Lindell Avenue AAA Building Back on the Chopping Block for CVS Development

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AAAThe Lindell AAA building is once again threatened with demolition. The preliminary June City of St. Louis Preservation Board agenda includes a “review to demolish existing AAA building and garage to construct a new AAA Facility and CVS Pharmacy.” The property is owned by the Automobile Club of Missouri. When the news broke of the intent to demolish the AAA building last June, City of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay quickly weighed in and posted this statement on his blog, “I believe that the loss of any distinctive element of our built environment must be justified by a new good at least its equal. It is not my current impression that the amenity of a new chain drugstore within blocks of a couple of existing ones or the very ordinary design of the proposed building is such a good.”

Even that statement, which left more than a little wiggle room to revise at a latter date, left 18th Ward Alderman Terry Kennedy unhappy. He was critical of the Mayor for speaking out of turn (you see, the mayor is supposed to defer demolition and development to Aldermen in this town). Despite Slay’s opposition, it appeared demolition was likely, with Kennedy only stating that his “neighborhood review group will push for a more urban-friendly design, similar to the negotiations that led a nearby Walgreens to improve its building design. Holding CVS to the existing Walgreens standard? This was bad news.

{AAA building – photo by Toby Weiss}

But the tide turned. If a developer goes to the city (in that case, the St. Louis Planning Commission), it’s generally assumed that they do so with Aldermanic support in hand. Then, Chris King, Editorial Director of the St. Louis American Tweeted, “Alderman Terry Kennedy: “I do not support the demolition of the AAA building in the 18th ward located at Lindell near Vandeventer.” The problem is that Kennedy maintained authority over that decision. The building isn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It isn’t a City Landmark and it wasn’t in a city Preservation Review District.

{the AAA building is in the city’s 18th Ward – no single ward can create a vision for Lindell}

The 18th Ward is now a pending Preservation Review District and so this attempt at demolition goes the the city’s Preservation Board. It’s unclear that absent National Register listing, or historic preservation district rules, that the board will have any reason to reject demolition. To get to this point and seek demolition, CVS had moved on from a location a couple blocks west when the neighborhood association there rejected their proposal. What appears to now be clear is that Kennedy, and presumably the neighborhood committee he covened, now support the CVS proposal.

It’s theoretically possible that the project has been altered to meet the standard set forth by Mayor Slay, and will be a quality urban infill project. And there’s at least one way to preserve the AAA building and build a quality new CVS store. However, it’s more likely that Kennedy has leaned on the developer to deliver the Walgreens standard. As spelled out in Disfunctional Ward Development Exploited by CVS to Demolish Landmark Building in St. Louis, the power to demolish buildings nearly at will must be removed from individuals who represent just 1/28 of the city’s population and generally have no training in development or forsight to benefit the city as a whole.

{What Should Be shows how a new CVS and AAA building can co-exist}

If you oppose the demolition of the AAA building, please contact Alderman Terry Kennedy and Betsy Bradley, Director of the city’s Cultural Resources Office. Also consider contacting your Alderman if living outside the 18th Ward. As always, be considerate and simply state your opposition to this development. Please feel free to cut and paste (and edit) the message below:

I’m writing to express my opposition to the demolition of the AAA building at 3917 Lindell Boulevard. Our city’s built environment belongs to all of us and is irreplacable. Replacing the landmark AAA building with a bland retail box creates a more generic, less unique city. St. Louis will not become a better place to live with the addition of another chain pharmacy. No new residents will move to the city because of this development. No new net jobs will be added as a result of this development. The future of City of St. Louis is inextricably tied to its sense of place. Please consider the voices and interests of those across the city and region and how the demolition of the AAA building will remove an important and distinctive part of our city forever. Decades from now, the CVS Pharmacy will have no value to the surrounding communities. No one will value the building and no one will mourn its inevitable demolition for the next retail fad. I ask you to reject the demoltion of the AAA building and support a distinctive and valued St. Louis.

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  • The existing AAA building on Lindell was built in 1976, replacing the original building that burned to the ground. How ironic that the 3949 Lindell Apartments, next door, recently burned. I am not implying anything except an odd coincidence. Maybe the site is haunted. Seriously, I do think, however, that the existing AAA building should be retained. It may be possible to blend a new structure into the existing architectural fabric, but I don’t know if it can be accomplished with the proper sensitivity. Because of the new situation, let CVS build on the site of the soon to be demolished apartment building and retain the AAA building.

  • Rick

    I wonder if there’s a compromise? Looking at the building, I’m guessing they’d say it’s too small. I wonder if there’s a way to blow out the rear, expand the building out the back, but essentially preserve the Lindell streetscape?

  • Guest

    I keep reading lots of articles about this AAA building, but so far NONE of them have stated what year the building was constructed. Shouldn’t something like that be more widely reported? The closest I’ve seen has been “mid-century” and “1960s.” Does no one know exactly when it was built?

    • Alex Ihnen


  • Eric Matthew Wilkinson

    Why can’t CVS occupy the existing structure?

    • Alex Ihnen

      Because they don’t want to. Maybe it just doesn’t work at all, maybe it’s an awkward layout, not the right square feet. I don’t really know, but CVS has reused many different shaped spaces in other cities. Why? Because the other cities said that they had to, or not open a store. CVS and other chains vastly prefer to build their standard stand alone building no matter where it is.

  • Bryan

    CVS is a monstrous company. Out in St. Charles County, they have already torn down a strip mall that contained a dozen small businesses along Mid Rivers and a 15 year old gas station along Highway K. They chose these sites due to close proximity of Walgreens, however, there are plenty of empty plots of land close by. CVS reminds me of Wal Mart. They come in under the radar and try to get the city on board before the citizens have time to weigh the pros and cons.

  • Kevin

    ^ I agree. At the very least, we need to encourage truly urban-friendly development, especially since the new Lindell Apartments next door are done in positive fashion. Having a Lions Choice on one side and a suburban CVS on the other just reverses the urban-conscious trend beginning along that block.

  • Sean McElligott

    The building must be saved but If they would build something that is urban friendly and thats promote density then the sacrifice of the building might be worth it .

    • Alex Ihnen

      That’s the crux of it in a very large way. I like the AAA building a lot, but if something like 3949 Lindell was proposed (dense residential development), I wouldn’t be as opposed to its demolition.