Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Rebirth of McRee Town

I'm interrupting my tour of Kansas City architecture because I was so excited to see the recent developments in McRee Town, which for a long was one of the most troubled neighborhoods in the city.
Combining sensitive in-fill with the conversion of four-family flats into two houses and the renovation of other notable single family houses, the Botanical Grove redevelopment is doing everything right that has so often been done wrong in St. Louis.
For starters, pre-existing homeowners were not run out of their homes with eminent domain arranged with corrupt officials in smoky backrooms.
Secondly, the remaining housing stock was renovated into viable real estate, and priced at market rates.
Finally, the in-fill housing is very cool; it doesn't try to pretend it was built in the Nineteenth century, is unashamedly modern, but the massing and materials match the neighborhood and city.
If the first phase on McRee Avenue is successful, it will spread to other streets, and hopefully the rest of the city.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Neighborhood Around the Vine Street Workhouse

There is a whole ensemble of public works buildings surrounding the old Vine Street Workhouse, including this firehouse, above.
Across the street were the original Water and Streets buildings for Kansas City. They now sit empty.

Interestingly, there is new development in the area; down the street from the workhouse are these new apartments, and across the railroad tracks is another group of new buildings.
It seems the city is using the workhouse as a focal point for new development, which is a great idea. Using old landmarks to instill a sense of place in a new redeveloped neighborhood is critical for competing against the suburbs, which often, but not always, do not have such evocative structures to build communities around.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vine Street Workhouse, Kansas City, Missouri

Did I discover an ancient fortress in the wilderness? Well, not exactly, as if you look closer, you see that this castle has cinder blocks in its windows and doors.
The Vine Street Workhouse was the old jail for the city of Kansas City, which I had the opportunity to visit over the Memorial Day weekend.
Located on the near east side of the city, it sits in a veritable forest of overgrown trees and underbrush.
The good news is that the jail has been been mothballed and the owner is actively seeking to find a buyer for the property.
It's a stunning building, though slightly smaller in real life than I thought it was by looking at pictures on-line. A railroad runs right by the site, further confirming that this is no long lost medieval castle.
I was impressed by this gigantic weed; does anyone know what it is?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Northwest Plaza Exterior

When will these walls coming crashing down, the victim of demolition?
Will there be any memory of what was here fifty years from now?
How could such a thriving place decline so rapidly? Was its hold on the retail market so tenuous?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sears, Northwest Plaza

I have a sentimental soft spot for the Northwest Plaza Sears, as its architecture is very similar to the mall I went to as a child in Saginaw, Michigan, Fashion Square Mall.
I also realized that in some ways the architecture reminds me of Jabba the Hutt's palace from third Star Wars movie.
Perhaps a serious problem for Northwest Plaza was that while the interior received a face-lift, the outside did not.
Yes, that is a hawk sitting on the roof of the canopy in front of the store.
Lava rock abounds in this building, and it adds a nice touch to the decoration.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fixture Storage, Lemp Brewery

The fixture storage building at the Lemp Brewery is functional, but sparse. I was particularly drawn to the massive steel columns which hold up the floors.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lemp Brewery, Revisited

I never get tired of the Lemp Brewery, and every time I look at it, I see a new angle. These photos were mainly taken while walk south down DeMenil Place.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wells-Goodfellow #3: The House of Horrors

As I’m sure many of you had, I read the reports last week of the atrocious torture and killing of six dogs in an abandoned apartment building in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of St. Louis. While I consider the building in question, at 5321 Wells Avenue, to be in Wells-Goodfellow, nonetheless it is in one of the most deeply troubled areas of the city.
While not the smartest action to take, I felt a personal need to go see this neighborhood, and perhaps get some sort of grasp of how this happens. I set out for the street, and reached it from South City in about fifteen minutes. I was expecting a bombed out neighborhood, with only a few houses scattered here and there surrounded by dense undergrowth, as I had seen in other part of Wells-Goodfellow. Much to my surprise (though certainly predicted by Google Maps), the streets around the apartments in question are still densely populated, with few empty lots and only a few abandoned houses. How did the sound of six dogs being tortured to death go unnoticed? It seems to be an impossibility.
I turned down Arlington Avenue from MLK Dr. and saw dozens of people out in the street, and I got the distinct feeling I was being watched. When I reached the corner of Arlington and Wells, I realized that it was not a good idea to proceed down the street. Out in front of a corner store were a group of young men, all dressed identically in red polo shirts, loitering. They saw me and started yelling unintelligibly. If you look back at the pictures Stray Rescue posted, you can see the gang graffiti features a reference to the Bloods street gang. Did those young men perhaps know who had committed the unspeakable acts in the apartments a block away down Wells Avenue?
I wasn’t waiting around to find out, and proceeded another block down Arlington, turned down the next street parallel to Wells Avenue and then turned out onto Union Avenue and headed back downtown. I snapped some furtive photographs from my car, which give you an impression of what the area looks like.
My investigation raises some questions in my mind. Clearly people on Wells Avenue knew exactly what was going on in that house of horrors, where six dogs were mutilated and tortured over the course of several weeks, based on the state of decomposition of several of the dogs. The drug dealing had been going on there for a while as well. Were they too terrified or too apathetic to contact the police? Considering how blatantly those gang members were showing themselves out in broad daylight with little fear of harassment by the police, I suspect the former. In fact, I have never seen such obvious gang presence in the city of St. Louis, anywhere.

Also, why the heck does the woman who owns this building even own it? She's not doing anything with it, and just letting it sit and rot and become a haven for crime. The city will never, ever recover until it gets serious about absentee slumlords, allowing their "investment properties" to be maintained like this. She should answer for her negligence as well, since she is legally responsible for what happens on her property. "I'm trying my best," a common refrain of slumlords when confronted by news cameras, is not good enough.
It also begs the question, how did this obviously once nice neighborhood fall so far? If you look at Google Maps, you can see the huge yards and stately homes that propagate in this area. Judging from the housing stock, I would suspect it was middle to upper middle class, correlating with what I have read about Wells-Goodfellow in books about the city. The apartment building where the crimes occurred is actually a beautiful building, and probably once commanded high rents. Its huge backyard once probably hosted innumerable barbeques and pick-up baseball games, but one hundred years later, it hosts nothing but horrors.
Update: A man has been charged in the crimes, according to media reports.

A Blog detailing the beauty of St. Louis architecture and the buildup of residue-or character-that accumulates over the course of time.