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Old Buildings & the People Who Love/Save Them

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Barnett On Washington (Photo courtesy of barnettonwashblog.com)

Barnett On Washington (Photo courtesy of barnettonwashblog.com)

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by Debbie Monterrey, dcmonterrey@cbs.com

I love old buildings. I love old architecture. I’m that person who always thinks, “They just don’t build things like they used to!”

I’m fascinated by urban decay. But I’m just as delighted when someone takes a crumbling or neglected classic beauty and lovingly restores and re-purposes it for future generations to enjoy.

Steve Smith, Lawrence Group; Andrew Weil, Landmarks Association; Debbie Monterrey

Steve Smith, Lawrence Group; Andrew Weil, Landmarks Association; Debbie Monterrey


I had the honor of emceeing the Landmarks Association of St. Louis’ Most Enhanced Awards 2014 at the newly restored Sun Theater in Grand Center. Seventeen projects were honored (see them all here).
BEFORE: William Drosten House, on Most Endangered list

BEFORE: William Drosten House, on Most Endangered list

AFTER (photo courtesy of Landmarks Assoc of STL)

AFTER (photo courtesy of Landmarks Assoc of STL)


First of all, hats off to the Lawrence Group. They created KMOX’s new home in the Park Pacific (formerly the Missouri Pacific building). Their fingerprint is all over Grand Center. And when most people wrote off the Sun Theater, the Lawrence Group pulled off what seems to many like a miracle. They were the biggest developer honored (and the main event sponsor), but there were plenty of “little guys.”
BEFORE: Sun Theater

BEFORE: Sun Theater

AFTER (photos by Michael Kelley Photography, courtesy of Nextstl.com)

AFTER (photos by Michael Kelley Photography, courtesy of Nextstl.com)

One young couple from Kansas City moved to St. Louis City and transformed a warehouse into the warehome. It was an old charcoal storage facility, but now, it’s a unique space.

Another couple in the Shaw neighborhood turned a long-abandoned 1940s gas station on Cleveland and Thurman into a catering kitchen (The Social Affair) and gourmet market.

BEFORE: Thurman Station in Shaw Neighborhood

BEFORE: Thurman Station in Shaw Neighborhood

AFTER: The Station/The Social Affair

AFTER: The Station/The Social Affair

I was happy to hear a number of the award-winners thanking Mayor Francis Slay, various city agencies and aldermen for helping and championing these projects.

Mayor Slay, who spoke at the event, talked about strengthening penalties against owners who let their buildings crumble, or as he called it “demolition by neglect.” A bill he recently signed will give the city “more ability to keep major historic buildings standing, because the City will actually correct structural problems, and bill the owner for the repairs.”

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

The Mayor, and mostly everyone in attendance, agreed that St. Louis’ historic buildings are what set us apart in a time of strip malls, big box stores and the vanilla-zation of our nation’s landscape.

It was great fun for me to be among like-minded folks who value St. Louis’ history and are so positive about the City’s future. I loved hearing their “war stories” about their difficulties, challenges and victories.

Hats off and thumbs up to each and every person honored. It’s easy to knock it down and build something new (and temporary). It takes real vision and dedication to preserve our history and honor our past.

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