26 Homes and the Future of Demolition and Preservation in St. Louis

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The City of St. Louis recently made headlines when it announced it would spend $275,000 to demolish 26 buildings on the near north side. Demolition is a daily occurrence in the city, active and by neglect. The public relations effort was a way to highlight ongoing investment by Ranken Technical College.

According to reports, Ranken is in the process of purchasing more than 200 parcels and plans are in place to build 56 new homes. Committed investments by the school total $10M and students in its carpentry program will train and gain experience working on the projects. This investment is a straightforward and positive development.

The idea supporting these demolitions is that targeting a neighborhood with an institutional anchor contributing private investment is a smart use of city funds. Rote citation of reducing crime and priming the neighborhood for redevelopment is misguided, based on contested, but long ingrained ideas of urban investment.

Yet here’s what too few understand: there are more than a thousand buildings in St. Louis that are going to fall down and there’s too little money to remove them. In any given year, the city can choose to demolish a few buildings in each of the 28 wards, or it can focus on a neighborhood or two, where perhaps an impact, economic, and yes, political, can be seen.

These are tough choices. On a short drive to photograph these 26 homes, one passes 26 more missing walls, windows and roofs. They’re not on this demolition list, they’re not on any demolition list, but instead simply left to fall down on their own. Within the targeted demolition area there are at least 26 more in desperate need of repair and stabilization. There are a thousand more like them across the city.

Today, some areas are too far gone to constitute an historic district, some do not have local political support for the designation, precluding access to historic tax credits. In other places, the housing market simply will not support prices needed to renovate, even with tax credits and other subsidies. In some neighborhoods select buildings get a new life as developers can find profit in subsidized renovations. Those projects, though numerous, remain relatively few.

What we’ve done to our city is tragic. In the time since many of these homes being demolished were built, the metro area has tripled in population, yet these homes, and thousands more just like them, are abandoned, discarded, and left to collapse. These demolitions represent a severe societal, political, and economic failure. Demolition should be accompanied by solemn contemplation.

It’s easy for someone supporting historic preservation to bemoan the lost buildings, and we should. Taken individually they have character, exhibit caring and talented worksmanship, and even today possess potential. Though some have been vacant and deteriorating for more than a decade, they could be restored, but they won’t. The technical term for the status of these buildings is “screwed”. Society has conspired to see them abandoned, wasted, thrown away.

What we have not, and perhaps can not, admit to ourselves is that these losses have been inevitable for decades. And again, there are a thousand or more inevitable loses coming. The turning point for demolition and preservation in the city is still to be determined, and policies of investment such as historic tax credits, transportation infrastructure, vacant (and occupied) building stabilization funds, and more can move that point nearer to today.

That should be the fight highlighted by the demolition of these 26 homes. It’s neither that these specific buildings should be saved, nor that their passing should be blithely accepted. The passing of each and every one should be documented, recognized, and serve as a reminder of how both personal and political policy steal from our shared history and wealth.

If these buildings are doomed, there are hundreds more that have been vacant for a month, a year, three years, that aren’t too far gone. There are hundreds more at risk of being abandoned this year. To change the trajectory of those buildings, of our city, we must invest in the people who will invest in them on a daily basis. For some reason, investment in people has always been harder than investing in buildings, for both politicians and preservationists.

The 26 homes being demolished:

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

A map of the 26 homes:

Ranken demo project - St. Louis, MO

These buildings are just outside the boundaries outlined in purple above, and currently not slated for active demolition:

near north side - St. Louis, MO

near north side - St. Louis, MO

near north side - St. Louis, MO

near north side - St. Louis, MO

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  • Ashley Diaz

    This feels like an obituary for these homes. It’s an incredible shame that the beautiful and historic homes that just happen to be found north of Delmar become the victim of ruin.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yes, and the loss across the northern part of the city is very significant, but the issue is citywide. Clearly race and economic segregation have played enormous roles in the abandonment of St. Louis.

      • guest

        Not until this problem spreads to places like Clayton, University City, Olivette, Maplewood, Maryland Heights, etc., will it gain regional attention. So long as rampant decay and demolition is concentrated in the city of St. Louis, most of the region couldn’t care less about it.

        • matimal

          Recent investment suggests that this isn’t necessarily true anymore.

          • guest

            Are you referring to IKEA and Cortex or the new massive apartment developments near SLU or in the Grove? Some might suggest that the fact the city is taking action to clear derelict buildings is helping to attract investments like IKEA and in Cortex. It’s hard to understand why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to keep these rotting hulks standing. Remember folks, we’re not talking Shaw, Old North, or Soulard here. The area of these demolitions is (likely) not a historic district, has low housing values, and these buildings have set vacant and abandoned for YEARS. Do people understand that most of these wrecks would cost well over $200,000 to rehab?

          • Adam

            Old North. North Sarah. Dick Gregory. etc.

          • Imran

            Its funny you bring up Old North. I am pretty sure you would have been at the forefront of calling for wholesale demolition had you seen the place before it was renovated. Just because people don’t have vision and patience (and funds) does not mean parts of the old city are not worth saving.

          • guest

            Not at all. But nice try! For the record, the force behind preserving Old North was the residents living there. Same goes for other preserved historic areas. Historic preservation starts with a core group of dedicated residents. Can anyone tell me who the core group of dedicated residents is to save the dilapidated buildings around Ranken Tech?

          • Alex Ihnen

            It’s always a combination – and necessarily so. Resources from within and outside a community are needed. There were many from outside Old North that believed in its future, moved there, volunteered their time there, etc.

          • guest

            But they would not have done so had it not been for the pre-existence of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and people like the Bratkowskis, the Tschetters, and other long time residents keeping the flame burning.

            For comparison look at Hyde Park, especially the northern part of the neighborhood. Where are the deep stakeholders there? Who’s doing the work “in the trenches”?

            Want to do a tandem, depressing story? Take a drive around the northern half of Hyde Park. From the park to Elliot School. Count the abandoned buildings, nearing collapse or certain demolition stage. It’s shocking.

            So while this article raises awareness of a very specific set of building slated for demolition, there is a sea of abandonment out there that is flying under the radar. It puts a pit in the bottom of your stomach.

          • Alex Ihnen

            This article is actually meant to raise awareness of the sea of abandonment out there flying under the radar and not the 26 buildings being demolished near Ranken.

          • guest

            It does, sort of, but for many, the concept of abandonment is so abstract, it’s hard to comprehend. Derelict buildings, partially collapsed or boarded up, are easy to understand. Yes, they are abandoned But the ones looking fairly stable. Unboarded. Vacant. By the league. Not so much.

            St. Louis has a vacancy problem. The vacancy problem leads to low market values, which leads to abandonment, and then ultimately, in the most extreme cases, demolition.

            Stories of 26 stark demolitions are like a lightning rod for criticism or perhaps a call to arms. But in reality, the issue with vacancy, abandonment, decay, and demolition is a very broad spectrum.

            It starts with a foreclosure or a speculator buying a building and not cutting the weeds. It ends with tax sale, LRA ownership, years of decay, and then possibly demolition. There needs to be a much broader discussion of this issue.

            Not one of sound bites which is so often heard. Not one of the imminent reusability of so many vacant buildings. Not one of anecodtal, “one-off”, rehab efforts. But one that gets at the fine grain of markets, demand, cost, neighborhood revitalization, vacancy, reuse, etc.

          • Adam

            I don’t understand why you assume that–based on this story that happens to be about 26 buildings–people aren’t aware of the sea of abandonment out there. Does every discussion have to simultaneously address all abandoned properties in the city to be legitimate? Of course not, but that seems to be what you’re saying. 26 buildings here or 26 buildings there; it has to start somewhere.

          • guest

            And I don’t understand why every city preservation enthusiast equates demolition of wrecked and long-gone buildings as the end of historic preservation in the city.

            This process happens on a continuum, and the buildings featured in this article are on the far end of the “lost cause” spectrum.

            Want to make an actual impact on the effort to preserve historic buildings and neighborhoods? focus your energy a little more towards the middle of the spectrum of vacancy.

          • Adam

            “And I don’t understand why every city preservation enthusiast equates demolition of wrecked and long-gone buildings as the end of historic preservation in the city.”

            that’s a convenient exaggeration (an opinion, some might say) that in no way follows from this discussion of 26 buildings.

            “…and the buildings featured in this article are on the far end of the “lost cause” spectrum.”

            at least a few of them are clearly not too far gone (again, Old North). more likely they’re being lumped in with the ones that are so that the LRA can unload some of its inventory.

          • dempster holland

            It’s true that many efforts to rebuild old neighborhoods start
            with a core of concerned residents. But that is not the only way.
            Look at Mac Shephards work in the 1960s in Jeffvanderlou,or
            Leon Strauss’s work in the 1970s between Union and Debal-
            ivere. Rankan is example of an institution doing
            development, as Shaw’s garden has done There are many ways to fix up an old city. As to the impetus to tear down dilapidated
            buildings, more often it comes from neighbors on the same
            or nearby blocks who pressure the aldermen to get city
            funds to do the job

          • http://www.preservationresearch.com Michael R. Allen

            Great point. PEOPLE save buildings.

          • Adam

            Correct if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the IKEA site cleared pretty recently, long after plans for the store had been solidified? Same with Cortex–other than the building that used to occupy the NW corner of Forest Park and Vandeventer I can’t think of many buildings that were torn down without a plan for replacement.

          • Adam

            Same, again, with the apartment developments near SLU (at least the ones on Forest Park and West Pine). Those sites weren’t cleared until construction was about to begin.

          • onecity

            $200k is about what a nice new house (not a vinyl box) costs, and these would end up very nice, nearly new houses after the extensive renovations. Oh, and they’d basically be in the CWE. What’s not to like?

          • guest

            How’s the quality of life around these places? What are the comparable values? “Basically in the CWE” is not the same thing as “in the CWE”.

        • Alex Ihnen

          To be pessimistic, I’d say not even then. There was a time when someone could have easily said, “Not until this problem spreads to places like Wellston, St. Ann, etc.”. People simply move, a place suffers and the migration and abandonment continues.

          • guest

            That is a scary thought, but I guess you’re right. :-(

            Glad I don’t live out there! :-)

          • matimal

            There aren’t a unlimited number of poor people and criminals in St. Louis. If they move to a new area, they are leaving an old one. That process has made room for expansion in the central neighborhoods.

  • Chris Naffziger

    This is going to sound mean-spirited, but since when has Ranken had a good reputation?

    • guest

      Ranken has an excellent reputation. What are you talking about? They have trained skilled workers for St. Louis for close to 100 years. Many of our region’s top trades craftspersons have received their training at Ranken. In turn, those men and women have led productive lives in St. Louis, raising families, building our economy, buying homes (many living in the city), saving for retirement, and being part of our communities. What’s the problem?

    • John Westermayer

      What’s wrong with a ten million dollar investment? And providing educational opportunities for our young students? And where does Ranken have a bad reputation ?

  • mc

    I can see some of these homes being demolished. But what about training Ranken students about restoration of older buildings. A few of the homes could be saved.

    • John R

      Does Raken do this? If not, why not? Also, does anyone have pics they can post of Ranken-built homes in the area?

      • Alex Ihnen

        Took this the same day as those in the story – believe it’s a Ranken home:

        • Mitch

          Ugh. That’s hideous! They’re demolishing those 26 buildings and replacing them with THAT!!! Are you kidding me?!!

          • dempster holland

            Its not that bad. But I have never figured out what many of
            these new buildings don’t have side windows.

          • http://www.preservationresearch.com Michael R. Allen

            Better than a vacant lot…

  • http://www.preservationresearch.com Michael R. Allen

    One of the biggest problems with this list — and other demolition lists offered by aldermen and city agencies — is that it lacks careful data analysis. Demolition without data means we could be both demolishing and saving the wrong buildings. The city needs cost-benefit analysis of demolitions to slow down the politics that usually drives demolition. That said, the loss of these buildings is a tiny drop in a giant bucket. Anyone angered here can step up and prevent one of the next 26 demolitions this summer by purchasing and renovating a neglected historic building. Seriously. I’ve done it, and am happy to share what I know.

    • Alex Ihnen

      These two incredible places in The Greater Ville have been vacant for a couple years. One is owned by the city, the other shows a private owner, but no property taxes paid is five years. Of course there are LRA, vacant, and otherwise in disrepair homes all over the city.

      • Adam

        Wow, those are beautiful. Do you have an address?

        • Alex Ihnen

          4050-52 Garfield

        • guest

          So Adam, are you going to buy one, rehab it, and move to the Ville? I think Google Street View is the downfall of the western world. Now you can enjoy viewing ruin porn from the comfort of your computer screen.

          • Alex Ihnen

            This impulse to criticize someone for appreciating a building, but not buying it, rehabbing it, and living in it (or selling it), is stupid. It’s destructive in that it is meant to invalidate someone’s opinion on the basis of them not fixing the issue themselves. What’s the point of telling someone who says a building is beautiful that they’re stupid, or lazy, or wasting their time?

            Critiques of “ruin porn” are tired and lazy as well. Any appreciation of our city, any recognition of what we’ve abandoned and thrown away is good – no matter what motive or fetish one might use to label others.

          • guest

            This discussion is about demolition of abandoned, derelict buildings, and the threat of more demolition.

            Presumably the motivation for the discussion is to explore ways to encourage preservation of our built environment and reuse of vacant buildings, or the vacant land which follows demolition.

            Loving an abandoned building for its architectural merit is not a strategy for preserving a building. That’s sort of tired and lazy too.

            Someone has to put up the money, and in a town starved for funding to save old buildings, that’s a serious challenge.

            Start a new thread for the love of abandoned buildings. Plenty of those to pine for. I thought this discussion was about the issue of demolition.

          • Adam

            So it’s okay to discuss motivations for rehab unless that motivation happens to be architectural appreciation because that one, for some reason, really riles you up. Got it.

          • guest

            Whatever motivation is great, just so long as it leads to action. As far as who does what, that information is publicly available.

            The fact is, the projects mentioned below (Old North, Dick Gregory, and North Sarah – which is new, not rehab) took millions and millions in tax credits and other subsidies. Without the subsidies, which are extremely difficult to get, those projects would have never happened.

            Again, in a city starved for funding to save historic buildings, cobbling together the required resources to do rehab is the biggest challenge.

          • Adam

            Point taken about North Sarah. My point being that although cobbling together the resources is difficult, it happens. I’m not opposing all demolition, and some of the 26 are beyond repair. But there’s no point in leveling the ones that aren’t beyond repair when there’s no plan in sight for the land beyond a vague “attract investment”.

          • guest

            It’s not a “vague” plan. Ranken has built dozens of new homes around their facility. This is a continuation of that effort. If you think about it, it’s in their interest.

            Ranken doesn’t want its school surrounded with falling down abandoned buildings. So, they are doing something about it.

            Further, the city is supporting an anchor institution in the city by helping to clear away the abandoned buildings around their facility so Ranken can build new.

          • Alex Ihnen

            This is true, but we know nothing about their plans. The PR said they’re buying 200 parcels – are they building 200 homes? Are they building homes on the 26 lots being cleared? Yes, the bigger picture is that Ranken’s investment is positive, but their plans are also vague.

          • guest

            Well, as a rule, developers are pretty tight-lipped about their plans, if only to prevent others from speculating on land within their target area.

            That said, Ranken’s track record is not only good when it comes to actually building new housing – and using student labor – their track record is also good when it comes to doing things at a reasonable cost.

            Because Ranken has access to student labor, they save cost on their projects. The subsides required to build a “Ranken” home are far lower than the subsidies of for-profit developers to rehab or build new in the same neighborhood.

            The more I think about this, the more I am happy that these buildings are being demolished and that Ranken Tech is lined up to build new in their places.

            For a change of pace, how about we talk about why when this plan was announced, Alderman Sam Moore boycotted the event because Mayor Slay was organizing it?

            If you ask me, the fact that aldermen get parochial about who gets the credit for something has more to do with holding back progress in this city than which buildings we are knocking down does.

            That kind of mentality would turn off any rationale investor or potential new homebuyer/neighborhood resident.

          • Adam

            But unless they’re planning to build a few hundred new houses some time soon (which they’re not) there are already plenty of vacant lots for their purposes. They most certainly don’t have any mature plans to utilize all that vacant space in the near future. At least some of this demolition is itself speculative.

          • guest

            ^ Ridiculous. The demolition is needed.

          • Adam

            ^ that’s certainly an opinion.

          • Adam

            “Start a new thread for the love of abandoned buildings. Plenty of those to pine for. I thought this discussion was about the issue of demolition.”

            Or, if you’re getting so upset you could just choose not to read the discussion. It’s really not up to you as you’re not the proprietor of the site. Don’t like it? Take your own advice and go start your own website!

          • http://www.preservationresearch.com Michael R. Allen

            I don’t disagree, but people who think houses like these 26 should not be demolished but won’t buy one or live in these neighborhoods are perpetuating the very symptoms that will lead to more demolition. Publicly contemplating these buildings without evaluating context, condition and one’s own willingness to ACT is not a good historic preservation strategy. Preservation is an active practice.

            Buildings like these are not impossible or even difficult to preserve. What happens is that lots of people talk about them, but no one will actually save them. As long as St. Louis has been knocking down buildings in north city, preservationists have been complaining — and not moving or investing in north city.

          • Alex Ihnen

            If one out of a thousand who pine after and talk about these buildings eventually decide to buy one and renovate it, or move into a renovated building, doesn’t it stand to reason that the more people talking about them the better?

          • http://www.preservationresearch.com Michael R. Allen

            Luckily it’s not one out of a thousand. It’s thousands, who rehabilitate, maintain or occupy historic buildings. St. Louis does not lack a strong culture of preservation doers. Nationally we are recognized among second-tier cities for the toughest demolition review, highest number of buildings with official historic status (seriously, it’s over 25%; in Baltimore, it’s around 4%) and the highest use of historic incentive programs. Our mayor publicly proposed using city funds to stabilize historic buildings, and I got calls from colleagues around the country asking how we got him to do something like that. The preservation culture here makes it really easy for rehabbing buildings like any of these 26 (and I disagree that they are beyond repair, even if I concede their loss).

          • guest

            Michael, how can you say it’s “easy” to rehab any of these 26 buildings? I don’t get it. The after-rehab market value of these homes is on the low side (per the city’s new “Market Value Analysis”). The rehab costs are high. Taken together, low value and high cost makes financing difficult or impossible. And are any currently qualified or even eligible for historic tax credits? Where’s the easy part?

          • Adam

            Is that your anonymous, gratuitous, histrionic, self-righteous comment for the day? Or can we expect more?

          • Adam

            And actually, as soon as I finish grad school I intend to move back to St. Louis and do some rehabbing. Those two homes seem the perfect size for a beginner. So, yes, I might just buy one of them. Mind telling us how many places you’ve rehabbed?

    • guest

      What kind of data is missing? It seems nowadays everything is data. Data informs. Action leads to results.

  • Presbyterian

    I’ve long eyed the blocks immediately west of the school, which include Lewis Place and Fountain Park.

    If I had $100 million or so, I’d rehab every house that’s rough around the edges and infill new construction on the empty lots. With a little bit of marketing and a few changes in where streets are blocked, the homes in those two neighborhoods could fetch $200,000+ as an extension of the CWE accessed from Euclid.

    The architecture and urban design are just amazing.

    But that’s west of the school.

  • Brian Ireland

    I’d much rather see the money being used to tear down (and subsequently rebuild) these homes be used to renovate and remodel the existing structures and utilize them as low-income housing and/or community centers.

  • Mitch

    Who says we should just let this happen? I say we stop it. I don’t have many financial resources I can contribute, but I can do manual labor for free if it will save these homes. Guys, let’s organize something! We can buy the homes and save them, we can convince Ranken to preserve them as student housing, I don’t know, let’s do something. We all need to pool our resources together as St. Louisans and keep as much of our architectural heritage intact as we can. I want to see these saved, and clearly you guys do. I say we organize; each little contribution that anyone can make is one step closer to saving a house. I’m not going to just watch this stuff happen. Email me if you’re interested, if we can get enough people ad prganize them quick enough maybe we can save the homes before demolition. I know some have probably already been demolished but there have to be some that we can save. mj19696@hotmail.com

    • DanieljSTL

      I’m not as optimistic as you are about this, but I sent an email. If you can find a way to save even just one of these from the wrecking ball, count me in. Show the City that we care… etc. Most of the houses pictured above are beyond salvage. I sound like Nicole Curtis from Rehab Addict, don’t I?

    • Alex Ihnen

      Awesome. Yes – email Mitch, or you can contact me as well (alex@nextstl.com). We’re working on something…

    • PhilS

      I’m in with what I’ve got to give (which is admittedly not much change, skill, or brains.) I don’t know enough to say that any of these 26 can be saved. If not, I won’t belabor the issue. But, as Alex points out, I’m sure there are other buildings nearby which can be saved.
      I might add (though I’m hesitant to bring up this idea because, like much said on blog commentary like this, it’s kind of crack pot), but in addition to a rehab maybe we can do something to invest in the people needed to make a community whole and vibrant. Let’s say (since this conversation started with
      coverage of Ranken’s plan) we find a rehab-able building in or near the area
      discussed, purchase it, rehab it, then basically donate it to a recent Ranken
      grad to live there rent-free for 3 to 5 years (maybe they pay taxes and utilities.)
      If I had a $100 million dollars I wouldn’t just rehab a bunch of homes, but I’d offer them to vibrant young ones who could do more for a city than I could (which is usually sitting inside reading or watching Breaking Bad in my underwear.) The city needs to not just retain but attract even more skilled youth. While St. Louis has had a net positive increase of young people and college educated people this trend needs to accelerate to be long-lasting (in my opinion.) And while there are gains overall, the loss of minorities with college and advanced degrees continues to be a troubling problem, I believe.
      To get something like this started it’s not very likely to be cost effective in typical accounting terms. But it’s about time something like this starts.
      Outside of the Ranken plan area, maybe Mr. Allen or others with a better sense of how to quantify the ideal location for an “investment” like this, can suggest an alternative or future sites.

      • guest

        Would love to hear more on the idea of quantifying better locations for rehab. These 26 would probably be a long ways off.

  • GDJSTL

    I am a construction manager and have renovated many homes and building in St Louis in the last 40 years. The architecture of these homes is beautiful but there is nothing left. Once the roofs fail on wood structures the water infiltration destroys the structural elements. Most of these with stone foundations would fall down before they could be renovated. I support saving our architectural history but you must start before they are in this state.

  • guest

    Every time this discussion comes up, it’s like a broken record. Yeah, the demos are frustrating, but folks, this comes as no surprise. These buildings have been rotting in plain site for years. Nothing has stopped anyone from stepping in to rehab them. Where have you been??? Complaining now is pointless. Wanna do something positive? Then go find a building, buy it, and rehab it. Do it. Want to stop demos in the city? LIVE IN THE CITY. Own a home in the city. Reinvest in the city. Don’t complain when long-abandoned and falling down buildings finally get demolished. I bet everyone commenting here lives miles from these rotting carcasses. How would you like it if this was next door to your house, your children? It’s always the latest demo that gets folks up in arms. But the fact is, as Alex notes in this piece, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of buildings lining up for demo sometime in the next ten years. Want to prevent demolitions? Forget about these 26 buildings and do something about the next ones in line.

    • DanieljSTL

      Just because I live a couple miles from this doesn’t mean it won’t affect me or my property values. STL City as a whole needs to do a better job of preserving its neighborhoods. Even in the southwest corner of the City we see houses left for dead.

      • guest

        What do you suggest?

        • DanieljSTL

          More to come on that topic very soon… Alex’s obituary has inspired a few people.

          • guest

            Obituary? Huh? In case you were sleeping in class, this is nothing new. The city demolishes hundreds of buildings per year.

            The difference here is that they are being targeted around an anchor institution (Ranken Tech) which plans to rebuild the area around their facility.

            This effort is not that different from back when the Botanical Garden was instrumental in bringing about large scale clearance for the eastern half of McRee Town.

            Those demos then led to new construction and then the resurgence of the western part of McRee Town and the revitalization of the Tower Grove Avenue connection between Forest Park Southeast and Shaw.

            Sometimes it seems the only memories in this town are short term memories.

          • Alex Ihnen

            One shouldn’t criticize a lack of prior action AND plans for future action.

          • guest

            No, on the contrary, this is showing the similarity of prior action (McRee Town demolitions, “Botanical Heights” reinvestment) with plans for future action (Ranken area demolitions, “Ranken Heights – or whatever they call it – reinvestment).

            Let’s not forget folks that Ranken has a track record. They’ve built dozens of homes in North City near their facility on the sites of formerly abandoned and then torn down houses – and, much of the labor is performed by Ranken students.

          • DanieljSTL

            The plans for future action are what will make this seemingly useless debate worth while.

          • guest

            Now who’s being vague?

  • JohnThomas52

    You don’t want children playing around in those falling apart homes and you don’t want drug dealers or transients to use those vacant properties for drug use or as hangouts. They can easily be set on fire if someone was needing to start a fire inside a vacant home during winter time. Those eyesores don’t get any better with time and safety/health are major factors. A vacant building may not be livable if it was subject to the elements for a period of time. Health hazard exists. I’m talking mold, mice poop, bugs, and who knows what else.

    Now, look at Detroit. Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/us/detroit-needs-residents-but-sends-some-packing.html

    Detroit is our future. It’s a mirror of what is to come for STL. We need to stop building and start consolidating properties. Just make open, clean spaces (like a prairie rehab that is simple to maintain). Have senior citizens volunteer to do garden work on those prairie rehabs from time to time. Low maintenance, clean, and simple. Building more new homes or infill homes is not in our interest if the future population is expected to decrease. Again, consolidation should be a focus. We need to plan for the future and that future is Detroit. Do as Detroit.

    • Alex Ihnen

      You make some good points, but the future of St. Louis is not Detroit. The scale of the problem there is on an entirely different level. St. Louis, and our challenges are more akin to Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, or maybe Baltimore.

      The city of Detroit has lost 1.15M residents since 1950. STL City has lost ~540K over that same time. Population loss in Detroit is accelerating – losing 237K (25%) from 2000-2010. St. Louis lost 29K, or 8% of its population over that same period – almost identical to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

      The number of college educated residents increased significantly in STL over the past decade. This didn’t happen in Detroit. The number of young adults moving to the city increased significantly in STL over the past decade. This didn’t happen in Detroit.

      Detroit is bankrupt and has been taken over by the state. STL City has a balanced budget (but of course does have very significant budget challenges). The Detroit metro area is losing population (CLE too), while STL is not.

      Anyway, STL isn’t, and won’t become, Detroit.

      • John R

        While we have a better fiscal situation than Detroit and have retained a greater number of stable neighborhoods, we do have more similarities than Detroit than we may want to admit. First, Detroit is/was much larger than Saint Louis… it had a million more people at its peak than ours had and the two cities have had a similar overall percentage decline since 1950. They also share similar population density, even today. And while the decline has been more steep in the past 15 years there than here, that isn’t necessarily the case for much of North City. For example, Vandeventer, where I believe these 26 homes are located, lost 23% of its population. Several others surpassed 25% declines; College Hill lost 36%.

        So from the perspective of the people who live in distressed neighborhoods, there probably isn’t much difference between the two cities.

        On the other hand, it is not like there are no positives in the Motor City…. population decline has slowed significantly since 2010 (and the Metro area is no longer declining according to latest estimates) and in fact there has been an explosion of growth in the core of Downtown, Midtown and Corktown. Work begins on the M-1 light rail line down next month and the city carries on despite bankruptcy. So there certainly is a future for Detroit as there is for us, and its great that both cities have young, creative people making their stamp on their beloved cities. Hopefully some of this energy and creativity can help tackle the daunting challenge of decaying properties and its great that you’re helping to raise awareness and action.

    • mc

      Detroit is by far the worst city in North America. St. Louis needs to do the absolute opposite of Detroit. Detroit is absolutely not a model whatsoever. Saying that we should becoming like Detroit is a complete insult. The population of the city of St. Louis is growing and we will regain our status as a great city once again. Young professionals are coming to the city in droves.

      We’re pushing restoration northwards continuously and we’re cleaning up the southside. All we need to do now is tackle the problem of our public schools. Immigration will help immensely as well.

      By the way, the most-stressed cities in America are: New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Riverside California, and Houston.

      St. Louis comes in at 34th.
      http://stlouis.cbslocal.com/2014/06/27/report-how-stressed-is-st-louis/

      • JohnThomas52

        We face the same problem as Detroit in terms of having more vacant and run down properties than what we know what to do with. Why not solve the problem like how another city has handled the problem (that has it worse)? I don’t take it as an insult that we are like Detroit on this factor. It is reality. If you feel better to say that STL is more like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh rather than like Detroit, I’ll let it go. I still think STL is a lot like Detroit and that it’s future is headed to become it. We will face significant population loss. A large aging population that encompasses most of the baby boomer generation will eventually happen. People get old and die.
        I bet in 5-10 years, the death rate will significantly surpass the birth rate in this city. This is why I propose to consolidate the vacant and run down properties now. We will only have many more vacant and abandoned properties in 5-10 years when a large generation passes on. I can only imagine the situation in STL county when the neighborhoods age out and become vacant and run down.

        • dempster holland

          My analysis of city census returns and the age of development
          of each neighborhood, carried out 40 years ago, led to the con=
          clusion that the city would bottom out at about 325,000. This
          was determined by counting the housing units built after
          1920 and adding in the older housing units that had charm,
          mostly because they were generally built for the middle class
          of the day. It now appears that these “charming” units are
          generally being preserved, but still face some problems in
          parts of north st louis. Also. downtown and the central
          corridor show more multi family buildings than we had pro-
          jected forty years ago. Based on these new trends, and
          assuming that north st louis starts improvement, I would
          suggest that 400,000 could be possible in 20 years

    • BudSTL

      John, with all due respect…you appear to have never been to Detroit by the construct of this comment. St. Louis still has a vibrant group of neighborhoods in every sector but the North. Downtown is in the early stages of revival, and things are hopeful. Our police and fire forces are responsive, and the finances are remarkably solvent for an aging former manufacturing center. Detroit is exactly nothing like the above. Every aspect of the city of Detroit are broken and crumbling, services are a nightmare, and they are bankrupt. I suggest that we pocket the hysteria and focus on attracting investment and interest in the city. It truly is a great place to live.

  • PhilS

    Does the city demolish buildings in a way that they can at least recover some value –

    à la Blairmont brick “harvesting?”

    • guest

      All city demo contracts give the salvage rights to the demo contractor. It helps get a lower price on the demolitions.

  • guest

    This is a good post, Alex. Very much appreciate the bottom line focus on people rather than buildings.

  • BudSTL

    I completely agree that this is a tragedy, but also realize that this tragedy actually occurred decades ago. I hope that those who are responsible for guiding this urban development ship realize that support for neighborhoods that can be save must be the priority. The north side is dead. Let’s give it new life through development and use the precious resources towards trying harder to save downtown and the Southside neighborhoods that are in danger of crumbling. For North St. Louis, it is time to admit that the ship has already sunk and cannot be righted.

    • guest

      So what’s “Next” for North St. Louis? Just letting the area rot can’t be good.

      When you describe the area as “dead”, it’s easy to forget that about 1/3 of the residents of the city live on the north side.

      • Alex Ihnen

        The comment says to “give it (the north side) new life through development”. I’m guessing this means worry less about saving crumbling buildings at high expense, but allow other development to occur. I can see the point. I don’t think I would use the word “dead”, and we must always recognize that the north side isn’t monolithic, but the problems/challenges there are certainly massive.

  • STLEnginerd

    I concede maybe half of them make sense to tear down. The one in picture #4 looks like an especially worthy building to be saved. Picture 8, 9, and 10 also make up a fairly dense section of Page. Those 4 are especially concerning to me that they are being demoed. A lot of the one story shotguns are less concerning, but I still dislike the ‘demolition used to “spur” development’ attitude.

    If Ranken can’t find 56 lots on which to build new houses in the neighborhood i would personally demolish some houses until they had enough lots, but that is farcical at best. There are nearly 56 empty lots on that stretch of Page alone, without any demolition.

    • STLEnginerd

      ^meant Evans St. but the point remains.

    • guest

      Would you buy a new home next to an abandoned, rotting, vacant building?

      Also, depending on how close it is to your new home, you might not even be able to get insurance on your home given its proximity to an abandoned building and the chance for the vacant to catch fire.

      That’s not redlining, folks. That’s just basic risk management.

      • Adam

        there very well could be some permutation whereby demolishing the worst of the 26, rehabbing the remainder and building new adjacent to the rehabs eliminates the hopeless scenario you constructed. it’s happened/happening in McRee Town.

        • guest

          I didn’t “construct” the scenario. I asked the question: would you buy a new home next to an abandoned, rotting, vacant building? I don’t know about you, but I sure wouldn’t, and I can’t think of too many people that would. Maybe if the building was in Soulard or Lafayette Square.

          However, the thing is, in those neighborhoods, you really don’t see “abandoned, rotting vacant buildings”. Vacant buildings there tend to be very well secured, and usually on the road to rehab fairly quickly. The buildings highlighted in this story have none of those redeeming qualities.

          • Adam

            That’s why I mentioned McRee Town, in which abandoned, once-rotting homes are seeing new life next to new construction. If there’s a home that’s not too far gone next to one that is too far gone, I might buy the former after the latter is removed. Remove them both and that’s not even an option. It just doesn’t make sense.

          • guest

            You’re conveniently not mentioning that the first step in the revitalization of McRee Town (re-branded “Botanical Heights”) was the mass clearance of about 6 city blocks of “historic” housing.

            Not one speck of the old stuff was left (east of Thurman I believe). There every old house came down and all new homes were built, sold at market rate, bought by middle class households, in a now stable and diverse neighborhood.

            Had this redevelopment not happened, nothing of what you see along Tower Grove would have happened.

  • JohnThomas52

    An important and related question to address for the larger STL area is how much of government money (your taxpayer dollars) should be spent on demolishing zombie foreclosures in an area that is in decline? For this article, $275K for 26 properties comes to $10,576.92 per property. That’s expensive and is money down the toilet since it produces nothing. And we paid for it. We demolish 26 today at $275K, but how many more will we demolish ten years from now and at what cost?

    From this particular article referenced below, regular foreclosures (not abandoned or left vacant by owner) as seen in this article total to just under 500 for the selected 30 zip codes in the fourth column for 2nd quarter 2014. Click link: http://stlouisrealestatenews.com/st-louis-foreclosures/zombie-foreclosures-st-louis/

    A subset of them are denoted as zombie foreclosures (fifth column), which are properties left vacant and abandoned by the owner (though in the foreclosure process with no guarantee of a new owner to be found in the future–left blowing in the wind). These properties sit there and waste away. Those zombies are concentrated in Jennings, Florissant, and Ferguson but are also found scattered throughout the 30 zip code areas listed. If new owners can’t be found, how long will they sit empty and rot away before government comes in to pay for demolishing zombies at taxpayers’ expense? As taxpayers in either STL city or county, this is going to be a major issue going forward as the population ages and the potential for more zombies grows. There needs to be a structured plan as to how to deal with these zombie foreclosures as they pop up. If we kick the can down the street, we will have a serious problem on our hands in a decade or more. We could be easily talking more than $1 million in the cost to demolish. Money just down the toilet.

    • guest

      Sort of a “pay me now” or “pay me later” proposition. In the case of these 26 buildings, they’ve been zombies for maybe a decade. The LRA is sort of the city’s repository for zombie foreclosures. So are you saying just leave them stand and do nothing? That doesn’t seem like a serious option.

      And interestingly, Alderman Antonio French, is now tweeting about quality of life in neighborhoods being the number one driver for either attracting residents or losing residents. He’s right. We do the incremental things around the edges, but people look at the whole picture – which is quality of life.

      And we know leaving these hulking carcasses of buildings standing certainly doesn’t “improve” the quality of life. Look at the Ville. Lots of abandoned buildings and a declining population.

      So folks can pine all day long about architectural beauty of rehabbable condition of these buildings, but at the neighborhood level, people are voting with their feet. They don’t want to live in an area in decline.

      • JohnThomas52

        Here is how Chicago solved their vacant and abandoned properties on their south side and it looks very, very successful. They sold zombie property for $1 (yes, a buck) to current property owners on the same street where the zombies were located. These new owners create gardens for food or beautify the area. The city only collects a $1 so it doesn’t bring in revenue to the city but better to do something than nothing. At least the property will be maintained. We can try to do something similar.

        http://www.npr.org/2014/07/02/325803705/for-sale-vacant-lots-on-chicago-blocks-just-1-each

        • guest

          Good idea that has been going on in St. Louis for thirty-plus years.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Yes, that and most city-owned properties could have a) been purchased for back taxes on the courthouse steps, b) be purchased today for about $2,000.

  • mpbaker22

    As a friend of mine has stated many times, if the goal for Ranken students is to learn carpentry, why not teach carpentry by having students fix woodwork on these vacant structures? If the goal is to learn brickwork, why not stabilize brickwork on these vacant structures? If the goal is to learn electricity, why not show how to replace K&T with Romex?

    Seems to me that it would be better to have a few rehabbed old buildings (rehabbed by Ranken) surrounded by empty lots than to create new empty lots, only to put new construction that will be surrounded by empty lots.

  • JohnThomas52

    STL ranks 5th highest amongst cities with abandoned homes. I hope this recent information serves the purpose of helping people to make informed decisions over home buying decision and to think about what population size will exist after the baby boomers pass on in about 10-15 years. If the vacated properties today are sizable, then what will it be like in 10-15 years? Think about the future carefully and plan accordingly.

    5. St. Louis, Mo.-Ill.

    > Pct. foreclosures vacated: 34%
    > Total vacated homes: 847 (27th highest)
    > Average home price: $96,083 (14th lowest)

    http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/st-louis-k-c-among-cities-with-most-abandoned-homes/article_1598d619-c76e-538a-985c-2bba95c9f924.html

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/07/13/cities-most-abandoned-homes/12536257/

    • Alex Ihnen

      “STL ranks 5th highest amongst cities in the entire US with abandoned homes.”

      This isn’t really correct. The vacancy rate referenced is percent of homes in foreclosure that are vacant. There’s a very significant difference. But yes, St. Louis, and the City in particular, has a significant vacancy problem.

      • JohnThomas52

        The Post Dispatch header title has it correctly: these cities have the most abandoned homes relative to its foreclosure counts. The word “most” may allude to raw count but the actual measurement is ratio, proportionality, so it is correct and very accurate. The gist of the message is —- St. Louis has a vacant/abandoned foreclosure rate of 34%. This means that, on average, for every 100 foreclosure properties, 34 are vacant/abandoned.

        The information is correct and not misleading to the public. If I said that city A has 100 foreclosures and 10 of them were vacant/abandoned, then that represents a 10% vacancy rate for foreclosure properties. If I said that city B has 10 foreclosures and 10 were vacant/abandoned, then that represents 100% vacancy rate. Numerically, 10 vacant/abandoned foreclosures is the same across city A and B but I would not report that raw count of 10 because it is misleading and meaningless by itself with knowing the total population from which it came (100 for city A or 10 for city B).

        A more accurate way is to standardize to make relative comparisons. This is what relative percentage change does. It is a measure of proportionality that takes into account different foreclosure population sizes. You can now make meaningful, direct comparisons once proportionality is taken into account. You can now compare 34% vacancy rate for STL against the percentages found in other cities. It is accurate and takes into account the different sizes of foreclosure population in each city. The raw count is only meaningful if all cities had the same population size (because then it would be standardized).

        It is possible to have 1 million foreclosure properties and none are vacant/abandoned in city A, which is good since occupied properties won’t deteriorate as fast. So, vacancy rate is 0%, though foreclosures are numerous. You can compare that against 10 foreclosure properties and 8 are vacant/abandoned in city B. To standardize, you would take percentages. Now, city A has 0% vacancy rate and city B has 80% vacancy rate—you can make direct, meaningful comparisons. It is an accurate way to measure vacant/abandoned foreclosures.

        Which is more desirable? A lot of foreclosures,say 2000, but none are vacant/abandoned. Or, fewer foreclosures, say 100, but a good number of them, say 85, are vacant/abandoned by owners. The latter properties are not at all and will deteriorate faster as the seasons passes. It’s not the foreclosure status that gives meaningful information, though it is still meaningful in its own right. It is whether the foreclosure property is vacant/abandoned that is much more relevant. Those vacant/abandoned properties are at high risk of fast decline (open to be trashed out, drugs/meth users hang out, prostitution, used as toilets, fires, exposure to elements, mold, whatever). Nobody is there to protect and take care of them so what happens to them? They end up being foreclosure zombies. If they stay that way for too long, then those properties will likely show up on the demolitions target list in about 10 years (looking like the above pictures). The vacancy rate measure is extremely relevant and it is accurately measured.

        It is important to educate the general public on this point that affects their communities and to create awareness and understanding on this issue, which is my intention.

  • Ryann

    Structurally it doesn’t look like any of these buildings need demolition. Maybe a new roof but how does that compare to the cost of demolition? Not to mention all of the beautiful architecture we are losing as these buildings come down. It saddens me that buildings aren’t built with his much character anymore.