2011 was an excellent year for historic preservation in the region, and here are some of the reasons why.
We started last week with a 3-2 vote by the city Preservation Board to uphold denial of demolition of the landmark corner building at the Pevely Dairy plant. This vote reflects extensive public engagement as well as the strong recommendation of the Cultural Resources Office’s new director, Betsy Bradley.
The city’s preservation ordinance – before an arcane and under appreciated law – has become an instrument with popular support, including the strong backing of Mayor Francis Slay. For the first time ever, there is a noticeable constituency for preservation in the city – and it is making a huge difference.
What may have been heated preservation battles have instead played out as indications of public support for retaining St. Louis’ architectural treasures. The owner of the Del Taco flying saucer backed off of plans for demolition, sparing a fight. The Preservation Board denied the demolition of a warehouse at Cupples Station with a unanimous vote. CVS can’t get aldermanic or neighborhood support for demolishing the AAA Building on Lindell Boulevard.
In the heart of Paul McKee, Jr.’s Northside Regeneration project, subject of much preservationist concern, we have progress. The heart of St. Louis Place became a historic district, and the developer has spent money stabilizing the James Clemens, Jr. House on Cass Avenue.
Meanwhile, the O’Fallon and Penrose neighborhoods are both in process of becoming national historic districts, representing the largest expansion of historic tax credit eligibility in north St. Louis. Scaffolding abounds across the city despite the recession.
Modern architecture has found an outpouring of interest across the region. There’s a new mid-century modern preservation group, ModernSTL, whose membership has created a network that spans the urban/suburban divide. Ranch house subdivisions in St. Louis County seem poised for a wave of historic district designations, with homeowners leading the charge.
What else? Thousands of people have seen intelligent, locally-made documentary films on the Pruitt-Igoe story and St. Louis brick. Illinois created a pilot historic tax credit program that includes the long-neglected historic buildings in downtown East St. Louis. Buildings we have lost, like Brownhurst in Kirkwood, went down after strong battles.
What is most remarkable is not the number of buildings saved, but the number of people for whom responsible stewardship of historic buildings is logical. This has been a good year because preservation has been more practice than preaching.
*Commentator Michael Allen is Director of the Preservation Research Office.
To hear more about A Good Year St. Louis, tune into St. Louis on the Air on Thursday, December 29th.