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Suspicious Fire Destroys Construction Site

June 14, 2007 Central West End, Events/Meetings, Midtown 45 Comments

Officials are calling the fire suspicious but we all know the reality, it was arson. Like three construction sites that went down in flames last year, this project was basically framed out but without drywall and other finish materials that would have helped to prevent a fire from spreading so quickly. The timing was likely very calculated.  Click here to read my post from one year ago today on those fires.
Above, site as of June 3, 2007. Taken from behind Arby’s looking east.

The project involved nearly 200 apartments along with some street-level retail along Lindell, on the site of the former Salad Bowl restaurant, at 3949 Lindell (google map). While in the area on the 3rd of this month I got some in-progress pictures for use later in a post when the project was finished.

News reports of the fire seemed to get things wrong, or at best a bit off. The St. Louis Business Journal headline proclaims, “Fire destroys $32M apartment complex.” Well, OK, perhaps once completely finished it might have been a $32 million dollar project but even then the fire didn’t destroy the value of the land. It is unclear if any of the foundations and slab floors can be saved. The concrete structure for the commercial space along Lindell seems to have been unaffected although the intense heat may have damaged some steel.

The Biz Journal does provide some good basics:

Dallas-based Hepfner, Smith, Airhart & Day Inc. (HSA&D) broke ground in November on the apartment complex located at 3949 Lindell Blvd., on the site of the former Salad Bowl Cafeteria. HSA&D’s development plans include 197 residential units and 15,000 square feet of retail space.

HSA&D’s website has been very basic with almost no detail, here is the full page:

Below was the view looking east along Lindell on the 3rd of this month:


As you can see the commercial space fronting Lindell was (and still is) a concrete structure. Most likely the plan was to build wood frame construction on top of the concrete commercial structure.


After the fire you can see the concrete structure still remaining but all the frame construction behind it is now gone. Some news reports talked as if the fire destroyed the Arby’s restaurant but that was not the case. If was, however, damaged.


This notice about a rezoning hearing for the Arby’s parcel still remains stapled to a tree. Someone should remind the city that it is illegal to staple & nail things to city-owned street trees. You can see how the roof of the Arby’s was damaged, potentially causing quite a bit of damage inside.


The above view gives you a little better picture of the extent of the exterior damage to the Arby’s. The gym for Metro High School can be seen in the background across McPherson. Prior to the fire, the 4-story apartment complex blocked the view of the high school from Lindell.


The image shown above is another from June 3rd, this time looking eastbound on McPherson.  Metro High School is on the left with the apartments on the right.  Note how close they are to the curb — that is what really caught my eye. Due to grade changes the 1st floor of the building was also below street level.


After the fire you can see plywood where windows were blown out at Metro High School and on the right is just debris.


From the parking lot of the Lindell Marketplace shopping center, near the new OfficeMax store, I took the above shot showing the construction progress and Metro High School.  The Continental Building in Midtown is peaking up in the background.


Not quite the same angle but late yesterday nothing remained of the apartments.  Amren workers were still on site dealing with electric service to the area that was affected by the fire.


Just another view looking east on the 3rd.  The sidewalk line, if continued from both sides of the site would have  been between the curb and the utility poles, a bit closer to the curb than the centerline.  Still, the new construction was in the pathway of the sidewalk and very close to the curb.


A similar view after the fire, from the other side of the utility poles.   Click here to see all my images of this site on Flickr (all are copyright protected so please ask for permission to use if you would like to do so).

Like last year, several theories about the reasons behind the fire have been discussed.  One is simply a fire bug that likes big fires and all that wood is a good source.  Another is someone upset about gentrification and rising housing costs — these were billed as “luxury” apartments.  Although no low-cost housing was replaced with this, more upscale development might lead to increased rents in nearby buildings if those owners feel they can renovate and make more money.  And lastly the idea that this and other sites were not 100% union labor.  Clearly, organized labor didn’t have a big meeting to vote on torching a project or not — as they would vote on a strike.  The intentional destruction of someone else’s property is never justified, thankfully nobody was seriously injured.


Currently there are "45 comments" on this Article:

  1. john says:

    These “news creating events” are definitely intentional and designed to make a strong statement. Clearly they reflect poorly on the City and crime prevention. Too disturbing, I would like to know more… can anyone help explain this destruction?

  2. dionna says:

    I work directly across the street from this scene….and rumor has it, that it’s likely a union/non-union thing.

    Whoever did it obviously knew what they were doing, because the whole thing is gone. THis seems to me, hardly the work of one individual….but a “team”.
    Whoever did it, should really get a life and worry about bigger things.

  3. Patrick Wessel says:

    will construction continue?

  4. LisaS says:

    Patrick, in this morning’s Post-Dispatch, the owners indicated their intention to rebuild.

    I’ve heard the “non-union” labour conspiracy rumour as well, but frankly, that’s just out of character with the Union Carpenters/Electricians/Painters/etc. I work with on a regular basis. I really can’t imagine that’s true.

    I’m not sure that I buy the “anti-gentrication group” argument either, if only because it seems a waste of the media coverage to committ the act and not use the platform to post a manifesto of some kind.

    Whoever it is, I hope they’re in jail soon.

  5. Crone says:


    There were zines printed up over the last year, advocating for arson and praising last year’s fires. I picked up a few at Hartford Coffee, where they were left by an individual who works at Black Bear Bakery and who frequently has them at the BBB’s stand at Soulard Market during this shifts there.

    I have mentioned this to friends in the SLMPD. In fact, I gave the zine issues to connected types and cannot, for the life of me, remember the name of them now. Wouldn’t be surprised, though, for another edition to come out soon.

    If I’m a betting man, and I’m not, I’d put my fire-starting coin on the anarchists, rather than some union goon squad.


  6. Jim Zavist says:

    Another totally unsubstantiated theory – could some security company be trying to drum up some more business “protecting” construction sites? So far, every one’s been rebuilt, with additional security . . .

  7. LisaS says:

    Crone, I didn’t know that. Guess I need to get out of the neighborhood (CWE) every once in a while. Anarchists don’t hang out here (or at playgrounds) very much ….

  8. toby says:

    Historically, unions only instigate destruction that has the benefit of creating work for them. What would be the benefit of them burning down a non-union site? There is no benefit. Thus, they wouldn’t bother. It would be a waste of time if the law tried to finger the unions.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Like Jim’s security company thought, I bet when these companies rebuild they find ways to hire more union workers.  Whomever is behind it I would guess it is some individual or very small group thinking they are doing a good deed for their cause.  The culprit might turn out to be a union anarchist who works on the side as a security guard, all the while being a fire bug.  It is all speculation and theory at this point.]

  9. MattHurst says:

    i can’t believe i’m reading a 21st century blog and not a 19th century paper filled with rumors against the unions and anarchists (see also: chicago). reguardless of the possible motivations of the crime, these issues are all important to discuss but we can’t go around discussing this based on our personal interest in individual subjects. that would be an inressponsible and speculative dialog (of which i guess i’m guilty too).
    i just hope whoever did this is revealed, because the least thing this city needs is an arsonist scaring away quality developments.

  10. “the least thing this city needs is an arsonist scaring away quality developments.”

    Or stifling political dissent…

  11. j says:

    Based on the history of these events and the amount of money being poured into these developments, I’m curious why additional measures have not yet been taken to deter something like this? Such as overnight security or the presence of security cameras? At least during the most vulnerable times of construction…

    Perhaps there was in this incident, but I have not yet heard anything regarding this.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — You’d think they’d at least have a construction fence up.]

  12. Lynn says:

    I can’t remember the name of the anarchist zine either (I think it had something to do with the prosperous future we would like to have without working for it), but it didn’t read to me like it was actually connected to the fires. The overall rant was about how these developers oppress people by hiring them, and the arguments got kind of off-track when they exalted some north side sites that had burned where development could have happened in the future – it was more like a lone zealot taking a pool of unconnected facts and trying to turn it into proof of a popular movement of oppressed people everywhere. It was, however, shockingly full of hate and rage, more so than just abut anything I’ve ever read. Eek.

  13. Adam says:

    except for the bible. : )

    sorry, but i had to …

  14. Adam says:

    ok, not that i’m an “anarchist”, but i just hope this doesn’t turn into another bashing/stereotyping thread. i’m sure that many people hear the word and picture some punk kid running around smashing windows and tagging bathroom walls. like any philosophy, some people will abuse it. and Lynn, i’m not sure if you were honestly trying to recall the ‘zine name or just making a joke, but “not working for it” is not part of anarchist philosophy. “not working” is the philosophy of selfish, lazy kids who heard a sex-pistols song and bought into an image. i’ve known a few very good people who identify as “anarchists” who would not fit the stereotype.

  15. Adam says:

    that said, if it WAS “anarchists” that set this/these fires then those INDIVIDUALS should go to prison.

  16. Concerned says:

    Thomas Crone is wildly mistaken in talking to the police — he is supporting political harassment of political activists. By linking Black Bear Bakery, anarchists and arson (this is all most people will remember from his irresponsible post), he is dividing the activist community. There is a new form of McCarthyism and red-baiting in the country: it called the Green Scare (greenscare.org). Whereas once people were called commies for advocating for national health care and affordable housing, now they are called eco-terrorists and anarchists. Just as the police and FBI raided, murdered and beat up Black Panthers in the 60s, today they arrest and give 300 year sentences to outspoken activists engaged in forest defense. Or locally activism for organic local farming over Monsanto’s biotech nightmares. We saw that in St. Louis in the raids of the Bolozone housing coop and community center CAMP in May 2003. (By the way their lawsuit against the police raids is going to trial in July 2007). See The RFT’s misnamed article “Meet the Anarchists.” June 2003.

    The powers that be want those in the more liberal camp to criticize and be divided from those who have deeper critiques of the market economy or choose direct action that some may find disagreeable. They want us to squabble amongst ourselves while the neocons and neoliberals sell off public assets, engage in war for oil and put the squeeze on the poor. Some want to hold candlelight vigils and some like the Catholic priest Carl Kabat want to take sledgehammers to missle silos. Support diversity of tactics.

    No one really knows the motivations behind the arsons. The motivation could be like the college students that burned a bunch of churches in the south, for the hell of it. Why speculate in a way that helps police harass respected activists?

  17. bart says:

    its the unions. if you don’t know that, then wake up. they might not be getting any money from it, but they are (trying/going) to scare people into hiering them in the first place. those p.o.s’s tried to pull shit like this to us (redbull) when we did the soap box race in forest park last year. we do alot of work with bar’s and such and had some boys from the east side make sure no fire bugs got to close. if we want to move on (as a city) we need to get rid of this union bs. why the hell would you want to work here and try and do business with them, if you can just go to denver and use all that time for snowboarding?

  18. Mike says:

    Wow, Grand conspiracy theorists have come out of the woodwork on this one. What it will really come down to are two real scenarios: your “lone wolf” firebug who gets a kick out of creating so much heat or union “activists”. I would place my bet on the latter- STL has been a stronghold for unions for decades- and they have been losing ground for about 10 years now. I wouldn’t put it past them.

  19. Jim Zavist says:

    We won’t know until someone(s) get arrested and convicted. But if they’re some sort of anarchist, shouldn’t we be hearing some sort of message or communique from them? And contrary to my previous post, I’m putting my money on a lone firebug, someone who just likes to see stuff burn, and these construction sites are just too tempting to pass up . . .

  20. Mark says:

    In the media biz, once is a tragic circumstance, twice is a coincidence, thrice is a trend. So my question is, “Where is the media on this one?” Call me idealistic, but shouldn’t we be clamoring for more information rather than speculation? I would encourage folks to e-mail or call members of the media, whether you know them or not, to get to the bottom of this. We don’t have better news organizations in this city because we don’t demand it.

    a former yet still idealistic journalist.

  21. Joe Frank says:

    I seriously doubt this has anything to do with the trade unions.

  22. Luftmensch says:

    People, get a grip! These conspiracy theories are based on zero information. Might as well blame the fires on Osama Bin Laden or the Bechtel Corporation. (Or how about the developers themselves? Surprised I haven’t heard that one).

    What is the point of this kind of rush to judgment? It only breeds hysteria.

    Hopefully the St. Louis police will take this seriously enough to consult some real experts (i.e. Federal) and developers will start taking reasonable precautions.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Well, this is why we’ve said things like “theory” because we are all quite aware we have no facts except this fire marks the fourth new construction project to be burnt to the ground in roughly 18 months.  The prior two were a year ago this week and as far as we know the local and federal officials have nothing.  Naturally, they could know something but just not be telling us which is a whole other line of conspiracy thinking.  

    And despite the three previous fires this developer and general contractor did not appear to take even this simplist of measures to protect their site, a fence.  This is a very valid discussion to have so get a grip!] 

  23. Crone says:

    Oh, why not?

    “Thomas Crone is wildly mistaken in talking to the police — he is supporting political harassment of political activists. By linking Black Bear Bakery, anarchists and arson (this is all most people will remember from his irresponsible post), he is dividing the activist community.”

    I disagree,

  24. A.Torch says:

    The link to Black Bear Bakery seems irresponsible at best, Thomas. So someone who works there dropped-off a zine in a coffehouse. My god, this is the same crap that some folks played against the bicycle brigade in Benton park a few years ago, well they had nails, bottles, gas and turpentine in their garage…so they MUST be making bombs! Come on folks, your connect-the-dot theories would make Stalin proud!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — And for the record, Black Bear Bakery makes some of the best bread in town!]

  25. Perhaps the fires were set by conspirators seeking to enact a new city building code that would ban flimsy, wasteful balloon-frame construction and require LEED certification. Don’t they have blogs? That means that they are nameless and faceless. The arsonist is still nameless and faceless. I think we are looking for an urbanist blogger, folks.


    [UrbanReviewSTL — Balloon framing has been banned by building codes for decades.]

  26. Well, it’s mostly called “light framing” or “platform framing” now and has changed in accordance with codes but the basic method of cheap unsustainable wood-based construction persists.

    [UrbanReviewSTLBallon framing had to do with very long studs extending all the way to the eave of the roof, a very old practice.   This allowed fire to travel up through the wall cavity, the reason why the practice was banned in wood construction.  Stud Framing, while possibly wasteful, can be sustainable depending upon the materials chosen.  Techniques used to get clay for new bricks for solid masonry construction can be damaging and then to run mechanical & electrical service through a masonry home wood studs are often used create a wall cavity — increasing the use of materials.]

  27. Chris says:

    Do we know that all the projects that have been burned in the last 14 months were non-union projects? I haven’t seen this information in the media, but it seems like it would be rather easy for them to find out.

  28. Crone says:

    The cookies are excellent, as well. Let’s use this agreement as a building block.


  29. equals42 says:

    The culprit might turn out to be a union anarchist …

    Isn’t “union anarchist” an oxymoron?

  30. indymedia says:

    The Confluence covered the arsons last year in the context of the Green Scare:

  31. dogballs says:

    I think the fact that the zines that croney mentioned included talk of the north side fires that occurred about twelve years ago is huge. There have been 4 recent fires (at least) and quite a few that took place in north st louis twelve years ago. We obviously have an arsonist on our hands and the fact that a dude is placing zines that support the arson would probably be considered a “hot” lead. The police should investigate this. That would mean that the police would have to actually show up and work, and probably will not happen.

  32. foam says:

    My “theory” is that crone set the fires so he could have a good topic to make up stories about. Why not? This theory is as well substantiated as the union and anarchist “theories”.

  33. Mickey says:

    To think that the unions had nothing to do with this is just ridiculous 268. In a time when the unions are becoming fewer and fewer members and the days of old when strongarming are gone, what other cowerdly device do they have. They may not have been the henchmen, but they damn well know who did it and most likely had it carried out. Perhaps the police should be looking into union bank accounts for payoffs to a group or individual. As I understood it, the majority of the project was union labor, with only a handful of non union companies doing work, but, I guess that wasn’t good enough for some. I hope they rebuild those apartments and use 100% non union labor. We need to continue to bring St. Louis back to where it was, with or without the union.

  34. foam says:

    Mickey, you seem to know an awful lot of detail on how this was carried out. It’s so obvious that you were in on it!! Turn yourself in and quit trying to blame other people!!

  35. Mickey says:

    Foam, What detail? Obviously, you must be a Pro Union man. Get a life!!!!

  36. Jason Toon says:

    I’m a pro-union guy, and I’ve never belonged to a union in my life (yes, I do have a life). See, I appreciate little things like “the 40-hour week” and “the weekend” and “the minimum wage” and “the fact that little kids aren’t working down in coal mines”. And we owe it all to unions. When employers get together in associations to protect their interests, nobody bats an eye. Seems like workers should have the right to do the same.

    I agree we need to “bring St. Louis back to where it was.” Union factory and construction jobs built the prosperous, vital St. Louis of fifty years ago. I’d love to live in a city as busy and wealthy as St. Louis in the 1950s, when unionization rates were highest. Non-union Wal-Mart and Mickey D’s jobs aren’t going to bring the city back – neither are cut-rate non-union construction jobs.

    Mickey, if you have evidence that unions “damn well know who did it” and “most likely had it carried out”, by all means go to the police. Otherwise, please consider shutting your irresponsible yap. Foam had it right: in the absence of evidence, it’s just as easy to accuse YOU of being behind the fires. And just as meaningful.

  37. @ says:

    Bringing this conversation full circle, Jason, if you appreciate “the 40-hour week”, “the minimum wage” and “the fact that little kids aren’t working down in coal mines” you should thank the anarchists at least as much as you thank the unions.

    For anarchists these small gains are simply signs that the class war is a two sided affair.

  38. park says:

    Can we talk? What possible contributions can anarchists make to a civilized society?

  39. Mickey says:

    Well Toon, to coin an old phrase, ” people have a tendency to be persuaded by the biggest loud mouth doing all the talking. You’re just about the most ignorate ass’s I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Keep up the BS, I enjoy it.

  40. foam says:


    Thank you for sharing your baseless conspiracy theories. They add a great deal to the dialog, really, I mean it. Thanks also for all the irrational anti-union venom. Again, tremendously useful. And finally, thank you for revealing the depth of your consideration of this topic, which is on full display when you call toon “just about the most ignorate ass’s I have ever had the pleasure of reading”.

    Can you please explain to the rest of us, just exactly what “ignorate ass’s” means? “ignorate” is not a word with which I am familiar. Ass’s means “belonging to the ass”. What the hell are you talking about? Do you know?

    Mickey, your posts have absolutely zero substance, and you can’t friggin spell. Thank you for your most valuable contribution.

  41. Jason Toon says:

    “Well Toon, to coin an old phrase, ” people have a tendency to be persuaded by the biggest loud mouth doing all the talking. You’re just about the most ignorate ass’s I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Keep up the BS, I enjoy it.”

    Wow. I’ll let this barely literate mess speak for itself. What’s your first language, by the way?

  42. Jason Toon says:

    To #: yes, I agree, and I acknowledge that American anarchists, socialists, even (GASP) communists fought tirelessly and thanklessly for all of those things. Big ups to them all for that, whether or not I agree with every plank in their respective platforms.

  43. Mickey says:

    Dearest foam. What an appropriate name for someone who spews at the mouth. Please excuse me for not using spell check, but you should use it yourself. There is no such word as “friggin”. However, my theory of people listening to the biggest mouth in absence of conversation holds water. It must be a bitch not having the limelight on your useless dialogs. You’re exactly the reason why all these conspiracy theories are evolving. You love the controversy, you love being the antagonist, and you love listening to yourself. You’re probably single, I’m guessing divorced and disgruntled. Nonetheless, why don’t you crawl back into your cubby hole and allow the police and fire investigators to do their job. It seems easy for you to disallow everyone else’s hypothesis of the fire and how it started. Perhaps you are just pissed off and need to have the ability to argue. Regardless, life goes on, and the builder is going to rebuild. The real disappointment here is adding another black eye to the City.

  44. Mickey says:

    Toon, I’m in your remedial stupidity class. I sit right next to you.

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