St. Louis Hills Office Center: Hammer To Fall?

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6500 Chippewa, South St. Louis MO
@ the Chippewa / Watson Road Merge
A very recent drive past one of my absolutely favorite buildings revealed something I was in denial about: the fate of the St. Louis Hills Office Center. It now displays every sign of an impending demolition. A city record check confirms the worst-case scenario.

On May 1, 2007, City Hall issued a second demolition permit for the building, with the first one granted in August 2006. The last identified owner of the building is Mardel Equity, LLC from March 2005. If a For Sale sign ever appeared on the building, I need someone to verify it, because I never saw one. It would be hard to miss a sign on that building because it is in a prime location.

So, did this building go from emptied to demolition without a chance of redemption?

It’s been said that the 16th ward alderwoman, Donna Barringer, couldn’t find medical practices that would relocate there. I can follow her thought process, since it has primarily served as an office for physicians and dentists since it opened in 1958. And, yes, it is an absolute certainty that no modern medical office would even entertain the thought of using that building.

But why did the thought and effort stop there?
Deciding that this building can only be used as its original incarnation is decidedly antiquated, and fiscally short-sighted.

Stepping into an adaptive reuse frame of mind, I have longed to turn this building into a book store along the lines of the still-achingly-missed Library Ltd. The South Side desperately needs a substantial bookstore, and after reconfiguring the interior, there’d be plenty of room in the St. Louis Hills Office Center for a Border-style bookstore.

It would be even cooler if our local book publishers could share the space with a bookstore. Maybe some of the smaller independent record stores could use some space. Wow, an entire St. Louis Creative Co-Op would be cool!

If you allow for possibility, the list of what could be done with that building could be endless. And it seems an easy sell because:
1. Prime, High Traffic Area for High Visibility
2. TWO levels of parking already on-site
3. Vast square footage requiring interior renovation (think “loft”)

This building is the crown in the retail tip of St. Louis Hills, a commercial strip that curves over to end with LeGrand’s Market & Catering, and kisses the Starbucks/Bread Co. intersection. Oh, and the Donut-Drive-In, which is across the street. If the Macklind Avenue Business District can come roaring back to life (hallelujah!!!!), then mid-century commercial buildings in St. Louis Hills can thrive (just ask LeGrand’s).

We have just scratched the surface of possibility for this building, and the area it belongs to. This is why the perception of pre-determined extinction of the building based on narrow thought is so upsetting. There needs to be more to this story, and it prompts the questions:
Is there still a possibility of a visionary developer being able to buy the place?

Or, is there a new building and businesses already contracted to go in this space?

What do the residents of St. Louis Hills (and the 16th ward) think about this?

I now have the tragic story of why this building is currently under demolition. The blame falls squarely on the building owners. All the details will be shared in a future post.

11 thoughts on “St. Louis Hills Office Center: Hammer To Fall?

  1. I’m a St. Louis Hills resident and I’m not a republican.
    We have the best-by-far 50’s and 60’s structures still kept beautifully intact. I knew something was amiss when we got the Starbucks, then the Lion’s Choice. I was just admiring this building from the Gravois intersection yesterday. Thanks for breaking my heart again with another true post. If you didn’t say anything, no one probably would.

  2. Mr. Stevens,

    Can you tell us what the long term plans are for the building? Will it be rehabbed/subdivided into offices? I’d love to be able to work in that building especially if there’s shared conference/meeting facilities.

  3. n Stevens said…
    Relax. The best part of the building is being saved. I don’t like demolition either but sometimes it has it’s place, especially when it can actually SAVE a nice building, which is what this is all about.

    Poor design and construct from the start (1957) doomed the parking garage section to a relatively short life. Rain year round and salt water in the winter rotted out the iron supporting structure in spite of hundreds of thousands of $$$ being poured into attempts to save that part of the two part building. Yes, really.

    NO ONE BUILDS IRON AND CEMENT PARKING STRUCTURES LIKE THIS ANYMORE and there are very good reasons why. Look no further than here for a demonstration.

    The building is actually two structures, the (west wing) which is on a good foundation and will remain and the east wing (parking garage and its super-structure) which is supported on dangerously heavily loaded iron and cement columns.

    A solid masonry wall physically separates the two structures at the bend. Only a small hallway on each of the three floors is open between the two.

    Bricks from the demoed part are being saved to properly finish the cutoff plane when demo is complete. Plus that spot on the building is only visible from a few acute angles.

    The best of this building’s 1950s architecture is to remain.

    There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to condemn owners while not knowing the complete story. In the last several decades the economic picture for this building has changed dramatically. As mentioned in one of the essays, modern medical professionals “would never even entertain the thought” of setting up shop in a place with these parameters anymore. How true.

    There has been a steady exodus of Drs. from this building and into HMOS, hospital offices and new construction in places like New Ballas Rd. & Olive, where the demographics work for them. They don’t work here anymore.

    Economically there was not enough income anymore to keep the building open, no matter if the parking garage was good or not.

    Also, the plumbing in that part of the building is a disaster, it was poorly conceived from the start. In the winter time the waste stacks running down through the support columns freeze closed and the toilets begin flushing out onto the floors and down through the ceilings. Cute.

    When the demo and fixing is finished the building will have it’s own substantial parking lot, plus will be more manageable, hopefully more attractive & economically viable and will retain all the 1950s architecture which makes it distinctive.

    Gone will be the rather obtuse, institutional, blocky looking part is no longer capable of doing anyone any good.

    Lastly, if you want to take pictures don’t venture onto the grounds like the person running this blog did. It is strictly a hard hat area and is NOT SAFE for the public. You just don’t know what may fall and you would be taking a foolish risk.

    Dan Stevens – one of the owners

  4. I was wondering about that the other day. I’ve been on the quest for cheap office space, and was disappointed to see the chains in front of the driveway.

  5. I live in this area and from what I understand a developer wanted to put a large development on this site extending to the old Shell station. The people who owned the old Shell station refused to sell, so all plans to redevelop the site were halted. I wonder if they bought the station, if they are going to work around it, or if they plan to clear the site figuring it will be easier to sell cleared. I do know that the garage section of the building has been closed for years because it is collapsing. Since the building sits on top of the garage……

  6. For St. Louis Hills to get fully invested, you’ll have to scare up a Virgin Mary sighting inside or something. In no time, it could be used for a mega-souvenir store.

  7. I pass it every week, but never saw a For Sale sign either. What a great location for retail and mixed-use; you would think most of the building could be modified to suit tennants. The neighborhood is not all Republican either, especially 5 or 6 blocks NE of there.

  8. Dang, I love that building—our family doctor when I was growing up had his office there. Had no idea it was scheduled for the axe. Dang…

  9. Not a St. Louis Hills area resident, but certainly drive pass this building enough. Can’t share the same sentiment about the building. Its institutional narrow windows gives me an impression of dark sterile rectangular rooms inside. If anything this sticks out from the surrounding retail that is mentioned. The neighborhood as far as I can tell has always been single family homes. I certainly think something a lot better can replace it. Instead, the sad part is that they will use this great corner for a Walgreens.

    Finally, I can’t understand what being republican has to do with it.

  10. Sad that they wish to demolish this building. It is not in bad condition, so why not give some more effort? Only a short walk away, I see this building quite often and like it as well.

  11. I doubt there are many residents of St. Louis Hills or the 16th ward who are aware or care about the loss of this building.

    The neighborhood is full of republicans and they don’t think it is historic.

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