At its meeting on July 26 the Preservation Board of the City of St. Louis heard testimony regarding the proposed demolition of the Optimist International headquarters building(s) located at 4490-4494 Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End Historic District, where proponents seek to develop a 150 unit apartment building.
The hearing was preliminary review of the proposed demolition with the recommendation by the Cultural Resources Office to withhold approval. In 2013, CRO commissioned a survey and evaluation of 2300 Mid-Century Modern (1945-1975) buildings in St. Louis, 50 of which were determined to be highly significant. The original portion of the Optimist property, located at the corner of Taylor Ave. and known as the “Pavilion”, which was constructed in 1961 pursuant to plans drawn by the noted St. Louis firm of Schwarz & Van Hoefen, was classified in the 2013 survey as a High Merit building that is individually eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and
was included among the top 25 most important of the 2300 buildings surveyed.
Following lengthy testimony at the July 26 hearing, the issue was put to a vote, first on a motion to confirm the denial by Cultural Resources, followed by a motion to grant the appeal and allow demolition, neither of which passed. Both motions failed in tie votes, and the matter was held over for further deliberation at the upcoming meeting of the Preservation Board on Monday, August 23.
The architectural context along Lindell Blvd., particularly in the three-block section between Newstead Ave. and Kingshighway, is rich, diverse and unique and should be respected. Noteworthy examples of the wide variety of high-quality buildings of diverse types and eras in the immediate vicinity of the Optimist site include: 4401 Lindell-Cathedral Basilica St. Louis (1908, Barnett, Haynes & Barnett); 4440 Lindell-Pierre Chouteau Apartments (1929, C. Odenwald); 4445 Lindell-Chancery of St. Louis Archdiocese (1962, W.A. Sarmiento); 4501 Lindell-Lindell Terrace (1965, Gyo Obata); 4510 Lindell-Archbishop’s Residence (1891, C.
Jungenfeld); 4545 Lindell (2010, Louis Sauer); 4600 Lindell-Saint Louis Woman’s Club (1895, Grable, Weber & Groves); 4625 Lindell- City Bank Building (1971, Wedemeyer, Cernik & Corrubia); 4931 Lindell-Chase Apartments (1921, Preston J. Bradshaw); 4943 Lindell-Chester Apartments (1921, Preston J. Bradshaw); 4950 Lindell-St. Regis Apartments (1908, George H. Kennerly); 212 N. Kingshighway-Chase Hotel (1921, Preston J. Bradshaw); and 114 N. Taylor-Grant Medical Clinic (1938, Harris Armstrong)!
Our objective is not to thwart new development activity, but rather to encourage more sensitive design that would both preserve buildings of merit and contribute to the rich architectural heritage and distinguished character of Lindell Blvd. and the Central West End. Accordingly, those favoring preservation of the “Pavilion” have proposed an alternative approach to redevelopment of the Optimist site that would preserve the corner building by incorporating it into the base of a new structure, while accommodating the development of 150 apartment units in a new tower on the eastern portion of the site. That suggestion was summarily rejected without consideration by the prospective developer.
The issue comes down to the question of whether the well documented rationale supporting preservation of St. Louis’s architectural heritage will prevail in this instance, or will it be pushed aside to accommodate development of a generic building of the sort proposed? That weighty decision rests with the members of the Preservation Board. We believe the answer is clear…the building must be preserved.
Chair, Central West End Association Planning & Development Committee
John C. Guenther, FAIA, LEED AP
President, Society of Architectural Historians, St. Louis Chapter
Michael R. Allen
Director and Architectural Historian, Preservation Research Office
Senior Lecturer, Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, Washington University
Andrew B. Weil
Executive Director, Landmarks Association of St. Louis
Illustrations by George Nikolajevich, formerly with Cannon Design, now retired.