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Parishioner & Resident Wants St. Aloysius Saved

I wanted to share with you a series of emails I have had with a resident near St. Aloysius. This person asked me keep their identity private.

Here is the first email I received from this resident two days ago:

Thank you for your efforts towards saving the buildings at St. Aloysius.
Our family is for the preservation of the entire block.

I was baptized at St. Al’s, attended and graduated from the school. My sister was married there. My parents were married in the “bowling alley” underneath the Gym, while the church was being built, It served as the church for a few years and if you look closely you can see remnants of the windows and where the alter was situated.

We are now residents of the Hill and belong to St. Ambrose Parish. We have not heard anyone say they would like a housing developement on the spot. It sounds political to us.

Thank you again!

I wrote back asking this person to “speak up” — that the alderman, priest and developer needed to hear from people on this issue. Here was the response:

I would hate to have repercussions.
This is definitely the way I feel…….tell me I am not the only one. I feel it would be painful to see buildings torn down!

I can hear this person’s pain. They feel like they might secretly be the only one that wants to save the building, afraid to speak out. I tried to reassure this person they were not the only one from the neighborhood that felt the same way. Here was the last thing I received:

I do not think that any of the three you mentioned in your first email [alderman, priest & developer] care about how the parisioners feel (We were never asked) I believe that they are own their own mission!

A little more bold than the last email. This time they consented to let me quote what they wrote anonymously. I’ve deleted only a few bits that might have identified who this person is. This is far from the only such email I’ve received on my efforts to save these buildings. I think many felt strongly about saving the buildings but didn’t want to speak up or didn’t know how to go about having an impact. Myself and others have got the ball rolling, we’ll see if they finish the job.

– Steve


No Deed Restriction Requiring Demolition of St. Aloysius

At last night’s Preservation Board hearing it was repeatedly stated by developer Jim Wohlert and Father Vince Bommarito that the sale contract required the demolition of the church buildings. This has also been told to parishioners and neighbors to get their support. Today I have documented proof this was false.

The Archdiocese has a standard contract and a standard attachment with only two restrictions. Such requirements become part of a deed on a property as “deed restrictions.” This is what was used in the sale of St. Aloysius back on 10/27/05 and recorded on 11/1/05. How do I know? Simple, a few minutes and $11.00 at the Recorder of Deeds’ office and I was able to get a copy of the 5-page document. It is called public records.

Again, the recorded deed only has two restrictions, the same they are using for all recent church sales. The first is the name of the church “or any derivative” cannot be used on the property. This means you couldn’t have the St. Aloysius Bed & Breakfast, the St. Aloysius Lofts or the St. Aloysius Manor subdivision. This restriction makes sense to protect the memories associated with the name of the closed parish.

The second restriction limits the use only while the church building remains standing. This prevents their church from being used as a place that would perform abortions, give tattoos or a club that sells alcohol. It also prohibits another church promoted as “Roman Catholic , but not possessing the express ecclesiastical approval of the Roman Catholic Church” from occupying the property. Again, this second restriction would be removed once the church was razed leaving only the first restriction of the name intact.

Earlier today I hand delivered a copy of the deed to Rollin Stanley, Director of the City’s Planning & Urban Design Agency. I also submitted a “Freedom of Information Act” request for the audio recording of the hearing.

If you’d like to read the deed yourself, just click here (PDF). The restrictions are on page five of the document.

The scary part is Mary “One” Johnson was ready to approve the demolition based on a contractually required deed restriction that, as it turns out, doesn’t exist. Even more scary is that I hear she may be the next chair of the Preservation Board.

[UPDATED 12/21/05 @ 8:45AM – I want to clarify a couple of points. I’m not a real estate attorney but I do have some experience in this areas. Agreements are placed in real estate contracts all the time and not every detail is recorded as a deed restriction. For example, the standard contract they are using to sell the churches permits the church to remove the stained glass windows and other artifacts “prior to closing” and then requires the church to replace the stained glass windows with glass windows. These types of things that affect a transaction prior to closing do not typically get recorded with the deed. What does get recorded as a deed restrictions are those actions that need to be enforceable after the sale has closed. In most cases, a deed restriction is the only way to guarantee the wishes of a seller.

But the seller typically cannot use a deed restriction to require a buyer to do something after they’ve bought a property as that is impossible to enforce. Futhermore, a deed restriction that is not legal (such as prohibiting a race from buying the property) cannot be enforced. Even if the church had included a deed restriction to require the demolition of the buildings, which they did not, it is highly doubtful in my mind they’d be able to enforce that requirement given that it is not up to them to legally determine if the buildings can be razed. – SLP]

– Steve


SW Garden Neighborhood Association Didn’t Know About Preservation Review Process!


The Southwest Garden Neighborhood Association, where St. Aloysius is located for now, was unaware the City’s Preservation Board would make a decision on wether to grant the demolition permit or not. The association was told the Archdiocese was insisting the buildings be torn down. Some time back they gave their approval to the new home proposal.

I see this all too often, a volunteer association gives their approval for a redevelopment only because they think no alternative exists. Today they are realizing the process was not as it was explained to them.

First, we have the idea that it would be too painful for the neighbors if the church was reused. This is partially true, the neighbors don’t want any sort of institutional use on the site (either in the existing buildings or in new). This has some validity due to parking & traffic concerns on the narrow streets. But the question of Eastern half of the site being renovated with the Western half receiving new construction was never discussed as an option.

If the church really wanted the buildings razed why didn’t they apply to the City of St. Louis for a demolition permit? They didn’t do that, instead they sold the land and buildings intact to a private developer. This is now a former church owned by a private company.

The whole mess leading up to this smells of business as usual backroom politics. This is because the players involved know the proposal cannot stand on its own against the criteria of the City’s 6 year-old Preservation Review Ordinance. To get their way they had no choice but to manipulate the process in their favor. The staff recommendation to the Preservation Board for Monday’s meeting is not the staff recommendation they’d give without political pressure. This is the ugly St. Louis politics that disgusts me.

When it comes to renovating and attracting new residents to St. Louis we are our own worst enemy.

[UPDATE 12/17/05 @ 7:30PM – It seems the SW Garden Neighborhood Association gave their approval not recently, but back around April or May of this year. Those who have followed the church closings will note this and other churches weren’t “suppressed” until the end of June. The properties were then put up for sale. But the deal for the new homes was already done prior to the sale process. Basically, the opportunity for a rehab-minded developer to buy the properties never existed.]

– Steve


City Posts Agenda Regarding St. Aloysius Gonzaga

staloytree.jpgThe City’s Cultural Resources office has posted the agenda for Monday’s Preservation Board meeting. This includes an application to demolish the beautiful former church complex known as St. Aloysius Gonzaga. Click here to see the detailed review of this loved complex and how the applicable Preservation Review Ordinance applies (including drawings of proposed houses and site plan).

Couple of facts to keep in mind:

  • The citizens of St. Louis, through an appointed body called the Preservation Board, determine if buildings within a Preservation Review District should be allowed to be forever destroyed.
  • The Preservation Board does not act until they have received an application from a property owner or person that has a contract on a property. They are prevented from taking action prior to the property owner requesting a review.
  • In submitting for a demolition permit, the applicant is required to submit a proposal for what they intended to with the land. Thus, while it may appear like a project is a “done deal” is is not, unless politics interferes with the open due process.
  • The Preservation Review ordinance clearly prohibits the demolition of those structures deemed to be “high merit.” The City of St. Louis, through the Cultural Resources Office, has determined these structures (later school building excepted) as being of “high merit” and would likely qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • From the enabling legislation: “Sound structures with apparent potential for adaptive reuse, reuse and or resale shall generally not be approved for demolition unless application of criteria in subsections A, D, F and G, four, six and seven indicates demolition is appropriate.”Subsection “A” & “G” are not applicable in this case. Subsection “D” does not warrant demolition because reuse potential does exist for the structures and the developer has not demonstrated any financial hardship. Subsection “F” also does not make demolition appropriate as the new project does not exceed the quality of the existing structures.
    … Continue Reading


    Preservation Board to Determine Fate of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Complex

    staloy1.jpgLast month the St. Louis Preservation Board, appointed by the mayor, rubber stamped the demolition of the Doering Mansion on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. That same rubber stamp will likely be pulled from the political desk drawer to approve the razing of the St. Aloysius Gonzaga complex for 23 single family homes.

    From the Suburban Journals on 9/28/2005:

    Father Vince Bommarito, the priest of St. Ambrose Parish, said there was a conscious decision to not have the buildings of St. Aloysius remain intact.

    “That church is actually older than St. Ambrose. People are committed to the brick and mortar. To turn that over to somebody else would be difficult for the people to handle in the long run,” Bommarito said.

    St. Aloysius Parish was made part of St. Ambrose Parish when the archdiocese closed St. Aloysius at the end of June.

    Huh? It would be difficult to see someone else reuse their old church so leveling the site is somehow better? The neighbor I spoke to is glad the area will be used for residential but likes the old buildings and trees. When I spoke to her today she was under the impression it was a done deal. With that pro-demo rubber stamp awaiting the preservation board it might be a done deal. But I’ve never let political pressure stop me from speaking my mind before.

    … Continue Reading