Mid-century modern survey
4:31 pm
Mon March 26, 2012

City of St. Louis gets money to survey post-World War II buildings

The city of St. Louis will spend the next two years documenting and researching area buildings that went up during the post-World War II construction boom.

The $24,600 grant will enable the city's Cultural Resources Office to document the number of nonresidential structures that were built between the late 1940s and the early 1970s - the so-called "mid-century modern" era. Office director Betsy Bradley says a review of the city's database showed about 1,800 of those structures.

Once the survey's complete, the office, using public input, will pick about 200 of the buildings for a more in-depth review. Some of those could become city landmarks, or be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Both designations would provide some extra protection against demolition.

"That post-war building boom was such an important time," Bradley said. "It's when many of our cities and suburbs were transformed, and it basically created the environment in which we live today."

She says the complete survey will also help the Cultural Resources Office make better decisions about redevelopment plans for mid-modern buildings.

"We review the demolition of many buildings, and some of those will be in this category," Bradley said. "If we have a better understanding of what we have, we can make better evaluations of relative importance and make those decisions on an informed basis."

Andrew Weil, the director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, says mid-century modern buildings generally don't attract as much attention as those from other eras.

"To them they are just buildings that have been constructed within their lifetimes, and perhaps it's not always obvious why they would be considered worthy of any particular scrutiny," he said. " But it is a very unique period in architectural thought, and they're very interesting ideas being expressed through this architecture."

Weil also likes the inclusion of public opinion.

"These buildings collectively represent our city's architectural heritage," he said. "So on one level, everyone really owns them, in that they are the unique and interesting buildings that comprise our city." He says the 2009 loss of the San Luis Apartments in the Central West End focused attention on mid-century modern buildings and the lack of protections that many have.

The survey is set to start this summer and will be finished by the summer of 2013.