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Absentee Landlord Quickly Located Using Internet

This post is about an absentee landlord, how the city reacts to code violations, and a blogger stepping in to make change happen. I’d originally planned to post the property address and the name of the owner, but he responded to my letter, we’ve texted, talked on the phone, and emailed. Publicly embarrassing him would serve no purpose, at this point.

Twenty-four years ago tomorrow a prominent local family bought a property in the McKinley Heights neighborhood, they’ve been renting it all these years. The house is very attractive, and maintained. The carriage house, however, has been falling down for years, at least according to a neighbor. I viewed the carriage house from the alley, from the neighbor’s 2nd floor porch, and satellite images.

You can easily see daylight by pushing on the carriage door
You can easily see daylight by pushing on the carriage door, the entire structure is covered in vines

The flat roof has large holes, the floor to the 2nd floor no longer exists. When I emailed city officials to inquire about why this property was allowed to be in this condition, I’d been cited for much less. At the last minute in my email I added a sentence wondering if the owner’s last name is why ore if it was incompetence. I got called on that, and apologized. A couple of days later a reply comes from a staff member at the Building Division with a copy of the 2011 violation letter and a note saying the owner failed to contact them, failed to show up for housing court in 2011, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Wow, so a prominent last name doesn’t get them off the hook!

I got involved and within a week had the owner talking to the building department about fixing the carriage house. My secret? The internet!  The address of record for this property is the owner’s bank in suburban Ballwin, they pay the annual tax bill. However, it seems they discard all other correspondence sent by the city. I used the internet to find the owner’s home address, also in Ballwin. Before I’d heard back from the city about the violation letter and bench warrant, I’d mailed the owner a letter asking his intentions. I found his phone number online too, but chose to mail a letter knowing that would be less confrontational. He called me, we played phone tag a little before finally speaking.  He had no idea about the 2011 violation letter, the missed housing court date, or the bench warrant.

I got his email address so I could forward to him what the city emailed me, along with contact information for the Building Division, Cultural Resources, and a link to the McKinley Heights Historic District Design Standards. I immediately replied to the city officials I’d been emailing with to fill them in on the discussion along with how to reach him. The very next night the Neighborhood Stabilization Officer (NSO) told the neighborhood meeting the bench warrant had been served. With a bench warrant the police don’t come looking for you, but get pulled over for speeding you’ll be taken in when they see it in the system.

The bench warrant wasn’t served, as told to the neighborhood, I used the internet to track down the property owner. Most likely everyone at city hall followed their procedures, mailing letters to the recorded address. Waiting and mailing more letters. It’s very clear the address is in care of a bank. Many property owners have the tax bill sent to an address other than their home, sometimes it is the property itself. When the city fails to get a response from the first letter mailed to such an address they need to try something new rather than mailing a court notice to the same address.

How many other properties are in the same situation because city staff haven’t searched online for the property owner? The staff may not be incompetent, but the official procedures are if they don’t include taking a half an hour to do some searching online.

— Steve Patterson


Presentation: Neighborhood Change in the St. Louis Region Since 1970; What explains neighborhood success?

Two local professors will attempt to answer the question in the headline when they present their research findings one week from today:

The older parts of the St. Louis region have faced serious challenges in the past 40 years. Some neighborhoods have done better than others. Hank Webber, Washington University, and Todd Swanstrom, University of Missouri–St. Louis, will present their findings on St. Louis neighborhoods that rebounded from decline. The “rebound communities” will be the subject of future UMSL “What’s Brewing” breakfast forums that will take place in the neighborhoods with local activists telling their stories of neighborhood resilience.

Is there a secret formula for success? We can find out Thursday October 10th from 7pm-8:30pm, followed by a reception. The event is free.

Click image to see event page at Missouri Historical Society
Click image to see event page at Missouri Historical Society

The event will be held in the Lee Auditorium, lower level of the Missouri History Museum.

— Steve Patterson


Readers’ Favorite St. Louis Commercial Streets: Euclid, South Grand, Delmar, & Cherokee

Rarely does the “unsure/no answer” option go unselected in the weekly poll, but last week the voting was higher than usual with 145 total votes and everyone had an opinion about their favorite commercial street in St. Louis. Here are the results:

The intersection of Euclid & McPherson in the CWE
The intersection of Euclid & McPherson in the CWE

Q: Pick your favorite commercial street in St. Louis city

  1. Euclid (CWE) 32 [22.07%]
  2. Grand (South Grand) 25 [17.24%]
  3. Delmar (Loop) 23 [15.86%]
  4. Cherokee Street 20 [13.79%]
  5. Washington Ave 17 [11.72%]
  6. Other: 11 [7.59%]
  7. Manchester Ave (The Grove) 8 [5.52%]
  8. Morgan Ford 5 [3.45%]
  9. Locust St (Midtown Alley) 3 [2.07%]
  10. N. 14th Street (Old North) 1 [0.69%]
  11. Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

As I said in the post introducing the poll, I’m thrilled there are so many choices.

In hindsight I should’ve 1) noted I meant a commercial street with organized marketing effort  2) defined what a commercial street is and isn’t, 3) allowed 2-3 selections rather than just one, and 4) included a few of the ones below submitted by readers:

  1. DeMun Neighborhood West of Clayton
  2. Ivanhoe
  3. Macklind
  4. manchester ave
  5. the Loop and South Grand tie for me
  6. Castleman Circle (Shaw & Vandeventer)
  7. Manchester (Maplewood)
  8. Gravois
  9. Mackland
  10. Truman Parkway
  11. Hampton Avenue

Ivanhoe & Macklind are the two I wish I had included. DeMun is an interesting area…in Clayton, not the city. Interestingly nobody added say 2nd Street in Laclede’s Landing.

How did Euclid in the CWE edge out South Grand, Delmar Loop, and Cherokee? Probably a number of factors but the main one is likely the first mover advantage. It was Euclid Ave that convinced me to move to St. Louis in 1990, at the same time the other streets were nothing like they are today.

— Steve Patterson


New Construction Should Have Urban Form, Not Have A Forced Historic Style

The issue of form & style is a hard one to address, but this is exactly where I think St. Louis has failed over the years. The form of buildings, how they relate to the street/sidewalk, has been totally ignored.

Here’s how it often plays out in St. Louis: One story building set back surrounded by parking on a block with 2-4 story buildings built up to the property line. No problem, just be sure to wrap it in red brick with some stone elements so it fits in. Frustrating!

The other view taken in some neighborhoods is the new infill building, in the above scenario, should be detailed from the period of the neighbors on either side so the untrained eye wouldn’t know it was built 100 years later.  Also frustrating, they wouldn’t have done this 75 years ago…or 64 years ago.

The former JC Penny store built in 1949 on MLK in the Wellston Loop in the modern style with an urban form, rather than style of its red brick neighbors that are 20-40 years older.
This former JC Penny store was built in 1949 on MLK in the Wellston Loop in the modern style with an urban form, rather than style of its red brick neighbors that are 20-40 years older.

If the Wellston Loop in 1949 had a design code based on the one used by many St. Louis neighborhoods this structure, which I love, wouldn’t have been permitted. That is the problem I have with how we tend to define “fits in.”  Granted, this would be shocking to see on Park Ave in the commercial area east of Lafayette Park. Was it shocking to Wellston Loop shoppers in 1949? Very likely, but freezing an area in whatever period can be the opposite — boring or even offensive.

This 2005 building at 1801 Park Ave has an urban form but a poorly executed attempt at blending in.
This 2005 building at 1801 Park Ave has an urban form but a poorly executed attempt at blending in.

I don’t have the answers, I just think we need to give more attention to form and less to particulars of style.

Here are the results from the poll last week:

Q: New construction should…

  1. …have an urban form in whatever style the owner desires 34 [41.98%]
  2. …replicate period of surrounding buildings in some historic districts 24 [29.63%]
  3. …look like older buildings, so a lay person might think it is an old building 7 [8.64%]
  4. …NOT be a replica of an older style 7 [8.64%]
  5. Other: 6 [7.41%]
  6. …have any form (urban/suburban) in any style the owner desires 3 [3.7%]
  7. Unsure/no opinion 0 [0%]

And the six “other” answers provided by readers:

  1. New construction should entice people/business to want to be in and/or around itAdd as a poll answer
  2. This guestion isnt a very good one for a poll steve-o
  3. Needs to be complementary to existing architecture.
  4. modern and fit/funtion well on its site
  5. The owner should decide what his new building will look like. MONEY TALKS!
  6. not as simple as the other choices – more dtls req’d


— Steve Patterson



Formerly Vacant House Now Occupied

Architecture in St. Louis has grabbed my attention since that first day I drove in on I-44 from Oklahoma, that was in August 1990.  In March 2004 I attended a Rehabber’s Club meeting with a good friend, architect Dustin Bopp, in the Benton Park West neighborhood. Afterwards I walked across the intersection to admire a boarded up house on a large corner lot. It was built in 1887.

2706 Wyoming on March 27, 2004.
27xx Wyoming on March 27, 2004.

Beautiful, I thought. I could see past the boarded up first floor windows and the moss growing on the brick in the corner, imaging it when new and how it might be again someday. Life moved on and I forgot all about this house.

Then a few months ago I stumbled across the above photo on my computer and I wondered what became of this home. Was it torn down? Still vacant & boarded? Occupied?

Same house now
Same house now
Front view
Front view
Front entrance
Front entrance

I found out online that work began less than a month after I saw the house and in 2006 it sold to the current occupants. Last week I finally got by to see it again. Magnificent!

— Steve Patterson