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The Lewis & Clark Tower and Vicinity

In my post last week on the Lewis and Clark Library one person voiced an objection to the line, “This part of St. Louis County has few structures on which residents can take pride.” In the objection the Lewis and Clark Tower, just north of the library, was specifically mentioned. To clarify my original point, there are too few public buildings in North County to be proud of.  There are great private buildings throughout the region, including North County, but few you can spend time in. The Lewis and Clark Tower is one of those buildings, it is private condos. The restaurant at the top has been closed for years, and it isn’t in great condition. In January the building was condemned:

The St. Louis County Department of Public Works posted violation notices last week on the elevators, and the city condemned the building. The city also had ordered residents to vacate the premises within 48 hours, citing dangers, especially to children and people in wheelchairs. The mayor on Monday said that the city wasn’t strictly enforcing the evacuation and that the order was meant to draw attention to urgent dangers. (stltoday.com — Agreement reached to repair condemned Lewis & Clark Tower)

The 96-unit tower is owned by 36 condo owners, the commercial wing is owned separately.

The Lewis & Clark Tower on 367 at Jennings Station
The Lewis & Clark Tower on 367 at Chambers Rd
Aerial of Tower and site from Apple Maps, click to view in Google Maps
Aerial of Lewis & Clark Tower and Lewis & Clark Library (bottom) from Apple Maps, click to view in Google Maps

Few have written more about North County than my friend Toby Weiss, from October 2007:

In 1966, the place was 100% jumping with at least 7 floors of wedge-shaped residential apartments (now condominiums,) each with two sliding doors out to the continuous balcony, with its own swimming pool and gym in the basement. Businesses on the first two floors of the Tower included Alpha Interior Designer, Donton & Sons Tile Co., Figure Trim Reducing, King’s Tower Pharmacy and a Missouri State License office. (Top of the Towers)

In October 2011 she showed us the vacant interior of the former restaurant at the top, then in November 2012 renderings of the original concept with twin towers as well as images of the restaurant in it heyday.

Looking north toward the tower, the parking lot goes down to reveal the lower level that faces west
Looking north toward the tower, the parking lot goes down to reveal the lower level that faces west
The asphalt is in very poor condition
The asphalt is in very poor condition
The west entry to the Lewis & Clark Condo tower, one level below the east main entry
The west entry to the Lewis & Clark Condo tower, one level below the east main entry
A one-story commercial center faces Lewis & Clark Blvd (367)
A one-story commercial center faces Lewis & Clark Blvd (367)
Stelmacki is a small but clean store, the first I've seen selling greens by the case
Stelmacki is a small but clean store, the first I’ve seen selling greens by the case
View from near Chambers Rd
View from near Chambers Rd, my suspicion is the vacant lot on the right was intended for a future 2nd tower.
Completing the trip back in time is a pay phone, but I failed to check if it had a dial tone
Completing the trip back in time is a pay phone, but I failed to check if it had a dial tone. A 2nd tower would’ve fit on this site
From Chambers Rd we see the west/lower side of the retail
From Chambers Rd we see the west/lower side of the retail
According to Toby Weiss' 2007 post the lower level contained a bowling alley and a movie theater, now only a flea market exists
According to Toby Weiss’ 2007 post the lower level contained a bowling alley and a movie theater, now only a flea market operates
View looking back toward Chambers Rd
View looking back toward Chambers Rd, the former retail center across the street is now a self storage
Former theater, now flea market
Former theater, now flea market
Looking out at the massive parking lot
Looking out at the massive parking lot, most part of the commercial part
Looking at the tower from Chambers Rd & Castle Dr
Looking at the tower from Chambers Rd & Castle Dr
This former Denny's was built in 1976, not sure how long it has been closed.
This former Denny’s was built in 1976, not sure how long it has been closed.

The thing I observed is the commercial arterials in this part of North St. Louis County are pretty depressed, but the adjacent residential streets are still nice.  However, I can’t see the neighborhoods remaining nice forever with such awful commercial property surrounding them. How do you attract a commercial developer to the area when the condo owners are struggling to keep the tower habitable? In the early 20th Century planners in St. Louis viewed the poor condition of tenements much the same way — a blight that’ll continue to spread. Their solution was Urban Renewal — demolition and start over, an expensive flop.  So what then?

Before the residential neighborhoods deteriorate I think the “retrofitting suburbia” way of thinking should be applied to the commercial areas. This starts with public planning to attract & guide private development, likely subsidized to some degree. The costs of not doing anything at all will be much higher.

— Steve Patterson

 

An Urbanist Look at the Lewis & Clark Branch Library

For quite a while now I’ve seen the posts about saving St. Louis County’s  1963 Lewis & Clark Branch, located at 9909 Lewis & Clark Blvd.

The east facade of the branch of the St. Louis County Library
The east facade of the branch of the St. Louis County Library features decorative windows

Here are some examples of the posts:

I hadn’t written about this subject before because I’d never been to the Lewis & Clark branch, but that changed Friday. I took the #40 (Broadway) MetroBus to the Riverview Transit Center, then the #27 (No County Shuttle) directly to the library. I spent some time inside both levels, and outside.

Here is an incomplete list of arguments for both sides:

Arguments in support of replacement:

  • Over 50 years old, old plumbing & electrical. etc.
  • Poor relationship to neighborhood, main street
  • Windows are inefficient
  • Doesn’t meet ADA guidelines
  •  Can remain open while new building is built

Arguments in support of renovating/adding on

  • Only branch in St. Louis County considered architecturally significant
  • Designed by Frederick Dunn
  • Design still looks good, fresh
  • Reusing the existing structure more sustainable than dumping it into a landfill
  • This part of St. Louis County has few structures on which residents can take pride.
The library seemed very busy during my Friday morning visit.
The interior of the main room.
The drinking fountains on the lower level don't meet the ADA, still not a reason to discard the rest.
The drinking fountains on the lower level don’t meet the ADA, still not a reason to discard the rest.
Looking back toward the bus stop we need more ADA issues. Site issues, however, don't require  new building to be addressed.
Looking back toward the bus stop we need more ADA issues. Site issues, however, don’t require new building to be addressed.

Based on my observations, the library is too small by today’s standards. It seemed busy during my morning visit, much more space is needed.  ModernSTL proposed a pretty predictable addition, which copies the original design. Good additions to historic buildings don’t mimic or repeat the original. That said, the idea is right. New entry connecting old & new wings.

Concept from ModernSTL with original on the left and addition on the right.  Click to view their post
Concept from ModernSTL with original on the left and addition on the right. Click image to view their original post

I do like the idea of turning the entry toward Lewis & Clark Blvd(367), and getting St. Louis County/MoDOT to put a public sidewalk along the west side of 367 from Chambers Rd to Berwyn Dr, roughly 3/10 of a mile. This would connect users of the #61 MetroBus route on Chambers Rd to the library site. Currently only a shoulder exists.  Better pedestrian connection in the area should be considered and planned for regardless if a new building is built or the existing structure gets a needed addition.

I don’t think the St. Louis County Library board has given any thought toward renovating this historic structure, which is a real pity.  We need leadership that considers retention of historic structures, especially when it is their only one!

— Steve Patterson

 

A Roadside Stand on Gravois

A little roadside stand occupies the NE corner of Gravois Rd & Mackenzie Rd (map). St. Louis County property records indicate the building only occupies 702 sq ft.

This roadside stand at 9529 Gravois was built in 1948, it has been a Dairy Queen for years now
This roadside stand at 9529 Gravois was built in 1948, it has been a Dairy Queen for years now
It looks like St. Louis County took part of the parcel for traffic, but hasn't taken the building -- yet
It looks like St. Louis County took part of the parcel for traffic, but hasn’t taken the building — yet
Most of the buildings at this corner have nice details, 9522 (left) was built in 1944 and 9530 (right) in 1930
Most of the buildings at this corner have nice details, 9522-26 (left) was built in 1944 and 9530 (right) in 1930
The beautiful detailing is best appreciated in person
The beautiful detailing is best appreciated in person

These buildings all date from the early age of the automobile, when a family might have one car. Parking was just off the roadway, not the gigantic parking lots of today. By today’s standards these buildings are urban, too close to the street. Yet the relationship is poor in terms of road/sidewalk/building. The idea of how to retrofit this intersection to be more walkable is an appealing challenge.

— Steve Patterson

 

Two Buildings Being Razed in Clayton for St. Louis County Court Project

Work has started on an addition to the existing St. Louis County Courthouse:

On October 15, 2013, the St. Louis County Council awarded a $122 million Design-Build contract to St. Louis-based KCI Construction Company, Inc. (KCI) to design and construct improvements related to the County Courts Project. KCI’s work will include construction of a new addition and substantial renovations to the existing Courts Building and the parking garage beneath it. Once work is complete, all family/juvenile court and detention operations currently conducted at the Family Courts Center (501 S. Brentwood) will be permanently relocated to the new, unified Courts Complex. (St. Louis County)

The new addition will be built on top of the existing parking garage. Two buildings to the west, across South Meramec Ave, will be razed to make room for staging the constriction project.

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The two buildings circled in red, located on South Meramec Ave, will be razed, click image to view in Google Maps.

The two are connected via a walkway over the alley.  The building at 111 S. Meramec Ave has nearly 72,000 square feet and was built in 1957. The taller of the two, 121 S. Meramec Ave, was built in 1964 and contains nearly 210,000 square feet of space. Both buildings have a negative impact on the Meramec sidewalk, neither will be missed from an urbanist viewpoint. I don’t know the architect of either, a preservationist might object to their planned demolition.

I need to find out if St. Louis County has a long-term plan for the land. Selling to a developer or keeping for surface/structured parking are the two obvious future uses.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Mary’s Razed Original St. Mary’s Hospital Building

Over my years in St. Louis I’ve visited St. Mary’s Hospital on Clayton Road a few times, always to visit others. However, six years ago today I arrived at St. Mary’s Hospital from Saint Louis University Hospital to begin physical rehab following my stroke. I don’t remember arriving, but I do remember leaving a month later.

I took this photo of the original hospital building the day I left, March 21, 2008
I took this photo of the original hospital building the day I left, March 21, 2008
When I returned for a visit 4 years ago today I took this pic of the original hospital building
When I returned for a visit 4 years ago today I took this pic of the original hospital building
By October 2010 the building had been razed.
By October 2010 the building had been razed.

The original building was likely poorly suited for modern medicine but it had much more going for it: quality materials, great proportions, etc. Not every great old building can or should be saved. The problem is I think too many decision makers assume the old must go away without exploring options for reuse. Assumptions can cloud what should be a non-biased analysis.

What replaces the old is usually a disappointment.

— Steve Patterson

 

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