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At the January meeting of the St. Louis Preservation Board, two houses in north St. Louis met different fates that illustrate a need in regional preservation efforts.
One house is a modest one-story shotgun house on Turner Avenue in the O’Fallon neighborhood. After a recent fire damaged the home, the owner sought demolition. Located in a preservation review district, the matter ended up at the Preservation Board, where an interesting thing happened.
21st Ward Alderman Antonio French, whose ward includes the house, testified that he would broker a donation of the house to a neighborhood organization. The house, French said, would be the only missing house on a block slated to become part of a new historic district. The owner agreed to the deal, and the Preservation Board unanimously voted to block demolition.
Our other house, on lovely Bartmer Avenue in the West End, was not so fortunate. Although rapidly deteriorating, the house was spared by the Preservation Board in 2007. Two years later, nothing had changed. There was no neighborhood organization willing to take the house as a donation.
Two different outcomes show us where the need is: a stabilization fund or program that would provide funding, plywood or marketing assistance to help neighborhoods that lack the capacity to tackle vacant historic buildings on their own. That’s the challenge for the preservation community – can we use our resources to help struggling historic neighborhoods safeguard their resources?
Ultimately, Preservation Board votes can’t stop the loss of historic buildings. But solid roofs and respectful owners can.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Michael Allen is an architectural historian and historic preservation consultant working in private practice. Most recently he served as the Assistant Director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the region's historic preservation advocacy organization. He is also editor of Ecology of Absence, a website with accompanying blog that documents and analyzes changes in the built environments of St. Louis, Chicago and other Midwestern cities. His articles on architecture and policy have appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Beacon, St. Louis American, Arch City Chronicle and Omnitectural Forum. In addition to his professional work, Allen has been rehabilitating a house in the city's Old North St. Louis neighborhood for the past two years.