19 June 2021

1951 Armstrong-designed Kirkwood Home for Sale

A 1951 Harris Armstrong-designed home is now on the market in Kirkwood. It's located in a special neighborhood, a cul-de-sac with 10 Armstrong-designed homes of the same overall design with exposed heavy timber beams supporting low-sloped roofs. The neighborhood is compact and the homes are coordinated in scale, design, and detail. The series of floor plans vary according to their location (north or south side of the street) and other requirements of the original owners. The street was recently given a Neighborhood of Distinction award by the City of Kirkwood. The ensemble is well-preserved with a consistent mid-century charm.

501 Woodleaf Court
501 Woodleaf Court, Kirkwood (Harris Armstrong, 1951), Photo: Raimist.

The property for sale is 501 Woodleaf Court located on the corner where it joins Woodlawn Avenue. The house is typical for developments of that era with a compact floor plan (1,354 sq. ft.), three bedrooms, and 1-1/2 baths. The neighborhood was developed by Marshall Berry with whom Armstrong collaborated on many projects in the 1950s. He designed Berry's own home on Danfield Road in Ladue in 1949 and his real estate office in Brentwood the year before that. The Berry home had a floor plan following the same principles as the Solar House and these homes on Woodleaf Court. Subsequently, they collaborated on many commercial projects along Manchester Road and several residential subdivisions. The Woodleaf Court development is unique in that every home was of Armstrong's design.

Woodleaf Court Subdivision, Site Plan (Armstrong, 1951), Base image by Susan Halla.

The overall design of these homes fit into the concept for a Missouri Solar Home that Armstrong published in 1947. The overhanging eaves and glazing are coordinated to keep out direct sun in the summer months and to allow direct sunlight to warm and brighten the interior during winter. Each house is a split level with a garage tucked under the upper level, the main level with living, dining, and kitchen, and the bedrooms located on the topmost level. The public spaces of each house feature tall ceilings and glazing facing toward both the street and backyard. The continuous heavy timber beams span from front to back and are exposed within and on each elevation.

513 Woodleaf Court, Kirkwood (Armstrong, 1951), Photo: Raimist.

The floor plans vary according to their position on the north or south side of the street. The small, compact functional rooms and closets of the house are grouped on the north side of each plan. For the houses on the north side of the street, that means these rooms are grouped facing the backyard. For the houses on the south side of the street, these smaller rooms are grouped on the north side, appearing on the street facade. For the houses along the south side, pairs of small windows on the main facade indicate the bathroom and kitchen. (Note: the floor plan shown below is for Armstrong's 1949 house for the developer Marshall Berry.)

Berry Residence, Ladue (Armstrong, 1949)

Each house is unique in its materials, colors, and finishes. The volumetric shape of each structure is generally consistent but the openings and cladding of each vary. The functions of each interior spaces are telegraphed by the fenestration. Large, fully glazed walls indicate the public gathering spaces each one with a masonry fireplace. The bedrooms have mid-sized windows and the bathrooms and kitchens have the smallest openings. The plans are predictably skewed by the gender roles common in the period. The kitchens are quite small and divided visually and spatially from the main living spaces. Fortunately, the houses allow for expanding the kitchen to meet late 20th Century needs and desires. Many of the homes have been renovated in just this way.

500 Woodleaf Court, Kirkwood (Armstrong, 1951), Photo: Raimist.

The families in the neighborhood have been good caretakers of their homes and properties. They typically are long-term residents with a strong commitment to Kirkwood and their unique piece of 1950s mid-century modern design. As I've been photographing and documenting these homes this year, I've learned that each has a story to tell of its succession of owners and the ways they've adjusted the spaces to fit their own needs.

519 Woodleaf Court, Kirkwood (Armstrong, 1951), Photo: Raimist.

From a planning perspective, Armstrong chose to design each home so its main entry door was directly visible to those driving in from Woodlawn Avenue. Each entry is surrounded by glazing and marked by a tilted column rising from a modest front porch. The entries are set back from the front wall of the house to provide additional protection from the elements. The deeper shadows create an inviting spot next to the center of each facade. The garages are recessed in elevation and located on the east end of each home so it is not the first thing one encounters. Instead, landscaped, gentle slopes frame the formal entry and the two-car garages are deemphasized.

533 Woodleaf Court, Kirkwood (Armstrong, 1951), Photo: Raimist.

The Open House for 501 Woodleaf Court is being held on Sunday, June 20 from 1 to 3 pm. I anticipate this will be the only open house showing. Houses in Kirkwood sell very quickly. You can see the complete listing by Coldwell-Banker Premier Group here.

07 May 2018

Danna House: Kirkwood Case Study

Danna House (1960) –– Front Elevation facing East

The Danna House will be celebrated on Wednesday, May 9 at Kirkwood City Hall at its Favorite Building Awards. The event begins at 7pm. Please join us to honor this historic Mid-Century Modern home! The event is free and open to the public. Doris Danna and members of her family will be in attendance. Many other homes will receive awards!

This architectural gem is a classic mid-century modern home drawing upon Case Study houses and Bauhaus precedents. The home is efficient and economical in its design and construction. Its structure is clearly expressed, yet the form is restrained and disciplined. This modernist structure thoughtfully respects its landscape, climate, and solar orientation. The house has maintained its essence over more than five decades.

Charlie and Doris Danna met in 1952 at Washington University in St. Louis while attending the School of Architecture. They married soon after and began searching for a natural site on which to build their family home. In 1953, they were fortunate to befriend Russell and Ruth Kraus who were building their Frank Lloyd Wright designed home on a wooded lot near Ballas and Dougherty Ferry Roads. Wright had designed a proposed subdivision of architect-designed homes on the eastern portion of their property. The Danna's were the first to realize their home in this neighborhood.

Doris Danna had been working as a site planner for architect, landscape architect and planner Emmett Layton. She took on the job of redesigning the proposed subdivision which builders were unwilling to undertake. Initially, Charlie had begun working for William B. Ittner before moving to the newly founded architectural practice of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum.

Danna House –– Living Room with continuous window wall on the South (right side)

The Danna's were inspired by the Case Study Homes published in Arts & Architecture magazine. They drew inspiration from the work of Richard Neutra, Charles & Ray Eames, and Craig Ellwood. The philosophies of architectural modernism expressed by Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer were clearly informed their approach to the design.

Danna House –– The floor plan clearly delineates the four cardinal directions: passage at the East and West, protected openness toward the South, and protection and privacy to the North.

With an eye toward practicality, efficiency, and simplicity, they kept their design minimal, logical, and economical. The plan is thoughtfully oriented to the four cardinal directions. You enter the house from the East crossing over a porch that doubles as a bridge over a gravel drainage path. A porch with a matching width extends out toward the West.

Danna House –– West Elevation with projecting above-grade porch

Toward the South, a balcony extending the full depth of the house admits sunlight, while providing an overhang which helps to keep direct sun out on the hottest summer days. Deciduous trees were thoughtfully deployed to provide additional summer shade while admitting the warming ray of the low winter light. The views from the house are breathtaking. The extensive glazing brings the changing seasons into the home as an integral aspect of its atmosphere.

Danna House –– South Elevation with continuous cantilevered balcony

The house is compact and efficient. The first floor space is open with entry, living room, dining room, kitchen, flowing around a central hearth. Three compact bedrooms and two bathrooms are arrayed along the North Elevation which is more enclosed with narrow windows.

Danna House –– Living Room features clerestory windows at East and West ends

Plants and musical instruments (like the grand piano and modernist harp) become sculptural elements in the open, light-filled interior. A massive masonry hearth fills the wall opposite the view South. The fireplace, together with the Kitchen and Utility Room anchor the center of the house leaving the exterior walls free of intervening elements. The Danna's later commissioned the neighbor Russell Kraus to design stained glass for the clerestory windows at the East and West ends of the main living space.

Danna House –– Looking from the Dining Room to the East

The home's design is particularly expressive of the structure within its walls. White bands at the top and bottom of the exterior walls express the horizontal floor and roof structures while the vertical white accents highlight the locations of structural wood columns. In this way, the home has the classical grace and clarity of the much more expensive, elaborate Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois fashioned of steel and glass.

Danna House –– Balcony cantilevers to the South protecting the openings at the lower level

The house declares its presence as unapologetically modern with fieldstone walls highlighting its geometrical simplicity and marking its separation from the natural environment within which it stands proudly.

Danna House –– Site Plan reveals original driveway accessing Dougherty Ferry Road

The house is intelligently oriented on site to capture the most compelling natural views toward the South and West. Their property abuts the land that is now a part of The Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park which is a modernist house museum of the highest quality surrounded by the natural landscape intended by Wright's design. The rolling hillside connects to the nearby Sugar Creek Nature Preserve along Ballas and Adams.

Danna House –– Original Treehouse mirrors the geometry and logic of the home

The raised porch employs the same structural forms as the Treehouse. These structures make explicit what the cladding of the house suggests. Vertical and horizontal structural elements predominate. Elegant and efficient structural design reveals the home's profound and clear design conception and realization.

Danna House –– Protected Porch extends toward the West

The design of the Porch and Treehouse allow the children to appreciate how special their elevated preserve up in a massive elm tree truly is. They can look down on the adults at the house and understand the formal and structural elements which support each house.

09 July 2017

Armstrong's Schwarz Residence in Oakland

The home Harris Armstrong designed for Egon Schwarz and his family in Oakland, Missouri is now on the market and available for the first time. It's for sale by the original owner who commissioned the house.

The photographs here are taken from this recent article on Curbed.

The light-filled home boasts glass expanses, skylights, and clerestory windows.
Photos courtesy of Circa Properties

Now the Oakland Historic Landmark home, which was completed in 1961, is on the market for the first time. Photos courtesy of Circa Properties

Links to additional information about this 1961 mid-century modern house can be found below:

24 October 2016

Wellston Loop Design Charrette –– Remarks, Part 1

The City of St. Louis and the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council of Governments recently sponsored a “Great Streets Initiative” for Dr. Martin Luther King Drive from Union Boulevard west to the City Limits. The attention being paid to this part of our city is commendable and needs to be followed up by actual improvements on the ground. Deterioration in the Wellston Loop area has reached a critical point: without substantial efforts to shore up historic structures very soon, an important part of our city’s history and culture will be erased and the opportunity to revitalize a vibrant, diverse community will have been lost.

My comments below are based on a series of events which took place the week of Monday, April 11, 2016, over four days. The meetings took place at 5736 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, a historic building being renovated by Ward 22 Alderman Jeffrey Boyd. Consultants met with business owners and residents with the goal of developing meaningful plans to spur the area’s revitalization.

Figure 1, Title Slide.  The introductory slide for the “Public Wrap Up & Next Steps” session held on Thursday, April 14, 2016.

It’s important that attention is paid to this neighborhood which has been in dire need of reinvestment and support to counteract decades of disinvestment and flight. I applaud the cooperation of Don Roe, the city’s Planning and Urban Design Agency, East-West Gateway Council of Governments and Ward 22 Alderman Jeffrey Boyd for co-sponsoring this public design process.

The consultants conducting the focus sessions and design charrette were CBB Transportation Engineers & Planners, RDg Planning & Design, PDS Environmental, and Development Strategies. See Figure 1 for the title slide from their final presentation from the evening of Thursday, April 14. (Images bounded by thick black frames are taken from the consultant presentation.)

My criticisms are intended to be constructive and are based on my understanding of the neighborhood, its history, and its capacity for becoming once again a vital center of commerce and culture. Continuing the planning process in regular consultation with the community is essential to developing a plan the neighborhood accepts and supports. Imposing “top down” developments can alienate current residents and dampen their positive impact.

Figure 2, Base Map.  This slide of the “Wellston Loop Area” by RDg Planning & Design was presented as part of the proposed master plan for Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. My annotations include the blue text (top) beginning with “Base map by RDg”, the RDg logo, north arrow, and remarks in orange (lower right hand corner).

The overall study covers Dr. Martin Luther King Drive from Union Boulevard west to the City Limits (almost to Kienlen Avenue). The planning team divided the study area into a series of smaller sections. My focus here is on the section called the “Wellston Loop Area” as depicted in Figure 2. This particular section extends from Laurel Avenue on east (at right side) west to the City Limits on the west (left side). Figure 3 includes the street names and indicates the border between the city and county.

From a logical perspective, the study area should extend at least to Kienlen Avenue rather than stopping at the City Limits. The bureaucratic reasons behind stopping the study at this essentially arbitrary dividing line reflects the kinds of disconnect and lack of coordination between the City of St. Louis, the City of Wellston, and St. Louis County. The East-West Gateway Council should help bridge these kinds of gaps in supporting the plans implementation.

My remarks are largely based on the "Wellston Loop Area” slide in Figure 2. The two subsequent figures replicate this plan with the addition of street names and the city/county border in Figure 3 and a numbered key indicating specific locations in Figure 4.

Figure 3, Street Names.  This diagram replicates Figure 2 with the addition of street names (in orange) and the city/county boundary line (in green).

There was a good deal of discussion between the presenters (consultants) and the audience (stakeholders) about various aspects of the plan. Public comments ranged from complimentary to quite critical. My comments here are based on my experiences working in the community. I’ve had the opportunity to know the people and the place over the past five years while co-teaching the course "Community Building, Building Community" in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.

Many people in this community have expressed their frustration with being the subject of academic studies and planning recommendations. They long for desperately needed investments which generally fail to materialize.

In any redevelopment project of a struggling neighborhood, there’s a danger that too much emphasis will be placed on economic development without adequate attention paid to the real needs the existing residents. Gentrification displaces people and relocates problems from one area to another without addressing the underlying issues. To some extent such effects are inevitable, but if considered properly, they should be minimized. People who have committed themselves to the community over the long term deserve particular attention when improvements are being made.

Figure 4, Key Map.  This illustration uses the same base as Figure 3 with the addition of a numbered key (in yellow) highlighting specific locations (both proposed and existing).

My remarks begin with the community’s symbolic center––the historic 1909 Wellston Station (Figure 4, Key #1)––and proceed counterclockwise around the drawing. Securing and restoring Wellston Station is absolutely critical to the revitalization of this part of Dr. MLK. The plan reflects this necessity, making it the centerpiece of a "town square / marketplace" development featuring storefront businesses, open green space and limited parking. Reestablishing a takeaway type restaurant at Wellston Station is crucial to the viability of this concept. Until recently Bus Loop Burgers was located here (see Figure 5). Similar food service businesses, like The White Mill, operated there throughout the 20th Century. The tradition of such food service businesses in this location goes back decades and to critical to establishing even the potential for revitalization.

Presently, the structure is vacant. Presumably, the tenant was asked to leave in order to allow for rehabilitation work to proceed. If this building remains shuttered and no takeaway restaurant is reestablished, then the viability of sustainably reviving Dr. MLK in the Wellston Loop will be threatened.

The plan suggests symbolically representing the position of the former Hodiamont rail lines through the use of pavers, a potentially fruitful idea. Locating a reconditioned PCC street car and positioning it under the building's canopy could be a wonderful opportunity to visually reestablish a vibrant aspect of the neighborhood's history as a transit hub. Currently, the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis County has an actual Hodiamont streetcar in its collection.

Carrying out such a plan would require a significant investment. However, such a renovation would substantially improve the public's perception of the immediate surroundings. It’s important that the building not become an empty monument to history. It needs to remain a center of daily activity.

Wellston Station’s revitalization should be accomplished so as to reinforce the positive nature of existing social interactions while discouraging negative behaviors. This is a delicate balance to strike. The restored building should NOT be an immaculate cleaned up, sanitized relic of the past, but instead, should retain its function as a well-known gathering place.

Plans for the surrounding area should encourage people to sit and gather, expanding on the building’s role as a transit hub. Improvements should not discriminate amongst people with regard to race, class, home or other factors. It should NOT be policed in such a way as to drive out the “undesirable homeless people" who presently use the shelter. It should be clean, well-lit and made safe and secure to the greatest extent possible. It needs to remain an authentic hang-out spot and not become a sanitized memorial. The building needs to continue operating as an authentic social collector.

Figure 5, Wellston Station.  A recent photograph of Wellston Station (#1) when Bus Loop Burgers was still operating and a rendering depicting the proposed improvements to the structure which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photograph © Andrew Raimist 2015; drawing by Jeffrey A. Brambila, AIA Architects & Planners with edits and colors by Raimist.)

Programming public events to take place here will be critical to reestablishing the perception of the area as one that’s agreeable and desirable. How this is handled will be critical for the success of any redevelopment effort. Simply fixing up the building and the immediate surroundings from a physical standpoint will not be sufficient.

The proposed mechanism for Wellston Station’s revitalization relies on encouraging a wider community of interested people to invest in it based on positive collective memories of its significance. This notion is a creative approach to the difficulties relating to financing its restoration. It's unlikely to be restored by private developers due to the high cost involved to preserve its craftsmanship and details. Its tiny footprint together with the area’s economic challenges makes it generally unattractive for commercial redevelopment. Relying solely on public funding seems similarly unrealistic.

Making this project a reality will require establishing a nonprofit organization with the mission of restoring and revitalizing the building and its surroundings. The overall goal would extend beyond the structure and its immediate surroundings to make it an integral part of a functioning commercial district. The project would be a philanthropic effort founded on gaining the support of people with positive collective memories. Grants are available to support such a project. Citizens and businesses would need to come together to invest in bringing it back to life after being stabilized by the City of St. Louis, which owns it through the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA).

This effort will rely on people who once lived, worked or shopped here in years past and have fond recollections of the area’s position as the city's "second downtown." It will be no small undertaking but will nevertheless be essential to the revitalization of this part of Dr. MLK. Stabilizing the building needs to be commenced immediately, as portions of the building are presently in danger of collapse. Not only is it in a fragile state, it’s potentially dangerous to the public.

Building stabilization should include ensuring its structural integrity, including its columns, beams, and roof structure. All of the existing roofing should be removed, new plywood and roofing felt installed and the roofing slates completely reinstalled after being properly flashed using copper. New copper gutters and downspouts should be provided. Rotted wood should be replaced. Exterior wood surfaces that are sound should be cleaned, primed and painted. Ideally, the first floor should be sufficiently updated so another small restaurant could operate in that space with minimal investment infrastructure required. That is, the utility service connections should be brought up to code (electric, plumbing, gas, telephone) so they’re prepared for a new tenant to move in.

Although its enclosed footprint is small, the significance of the social interactions taking place at this structure is vital to the area. Leaving the building without a tenant would be disastrous for the structure and surrounding area. The social, economic and symbolic implications of this tiny restaurant cannot be overstated. Whenever I speak with people about the neighborhood who knew it from the past, they invariably ask me whether Wellston Station is still standing. There is a persistent rumor in some circles that the building has been condemned and is slated for imminent demolition.

The master plan suggests creating a new series of small structures (#2), highlighted in red, across the north side of the Wellston Station property where it backs up to Hope House (#3). The plan proposes extending Theodosia Avenue west for one block past Hodiamont Avenue to Irving Avenue. The necessity of formally extending this street is questionable. Creating an access drive or alleyway here may be sufficient to provide service entries for the proposed new structures as well as allowing vehicular access to Hope House. Extending the street would necessarily be a part of the planning for the construction of these new buildings.

The purpose of this series of new buildings (#2) is providing small-scale, pedestrian-oriented retail space. Potentially, they could offer outdoor dining in a protected area. This kind of business located around Wellston Station would help to reinforce the welcoming nature of this public square. Having accessible, engaging storefronts here would help animate the space where the side of Hope House (#3) overlooks mostly unused deteriorated pavement. The existing restroom facility constructed by Metro should either be demolished as part of the redevelopment or redesigned to work as a public facility.

(continued in next post, "Wellston Loop Design Charrette –– Remarks, Part 2")

Wellston Loop Design Charrette –– Remarks, Part 2

(continued from prior post, "Wellston Loop Design Charrette –– Remarks, Part 1")

On the south side of Dr. MLK, the proposal relies on speculation about a future that's unlikely to materialize without substantial investment from outside parties. The red toned blocks (see Figure 4, Key Map, #5) indicate rehabs and new construction that seem desirable but relatively unlikely given present deteriorated circumstances. This approach relies on a revitalization of the Kresge Building (#4) as a nucleus for new surrounding businesses with a new small parking area off Hodiamont Avenue to its south.

In isolation this idea for reviving the south side of the Wellston Loop seems reasonable: however, without a comprehensive redevelopment of the blocks between by Hodiamont Avenue (on the east), Kienlen Avenue (on the west) and Dr. MLK (on the north) and Page (on the south), anything of this sort is unlikely to materialize due to vacancy, vagrancy and other issues with problem properties in this area. The conditions of the vacant buildings here are certainly a concern.

The Kresge Building (Figure 6) has a multipart facade reflecting the changing architectural styles from the area’s heyday (modernism at the corner and Renaissance next to the Hodiamont streetcar right-of-way). For deteriorated structures with facades worth preserving for their urban and visual contributions, it might be more cost-effective to retain its fa├žade while completely reconstructing the building enclosure behind it.

Figure 6, Kresge Building.  Recent photographs of the Kresge Building (#4) on the south side of Dr. MLK Drive facing Wellston Station. The overhangs protecting the sidewalk and bus stop offer a meeting spot for folks to congregate especially in inclement weather. (Photographs © Andrew Raimist 2015.)

The master plan suggests the addition of one multifamily housing building (#6) just south of this new commercial nucleus. This part of Hodiamont Avenue is, unfortunately, rife with streetwalkers and drug dealers. It’s sometimes referred to locally as “Prostitute Row.” The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s “hot spot” policing practices certainly help to displace these kinds of activities, however, the problems seem to simply reappear in another neighborhood. Addressing the root causes of the social ills plaguing these individuals (such as the lack of job opportunities, education, healthcare, and other social services) is the only practical, sustainable solution.

East of Hodiamont Avenue, either community gardens or agricultural crops are indicated (#7). This kind of urban agriculture has the potential to be a positive source of income, jobs, and environmental improvement. However, it’s questionable whether bringing such agricultural land use all the way up to Dr. MLK makes sense unless it were part of an overall strategy to market and sell fresh produce at the new "town center.”

Figure 7, Hodiamont Avenue.  Views of properties along Hodiamont Avenue south of Dr. MLK, from left to right: a vacant home, a community garden where buildings had been demolished, a storefront child care center and a vacant building facade. (Photographs © Andrew Raimist 2015.)

One approach to dealing with vacant land that should be considered is creating opportunities for home ownership on larger plots of ground than typically available in an urban context. Combining agricultural land with adjacent homes would be a way to reoccupy some of the vacant land in the community around Wells Avenue. This approach to removing vacant land from LRA rolls and placing it in the hands of motivated families who would cultivate the land, or simply enjoy a larger yard, should be part of a comprehensive redevelopment strategy, particularly north of MLK where the existence of multiple vacant sections of residential blocks is an impediment to new investment. 

Offering this kind of "homesteading" opportunity on currently vacant land could help to increase the area’s population, address problems of land and building vacancy, and improve safety and security. Similarly, there are currently calls to create new policies which would make it easier for someone to acquire vacant land adjacent to their full-time residence by mowing and caring for the land for a specified period of time. This approach would give residents an incentive to improve the condition of the properties on their street and would likely result in more cooperation amongst neighbors. It could address many of the concerns relating to safety, overgrown weeds and other nuisances associated with vacant lots.

Reducing the funds required to maintain empty parcels––by mowing, applying weed killer and correcting safety issues––would free up resources for more productive projects. Giving adjacent residents the potential to expand their homes, build garages, create gardens, and enlarge their yards, and places for would offer vitality and return control of this unproductive land to the people with the greatest interest in improving it. Giving residents the chance to further invest in their communities––rather than give up and move out––would be the best thing the city could do to activate untapped resources.

Presently, neighbors can improve empty lots by leasing the land from the LRA for community gardens. There are many examples of such gardens in the Hamilton Heights and Wells/Goodfellow neighborhoods. Recently the city has begun requiring these citizens––who are volunteering their time and energy to improve their community––to pay for liability insurance. For some people struggling to stay afloat, even $100 per year can be sufficient discouragement for them to abandon their efforts to beautify their street. A program addressing the financial hardships faced by the elderly citizens on fixed incomes who maintain these gardens should be enacted to provide relief for this added expense. Even better would be finding a way to put this land permanently into the hands of people who care about their neighborhoods and want to improve it. This is the right way to empower grassroots neighborhood improvement.

The city’s practice of land banking for hypothetical future redevelopments, unfortunately, contributes to further deterioration in our neighborhoods. The LRA program may be useful in certain instances where it is difficult to assemble large parcels of land for redevelopment projects, however, the policy of simply holding onto thousands of parcels with little hope of them ever becoming part of a large-scale redevelopment is bad public policy. Essentially, this practice results in the de facto enactment of the worst aspects of the so-called “Team Four Plan” from the 1970s which was never formally enacted (although many believe it has been the de facto plan for the north side).. North St. Louis has suffered from sustained disinvestment for decades. Let’s give communities control over their own destiny and empower them to improve them one lot at a time in places where it makes sense to do so.

Figure 8, Wells Avenue.  Views of properties along Wells Avenue from left to right: a vacant decaying home, vacant buildings next to the parking lot of the former J.C. Penney Department Store, well-kept homes surrounded by decay and a beautifully restored Craftsman style home. (Photographs © Andrew Raimist 2015.)

On the south side of Dr. MLK between Hodiamont and Hamilton Avenues, there's a patchwork quilt of proposed uses including residences, agriculture, green space, fruit stand, memorial plaza, commercial structures, and parking. This part of the plan is unrealistic, fragmented and not well considered. Why would a series of homes (#8) be located in the midst of agricultural land along Wells Avenue (aside from the fact that the open lots already exist)?

A more realistic scenario might be creating enlarged lots associated with new single family homes. In this way, homeowners would be responsible for keeping their land secure rather than exacerbating the sense of a dangerous "no man's land" which presently exists. For those looking to own a home on a larger lot than typically available in the city, this could be an incentive encouraging new investment. 

The former J.C. Penney parking lot on Wells Avenue (#9) is proposed to be converted for agricultural use. Larger plots of land set aside for agricultural production could be problematic from a safety and security standpoint, not unlike the existing open grassy areas, potentially even worse. Depending on the crops under cultivation, such agricultural plots potentially offer increased cover for unscrupulous people, thus reducing the perception of safety along the street. In general terms, private, well-defined fenced gardens would be preferable to larger agricultural expanses.

Figure 9, Panorama from J.C. Penney Rooftop.  Panoramic photograph from the rooftop of the J.C. Penney Department Store Building (#12) looking west toward the concrete frame building at the center which holds Club ‘E’/The Venue (#10). The open green space (#11) between the two building occupies the center foreground of the image. Dr. Martin Luther King Drive is at right. Houses visible in the distance at right are located on Hodiamont Avenue. The J.C. Penney parking lot (#13) is visible at left with nearby homes surrounded by trees located on Wells Avenue. (Photograph © Andrew Raimist 2015.)

Several well-maintained homes with established adjacent gardens already exist on Wells. Reinforcing and enhancing the residential character of this street would be preferable to continuing open, common land uses. Multifamily housing could help anchor the exposed areas at each end of the block while emphasizing the area's fundamentally residential character.

Right now the existing parking lot (#13) behind the historic International Style J.C. Penney Building (#12) creates a large unused void at the center of the block, destabilizing its viability as a safe residential street. This largely unused parking area is visible at far left in rooftop panorama in Figure 9. Converting the rear section of that parking lot to productive green space (#9) makes more sense environmentally as compared to the present cracked asphalt lot which generates increased runoff and heat island effects. Replacing this barren landscape with new homes on lots up to a half acre in size would reinforce the street's existing residential character and beautiful community gardens.

Figure 10, Dr. MLK Drive at J.C. Penney Building.  North-facing facade of the J.C. Penney Department Store Building (#12) at left. The center image is an annotated aerial photograph from Google Earth with labels corresponding to the keyed map in Figure 4. The north-facing facade of Club ‘E’ (#10) at right. (Left and right photographs © Andrew Raimist 2015.)

An orchard and fruit stand fronting on Dr. MLK (#11) is proposed for the open lot between the J.C. Penney Building (#12) and “Club E" aka "The Venue” (#10). This notion seems romantic and unrealistic despite the existence of a handful of fruit trees. It poses several potential problems with respect to maintenance and upkeep, dealing with falling, rotting fruit, associated odors, and related environmental concerns. The construction of a fruit stand at MLK, surrounded by a fruit orchard, might offer a wonderfully pastoral ambiance; however, it’s based more on fantasy than reality.

An open green space would be more practical than the orchard, but having appropriate, supportive adjacent uses would be critical for such a park’s success. For example, if job and vocational training, co-working facilities, a maker's center and childcare services were offered at the J.C. Penney Building, and the building could be opened up with windows and doors facing onto such a park, it could substantially benefit the neighborhood. Providing vehicular access at this location to the rear parking areas behind the J.C. Penney Building might be important to such a project's success. Safety, ongoing activity and clear orientation for drivers would play a critical role.

If fresh fruits and vegetables are to be offered for sale to the public in this area, it would preferable to do so using the storefront of the adjacent J.C. Penney Building or another nearby structure. Presently, there’s an excess of vacant buildings the 5900 block of Dr. MLK including some historic structures worth saving. We need to encourage and support new uses to the greatest extent possible. New structures should be built in this area only where truly needed and when adapting existing structures is impractical.

(continued in final post, "Wellston Loop Design Charrette –– Remarks, Part 3")