Jamestown Mall Site Part 2: Laying Groundwork For New Development Over The Coming 10+ Years

 

 Last week I outlined the problems with the vacant Jamestown Mall, its massive 144.51 acre site, and the surroundings. See Jamestown Mall Site Part 1: Analyzing the Site, Problems, and Options. When you look at the problems the solution becomes obvious. Problems > solutions include: Vacant 422,533 square feet enclosed …

Jamestown Mall Site Part 1: Analyzing the Site, Problems, and Options

 

 My blog posts about Jamestown Mall are few. In 2011 a poll followed by the poll results with a few thoughts. In 2016 I posted that it had been two years sine the mall permanently closed. My 2011 visit was done while the mall was open, I arrived via MetroBus …

Times Beach Summer Resort Fascinates Me From Beginning To End

 

 To escape the heat & smell of city life  wealthy St. Louisans in the 19th century would take a train out to various resorts along the Meramec River. In the late 19th century, several popular summer resorts were founded southwest of St. Louis, Missouri on the Meramec River, including Meramec …

Smart Meter Installed, On A Time Of Use (TOU) Electric Plan

 

 In late April I posted about new electric meters, see Smart Electric Meters & Time Of Use (TOU) Rate Plans Coming To Ameren Missouri Customers. To summarize the new meters show energy use in 15 minute increments, allowing for different rates depending upon the time of the day, summer or …

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Mid-Century Modern vs. 21st Century Density

June 17, 2021 Central West End, Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design, Real Estate Comments Off on Mid-Century Modern vs. 21st Century Density
 

A developer has proposed a new apartment building that was require the demolition of a mid-century modern (MCM) building. I’ve been watching the debate of preservation of MCM verses increased density on Twitter & Facebook. I want to weight in, but first some background.

The non-profit service group Optimist International was founded elsewhere more than a century ago. In 1924 St. Louis was selected as the location for its worldwide headquarters. Decades later their 2-story building at 4494 Lindell (@ Taylor) was designed by local architects Schwartz & Van Hoefen.

Optimists International’s headquarters at 4494 Lindell was dedicated at 3pm on Sunday June 17, 1962 — 59 years ago today. Previously they were located in the Railway Exchange building, Image from May 2014

Schwartz & Van Hoefen is also known for:

  • Marchetti Towers I & II, SLU campus.
  • Mansion House, 4th Street downtown.
  • Council Plaza, which included a “flying saucer” gas station (later various places like Naugles & Del Taco, now a Starbucks & Chipotle)
  • Northland Cinema (demolished)
  • Busch Stadium II (local architect, demolished)
Optimist International has formally listed their property for sale a number of years ago, it includes the slightly taller building next door. Photo from May 2021.

There have been numerous proposals for the property, including one for renovated and updated office space. The most recent, announced last week, calls for demolition of the original 2-story building and late 70s 4-story addition. In their place a new 7-story apartment building.

This recent proposal is what got people fiercely debating, falling roughly into 3 camps: we need to preserve our few remaining mid-century modern buildings, more density is good, and preservation focus should be on saving 19th century buildings. This is a generalization of their points so let’s get into some specifics.

This view shows the Taylor side of the proposal.

Many see an artist’s rendering of a proposed project from a bird’s eye and get all excited. From this vantage point artists can make anything look good — they could make the workhouse look like a lush resort.  Humans, however, don’t experience the built environment from a bird’s viewpoint.

Those on the side of preservation of Optimist International are correct that increasingly we’re seeing MCM buildings being razed, especially in the Central West End. Last century these MCM buildings were seen as important symbols of reinvestment as the wealthy began to flee the city, as Gaslight Square began to fade.

One disputed point is “architectural merit”, I’m not qualified to argue for or against on this particular building. However, from the Mansion House nomination to the National Register of Historic Places I can learn about the firm responsible:

The firm of Schwarz & Van Hoefen was a midcentury incarnation of one of the longest-running continuously operating firms in St. Louis. It began in 1900 as Mauran, Russell & Garden when three architects broke away from the St. Louis office of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge (which was set up locally as Shepley, Rutan, Coolidge, and Mauran). John Lawrence Mauran brought along two younger colleagues, Ernest Russell and Edward Garden, and the firm almost immediately received several important commissions. Ned Garden left the firm in 1909, to be replaced by William Crowell in 1911. After Mauran’s death in 1933, Russell & Crowell added W.Oscar Mullgardt.

By the mid-20 century, more than half a century into its existence, the partnership remained one of the leading architectural firms in St. Louis. Esley Hamilton wrote that in the 1950s and 60s, the firm “was unusual in maintaining its design flare while working on large commercial projects. The firm completed many architecturally significant works during this period. In addition to the Mansion House, four of their other projects were recommended for National Register listing in the City of St. Louis’ Modern Movements survey of 2013.

This means that 1/5 of the 25 properties on the list were by the various iterations of this single partnership, more than any on other firm on the list.

The four other buildings on the list are as follows. The Wohl Recreation Center (1959) at 1515 N. Kingshighway Boulevard is a glass-skinned neighborhood recreation center commissioned by the City of St. Louis. The Engineers Club of St. Louis (1959) at 4359 Lindell Boulevard is a low-rise addition to the emerging Modernist corridor; its use of traditional masonry and playful forms is very striking. The original two-story section of the Optimist Building (1961, 4490-94 Lindell Boulevard), a block to the west of the Engineers Club, has an exposed concrete frame.[Emphasis added] Finally, the Steinberg Art Gallery Building at Washington University was a collaboration between the partnership and architect Fumihiko Maki, who is credited with the design (1960, 6201-53 Forsyth Blvd.)

In addition to the buildings recommended for listing in the City’s Modernism survey, the partnership of Schwarz & Van Hoefen designed many other important buildings in St. Louis. Among the most visible is Council Plaza, which consists of two towers and two smaller buildings located at 212 – 310 S. Grand Boulevard (NRHP 3/02/2007).

So the architectural firm is an important part of our history. The city’s modern architecture page includes the survey mentioned above, which lists the Optimist International property as significant and worthy of individual listing. The list only contains 25 properties. So one of the two buildings is architecturally significant. Saying otherwise ignores the established record.

I love density, but it’s also correct that the Central West End isn’t where we need to be building more density. That said, I do like that the proposed apartment building includes small studio apartments. If only new CWE residential projects included some affordable and low-income units — they are not the same thing. An alternative is paying into a fund the help building units elsewhere in the city. Elsewhere means cheaper, less desirable neighborhoods…like where I’ve lived for before and for the last 2+ years.

One pro-preservation argument I saw said the Optimist International building was urban, in line with adjacent properties. Well, yes and no. It’s not set back behind a surface parking lot and the entrance clearly fronts onto the primary street.   The Lindell facade respects the established building line, the Taylor side is a set further back than the slightly older Grant Medical Clinic at 114 N. Taylor, designed by Harris Armstrong. In addition to being set back further than other buildings a low stone wall & raised lawn separates the building from the Taylor facade.  As a result of the design, the Taylor side has zero activity/openings/entrances. This is not urban form.

Looking south you can see the substantial setback behind the raised lawn. The low wall is the established building line along Taylor.

The proposed 7-story apartment building would be built out to the building line, not set back. It would have have a few retail storefront spaces right off the Taylor sidewalk. Balconies would also face Taylor, the common pool area also faces Taylor. I believe Taylor Ave would be more active and interesting with the proposed building, compared with the existing.

I do think we need to save our architectural history from all centuries. Both 19th & 20th century buildings are threatened, often for different reasons. While I love clean 20th century modernism it often is a negative to the urban experience. Claiming MCM buildings are urban is just as disingenuous as those who say the Optimist International building has no architectural merit.

In the event the current proposal falls through, I could see a reuse project where the 1979 4-story addition is replaced by a taller tower with west-facing balconies. A few storefronts or entrances are carefully cut into the Taylor facade. with a section of lawn & wall removed to create an entrance to each. Cafe tables with umbrellas would look great. Maybe the main building has storefronts, residential lobby on the ground floor and structured parking on the upper floor? New residential units would all be in the new tower to the east. The roof of the old building could be a green roof with outdoor seating, activities.

— Steve Patterson

 

Long-Vacant Retail Space Now A Police Substation

June 14, 2021 Crime, Downtown, Featured, Retail Comments Off on Long-Vacant Retail Space Now A Police Substation
 

In October 2012 I posted about a state-owned retail space used rent-free for hotel storage (see Hotel Has Used State-Owned Retail Storefront Rent-Free For A Decade). In August 2013 it was finally ready to lease — the space was emptied and a “for lease” sign in the window. It wasn’t long before the sign was gone, I guess everyone just gave up.

It has been vacant until recently. The space isn’t numbered, but it’s on N 9th between Locust St and Washington Ave.

The long-vacant storefront is now marked as a police substation.
The vacant space in August 2012, the paper hid hotel furniture being stored here.
In December 18th the furniture stored inside for years was being moved out.
In August 2013 the space was listed with a commercial broker.

The downtown police unit has a space two blocks south, at 215 N 9th St.

I have yet to see police enter or exit the new substation.

— Steve Patterson

Few Exposed Brick Pavers Covered With Asphalt

June 10, 2021 Featured, North City, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on Few Exposed Brick Pavers Covered With Asphalt
 

Most older streets in St. Louis were paved in cobblestones or paver bricks, few exist anymore.  Asphalt paving is significantly smoother, just far less attractive. In 1953 the Cochran Gardens high rise public housing complex opened, but construction closed off 8th Street between O’Fallon Street and the alley south of Cass Avenue. Eighth Street was reopened when the high rise towers were replaced with the mixed-income Cambridge Heights townhouses & apartments, except 8th wasn’t connected through to the little stub of a street to Cass.

This October 2, 2019 view is looking south on 8th from Cass. You can see the land just after the alley, Cambridge Heights, and the downtown skyline on the horizon. In the foreground you can see brick pavers. It looked like it had been paved over decades ago, but most was long gone so the old bricks were exposed.
On May 5th I returned home tfrom a press conference at the Chain of Rocks water treatment plant to see city crews paving over the small amount of bricks.
Closer view
A couple of days later I went back to see the finished results.The concrete in the foreground was part of the new river bridge project, when Cass was raised in height over the interstate.

This half block of 8th Street gets very little traffic, the uniformity of the asphalt paving does look better than it did with patches of old asphalt and broken bricks. This is better, but I still miss seeing the bricks.

— Steve Patterson

Eleven New Trees Replaced Along Broadway at Baer Plaza

June 7, 2021 Downtown, Environment, Featured, Walkability Comments Off on Eleven New Trees Replaced Along Broadway at Baer Plaza
 

Early last month I saw landscapers planting new trees along Broadway next to Baer Plaza, across from the dome.

On May 3. 2021 I saw workers busy planting new trees on the east side of Broadway.

I frequently take Broadway to/from the central business district. Living north of the convention center & dome, Broadway (5th)& 9th are the only options to get around the massive facility that closed 8th, 7th, and 6th streets. Sometimes to make things interesting I roll on the east side of Broadway, so I knew exactly where they were planting.

On October 1, 2020 I snapped a few pics of the empty spots where trees had once been:

Looking north you could see the numerous empty squares where the allee vanished.
Some were just bare dirt.
Others still had some liriope (aka monkey grass)

There were 11 trees missing, very obvious sign of neglect. Not sure why, but I didn’t post the pictures to social media. So last month I was very happy to see workers busy planting eleven new trees. I retuned on May 7th to get these pics.

The new trees are small compared to the more mature trees further north, but they’re quite big for new trees.
Another view.

I don’t know trees to tell you the variety or how fast they’ll grow. Hopefully within a few years they’ll fill out nicely.  I’m going to take the east side of Broadway more often, especially when going to Laclede’s Landing, Eads Bridge, Arch grounds, etc.

— Steve Patterson

Lenore K. Sullivan Boulevard Reopened Five Years Ago Today

June 2, 2021 Downtown, Featured, History/Preservation Comments Off on Lenore K. Sullivan Boulevard Reopened Five Years Ago Today
 

Remember when Lenore K. Sullivan Blvd used to flood nearly every year? How it was a costly mess because street light wiring, guard rails. and such were all damaged? The street between the Arch and the Mississippi River underwent a major makeover, including increasing the elevation roughly four feet.

Re-opening day June 2, 2016. Lights were mounted on top of angled concrete piers to keep the wiring dry.

The work to elevate the road reduces odds of flooding, but it can and does happen.

Major flooding on the St. Louis riverfront, May 5, 2019

In the above example you can see the tops of the concrete piers sticking out of the water. Keeping the electrical connections dry significantly reduced the time & expense to reopen the street once flood waters recede.  Hopefully we won’t see future flooding so extreme the connections are under water.

— Steve Patterson

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