Demolition Sought for Missouri Belting Company Building at Pevely Site

Demolition Sought for Missouri Belting Company Building at Pevely Site

Missouri Belting Company - St. Louis, MO

The city’s Preservation Board on Monday will hear a request to demolish one of the two remaining historic structures at the Pevely site just north of Saint Louis University Hospital. This action seeks to appeal the denial of a demolition permit by the city’s Cultural Resources Office (CRO). The threatened 30,000sf structure–the Missouri Belting Company at 1021-29 South Grand Avenue–was built in 1911.

In its heyday, the Missouri Belting Company was the city’s premier manufacturer of leather belting used in industrial drive-shafts. Surrounded by the Pevely Dairy historic district, the Missouri Belting building was never owned by Pevely and is not within the historic district. It and the adjacent Pevely building are all that remains of a once walkable urban neighborhood.

In 2012, St. Louis University sought to demolish the Pevely complex in order to clear the site for what it said would be an Ambulatory Care Center. Then President Lawrence Biondi threatened to move the existing hospital and university medical school to St. Louis County if demolition was not approved. At the time, Biondi stated that financing was in place and groundbreaking was imminent.

SLU Pevely rendering - 2012{this rendering presented by SLU proved to be a ruse}

The city’s Preservation Board denied┬áSLU’s request to demolish the Pevely complex. Upon appeal, the Planning Commission reversed that decision, allowing all but the corner Pevely building to be demolished. It soon became obvious that the school wasn’t near beginning work on a new facility, and internal communications to university staff later stated that no firm plans existed for the site.

The site was left covered in piles of demolition rubble for more than a year. SLU had sought demolition, in part, because it viewed the vacant buildings as an eyesore. The school had initially hoped to use the mounds of debris to fill the hole left from what they hoped would be the imminent demolition of the corner Pevely building. The “Pevely” sign atop the building was simply cut down and remains lying on the building’s roof.

Pevely 9-19-2013{the Belting Co. building seen behind rubble from Pevely demolition}

The 2012 decision gave the university a year to present construction plans and receive a building permit in order to demolish the remaining Pevely building. That date having long passed, a demolition request would be required to restart the process with the CRO, and if denied, proceed to the Preservation Board, and possibly appealed to the Planning Commission again.

According to nextSTL sources, more than one developer has approached SLU with an interest in purchasing the Pevely building in recent months. The school has replied that the building is not on the market, and is being held for future unspecified development.

SLU_Pevely demo{the Pevely site, and Belting Co. building were once envisioned as a residential community}

Father Biondi announced his retirement in 2013, after 26 years at the helm of the university. No stranger to controversy or detractors over his tenure, the resignation of Law School Dean Dr. Annette Clark, and ongoing disputes with the Faculty Council of the College of Arts and Science, erupted just prior to his retirement announcement.

During his time at Saint Louis University, Biondi was credited with enhancing the national reputation of the school, growing the student body, and building a nearly $1B endowment. The school also grew in size, from 113 acres in 1987 to 286 acres in 2009. SLU’s penchant for demolition and vacant lots has been unpopular with some, and removed significant land from city tax rolls. The school’s expansion has been so significant that when asked at the Pevely complex demolition hearing if SLU had received input from the neighborhood, a representative, almost without irony, could respond, “what neighborhood?”

In 2011, the university demolished three city blocks of structurally sound, and overwhelmingly well kept homes adjacent to the its medical campus. The demolition of approximately 40 homes was approved and completed without review or community input as the city’s 17th Ward does not require demolition review, and the homes were not located in a designated historic district. The Vanishing STL blog has a excellent write up on what was lost.

Pevely 9-19-2013{the rubble has been removed – the Pevely and Belting Co. buildings still stand}

The Landmarks Association listed the Missouri Belting Company among its most endangered in 2012. The brick and limestone classical revival building was designed by noted architect Otto Wilhelmi.

Wilhelmi also designed the home of the company’s owner and president, George Engelsmann. Engelsmann was the son of German immigrants Franz L. Engelsmann and Katherine Drach. Born in Washington, DC but educated at a gymnasium in Bad Kreutznach, Germany, George moved to St. Louis in 1881, initially working as a clerk for Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. As he grew his belting business, he became an active Scottish Rite mason and a Shriner.

3446 Hawthorne Boulevard - St. Louis, MO{3446 Hawthorne Boulevard, designed by architect Otto Wilhelmi}

Engelsmann was a member of the St. Louis Railway Club and lived in a mansion at 3446 Hawthorne Boulevard (c. 1916) in what was originally the classy German ghetto of Compton Heights–an enclave of Germanic culture and a counterpoint to the teetotalling, English-speaking and still fairly southern Protestant society in the Central West End.

Engelsmann previously had lived at number 10 Shaw Place. Engelsmann died at the age of 78 just hours before New Years Day 1942–and just weeks after the United States and Germany went to war for a second time. He is buried in Bellfontaine Cemetery.

The Preservation Board agenda lists the owner as Bill Rainen of MCOD Investments LLC, a division of Mid-Continent Office Distributors of Prairie Village, Kansas. Reached for comment earlier this year, the owner at that time indicated that SLU had not contacted him about purchasing the property. An attempt to reach Rainen for this story was unsuccessful. The applicant for demolition is Charles Gaines of Gaines Demolition.

Missouri Belting Company ad - St. Louis, MO

{the Belting Co. building (left) prior to demolition of much of the Pevely complex}

{the view of the Pevely site has remained unchanged since demolition in 2012}

Biondi - Before and After{the 3600 blocks of Rutger and Hickory Streets were demolished by SLU in 2011}

*update with Preservation Board agenda – Alex Ihnen, ed.

The City’s Cultural Resources Office is recommending the Preservation Board uphold denial of demolition, “unless it determines that the consideration of neighborhood effect and reuse potential warrants approval.” Counting against the viability of the building, ironically, is the extensive land holdings of Saint Louis University.

In short, SLU is allowed to remove the context for historic buildings, land bank acres of the city, depress property values and development potential to the point that more demolition is made possible as a result of its actions. Traditionally, this is called blockbusting. Though the building could so clearly serve many practical purposes beyond as a “reminder”, the agenda below offers a succinct choice: “There are two ways to consider the effect of the loss of the Missouri Belting building…an acceptable loss based on the transformation of the area, or a resource that should be kept as a reminder of earlier development.”

Missouri Belting Company Demolition – City of St. Louis Preservation Board by


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