The JC Penney Building and Aldermanic Ego

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Martin Luther King Jr. Drive between Hamilton & Hodiamont
Wellston, MO
I have touched on this building inside a previous post. If you have ever run across it in your travels, bet it’s seared in your memory. It’s a singular building both in its neighborhood and in our city. Architects travel from out of town to see this Le Corbu-like gem. It’s unique and spacious with plenty of options for future use. That’s why the man who owns it bought it, and that’s why he’s been working to get it registered for both state and federal historic tax credits. The photos you see here are part of the series that I took for the owner’s applications. I did them for only the cost of the prints; wish I could have done it for free. Anything to help this building stand and thrive. And that is now becoming a problem.

The owner keeps me filled in on the struggle between him and his alderman. Let’s keep this story as tight as possible:

In 2006, Alderman Jeffrey Boyd fully supported the Landmarks Association writing the historic register nomination for this building. By winter 2007, it was ready to go before the Missouri Advisory Council, but Ald. Boyd had it pulled from the line-up. Why?

Ald. Boyd had a friend who wanted to buy the building and tear it down. The owner would not sell to someone who wants to tear it down when he’s working to bring it back to life. This pissed off Boyd, who then had it yanked from all board reviews and has since blocked any type of progress on the building. Despite the alderman’s anger, the owner began in earnest to get the building listed and eligible for tax credits to protect his investment.

Despite the feud, the owner has placed the building on the February 2008 agenda of the State Historic Preservation Office.

And Alderman Boyd is calling everyone he can to get this nomination yanked, once again. To his credit, he’s been very honest about why he wants it yanked: he wants it demolished.

Some of the local offices he has called flat out refused his request. But there’s a healthy list of local and state offices Boyd has contacted who have yet to weigh in.

They need to hear from people other than Boyd, and they need to understand the basic facts:
An alderman would rather demolish and leave another vacant lot in Wellston than let the building’s owner work to improve it.

Has Boyd explained the logic behind his plan?
Does he have a plan for something to go in its place?
Does he have any other valid reasons why he opposes this building and its owner?
Is this aboveboard business or is this a personal pissing match driven by ego and emotion?

This building’s nomination goes before the Preservation board today, January 28th. It goes before the Missouri Advisory board on February 9th.

Below are the people you can e-mail with your thoughts about the matter. If this situation bothers you, please speak up. Again, they need to understand more about this building beyond the Owner vs. Alderman struggle. At the very least, illogical injustice needs to be exposed.

Kathleen Shea, Director
Cultural Resources Office
1015 Locust Street #1200
St. Louis, MO 63101

Tiffany Patterson, National Register Coordinator
State Historic Preservation Office
P.O. Box 176
Jefferson City, MO 65102

11 thoughts on “The JC Penney Building and Aldermanic Ego

  1. Pingback: Architectural Siblings? Jackson, MS and St. Louis, MO J.C. Penney Department Stores « Preservation in Mississippi

  2. Pingback: Wellston J.C. Penney Building - Modern STL

  3. I wanted to add another point of clarification. Every building that has been placed on the National Historic Register within the 22nd Ward has been done at my request. JC Penney Building, Wellston Loop Building and Arlington School. Most recently MLK from Blackstone to the City Limits has been placed on the National Historic Register. The facts are a phone call away at the Landmarks Commission Office in the City of St. Louis. Due to progressive politics and forward thinking, the Arlington School Building which I had major pressure by constiunts to demolish will be the center piece of a major development exceeding $34M and is currently in progess between MLK, Cote Brilliante, Clara and Burd Ave. Ground breaking took place on October 15th.

    “Leadership is not about doing what’s popular; its about doing what’s right”

  4. This is a very interesting site and thank you to who ever posted this. I agree 100% that the JC Penney is a great building and worthy of being saved. I am surprised to see the posting of misrepresentation of my intents. Let me be clear. I have never had intentions of demolitions this gem. It was my idea to suggest this building to be placed on the National Historic Register not the current owner who has done absolutely little to nothing to preserve this building nor did he pay for the work performed for the nomination. The City of St. Louis paid for it. Maybe the person that posted this should have given me the a courtesy call to get my side of the story before printed untrue information about me wanting to demolish the building. As GMichaud posted in January 2008, I did discontinue my support for one of the local communtity organizations; however the reason why was fully justified. I prefer not to tell the ugly side of why I made the decisons that I made; however if the person who started this blog would contact me, I would welcome the opportunity to tell the whole story.

  5. “..expected to become a part of the community.” Wow, that used to be a common part of the American way of life. Imagine if we were still expected to do such things and how many current problems would be solved by retro behavior.

    Thank you for sharing your memories. I could almost picture it all!

  6. My Dad was the manager of the Penney’s in Wellston from about 1961 to 1965. At that time, the Wellston shopping district was still a vibrant and crowded place. I was in the 5th, 6th, and 7th grades, and I would sometimes go to work with my dad in the summer,a 45 minute drive from our home in Afton. I was allowed to wander up and down the block during evenings when he worked until closing at 9PM. There was a Woolworth’s store several doors down the street, a barber across the street where the barber sold gold coins as a sideline ($20 for a $5 US half eagle, and $50 for a $20 US double eagle!) At closing, we would take the days receipts to the night depository at Wellston State Bank.

    This was during the Civil Rights movement, of course, and Penney’s managers were expected to become a part of the community, so my Mom and Dad would go to NAACP functions on occasion, and even met Vice President Lydon Johnson at one of them.

    The drive to the store (all on surface streets), the people who worked there, the customers, all shaped my views on racial harmony which persist to this day.

    After his stint at Wellston, my Dad became manager of the Penney’s in Town & Country Mall in Overland, another dead (and buried) mall.

    I came across your wonderful site while searching for information about the Wellston store on Google. Keep up the good work.

  7. I remember this very well. I worked there while I attended Normandy High School but
    the main thing is that I met my future wife who also worked there as did her Mother. I sold Suits, Shoes and all mens items. In those days we did not make change, we put the money in a wire basket that was sent up to the balcony where change was made and sent back the same way. Later they modernized to pneumatic tube for change. How well I remember this place.
    Now we have been Married 62 years and have loved her every minute of the time.We met before the war but did not marry until the actual day the war ended Aug. 15, 1945
    Don S. Thompson (85 years old), Wife maiden name was Dorothy Ann Ewers (83 years young)and still a doll.. She attended Beaumont High School.

  8. The building has a huge presence on the street. Yes it is clear the problem is related to greed. It’s either campaign contributions or profit from the demolition and the holding of the land, or some other variation.
    I know Alderman Boyd well, he withdrew support of a small community organization of which I am on the board, Union West Community Corp. He took his money (city money), which after months of him trying to control everything it was relief to see him go, money and all.
    What’s worse he continues to harass us through other government officials and other means. We just want to move on, forget it and work in the community, but he continues to stalk us and try to put us out of business.
    I know both Ms. Shea and Ms. Patterson are beyond these petty politics and recognize the importance of a well built city for posterity. It is their heritage to the future and I would doubt they would disrupt that legacy for a self serving alderman. This is especially true considering the current owner is trying to put the building back together again.
    Actually Mr. Boyd represents the type of politician that so many Americans are tired of, one who works first and foremost to serve himself and his friends while making a big show of community support.
    I am not surprised this type of action has surfaced about him. The public will eventually discover what kind of person he is. The abuse of his position is astounding.
    The irony is that I, along with others, thought he was an up and coming star. Bright, articulate and friendly, he seemed to connect with people, so much for good impressions.

  9. I knew this building very well as a child and teenage. My grandmother was a department manager with J. C. Penney’s at this store and we bought all of our clothes there.
    I thought the front elevation was the coolest thing I ever saw.
    It may be why I went into architecture as a profession.

  10. I cannot BELIEVE I’ve never seen the back side of this building.

    Thanks for posting this. I gotta write me some letters this evening.

  11. Thank you for posting this Toby. This is a very cool building with a great deal of potential. It should not be demolished.

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