City Preservation Board: High-End Retail Glam, Vinyl Villains & Creative Demo/Rebuild

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City of St. Louis Preservation Board - May 20, 2013American historic preservation is unique. We value an exacting maintenance of form and materials. It’s often an all or nothing. This isn’t without reason, but it leads to interesting challenges in a city like St. Louis, where sometimes perfection can be the enemy of good. Requiring exacting standards can sometimes prevent investment. Ultimately, historic preservation guidelines are a local issue as neighborhoods set standards. In St. Louis, the result is sharp edges between neighborhoods such as Lafayette Square and Peabody Darst Webbe and between Soulard and Kosckiusko. It would seem that a graduated preservation standard could go a long way toward creating a better city – though that’s a topic for another post.

Next week’s City of St. Louis Preservation Board agenda aptly highlights the various challenges of historic preservation in St. Louis: high-end yoga clothing retailer seeks to add flash to a Central West End storefront, vinyl windows installed without permit, proposed demolition and reconstruction of the Swedish Society Building and a covered patio structure in historic Soulard. There’s a little of everything this month.

City of St. Louis Preservation Board - May 20, 2013

Maryland Plaza - Lululemon

The recent news that high-end yoga clothing retailer Lululeman would be opening a store in the CWE’s Maryland Plaza was seen as good news for the bustling Euclid corridor that continues to struggle to establish retail. Well, they like their building, but they’d love it if they could just add green, blue and purple glass tiles to extend the existing black wrapping of the retail windows. The only problem is that this alters an historic building and storefront. The city’s Cultural Resources Office says not so fast, and the Preservation Board is likely to agree.

City of St. Louis Preservation Board - May 20, 2013

In Soulard, an owner seeks to build a structure to cover a patio connected to an historic corner building. It looks like a well thought out, quality design. The problem? Soulard historic guidelines require that new structures be based on a model example of an historic appendage – that is, if you build new stuff, it must look like old stuff in materials and proportions. The roof structure in this case is much larger than any model example in the historic district. Cultural Resources doesn’t like it and neither will the Preservation Board.

City of St. Louis Preservation Board - May 20, 2013

City of St. Louis Preservation Board - May 20, 2013

A proposal for the Swedish National Society Building is something novel. The applicant wants to demolish the building…and then rebuild it. The former fast-food restaurant to the north would be gone as well. The new building will look very much like the existing Swedish building and would incorporate the terra-cotta elements of the original. The new building would be a approximately 40 feet further north, allowing for a driveway, drive-up window and parking to the building’s south. The included rendering shows a Subway restaurant occupying the storefront. The CRO favors the plan with the caveat that a building permit be issued first. This helps prevent the possibility of the building being demolished and not replaced.

City of St. Louis Preservation Board - May 20, 2013


The proposal is creative and could serve as a model for historic preservation along many of the city’s main thoroughfares. Building uses must adapt to present uses, yet there’s substantial value in retaining the massing and character of the built environment. The proposal demonstrates a big progressive leap in city development. The now vacant fast-food next door highlights the past development pattern too often sought. From Delmar to Natural Bridge and Gravois to Jefferson, similar proposals have the potential to welcome new development and preserve a walkable historic city.

Next up is a vinyl villain – non-compliant replacement windows in the Skinker-DeBaliviere Historic District. It’s a no-no and will be met with disapproval from the CRO and Preservation Board. Then there’s the unfortunate fire on Utah Avenue. The historic home will stand until it’s deemed a hazard to the public, or adjacent buildings. The CRO is asking the Preservation Board to deny demolition until the owner shows that repairs are not economically feasible. This application had been previously tabled and the owner asked to list the property for sale.

City of St. Louis Preservation Board - May 20, 2013

City of St. Louis Preservation Board - May 20, 2013

The last item highlights the challenge of desperately needed historic preservation and the rules that apply. 3324 Missouri was falling down. It was very nearly lost. On one hand, this issue is rather simple. The building’s owner hasn’t complied with the CRO approved plans from 2011. Yet, one has to wonder if our stringent historic preservation guidelines are best serving our city when an incredible rehabilitation such as this, in a still struggling neighborhood with an uncertain future, is held to such as exacting standard.

Is the perfect historic renovation the enemy of the good city?

by nextSTL

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  • Chris

    What does a vinyl window cost compared to a modern, Ultra Low-E window that meets historic criteria? Surely the city cannot be demanding that the renovation finish with crappy single-panel double-hung windows, can they?

    • samizdat

      Going from my own experience in pricing new wood, double-pane sash-pack units, with the low-emissivity membrane (some have a coating, or the membrane is applied directly to the exterior side of the innermost pain, if I’m not mistaken, or it is suspended between the two panes), the avg. price for these units runs from 500USD upwards, depending on the size. For the larger street-facing windows (in our case, 70″ x 34.75″), it would have run to about 800USD for sash pack units with second-growth oak. A vinyl window of comparable size and emissivity will probably run about half that. But here’s the thing (and I will admit my bias on this), vinyl is a poison, and will immediately begin to deteriorate when exposed to UVA/UVB. Why do I know vinyl is a poison? I used to work for a company which extruded the stuff, and I read the MSDS. I also learned that vinyl chloride itself is truly nasty stuff in the manufacturing stage, as are most chlorinated compounds (and while we’re at it, so are brominated synthetics). Vinyl will warp, and the case of both vinyl and wood replacement window, it’s not likely that the parts to repair them will be available a decade or two hence. It is also not uncommon for the seals to fail on the two-pane units, in addition to the fact that many so-called professional installers don’t know to–or know how to–seal around the unit itself. So you have the added bonus of air exchange in a brand new window, when it was intended to perform the opposite function.

      Which is why I’ve chosen to restore the original windows, the sashes of which are made of old-growth cypress. With proper restoration, and quality storms, restoration can equal, and in some cases, exceed the performance of replacements. This may not always be the case, but at least with regards to street-facing windows, it is the most desirable route, as it retains the historic look of the house, and most often costs less than replacements. And there are in fact films which can be installed which can reduce emissivity, which in itself is really necessary only on south and west exposures.

      • samizdat

        ps: Never, NEVER, put metal over wood molding and trim. You may as well kiss the wood underneath goodbye, as the moisture in the air, and the inevitable water infiltration will rot any wood, as the moisture is trapped beneath the sheathing. And then you get the added expense of replacing trim and molding anyway.

  • STLExplorer

    Getting ready to save some of the Swedish National Society Building. Happy 100th birthday!

  • dempster holland

    Maryland Plaza and Soulard were originally developed without the help
    of city preservation and review boards, and without the help of bloggers
    trying to tell other people how to spend their own money. Worked out
    pretty well–maybe we should try it again.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Right, because if those pesky “bloggers” weren’t so busy telling other people how to spend their money, all would be well. The city’s history of the last 50 years was unblemished until those “bloggers” came along. Without “city preservation and review boards” Maryland Plaza, Soulard and Lafayette Square wouldn’t exist as they do today. Let’s not forget that.

      • dempster holland

        I did much of the legal work for Maryland Plaza from 1975 to
        1995 and I can’t recall any contribution made by city preserva-
        tion or review boards to its development.

        • Alex Ihnen

          It’s my opinion that both have helped to make the CWE a place where a development like Maryland Plaza can succeed. Without guidelines, many buildings, perhaps even some that constitute Maryland Plaza, would have been altered beyond restoration. The CWE Historic District was created in 1974 and the Local Historic District designation applied in 1988. These made the use of historic tax credits possible. All one has to do to see the impact is look at the CWE just on the other side of the historic district.

          • dempster holland

            I grew up in the Central west end in the 1940s and 1950s and have observed many changes through-
            out the years. On Lindell, high rises started replacing
            single family homes in the 1920s and continued up to
            the 1970s (and a hotel at Newstead and Lindell, buily
            in the 1950s, was deemed by some to be “historic”).
            The point is that cities are always in a state of flux and
            a vibrant city more than others.

          • Alex Ihnen

            There’s really something to this – I agree. In places like Boston, some historic districts are preserved, others have been replaced and replaced again. In St. Louis, I’d say that “preservation” is really about ensuring that something of quality is built. Most “preservation battles” have focused on demo that would result in generally crappy low-quality architecture being built, or more often than not, nothing being built. It’s not that a particular building is valuable per se, but that it’s infinitely preferable to vacant land. If the San Luis site had been proposed for a new high-rise of any merit, the conversation would have been quite different. The same with Pevely and some others as well.

          • John R

            AAA and Flying Saucer were nice victories accommodating both preservation and redevelopment, but all too often it seems like its preservation versus pergolas.

          • Alex Ihnen

            I’d wear a “No pergolas” T-shirt.

  • I rather like the Missouri property and the work that they’ve put into it. That block is starting to look beautiful. Let’s leave them be and let them finish that project. The city could always stipulate that the windows have to be completely replaced within some sort of time period…

  • I have a hard time seeing how a curb cut and surface parking at a corner is “a big progressive leap.”

    • Alex Ihnen

      Ah, and so would basically everyone else.

  • onecity

    Historical preservation has its place when a neighborhood is declining, but once the neighborhood has arrived, bring on the best of the 21st century in all its glass and metal clad glory even if you have demolish to get it. You can’t tell me this doesn’t keep an enormous amount of investment out of the city, for aesthetic or hassle reasons. Stasis is the alternative.

    • guest

      I’d say also you might want to think about the things the other way around. Historic preservation is expensive, and hard to pull off in declining neighborhoods. More flexibility of design codes in declining areas might attract more investment, save more historic buildings.

      There needs to be a basic “rehab” incentive for older buildings, not limited to strict historic tax credit design requirements. If someone’s thinking of a plan to sustain old neighborhoods, this would be something to consider.

      Sort of like tax abatement, but with a little actual cash/design flexibility thrown in the mix. And not just for low income occupants.

      • onecity

        ^ If you could just get rid of the “historical” part of the tax credit. I’d buy that.

    • Adam

      once a neighborhood has arrived the majority of the historic buildings have likely already been rehabilitated. i’m all for modern mixed with historic, but I completely disagree with “bringing on the demolition” to get it. luckily, we have enough vacant land that that’s not necessary.

  • jimb

    historic guidelines = doll houses

    look at cherokee – half is alive and half is frozen dead…

    • onecity


  • samizdat

    Lululemon: With the board on this one. The glass proposed is not only significantly different color-wise than the Vitrolite, but the refractive properties of the glass are entirely out of character with the Vitrolite, as the glass appears to be reverse-painted, whereas the Vitrolite is a product which is saturated in color throughout.

    Swedish Nat’l Society: Um, no. I appreciate that Subway is proposing to reuse “elements” of the original building, but the proportions and fenestration are out of character with the original structure.

    The Pershing Ave. house: How stupid can you be not to be aware of a Historic District, and a local at that? And vinyl? That’s just dumb. And toxic. And aluminum wrapping? Kiss the wood molding underneath goodbye!

    Benton Park: I love this building, and have been dreading going by one day to see a vacant lot, so seeing it rehabbed is just about as nice a surprise as one can have. Buuut…Here’s the thing, why would you spend $50K-75K or more to reconstruct the facade (and the foundation under the right-hand window) and not ensure that the windows and brickmold you spec’d were in compliance?

    • dredger

      Answer, Maybe the rehabber was depleting funds faster than planned on and had to make a decision. Go with cheaper windows to complete/enclose and make us of the structure. Or board up, stop the rehab and hope some how the money is found. I can see a conditional fine and notice to improve over time. Some economic sanity must be allowed or a far more number of historic buildings will stay empty and rot. The outcome of that is simple, empty lot in due time.

    • Don

      “Buuut…Here’s the thing, why would you spend,….”

      Because you ran out of money? Because the structure was in even worse shape than you imagined and restoring the facade to exacting standards blew out the budget?

      Well, that’s just an obvious explanation. I’m sure their are other reasons, some less innocent, but based upon the money and work invested, we can’t assume the owners just don’t care about preservation. I wish those of us not investing the money weren’t always so intent on making it so hard for those willing to invest.

  • John Westermayer

    Good points from Presbyterian. The colorful tiles certainly fits the eclectic shopping district in the CWE. Modern additions onto historic buildings are being done in every city, certainly didn’t see the St Louis Art Museum following these guidelines when they added onto the museum.

  • John R

    Swedish Society Building certainly is interesting. The thought of even more in/out traffic in a highly congested stretch is kind of horrid.

  • Presbyterian

    I wish our governance were more holistic. Imagine one single process with a single vision that incorporates historic preservation with other concerns — sustainability, urban form, neighborhood character, building and fire codes, etc. Any proposed plan could be assessed based on whether it helps further the vision.

    In each of these cases, the answer likely would be yes.

    As it is, these seem like examples of a legalistic rigidity getting in the way of the urban vision our preservation codes are intended to protect.

    Require the glass tiles be removable so they don’t permanently damage the underling building. Require a one-foot gap between the patio structure and the historic building. Let the vinyl windows stay upon condition that the front door be rebuilt on historic lines. Solutions aren’t difficult.

  • Adam

    “Incorporating the terra cotta elements of the original” may just be a placatory measure to get the demolition past the Preservation Board.

  • Adam

    Is Subway going to be the sole tenant of the Swedish National Society Building? If so, I have a hard time believing it’s going to be rebuilt with any kind of quality. While it may be more aesthetic than the current standard fast food model, it’s still an island in a sea of parking.