Carondelet’s Historic Watkins Block Threatened

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A block-long commercial stretch in Carondelet faces potential demolition. The Watkins Block at 7200-30 South Broadway forms the center of the once thriving S. Broadway commercial district and sits directly across from the historic Southern Commercial & Savings Bank. Most of buildings on the block date to the 1870s. Originally a French village, Carondelet became part of St. Louis City in 1870. The Watkins Block was condemned for occupancy in 2012 after years of neglect. It lies within the Central Carondelet Historic District.

A previous redevelopment plan by Jaymes Dearing’s RESource LLC had envisioned reactivating the storefronts with retail, restaurant and office use, with twelve residential units above. That project qualified for 20% federal historic tax credits, 25% Missouri historic tax credits and a 10-year city tax abatement. That plan also proposed using the city’s 50/50 facade program to offset restoration of the fronts facing Broadway. As part of that redevelopment effort, the city rezoned the property from “J” Industrial to “F” neighborhood commercial district. Dearing purchased the property in 2013.

Nevertheless, even after investing over $225,000 in the project including new roofs and tuckpointing for the three southernmost buildings, one of those buildings has sustained a partial rear structural collapse. In a letter sent to the city’s Cultural Resources Office dated August 11, Dearing writes, “New estimates for the project now range between $4-5 million dollars, whereas, initially it was $3-4 [million].” To date, Dearing has been unable to line up a workable financing package and now proposes demolition of the entire block.

This block was the center of neighborhood life in the early and mid-twentieth century. A 1924 Gould’s Blue Book listed C.R. Watkins Furniture & Fuel at this location. Across the street stood Fischer’s Dry Goods, as well the Herz Hat Shop, Weisman Dry Goods, the Olson Hat Shop, Wasserman’s Shoe Store and C.W. Mueller Grocers. Alongside the furniture store, the Watkins Block housed Kroger Grocery & Baking Company, Lampke Confectionery, Chott Varieties, Southern Florists, Robert M. Taylor, chiropractor, Al Fischer’s Barbershop and the BM Tire & Vulcanizing Company.

A 1947 photograph shows C.R. Watkins Furniture and Fuel Company having grown to take up most of the block. A glass sign stretched horizontally along the front of the building, while another sign projected vertically from the front of the building. Additional signs were painted on the brickwork along the sides of the building. Lamps and furnishings were visible through the plate glass storefront windows. Al’s barbershop was still open next door, as was a gas station. The cobbles lining the streetcar tracks were still visible on the road surface.

The Watkins Block reads as a textbook of commercial vernacular architecture between 1870 and 1920. On the same block one sees cast iron storefronts still intact, while other windows may be brick flat arches or segmented arches with keystones. Some buildings have side gabled roofs, others flat roofs, and still others second Empire Mansard roofs. Cornices up top may be in corbelled brick, in dentilled wood or glazed terra cotta. All buildings are contributing structures to the historic district.

Charles R. Watkins was associated with buildings on this block since at least 1879. A charter member of the Carondelet Lions Club, Watkins lived nearby at 5803 Michigan, where the I-55 interchange now stands. Watkins stood as Republican candidate for City Treasurer in 1938, pressing his case to the Attorney General and forcing an election after Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann, a Democrat, tried to appoint a friend to the traditionally elective office. The stained glass above the store in the 7200 block of S. Broadway still bears the Watkins name.

The city’s Director of Cultural Resources has denied the owner’s request for a demolition permit, a decision Dearing has appealed. The Preservation Board will review that denial at its October 23 meeting.

 

 

 

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  • Dahmen Piotraschke

    Whipple , he’s the troll who drives an old Dodge truck and lives in an old house in Overland or Oakville his Mom left him , where he live as a hoarder, with no sense of reality. Except trolling “normal” sites and has Trump signs on his car and in the yard…plz go iron your rebel flag. **puke**

  • Presbyterian

    Denial of demolition upheld by Preservation Board at its meeting October 23, 2017. Thank you to all of you who advocated for the Watkins Block.

  • Dahmen Piotraschke

    Try whipping over to Hampton and drive down Oleatha. or down Pernod, and tell me you don’t love the houses, this is Northampton and Kings highway Hills Neighborhood, up thru Southtown, and over to Tower Grove…this is my St. Louis…and its affordable. St. Louis Hills, Holly Hills, and Carondelet…all safe and great opportunities for flips.

  • Dahmen Piotraschke

    This abandoned stretch needs investment, and would be a great area for a new ..(Grove-like ) successful mixed use community. Why let it sit and rot?

  • Dahmen Piotraschke

    I love living in the city…I live in Southtown, on a great safe street, and the reason I moved to the city from St. Charles was having to find a cheap apartment quickly, and since I had to sell my car while between jobs, I was able to have the certainty of mass transit. It’s definitely NOT, to say its cool and hip.

  • Brandon Gilbert

    If the single parcel is complicating redevelopment, couldn’t the parcel be divided?

  • Chuck

    I own the building just north of the buildings in question… I have been here since 2012 and have seen these buildings slowly go south. I for one would like to look at something better than this although, I am for restoring rather than demoing the buildings. When the buildings came up for sale I was interested in the purchase but as I looked into this it meant that I couldn’t restore one part of the building – start collecting revenue as I worked on the next building (due to the buildings being condemned and die to them being on one deed) Maybe part of the answer is we allow these buildings to be worked on one at a time rather than someone trying to restore all of them at once.

  • Whipple

    Is there any reason to live in the City besides historic architecture?

    • WikiWild

      This may be the dumbest comment ever on nextstl. And there have been a lot of them. Congrats for taking the cake!

      • Whipple

        I’m 100% serious. Poor schools, poor public safety, poor public transport and declining job centers. What are the reasons for living in the City? Besides its cool looking, tell me what they are. Besides proximity to job centers (which are mostly shrinking) the only reason is it’s form. The City should double down on its only remaining asset, these kinds of buildings.

        • jhoff1257

          You largely just described the entire St. Louis Metro area.

          No one is making you stay.

          • Whipple

            Yes, and what are the reasons for living in the City, as opposed to the suburbs, in said area, besides historic architecture?

          • jhoff1257

            I lived in the suburbs for 20 years, so I have plenty of great reasons to prefer the city. You and I are different people, we probably have very different opinions about it. The architecture is certainly a big one for me, another is that I have a lot of friends that live in the city. There’s more to do, there’s more to see, there are better restaurants, great museums and cultural attractions, great little walkable neighborhoods. The people are friendlier. The politics are most assuredly better in the City (for me at least, again, more of a personal preference there) then in Chesterfield where I grew up. Does the city have significant problems? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to run away like a scared cat.

            I really don’t know why you’re always so damn pissy around here, Whipple (or Riggle). Stop bitching and be a constructive part of the conversation or just leave already.

          • Whipple

            I’m saying mid County has all the things you are talking about. With better public services. So why the City over the walkable county? Especially with a dying downtown.

          • jhoff1257

            My friends don’t live in Mid County. But it sure sounds like you’d be happy there. Happy house hunting.

          • Whipple

            Once again I can’t get an answer to why the City is superior to the street car suburbs, got it

          • jhoff1257

            I gave you the reasons I BELIEVE the city is superior. Just because other places have similar things doesn’t make them better in my mind. This isn’t an either or thing, I enjoy many of the offerings in Mid County and the City. I just happen to prefer the city. This is all subjective, you’re opinions on my feelings for the city are totally worthless. Don’t matter in the least. I know what I like and don’t need some troll to tell me otherwise.

          • STLExplorer

            I think that the biggest benefit of the historic architecture is actually the form of the buildings and how they relate to the street. If we had high-qualify infill projects going up in neighborhoods like this I would be much less concerned, but there is plenty of available space for new construction on the Broadway strip. The unfortunate reality in STL, is that once buildings are torn down, they usually aren’t replaced with anything nearly as good as what was lost.

          • Daniel Schmidt

            “The unfortunate reality in STL, is that once buildings are torn down, they usually aren’t replaced with anything nearly as good as what was lost.”

            Totally agree. Quality materials and an emphasis on urban form is what is needed. Historic buildings are nice but lets have some diversity of architecture – blend modern/contemporary buildings with the beautiful brick structures of the past.

          • Whipple

            Exactly

          • Daniel Schmidt

            The parks. The restaurants. The bars. The breweries. The shops. Social and networking possibilities. The walk-ability of the neighborhoods. Little to no commute time. That is just off the top of my head but I’m sure someone could come up with more.

            If you don’t like the City, that is fine. No one is making you read this blog or live there.

            Find a new hobby troll.

          • Whipple

            Ok, Clayton, Maplewood Ucity and Webster offer all those things, with better schools and less crime. And the jobs are moving to the burbs, there goes commute time, you lost troll.

          • Daniel Schmidt

            If you really care about education why would you send your child to public school?

            You named three inner-ring suburbs, two of which abut the City you speak so poorly of. Why aren’t you touting Jennings, Pagedale and Ferguson as your perfect suburban life? Oh yeah, because it doesn’t fit your narrative.

            Also who made you the arbiter of wins and loses? You hide behind your little internet name(s) and play keyboard warrior against a City you don’t live in. I’d say you are the loser.

          • Whipple

            So no answer to why the City is superior to the street car suburbs. Got it

          • Daniel Schmidt

            The City is the reason any of those “streetcar suburbs” existed in the first place.

            The answer is simple. Some people like to live in place a. Some people like to live in place b. Everything isn’t for everyone and doesn’t have to be.

            I guess whipple would like to see mass migration to Clayton, Maplewood Ucity and Webster of the entire region. That really makes sense, and I’m sure all the NIMBYs living there are going to love all the new residents moving in.

          • Whipple

            I would like to see a mass migration to the City, the only asset the City has left seems to be its form, that’s why it would behoove the City to protect its only remaining asset, which was my original point. Does the City offer anything besides its form that midcounty doesn’t? I wish the answer was yes, but I’m not getring one

          • Daniel Schmidt

            Here are some assets:

            Gateway Arch, St Louis Art Museum, MoBot, Central Library, Old Courthouse, St Louis Science Center, St Louis Symphony, the Fox, St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis University.

            193.3 miles of waterfront property, billions of dollars of transportation infrastructure such as rail, light rail, and interstate highways and shipping. Professional sports franchises. Fortune 500 companies. Again, parks (the City has over 100).

            No one is going to convince you of anything because you don’t want to listen. You only want to complain. This has been like having a discussion with a 5 child.

        • WikiWild

          I’m not even going to dignify that with a response… So the only reason for anyone to live anywhere must relate to those five factors (including historic architecture). Your world is so small…

          • Whipple

            So what are the reasons for living in the City? As opposed to some other part of metro st louis?

          • WikiWild
          • Whipple

            You already did

            . So the only reason for anyone to live anywhere must relate to those five factors (including historic architecture). Your world is so small…

          • WikiWild

            Find a new place to troll.

          • Dahmen Piotraschke

            cheap rent, public transportation…etc. Architecture is for your damn camera.

          • Adam

            you’re not going to find cheap rent in any city that has decent public transportation.

          • Dahmen Piotraschke

            well, I did 2 blocks off the Kings highway 95 busline, safe and goes direst to the CWE. Metro train stn. So, you are wrong.

          • Adam

            you and i have different definitions of “decent” public transit. i’m talking about decent city-wide transit. not 2 light rail lines, 15 minute bus headways on 2 or 3 routes, and 30+ minute headways everywhere else. examples of cities with decent transit: Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco, etc. examples of cities with good transit: NYC, London, Washington, etc. the rents in all of those cities are substantially higher than rents in St. Louis.

          • Dahmen Piotraschke

            Exactly, these cities I would love to afford, and enjoy the “el”, or, the dirty BART… But the cost of living is one of the lowest here in STL. , and maybe not as safe but I don’t ride at night if I can help it. Plus I get a reduced fare card, and its super cheap fares in a semi-populous city…it is all good. Now if we can get these idiots out of Jeff. City, maybe we can expand Medicaid and expand and update the train…the blue line and downtown subterannean stations are pretty cool, maybe not Moscow’s classical jewels, but what do you want? We just spent 5 years on a new highway 64!!

        • Nick

          If you detest the city so much, why do spend so much time and energy commenting on this blog? Perhaps you should do yourself and others a favor and find other ways to occupy your day.

          • Dahmen Piotraschke

            you make zero sense, go comment on your county township’s website, if you don’t live in the city…WTF.. are you doing here?

        • Fraydog

          Folks have tried to correct all that. They get resistance from the political establishment in STL. What STL needs to do is reinvest. The CAVE people do the majority of work to resist all that. STL City needs a larger tax base to correct the problems you mention. Without that, the cycle will continue unabated.

        • Dahmen Piotraschke

          definitely better without you!!

      • jhoff1257

        There have been a lot them recently for sure. Pretty much every thread on this site seems like devolves into the same shouting match between the same 4 or 5 folks every single time. It’s getting really old, there used to be a lot of great discussion here.

  • Allison Kate Alberts

    I really hope they don’t tear this down! I would love to buy one of these, rehab it, put my dental office in it, and live above it!

  • John

    If the 19th and 20th century structures can’t be restored properly, then it might make sense for demolition and new development that suits the 21st century. I am all for preserving historic buildings, but the structural integrity concerns and economic feasibility issues seem to be the reality.

  • Carondelet Living

    I toured the five or so buildings that make up this block shortly after coming on board as Executive Director of CCBF, Inc.in 2014 and brought a project manager from EM Harris with me. We were there with Mr. Dearing and his architect and at his invitation. I have to say I didn’t see how this project was ever going to work even with tax credits. Way too many un-reinforced masonry walls so compromised that a full rebuild would be necessary. I disagree with STLExplorer and feel that the demolition of this block would actually be a huge step forward for the district.

    • Curious — Do you think that demolition of the entire row meets the criteria of the city’s preservation ordinance?

      • Carondelet Living

        I certainly do based on the overall condition of the buildings, the partially collapsed building, the physical impact that demolition of the partially collapsed building will have on the remaining structures, and the diminished value that will result once the partially collapsed building is demolished will have on the parcel.

        • Carondelet Living

          I would also argue that it qualifies as an economic hardship to the owner – another reason the ordinance states that the Board could grant a demolition permit.

  • STLExplorer

    The east side of Broadway already has a lot of missing teeth, and the west side just lost a couple of buildings. This would be a huge step backwards for the potential of the commercial strip – an area that has been generating some positive attention and investment recently.

  • T-Leb

    If I recall a 1993 episode of World Wide Magazine, the basements flood when the water table comes up.

  • Ben Harvey

    Thanks for writing this. I was very concerned upon reading about this on the preservation board agenda. This stretch of Broadway is full of potential, but the potential relies on the historic storefronts. IMO that stretch is going to pop off at anytime. It would be a shame to lose that future when it is so close to becoming realized.

  • Scott

    This would be a terrible loss for the City. What do you suggest concerned citizens do? Write the Preservation Review board? Attend their meeting?

  • Nick

    Does the developer have a proposal for some kind of new development after the demo?

    • There was a group working on plans for a new construction mixed use development on the site earlier this year but I think it’s dead. I spoke with the owner a few weeks ago and said he’s open to selling the property to someone who would rehab it. So it doesn’t seem like there’s a development plan in place.

      • Nick

        Thanks Jason…just curious then, what’s the benefit to the owner of the demo at this point? I mean, you can always demo in the future, why do it now and limit your options? Is it purely because of safety concerns? Obviously it’s expensive to tear down a series of buildings, and I would think even if it requires a hail mary it would make sense to keep the buildings as is hoping someone comes along to rehab.

        • Good questions. I’m not sure.

        • Daniel Schmidt

          Liabilities? Safety? Make the property more attractive to potential buyers? Reduction in real estate taxes?

          • HMS

            As the article mentions, there was a collapse of the rear wall recently. I have also heard a possible buyer is concerned about other structural issues and is interested in rebuilding on the same footprint and even reusing some of the original materials. Without knowing details, that doesn’t sound all that feasible to me, but anything that brings this block to life again would be a step forward for the area.

          • Imran

            I just put an option on an LRA 4 unit historic building that has structural issues and an entirely missing back Wall thanks to brick thieves. My company is going to restore the back wall and the building and bring it back into the affordable rental market. I could easily make the economics excuse but we start with a budget and then restore buildings keeping within it. It may mean a back wall made of wood framing and siding but it will save a historic building and at least give it the opportunity to have a more comprehensive rehab in the future.

            And I definitely agree with cutting up the ownership of the property into bite size parcels. This wholesale ownership is one reason we end up with giant gas stations next to dense neighborhoods.

          • Whipple

            But we need gas stations!

          • gmichaud

            I agree, breaking the parcel up is probably the best solution. I have rebuilt brick walls in the past, it is doable. The numbers are always tight on rehabs, even with tax credits. I found the purchase price just went up to reflect the credits. One huge problem is the city has no overall strategy beyond individual buildings.