© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
88.5 FM KMST Rolla is currently experiencing technical difficulties.

Preservationists announce places in peril at 'UnHappy Hour'

Updated with announcement - From bridges to a calaboose, the list of properties in peril put out by Missouri Preservation is a mix that highlights to variety and wealth of architecture that need help.

Getting the loudest reaction from the more than 100 people assembled for the occasion was the Clemens House on Cass Avenue.

Other properties are the Withington Ford of Bend Bridge over the Meramec River, the Livestock Exchange in St. Joseph, the old calaboose in Elsberry, the former Faith-Salem Church building in Jennings, the Phillipsburg General Store, Woodside (the Charles & Mary Rannells House) in Maplewood, apartment buildings on West Armour Blvd. in Kansas City, the John R. Myers House and Barn in Florissant, the Rt. 66 Gasconade River Bridge at Hazelgreen, the Superior Well Ticket Office in Excelsior Springs, Kemper Military Academy administration building in Boonville, the Summersville Mill, Greenwood Cemetery in St. Louis County and a resources building on the UMSL campus.

Bill Hart sounded like an excited kid talking about his own birthday party when we connected on the phone the other day.

As it happens, this shindig is neither a party for a birthday nor a celebration for Bill Hart, but a happy hour turned on its head, thus to become an Unhappy Hour.

The festivity, or dysfestivity, is a benefit for Missouri Preservation, a not-for-profit organization that “advocates for, educates about and assists in the preservation of architectural and historic landmarks that embody Missouri’s unique heritage and sense of place.”

Hart is its director. Why would he advocate for unhappiness?

The Clemens House was listed as an endangered property in 2014. It is within the Northside Regeneration project boundaries, but work has not begun on restoring it.
Credit Missouri Preservation website
The Clemens House was listed as an endangered property in 2014. It is within the Northside Regeneration project boundaries, but work has not begun on restoring it.

Part of the answer has to do with the issue of preservation itself, and the not uncommon situation of perfectly sound and seriously important buildings being destroyed because they are in the way, or old, or perceived as ugly or no longer in fashion. That is unhappy making.

And so,  in looking for ways to address such situations, Hart looked to the past and brought up the  traditional  Missouri Preservation response, which was to throw a party featuring endangered properties, those  properties  threatened with demolition or faced with destructive neglect.  The party appeals to folks interested in Missouri’s built heritage, and these people are invited to come to have a drink and to hear the latest challenging news. With a little bit of luck, the list would get attention in the press. The hope is folks who may not be preservationists at the moment would read about the party and come and join in the "misery" as well. Everyone's welcome.

The old party was held on location, at one or another of the properties, and often that place would be remote.  There, with that property as draw and the setting, the annual list of the 16 buildings in greatest jeopardy in Missouri would be presented.

Credit Missouri Preservation website

Sounds interesting, but in fact, Hart said, attendance was spotty. So, he rebranded the party as the Unhappy Hour and moved it to St. Louis. The hope is that the name and the notion will help with raising both awareness and money to help the organization  fight demolitions of significant structures and to stem neglect.  

Besides the rebranding, another attraction is the party location itself, the Carriage House of the Chatillon DeMenil Mansion, 3352 DeMenil Pl.

The strikingly beautiful Greek revival house adjacent to the Carriage House reigns majestically over the rush of interstate highway traffic. It dates as far back as 1848, in part at least, when construction was begun by trapper Henri Chatillon. Businessman Nicolas DeMenil expanded it in the 1850s and ‘60s.

The house came perilously close to being knocked down to make way for Interstate Highway 55 in the mid-20th century. But thanks to a change in highway plans, and with the help of the old Union Electric Co., (now Ameren) and especially with the vigilance of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the house was saved. Now it earns its keep as a museum and meetings and party venue – and stands victorious as a survivor and a magnificent monument to St. Louis’ history.

And so on Friday evening, Preserve Missouri’s revamped Places in Peril special event will be enveloped in the UnHappy Hour party. The doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets, which include drinks and hors d’oeuvre, are $15.

At 7 p.m., the UnHappy in attendance will be summoned to the announcement of the 2015 Places In Peril. The list of endangered places – a term that potentially covers everything from jails to stately houses to bridges to general stores to churches – is a secret until 7. Then, when the announcement is over, serious UnHappiness can commence.

More information is available by calling 660-882-5946 or going to Missouri Preservation’s website.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.