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Showing posts with label Midtown. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Midtown. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Form-Based Zoning Coming to (Part of) St. Louis

In the 1920s, the town of Euclid, Ohio set up a rudimentary zoning code that drew the ire of some well-off local landowners. These individuals believed the city's attempt to restrict the use of their land constituted a "taking" and, moreover, was unconstitutional. The resulting landmark Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. Supreme Court case would, surprisingly, declare zoning not only constitutional, but necessary.

This is where the name "Euclidian" zoning arises. Euclidian zoning entails neat separation of land uses. "Mixed-use" properties, combining residential, office, and retail perhaps, would not be allowed under a strict Euclidian zoning code.

Most planners today realize the utility of zoning but lament the modernist interpretation of zoning represented by the Euclidian manner. Corner stores, live-work units, even clean industry surrounding housing--all have gained acceptance as essential parts of a varied, diverse urban fabric. Recently, urban planners have been looking for a way to regulate land that does not stifle the way cities were meant to work.

Enter Form-Based Zoning.

Rather than merely regulate the uses of structures, form-based zoning looks at the appropriateness of scale, design, height, etc. to the urban environment. It's a relatively new concept, pioneered by New Urbanists like Andres Duany, and has been applied in a few cities now (Petaluma, California was one of the first).

Now, St. Louis may be jumping in on the game.

Central West End Midtown Development is nearly finished with its form-based zoning code for its service area--the southern portion of the Central West End and parts of Midtown. Read more at the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corp.'s blog.

Some nuggets from that blog post:

The proposal will be implemented in three phases:
1. The Building Envelope Standards (to regulate the physical form of the area)
2. General Design Standards (to preserve and create the appropriate urban experience)
3. Sustainable Building Standards (to incentivise various levels of green development)

Here is an excerpt from the Building Envelope plan (click to enlarge):

I think this is a wonderful effort for the Central West End, Midtown, and St. Louis. I will be eager to see more of the details, such as how design is to be regulated, but this seems like a good start.

If I had one major criticism, it would be, of course, the parking. Requiring one off-street parking space per residential unit seems a little high for a truly urban neighborhood like the Central West End. It might make more sense to make one space the maximum allowed parking rather than the minimum. I am also wondering what strategy neighborhood residents chose to pursue: the modified existing envelope or the contextual envelope. The former would have allowed for more high-intensity development, especially on Lindell, Forest Park, and Vandeventer. The latter would be more cautious and preservation-minded, keeping almost all historic structures and preserving the scale of neighborhoods as they are today.

The form-based code should certainly block, say, a CVS from tearing down a group of buildings for a suburban store with a drive-through (which, of course, almost happened). It should also not allow for the rebuilding of McDonalds and Arby's in their usual forms, which already did happen.

This code should be strong and urban, solidifying the Central West End/Midtown as St. Louis's most urban experience. I am definitely eager to see the final product.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

New 100-Room Hotel Planned for Midtown

Link here, via 17th Ward STL.

Central West End Midtown Development reviewed a proposal by Sasak Corp. to construct a 100-room. 5-story hotel at 3663 Forest Park Avenue. The new hotel would require demolition of the squat two-story Raffie Vending Company warehouse. This demolition would need approval from the city's Preservation Board first. The hotel itself would be of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites chain.

Behind the hotel would be a 100-space, two-level parking garage. CWEMD stated that they liked the proposal but would like to make sure the building will be built as rendered and not lose any of its architectural details in the process.

Rendering is below:

Some concerns:

-The parking garage will be too prominent from the front elevation, in my opinion. I have to wonder whether this garage (and associated large curb cut) is even needed given the monstrous (and ugly) garage constructed just to the west for the University Heights Loft Development. If not that garage, then what about St. Louis University's own ridiculously huge Laclede garage? If the parking were shared somehow, there would be a greater buildable area that could include a courtyard or some outdoor space that would be much more attractive than a parking garage.

-Is this the best location for a Midtown hotel? The city really should be working to develop a hotel in the Metropolitan Building as was originally planned (a Hyatt, I believe). With a constant flow of tourists in Grand Center, as opposed to Forest Park Avenue on what is essentially an interstate offramp, certainly both the Arts District and SLU would see benefits. Can Midtown support multiple hotels?

-Also, a minor point: why can't Grand Center have a Joe Edwards? I try to avoid chain hotels when I stay anywhere, opting for bed and breakfasts or local hotels if they're not too expensive. A unique, local hotel such as the Moonrise in the East Loop would be great for Grand Center, which has been for decades attempting to brand itself as a unique and creative destination. Somehow a Days Inn or Hyatt doesn't scream "Art" to me.

The Post-Dispatch Puts Online Some Great Shots of the Now-Gone Mill Creek Valley Neighborhood Circa 1948

Click here. (I probably can't legally screen cap these, so click while you can! I'm actually thinking of buying one of them...)

These are heartrending.

I truly believe if this area were still existent today and did not experience too much demolition, St. Louis University would never have even needed to "save" Midtown. The lack of a pedestrian-scale neighborhood in the Central Corridor from the Mississippi River to about Sarah Avenue is striking and something that has held the city's revitalization back entirely.

Much of the housing seen in these photographs was built in the Civil War-era (the mansard-roofed Second Empires were likely 1870s construction). Unfortunately, Soulard and Old North are the only remaining neighborhoods with much housing left from those eras. A supremely historic city, especially being so far west in the American landscape, has very little record of its earlier history. It's especially disappointing to see the conditions of the Mill Creek homes; they look great! Sure they had outdoor restroom facilities. Was that a reason to clear dozens and dozens of solid residential blocks? Sigh.

Will developments like Art House bring a new human scale architectural dynamic to St. Louis's pockmarked Central Corridor?

At the very least, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the Locust Automotive Row (a.k.a. Midtown Alley) is picking up steam and is turning into a really cool and soon to be active business district. And Samuel Shepard just north of Locust does feature some remnants of Mill Creek-style housing (3-story Italianates and Second Empires). Maybe someday we'll see a proposal to develop sensitive infill along this stretch (unlike the cheap rowhouses with the red doors that we see currently) so that there will finally be a pedestrian link from downtown all the way to the Central West End.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lose an Institution, (Re)Gain an Institution

Sadly, Hamilton Jewelers downtown--in business for 72 years--will be closing.

If you're depressed, take in the joy of a local restaurant classic's return. That's right. Sauce Magazine's "Scoop" blog reports that Chuy Arzola's, AKA Chuy's, will be reopening.

No, not in Dogtown, but in Midtown--in the space that Joe Boccardi's will soon be vacating inside the Coronado.

-1 for Downtown
+1 for Midtown
? for Dogtown

Old Chuy's...

Meet New Chuy's!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My next project: Mapping SLU's demolition derby in Midtown for the past few decades

Wish me luck.

It's going to be a lot of work.

But I was inspired by this saddening piece of news (and I'm not overly pleased by SLU's proposed demolition of Laclede Street for new student housing, either. There are other viable sites. Try Olive Street west of Spring. It's vacant, large, and waiting for redevelopment. Or build taller, rather than wider, adjacent to, but sparing, Laclede Street).

Another mansion to be lost; a context, already faded, wiped away forever.

What will be the model to rebuild by? I shudder to think.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In the old Mill Creek Valley "Slum"

2723 Pine Street -- September 1936.

Today, a part of the A.G. Edwards (I mean...Wachovia) campus.


3127 Laclede (circa 1960?).

Today, part of the SLU campus.

Thank you, Midtown Institutions, for your stewardship.

While we're on the topic, check out the sliver of a historic building just west of the still present Cupples House on West Pine in the heart of the SLU campus (photo circa 1988). They sure do have a thing for demolishing historic mansions.

Thanks, HABS, for depressing me as usual.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Notes from St. Louis

You know the drill. Every time I return, I offer my random months-removed observations of the city I love.

(By the way, it appears New Orleans was spared the worst of Gustav. Still, the city will not let residents return until later in the week, so I'm here for a good clip, it turns out).

First, certain parts of the city seem overly messy and litter-strewn. Bevo, for one, is not looking its best. That was a little disheartening.

Cafe Ventana is a great addition to SLU-Midtown/east Central West End. Though it seemed a little wrong to be eating beignets (a New Orleans specialty, for those who didn't know)on the eve of Gustav's landfall, it nevertheless was a comfy and enjoyable space. I especially love the bike rack. If you're going to have front and rear parking, adding the "bike lane" and large rack is a great way of urbanizing the building. A lot of money went into this space, and I think the results are definitely good.

I wanted to check out the Piccadilly at Manhattan restaurant over in Ellendale just about on top of the city limits (near Maplewood). It's truly the perfect urban establishment. It's at that undeniably intimate neighborhood scale--the corner storefront. I am going to make it a point to eat there today.

Still, I could not help but be distracted by this, right across the street:

It's a development called Ellendale Heights on Piccadilly and Ellendale boulevards. The picture, actually, does the structure more justice than it deserves. It and its eight or so neighbors look like live-in garages. This was not a good way to urbanize a suburban, front-facing garage on a squat lot. The result was literally laughable, especially seeing them all in a row. The garage covers 80 percent of the facade of the structure. It's simply unbelievable. In fact, every time I passed by on McCausland/Ellendale, I thought those facing Ellendale itself were actually the rear garages of a new development I never had time to check out on that opposite street. Nope. They're homes with a cancerous garage-growth. Yuck.

What else?

I found that Sundays and Mondays are not good days to grab something to eat. Almost every place I wanted to hit up was closed on both days. This includes the Piccadilly, mentioned above, and Mattingly Brewery on South Jefferson. And the Pitted Olive on Hampton (which, it turns out, is closed until this Friday due to a Labor Day vacation anyway).

More observations to come later.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Recontexualizing residential in Midtown/Grand Center...

Often, on this blog, I speak of grave threats to St. Louis's diminished (and diminishing) urban context.

There are too few examples of sound, aesthetically pleasing infill reclaiming sections of lost urban landscape. The North Side has plenty of plots of land on which to evoke the old, dense urbanism of the past, but these opportunities have mostly been undercut with cheap construction, not enough trees, and no retail/commercial anywhere near the neighborhood. A lot of those things are understandable in such a disinvested area.

But what about a city's self-conscious Arts District?

In St. Louis, that's Grand Center/Midtown. And that district's two anchors, Grand Center Inc. and St. Louis University, have been all too happy to steward Midtown's residential (and mixed use and industrial) context off the planet.

Rather than see the scattered residential buildings as assets to redevelop the neighborhood, both entities ignored them entirely, watching them decay into convenient parking lot opportunities.

Exhibit A - The Central Apartments

Exhibit B - 3740 Lindell

Exhibit C - Wagner House

And that's only from the past year or so!

It's incredible that there was little outcry over SLU's haphazard demo's. Midtown's residential context--one that once housed upstart St. Louisans in very dense but luxurious quarters, eventually alongside the lower classes--is nearly gone.

Luckily, a new context is arising in the ArtHouse development.

Eco-friendly, attractive, contemporary, urban, dense--these are great features to add to Midtown. This development, though not affordable to anyone but an upper middle class, is definitely a start at turning Midtown around. It could once again be a residential neighborhood if this wise developer's plans catch on.

Of course, I'd like to see some diversity in the neighborhood, both of types of buildings and people, but ArtHouse is a great rallying cry for bolder design and urban intimacy, even perched on their little hill as the units are.

I look forward to one force in Midtown/Grand Center trying to restore and recontextualize rather than destroy and leave lifeless strictly utilitarian surface lots.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Grand Avenue Bridge

I don't know your thoughts, but I think this photo rather singlehandedly points to all that was wrong with urban renewal.

The Grand Avenue Bridge was a 700 foot long suspension bridge over the railroad tracks of Mill Creek Valley. It was built in 1891.

And another, this time in profile:

This is an oh-so-flattering profile shot of today's bridge, constructed in 1961 for the Mill Creek Valley Urban Renewal that also claimed a neighborhood of some 20,000 people and innumerable and astounding examples of never-to-be-replaced St. Louis architecture.

Imagine what a dramatic entry to Midtown that bridge must have provided! All plans for redeveloping the bridge and environs for the Chouteau Lake project should consider a new, more pedestrian friendly and aesthetically pleasing bridge.

Head on over to Bridge Hunter for some more examples of bridges both present and lost. Unfortunately, in the latter category, this steel bridge on 21st Street over the Mill Creek tracks was demolished as well, this time in 1984, having been built in 1892.

The enshrinement of the automobile in public policy was the culprit for such redesigns as the Grand Avenue Bridge, which resembles a minimalist highway overpass and is also, sadly, one of the busiest stops along the Metrolink system, where pedestrians are forced to use it at their own discomfort and peril.

Who knows why the 21st Street bridge was sacrificed? Deferred maintenance? Redundancy? Whichever way, these beautiful bridges should still be here today.

In the future, it would behoove us to ask ourselves as a city if what we allow to be built in such a highly trafficked space will ever be worthy of a postcard (like the Grand Avenue Bridge). If not, why build it?

I know one major candidate that failed the postcard test miserably: the Poplar, one of the most underwhelming linkages to a major city that you'll ever find.

[Edit (4/8/08): Must have killed Bridge Hunter's bandwidth or something...the pictures aren't working. I replaced the ones I could with some suitable subs.]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My review of St. Louis, three months removed

Today would have been three months since I had seen St. Louis in person, since I left the city on Christmas day of last year. And while I'm back in New Orleans on that anniversary, we will go ahead and call it a true three month hiatus from visiting the city that smites me so.

Most of my time was spent with family, on whom I was reliant for transportation (Metro doesn't exactly have a makeshift St. Louis architectural tour route, so I needed the family car for my exploration!).

But I did get around in my brief stay, and, as usual, did fall in love with the city even more in my absence from it, where its deep, even solemn red bricks seem to contrast ever more starkly upon each successive visit with the playfulness of the painter's palette of Creole cottages here in the Crescent City.

I made it to a couple spots I've been wanting to try out:

I had been to Everest Cafe before (at its Washington Avenue iteration in a long forlorn section of Downtown West just across from the under-renovation "Tudor Building"), but its move to a smaller, sleeker storefront in the Grove (Forest Park Southeast for the change-resistant among us) along Manchester made Everest seem like an altogether new and exciting place for me. I finally made my way to their 4145 Manchester location. I was blown away by the crowds on both days I visited (yes--I went twice--it's that good!). At the previous location, one could hear the soothing sounds of Nepal, which sound to me like the low humming of Tibetan monks, over the din of the always less-than-half-full restaurant. Not so anymore. The slightly smaller space and different acoustics make the Grove location appear hopping. The food, of course, is amazing. While known as Everest Cafe, the husband and wife duo that run the restaurant are actually Nepalese and Korean, respectively, and so, owners Devi and Connie States market their offerings as follows:

Welcome to Everest Café
“The Only Restaurant Serving Nepalese & Korean Cuisine in St. Louis”

Nepalese food is known as cuisine of the Himalayas. It has its own identity with influence from Indian spicy curries to momo (dumplings) from Tibet. Nepalese food is famous for its nutrition level and tempting taste, with the use of spices and flavorings such as ginger, garlic, coriander, pepper, cumin, cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, clove, chilies, cilantro, turmeric, and Himalayan herbs.

Korean food is a wonderful combination of Chinese and Japanese mixed with its own distinctive elements. The food has a full-flavored taste that defies the winter ice and snow, most notably in the national dish, kim chi, a spicy pickle served at every meal. Korean meals are made up of many small, tempting dishes, flavored with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, bean paste, and toasted sesame seeds.

The decor has remained mostly the same, but the lighter, airier, and more open plan of Washington Avenue has given way to Manchester's darker colors and multitude of "rooms". The result is an excellent addition to the continually improving Grove commercial strip (while After Diner across the street from Everest has closed, the Gramophone music venue has opened up in the 4200 block), with a healthy alternative to the offerings of Agave and Atomic Cowboy.

I also went to Buffalo Brew House, one of the Locust Business District's latest offerings in a stretch of St. Louis that I never really expected to see a boom take place. Olive Street east of Compton has been attacked by demolitions, recladdings, crime, but most importantly, emptiness for a long time. Once a major east-west thoroughfare through the city, lately it has served as an abandoned (and overly wide and pedestrian unfriendly) highway from the environs of St. Louis University to downtown. So to see nightclub Lush and now Buffalo Brew House call Olive Street home (along with a spate of other announced tenants) was quite the surprise.

(By the way, the Locust Business District has really shown up the Grove in the e-arena. The LBD's website is revamped, attractive, and user-friendly. Where is the Grove's?)

My experience was mostly pleasant. I opted to try to burger (yeah, I know, exciting choice--get over it), which was as good as any I've had in St. Louis. There was live music. The size of the space and its acoustics seemed a bit prohibitive of loud music, but nevertheless, the band played on--and played loudly. I found it extremely difficult to talk to someone from across the table, but, in all fairness, I was there for a fairly late dinner. I'm just happy that SLU students have an off-campus choice for dining given the dismal state of on-campus offerings (unless something's radically changed since my graduation from SLU in May 2007).

The Fountain on Locust was particularly surprising. The Art Deco motif is entirely successful, and the place is a delightful addition to St. Louis's already superb ice cream "scene" (Crown Candy and Ted Drewes, of course).

I had two scoops of Coconut Almond the first visit, and a Coke float the second--both amazing (I know, another double visit--I'm obsessed).

The Fountain was a much needed addition to St. Louis. It will most likely jumpstart the movement to revive St. Louis's historic "Automotive Row" on Locust Street (that is, if SLU doesn't get in the way...). Further, it ups the ante for local businesses for creativity, as the Fountain simply went above and beyond in the design department. New Orleans coffeeshops, for example, seem in competition to distinguish themselves as more than a room with baristas and for-sale paintings on the wall. One features a British telephone booth circa 1950s for cell phone users, while the next features outlandish paintings that line every square inch of walls that connect to a 15-foot ceiling. St. Louis needs this creative entrepreneurship as well, the kind that truly differentiates the local business from the corporate chain and therefore more likely returns dollars to the local economy and offers up unique, local flair to boot.

I will probably do another post on my short stay in St. Louis. I didn't actually get up to Baden's business district to take some photos, but I may send a captive photographer up to get some shots on my behalf. We shall see.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Demolition Alert [St. Louis University edition]: the Wagner House

Unconscionable. St. Louis University continues to deface the built environment and derail the very stability they’re typically credited with bestowing upon the Midtown and Grand Center neighborhoods. The latest victim of SLU’s parking preference is the demolition of the Wagner House at 3438 Samuel Shepard, as reported first by Vanishing STL. (The photographs below are all property of Vanishing STL.)

I call it the “parking preference” because parking lots, chiefly, and garages, secondarily, receive preferential treatment among land uses by officials at St. Louis University.

The Wagner House is one of the few remaining row houses in St. Louis’s central corridor. If within a series of intact rows, this structure on Samuel Shepard would have appeared a member of a stately block more typical of urban Brooklyn than somewhat spread-out St. Louis.

But SLU has been given a pass by an unwitting or indifferent public. Typically, you will hear the remark that the university "saved" Midtown and that there's simply no saying what the neighborhood would be like without the strong institutional anchor that is SLU. Father Lawrence Biondi, S.J. (President of SLU) was even named "Citizen of the Year" in 2005 by a group of former recipients who had received the award themselves for demonstrating "concern for St. Louis' growth and vitality," presumably for redevelopment efforts and those same attributions of SLU to the health of Midtown.

Yes, there's the Moolah, the Continental Life Building, the Coronado, and the Warehouse of Fixtures that all saw rebirth either on direct or indirect account of SLU's presence. The importance of each one of these buildings cannot be overstated.

And yet, as always, it's the architectural "little guy" that's allowed to atrophy: the one that's off the beaten path; the one that's been vacant for years; the one that's stately but not imposing; the one that it takes just an ounce of vision to respect and recognize that it is vital to the future of its home block. Perhaps, more simply, the one that's on a small enough scale to easily demolish.

While I would argue the Wagner House is a profound, elegant example of a limestone faced Italianate Row House, it still appears quite forlorn as a vacant building on a street now sadly devoid of almost any residential use (one of the many of that type found in St. Louis's illustrious and almost single-use arts district, Grand Center).

The cycle takes one step further here. With each footing of urbanity lost, another demolition is justified. The loss of the Livery Stable just to the east in the burgeoning Locust Business District quite likely represented a vindictive land grab by a powerful institution with a pretty public face. The turn of the century historic building was felled for a surface parking lot--in 2007 (this century)--all to serve the rather distant new SLU sports arena on Compton. The June 20, 2007 Riverfront Times Article "Rebuilt to Suit" is an illuminating investigative piece on SLU's bullying of business district entrepreneurs in order that they might demolish the very stock of buildings that makes the district a prime candidate for reinvigoration and is the only hope of an adjacent, pedestrian-friendly retail area to serve the university.

The salt in the wound is that SLU represents a top-down planning approach inspired by the Urban Renewal mentality that awarded them half of their campus's land--an approach diametrically opposed to the smaller scale, more organic approach of the Locust Business District and its associated partners.

Thirty-seven forty Lindell, right on SLU's campus, was also lost, this time to plans for a new law school:

[Edit (3/20/08): Just drove by the site today. Woops! Didn't realize this building was still up. I'm pretty sure that SLU's plans are still to tear it down for the new law school.]

Without going into SLU's more distant past of demolitions, the case can be made that SLU is a detriment to the neighborhood in which it is situated for no greater reason than that it has effectively dismantled whatever neighborhood existed.

If the argument is whether SLU has presented an economic boon to the city, then I would argue on the side that it is very beneficial for the city. Does that mean it's been kind to its neighbors? Not at all. In fact, if SLU were in a preservation-friendly neighborhood that would have reigned in its quest to acquire land for new construction at any cost, we might have seen a mutual benefit, a kind interplay between institution and neighborhood that can prove a best case scenario. Tulane and Loyola Universities in New Orleans, while not perfect, are good examples of universities that remained sensitive and complementary to historic neighborhoods and their unrivaled amenities: historic buildings and lively public spaces.

A friend of mine here in New Orleans comes to mind. She was speaking on her neighborhood association--located in a very stable, middle class Uptown enclave--and its responsibilities. I inquired as to what major concerns the neighborhood, called Touro after its institutional anchor (a healthcare facility), has.

Bluntly, she responded, "Well, sometimes the hospital's an asshole."

As a struggling city, St. Louis must not fear to oppose its institutions, which should be lifebloods rather than bloodletters, when they are, in fact, being assholes.

And, of course, please contact 19th Ward Alderperson Marlene Davis and let her know your concerns over this demolition.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

St. Louis University continues with its tradition of Jesuit humanism and defunct urbanism.

I regret to inform you that, on this blog, St. Louis University will appear as a recurring villain. I can almost assure you of this given its past track record: for every Coronado saved, there's a Livery Stable. And for all the support they've poured into Grand Center, they've given equal or greater force to demolitions in adjacent neighborhoods.

The latest news (presently unverified) is that the next victim on the SLU demo chopping block is the set of "language houses" on Laclede. Laclede was a once residential street (an uncle of mine used to call a brownstone walk-up on Laclede home). Today, SLU has replaced much of the streetscape with mundane campus buildings or their trademark "greenspace" (read: deadspace). So few urban scaled residential buildings remain that, in fact, the language houses of Laclede appear out of the context they once dominated.

According to ever reliable forum members of Urban STL, these venerable buildings will soon be replaced with--who knows? Another failed coffee shop? Another statue? Another grassy knoll? Expect a follow-up report when the time comes.

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