Biondi Before and After

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In the wake of Saint Louis University President Father Lawrence Biondi's announcement that he will step down, it will undoubtedly be remarked as a matter of faith he helped transform Midtown and the SLU campus, and while much has been built over the course of his 25 years at the helm, much has been needlessly demolished. It's worth accounting for what has been lost, and each building below was replacd with an empty lot. Biondi Before an After:

Biondi - Before and After

Biondi - Before and After

Biondi - Before and After

Biondi - Before and After

Biondi - Before and After

Biondi - Before and After

Biondi - Before and After


Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Reddit0Print this pageEmail this to someone
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  • dempster holland

    The major change in SLU since my time in the late 1950s has been the changee in the student body. Then, nearly all graduates were local, middle
    class and catholic. Now, it appears that a high percent are out of town and
    able to afford the high tuitioin. But it is probable that slu had no choice.
    Many more middle class local catholics are going to Mizzou or UMSL, and
    slu had to seek a new market. Hence the extensive campus development
    to compete with other private universities and the focus on safety, necessary
    to attract female students, who are in turn necessary to attract male students.
    But these are only the external aspects of a university–the important issue
    is what goes on in the classroom. We had good teachers in the 1950s and I
    only hope they have good teachers now.

  • Daniel Shown

    While nextstl can certainly maintain whatever editorial slant it wants, ignoring the positive effects of SLU’s various redevelopments under the leadership of Fr. Biondi on the surrounding community would just be silly and foolish. Nothing in this world is perfect, and often leaders and decision makers have to choose between least worst options. Development paths and opportunities are rarely ideal, especially when whatever is ideal is so subjective. Take personal opinions on personalities out, and compare SLU’s redevelopment efforts against similar institutions around the world and you will find there is frequently very little difference. Perhaps this is due to lack of vision, but it seems more likely to me that it’s simply due to the way the world works.

    • Alex Ihnen

      No one’s ignoring the positive effects of SLU’s various redevelopments under Fr. Biondi. This post is meant to highlight one very overlooked aspect of his tenure. No one post can be inclusive of the breadth of development that has occurred over 25 years. That said, I think it’s important to understand that not all is well. As I mention in another comment here, there is a long history of deceptive claims and outright lies. I’ve been around several universities and am familiar with development at others. The actions taken by Biondi and SLU aren’t simply the status quo for development and certainly are not just the way the world works. Others will spend a lot of time praising SLU’s and Biondi’s accomplishments. Let’s just take one small moment to remember what we’ve lost and understand there’s nothing fatalistic about SLU, its development or Biondi’s leadership. SLU wouldn’t be what it is today with him, but what could it be?

    • samizdat

      I won’t waste my breath on the majority of the body of this comment, but this: “…compare SLU’s redevelopment efforts against similar institutions around
      the world and you will find there is frequently very little difference”, is just spurious nonsense. There has been very little in the way of redevelopment around SLU which has actually been driven by SLU, and its money. Most of what we see has been the result of private money, often coupled with governmental incentives. Locust St. is a prime example of this. If SLU had had it’s ‘druthers, Locust would be parking lot after parking lot. Or a risible ‘art’ greenspace. The Chaiefetz, and the Doisy are the exceptions to the rule of green space landbanking and vacant lots which command a majority of the acreage surrounding SLU.

  • jackiej

    Wash U has had the same affect here in the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood. Your presentation was very well done. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Improvements have been made, to the losses sustained, during the implementation, of their Improvement Plan for the Future. This is the future and you can see by looking at your pictures how much has been taken from the future and how much has gone in a different direction. Power can be very destructive in the name of improvement. Thank you for the flashbacks. I wish the future residents today in FPSE could get a glimpse of what Manchester was before Wash U. We had so much. Now we have so little with an abundance of alcohol establishments and a great increase in traffic. Their Lordship has not been as good as it should have been. Evidently the two Universities were reading out of the same book. I wish my neighbors could see what I’ve seen, and be inspired to push for restoration and not re development. There is a difference. Maybe you could do a Manchester Shopping District/The Grove visual presentation, like you have done here. It amazes me. Destroy the old to replace with the new with a lot of loss in between. Wash U’s tentacles began in 1975, about, and set a course for their bedroom community projected in the future for 50 years therabout. In another 10 years we will begin the final phase of the orginal plan. A complete turnaround for the entire community, all because, this is what WUMC wanted 50 years into the future for their people. They should be held accountable for all the destruction they have been responsible for over the last 50 years. No praise for them from me. A University, a place where they teach morals and this University supports one of their own offices who, using the power of the City’s Aldermen, they steal from the people using the power of eminent domain. They have proven themself to be cannibalistic. The PTB’s 50 year plan does not encourage residents who are below middle income, nor does it approve of opposition. Thanks again for the great pic’s!


      I think people fail to remember just what Biondi was facing with SLU when he took over and what drove him to make the vast changes he could, even if some may seem an overreach. The school was an urban campus through and through and with a city declining all around it, it was going to take massive change to get people to see SLU for the college it is, not where it is. You had streets cris-crossing the campus, old delapidated buildings all around it, a bank that was robbed on a routine basis on Lindell, old project buildings and low income housing just outside campus, crime, etc. Plus you had the simple national reputation of St. Louis city being a dangerous place to go. With a daughter now, I can assure you, if I had been a SLU grad back then, I would have had second thoughts of sending her to SLU.

      Back in 1995, I remember the old, fenced in apartments (Laclede Town on the east side), the large DPS presence, being told “don’t go north on Grand”, and being called a “honky” as I stood outside the Shell Station. This was not a place most people, especially a guy coming from rural South, would think about coming. I did though becasue I wanted to do something different by going to a city campus and thoroughly get out of my comfort zone.

      My point is, you can’t solely judge Biondi based on what has happened to buildings recently that some deem valuable or historic. He took what was a college that was going nowhere 20+ years ago and transformed the perception of it so others outside of St. Louis (and inside St. Louis) saw a great university in an urban setting. There has been too much good done in and around SLU to judge him on a a few parking lots, old homes knocked down, and statues put in place (and I hate most of those statues). SLU would not be where it is now without Biondi. The area around SLU, even non-SLU related, is not where it would be without the massive influence of SLU and Biondi. As Bob Ramsey always says, SLU is the “crown jewel” of mid town and in large part because of Biondi.
      Don’t take this as a defense of Biondi, the guy…..I personally witnessed how cold he could be while playing frisbee in the quad one spring afternoon. The guy was not your typical, fun-loving Jesuit high-fiving it with students. He operated as if SLU was a franchise/business that needed to be revamped and he succeeded in my opinion after 25 years at the head. Creating friction was bound to happen. Maybe the next president can be more friendly and extroverted as he walks around a beautiful campus and ventures outside the gates of SLU to enjoy what has been built around it.

      • Another SLU Grad

        I don’t think anybody here denies that SLU’s national reputation has improved under Biondi. Nor does anyone here really care about Biondi’s demeanor. He got results (at least in the beginning of his term as President), and everybody should be proud that Biondi helped lead SLU to greater national recognition.

        That being said, it’s ok to recognize and respect the positive work someone has done while also recognizing where they could’ve done better. Midtown is better off with SLU there than without, but it could be much better if SLU (together with Grand Center, Inc.) hadn’t pursued a strategy of land clearance in order to improve the area. What remains today of Midtown in the midst of the vast seas of parking, vacant lots, and greenspace is not better because of SLU’s land clearance “strategy”, but because of the state historic tax credit and entrepreneurial developers such as the Mills who took on risk in redeveloping the buildings that remained.

        I will give Biondi credit for closing off West Pine and Spring. That gave the University a real campus feel that it needed. Midtown, and arguably the University, would be better off though had SLU kept its hands off the land surrounding the campus or even better, had it pursued urban development and density rather than land clearance. I fail to see the argument that land clearance improved SLU’s national reputation or Midtown’s vibrancy.

  • samizdat

    I realize that this may ruffle a few feathers, but I am firm in my belief that a significant reason for this land clearance, beyond land banking and “campus building” (whatever that means), is simple, virulent racism. SLU was embarrassed over a decade ago by the reports of rapes and other assaults nearby. (And on campus). Something which they neglected to note in any of the recruiting literature and in federally-mandated disclosure requirements. It would seem that their response, rather than seek improvements in the neighborhood (say, in the manner of Washington U.), was to simply raze it. Eliminate the perceived source of the problem, and voila, no problem. Biondi and the SLU Trustees conducted a pogrom against the surrounding residents, most of whom were non-white. I loathe this man, and it is only partially because of the loss of the built environment. He leaves a shameful legacy.

    Except, of course, this does nothing to solve the problem of student-on-student rape, and other such crimes.

  • RB

    As a lifelong resident, I’ve watched and noted each one of these so called “improvement” projects add to slow and painful decline of our once beautiful

    mid town and near north side historic buildings. Mr. Biondi works with the team at city hall that confuse “removing” with Improving. I hope he has the courtesy to take his lack of vision and all the tasteless public art he’s scattered around the university campus with him when he goes….good bye!

  • Presbyterian

    I always found it curious at a Jesuit university that Father Biondi’s most ardent critics were the faculty in the theology department. Ethics profs and stuff like that.

  • T-Leb

    My Grandpa Leb worked at Pevely until they had him train his replacement (some conflict between two unions). My Grandpa and Grandma Daus stood in front of Cupples house and took a picture to celebrate their engagement. One building still stands, the other is almost completely demo’ed::: sounds a lot like Biondi’s time at SLU, some good things, some bad things… either way, it’s time to look forward.

  • Don

    I’m confused. Did Father Bionodi only level buildings, or could we make a list of buildings he also preserved? You damage your credibility and the credibility of this site when you make no pretense at fairness.

    If one wants to be taken seriously as a preservationist, one must concede not every building is a treasure or should be saved. I’ll concede that Father Biondi knocked down a lot of buildings and could have worked harder to preserve some. At times the University under him acted as a bully trying to buy properties. But I attended SLU in the 1980s and Father Biondi also transformed the SLU campus into a premier urban environment which is as beautiful as it is impressive.

    • chaifetz10

      Again, a few nice developments do not give you a free pass. Look past this building and you will see a sea of empty parking lots. SLU is far from being a premier urban environment. It is filled with large empty grass areas, sectioned off by iron fencing.
      I find it admirable that you are defending Biondi, however you too must look at the overall picture and not just the pretty picture of Hotel Ignacio. Because if you don’t, you’re unable to see the forest through the trees.

      • Don

        I thought I offered a mixed review of Biondi. I certainly want and hope in time many of the lots that once were buildings will be developed.

        Rome wasn’t built in a day and redeveloping Midtown as been underway for more than 30 years.

        The University has been trying to get a developer to build a hotel at the NE corner of Lindell at Grand for at least the last 5 years. If you know someone interested, contact the University.

    • Alex Ihnen

      This is rather simple Don. As mentioned in the few words before the images, I believe it’s important to recognize what has been lost and not simply remark about how much better campus looks. If you’re looking for a full accounting a university president’s tenure, that’s not here. And in general, I, and this site, strive to be accurate and honest, but not “fair” in the sense that all the good and all the bad is lumped into a holistic accounting of a project, place or person. That’s not reasonable. If you disagree, I can only assume that you’re leaving comments on the Post-Dispatch site and anywhere else that fails to remark on SLU’s demolition for empty lots – as any story that doesn’t include both would be unfair?

      What I was less explicit about is Fr. Biondi’s history of lying to the city, residents and elected representatives. This happened with numerous businesses near the campus (we need your land for an art museum), and most recently with the Pevely Diary complex where he lied about imminent plans to build a hospital. He threatened to move to the county if the city didn’t allow demolition. He charged that the city was preventing SLU from treating sick children. Where’s that hospital that was so desperately needed to fulfill this timely mission? Oh nevermind, SLU built something shiny over there! Isn’t this so much better than 1982?!

  • John R

    I’d love to see an aerial pic from 25 years ago of the present-day SLU area to compare with today. I understand there wasn’t much of a coherent campus back then, but much has needlessly been lost and seemingly would have made the university even more appealing. Anyway, let’s hope SLU will now join the almost universal movement of urban campuses consciously reengaging their surrounding urban context in a more thoughtful manner.

  • JustFlushIt

    When Father Biondi passes, his headstone should be white striped asphalt.

    • Will Fru

      Behind the locked gate of a brick archway surrounded by faux wrought iron fencing.

  • Annie

    maybe we should show the more prevelant parts of campus?

    • chaifetz10

      True. Let’s show the fountain at Grand and Lindell… Also the parking lots on the West end of campus.
      I’ll admit that there are certain areas that are greatly approved (Chaifetz Arena, new business school, etc…), but that doesn’t give you a free pass for tearing down every building in the neighborhood either.

      • chaifetz10


  • kuan

    Didn’t realize what happened on the site presented near the Pevely one (the second to last example). Nuts: is this for the same proposed expansion? Also, it would be helpful to have the addresses, roughly for the site – I had to scan a bit for that razed residential block’s location (3669 Rutger Street, approximately), though I recognized all the others.

    • samizdat

      SLU also razed the two large structures on the same block, one of which was a Modern-era building of some note. And no, these demos were not part of the Pevely site prep. As of this writing, and at the time of razing, nothing–not even speculative–has been proposed for this site. Speaking of Pevely and site prep, SLU withdrew the proposal for the building proposed as its replacement…in addition to leaving hundreds of cubic meters of demolition debris to remain at the former Pevely site. It’s still there.

      The boots you hear are the sound of SLU stomping all over the people of this City. The silence surrounding the chaos is the Aldermen, the Mayor, B & E, Building Division, etc., as they continue to allow SLU to smash the area around the campus into powder.

      • samizdat

        Oops, BoE&A…

  • Daron Dierkes

    And this is just a partial list…

  • rawest

    Let’s hope the new leadership makes it a priority to develop some of those lots!

    • That’s the thing though. *Should* it be a priority for a private university president to be in the development business.

      Of course, growth and expansion is the name of the game for any college, but really it’s that aggressive land-grabbing and speculation that created all these empty lots in Midtown.

      Also, there’s a whole mess of a house for the next person to clean up first.

      • samizdat

        “…but really it’s that aggressive land-grabbing and demolition by SLU (and Grand Center) that created all these empty lots in Midtown.”

        Fixed it for you.