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Readers: Lawrence Biondi & Robert Archibald Should Both Resign Their Positions

November 14, 2012 SLU Comments Off on Readers: Lawrence Biondi & Robert Archibald Should Both Resign Their Positions

Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi and Missouri History Museum President Robert Archibald, each involved in unrelated controversies, should resign their positions according to nearly 60% of the readers who voted in the poll last week:

SLU Pres L. Biondi

Q: Should Biondi or Archibald Resign their positions?

  1. Both should resign: 219 [59.51%]
  2. Biondi yes, Archibald no: 93 [25.27%]
  3. Archibald yes, Biondi no: 30 [8.15%]
  4. Nether should resign: 19 [5.16%]
  5. Unsure/no opinion: 7 [1.9%]

For the backstory see the post introducing the poll here.

Biondi is clearly disliked more than Archibald with a quarter saying he should resign but Archibald shouldn’t. I agree with the majority, both need to step down immediately. Unfortunately their egos won’t allow them to do what is best for each institution.

With 368 responses, this was the most popular weekly poll this year.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Agree: Biondi Destroyed The Formerly Urban Midtown Area Around Saint Louis University

March 7, 2012 Featured, Midtown, SLU 63 Comments
ABOVE: SLU bought and razed the urban Marina building

The majority of the readers that voted last week agreed that Saint Louis University President Biondi has destroyed midtown since 1987 — a decade after it became a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. Here were the final results:

Biondi has destroyed the formerly urban midtown area around the Saint Louis University campus:

  1. Strongly agree 78 [40.41%]
  2. Somewhat agree 48 [24.87%]
  3. Strongly disagree 41 [21.24%]
  4. Somewhat disagree 12 [6.22%]
  5. Neutral 7 [3.63%]
  6. Other: 7 [3.63%]

The “other” comments were:

  1. It was destroyed long before he got there; he hasn’t done enough to renew it.
  2. By Urban do you mean the drug infested Laclede Town?
  3. responding to his market,suburban parents wont send kids to school in “the hood”
  4. I don’t know.
  5. He isn’t responsible for all of it, but he most certainly has made it worse.
  6. I wasn’t here back then.
  7. Biondi could have done so much better … so much better.

The original post (Agree or Disagree: Biondi has destroyed the formerly urban midtown area around the Saint Louis University campus) generated many comments on both sides of the issue.  I’ve pulled some of my favorite comments of the more than 60:

  1. In an architecturally signigicant urban district, there is a great difference between demolition for re-purpose and demolition for grassy lots and parking.
  2. Soulard hardly had critical mass when people started rehabbing it in the 70s. it was a slum with a 50% vacancy rate, and city “leaders” had designated it as blighted and marked it for wholesale demolition. It had even been gashed in half by the highway, just as Midtown is gashed by the train yard. moreover, people DO live and/or work in Midtown. and more people COULD live there if SLU would stop demolishing homes and buildings that could be converted to residential (like the Metropolitan and Pevely). how are people supposed to live in fountains and sculpture parks?
  3. Midtown Alley has been developing over the last decade arguable independent of SLU, and on some levels in spite of SLU’s intervention.
  4. I attended SLU from 1970 to 1974. I lived in Laclede Town my junior and senior years in college. Many a night I walked or rode my bike home from Piux XII libary to my apartment on Ewing Avenue. I also worked evenings at 3800 Lindell, which was occupied by IBM at the time. I was never afraid for my safety because there were always people about, either on campus or walking up Lawton Place in Laclede Town. Would I do that same walk today? Absolutely not. Why: Because after 5:00PM, the entire stretch of land from what used to be Channing Avenue to Ewing is totally deserted most nights, the perfect setting for a crime. The last time I was in St. Louis, on a beautiful summer afternoon, the entire area was completely deserted with no pedestrians in sight and little, if any vehicular traffic. What is wrong with this picture?The City of St. Louis SLU conspired to get rid of Laclede Town, and once again both institutions were extremely short sighted. Having lived there and visited all sections, Park, Town, East and West, all 1000+ of those apartments could have been rehabbed and adapted to today’s modern standards and once again made a viable, walkable urban communhity. But once again, the slash and burn attitudes of SLU and the complete dysfunction at St. Louis City Hall prevailed and what you have today is the veritable no man’s land 2/3 of the time. And don’t tell me AG Edwards couldn’t have expanded the way it did if Laclede Town was still there. God knows there’s is still enough vacant, underutilized land in that area with plenty of room for AG Edwards and a lot of other companies to grow and expand. This slash and burn tactic is now being used to isolate the medical center from the greater city.

    I expressed my feelings about this destruction of the city to Biondi via email, and surprisingly, he responded. Not surprisingly, he was a total, arrogant tool in his response, basically telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about. I have news for Biondi and his supporters in STL: if he were at St. Joe’s here in Philly, or Fordham in NYC, he’d wouldn’t be allowed to do a fraction of the things he has done in STL. If Biondi is upset about the grief he’s getting in STL, he’d be seething in rage if he tried that crap in Wynnewood where St. Joe’s is located. He’d need an asbestos suit for the firestorm of flack he’d get.

  5. It disturbs me that Biondi and SLU doesnt care that it they have a huge image problem with the urban educated middle class – the very people that should (and do) support SLU and importantly as well the city around SLU. Boy, he needs to go sooner than later.
  6. I have lived in bombed crime infested areas all over the United States, and I am sure I would have walked around the area.
  7. There is also a light rail station just down the street on the Grand Ave Bridge connecting with the Airport, Galleria etc. The point is that if you do not complement transit with appropriate urban planning the it harms the success of transit. By designing the Doisy Center and the new medical center to be exclusively auto orientated it devalues huge public investments in mass transit. not to mention in making it more difficult to make the city a walkable environment by creating parking and open space wastelands. (The Doisy Center is not parkland, even the fountain on Lindell and Grand is a unused joke of a space, not to mention the ridiculous sculpture garden across the street)
    Again, check it out, the great cities of the world balance walking, transit and the automobile. Check out classical city planning also. Biondi is basically giving the finger to the City and to the people of St. Louis.
    So I guess you, like Biondi have a problem with balance, is that it?
  8. I’m 64 and remember the area well, saying it was not safe must mean you didn’t come into the city at all, Soulard, Lafayette Square and the West End were hardly in better shape at the time. I felt safe, I even remember wandering through the derelict Fox Theater, standing wide open in those days. The space above the ornate ceiling is amazing.
    You sound like you are afraid of your own shadow. Nor are we talking about Pevely Corporation, we are talking about the extremely poor decision making of Biondi. As I point out above Wash U. shows how it is done. You are projecting your negative views saying only chains will be able to afford the commercial space. At least there is commercial space for locals to compete for, unlike Biondi and his hysterical, self serving agenda.
    Biondi is nothing more than a greedy gangster supported by the useless City Government that lack the balls to stand up to even the dumbest morons that happen to have access to money.
    Biondi’s plan would be laughed out of most city halls in the world. These are cities that put the concerns of the public over self serving developers.
    It is absurd we even have to be talking about this, Biondi has so many other options that it is clear his underlying hate of the public drives his agenda. It can be nothing else. He certainly isn’t a peacemaker, a leader, a holy man or anything positive, face it, he is a jerk.
  9. I went to SLU 55-57. Lived on North Grand near Sportsman’s Park, before it was Busch 1. It was a real city then. Took the Grand Streetcar to Lindell for classes; ate at the deli (Carneigies?) on Olive just west of Grand; would stop at a huge billards parlor over the deli and shoot a game or two for relaxation; would stop in a little bar east of grand on Lindell for a beer or two before taking the streetcar back to my apartment; would take the streetcar back to Washington, grab the Delmar bus to Stix, Baer & Fuller (became Dillards; then the hotel/apartments) to sell women’s shoes. A bus or streetcar came every couple of minutes so REAL public transportation existed.
    After graduating, went across Grand to work at IBM on the South East corner of Grand/Lindell. Loved going to the Fox; the Missouri; the Shubert; the St. Lous; the Empress movie theaters in the 5 block area whenever we felt like it. The Melbourne hotel had a great bar loaded with after work guys and gals.It was no different from my neighborhood as a kid, an apartment at Delmar and Kingshighway. Look at the area now. Hiroshima Flats. There were at least 5 hotels in a four block radius and they were packed. I could go on, but you get the picture.

    The picture is … this was a city. People lived in the city day and night. They didn’t come into the city. We WERE the city. Of course we had 800,000 people IN the city then. Now it’s 350,000. That alone explains the lack of people. We also do not people willing to invest in the city. Take the “Bottle District” and “Ballpark Village”. Perfect examples. When we quit thinking in terms of Ladue, Clayton, etc. and think ST. LOUIS, it will continue to be a difficult battle to get back to what we were.

Biondi needs to step down and the entire community nerds to work on a plan that will reorganize this part of midtown over the next 25 years.

– Steve Patterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agree or Disagree: Biondi has destroyed the formerly urban midtown area around the Saint Louis University campus

In July 1978 the Midtown Historic District (large PDF) became part of the National Register of Historic Places. The entire area was very rundown at the time, numerous buildings were vacant or nearly vacant. The St Louis Symphony Orchestra moved into the former Powell Theater in the late 60s but that didn’t spur redevelopment of the area.

ABOVE: Fox Theater July 1977; Source: National Register nomination linked above

The Fox Theater was a mess at the time:

On a cold January morning in 1981 Leon and Mary Strauss first saw the Fox Theatre. With the aid of flashlights and one working light bulb, the Strausses discovered the hidden magic of the splendid theatre beneath the dirt and grime of 52 years. It was love at first sight and the rest is St. Louis history. Banding together as Fox Associates, Leon Strauss, Robert Baudendistel, Dennis McDaniel and Harvey Harris privately purchased the movie palace from the Arthur family. With Mary Strauss as director of restoration, there began a one year, $2 million plus restoration program under the aegis of Pantheon Construction Company. (Fox Theater)

ABOVE: Fox Theater June 2007

Some saw the great potential of midtown but others saw vacant buildings instead of the expansive grass so common in the suburbs. Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi was one of those who didn’t get it then and still doesn’t today.

Since his inauguration in 1987, Father Biondi has led Saint Louis University through a remarkable era of transformation and achievement. In addition to modernizing the campus and helping revitalize the surrounding Midtown neighborhood, Father Biondi has committed vast University resources to academics, student scholarships and financial aid, faculty research and state-of-the-art technology. (Saint Louis University)

ABOVE: Map from National Register nomination, the Fox is the large black rectangle

North of Olive St thankfully was beyond Biondi’s grasp but south of Olive St didn’t stand a chance. Six buildings listed in 1977 as having “neighborhood significance” where “demolition would be a major cultural loss” are gone. A seventh had “architectural merit — demolition would diminish the integrity of the neighborhood.”

Sadly this concentration of urban buildings was razed, the land is now parking and grass.

ABOVE: SLU razed the urban building on the NE corner of Grand & Lindell. Image saved from internet in 2007, source unknown

The Marina building stood on the NE corner of Grand & Lindell (aerial) for decades, from the National Register nomination:

The 1907 red brick and terra cotta Marina building at the northeast corner of Grand and Lindell has been subjected to similar alterations. The oldest commercial structure in the district, the pattern of arched window openings at second floor level draw the eye and define one corner of the major intersection of the district. 

This building would have been a great anchor for that corner had it been rehabbed. Sure it was an eyesore with the bad storefronts that had been built over the years.

ABOVE: Marina building in August 1977 with a Jesuit hall and Continental buildings in the background
ABOVE: The once vibrant urban street corner is now a passive hole in the city

The southeast corner was also urban but not included in the historic district because of unfortunate  alterations to the corner structure:

On the southwest [sic] corner of the same intersection, SLU bought a bank building (that was a historic structure hidden under a layer of plain stucco) and demolished it for a lifeless plaza and fountain. (VanishingSTL)

I remember that bank — I opened my first checking account there in 1990. Midtown was great — was.

ABOVE: SE corner of Grand & Lindell now

In an urban setting grass, trees & water can’t substitute for the massing a building gives by defining the urban space.

Some act like demolition is the only answer to a tired urban area. A few blocks north was just as seedy but there buildings were saved and renovated. The now celebrated Washington Ave loft district was a ghost town of old warehouses — Biondi’s solution would have been parking lots & grass. Demolition was the failed 1950s “urban renewal” solution.

Biondi is a current day Robert Moses, the sooner he retires the sooner we can begin to reurbanize midtown and undo the damage he’s inflicted on this section of St. Louis.  The poll is in the right sidebar (not visible on the mobile layout).

– Steve Patterson

 

Urbanists & Preservationists Will Support Pevely Dairy Today

ABOVE: The historic Pevely Dairy maintains the building line at both Grand & Chouteau. Click image for my post from last month

The Preservation Board usually meets on the 4th Monday of each month but due to the holidays will instead meet tonight. On the agenda is Saint Louis University’s proposal to replace the historic structures with a lawn. And probably a fountain.

The conclusion of the staff report (see agenda):

The proposed subsequent construction of the Ambulatory Care Center cannot be evaluated at the time these comments were prepared and needs to be considered once presented at the Preservation Board meeting. The Cultural Resources Office recommends that the Preservation Board approve the demolition of the milk plant at 3626‐80 Chouteau and the garage at 1101 Motard, as the loss of these Merit buildings would have an acceptable effect on the urban design and the streetscape. The Cultural Resources Office also recommends that the Preservation Board uphold the denial of the demolition of the office building as it is a sound, High Merit resource and has reuse potential, and the iconic smokestack. These two structures on the parcel with the address 1001‐03 S. Grand, are prominent in the streetscape and their loss would have a noticeable effect on the physical fabric of the neighborhood and urban design.

Many have expressed the viewpoint the corner structure and smokestack occupy a tiny portion of the total site and therefor do not impede plans for new construction on the rest of the site. I’d love to see a drawing with Saint Louis University’s proposed building superimposed over the corner structure and smokestack.

– Steve Patterson

 

Pevely Dairy Fate to be Decided Today, or Not?

The proposed demolition of the historic, and urban, Pevely Dairy complex at Grand and Chouteau is on today’s Preservation Board agenda, but won’t be heard:

St. Louis University’s request for permits to demolish the Pevely Dairy buildings is off Monday’s agenda of the city’s Preservation Board but that does not mean SLU is abandoning its effort to raze the historic complex.

A university spokesman said today that seeking a delay for a hearing on its request for demolition permits gives SLU more time to present its case to the city panel. SLU has said it wants to replace the Pevely complex with a building for its SLUCare physician’s practice. (STLtoday.com)

Part of me doesn’t trust that the issue won’t be decided at today’s meeting. But, it’s quite possible the staff will indicate the issue will be on the December agenda.The main problem I have is SLU’s false claim the historic structure is in the way.

Given the history of Saint Louis University these past two decades the Pevely building and smokestack aren’t in the way of a new building. No, they are where SLU President Fr. Biondi wants  grass and a fountain. Trying very hard not to use a few choice expletives!

ABOVE: SLU's anti-urban research building on the SE corner of Grand & Chouteau

Biondi hates urbanity, or maybe he just doesn’t know what makes a good city. The SLU campus is very pristine and in the center, interesting, But the edges are dead zones due to all the fenced lawns created by Biondi. Intended to make the area safer, SLU policies suck life out of the area to the point the sidewalks are nearly vacant, which isn’t safe. People create safety.

ABOVE: Most of the large site is occupied by non-historic structures

The smokestack and building at the corner, with the rooftop sign, are the two elements that should be saved. The warehouse elements in the foreground (above) should be replaced, just not with lifeless iron fencing with lawn.  New medical buildings can be built around & embracing the old. The smokestack could be the centerpiece of a courtyard. The architectural possibilities were explored during a recent design charrette:

After a thorough discussion of the site’s dimensions, SLU’s extensive landholdings in the area, and the university’s probable needs, participants subdivided into four groups. Each focused on a different approach, including converting the corner building into doctors’ offices with a larger modern addition, adapting it into market-rate housing and ancillary facilities for the medical school, finding additional on-site locations for new buildings, and generating an overall site plan to connect this corner to the rest of the university. (SLU Says It Can’t Reuse the Pevely Buildings; Local Designers Beg to Differ)

I look forward to seeing the many varied solutions these teams developed.

We must resist SLU’s efforts to destroy both Grand & Chouteau corridors. Biondi has already done a number of Grand at the main campus and the medical campus but hope remains for Chouteau and eventually Grand can be urbanized again, largely by  building over Biondi’s lawns.

ABOVE: The historic Pevely Dairy maintains the building line at both Grand & Chouteau

Where SLU has replaced walkable urban buildings with acres of fenced lawn we can build new 1-2 story “liner buildings” to recreate the walls of the urban street. The SW corner shouldn’t be destroyed, liner buildings can fix the anti-urban SE corner but two such corners would be a disaster.

The NE corner is a suburban fast-food chain and the never urban NW corner is being cleared for more dead SLU grass. Yawn.

ABOVE: The NW corner of Grand & Chouteau should be developed in a urban manner, respecting & engaging the sidewalk.

The Grand viaduct is being replaced and the MetroLink station getting rebuilt. The #70 Grand bus is Metro’s busiest and the #32 MLK bus travels up and down Chouteau & Manchester. If developed right, Grand & Chouteau could be a great pedestrian environment. Chouteau is important for connecting Lafayette Square & Downtown  to The Grove.

My guess is Biondi has surrounded himself with yes men that tell him he’s done a great job with the campuses. Well, on the chance he’ll read this post:

Stop it! You are destroying the city! What you’ve done will take decades to undo and it must be undone to create lively sidewalks. It sickens me my tuition helped fund your destructive ways. Retire!

– Steve Patterson

 

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