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Health, Science, Environment

Preservation Board denies demolition of AAA building

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 26, 2012 -As preservationists and some area residents had hoped, the city's Preservation Board voted unanimously Monday night against the demolition of the AAA building on Lindell Boulevard.

Betsy Bradley, director of the city’s Cultural Resources Office, said the staff would deny the Automobile Club of Missouri, the company that owns the building, a demolition permit, if AAA were to apply for one, because of the preservation board's decision. 

If the CRO staff denies the permit, the applicant could appeal to the Preservation Board, she said. If AAA and CVS were to appeal and the board were to deny the application, the application could then be heard by the Planning Commission at the commission's discretion, according to the Cultural Resources Office's website. No permit may be issued without the Cultural Resources Office or the Preservation Board's approval.

CVS, which wants to build a pharmacy on the site, and AAA had proposed tearing down the mid-century modern building and the adjacent Enterprise Leasing office, replacing those with two new buildings: a new AAA building and a CVS pharmacy.

While the AAA building is 14 years shy being eligibile for the National Register of Historic Places, the CRO's report noted the building's significance as an aesthetically pleasing building with historic value to its neighborhood.

And while the CRO report noted the building's high reuse potential, Jim Fredericks, the attorney representing AAA and CVS, said its need for repairs and its high utility costs (due to the lack of insulation on the glass windows) would turn away potential tenants or buyers.

Further, he also argued, even though the building's architect W.A. Sarmiento designed significant buildings in St. Louis, such as the Archdiocesan Chancery, the AAA building isn't one of them.

"This building was one of the last buildings he built ... The (CRO) staff report said this (building) is a one-of-a-kind. It is not. It is a cookie cutter of another bank, of another bank, of another bank," he said.

After his speech, others weighed in -- even retired architect Richard Henmi, who's responsible for many of St. Louis' high-rise hotels and the saucer-shaped Del Taco building, attended the meeting to share his perspective.

Randy Vines of St. Louis said even if the building's architectural significance were not a factor, the true issue is its proposed replacement: a CVS pharmacy, which he described as the true cookie-cutter in all of this. He said there would be no major differences among the would-be CVS on Lindell and the CVS stores in surrounding neighborhoods.

Alderman Antonio French, D-21st Ward, said he had an issue with the lack of changes made to AAA and CVS's design proposals to fit within the neighborhood's urban-like appeal (such as the addition of more brick and landscaping). French said AAA and CVS's claims that they worked diligently with the 18th Ward Alderman Terry Kennedy and the community to achieve this goal was still not enough to the community's satisfaction.

AAA and CVS's attorney Fredericks said he believes Lindell could still benefit from redevelopment of such an "under-utilized" site.

Steve Patterson, another area resident, said even if the building's architectural significance were obsolete and the building were to become vacant, he would rather see that than a CVS replace it.

CVS may have to find another location -- and it wouldn't be the first time. In 2009 CVS tried unsuccessfully to build on another site on Lindell that housed a mid-century modern building.

For Michael Allen, founder of the Preservation Research Office and president of ModernSTL, the board's decision was a sigh of relief. He said the building meets many of the criteria under the city's demolition permit ordinance as a architecturally significant structure.

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