Agree or Disagree: Biondi has destroyed the formerly urban midtown area around the Saint Louis University campus
In July 1978 the Midtown Historic District (large PDF) became part of the National Register of Historic Places. The entire area was very rundown at the time, numerous buildings were vacant or nearly vacant. The St Louis Symphony Orchestra moved into the former Powell Theater in the late 60s but that didn’t spur redevelopment of the area.
The Fox Theater was a mess at the time:
On a cold January morning in 1981 Leon and Mary Strauss first saw the Fox Theatre. With the aid of flashlights and one working light bulb, the Strausses discovered the hidden magic of the splendid theatre beneath the dirt and grime of 52 years. It was love at first sight and the rest is St. Louis history. Banding together as Fox Associates, Leon Strauss, Robert Baudendistel, Dennis McDaniel and Harvey Harris privately purchased the movie palace from the Arthur family. With Mary Strauss as director of restoration, there began a one year, $2 million plus restoration program under the aegis of Pantheon Construction Company. (Fox Theater)
Some saw the great potential of midtown but others saw vacant buildings instead of the expansive grass so common in the suburbs. Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi was one of those who didn’t get it then and still doesn’t today.
Since his inauguration in 1987, Father Biondi has led Saint Louis University through a remarkable era of transformation and achievement. In addition to modernizing the campus and helping revitalize the surrounding Midtown neighborhood, Father Biondi has committed vast University resources to academics, student scholarships and financial aid, faculty research and state-of-the-art technology. (Saint Louis University)
North of Olive St thankfully was beyond Biondi’s grasp but south of Olive St didn’t stand a chance. Six buildings listed in 1977 as having “neighborhood significance” where “demolition would be a major cultural loss” are gone. A seventh had “architectural merit — demolition would diminish the integrity of the neighborhood.”
Sadly this concentration of urban buildings was razed, the land is now parking and grass.
The Marina building stood on the NE corner of Grand & Lindell (aerial) for decades, from the National Register nomination:
The 1907 red brick and terra cotta Marina building at the northeast corner of Grand and Lindell has been subjected to similar alterations. The oldest commercial structure in the district, the pattern of arched window openings at second floor level draw the eye and define one corner of the major intersection of the district.Â
This building would have been a great anchor for that corner had it been rehabbed. Sure it was an eyesore with the bad storefronts that had been built over the years.
The southeast corner was also urban but not included in the historic district because of unfortunate Â alterations to the corner structure:
On the southwest [sic] corner of the same intersection, SLU bought a bank building (that was a historic structure hidden under a layer of plain stucco) and demolished it for a lifeless plaza and fountain. (VanishingSTL)
I remember that bank — I opened my first checking account there in 1990. Midtown was great — was.
In an urban setting grass, trees & water can’t substitute for the massing a building gives by defining the urban space.
Some act like demolition is the only answer to a tired urban area. A few blocks north was just as seedy but there buildings were saved and renovated. The now celebrated Washington Ave loft district was a ghost town of old warehouses — Biondi’s solution would have been parking lots & grass. Demolition was the failed 1950s “urban renewal” solution.
Biondi is a current dayÂ Robert Moses, the sooner he retires the sooner we can begin to reurbanize midtown and undo the damage he’s inflicted on this section of St. Louis. Â The poll is in the right sidebar (not visible on the mobile layout).
- Steve Patterson