UrbanStreet to Seek Demo at 10th & Locust

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917-921 Locust Street - St. Louis, MO

Years ago now, the Roberts brothers planned to demolish the two buildings at the northeast corner of Tenth Street and Locust downtown. Their initial plans were revised and revised again. Their last effort would have constructed a two-story lobby and entrance on 10th, representing a reasonably urban corner, though introducing a guest drop-off driveway as well. Needless to say, that plan disappeared along with the Roberts empire.

Enter UrbanStreet. Their purchase of a set of Roberts downtown buildings was good news as it seemed several languishing properties would finally recevied needed attention. The Roberts Tower will become 132 rental units (instead of the 55 condos once envisioned), the Mayfair will be renovated and possibly sold to the boutique Magnolia Hotel chain, Roberts Lofts have been rebranded the Lofts at OPOP (Old Post Office Plaza), and UrbanStreet is seeking a partner to run the shuttered Orpheum Theatre. What's missing so far is the fate of the buildings on Locust adjacent to the Lofts at OPOP and spanning the block from Ninth to 10th Street. According to comments in the Post-Dispatch, UrbanStreet will seek demolition of two buildings on Locust.

In a presentation to the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, UrbanStreet outlined development plans as part of a request for tax abatement on their newly acquired downtown property. According to the P-D, the company stated two of the four structures are in “demolition condition”. The developer's legal representative in St. Louis, Bill Kuehling is reported to have said the small building at 10th and Locust streets “is a pretty hopeless case” and needs to be demolished. There was no indication what might replace the corner and adjacent building.

The Tudor-styled building is something of a landmark downtown due to its uniqueness. But what's more important is its presence as a corner anchor at one of the very few intersections downtown that is fronted by buildings at all four corners. The building's demise would be a setback for the walkable, human-scale environment. These types of buildings, and this setting is all too rare in downtown. Of course the conversation could be altered by whatever is proposed as a replacement, but anything other than an attractive replacement should be rejected. At the time of the CVS proposal to demolish the Lindell AAA building, Mayor Slay weighed in, stating, "I believe that the loss of any distinctive element of our built environment must be justified by a new good at least its equal." That would seem to be a fair yardstick to use here.

Bob Burke, Partner at UrbanStreet addressed the Downtown St. Louis Residents Association this Wednesday and mentioned the challenge posed by the Locust Street properties, but gave no indication that demolition would be sought without exploring other options. Burke told residents that the focus for the Locust properties would be to activate the middle building. He stated that of the properties acquired, Locust was the biggest puzzle and that UrbanStreet was exploring ways to activate the streetscape.

Demolishing a corner building and another without a better replacement would be an odd way to activate the streetscape, but what may be most disturbing is the nonsensical developer-speak used by UrbanStreet and Kuehling. What in the world is "demolition condition"? Such a moniker goes several levels beyond the standard "not feasible" label. And "a pretty hopeless case"? Please. Nearly every building that now contributes to the resurgence and vibrancy of downtown St. Louis was once (and likely twice or more) a pretty hopeless case. The developer must be held to a much higher standard and must be made to go beyond simply declaring that a valuable asset in our built environment is in "demolition condition".

Roberts_Hotel Indigo-Locust
{the Roberts brothers once envisioned demolition and new hotel entrance and lobby}

Roberts_Hotel Indigo-Locust4
{floor plan from early Roberts Brothers plan for Hotel Indigo at 917-923 Locust Street}

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  • kuan

    I’m a bit confused, it appears that they have said they want to demolish the corner building; but did they say they were not going to replace it explicitly? Or did they say that they were interested in pursuing the typology of that shown in the ground floor plan of the Hotel Indigo that was posted? Looking through the developer’s portfolio, it is hard to get a sense if these guys are “good” urban developers. It looks like they buy and rehab properties, for the most part. I see a few dense residential projects that are midrise, and then some totally rural projects, but nothing in the new development sphere… And the P-D articles don’t offer much further insight into this, either, from what I could see briefly scanning articles they had on the company.

    On a side note, that ground floor plan is pretty poor. Usually, the elevators in hotels are supposed to have a sense of arrival and spectacle, but in this floor plan they are tucked back behind the bathrooms!

  • We can only hope that Mayor Slay sticks to his word and does not allow any demolition without equal or improved development taking its place. These buildings are very unique to downtown and they should be repurposed. I’ve always imagined a great German restaurant in the Tudor building.

  • That building used to have a Fatted Calf!

  • Presbyterian

    Many of the world’s artistic masterpieces have 923 Locust St. Saint Louis as part of their permanent provenance. Not just Rembrandt, but Monet. Lots of Monet. Read more (with lots of pics) on the Forum here: https://nextstl.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=9067&p=210488#p210488.

  • Imran

    Bill Kuehling should be shown befores and afters of the 14th street mall project. Hopeless case indeed.

  • Presbyterian

    3 Reasons They Can’t Bulldoze the Noonan-Kocian Art Co (923 Locust):
    (my thoughts pasted from the Forum…)

    1. This May Be the Last One. 
    While I love the way the Victorian cast iron structure pops through the stucco, that iron itself is a “modernization” c. 1890. The original structure likely dates to c. 1850. This may be the last remaining piece of pre-Civil War commercial history downtown.

    2. This Holds the History of Italian & Jewish St. Louis.
    This building is a last surviving downtown link to the St. Louisans’ immigrant experience. We didn’t all arrive on covered wagons from Virginia. The 1890 Goulds Directory lists this building as belonging to Pieri & Baldweer–both recent Italian immigrants. It was here that Attilio Balducci ran the Attilio Saloon. Attilio Balducci emmigrated from Italy and was naturalized in St. Louis on November 12, 1890. After his saloon moved or closed, the building was occupied by two Jewish art dealers…

    3. Rembrandt was Here. And Russell Got His Start Here.
    Most famously, this building was the home of the Noonan-Kocian Art Company, formed in 1902. It was in this building on November 23, 1903 that the famed American painter and sculptor Charles M. Russell had his very first solo exhibition, which consisted of paintings and watercolors. Russell was a native of St. Louis.This Noonan-Kocian Gallery was also where the St. Louis Art Museum purchased pieces for its collection, including Rembrandt van Rijn’s Landscape with a Cottage in 1913. The following year, the Noonan Gallery was the St. Louis agent for the Panama Pacific Exhibition and handled fine art objects to be displayed in San Francisco the following year.

    If the last piece of our antebellum downtown, our downtown immigrant experience and the story of how St. Louis became a great center for the arts is demolition-ready, then I suggest we consider finding a hammer rather than a bulldozer.

    • Alex Ihnen

      This article by Michael Allen seems to suggest that the building dates from 1897. Surely there’s some way to find out if the structure dates from c. 1850 – though the owner might not be too keen on finding out.

      http://preservationresearch.com/2011/09/second-chance-for-locust-street-buildings/

      • Presbyterian

        I had read that, but it seems anachronistic that this structure was built in 1897. I saw a city record with a date of 1890, but that seems like it was probably a modernization. We know the address was a saloon in 1890 and an art dealer in 1902. If an earlier structure burned in between those dates, then they would have replaced it with an 1890s building. This is too small and too enclosed for 1890s commercial at this intersection.

        I’ve posted the 1875 Compton & Dry image of the building. In 1875, we see that there was a line of three-story town homes like this… and they were already the smallest buildings in the neighborhood. I suspect this is the only one of those houses still standing.

  • Alex Ihnen

    Had to re-post to fix URL issue. We apologize for lost comments.