=addr&layer=c&cbll=38.592412,-90.301961&panoid=Ac3lJj6iVo-qzTlqu6w63A&cbp=12,144.35904472010276,,0,5) Unfortunately, the concrete columns were no longer doing their job, whether from poor original design, poor maintenance (either of which could have lead to corrosion of the internal rebar) and/or simply higher contemporary standards for earthquake design. Could that building have been saved? In theory, I guess so – all it would take would be supporting three floors of deteriorating office space while the ground-floor columns and their foundations were removed and replaced! Did it contribute to the existing streetscape? Yes. Was it an example of mid-century architecture? Yes. Did it make any financial sense? Obviously, no!
    As I said earlier, I have no desire to see a permanent parking lot here – Lindell deserves better. But I also believe, strongly, that neither “new” nor “existing” is, in and of itself, “better”. I’ll concede that existing is a known entity, and, absent knowing what the Archdiocese has planned, may be the better current alternative. Heck, there are plenty of other buildings out there that I like better (including some that I really like), that I wouldn’t want to see demolished. But there is a continuum of both quality of design and the financial reality of what it would take to save any structure. It’s way to easy to just say “No!” But as a property owner, I’m also very leery of the government interjecting itself into design decisions. One big reason I choose to live in the city is because there aren’t the same covenants and design restrictions one increasingly finds in the newer ‘burbs. I’m more than willing to trade the risk that other owners may do something stupid or with which I don’t agree with design-wise for the same freedom it gives me. And having done actual projects involving non-contributing structures in historic districts, I understand the frustration many owners feel when trying to meet a whole range of what often appear to be irrational requirements simply in the name of historical accuracy for a building everyone agrees really doesn’t “fit”!

  24. CWE Tomorrow says:

    Jimmy Z, with all due respect, you sound to me like a know-it-all. Your tone is a bit condescending to those who make valid points in favor of preserving the San Luis. You are entitled to your opinions, but yours are no more or less valid than anyone else’s.

    I, for one, am a resident of the CWE who attended the rally on Valentines Day, and I live on the block behind the San Luis. I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit idly by while a reckless landowner (in this case, the archdiocese) destroys the very qualities that make this neighborhood attractive. While you “wouldn’t mind a temporary parking lot,” you are naive to think that it would only be temporary. In this economic climate, there is not even a remote reason to believe that anything will be built on this site anytime in the foreseeable future. Look at all the other vacant lots that still dot the CWE landcape: Lindell & Euclid, Lindell & Kingshighway, etc. We can’t afford another one.

    It’s one thing to express your opinions, but it’s another to marginalize the arguments of those who disagree with you. You don’t have to be an “expert” in urban planning to have common sense. And tearing down the San Luis to build a parking lot demonstrates absolutely no respect for the Central West End and is a direct insult to anyone with any urban-minded common sense.

  25. Jeff says:

    Simply put– a parking lot on the corner of Lindell & Taylor would severely degrade the aesthetic and functional qualities that we all love about city living. Aside from decimating the dramatic streetwall (lined with buildings of many different eras, INCLUDING a former eyesore-turned-mid-century-hip-Hotel Indigo), it sucks pedestrian traffic off the sidewalks, takes eyes off the street, and creates lots of dark hiding places that entice opportunistic criminals. A parking lot is HOLE in the urban landscape. Yes, they are necessary, but not here. The CWE, for all its density and vibrancy, remains pock-marked with vast surface parking lots that would make Ballwin jealous. We do not need another one– not here at this prime corner location on the city’s most prominent boulevard.

    We all remember what the Hotel Indigo and the Washington Avenue Apartments looked like before they were restored– they were awful! Neither had the striking and commanding presence that the San Luis has. But both are sleek additions to the urban landscape because they were fortunate to be rescued by developers who could see past the shabbyness.

    Forward-thinking cities got over the parking lot craze decades ago because it’s a FAILED CONCEPT– plentiful parking DOES NOT attract visitors or residents. When will St. Louis wise up?

    P.S. I live one block away from the building, so it IS my neighborhood.

  26. history? says:

    Oh I get it Jimmy, you just don’t think it’s worth the effort to reuse the building. It’s not worth the time to see how much work the building needs. You’re right. That’s a lot of time. Oh, and now I see why you live in the city, so that you can do what you want and you don’t have to worry about others and what kind of buildings they like. I didn’t realize it worked that way in the city, but good to know. I think this guy named Paul McKee might feel the same way. I heard that he’s trying to build something big in the north side of the city. He probably got tired of the rules and interference of government in St. Charles. It’s good to know that the city is where anyone can do what they want if they own the land.

    Adam, we don’t have to worry about the waste from tearing stuff down. We can build “green” buildings now, silly.

  27. John Daly says:

    I don’t know if this has been brought up already but the homeless vet center might do well in that building. BTW, I can’t believe the City only received 3% of the stimulus money.

  28. Adam says:

    “Adam, we don’t have to worry about the waste from tearing stuff down. We can build “green” buildings now, silly.”
    yeah, the new biodegradable buildings are awesome. unfortunately the San Luis is not one of them. the “green” thing to do would be to not put it in a landfill.

  29. GMichaud says:

    The notion of supreme individual rights at any cost has damn near ruined America at this juncture in history. While no one wants government to take over, a new balance between social and individual needs have to be attained.
    Irregardless of the architectural merit of the building, St. Louis simply does not need another parking lot nor another street facade fractured.
    If there is the will, adaptive reuse can and should occur. We squander resources at an alarming rate in this society. And this building is a resource.
    Actually I am a little surprised the Archdiocese does not have more of a social conscious, for that is what they preach. Waste not, want not.

  30. Adam says:

    “Umm – in my world, that’s pretty presumptuous, and will likely lead to a lot of disappointments.”
    really? it seems to me more presumptuous that the archdiocese didn’t seek any input from their neighbors. that’s what you do when you supposedly care about your neighbors – you know, like jesus would do.

  31. Ross says:

    Which ward has the blog?

    I applaud Steve for engaging candidates in order to inform the citizenry. I suspect most aldermen would not welcome the public scrutiny that a blog would present. These officials fear the repercussions of their constituents knowing more about an alderman’s decision making process and stance on issues. Alderman thrive on being able to communicate to small groups of people because it enables them to tailor their message to this audience. It is often unsettling for them to have to address a larger audience because they know they’re going to have a hard time keeping everyone happy.

  32. Jimmy Z says:

    CWE Tomorrow – I’m not trying to “marginalize” anyone’s opinions. To repeat, a permanent parking lot is a BAD idea and one that I oppose. But I’m also the first to admit that I have strong feelings on the larger issue of using the umbrella of “preservation” to impose a limited design aesthetic on private property, and especially on entire neighborhoods. In your case, as an immediate neighbor, you deserve more input – any change will directly impact you and your life, and I doubt that the Archdiocese has either solicited your input, nor welcomed any unsolicited thoughts you may have had. But, the opposite should also hold true – have you ever approached the Archdiocese for their opinions on what you should be doing with your property?!
    The challenges we face as a community and a society, when it comes to architectural preservation, are much more complex than saying “freeze” this or any neighborhood in time and never, ever change it. Tastes change, the local economy changes, society changes and how we live our daily lives change. Yes, this is a historic district. So, should the architecture and the streetscape be frozen at 1920, 1940, 1960 or 1980 (or whenever the district was established)? And don’t be dismissive – this is a very fundamental question. For comparison, it looks like Soulard is being recreated to mimic the 1890’s. Is that what the residents and/or the larger city want here, as well? If the answer for the CWE is 1940 or even 1950, then this building doesn’t “belong” and should either be reclad or replaced with something that’s more “appropriate”. Otherwise, we’re headed down the path of the arbitrary and capricious exercise of government powers.
    I’d expect that something or several things were torn down in the ’50’s to build this structure. Is their loss any less valid than the potential loss of this structure? Should this structure be preserved as an example of mid-century architecture (remember, it’s “non-contributing”) or would the larger neighborhood be better served if it were reclad in brick using the traditional detailing of the 1920’s (maintaining the same massing)? Or, would the neighborhood be better off if it were replaced with something like 4545 Lindell or the City Library/parking structure? Should the AAA complex (further east) be preserved, as well? It’s the same vintage and contains similar design elements (but obviously has different massing). Or, to be historically correct, should the city require that the predecessor structures be recreated if the San Luis is demolished? Depending on one’s perspective and prejudices, any of these answers is the “right” one – the challenge then becomes one of who gets to make the final decision?!

  33. CWE Tomorrow says:

    Sure, tastes change. But one thing that remains consistent is the fact that the CWE is an urban neighborhood that must retain its urban characteristics. If the proposed replacement for the San Luis was a condo/apartment tower or some other urban anchor building, we would be having a different discussion. But the reality is that we are now faced with a massive surface parking lot. It is not going to be temporary. It is sure to be a dead zone for years and years if not decades. There is no indication to the contrary. That is the problem. I am all for new development, but in my opinion there is plenty of vacant or underused land to build upon. The last thing this city needs (and especially this neighborhood) is more surface parking at a conspicuous intersection. That only makes the area less attractive, and when a perfectly reusable building is wasted to make way for such an anti-urban use, it is even more backwards. Great cities would never even entertain this proposal. Why does St. Louis have such a hard time seeing the big picture?

    I chose the CWE because I value the sense of community here. Unfortunately the archdiocese doesn’t seem interested in being a conscientious neighbor.

  34. john w. says:

    Jim, after reading your last two paragraphs, it’s fairly obvious that you’re not very familiar with positions of those that have been supporting the growing effort to save the San Luis. Preservation isn’t an atomic bomb that encompasses all in a mushroom cloud of exploded development plans. Whether you want to acknowledge or admit it, there are very sensible arguments that are preservation-based, and certainly ones that critically dovetail with civic planning and city form advocacy like the case of the San Luis, and if you’d read anything beyond this very thread in the blog (and, in actuality, I’m confident that you have), you’d readily see that the thrust of preservation is not to save every extant brick or freeze a neighborhood in time like some diorama in quiet museum.
    Cities are alive and constantly changing, and urbanists insert themselves into the process of change when strong advocacy for the preservation of what should be preserved is called for, and when voice in support of progressive urban form is asked for, and when the prevention of bad intended plans needs prevention. I realize this sounds a bit broad to you, and you’ll likely again launch into another itemized deconstruction of what’s being said in my comment and the corroboratory others, just so I know that I’m not kidding myself, as your comments often seem to suggest.
    C’mon Jim… a temporary parking lot? You certainly know better than that, and after reading many of the comments you very often post on this great blog, sometimes as a guest editor, I would be surprised if you didn’t. The AD has no future plans to develop that corner site to the proper density that this important urban boulevard demands. Deferring to the numeric rationale of libertarianism in an attempt to appear to mediate between the interest of the land owner and civic activist and preservation advocates doesn’t persuade me to believe that you don’t see the merits of this preservation effort as equal or stronger than the property owner’s right to put a hole on major boulevard. What do you think of that limestone campus entry momument proposed at the corner of Taylor and Lindell? It looks like something you’d see out in, well, St. Charles or another county area because it is of SUBURBAN FORM.

    Are you still willing to trade in the risk that other owners may do something stupid? If so, and maybe you welcome the proposal of a green parking lot as drawn up by the representatives of the AD, then perhaps the city isn’t really for you after all. Urbanists are committed to the cessation of suburban sprawl pattern land development, and committed to the preservation of the dense and historic character of the cities they call home. This is why urbanists advocate for existing, dense, and historic urban character and form, and will continue to do so. This is why property owners who own property in an existing, dense, and historic urban neighborhood should expect at least some very well-reasoned resistance to a bad, intended plan to replace that existing, dense and historic form with a hole. We don’t want a hole. We will let the AD know that. We are working to find an alternate to demolition. We hope our efforts will be rewarded.

  35. Jimmy Z says:

    John, I have never said that I support a PERMANENT parking lot. If that’s what the Archdiocese wants to do, we need to oppose them. I also support, and have always supported, preservation efforts through the use of incentives. I guess where we start to part company is that I have serious concerns about preservation being accomplished through mandates, especially unfunded ones. Having done projects in historic districts, I’ve seen it from both sides, and what I’m pushing for here is simply more clarity and transparency. The San Luis has history, both architectural and chronological. The district has requirements for both contributing and non-contributing structures. The disconnect starts to occur because this is (currently?) a non-contributing structure. If it’s so “important” (now?), why has it never been recognized as being contrbuting? Bigger picture/citywide (and beyond) I want to see more recognition for mid-century modern architecture. IF we want to consider more buildings (including this one) as being integral to the existing fabric of a neighborhood (i.e. “contributing”), we need to be proactive and get them designated now or as soon as they become eligible. Waiting until demolition becomes reality is both disingenuous and unfair to the existing owners. They appear to be playing by the existing rules (however flawed they may be?). If you/we don’t like the rules, it’s the rules that need to be changed!

  36. If we had mandates for preservation then perhaps the Century wouldn’t have came down. As we know Historic Districts do not guarantee preservation when institutional forces are hell bent on demolition. We are involved because of this shortcoming.
    The indefatigable Lindsey Derrington, of Landmarks Association, undertook a preliminary evaluation of the building regarding its contributing eligibility within the CWE local historic district. It was well received. A full nomination has not been conducted because the Archdiocese can prevent nomination as they are the owner.
    Mid-Century Modern will receive more recognition and the San Luis happens to be an excellent catalyst for proliferating appreciation.
    Jim, thanks for your thoughts.

  37. Thor Randelphson says:

    The deal to be struck is a simple one. If the AD wants to level the building, that is fine. As a condition to approving the demolition, the AD must agree that the lot is temporary. If the AD does not present and receive approval from the Historic Preservation Commission for a replacement structure within 10 years, ownership of the site transfers to the City of St. Louis. The City can then give the land away to try and entice developers to make use of the site.

  38. dumb me says:

    Thor, I don’t know, but that idea of yours sounds like civic blackmail to dumb me. What do you think?

  39. Thor Randelphson says:

    Many municipalities choose to make such deals when going through the approvals process with applicants. Where approval from planning board, zoning board, or historic preservation commission is not perfunctory (like with a variance free subdivision application), there is much room for wrangling.

    While there may be legal issues with this particular plan, it really depends on the specifics of the AD’s need to tear down the San Luis. If the tear down plan really is temporary, then the AD ought to have no issue with such a condition. However, if the parking lot plan is the AD’s permanent plan for the lot then the demolition should not be approved.

  40. urbanReason says:

    So I didn’t have time to read all the comments here, but from what I did read I can hardly believe there is even a debate about this. I can also hardly believe that anyone who has been an observer of St. Louis development for at least a few years would believe there is anything temporary about a surface parking lot.
    Saving the San Luis, to me, really has nothing to do with the building in and of itself. It has to do with the greater good of the city in which we live. Surface parking lots not only destroy the aesthetic appeal of our city, their very allowance in each and every case sets a precedent for how land-owners in the city are allowed to act purely in self-interest with no concern for their neighbors or city as a whole. There is nothing good about surface parking as it relates to neighborhoods as a whole.
    Finally, I’m slightly appalled that the archdiocese of St. Louis has become so forthright in its willingness to admit, through actions, that it is purely self-interested. Their actions here are not about bettering the neighborhood or the community, they’re not about charity or good will. Their actions here are about business and increasing visibility, about vanity, and greed. Sure they’re masked in a thin veil of “giving people access to the church”, but as a non-theist one of the few things I respected about the church was their prioritization of charity, community, neighborliness, and good will over their own benefit. This is about none of those things, it’s about increasing their numbers, about selfishness and greed.
    The San Luis parking garage could easily and readily be used for the church’s parking wishes. If they were truly interested in the community and all of those things they supposedly stand for, they’d turn the San Luis apartments into a building that could give struggling, homeless families a place to stay in rough economic times while they regain their footing. With so many people struggling to stay in the homes, I can’t believe the church is talking about tearing down a bunch of them. The building could be used for so much good… but the archdiocese would rather build a parking lot as if they think access to parking will provide more motivation to catholics, patrons, and potential-catholics to turn off the tv, get out of bed early, and go to mass on a goddamn Sunday morning. I think parking is the least of their problems and their plans for the San Luis express to me a mixture of pure greed and ignorance.

  41. Jimmy Z says:

    More great moments in historic preservation, not here, but in Louisville, KY., as in “don’t ask, don’t tell” works out better in the long run . . . http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20090306/NEWS01/903060405/1008/NEWS01

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