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Preservation Board To Decide Fate of San Luis Today (Updated)

St. Louis’ Preservation Board will, later today, hear a request by the St. Louis Archdiocese to raze the San Luis.  Built as the DeVille Motor Hotel in the early 1960s, the Archdiocese wants parking rather than a hotel or apartments.  I’m not a fan of the building, but even vacant it is preferable to a parking lot.

The Archdiocese must demonstrate that it is not feasible to rehab the structure. Most likely they will present information to this effect.  The full criteria is in the City’s report to the Preservation Board.  Opponents of the demolition need to stick to the established criteria in the applicable ordinances.

The Preservation Board meeting is scheduled to start at 4pm today (6/22/2009) at 1015 Locust Suite 1200.  This item is the 5th on the agenda.  Those wishing to address the Preservation Board must arrive early and sign in.  I have a presentation in class tonight so I will not be able to attend.  I may stop by after class.

If I were a gambling man I’d say they vote to permit demolition.  It somewhat depends upon which members are absent from the meeting.

– Steve Patterson

Update 6/22/2009 @ 10:30pm — The Preservation Board tonight just before 10pm voted 3-2 to grant preliminary approval to the demolition and construction of a surface parking lot.  I’ve never felt any passion for the building but I do feel strongly against surface parking at this location.  In the end it came down to the fact the Archdioses refused to consider anything other than what they wanted.  I would have denied their request — eventually they would be willing to compromise — getting the parking they want in a renovated & occupuied building.


Currently there are "45 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jimmy Z says:

    I fall into the camp that you gotta play by the rules, and if you don’t like the rules, get ’em changed! As the report states “The building is part of an enclave of structures constructed on and around Lindell Blvd. and Taylor Avenue in the mid-20th Century, all of which retain aspects of the distinctive International Style influence of the period. This small group is surrounded by the larger historic district which is comprised of two and one half story Revival style houses on the surrounding streets and large Revival Style apartment buildings facing Lindell. . . . The Central West End Historic District was certified by the National Park Service as a District comprised of late 19th and early 20th Century revival style historic buildings. Although the building may have gained significance during the years between the District’s original certification in 1974 and the present, the building was not considered ‘Contributing” to the District when originally created.” There are multiple issues at play here, including the government’s right/need to control how a private property owner “gets” to use their property and the arbitrary nature of historic districts/the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    Most private property owners are driven by the bottom line. They buy property to use it, not just to look at it (it ain’t art). And in most cases, it’s in the government’s best interest to see propertry maintained and put to its highest appropriate use. People buy a building to a) use it for what it’s being used for now, b) to convert it to a different use, or c) to tear it down and to put the ground to a different use. In most cases, if one’s being planned, a new use will be a “higher and better” use than the existing use (at least in the owner’s mind). The crux of the argument here is whether or not a parking lot, even a “temporary” one, is a “better” use than a vacant hotel. (Personally, I think that it’d be great if a way could be found to either repurpose the existing structure or to quickly build an “appropriate” mixed-use structure that fits into the district, but I also have significant reservations about the government being able to “tell” a property owner “no”, you can’t demolish this structure, especially when the structure is [and has been for 35 years] defined as “non-contributing”!)

    Which gets to my second point – creating historic “districts”, unlike designating historic structures, is rife with arbitrary decisions that tend to come back to bite both the district’s supporters and the government officials charged with enforcing the district’s requirements. Urban areas are, by definition, organic – things change, hopefully for the better. Tastes change, and buildings that weren’t cool (“contributing”) when the district was created, like this one, many times become and integral part of the fabric of the neighborhood. And it’s hard to predict the future. Mid-century modern architecture ain’t “classic” early-20th-century architecture (which is what the district’s creators were trying to “preserve”).

    So, is it “fair”, 35 years later, to arbitrarily apply new rules and or a different standard than what was originally put in place? Or should we assume that a small group of non-elected people should have the authority to apply present-day “standards” to any design-review decision (which this essentially is)?! That, through training and/or experience, that their decision will be better than the property owner’s? Or better than vocal, third-party advocates with differing opinions? Should we just stick to the original concept, and continue to steer the CWE to a consistent, Revival Style architectural vocabulary?! Or should we revisit (every twenty years?) which buildings are contributing and non-contributing? And/or the basic premise (design styles/urban vocabulary) behind the district? If anything, this is a symptom of a much larger problem, the tension between people who are very comfortable with just trying to “keep things the way they are” versus people willing to risk both a little chaos and a few “mistakes” for the potential of both long-term reinvestment and growth, by allowing owners and their architects to creatively respond to both contemporary programs and an ever-widening range of material choices . . . .

  2. Kara says:

    Jimmy Z,

    When you speak of “people who want to keep things the way they are” are you referring to the archdiocese and the typical St. Louis approach of tearing down historic buildings for surface parking lots? When you speak of “people willing to risk chaos for long-term reinvestment and growth” are you referring to the interested developers who see economic gains through re-use of the San Luis? When you talk about “responding to contemporary programs and an ever-widening range of material choices” are you talking about using the Historic Tax Credit program to restore the building and the wide variety of approaches and materials that exist to make restoration possible?

  3. bassistonline says:

    Does anyone know how many parking spaces are currently on the property and if they are ever used? If not, why? It seems there are plenty of spaces around and under that the AD could use.

    What is the total quantity, unit mix, and square footage of the apartments? Anyone know off hand? While there is great chatter on a great many points for and against the building’s demo, has anyone but the AD tried to pencil this into a potential rehab project? I agree the building is “rehabable” physically. However while the signs and balloons are cute and may raise awareness, an alternative resolution that makes financial sense for all is really what will help build a case for saving it.

    John OB

  4. Jimmy Z says:

    Kara, unfortunately, according to the accompanying documentation, the building is not eligible for historic designation until 2012, so it’s currently not eligible for any Historic Tax Credits.

    I’m pretty much neutral on whether or not this structure should be saved (on its merits). I don’t want to see a surface parking lot, especially one that’s there for more than five years, but I wouldn’t object to a new struture of an appropriate scale replacing it (4545 Lindell is one recent, fine example), nor would I object to finding a new use for the existing structure IF it makes financial sense and/or someone can figure out a way to subsidize such a use.

    My real beef is with the concept of using a historic district to try and save a non-contributing structure. If a structure is contributing, fine, it probably should be saved. But why is this structure defined as non-contributing (too “new” in 1974, when the district was created)? What has chaged? If anything, it’s deteriorated over the past 35 years.

    Instead of blocking demolition, a more logical path for the advocates to follow would be to get it, and others of its vintage, defined as contributing structures, and back up that designation with the resources currently available to the owners of older structures in the district! As it stands now, it just sounds like a bunch of people who “like” the building trying to change their interpretation of the rules to fit the situation . . .

  5. “Instead of blocking demolition, a more logical path for the advocates to follow would be to get it, and others of its vintage, defined as contributing structures, and back up that designation with the resources currently available to the owners of older structures in the district!”


    We have that covered, but thanks.

    The Missouri State Historic Preservation Office, in November 2008, gave a very favorable assessment as to its eligibility onto the National Register. This was even before the Bel Air was accepted and shortly after Nooter Corporation, both Mid Century Buildings. This eligibility assessment was performed by Lindsey Derrington of Landmarks Association. There’s no reason to believe this building couldn’t be listed.

    Moreover, why shouldn’t we try to save it even though it’s not currently contributing? Are you advocating the removal of Preservation Review?

  6. Jimmy Z says:

    When I speak of “people who want to keep things the way they are”, I’m referring to the creators of the original historic district and the people today who want to see those requirements enforced, literally. I’m guessing, but I’m pretty sure, that the district had its origins in the 1960’s, as people became alarmed by demolition of older structures, dating to the 1920’s and 1930’s, that were being replaced by structures like the San Luis and and the other “modern” structures referred to in the city’s report. In the early 70’s, in a “perfect” world, all these “ugly” new structures wouldn’t have been built in the first place, and the existing WW II streetscape would’ve been preserved intact.

    Fast forward to today, and history is starting to repeat itself. Forty-some years later, and all those squeaky-clean buildings from the 1960’s and and 1970’s have developed a patina and have either become accepted by the older residents or are older than the younger residents – they’re now a part of the ‘hood. Should we now take a step back and take another snapshot and draw another line? History, by definition, is a progression. Is the 1974 the best and right answer? Should it actually be 1934? 1884? 2004? Realistically, we can only have so many Colonial Williamsburgs or Shakertowns, true architectural museums. For the rest of us, these are the communities we live in, and I, for one, think more flexibility, not less, is the best answer.

  7. Jimmy Z says:

    Design Review, given the appropriate criteria, limited scope and consistent application, would be a much more effective tool than Preservation Review can ever hope to be. Preservation “review” essentially says you gotta work with what’s there, we don’t want you to demolish. Design review is proactive and seeks to guide new construction in a positive direction.

    St. Louis is a city of old buildings, and every building has a history. We can choose, as a city, to try and “save” every old building, “because it has history”, or we can create a vision for the future that doesn’t include vinyl siding, drive-thru’s and convenient parking, and steer new construction in a more appropriate, urban direction. It’s easy to argue that every old building can and should be saved, and IF it makes financial sense to save an old building, why would anyone want to tear one down? The real problem is that, too many times, it’s just not financially possible. Sure, it “might”, in 5, 20 or 50 years, but not now. Do we actually want to increase the number of vacant buildings in St. Louis?! Just to prove we can?!

  8. Steveo says:

    Jim – I never, NEVER agree with you, but I do in this case. I think that a lot (no pun intended) of people simply will do anything to not see a parking lot at this corner. I can’t blame them.

  9. northside neighbor says:

    Jimmy, doesn’t it seem extremely short sighted to say that since the building doesn’t become eligible til 2012, then it’s okay to tear it down in 2009?

    Transport yourself to ancient Rome. What difference does a piddly three years make? I think the lesson here is, if you ever want to tear your building down, make sure a) that you do so before it reaches fifty years of age, and b) whatever you do, do not ever support the establishment of a local or National Register historic designation for your building/neighborhood.

    Think of what you’re saying – St. Louis is a city made up of old buildings (unlike somewhere, like, say Denver). Does it make sense for urbanists to work to protect the historic fabric of St. Louis?

    Understand that most of the city of St. Louis, whether on the National Register or not, would be considered eligible for listing. These are not arbitrary rules. The rules are clearly established, and most of St. Louis meets them.

  10. aurbaniteone says:

    I personally have always liked this building and with the right design/development company in place, this building could once again be very attractive. It would be nice to see more modernism in St. Louis.

  11. Jimmy Z says:

    Northside – no – I’m not saying that’s either OK or right to tear the building down just becasue it doesn’t qualify for a tax credit. What I’m saying is that if you want to preserve it, don’t play games to make the rules fit the situation. If this building is so special that the city should step in and preserve it, get it designated as historic, unique or something. Heck, use eminent domain to condemn it, it’s that special. But to say that, no, you can’t tear down a NON-contributing structure just because some people changed their minds and they now like the structure, pretty much at the last minute, NO! The whole reason the historic district was established in 1974 is that the people back then didn’t like these buildings!

  12. northside neighbor says:

    I think you are mistaken with your last statement. the district wasn’t created because the neighbors disliked modern buildings. It was established to protect what was considered historic then. It’s been a long time since the district was first created, so a lot more of the neighborhood has gained historic significance.

    A time will come when a McDonald’s drive through gains historic significance. Sound crazy? Just look at the interest in protecting Route 66 vintage roadside inns and gas stations from the 1930s-1950s.

    The 70s may seem like a low-ebb in terms of American design excellence, but we are all getting on in years, and even the retro looks of the 70s starts to gain in appreciation and signficance as time goes by.

  13. Jimmy Z says:

    So where should the line be drawn? In the sand? Are all structures in a district reevaluated every 20 years or so? Do structures switch from non-contributing to contributing after 30 or 40 years?

    I think we all kind of agree that a) this structure has some architectural signifigance, and b) that a surface parking lot, especially a quasi-permanent one, is not a great replacement for it. Where we part company is how to best accomplish our goal of reasonably “protecting” the existing structures and to reasonably allow an incremental amount of “change”.

    I have no problem designating individual structures as architecturally unique or historic, nor do I have any problem extending those protections to more-modern structures, even those that may only be 30 years old. I guess I just have a real problem with how “non-conforming” structures end up being included in historic districts in the first place, and how they get stuck in an increasingly-complex legal limbo, where, with age, they do become a part of the fabric of the neighborhood, yet the “rules” that end up being applied to them are or can be either arbitrary or inappropriate!

    I guess, as both an architect and a property owner, I chafe at the city/some board micromanaging my design decisions. Look at the other cases being reviewed tonight. One of them involves a very small structure where the owner, for valid economic reasons, wants to use two square-top windows (with round-top transoms) in lieu of round-top windows that would exactly match the original ones. From the larger issue of preserving the urban fabric, either answer would be right – it’s obviously more important to save the structure and the openings, yet the city/board is investing a large amount of resources to prove that they’re right and to force compliance – no wonder people are fleeing to the older inner-ring suburbs. If I wanted to be told what color to paint my front door or what kind of retaining wall to build, I’d move into one of those covenant-controlled newer subdivisions and put up with their petty design police. I choose to live in the city because of its, at times, messy urbanity . . .

  14. Laura WW says:

    With the preservation board decision made, where do things go from here?

    “St. Louis Preservation Board voted to allow the Archdiocese of St. Louis to demolish the San Luis Apartments on Lindell Boulevard and N. Taylor Avenue to make room for a parking lot. …Opponents wanted the building to be preserved.” per KSDK at 10:45 PM on 6/22/09

  15. Randy V. says:

    It’s getting more and more difficult to defend this city from its naysayers, and decisions like these are exactly why. This is a major step backward for the burgeoning urbanist community of St. Louis.

  16. Disappointed says:

    How many of the preservation board members were in attendance tonight? Was the decision unanimous? And, um..what’s the term of your average preservation board member?

  17. Angelo says:

    Jimmy Z is perhaps the best destroyer of solutions I have ever seen!

    In one sentence you suggest the city use imminent domain, in another you decide the city shouldn’t be allowed to do anything like that. Your paragraphs end up turning into massive equations that always equal zero!

    Do A, not B, do C, not A, do B and A, not A and C….in the end, if we were to read Jimmy Z’s comments to the letter, we’d be left with no options at all.

    At some point you’re going to have to make a decision, Jimmy: Do you give the city and the public the power over private property or do you give preference to property owners and have us all sit on our thumbs? Because you don’t like being told what colors you can or cannot use on your home; we have to see our city demolished?

    In reality, Jimmy Z, you are proving that your stance is merely a selfish….anti-community one. You may agree with all of our issues, you may be technically on our side, but be damned if you are going to go along with policies that might be used to keep you from doing what you want.

  18. john says:

    This is a pimple in the whole scheme of projects in the region. I’m against having more and unneeded parking lots but care much more about the central artery for the region and how it is managed. The “New 64” sets the tone for the area. Designed primarily to benefit truckers, it ruins the south side of Forest Park (one of our greatest assets), was approved by EWGC and clearly demonstrates that the community is against sustainable and more urban oriented developments. Another parking lot (what’s new?), at least this one will be permeable and have a few trees, much better than most. Nothing has been more destructive for the area than the New 64, so where’s the outrage when it is really needed?

  19. Jeff says:

    The irony of it all is that Steve Anrod, a reputable developer based in Chicago who has a proven track record in both Chicago and St. Louis (locally, Park East Tower, BluCitySpaces), spent 4 hours at the Prez Board meeting to express his willingness to reach a solution for both the Archdiocese’s parking “needs” while preserving and restoring the building. He was confident that there was a workable solution, and was willing to take it on.

    But alas, St. Louis politics had it in the bag before we even walked into the room.

    With all due respect Jim Z, since you didn’t attend the meeting, you have no idea how overwhelming the evidence was for preservation over demolition. This was a dog-and-pony show if I ever saw one. It’s totally embarrassing that this is happening in St. Louis in 2009.

  20. bassistonline says:

    I work for Steve Anrod here locally. I was there at the beginning of the meeting but left. We were interested in at least opening a dialog with the AD to see if a win-win-win could be reached. I spoke with the head of property for the AD and offered a few options before the meeting. He was polite about it, but it was very clear that they were not interested in a discussion about rehabbing the property. One piece of history that he cited (perhaps someone can dig up these facts) is that he told me that the San Luis was built there because the AD let go of control of that property previously to a developer. (It sounded like they owned it, sold it to the developers of the San Luis building, then had to rebuy it to regain control.) That’s how they got in this situation in the first place. Basically they did not want to repeat history and have to try and regain control of it again in say 50 years from now when they may need it even more than they do now. Hey…it was a long shot but we tried.

  21. outraged says:

    I think a big gap in the arguments for the parking lot is the whole disguise of being “green.” THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A GREEN PARKING LOT. The plan is to take the existing underground garage, which houses 180 parking spaces, and fill it with concrete to support the surface above. Then truck in dirt to make little beds for trees, build a huge wall to block it off from the street, and make the entrance adjacent to a new children’s playground that is in the planning stage. If you fill the whole underground hole with concrete, redeveloping the site after the A-D regrets this decision in 20 years will be incredibly difficult, let alone this is not a “green” practice. The renderings also conveniently show the lot with out cars, making it appear to be a lush public park. But it is walled off to the community and will be brown and barren for the 5 months of St. Louis winter. All those pretty renderings will be a sea of 150 cars on dirt and gravel in front of a stone wall. Good designing. Additionally, as presented at the meeting by students of rosati-kain, the parking isn’t really a big issue. This wal-mart mentality of building a parking lot 4 times as big as the building just to accommodate that once-a-year traffic is absurd. Let alone that as testified, the cathedral lot is almost always vacant during the day.

    The A-D had the head of maintenance for the San-Luis present an argument that the building was basically decrepit (after giving us his life history), which is ridiculous because it was voluntarily vacated and had no city violations. He ended his statement saying that his draft card was older than most of the people in the audience. EXACTLY. Only people of his generation are blind enough to support demolishing a perfectly reusable building for a parking lot, repeating the trends of “urban renewal” in the 1950s and 60s. My generation, those “youngsters” in the crowd, are the ones who have the burden of cleaning up and fixing all of these mistakes. The mentality has to change about how be build our cities. Parking lots should be a thing of the past. And since when is it such a bad thing to have to walk 3 blocks to your destination from your car?

    You will also notice that not a single person from the CWE community testified in favor of the parking lot. It was 20+ neighbors and concerned citizens against the demolition vs. the 4 people from the A-D.

  22. Jimmy Z says:

    Angelo – My point is more about process and less about this specific property. Do I want to see a parking lot here? No, and certainly not one that becomes permanent (which is the probable outcome). But I have a huge problem with government over-stepping both its defined role of protecting the public’s health, safety and welfare and the rules and regulations that it’s charged to enforce. This is a non-conforming building in a historic district. The AD bought the property knowing that it was not considered to be an essential structure. It wasn’t their fault that it wasn’t correctly recognized as having significant architectural merit in the 1970’s, nor at any other time, up until recently. In my mind, there are two better solutions, to both this specific property and to the larger issue of structures being replaced by surface parking lots.

    One, we need to establish a process to keep all of our historic districts current. I’ve said it before – tastes change and needs change, and structures that were once viewed as non-contributing become viewed to be as being more integral to the neighborhood’s urban fabric. Contributing structures are subject to both more-stringent reviews and are typically given access to financial incentives that non-contributing structures can’t receive. Yeah, it’s a pain in a** to go through the process, much like establishing the district in the first place, but at least it’s a public process – both the residents and the property owners are at the table, and issues over inclusion and exclusion can be worked out before the property owner has their plans complete and is attempting to get the appropriate permits. But to come in now, and to try and impose a higher standard on the AD, just because the advocates are only now (in the last year or so) getting their act together, isn’t a fair scenario. If nothing else, this should be a wakeup call to the lovers of mid-century modern architecture (me included) that most historic districts (that are more than a few years old) simply don’t recognize that many of these structures are indeed architecturally significant – if we want them to be “saved”, we’re going to have to get a lot more proactive in our efforts.

    And two, if we don’t want surface parking lots as standalone, uses by right, we need to change how we enforce our existing zoning code. I realize that Steve and others are pushing for a form-based zoning ordinance, but that’s going to take years to complete and get implemented. It would be a lot easier to just convince the Zoning Administrator (through the Mayor?) to more strictly enforce the existing conditional nature of surface parking lots in the F, G & H zone districts: “26.08.104 Conditional use. A use not authorized as a matter of right by the regulations of the district in which the use is proposed to be located but subject to being authorized for such district by action of the Zoning Administrator. The appropriateness of a particular use is to be determined based on the requirements and standards specified in Section 26.80. (Ord. 62588 § 2 (part), 1992.)” 26.80 states, in part:

    E. Standards. The Board of Public Service shall not approve a conditional use unless the Board finds that the use conforms to the following standards:

    1. The use will not be detrimental to the public health, safety, morals or general welfare;

    2. The use will not cause serious injury to the neighboring property by hindering use or reducing or impairing property values;

    3. The use will contribute to, enhance, and promote the general welfare and convenience of the specific location;

    4. The use will complement or be compatible with the surrounding uses and will not have a negative impact on adjacent uses or community facilities; and

    5. The use shall, in all other respects, conform to the applicable zoning regulations and standards, including without limitation the particular regulations and standards stated for particular conditional uses in the various zoning districts.

    If the AD had been told, based on these standards, that they couldn’t construct a parking lot here, the odds of them wanting to demolish the San Luis would have been significantly reduced. If all they could’ve done, following demolition, would’ve been a large landscaped area, they likely would’ve been motivated to explore other alternatives . . .

  23. Angelo says:

    The Preservation Board is granted discretionary power. It wouldn’t be overstepping its bounds by blocking demolition. It couldn’t act under the authority of the historic preservation ordinances, however, it also has the power to determine a building important enough to stand.

    When I went to the meeting last night, which you did not do, the only reason stated why the preliminary investigation of demolition was allowed to go ahead was simple: we want the building, but not that badly, we don’t want a parking lot, but the owners have stated they will allow the building to go to hell if they don’t get one.

    It had nothing to do with their inability to make a decision at all….though it was stated that it had no power to enforce the historic preservation ordinances on this building because they were inapplicable.

    Also, you don’t understand the term “non-contributing structure”….that in itself is arbitrary, as is the historic register. It’s a picking and choosing process, which was explained to you in full by other members.

    Non-contributing doesn’t mean “detracting”, it just means that it is not yet considered to be part of the VITAL cultural heritage of the area by the national register. It’s an architectural beauty contest, not a statement of negative impact. The San Luis is getting “runner up”, not “ugliest ever”.

    “If the AD had been told, based on these standards, that they couldn’t construct a parking lot here, the odds of them wanting to demolish the San Luis would have been significantly reduced. If all they could’ve done, following demolition, would’ve been a large landscaped area, they likely would’ve been motivated to explore other alternatives . . .”

    They were told this by the Landmark preservation society. Again, you ought to come to these sorts of things. I know they’re incredibly boring, but it helps to know what you’re talking about.

  24. Jim,

    As Richard Callow told Steve Anrod last night to “shut up” when he suggested a 99 year lease on the building, the same applies others who didn’t attend the meeting, haven’t been working on this issue for a year and a half, and only are familiar with the building from what they have read online.

    “This is a non-conforming building in a historic district. The AD bought the property knowing that it was not considered to be an essential structure. It wasn’t their fault that it wasn’t correctly recognized as having significant architectural merit in the 1970’s, nor at any other time, up until recently. In my mind, there are two better solutions, to both this specific property and to the larger issue of structures being replaced by surface parking lots.”

    The State of Missouri says it could be individual listed on the register, not simply as a part of the existing district. This means it’s Merit and probably High Merit. While the Central West End Design Standards indicate: “While there is neither one prevalent architectural style nor a dominant building material, there is a sense of scale, richness of detail and quality of construction, which creates a strong overall image within this district.” This is not only a turn of the Century Revival District. The ordinance was not enacted only to preserve those buildings and let others fall. Moreover, the parking lot violates the street scape: “These elements help to create an unusually strong “streetscape” which must receive special attention during the design review process.” Finally, the older buildings are devalued when fake green parking lots are built, just as faux-historic buildings which the Standards expressly prohibit: “Distinctive older buildings are not enhanced when new construction, which resorts to “fakery and imitation”, is used to fill gaps in the streetscape.”

    The Standards do not only protect turn of the Century Buildings. The State says this could be on the Register, moreover as history did not end in the 1970’s these Mid Century Building are worth protecting. Finally, rumors of an International Style only district were expressed after the building. But of course this won’t include the San Luis because the Archdiocese could block any nomination.

    As when Darlene Green initially opposed the Hudlin Park Deal, so too should have the Preservation Board. A better deal could have occurred as the current deal is illegal given the Central West End Standards, and also the Preservation Board’s Enabling Ordinance, while we have a developer interested and the Archdiocese could get their parking needs met. This was simply a Mayor and Alderwoman afraid to take a stand for the City against a owner who, unlike the average problem property owner, seems to have ultra-secure property rights beyond any community concerns or statutory requirements.

    The Archdiocese cannot be a “good neighbor” by creating another SLU campus in the heart of one of the most stately Historic Districts in our City. This parking lot does not satisfy their “peak” needs, while the San Luis clearly satisfies the needs of the 35 Rosati-Kain students which the Principal said were unable to find a parking space after the rest were full at the Engineers Club and other locations. If they actually want to satisfy their “peak” needs, then look for the more acquisitions and more “good neighbor” tactics.

  25. Jimmy Z says:

    Is the Landmark Preservation Society a government agency? If not, they have no real power, only the ability to express an opinion.

    I’m well aware of the difference between a contributing and a non-contributing structure – you’re right, it IS essentially a beauty contest, an arbitrary decision, typically made when an historic district is originally defined. That’s one of my fundamental points (that you don’t seem to be getting) – what’s “good” or “important” changes over time! It doesn’t require that a structure actually be on a national or local register, just that the structure adds positively to the texture and the quality of the neighborhood.

    The problem we’re facing here is that this district is now 35 years old. The reason it was originally created was that the people active back then did not like seeing older structures being torn down so that new ones could be built (not much different than today). In 1974, the San Luis was only 12 years old, and, in the eyes of many, did not contribute to the neighborhood they remembered nor the neighborhood they wanted (i.e., its definition as non-contributing).

    Fast forward to today, a couple of generations later – what was new then has “always” been a part of the neighborhood (in many people’s minds). To many people today, the San Luis IS a contributing structure. The problem is that no one questioned the old, inappropriate, “non-contributing” designation UNTIL the AD started to talk about tearing it down. Whose “fault” is that? The AD? It wouldn’t be in their best interest. The neighbors/advocates for preservation? Maybe. Assuming anything has the potential to “make an ass out of you and me”, especially when it comes to land use. The city, for not revisiting the designation? Possibly – they’re the ones that should know, but they also have a lot else on their plates – if it ain’t broke, it won’t get fixed/be a priority. The Landmarks Preservation Society? Probably, but not exclusively. Like the city, they have multiple issues and limited resources.

    I’m a big fan of mid-century modern architecture, but I’m also a fan of private property rights. This is basically a classic example of a flawed process, of trying to find a tool, any tool, to accomplish an end. You’re right, the Preservation Board has discretion, “though it was stated that it had no power to enforce the historic preservation ordinances on this building because they were inapplicable”. What do you expect them to do? Take an action that would get thrown out in court and/or get them thrown off of the PB?! Like Steve said, they have discretion, but they need to operate within the limits of their powers.

    There are two related, but very separate, issues here, losing an interesting older building and potentially gaining a parking lot. As the AD has made clear, they see the highest and best use of their property as a parking lot – they don’t want to save the San Luis, nor do they want to sell the land. The ONLY way to get both the building and the land out from under their control would be government action (eminent domain), and I see little political will for that happening (the alderman for this ward says she supports the church’s plans).

    That leaves getting approval from the city to build the parking lot they want. I haven’t been able, yet, to figure out the zoning is here, but if it’s in an F, G or H zone district (which it likely is), a parking lot is a conditional use, not a use by right. The AD will need to prove that “the use will complement or be compatible with the surrounding uses and will not have a negative impact on adjacent uses or community facilities”. Given that this is an historic district, converting half a city block could very well be deemed as having “a negative impact”. And if this is actually in an E (or C or D) district, it doesn’t appear that a parking lot would be allowed as a primary use here, at all!

    Bottom line, winning a battle like this requires looking at all options. It also means understanding the tools, knowing which properties are at risk and picking your battles. Life is short, and we all have our passions. I’ve fought a lot of these battles before, and I didn’t need to spend 6+ hours down there last night to see this decision come down. I applaud the people that did, but my being there wouldn’t have helped the preservationists’ cause nor would if have added much to what I already know about the wonderful world of sausage making, er, government . . .

  26. Landmarks Preservation Society?

    Try the State Historic Preservation Office.


    This isn’t a beauty contest. The demolition and parking lot do not meet the requirements of the ordinances — city laws which were enacted by our own elected officials at the behest of the citizenry.

  27. Jimmy Z says:

    Check out the last line of Angelo’s post for the “Landmark Preservation Society” reference, as well as his reference to a beauty contest. And if, as you assert and I suspect, a “parking lot do[es] not meet the requirements of the ordinances — city laws which were enacted by our own elected officials at the behest of the citizenry”, what ARE the next steps? Sue the city? Pursue the conditional use approval? Like I said, the city needs to follow their rules. If they don’t, there should be some SERIOUS consequences . . .

  28. Angelo says:

    Jimmy Z, once again, your inability to grasp the main points of my argument and faithfully construe my statements is not impressive.

    Douglas, as for the “beauty contest” statements, I was referring only to the arbitrary distinction between non-contributing and contributing. This fact was used to DEFEND the San Luis in many statements, while also being backed up with the fact that it is a contender for the arbitrary distinction.

    Also, I stated that the Board does not have the ability to use the historic preservation ordinance in order to save the building…not that there was absolutely no ordinance this could fall under. That I was convinced of, anyone stating otherwise will have a pretty high hill to climb.

    The parking lot issue can invoke the law you describe, however, the preservation of the San Luis itself would not be decided upon if that law were to be used. The San Luis would be preserved until someone came up with a better replacement.

    However, I believe that the Preservation Board has the discretion to save buildings without invoking a specific law prohibiting demolition…it could at least broadly interpret laws to that effect. That is not an unusual practice, it is actually necessary given the way our laws are created. I could be wrong, but I find it hard to believe that any agency like this is absolutely bound by strict interpretations of law.

    That is backed up by the statements of at least one of the Board Members, who voted in a discretionary way. One board member voted as a strict interpreter, two gave absolutely no indication of why they were voting in this or that way, and one voted against on the basis of the parking lot replacement…but did NOT state that he had to according to the laws in question. As far as I can tell, almost all the board voted in a discretionary manner, although one stated that he was strictly going by the laws.

    Jimmy Z can hew and hollar about government agencies loosely interpreting laws and using their discretion, however, there is no debate that many agencies (including this one) have the power to do this…..and to ask them to use that power to reach a goal is certainly nothing unusual.

    Everything Jimmy Z says should be done is being done, by the Landmarks association, by the State Historic Preservation Office…it just takes time. However, the power to stop demolition is immediately held by the Preservation Board…and they have every ability to halt demolition if they so choose. Noone has indicated otherwise, the Board never stated that its hands were tied…even the one speaking in favor of strict construction. He merely seemed to indicate that this was his personal preference.

  29. northside neighbor says:

    There is nothing arbitrary about whether a building is contributing or not. It is established an established process.

    The misinformation posted in comments is frightening.

  30. Angelo says:

    “There is nothing arbitrary about whether a building is contributing or not. It is established an established process.

    The misinformation posted in comments is frightening.”

    A building is up for historic preservation after 50 years of operation…..please explain to me the difference if it were pegged at 49,51…..45…55…Also, is a building only historic after the process has been completed? It needs an official stamp before it is objectively historic? Does an apple need to be put through a rigorous bureaucratic process before it can objectively be considered an apple?

    The term “contributing” has alot of meanings…and in this sense the term is being applied singularly, narrowly, and arbitrarily. Just because there is an “established process” doesn’t validate the process itself as objective. The very concept of “historical” is subjective, and the historic “value” of buildings is even more so.

    Subjectivity and relativity far outweigh the objective aspects of historic classification.

    Labeling a building, any building, as “historic” is merely a statement of subjective values. The same as labeling a crime “murder” or a street “blighted”. There are objective criteria that can be used to back up the values judgments, but in many cases these are merely supports and not the main body of argument or policy.

  31. If you heard Michael Allen’s testimony, you would know that the 50 year “rule” is not a rule and makes no difference. Buildings under 50 years have been nominated — and the State said the San Luis could be listed individually, now. That makes it at least Merit if not High Merit under the definition of the ordinance. The ordinance says that these buildings are not to come down, even merely Qualifying buildings (those that could be on the Register but are not yet) recieve protection in the ordinance and only are to come down under “unusual circumstances.”

    The fact remains that this demolition violates the CWE Standards, established by law, and the enabling ordinance of the Preservation Board, which was also established by law.

  32. Angelo says:

    I was in the room when Micheal Allen testified, Douglas. And while the sound was horrible and I don’t have the best memory, I did understand the general arguments of the various Landmark representatives and independent pro-San Luis citizens.

    I personally was not convinced that the CWE historic ordinance was applicable in this situation. It was pretty apparent that the ordinance was aimed against this type of building and towards buildings of the older type.

    At any rate, telling me that the 50 year rule isn’t even 100% solid does nothing to detract from what I was saying. It seems like you are now just arguing for the sake of arguing…because you feel that my conclusion detracts from your position.

    I am 100% in favor of preserving this building, I think there is more than enough support and evidence to make a reasonable case to keep it standing. However, I don’t feel all of the reasons given were valid….but as a whole the position of the Landmark association is the correct one, in my opinion.

  33. Jimmy Z says:

    In the context of an historic district, contributing and non-contributing do have specific, narrowly-defined meanings. In a larger discussion, shades of gray are inevitable, but when a district is established, every existing structure is classified as either contributing or non-contributing. Is it arbitrary and, at times, political? Yes, absolutely, just like how the boundary around the district is established. Owners who don’t to “play by the new rules” work to be excluded or downgraded to non-contributing. Owners who don’t care or want to see the district succeed, work to be included. Short term (for the next ten years or so), there rarely are few challenges – most owners were there for the formation of the district, and most preservation advocates were able to be heard. The challenges increase, as they have here, as time elapses. New faces get involved, and have different expectations and assumptions. New structures lose their newness, landscaping matures and tastes change. Buildings that once were “non-contributing” become more and more a part of the neighborhood, and probably should be reclassified as contributing. Unfortunately, there’s no real process and few advocates to get this done, and many fewer advocates than when the district was orginally created.

    The AD is not an uninformed owner. They’ve owned the property for decades, they know what it costs to maintain it and where all its warts are. They also own many other properties, many older, some the same age and some newer. They actually have more property than they need (with churches and schools currently for sale). Are they “gaming the system” by trying to get the structure demolished before the 50-year mark? By letting it sit vacant and deteriorating? I don’t know and they’re not saying – you can read what you want, “between the lines”. But they do appear to be playing by the existing rules, which gets us back to the original issue – if you/we don’t like the rules and/or how they’re being applied, the rules need to be changed and the district updated to reflect current standards and expectations. Expecting a board member to exercise discretion they don’t have is not realistic. It sounds like the real question now is whether or not the PB actually has “the power to stop demolition is immediately” of ANY structure in an historic district. If they do, it IS up to the discretion of the board members present. If they don’t, they can opine and suggest, but they can’t order – the rule of law.

    The report states, in Section 47: “After consideration of the evidence, the Preservation Board shall make a determination whether the property can be put to a reasonable beneficial use without the approval of the proposed work [demolition] . . . The applicant and owner will present evidence that the property is in such a state of disrepair that it cannot be put to a reasonable beneficial use by the owner.” So, Angelo, since you were there, was creditable evidence presented that the property WASN’T “in such a state of disrepair” (the standard that had to be met)? Were other parties given access to the property so that a dissenting opinion could be prepared and presented? Or was the opposition based primarily on educated opinions and observations from the street? Section 48 goes on to state that the PB can only consider “whether the proposed work would adversely affect the characteristics of the district or site which were the basis for the Historic District, Landmark or Landmark Site designation, whether there have been changes in the circumstances or conditions in or affecting the Historic District, Landmark or Landmark Site since its designation, and other relevant considerations, such as the availability of economically feasible alternatives to the proposed work. The Central West End Historic District was certified by the National Park service as a District comprised of late 19th and early 20th Century revival style historic buildings. Although the building may have gained significance during the years between the District’s original certification in 1974 and the present, the building was not considered ‘Contributing” to the District when originally created.”

    I know you don’t like hearing it, but the board can only work within their legal boundaries. It doesn’t matter that there was a developer from Chicago ready and willing to tackle the project – he’s neither the applicant nor the owner. Have there been “changes” to the District? Yes, obviously. But since the original goal of the district is the preservation of a “District comprised of late 19th and early 20th Century revival style historic buildings”, and this building was defined both as non-contributing and is definitely not of the “late 19th and early 20th Century revival style”, the board members’ options ARE limited. If it were removed, it would both create an opportunity for the construction of more-historically-accurate replacement structures and would remove an historically-incorrect structure from the streetscape. Whether or not a parking lot would “adversely affect” the district is something that is apparently not addressed in their rules (and probably not anticipated in 1974). So, if you don’t like the rules, get ’em changed to meet your standards!

  34. theotherguy says:

    Has the AD been open to selling the property and has anyone been willing put up some real money to buy it?

    [slp — the AD refuses to discuss selling. Buyers could be found. One developer from Chicago was at the meeting on Monday. Very wasteful to discard existing structures for surface parking.]

  35. Angelo says:

    Jimmy Z, you maintain that the Board has no discretion when it comes to these decisions? Very well, we will just have to disagree as you are not even attempting to provide evidence for this position…just rhetoric.

    As far as the Board’s decision, one of the members who voted in favor of the Arch Diocese’s proposal stated categorically that they did not provide enough evidence to show that the building was beyond repair and could be put to no other use. There was alot of testimony from architects, developers, and the Landmark associates that the building could be rehabbed and put to use…either sold or used by the Church to do what they will.

    The testimony of the Arch Diocese’s representatives did not seem to convince anyone, except the representatives themselves.

    None of the Board members actually invoked section 47. The only reasons for voting in favor of the Arch Diocese were stated plainly as: They are not willing to either sell or rehab the building, they will either let it deteriorate or turn it into a parking lot. We would rather have a parking lot than a blighted building.

    That sounds like a pretty discretionary decision….but I suppose you’ve got evidence that it is not?

    Now, if you are going to completely ignore the actual statements of the Board…which I have paraphrased for you numerous times, you…again…will just have to argue your points without evidence.

  36. Jimmy Z says:

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, primarily on the issue of discretion. By definition, boards are given discretion within defined limits, otherwise a bureaucrat could make the final decision. Like I said, I don’t want a parking lot here, especially a “permanent” one, any more than you do. But if the real issue is/was the protection of the building, then this is a classic example of complacency. The building’s been there for 45+ years, the district’s been in place for 35 years, yet preservationists have only been active and vocal for the last 2 or 3 years. As Doug keeps repeating, a historic designation is different than a determination that the building is (now?) contributing. For whatever reason(s), it wasn’t deemed to be a contributing part of the original district, the designation has apparently never changed/been updated, and the PB now has limited discretion to save it. You may not agree with their decision, but the real issue is assuming every structure in an historic district is protected – they’re obviously not. If you, like me, want to do more to protect mid-century-modern architecture, it’s going to take two things. One, is the legal drudgery of identifying non-contributing structures that need to be reclassified, then getting the district ordinances updated. And two, it means educating both the owners and the public on why this is important. These buildings have been excluded and are being torn down for the same reasons the Century Building was, and many Victorian mansions were, in previous decades – a lack of appreciation and limited current economic value.

  37. Angelo says:

    Jimmy, everything you just said I agree with….save for the stance that the Board’s hands were completely tied.

  38. Steve Anrod, who did the freaking Park East Tower and Blu City Spaces, wants the building. He shouted a 99 year lease and Callow told him to shut up. City leadership shouldn’t defer to the Archdiocese, who thinks were all idiots because were not enlightened, when we have people with a proven tract record ready to get the project done. Los Angeles, of all places, embraces their MCM hotels. Why are we behind the king of suburban cities on this?

  39. GMichaud says:

    This goes back to developing policies that go beyond preservation alone. Consider the Unitary Plan of London. From Policy Strategy 22 “Parking provision will be controlled to discourage commuting by car and to meet essential local parking needs”

    The policies of city development should be realigned based on todays realities. If the city government does not take action then the citizens should develop a plan and supersede the government.

    The chasm within the Catholic Church is also great. The Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (in Kirkwood) recently hired a Director of Eco Justice. They call for “environmental stewardship”, “earth friendly initiatives” and the need to “support legislation that promotes a positive earth ethic.”

    The St. Louis Archdiocese does just the opposite, ignoring community, squandering resources, encouraging less, not more auto usage and failing to address serious concerns surrounding oil usage and global warming.

    It is not only the political leadership that is inept. The spiritual leadership of this community is also confused and wandering, trying to find its way.

    Meanwhile one incompetent decision after another is heaped onto the lives of the citizens of St. Louis.

  40. Jimmy Z says:

    Doug – The city should have the power to tell an owner, any owner, that they HAVE to sell or lease a property to a developer?! If I want your house, the city should make you sell it to me?! Sounds like you support eminent domain for economic development, to me . . .

  41. studs lonigan says:

    As much as I love this city, this San Luis/DeVille atrocity is merely the latest manifestation of a parochial, urban renewal-style approach to what remains of our “urban environment”. This mentality requires a good deal of loathing for the City of St. Louis itself: it’s actual fabric.

    It’s not even that people are intellectually incapable of grasping that the “cause” of saving this particular building is not necessarily rooted in its architectural magnificence. I understand that it has its admirers and that it is representative of a certain valuable, mid-century style. The ultimate point, however, is that it is an enormous disservice to a major urban boulevard like Lindell to maintain that a (hrumph, ahem) “temporary” (ahem, hrumph) parking lot smack in the middle of its most prestigious neighborhood (CWE) is an optimal use and is preferable to the eminently viable structure currently there. I think such decisions are made by and for arrogant people who simply are indifferent to the larger implications of the irrevocable deed. If they do actually ponder details beyond their own immediate interests, they simply do not care about them. This thinking applies to (ahem, hrumph) temporary softball fields, too.

    I can’t recall who said it, but one critique of St. Louis city I read years ago included a reference to it as an example of one “that doesn’t really know how to be a city.” That is, sadly, manifested clearly (perhaps clearest) by decisions to replace viable structures in key locations with dead spaces like superfluous parking lots and parking garages that, by their very function, themselves accommodate and reinforce an anti-urban mentality.

  42. “Sounds like you support eminent domain for economic development, to me”

    The owners said it’s blighted, yet had no code violations. So either it is “blight” or it’s not. Regardless they created the situation and are unwilling to remedy it by selling or investing.

    This isn’t some non-important wooden frame house. This is a prominent example of Mid-Century architecture done by a very prominent architect. If the owner of the Wainwright was letting it crumble, should the City? Should they have back in the 1960’s if they received opposition? No.

  43. St. Louis Neighbor says:

    Whether or not its blighted is not in question. “Blight” is a legal term and a practical one.

    There’s blight like the crappy neighbors who like to fight in the middle of the street. There’s blight like the crappy property owners who let their building’s rot. And there’s blight when the city approves a blighting study and redevelopment plan with the power of eminent domain and authority to grant tax abatement for redevelopment.

    The San Luis isn’t blighted in the legal sense (it could be) but it is blighted in the practical sense.

    And some might say that the demolition of the building is a blighting influence against the spirit of St. Louis urbanists.

    Blight – a disease or injury…resulting in withering or, cessation of growth, and death of parts…

    Blight – something that frustrates plans or hopes…

    Blight – something that impairs or destroys…

    Blight – an impaired condition (urban blight)

  44. john says:

    “The ultimate point is that it is an enormous disservice to a major urban boulevard”. Exactly but there are so many other and even worse decisions: expanded highways instead of protecting-enhancing green spaces (southern Forest Park & the New 64, the Page Extension), built an auto alternative (Metro Extension) but deleted the best alternatives to be provided by the cycling-jogging path, etc… the list is getting long.
    – –
    Think small, live small! It is a region dominated by small petty governments that continually demonstrate that the electorate and their chosen leaders “don’t really know how to be a city.” Infrastructure is destiny. Parking lots, highways, traffic, noise, pollution are unsustainable choices but represent our collective destiny.

  45. Angelo says:

    Determinism is just as much a social disease as apathy and ignorance, John.


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