Bungling the Bungalow and the future of the 700sq ft Brick Home in St. Louis

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St. Louis Brick Bungalow

New ideas use old buildings. So said Jane Jacobs. This doesn't mean that every new idea is worthwhile, or a mark of progress, but adpative reuse of the historic built environment in many ways defines St. Louis. Warehouses to lofts, a gas station to brewery or coffee shop, a ballroom to movie theater, and lest we forget-shoe factory to insane playhouse — the defining places in St. Louis are often repurposed buildings. But while the 700 square foot loft has found success in the market, a similarly widespread revision eludes the 700 square foot historic brick bungalow. I engaged in a little hyperbole recently, Tweeting the image below and labeling it a tragedy – guess that depends on one's perspective. Anyway, other, shall we say, adaptations, of the brick bungalow are more substantial. The question is: do modifications such as the one above represent a progressive adaptation, a new model for reuse, or should they be seen as "crimes against urbanity" for striping detail of significant craftsmanship and adulterating a vernacular architecture form?

St. Louis Brick Bungalow

St. Louis Brick Bungalow
{rows of well-maintained brick bungalows can be found tucked away in the city}

Other creative transformations have been envisioned, including an open loft concept employing a portion of the first floor as a mezzanine and making full use on the basement space. The concept below was never executed, but similar additions to existing building envelopes may be another way to adapt these traditional structures to the modern market. Adaptive Reuse of the St. Louis Shotgun Home:

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  • John R

    The area surrounding Morgan Ford is a good example of where there are a lot of shotguns that are part of a reviving area. Great for singles or couples and certainly a welcome part of the neighborhood mix.

  • Marshall Howell

    At lot of these shotgun home left in the city just aren’t appealing, I think many but not all should just be removed to allowed to be demolished if appropriate plans exist for the replacement.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Thank goodness this mentality didn’t prevail regarding the Victorians in Lafayette Square, or the garden homes of Soulard, or the mansions of the CWE, or the 2 & 4-family flats of Shaw and Tower Grove, or…Every city needs a variety of housing options and St. Louis is lacking in new construction and variety (IMO). However, there’s no shortage of vacant lots and other options. To simply state that a housing form, thousands of them, should be largely removed due to a sense that they’re not “appealing” or don’t fit today’s market, is shortsighted. Similar thinking has destroyed large parts of St. Louis. In cities where there’s demand for land and new construction immediately replaces a demolition, homes are lost and new forms take their place. In St. Louis we seem to demo buildings because we don’t know what to do with them. There’s most often no market solution, no new building that follows.

      • dempster holland

        In many cases vacent buildings were demolished at the
        request of neighborhood groups, particularly when in bad
        shape. Those who beleive in “neighborood plans” should
        not be surprised when local residents call for demolition of
        such property, even if others deem it historic or part of the
        “built enviornment”

        • guest

          And in many cases, demolition and a vacant lot is preferable to a hulking, dilapidated, rotting mess. People on the blogs tend to romanticize the city’s inventory of abandoned buildings. They need to get off the internet more and into the neighborhoods.

          Many of these buildings are collapsing; house chained pit bulls; are store houses for drug dealers; are set on fire by arsonists and vagrants; and in general, are a serious BLIGHT on the neighborhoods. The neighbors are the first ones to want them down.

          Demolition is never taken lightly and is expensive. To read the blogs, you’d get the impression that the city just mindlessly tears down perfectly usable vacant buildings. Nothing could be further from the truth.

          • Adam

            “…you’d get the impression that the city just mindlessly tears down perfectly usable vacant buildings. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

            except that they have. and are still trying (corner of 14th and locust). it’s not like there’s no precedent.

          • guest

            That’s not the city tearing down a building. It’s the private owner.

          • Adam

            splitting hairs. the city is allowing it–even helping them. Urban Street bought those properties–both sound–knowing full-well that they were in a preservation review district. they have proposed to demolish them for a driveway and the alderwoman pushed through a blighting bill to help them along. the language of the bill allows preservation review to be circumvented. the city allowed the Pevely demolition for a bunch of nothing. the city demolished the Avalon Theater even though it needed minimal stabilization work on its southern exterior wall. the list goes on.

          • Don

            You mean 9th and Locust? Surely the city is not now trying to knock down the City Library soon after it’s $100M renovation.

          • Adam

            ha! i don’t know… i wouldn’t put it past them! 😉

            yeah, sorry, i meant 10th and locust. the ones kitty-corner from Left Bank Books.

          • Alex Ihnen
          • Don

            That’s great. I’m a native St Louisian and I say catty-corner.

            I also say ‘soda’ http://www.popvssoda.com/

          • Adam

            yep, i had never even heard “kitty-corner” before living in Virginia. now i go back and forth between the two (kitty and catty).

        • Adam

          neighborhood groups requesting demolition to remove what they perceive (sometimes legitimately, sometimes not) as danger or blight does not constitute a “neighborhood plan”. a plan would include how to rehab or replace the vacant building and fill it with people. and the neighbors and aldermen aren’t always terribly empirical about it.

          • dempster holland

            different people have different views about what
            constitutes a “neighborhood plan.” In some neigh-
            borhhoods, the residents would beleive that a neighbor
            hood plan would include the demolition of certain
            buildings. Their view would be that it could be quite a
            while before they could find someone to redevelop
            the vacent lot, and that the bad consequences of a
            dilapidated building are immediate and require
            immediate action. My only point was if you like to
            save old buldings and if you also like neighborhood
            plans, you may not be able to have both. As the old
            saying went: “different strokes for different folks.”

          • guest

            Neighborhood plans adopted by the city seldom have timelines for implementation. They are more a vision and serve as a filter through which to run future development proposals and zoning requests.

            I really wish the bloggers who are so wistful for abandoned buildings would actually go out into the neighborhoods to see the condition of so many of these.

            Many are literally falling down onto the sidewalk or the neighbor’s house, yet here on the blogs there’s this constant drumbeat to defend these vacant buildings and resist demolition. Gotta get out of the choir loft people and join us Philistines to see the real story.

          • Adam

            your assumption that “the bloggers” haven’t seen these neighborhoods in person is baseless and lazy. one blogger in particular, over at St. Louis City Talk, has photographed EVERY neighborhood in the city extensively, spoken with residents in many of them, and written about them all on his blog. he lives in Fox Park–hardly a neighborhood without problems. until recently, the purveyor of this blog lived in FPSE. another prominent blogger over at Vanishing STL is a city resident and an architect specializing in re-use of historic structures. many blogs, including this one, regularly post photographs taken in neglected neighborhoods all over the city. i’m not a blogger myself but i keep up with many of them and i’ve been all over both north and south St. Louis taking photos. most of the bloggers around here know more about the city’s various neighborhoods and their problems than most city residents. i know you want to believe they/we all live in the CWE and never venture outside of it and couldn’t possibly understand your/their problems because it’s easy, but ultimately such stereotyping and dismissal of “them” is anti-productive.

          • Marshall Howell

            I feel that if a private owner wants to buy a lot or two and demolish what he doesn’t like and builds something that improves that area he should be allowed to. I mean there must be some matching to the neighbor it is a part of but still think they should have the right to make that choice.

          • Adam

            but the “something that improves that area” is the crux of the debate.

            “I mean there must be some matching to the neighbor…”

            why is it okay to demand that new structures match the neighborhood, but not okay to restrict the demolition of others?

      • Marshall Howell

        Those also look much better then many of these style homes.

  • Chris Naffziger

    My personal opinion is that marketed correctly, 700 sf bungalows are the perfect selling point to get young professionals to move to the city. I live in a 1000 sf house and I love it; I have low utilities and easy upkeep, perfect for this point in my life. And the second point, modifying existing housing, I have this to say: with so many vacant lots in St. Louis, why is there any need to mess with an historic building?

    • Don

      700sf is very small for buyers. 300sf smaller than your space. I don’t doubt that there is a market for such space, I just think that market is small. I really like the idea of adding sq footage like we see above (not the top photo) adding much needed extra space and remaking an old structure.

      St Louis doesn’t have the density of the big cities back east where 700sf apartments are popular starter homes. The fact is that for not a lot more money a buyer in St Louis can get a lot more space (300sf or 400sf). If I were a buyer, I would be very concerned that my charming refurbished 700sf bungalow will never resell. Rental property might be better use?

      City life is very different than it was when these 700sf homes were built and that needs to be acknowledged. Demolishing some to provide room to expand and save others should be on the table.

      Too often, we make the perfect the enemy of the good. We saw a lot of complaints here about this earlier today.

  • Highlander
    • Alex Ihnen

      Thanks for posting. I chose not to include it in the post in order to present a simple comparison. I think it’s worth noting that significant investment went into the building. Some have suggested that an owner/occupant renovated their home and stated that an owner should be given a lot of leeway in a renovation, however, this is clearly a for-sale project.

  • samizdat

    The first one” OH. MY. F***ING. GOD. I don’t think any more comment is necessary.

    The second one: This one baffles me. Done by Garcia, right? Usually good work by them, right? So, WTF, Garcia? I can see–maybe–taking away the Romanesque corbelling if there were major structural issues, but I would hardly call the crack present before “re-use” a major issue. And having had work done on my own cornice (those are actually parapet caps in the pic, but I digress…), I know that to reproduce the precise profile can be pricey, especially if one wants it finished properly. But damn, Garcia obviously had to have new metal work done for the new parapet, so why not rebuild the original? And removing the window arches just seems superfluous. Or perhaps gratuitous? These are great little houses, and are by no means “obsolete”, functionally or otherwise. My wife and I live in a two-bay (two front windows), with about 1000 sq ft of usable space, plus another 200 in the addition, which though enclosed against four seasons, is not really habitable (though it could be made so, with some fairly minor updates). We do fine with this house, and so would a couple with one, maybe two children, depending on age. American houses are too damn big anyway.

    I’m not particularly a fan of the “well, it’s not vacant” argument, as in many cases–as my wife and I found out in looking for our house–the updates are usually done poorly, and tearing them out costs more time and money than is worth investing in the house.

  • guest

    A lived in, loved, modified historic building, beats a vacant, overgrown, yet “beautiful” historic building any day. St. Louis needs to get looser with its built environment fixation and more welcoming of everyone finding a way in the city. A well tended yard is more important than great built environment design. God, I’m getting tired of design snobs! This is a poor city. We should be glad for anyone living in and maintaining city housing stock.

    • stlhistory

      When you say “maintaining”, I would respond that maintenance includes proper preservation of the features that encourage quality of life. While a well-tended yard is nice, there’s plenty of those in areas that don’t have better quality of life. Better quality built environment does lead to better quality of life when you look at walkability, crime prevention, and intracommunity relations. In addition, this isn’t a zero-sum issue; you can have quality built environment at no or for little additional cost up front.

    • Adam

      “A well tended yard is more important than great built environment design.”

      That’s demonstrably false: a quick look at any of the most populated and economically successful cities around the world should convince you that built environment is more integral to urban success than yard maintenance. the most-thriving cities have the least amount of yard to tend.

      • guest

        It’s not the size that matters, it’s what you do with it. Yards in all cities are small compared to the suburbs, but it still matters how they are maintained. A well maintained yard is very important to property value and neighborhood image. For example, just compare the yards in the Central West End to a block filled with LRA buildings. Where would you rather live, own property, or walk?

        • Adam

          sure, but vacancy and the subsequent decay are far more detrimental to property values than weeds. the weeds are a byproduct of the vacancy, not the driver of it. put those CWE end homes on the un-mowed LRA lots and leave the lots in the CWE nicely manicured but empty. now where would you rather live? walk? but empty mowed lot vs. empty un-mowed wasn’t the argument. my point is that all buildings are not created equal, and buildings = place. replace the CWE homes on the LRA lots with suburban homes–3 car garages, cheap construction, lots of vinyl siding, acre-sized yards–and tell me you’d rather walk around/live there. there are already plenty of vinyl-sided homes around the city, particularly on the north side, that were built in the last 20 years and are already abandoned and falling apart, so throwing up cheap new homes on empty lots is not the answer. my point is simply that design and architecture matter, and in the long run well-built, well designed neighborhoods are more desirable than and outlast poorly-designed/constructed ones.

    • Adam

      That said, while many of us here don’t care for the above remodels I think most prefer them to vacancy or demolition.

  • dmmonty1

    The first example, the word “travesty” comes to mind. The second is just very disappointing…why would they remove that lovely brick detailing on the front. I’m also surprised glass block was permitted in the front basement windows. Personally, I think we are capable of making these small homes functional for today’s lifestyles…there is a “small house movement,” the key is to design every inch of space thoughtfully. There are also many more single-person households today than in the past, and really this should be enough space for one person, shouldn’t it? I would think most of these homes also have basements that could be exploited for extra living space. Demolition is a terrible option from a historical and environmental perspective.

    • Don

      I think we are capable of making these small homes functional for
      today’s lifestyles…there is a “small house movement,” the key is to
      design every inch of space thoughtfully.

      I agree, but the market for home owners in 2013 willing to buy such small places in the City of St Louis is just limited. We don’t have the population density necessary to drive demand for such small places. Changes in the real estate market make it very difficult to recover your cost by flipping a property in 2 or 3 years. Buy something now and you need to plan to live there for at least 5 years. The number of people willing to make that commitment for something so small is limited. For a not a great deal more, anyone can double the living space.

  • Presbyterian

    I’ve always wanted to take one of these houses and build a Greek temple on top of it, using the existing building as the base. It would be sort of like a Charleston house, narrow with portico above a base. It would be like having your own Shotgun-Villa Rotonda-red brick-Temple of Athena Nike-Charleston-Scrubby Dutch house with a fish pond out back.

  • john w.

    Holy crap! The builder of the 1st image should be tarred and feathered, but the plans reviewer at the jurisdiction should be deported to another planet.

  • onecity

    This is one of those cases where the fact that these buildings are old only makes them obsolete. Seriously, how wide are those lots in the third image? Raze them and reapportion fifteen 40 foot wide by 130ft deep lots per side of the block. Build real wood framed craftsmans like it’s 1926 with a smattering of flat packs and LVLs. Have an infinitely more desireable neighborhood. Done.

    • I don’t know how you can look at those little buildings in the third picture and say they’re obsolete. To me, it looks like they’re well-lived and well-loved by whomever has made homes of each.

      The thing to consider is depth. What looks like a squat square from street-level may — in many cases — extend 75-100 feet back from the lot line. With a width of 15-20ft. for a straight-line shotgun-style, that’s basically your standard three-flat apartment…just, you know, not stacked on top of other ones. And flats are certainly not obsolete.

      Of course, as is always the case, it needs to be a selective process. Where there’s opportunity to rehab, add-on and save, for small buildings like these it’s a simple (and relatively cheap) undertaking. Pulling down three of ’em at a time for a 2-bedroom, wood-framed Ranch seems like a bad idea (to me anyway) for most instances.

      • onecity

        They are obsolete because they are 700 sf and clustered together. Saint Louis needs to attract -> grow its middle class, but you don’t do that with whole blocks of 700 sf homes. Are they cute? Sure. Are they practical for a family of 3-4 in 2013? Not so much – no side light, no lot to speak of, no room for big trees with roots to provide shade, no back yard space for kids to run in (as the house must be very deep to maximize the microscopic lot). Big picture is these buildings are perfectly okay as long as they are relatively low frequency and mixed with more standard home sizes on the order of 1200-1700 above ground sf on 5000-6000 sf 40ft wide lots. In other words, if 2-4 of the 30 homes on a block are this size, that is fine. If they are the whole block, they will be concentrated poverty magnets, and therefore not fine.

    • Adam

      “Build real wood framed craftsmans like it’s 1926… Have an infinitely more desireable neighborhood”

      yeah… um, no thanks.

      • onecity

        Wood craftsman bungalows are the best. Great builtins and woodwork, nice prairie style details on the outside, big front porches, second floors, a flexible floor plan, easy to add to, they site well on 40ft lots. Not a single negative.

    • john w.

      I’m fairly sure that even Rocio Romero wouldn’t agree with your sentiment… “Raze them”? C’mon.

  • I like the idea of building new behind existing bungalows — either as a stand-alone carriage house apartment(s) for rent, or as a semi-attached rear addition to the street-facing bungalow.

    For a single-family rehab/construction, the bungalow’s flat-roof would make for a nice roof deck/garden connected to the rear structure’s second floor.

    Hmm, I may have to try this if I ever choose to buy…

    • Kyle Steffen

      My neighbor here in FPSE did this and added an interior staircase leading to the roof, with a small room at the top for weather protection. It’s a brilliant transformaton that had no negative impact on the exterior of the home, but it doesn’t quite solve the space problem.

      • Very cool. Do you think he’d mind if you took/shared some pictures? I’m genuinely curious about the adaptive opportunities for these l’il’uns that are scattered about the City.

        • Kyle Steffen

          Definitely a piece of work that could set a good example for these homes, at least for a single person or a couple with no kids. Really it seems like an excellent rental property, a great alternative to a rehabbed multi-family. I’m single with no kids and I would love to have one with roof access like this one. It isn’t completely finished, but I’ll see if I can get over there.

  • Dan Levin

    The one at the top is shocking because not even the roof line is matched up. However, 700 sqft is smaller than most 1 bedroom apartments these days. Its expected that people buying a house are going to want more space and build an addition. A lot cheaper to buy a $75k house and put on a $25k addition than it is to buy the whole thing completed. The middle photo is fine, though it looks like the demoed the neighboring property to do so, which is not OK. It’s a case-by-case situation. All additions should be done tastefully.

    • Don

      I don’t know how much of a market there is in 2013 for 700sf homes. Demanding they all be preserved is probably not reasonable.

      • Alex Ihnen

        No one has argued that all 700sf brick shotguns be preserved.

        • Don

          I was responding to Dan’s comment: The middle photo is fine, though it looks like the demoed the neighboring property to do so, which is not OK.

          As I explained elsewhere, I think knocking down a neighboring tiny house in bad shape to make room for expansion of another is not necessarily a bad thing.

          And I don’t want to put words in Dan’s mouth who also said it’s a case by case situation and I agree with that.

          • Marshall Howell

            I agree with Don on this comment, if the person purchases the lot next door and combines the parcels I think they should be able to do so.

  • Jason

    That second example looks brilliant. And I love that privacy fence.

    • Alex Ihnen

      The problem, if there is one, is that the neighboring house was demo’d and all the brick detail was striped from the rehab.

      • john w.

        striped?

        • Alex Ihnen

          stripped