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Historic Urban School to be Razed for Parking & Playground

February 1, 2011 Education, History/Preservation, Planning & Design 28 Comments
ABOVE: The old Hodgen is center left and the new Hodgen is on the right
ABOVE: The old Hodgen is center left and the new Hodgen is on the right. Via Google Maps, click to view

The old Hodgen Elementary School at California & Henrietta is to be razed, the exact date is unknown.  Yesterday I had to admit to two friends, when they asked my opinion,  I was behind on my reading.

ABOVE: Along California Ave the old Hodgen relates to the street whereas the new Hodgen does not
ABOVE: Along California Ave the old Hodgen relates to the street whereas the new Hodgen does not. Source: Google

The Post-Dispatch had the story on January 27th but the demo was one sentence: “The old Hodgen School will be demolished to make way for more playground and parking at the newer Hodgen Elementary School on California Avenue.” Michael Allen posted on the school later that day.

I keep hoping we are beyond razing our great urban fabric for parking.  The new school is tolerable only because of the existence of the old school.

Further reading & great photos:

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "28 comments" on this Article:

  1. Rick says:

    According to the post Preservation Research, demolitions of SLPS buildings are excluded from CRO and Preservation Review ordinances. Does the SLPS have a powerful lobby? I wonder how they got that exemption.

    • Douglas Duckworth says:

      Probably because they are a separate legal body from the City of St. Louis.

      • Rick says:

        I'm a separate legal body from the City of St. Louis, but the rules apply to me. Anheuser Busch along with every other private corporation operating in the city is subject to these laws. The SLPS was granted a waiver for some reason. Given they hold a stock of historic buildings, that's just odd. If it was for economic reasons, why should the SLPS be given special treatment over private property owners?

        • JZ71 says:

          Because they're, more precisely, a separate governmental body, with separate elected leadership and the ability to impose their own taxes – the old English legal doctrine of sovereign immunity. Not much different than the city not being able to tell the federal government, Illinois or Maplewood what they can and cannot do . . .

          • Rick says:

            So you're saying they don't have to conform to the ordinances of the city of St. Louis? The SLPS only operates in the City of St. Louis. They don't have the ability to impose their own taxes. They have the ability to request tax dollars from City residents.

          • Douglas Duckworth says:

            JZ is correct. The City of St. Louis cannot tax State and Federal Courthouses downtown though perhaps they have PILOTS instead. In fact perhaps we could maybe get paid for this demolition since after all under normal market conditions the fair market value would be higher in a private at arms length transaction. Someone calculate that 3 year assessed average from 2004-2007 and figure what we're owed. If the building is gone at least Slay, Reagan, and Rex LLP should pay the people their due.

          • Rick says:

            So you guys are saying if they want to put up cheap portable trailers or highrise office buildings on their property, they can do what they want because they're not subject to the ordinances of the City of St. Louis?

          • Douglas Duckworth says:

            I am not saying this is correct. The building should be subject to Preservation Review. At the very least school closures should be a participatory process where the public has a say. With the SAB I think they`re too detached from decision-making.

          • Rick says:

            So the question remains: why are SLPS buildings exempt from preservation review? Are we saying that if the BOE wanted to and had the money, they could demolish Cleveland High School tomorrow? Why not Buder School in Southampton or Mallincrodt or any of their other buildings? They have plenty of them, more than they need.

          • JZ71 says:

            It's the law. If you don't like it, work to get it changed.

            The best analogy is exempting casinos from smoking restrictions – those affected lobbied effectively to be exempted – no different here.

          • Rick says:

            JZ – I get that part. The question is how and why? Preservation ordinances in the city of St. Louis are a fairly recent thing. Was the SLPS specifically exempted from the CRO/preservation framework, and if so why? Or are they categorically exempted from lots of city ordinances, as the comments above suggest? I'm trying understand the distinction and the motivation behind the structure.

          • JZ71 says:

            I wasn't here when St. Louis did their preservation ordinances (I was in Denver), so I'm guessing that the laws here are similar to those around the country. In general, institutional owners (schools, churches, governments) don't want to be constrained by preservation guidelines, but also have a history of doing a good job of maintaining their older structures, so they were not explicitly exempted, but they also were not likely to be dseignated, either. Now that the implications are better understood, some institutions are embracing designation, while others continue to resist it.

            The challenge facing St. Louis is that probably 80%+ of our structures could be considered “historic”, as in being more than 50 years old, having architectural “merit” and/or being associated with something or someone historically. The question is do we really want to be frozen at some abitrary point in time, ala Williamsburg, VA.? Not every old building is truly important and deserving of saving, especially if it has no real use. The case here falls into a real grey area. It's an important structure locally, but the owner sees its site being more important than the structure.

  2. DoubleJ says:

    Did anyone read that it was remodeled in the 1990's and closed in 2003. This seems like a waste of resources and lack of long term planning.

  3. JZ71 says:

    This is a well-preserved structure that deserves to find a new life. But, as Michael Allen noted, it's been on the market for a while, for $1M, apparently with no viable offers. The new school has limited parking and even more limited recreational space. IF SLPS could find a buyer, then there appears to be vacant land to the north and/or east that could be acquired for their apparent need, using the proceeds of the sale. But absent a buyer, and already owning the land, the only fiscally prudent option left is demolition.

    This is by no means a unique situation. We have many other old structures throughout the city, some better, many not nearly as nice. The problem / challenge is that few / not enough people want to buy them and use them! Or, more precisely, they “want” to, but they don't have the money and can't find the financing to make it happen. So, in a perfect world, we'd figure out how to freeze time until the buyers return. Unfortunately, in the real world, that leaves the current, actual, owners hanging, with all the liabilities of an unsed structure and none of the benefits of an ocupied one! Sure, there are historic tax credits and other mechanisms available if a new use can be identified, but there's little available, other than reduced assessments and proprty taxes (which don't benefit SLPS), that help current owners who are stuck.

    The only way this dynamic is going to change is to improve the local economy and to repopulate the city. Real estate is all about supply and demand. SLPS is selling and demolishing schools for one reason, too much supply and too little demand. This building would make great lofts, but with so many other loft projects out there struggling, what developer would be willing to take the risk here? We need to get past fighting demolitions to figuring out what makes us special and will attract businesses and residents back into the city, in much larger numbers!

    • Douglas Duckworth says:

      There's no reason for demolition. It's sound.

    • Adam says:

      how much of a liability is an empty, newly-remodeled building? and it doesn't help that the street is closed off. have they made any effort to market it?

      • JZ71 says:

        Whether it's remodelled or not, it needs to be maintained, with minimal utilities and full insurance, and it needs to be secured and monitored. What that costs, I don't know, especially compared to the one-time cost for demolition. And, yes, it's been on the market: http://www.hillikercorp.com/Br

        • Douglas Duckworth says:

          Perhaps the Lafayette Square Residents Association could over these responsibilities.

    • Chris says:

      Maybe they should lower the price; that's what everybody else does when they can't sell real estate. Of course, too logical for SLPS.

  4. Glen Selligman says:

    That is a beautiful building. What a terrible idea!

  5. Ashley says:

    According to the agent who listed the property, several developers had interest in buying and remodeling this property. In fact, a contract had already been signed and things were moving forward. The agent cited concerns on part of SLPS over who would occupy the building and where more land could be acquired to meet the desires of the new Hodgen. This building should definitely be saved and restored and all other details can, I'm sure with good leadership, be worked out.

    • JZ71 says:

      I have no idea what the relationship is between Eads Park and the new Hodgen, but there appear to be possibilities – http://maps.google.com/maps?f=… – I'm also not sure what SLPS may have planned, if anything, but I would think with all their other underused and vacant properties that there would be little need (or money) for any expansions or new construction.

    • Douglas Duckworth says:

      Can we get Rodney Hubbard Sr. and Jr. on this deal to make it happen?

  6. Im glad this topic is being looked at. They made a good point on http://www.StlSouthCity.com that is worth taking a look at.

  7. Adam says:

    way to be dishonest, stlsouthcity. you've just assured that i'll never look at your site again.

  8. gmichaud says:

    It is absurd of course, but Mayor Slay has shown no real concern about preservation. The building is zoned multi family. Reducing the price is an obvious choice as was cited elsewhere. While I am no fan of state control of the school district, the fact this building was renovated, then abandoned indicates mismanagement beyond belief. What homeowner would invest thousands of dollars in their home and then walk away from it and abandon it?
    In some ways if the building is demolished there should people that go to jail for fraud.
    It is not hard to understand why so many people consider government operations to be a joke. This gives those in government doing an efficient and high quality work an uphill battle to convince the public of their true worth.
    Of all aspects of this, it is most upsetting that money was spent upgrading the building and now it is for sale.
    As I mentioned at St. Louis Rising, surely someone knows an alderperson that can introduce legislation to reform the law that gives schools a pass on ordinances.


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