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Fine Building on MLK Razed; Ward not in Preservation Review District

IMG_0062.jpgLast April the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects conducted a design charrette in the historic Ville neighborhood. During the event I scootered up and down MLK getting photos of buildings both in the Ville and in areas east and west. Upon showing pictures of this building to one team, they asked to use the images. One member of that team was Architect John Burse, a resident of Old North St. Louis and a member of the St. Louis Preservation Board.

Burse felt this building was a great model to show how you can mix residential buildings with commercial storefronts. Additionally, all felt the design of the building was quite nice with great proportions and detailing.

IMG_5456.jpgThe photos are all that remain of this building that, if rehabbed, could have made a nice contribution to the streetscape. Instead another vacant lot will join all the others along MLK.

I took this photo on Saturday afternoon and sent it to John Burse last night. Neither of us recalled seeing it on a Preservation Board agenda (again, he is a member of the Preservation Board). Today I looked up the property address and it is no wonder it did not come before the Preservation Board: it is located in Terry Kennedy’s 18th Ward in one of the many neighborhoods that border MLK.

I don’t believe any of the 18th Ward is in a Preservation Review District — a designation that provides for the review of an application before a demolition permit can be issued. I say I don’t believe because no map of what is in the Preservation Review is available online. I don’t know that one is available even if I asked. One can look up individual properties to see if they are in such a district or a Historic District but that doesn’t show what areas are, in effect, demolition zones.

The irony here is that Ald. Kennedy, as chairman of the Public Safety Committee, sits on the Preservation Board. Ald. Kennedy is up for re-election in March 2007.


Old North’s Pedestrian Mall May Soon Be Gone!

P-DMarch77Although it has now been a dozen years since I moved from Old North to Dutchtown I still have a soft spot for the area. It has been in the last five years or so that things have really begun to accelerate in the neighborhood — more rehabs as well as new construction. Proximity to downtown and friendly neighbors are among the selling points.

The most recent meeting of the neighborhood was this past Tuesday where the topic of the 14th Street Pedestrian Mall was addressed. For years area residents have been trying to undo the mistake made in 1977 of removing the street and creating a dead environment. Recently this has started to become a reality with the help of RHCDA and Rosemann Architects. But first, some history.

Pedestrian Malls where thought to be a the saving grace of downtowns and other urban shopping districts. Cities all over the country followed Kalamazoo Michigan after they turned created the first pedestrian mall in the US in 1959. It was in 1998 they reopened the street. For more history on Kalamazoo’s pedestrian mall click here. Boulder Colorado did a pedestrian mall at the same time as the 14th Street mall, 1977. They seem to be updating but retaining and celebrating theirs (link). Throughout this country most have been removed. In places, such as Memphis and Denver, these malls permit transit vehicles such as vintage streetcars (Memphis) or buses (Denver).

Anti-car advocates, of which I consider myself on the fringe, favor car-free environments. Where you have really high density this works well. Where you don’t have density the spaces look abandoned and unsafe. That was the situation with 14th Street. I never once felt unsafe there and businesses were open but it simply didn’t look that way. The malling (mauling?) of the street had the reverse affect of those that designed it — people were driven away from the street and area in droves.

14th St Mall Site Plan PresentationThe proposed site plan returns traffic and parking to both 14th and Montgomery streets — a much needed improvement. In addition to the new street improvements many of the surround buildings have already been purchased and will be renovated during the first phase of the project. Other buildings on 14th are privately owned and will not be taken. New construction is planned on vacant lots both on 14th and around it in future phases.

This project must still work its way through the various approval steps, including the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

I have some initial reservations about the streetscape plan but I will hold those back until I’ve had a chance to talk with the local residents, the RHCDA and Rosemann Architects. I want to congratulate everyone involved for finally getting a project to this point — I look forward to working with them to see it to fruition.

– Steve


50th Anniversary of Buses on Broadway

Buses on Broadway is not a long running transit themed musical but the #40 Route in St. Louis. Yesterday, the 19th of August, marked fifty years since the line switched from streetcars to bus service.

While I cannot, as this time, prove a correlation between the change from streetcars to buses and the dramatic reduction in residents in the city during the same time period I am convinced this was at least a contributing factor. Transit was and will remain important to central cities and we cannot underestimate the importance of this relationship to perception, population trends general health of the community.

Citizens for Modern Transit Executive Director Thomas Shrout, Metro’s Walking tour guide Melanie Harvey, follow urbanist blogger Joe Frank and myself discussed organizing an event to commemorate (mourn?) the switch from streetcars to bus service bus our busy schedules simply didn’t allow us to get anything organized. Besides, we had doubt that anyone would ride the #40 simply for the purpose of noting the anniversary.

– Steve


Update on Recall Efforts in the City of St. Louis

With all the election stuff of late it has been easy to ignore the various recalls that are going on in the City of St. Louis, a lot of angry voters out there displeased with their aldermen. The issue is not political infighting but development practices.

Freeman Bosley Sr., 3rd Ward:

Via Antonio French on PubDef: The recall is on hold pending an August 21, 2006 court hearing. It seems the recallers are challenging the legal authority of the Board of Elections to allow the subject of the recall, in this case Freeman Bosley Sr., to obtain affidavits from people to have their names removed from the recall petition. If the judge rules in their favor they will have sufficient numbers to place the recall on the ballot. This could be huge with widespread implications for other recalls.

Bosley has been a destructive element in his ward, choosing to unnecessarily raze many buildings and ruin street patterns. New construction has been decidedly suburban in character. Frankly he just seems too out of touch with what a city should be. He seems hell bent on destroying everything that makes the ward interesting, all in the name of progress. He has had his 17 years in the spotlight, time for some fresh urban-minded thinking.

Joseph Roddy, 17th Ward:

Roddy, who’s father was alderman for many years, inherited this ward. While Roddy can brag about the millions (billions?) of dollars of investment within the ward what he cannot do is argue that it has bettered the ward from an urban & livability perspective. BJC parking garages are costly but do not improve the area.

It looks like recallroddy.com was registered in May 2006 but no active website exists.

Jennifer Florida, 15th Ward:

Back in 2001 I really liked Florida, she was very involved in saving the South Side National Bank and she wasn’t about to let politics and ‘development as usual’ allow the building to be razed for a Walgreen’s. I was very impressed and worked to help get her elected. Today I feel betrayed. Did I misjudge her or did she change? Perhaps some of both.

In talking to several of those with the Florida recall effort it sounds like they are all re-energized following the elections on Tuesdays. Volunteers worked the polls in the 15th Ward to collect signatures. Many voters were eager to sign the petition although others were not so willing with her standing nearby. With more elections in November, March and April it looks like the volunteers are determined to stick with the recall as long as it takes. When the new McDonald’s begins to rise on Grand and we see the shuttered old McDonald’s this might attract some new interest. When she tries to push through the senior housing with little public input on the site plan, land use, and such the voters may finally get fed up.

Despite what the political machine may be saying, I am not “behind” these recalls. Do I support the recall of Florida, Roddy and Bosley? Oh yeah! But I am not orchestrating these efforts. I know many of the people running the recall against Florida and have offered them my opinion on things when asked. I am hosting recallflorida.com on server space that I have but I am not creating or posting any content — that is entirely up to those doing the recall. To those working to recall Bosley and Roddy I will make the same offer to you — free blog & email hosting.

I’m also willing to talk to potential candidates for aldermen in the city’s even numbered wards, the 14 seats that are up for re-election in March 2007. This doesn’t mean I will support just anyone challenging an incumbent. On a personal level I like a number of the current aldermen but I question the urban understanding of all of them. Who knows, I might actually support an incumbent or two. I will offer an “in-kind contribution” of web & email hosting to those I chose to support. Democracy is best served when we have more than a single choice of candidates.

– Steve


Penrose Park House Saved….Maybe?

Last night the Preservation Board told the city’s Board of Public Service they could not raze a house on the corner of the Penrose Park. That is not exactly true, they cannot deny a permit but can only recommend. The Board of Public Service may well go ahead and raze the structure.

From the Cultural Resources report:

The building is an Arts and Crafts red brick structure constructed by a private owner in 1902. It was acquired by City ordinance in 1905 when the City created Penrose Park and was used as a Park Keeper’s House until the late 1980’s when it was abandoned as a residential use and boarded by the City.

Yes, eminent domain was alive and well in 1905 when the city took a man’s 3-year old home away from him. Park Keeper’s houses really don’t work today given how park maintenance is handled. However, these structures are making a comeback as local community offices, arts centers and other uses convenient to a park.

Granted, the city does not have the funds to renovate the structure. I suggested last night they use the demolition funds to mothball the building until a use can be found. This beautifully proportioned house could be a major asset to Penrose Park in the future.

The city is in the process of realigning Kingshighway on the edge of the park and moving a smaller park road to the east of this house. Neither road is blocked if the house remains. The only issue is a natural amphitheater that is planned for the site. The Board of Public Service presented no details on the exact size of the proposed earthen amphitheater nor why it could not be located adjacent to the house.

A Friends of Penrose Park needs to be formed to help secure the structure and find a new use. This may well bring new life, energy and pride to this park. I can also see the cyclists that use the recently repaved velodrome in the park helping with the effort, perhaps as a meeting place for their functions? This building is worth saving for our future generations.

For more info see the Preservation Board agenda. Also, read Michael Allen’s excellent essay on this building.

– Steve