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Is St. Louis Too Quick To Bulldoze Its Architectural Heritage?

Brett Blume
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Demolition crews began knocking down the 97-year-old Powell Square building on Chouteau's Landing last month after city officials condemned it as an "eyesore". (KMOX/Brett Blume)

Demolition crews began knocking down the 97-year-old Powell Square building on Chouteau’s Landing last month after city officials condemned it as an “eyesore”. (KMOX/Brett Blume)

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) –  Michael Allen worries that St. Louis city planners are too quick to pull the trigger on knocking down historically significant buildings.

Allen, director of the Preservation Research Office and an architectural historian, says this didn’t have to be the way things ended for the 97-year-old Powell Square building on Chouteau’s Landing — as a pile of rubble.

“Powell Square was structurally sound, was a very solid reinforced concrete building,” Allen tells KMOX News. “It was much like many of the buildings on Washington Avenue and in downtown that have been adaptively reused for housing, offices, and other businesses.”

City officials hired a demolition team to start knocking down the graffiti-covered Powell Square building just east of I-55 and south of the Poplar Street Bridge last month after the owner fell short of his plan to develop an arts district on Chouteau’s Landing.

Next up on the wrecking ball’s hit list is the former Crunden-Martin building right next door to Powell Square, which was damaged in a fire more than a year ago.

Allen says even landing a spot on the National Register of Historic Places couldn’t save Crunden-Martin from demolition.

It’s something that he says is happening far too often in St. Louis, a city that Allen feels is often too eager to bulldoze its own architectural heritage.

“There are thousands of buildings in the city that have no demolition review whatsoever, and Powell Square’s one of those buildings,” he explains. “It doesn’t have any official historic status and it’s in a ward (Ward 7) that has no demolition protection whatsoever.”

He’s says it’s the same story in more than a quarter of St. Louis’ 28 wards.

Allen says they lost the Battle for Powell Square, but it’s still worth fighting and there are even rewarding victories from time to time.

He was involved in the successful effort to save the unique flying saucer-shaped building on Grand near St. Louis University that used to house a Del Taco, and was eventually saved from the wrecking ball through a Facebook-fueled campaign.

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