Historic Central West End Building again Threatened on Olive St.

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The historic St. Louis Cleaning Company building at 4477 Olive Street on the northern edge of the Central West End is again threatened with demolition. Built in 1917 and designed by architect Edward H.A. Volkmann, the brick, glazed brick and tile structure just east of Taylor is known by it’s towered corner finials and arched storefront with leaded glass windows.

The owner applied this week for a $35,000 permit to demolish the structure. Biome, a public charter elementary school which sits across a parking lot to its east, purchased the St. Louis Cleaning Co. property last year. Biome began operating as a charter school in 2015 and seeks to maintain a strong emphasis on literacy while also preparing students in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM). Youth Learning Center, which previously provided after-school and summer programs, is Biome’s parent organization.

A previous effort to demolish the building in 2008 failed after meeting stiff opposition from the Central West End Association. (Link to that story here.) The building lies within the Central West End Historic District.

Over the past decade and a half, the blocks around the St. Louis Cleaning Co. building have seen a tremendous revitalization effort with a mix of historic renovations and modern infill. The Field School across the street has been converted into residential lofts. The residential and commercial stretch to its east has been brought back to life. The Lister Building at the corner of Olive and Taylor has been renovated, as has the commercial building across from it to the north. And on the block immediately west of the Cleaning Building, Pete Rothschiild has built 33 residential units of new construction modern infill at 4528 Olive — while still managing to preserve the historic storefronts. On that same block stand the renovated space for Grey’s Jazz Gallery, the expansive Bowood Farms and Café Osage.

Biome has not yet made public their plans for the property after demolition. The school hopes to grow to a maximum of 220 students. But if they want ideas about how to preserve the exterior of a historic structure while constructing a completely new building within it, they might consider a brief stroll a block west down Olive Street. I suspect Mr. Rothschild might be willing to show them how it’s done.

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  • STLEnginerd

    You know I always assumed that was an old fire station

  • kevin smith

    After reading this article, I wrote the below to the alderman, Terry Kennedy. ( [email protected] ). His response, ” I have not given support for any demolition at this address. I am not sure what is your source of information. ” I would encourage everyone to drop him a line.

    Your support for the tearing down 4477 Olive is upsetting and disappointing. It continues to show our city leaders have no big plan or interest in keeping any piece of what once made STL a great architectural city and what now insures STL as a tier 2 city at best with low level new development. I understand progress but tearing down what little the city has left isn’t a smart way to move forward. The irony that a school wants to tear it down is significant in many ways. Schools are supposed to develop the leaders of tomorrow and this isn’t an example of doing whats best while missing out on a chance to build some terribly needed civic pride among young people. I am not in your district but plan on making as many people aware of this as possible to bring attention to your poor regards for the civic and proud history this city once had. At the very least, adopt building codes that require the facade to be preserved and build off the back. Its what truly world class require in preserving their history while also moving forward. It works in other cities, you can’t say it won’t work here.

  • Perhaps the most significant association of this building is the tenancy of the Mummers, a theatrical corps known for advancing local dramaturgy. Here the Mummers performed Tennessee Williams’ first full-length play, “Candles to the Sun,” in 1937. (Williams was a student at Washington University for a short spell then, before heading to the University of Iowa).

  • Nick Lemen

    This is a gorgeous little building. We need to get our educational institutions onboard with architectural preservation.

    • Ted Yemm

      Agreed! It would be great if St. Louis Public Schools could find a development partner to work on revitalization of their Ittner buildings.

  • Nick

    Are we correct to assume the neighborhood association is already planning a ‘stiff resistance’ similar to 2008?

  • Brian Johnson

    I am normally a pro development guy. But this buildings facade is art. No No No!

  • Michael B

    ” But if they want ideas about how to preserve the exterior of a historic structure while constructing a completely new building within it, they might consider a brief stroll a block west down Olive Street.”

    Yup. It’s unfathomable that the easiest solution for this beautiful building is to simply demolish it. This should be fought against, hard.