Wednesday, February 01, 2006

More Is Better

One thing that sets St. Louis apart from most other American cities is our historic neighborhoods. Much has been written about the marketing and reinvestment potential of historic rehabilitation. And much of that is made possible through the use of state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.

However, only a small percentage of the city is currently eligible for historic tax credits. If we set out to substantially increase the number of city neighborhoods listed on the National Register, who knows how much more we could see in neighborhood revitalization?

With the exception of the new Jefferson-Gravois Streetcar Suburb Historic District and the expanded Tower Grove Heights Historic District, most of the city's historic districts are concentrated close to downtown, along the riverfront (Hyde Park and St. Boniface) or in the central corridor. Visit the neighborhoods listed on the National Register, and you 'll see a large amount of historic rehab, both underway and recently completed.

The rebirth of downtown has largely been driven by historic rehab. Good work is happening now in Old North St. Louis and Forest Park Southeast through the same resource.

Yet, the vast majority of North and South City is not part of any national historic district. The lack of historic tax credits makes it much harder to finance rehab in these neighborhoods. Where would be a good place to start next?


Michael Allen said...

Here are some neighborhoods with great district potential:

- College Hill
- O'Fallon Park
- Holly Hills
- Tower Grove South
- FPSE south of Manchester
- Southampton and Northampton
- Baden
- JeffVanderLou

Chad Stockel said...

How would one go about achieving/securing such status, for, say (just hypothetically) Southampton Neighborhood?

Rick Bonasch said...

A good first step is to contact the Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

Landmarks has prepared successful historic district nominations for a large number of city neighborhoods. They are a great resource.

You can reach them at (314)421-6474.

stlmark said...

What are the benefits of historical status? I am wondering why Holly Hills is not on the list.

Michael Allen said...

To secure a district nomination, the process works like this:

A neighborhood group or alderperson will judge community support. If there seems to be sufficient support for a district nomination, the neighborhood group or alderperson will contact a preparer for a district nomination. In the past the nomination may have been for City Landmark status, but nowadays almost everyone is pursuing National Register of Historic places nominations. The preparer will do some preliminary investigation to see if sufficient basis for a nomination exists. If the basis exists, the preparer will contract with the neighborhood group or alderperson to initiate the nomination.

First, the preparer will do an extensive architectural survey of an area. This inventory phase can take anywhere from two to 18 months. In this phase, the goal is to establish a date, architect or builder's name, photograph and written architectural description of every building in a target area. This involves extensive research, but is the foundation for the nomination.

Based on this first phase, the preparer will make several determinations:

- What a defensible boundary for the district can be;
- What buildings could be counted as "contributing resources" -- i.e. historic buildings that make up the district;
- What older buildings have been altered too greatly to be included in the nomination.

I should note that, believe it or not, sheds and garages must be part of the inventory!

In many cases where Landmarks has worked with an alderman, we have contracted to prepare the architectural survey one year and then a nomination the second year. If a district encompasses a large area -- and the larger districts are quite feasible now -- this approach will ensure that the communities don't divert too much money to the project at once and that the preparers don't rush a big job.

After the inventory phase, the preparers will perform research to develop criteria of significance for the area, and begin drafting the nomination. This process will take several months.

The preparer will submit the nomination to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for review, and will work with staff there to make revisions. The review process will take some time if the district encompasses several hundred buildings; each description and photograph will be scrutinized.

When the SHPO staff feels that the nomination is ready, they will send it to the Certified Local Government (CLG) for an advisory opinion. In St. Louis, the CLG issues its opinions through the Preservation Board. Basically, the Preservation Board gives its opinion to the SHPO as to whther they feel the nomination has merit.

After the Preservation Board makes its opinion, the SHPO sends it to the Missouri State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (MOACHP). This body renders an advisory opinion to the National Park Service, which grants final certification to the nomination. The MOACHP is in many ways the most important body with jurisdiction over the nomination.

The MOACHP inevitably makes a few recommended changes to the nomination, and often the National Park Service historian will also want some changes made before certification.

With survey, nomination preparation and final certification, the district process easily can take two years. Considering how much work goes into knowing so much information about groups of 500-1000 buildings and garages, this timeframe often seems miraculous to researchers who work on the nominations.

The new Jefferson-Gravois Streetcar Historic District, certified in 2004, is the largest district in the city. It points the way toward considering the cultural significance of large areas and whole neighborhoods as the basis for single district nominations.

As Rick points, out Landmarks can answer your questions. We can be reached at the number above.

My e-mail address is

Michael Allen
Landmarks Association of St. Louis

Chad Stockel said...

Wow. Thank you both for your help. I'll be in touch.

Thanks again.