Valentines for Vacant Buildings; Gravois Park Houses Getting Some Love

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Valentines for vacant buildings - St. Louis, MO 2015

Joining a national campaign that started in Buffalo four years ago, preservationists in St. Louis are offering valentines for vacant, city-owned houses in south St. Louis’ Gravois Park neighborhood. Called “heart bombs” or “valentines for vacants,” the love notes for buildings draw attention to their potential for reuse and their irreplaceable architecture. Gravois Park’s buildings are part of the Gravois-Jefferson Streetcar Suburb Historic District, a national historic district.

The Gravois Park campaign highlights over two dozen vacant houses owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), the owner of last resort. The LRA lacks resources to market these houses to potential homeowners and developers, so a group of concerned preservationists decided to lend some help. Each house will get a bright heart emblazoned with the candy-heart message “CALL ME” and the LRA phone number.

The house at 3640 California Avenue in Gravois Park.{The house at 3640 California Avenue in Gravois Park.}

Valentines for vacant buildings - St. Louis, MO 2015

The Gravois Park campaign comes from the work of Michael Allen and Robin Harvey at the Preservation Research Office, artist Carlie Trosclair and Jason Deem of South Side Spaces. Both Preservation Research Office and South Side Spaces are based in the neighborhood, and specialize in work that transforms vacant buildings into community assets.

Valentines for vacant buildings - St. Louis, MO 2015

Valentines for vacant buildings - St. Louis, MO 2015

Allen says that it is important for St. Louis to join its sister cities across the nation. “Too often, preservation operates in a vacuum,” he says. “Heart bombs connect advocacy and art as well as architectural history and economics.”

“We can’t afford to miss the connection between Gravois Park and the rest of south city, between south city and the region, and between St. Louis and other cities facing the same problems and possibilities,” adds Trosclair.

A participant in the heart-making shop, known as the "Bomb Door."{a volunteer in the heart-making shop, known as the “Bomb Door”}

Problems and possibilities among the 31 vacant residential buildings in Gravois Park owned by the LRA. The beautiful red brick two-family house at 3521 Louisiana Avenue demonstrates how buildings end up in the spiral of vacancy. Purchased by investors during the real estate bubble, the house was sold in three different transactions in 2007 only to end up tax-delinquent and vacant by 2011. The house at 3640 California Avenue was owned by investors from the St. Louis suburbs who let the building decline, stopped paying their taxes and let the building revert to the city in 2011. Both buildings are sound and ready for rehabilitation – and are eligible for historic tax credits to defer the costs.

Last year, the national “valentines for vacants” campaign reached Buffalo, Cleveland, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Paul, Minnesota, Wheeling, West Virginia, and Texas. More information on the campaign can be found online at valentinesforvacants.wordpress.com.

Click here to learn more information about the St. Louis project.

chuckie

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  • Benton Park WestGuy

    I didn’t recognize any specific building in the article, but I’ve probably driven by everyone of them: most have an architectural design that nearly screams, “St. Louis!”

    The first home is a classic, eclectic-layered façade, an architectural brick wedding cake, done St. Louis style:
    The second story has a steep French-inspired, mansard roof (probably with original slate) and dormer windows sporting a peaked wooden top.
    The first story is structural brick, with a brick, dentil decorative top designed to look like a corbel, but not really lending any significant structural support to the second story. The fenestration (windows) are markedly different, showing an elongated opening with a low arched top, formed by bricks standing on end (a “soldier course”) and no keystone.

    The foundation is of convex semi-finished stone and extends into the first story. Note the distinctly different shape of the openings, simple rectangles, but, again, finished with a soldier course of brick.

    As is common, no door fronts the street, the entrance being in the gangway (a common term for the narrow walkway between buildings, about the width of a ship’s gangway plank for boarding.)

    SIMILARITIES TO MY CURENT HOME:
    I currently live in one of the neighborhoods that was part of the trolley car worker districts, where workers for the breweries and other employers would take the trolley car to work.

    My 1890 brick home was built as a St. Louis four-apartment “flat”, meaning there was no interior stairway, the only access to the second story being an attached exterior porch.
    Although the house is on a corner lot, there are no doors facing either street, one side only being accessible through a gangway, that is about six feet wide. The back yard, on the other backside of the building, is narrow and bordered by an incongruous ten-foot high, hurricane-wire fence surmounted with metal arms, projecting barb-wire.

    (The fencing has 40-50 year old trees growing through the hurricane-wire: the roofing company next door obviously wanted no intrusion by the raffish neighbors who used to occupy this structure several decades ago).

  • Mike F

    Excellent work, Little Man! Another convert to the cause.

    One of us, one of us!

    • dick

      Already drinkin busch

      • Mike F

        Only in your imagination is that funny.

        • dick

          I bet you are great at parties