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Monday, June 28, 2010

A Lafayette Square Transformation

St. Louis's Lafayette Square--and specifically the portion fronting the park itself--is one of the city's most immaculate, attractive, and quaint strolls. In 1896, a cyclone destroyed the neighborhood and its namesake park. This photograph shows the damage to the Lafayette Park Presbyterian Church on Missouri (west side of Lafayette Park).


The level of devastation makes it very surprising indeed that so much of the neighborhood was ultimately salvaged and/or rebuilt. Over 100 years later, Park, Mississippi, Lafayette, and Missouri Avenues are collectively one of the city's finest showcases. What gaps remain are now lushly landscaped side yards or future development sites, as much infill activity has occurred on the Square already.

There was one odd sight on the Square, though: a heavily altered church that had a bit of a sore thumb appearance in its particular spot of Park Avenue just east of Benton Place. 2035 Park Avenue, shown below, was originally a two-story historic home hacked away at over time. Perhaps the 1896 Cyclone played a part?


Walking past the site yesterday, there was little indication it had any relation to the building shown above. From the city's Geo St. Louis website, the "after" shot:


While some might argue that this neighborhood's strict historic code has stifled creative urban design, I find historic recreations like that above appropriate for such a self-consciously historic neighborhood. After all, the neighborhood had a choice to rebuild itself in a different fashion after 1896, but it chose to emulate the old then, too. Why should we let a little mid-20th century urban decline have its way with the Square's protected identity? I think 2035 Park looks great!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Is St. Louis Truly Getting Better?

Over at Urban St. Louis forums, there is an excellent discussion afoot regarding whether or not St. Louis has truly turned a corner from its dark days of decline and despair in the latter half of the 20th Century.

The provocateur is a Fortune article from 1985, touting the city’s against-the-odds comeback. St. Louis Centre was “glittering” and Union Station’s shopping was an “extravaganza”. Tax breaks were luring in out-of-town investment and the stars were just finally aligning for the ailing city, according to the article.

Of course, most of the present stock of urban thinkers in St. Louis believes that the 1980s were a bleak time for the city—and that we’re now, even despite a deep recession, on a much better path. Homicide rates were ballooning then, businesses and people leaving, and landmarks were being felled by the day. Yet, the above article is a good demonstration that any city has reason to hope and will do so to survive. Certainly, St. Louis Centre seemed novel at the time, as the largest urban enclosed mall in the nation. With numbers not going the city’s way, I’m sure that a gigantic mall downtown seemed an epinephrine-like injection of confidence in a bleeding downtown.

This might all sound very scarily familiar. No, but things are really different this time! We're really emerging from a half-century slump this time, for sure, right? But what if, in 20 years, Culinaria is closed and the parking garage above sits mostly empty? What if Citygarden of today is the Kiener Plaza of tomorrow? I guess we should all hang our heads low and resign our efforts to improve our city: this incredible spike in reawakening neighborhoods and business districts, daring rehabbers, transit users and supporters, and generally creative civic energy is all a horribly mean and unfair taste of the sky at the top of the Ferris wheel. That sinking feeling is bound to return, and the ground is the only way off the ride.

In other words, our civic energy and collaboration right now is part of a cycle. There have been counterparts to each of us in the past—exact replicas in their passion and dedication to their city. Today, these same people are our harshest and most cynical critics, their own efforts having been shot down long ago under eerily similar circumstances. Or so they say.

I simply have to believe that it's not true. While some St. Louis boosterism is the work of naïve idealists, I say more power to them (to us, I should say!). Naïve idealists approach situations with an air of possibility; their critics tout a bitter “reality”. Truly, though, their very faith in such a reality helps to preserve it.

We need a special kind of idealism in the city.

We don’t need someone who’s so confident that a “glistening” mall downtown will save it that we don’t have a meaningful discussion of what a mall might do to an urban retail environment. We need an open civic dialogue to direct a constant stream of ideas to their proper source for refinement, as well as for enactment. We need great efforts at organizing motivated St. Louisans, such as UrbanSTL or City to River. We need to be aware of what challenges exists in our extant political and cultural structure, but also play selective amnesiacs when we hear “I told you so”. It’s a damning statement designed to punish people for taking a risk—and that’s the opposite of what we should be doing in St. Louis. 

The brand of idealism we need is the kind that generates ideas, endeavors to situate them in their proper context, and the kind that rejects the word “failure” outright. To stumble is to learn how to walk gracefully.

What is going on in St. Louis right now is nothing short of spectacular, and, I believe, largely irreversible if we continue on the same track. Note that conditional statement; it’s going to take sustained work to address all of our systemic issues. But, as with any person who entered long years of physical and social decline, the city of St. Louis needs first to learn to love itself again. It needs that shot in the arm. And I’m here, with hundreds of others of you reading now, to administer that shot. That's the stage we're in right now.

This is a place of tremendous character—one that develops only out of a unique struggle, a wear and tear, a patina. To deflect any criticism that we’re just the next generation of urban dwellers destined for disappointment, we must help fashion a place from which one can’t help but derive excitement, passion, and purpose in life. We can start by--we have started by--trumpeting this very special place to everyone we meet; by opening shops and restaurants and supporting the unique local ones that already exist; by doing our best to not just be tolerant of but inviting to people who are different; by better marketing our assets and developing honest and open solutions to our oft-mentioned problems.

I know this is the touchy-feel realm I'm in right now. And it's also vague. But I think many readers will know how to interpret these broad statements. I just have a terrible feeling that the moment we start to believe that we even have the option to let all of this great momentum slip away, it will. Let's stay positive, focused, and do what's right for our city no matter who's declaring the odds of success.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Downtown - a Core of Discovery

Have you ever heard the phrase "there's nothing to do downtown"?

The National Park Service's answer to this is the Downtown "Core of Discovery".


With the ongoing City Arch River 2015 design competition, it's great to see the NPS express its dedication towards connecting the Arch to downtown in the meantime.

Each attraction has a nice informational page that will certainly be of use to tourists if this website is well-advertised. I particularly like the Flickr photo pools for each listed attraction. My favorite part, though, is the downtown architecture tour.


It's a 20-stop architectural smorgasbord. The tour covers the greatest hits (the Wainwright Building), the modern marvels (the Zinc building), house museums (the Campbell House), and more.


It might seem like a small step on the part of the NPS, but clearly much thought has gone into the design of this site and the marketing of our downtown. I applaud this effort and am excited that I'll be here in person to witness the more radical interventions that will be proposed this fall as a part of the Archgrounds International Design Competition.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Where to Live?

Now that I've moved back to St. Louis (still getting settled in--please pardon the quietness of this blog), I'm now having to ask myself where I'll live when I get my own place. While I love my parents' house in Bevo and its location, I don't think I'll stay in the neighborhood. I work downtown and would like a simple, hassle-free commute by bus, train, or foot.

Just when I think I have decided on one neighborhood to settle into, another steals my heart. Will it ultimately be Old North's overwhelming community spirit and promise of a bright future that wins out? Will it be Benton Park's glut of beautiful architecture and great coffee shops? The Grove's eclectic style and thumping nightlife? Or the sheer convenience of downtown? I have a tough decision ahead and will keep everyone posted.

Monday, June 14, 2010

June Preservation Board Agenda Online

The temporary agenda is accessible here.

On the agenda are:
-A preliminary review of lighting at Aloe Plaza
-A preliminary review to extend an existing roof deck in Lafayette Square.
-A preliminary review to renovate 6120 Delmar (blogged here) in the East Loop, while demolishing a non-contributing addition.
-Review of proposal to install an illuminated ground sign with reader board at St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church.
-An appeal of staff denial of an application to replace third floor front window in the Central West End.
-An appeal of staff denial to retain 7 vinyl windows installed without a permit in Fox Park.
-An appeal of staff denial to retain exterior wrapping on front windows installed without a permit, also in Fox Park.
-An appeal of staff denial to retain a front door installed without a permit, in Benton Park.
-A new application to install solar panels on front roof slope, also in Benton Park.

Proposed demolitions are below:

-6044 Cates, in the West End neighborhood (photo from Geo St. Louis)


4308 Gano, in the Fairground Neighborhood. (Photo from Bing Maps).



4623 Kennerly, in the Greater Ville neighborhood. (Photo from Bing Maps).


The Preservation Board meeting is held at 1015 Locust, Suite 1200.

The date is June 28th at 4 p.m.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why Do You Stay in St. Louis?

You could have your choice of any city in the country. Chicago's larger and a short drive away. Heck, Kansas City's economy is doing better. And let's not even talk about cities along either of the coveted coasts!

Why do you stay in St. Louis?

Well, because you realize St. Louis is a soulful, elegant, fun, interesting, eclectic place poised for great things. You like its grit, its neighborhoods' character, its street festivals, its parks, its food, its nightlife, its affordability. Or something along those lines.

In fact, you should probably put it in your own words here, at the new microblog dedicated to this very question: Staying in St. Louis.

The submit button is located in the yellow box in the left tab--it's the mail slot icon.

I'm absolutely thrilled to announce that, next week, I'll be among those who can actually submit "why I stay" there in St. Louis. Because I'm coming home, for good.

More on that soon.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Anarchy in Affton, and Other Reflections on St. Louis's Placeblogosphere

Does anyone know the whereabouts of one J. Patrick O'Brien, the "city" of Affton's onetime mayor? Has there been a coup?

On December 23, 2007, after a somewhat regular posting schedule, the esteemed pseudo-mayor of a pseudo-city (Affton is not incorporated) simply stopped posting. See for yourself here at his now-defunct blog: Mayor of Affton.

The Mayor offered St. Louis placeblog readers something we're all too light on: laughter. O'Brien would refer to his wife as the "First Lady" and his home, more than likely, being in Affton, a Tudor-style gingerbread or a Post-War saltbox, the "Mayoral Mansion".

Whether he reviewed the Affton restaurant scene...:

Last night the First Lady and I tried out the new Trattoria Toscana restaurant on Gravois next to the Ten Mile House. Let me first say that earlier I told a friend that I was going out to Affton's newest Italian eatery and he said "Fazoli's?" Chris, you are a jerk and so are you Fazoli's. I hate Fazoli's food and apparently they hate Affton since they don't have a location here.

...or faux-bombastically trumpeted his mayoral background in real estate development...


The Mayor attended a conference on Sustainable Development this morning hosted by the Urban Land Institute.  Most of the discussion was old hat for the Mayor as I am well aware of the concepts that create such developments.  What was enlightening was to see actual reports and data that proved the return on investment to developers that choose to “go green”.

...the Mayor of Affton was a delight to read.

If this were the end of the story, I'd be kind of depressed. With the passing of the Mayor of Affton blog, there was definitely a visible void, and not just in everyone's favorite South County hamlet. Our region needed more people writing about their neighborhoods, their municipalities, to get us excited and interested. Affton is one of the most stereotyped places in the region--it's all retirees, it's boring, it's not urban, etc.--yet I believe O'Brien opened our eyes to a colorful place. That's St. Louis--an impossibly varied kaleidoscope of villages.

So, it's important to note now, three years after Affton's Mayor disappeared from the blogosphere, that we have plenty of other Mayors running around town (keep in mind--some of these mayors predated the ascendancy of Foursquare!).

One of my favorites is Nicki's Central West End Guide. Neighborhood resident Nicki Dwyer snaps photos of businesses new and old, street life, flora and fauna, and more--all in the Central West End or nearby. By focusing on the life of the neighborhood, as opposed to blogs like mine that settle for our great, if inanimate, built environment, Nicki truly enlivens the neighborhood. I know she doesn't go by "mayor", but I'd vote for her!

We now even have a Near South Side-centric neighborhood newspaper online, called Your Local Messenger, and an online-only (and VERY well done) North County magazine at NoCoSTL.

56 Houses Left dutifully and beautifully cataloged the long destruction of a North County neighborhood near the airport--the Carrollton Subdivision. In happier news, a swanky mid-century modern neighborhood of Crestwood (the Ridgewood subdivision) gets much love on this web site.

Old North St. Louis has a whole band of blogger-rehabbers. Check out 1318 Hebert and the 3 Walls Project (covering the process of a stunning renovation at 3240 N. 19th). Our Little Easy hasn't been updated in a while, but is worth a look.

So, neighborhood mayors out there reading this--urban, suburban, rural, it matters not, of course--please send us your placecentric blogs so that we can all rest assured that the faux-Mayoral blogging doesn't have a term limit.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

East Loop Redevelopment Falls a Bit Short; Make a Call to Improve It!

When Neal Shapiro of Original Cast Lighting announced he was packing up his business and taking it from the East Loop to Westport Plaza, he promised his presence on Delmar would not fade.

Now, the Summer 2010 issue of the Times of Skinker-DeBaliviere has the proof: Shapiro's rendering for the site at 6108 Delmar.

Here is the before, from Google Streetview:



And the rendering, from the Times of S-D.


As you can probably tell, half of the building (a non-contributing addition to a historic building) is slated for demolition while the other half will be surface parking.

Skinker-DeBaliviere Community Council supports the plan with minor alterations, saying that "this additional parking will be a welcome addition to the Delmar streetscape and complement the renovation of the historic OCL building...". While I respect this neighborhood group greatly and feel that their newspaper is among the city's best, I disagree with them entirely on this point.

The East Loop is at a point, urban-design wise, where it could really take off and be seen as a cohesive district on par with the western portion of the district. The African American Cultural Center (shown below) will fill in a large gap in the street wall, but the East Loop still has plenty of blank space.

Image Source: Terrence Says

If you need confirmation of this, step up to the rooftop bar at the new Moonrise Hotel.


This humongous gap between the East and West Loops is bad enough--why create more gulfs between activity?

I understand that the Loop is a regional destination and that most people drive there. That said, the Loop is actually not a huge district. Able-bodied individuals should park at the gigantic surface lot behind Delmar between Leland and Kingsland and walk to the East Loop if that's their destination. If you want to grab-and-go, try street parking, which is usually available if it's not a weekend or a popular Pageant show. Let's not forget to mention that there is a Metrolink stop a block away from this site--and a proposed Loop Trolley that would run right outside the front door. Those who wanted to avoid a parking headache in the Loop could  always take one of the many other forms of transportation (I didn't even mention the bus...) to get there as well, possibly with a park-and-ride situation if they still wish to drive at all.

The Loop has the greatest potential of all business districts in St. Louis to become even more of a showcase of how active, urban, and lively St. Louis can be. Parking lots suck energy away, especially when they're visible. If it's determined that parking is absolutely necessary for the site, why not hide it? Keep the facade of the building to be demolished intact, paint it, and let it at least hold down a proper street wall for the East Loop. This would be a very creative use of the building and a better public face for Delmar than a brick wall screening surface parking.

If you agree with me, please contact the Skinker-DeBaliviere Community Council below:

6008 Kingsbury Avenue 
St. Louis, MO 63112 

Voice: (314) 862-5122 
Fax: (314) 862-5153 

Email: beverett@skinker-debaliviere.com

As I said before, I respect the work of this great neighborhood association, but it's their word that will allow, or block, more surface parking on Delmar in the East Loop. Remember--this is St. Louis's premiere urban strip. Why can't we put a better face out to the world than striped parking spaces? I think we can!

Thanks to the Urban St. Louis forum for this story idea.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The North Side: Let's Plug the Loss of Place

I won't take the easy route and claim the entire North Side of St. Louis is suffering unimaginably. Those fearful of anything "North of Delmar" would be well-advised to check out Old North St. Louis, one of St. Louis's most exciting stories of revitalization and community reinvestment. Even though it's the most often cited North City neighborhood for tales of urban regeneration, Old North does not have a monopoly on the moniker "the future is north" by any means.

Hyde Park has seen several measures designed to stop the outward flow of residents and to plug the loss of irreplaceable historic buildings. Blue Shutters Development, Better Living Communities, and Sun Ministries are just some of the groups in Hyde Park attempting to make a difference for both the built and social environments. Sponsored by the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis, artist Theaster Gates is attempting to heal the neighborhood through arts and education.

With the same development and financing team as Old North's 14th Street Mall restoration project (known as Crown Square), the resurrection of Dick Gregory Place in the Greater Ville is no less exciting. There are stable North City neighborhoods as well who have not seen the worst of decline. These include Academy, the Lindell Park area of JeffVanderLou, Visitation Park, Baden, etc.

Yet much too large swaths of the North Side continue to slip away, losing a valuable sense of place.

The most recent news is that four houses in College Hill burned. One of the four was occupied, and was a complete gem. See 859 Cowan, pre-fire, below:


In the Post-Dispatch story, their photograph of the fire shows the extent of the damage to this particular home. Thankfully, no one was hurt.



Four homes burning within blocks of one another is more than suspicious. Arsonists are likely the culprits here, considering that the three vacant homes had no utility hookups.

Arson, brick rustling, and simple demolition-by neglect are forever denying generations of St. Louisans enjoyment of some of the city's oldest and, at one time, most charming neighborhoods. College Hill is but one struggling North City neighborhood; St. Louis Place, much of JeffVanderLou, the Vandeventer neighborhood, the Ville proper--all are very significant historic neighborhoods that are literal shells of their former selves. JeffVanderLou, in particular, just saw a devastating round of arsons back in March. Then there's an eight year history of NorthSide project visionary Paul McKee, Jr's holding companies' neglect of its properties. So widespread was this neglect that blogger Rob Powers was able to catalog over 200 days of blog posts worth of destruction.

In certain North Side neighborhoods, I wonder if there will be much of a physical infrastructure left to save in the next ten years. St. Louis Place is already infamous for its expansive urban prairie.

This web site and several other St. Louis built environment blogs focus quite often on St. Louis's healthiest neighborhoods or those seen as having the most potential. Benton Park, Benton Park West, the Grove, the Central West End, and yes, Old North St. Louis, are pretty popularly blogged areas of the city these days. In some ways, it's to be expected that a St. Louis blogger will focus on where the most "news" is, or where the best photographs/stories come from. Even those bloggers that like to point out areas of improvement in the city generally look to some gaping holes in otherwise stable streetscapes and neighborhoods.

It's clear that we have an imperative to focus considerable attention on some of the North Side's most distressed neighborhoods. Now, will historic preservation alone lift up neighborhoods that have witnessed disinvestment and flight of people and businesses for decades now? No, quite simply. But, for a hypothetical moment, make the city a mirror image. Soulard is a pockmarked neighborhood ringed with unsuccessful attempts at housing low-income residents. It's now undergoing a remarkable resurgence of the pieces of its built environment that remain. It's our Old North. Today's St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou are nearly 100 percent intact and now thriving; they're our Benton Park and Benton Park West. O'Fallon is our Tower Grove South. Baden is our Carondelet.

In this mirrored image of St. Louis, we must see the value in saving Benton Park. Our chopped up Soulard is still worth saving, and is seeing rehabilitation, so let's not write off neighboring Benton Park off either. So if we flip back, we see the importance and potential of JeffVanderLou, or College Hill, or St. Louis Place. They should be neatly woven into the fabric of the rest of the city, but they're not. Their hopes of a Benton Park-style revival are slim because of their isolation.

We can't wait around for a NorthSide development proposal, which is too big, or a North 14th Street renaissance, which was very specialized and hard to replicate.

First of all, we need more preservation advocacy specifically focused on the North Side's most sensitive areas. With few people in St. Louis speaking to the importance of these areas, it's easy to see why there's no push to save/repopulate these neighborhoods. It would be nice to see Landmarks Association of St. Louis open a satellite office in Hyde Park or College Hill, renovating and occupying a storefront in the process. Such an action would show that these neighborhoods have great architectural and social value and deserve reinvestment.

Second, we need more leadership like Antonio French, of the 21st Ward. French has partnered with the group Rebuilding Together to tackle vacancy and blight in the Penrose neighborhood. His "Block by Block" program is a great model that can spread to other neighborhoods in surrounding wards. French is also attempting to curb gang violence in his ward, is regularly seen cleaning up O'Fallon Park, and introduced Preservation Review in his ward. While staging alley and park cleanups as well as hosting prayer vigils for crime victims might seem like minute steps, French is investing his confidence in his neighborhood and ward. French is very wise to invite the presence of Rebuilding Together into the 21st Ward. The full force of St. Louis's non-profit arm should be applied to ailing North City. If St. Louis is one of the most giving cities in the country as certain studies show, surely we can channel some of this energy toward addressing systemic poverty and blight in North City (and beyond). Non-profits will take notice of sound leadership and will hopefully respond with the same confidence that the area's leadership projects. Our leaders, but also bloggers like me, must shift the dialog about North City from its crime/violence to "ideas" "hope" "opportunity" and "improvement" in earnest. This means working with and for, not in spite of, neighborhood residents.

We need to install cameras on targeted city blocks. These cameras could catch criminals in the process of robberies, assaults, and other crimes. Cameras could definitely help put an end to arson and brick rustling in some of St. Louis's most tattered neighborhoods. All parties caught illegally demolishing properties and selling off their bricks should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. They're literally stealing a building. Antonio French is already at work to bring cameras to the 21st Ward, at least.

We need philanthropic investment in North City. In New Orleans, there was a corporate-sponsored event called "Christmas in July" where employees of large firms downtown would take a couple days off and assist in renovations of historic properties in a then-rundown neighborhood. Why not do this in North City, HOK? Anheuser-Busch InBev? Monsanto? Enterprise? Et cetera. I proposed in a previous post that the Gateway Foundation, the bankrollers of Citygarden downtown, fund a citywide greening program to install mature trees on barren blocks. Imagine a Citygarden-scale investment in targeted areas of North City--$40 million dedicated to renovating LRA properties, installing new lighting, neighborhood banners, etc.

Speaking of the LRA, we need to market vacant properties better. Again, I turn to Antonio French, who created a website to market city-owned properties in his ward. The LRA should also have a bricks-and-mortar storefront, either downtown or in both North and South City, that would inform would-be buyers of what is required of them as well as offer technical assistance in purchasing and renovating properties.

Realistically speaking, most of presently fallow North Side land won't be built upon anytime soon, right? Yet I see Detroit get boatloads of attention for its mostly empty neighborhoods and all of the opportunities they offer in terms of art installations and urban farming. I wonder why St. Louis's most neglected neighborhoods don't generate the same interest, nationally and locally. The St. Louis PR machine rightfully, it would seem, focuses on the city's vibrant and up-and-coming neighborhoods, but our most struggling areas are the ones that need idea factories. It would be great to see St. Louis University and Washington University, among others, bringing art installations to empty North City blocks. Detroit artists literally froze a house to very visibly tell the tale of what foreclosures do to an urban neighborhood. And a New Orleans artist bought up a whole block of the St. Roch neighborhood and transformed each house into something of an outdoor art showcase, renovating one of the shotguns for her own residence. We need more of this type of eye-catching activity in some of our abandoned neighborhoods.

The "Safe House" in New Orleans--an interactive art exhibit advocating for clean soil in polluted areas of the city. It is one house on a whole block dedicated to outdoor/indoor interactive art in a destitute New Orleans neighborhood. Image Source: Art:21 Blog


We could do both at once--that is, create artful built environments and fill in vacant lots. Habitat for Humanity St. Louis is currently constructing several dozen homes in Old North. In that neighborhood, Habitat consulted a strong neighborhood association to get a sense of what type of design for housing that neighborhood residents would see as reflective of their community. The result of that interaction was a thoughtful play on Old North's architectural heritage, with small, but contemporary shotguns as well as two-story flounder houses. Maybe North City residents could be sold on the concept of container houses, which are growing in popularity worldwide.

A simple shipping container house in Atlanta, Georgia. Image Source: G Living

In College Hill, and other North City neighborhoods like it, we need to plug the loss of place and start filling these parts of the city with a constant stream of ideas. We have creative, thoughtful people engaged already in the betterment of our city. How do we use them to create a sense of energy and possibility directed at the least successful of St. Louis's neighborhoods? What are your ideas?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Moderne No More: Industrial Building's Renovation Begs Question about Mid Century Modern Preservation

What do you think of this building, located in the southern reaches of Tower Grove South, at 4110 Beck Avenue?

The picture above, showing the long and deep structure's two public elevations, is from a Cultural Resources Office staff report dating to September 2009. 4110 Beck is something of a classic industrial "Art Moderne" building. Built in 1951, it displays a bold, yet repetitive modern spirit as it emphasizes its horizontal sprawl. A rounded corner entry allows it some visual prominence and breaks up two very long and identical facades. Back in 2009, the party that had recently purchased the building decided to use it as storage. In the process, they proposed a renovation that they felt would make the structure less visually monotonous.

Because 4110 Beck is located within a Preservation Review district, and because the new owners sought to build projecting elements off of the building into the public right of way, the Cultural Resources Office had to first review the proposal. Click here for the staff report. Ultimately, it was decided that the Cultural Resources Office had no purview over the design of alterations in the case of 4110 Beck (the purpose of Preservation Review districts, after all, is to review proposed demolitions, not alterations). This case was a Board of Public Safety referral and, apparently, adding brick pilasters to a building does not create an immediate safety hazard to pedestrians. While Cultural Resources declared the proposed alterations "unfortunate", it is clear now that the owner's plans were not derailed on account of a design that compromised the industrial minimalism of the building.

Walking by the site earlier today, I snapped a cell phone picture of the ongoing work:


The pale tan bricks of the original structure have been painted over with a cool green. The proposed brick pilasters have been added at equal intervals, as have new entrances and lighting. The domineering corner remains, at present, untouched, but that is all.

The alterations to 4110 Beck make us examine our collective attitude about buildings built within the modern era (roughly defined as 1945-1975). Was the Swing-A-Way Manufacturing Company building above a repetitive bore of a building--one whose renovation/makeover as shown above is probably a good sign for the neighborhood? Or was this a considerable loss to our city's mid-century modern architectural heritage?

I suppose, in order to answer this question, we have to generate yet more questions. How visible is this building to the traveling public? Beck (and its intersecting street, Holt) are fairly quiet streets here, but there is a surrounding residential context to the north. Was the building National Register eligible? The Cultural Resources Office believed it to be so. Do the changes make the building look better? In this blogger's opinion, the structure now has an un-charmingly awkward look to it.

As our city continues to age, our modern era buildings will likely continue to see such attempts at making them more "personable". I, for one, hope we can develop an appreciation for the best of our well-designed mid-century housing and commercial stock--and I think 4110 Beck is, or was, a member of that club.

What do you think? Who cares--the building is still there? Like the alterations?

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