Monday, July 28, 2008

PD Sunday Highlights Historic Preservation

If you're interested in historic architecture and rehab, pick up a copy of this Sunday's Post Dispatch. The Post covered the issue from a number of interesting angles. Many names and faces familiar to the blog community were featured. Michael Allen, Thomas Crone, and Toby Weiss were all prominently mentioned.

One section was titled, "Would You Save This Building?" Many of the recent controversial demolitions and currently threatened buildings made the list. One that didn't was the old Parkmoor restaurant in Clayton. The Parkmoor's gone and a new Walgreen's is in its place.

The Parkmoor highlighted one of the tensions for lovers of old architecture. Buildings threatened with demolition are usually privately owned. When an owner is tired of operating an old building, or offered a high price to sell (read Walgreen's), the path toward the building's removal is often chosen by the owner. The community has little to say.

Personally, I only ate at the Parkmoor a couple of times, maybe once, but I always thought the building was an exceptionally cool looking building. Maybe if we'd all have spent more money there the building would've been saved? Or maybe Walgreen's could have put their store in the old Parkmoor space?

Another feature of the story was "urban exploring". Much urban exploring results in the photography of abandoned buildings. A photo session of the long abandoned Armour meat packing plant in East St. Louis was featured. The story drew attention to the inherent danger of entering abandoned buildings and the scary prospect of coming face to face with a vagrant or homeless person.

Anyone thinking of entering an abandoned building should be careful of the dangers. Encountering vagrants is only one possible threat. Collapsing floors, wild animals, dead things, disease, broken glass and all sorts of other unseemlies abound. These are dangerous places, indeed on the very edge of civilized society. Want to take a tour sometime?

One important aspect of the historic preservation narrative was little mentioned in the story: the role of community based development organizations. Maybe there will be a follow up? Community based organizations are largely responsible for driving local historic preservation efforts.

When I refer to "community based", I'm not speaking of the broader nonprofit sector, but rather those specific place-based organizations focused on a particular neighborhood, historic district, or municipal geography. There are lots of such local organizations in St. Louis carrying out the heavy lifting of historic preservation.

Groups such as the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee, the Old North St Louis Restoration Group, the Hyde Park Alliance, the Soulard Restoration Group, and the Carondelet Community Betterment Federation are just a few of the many neighborhood based organizations working to preserve St. Louis' rich architectural heritage.

If you share a passion for preserving historic buildings, connecting with a local group doing good work would be a good place to start.

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