6 Reasons Why to Save the Lewis & Clark Library

lewis-and-clark-library-2013 photo by toby weiss

The St. Louis County Public Library seems determined to demolish the Lewis & Clark branch for a new structure. We need them to reconsider this misguided goal. They can meet all their objectives without tearing down this building. We need to help them avoid making a huge mistake.

The importance of this building was recently covered on DOCOMOMO’s website, featuring killer historical photos of the branch. Next City placed it on the list of 10 endangered modern buildings. And I covered it here when the demolition idea was first touted. Modern-STL has been actively involved since that time in trying to engage the Library Board of Trustees about the importance of this building. Increasingly, it feels like talking to deaf ears.

Come to the Lewis & Clark branch on October 23rd to learn about this building, it’s architect and what we can do to make them reconsider tearing down this building. You can start with the Facebook page. And please join Modern-STL, Esley Hamilton and myself. Event details.

Since we can’t have a face-to-face with the Library Board of Trustees, I’m going public with what I would have shared with them privately –  6 Reasons to Save the Lewis & Clark Library:

1. Don’t Trash Your Legacy
The Lewis & Clark branch is the ONLY significant building left in the St. Louis County Public Libraries arsenal.  Important public institutions deserve important buildings – and this is just such an animal. Needlessly trashing your only architectural asset sends the wrong message about learning from, and respecting, history – especially your own.

There will come a day when the County Library will want to celebrate its milestone anniversaries. Lewis & Clark is already a historical milestone at 50 years old. Then comes 75 and 100 years. Look to the St. Louis Public Library system for a template on how that kind of celebration benefits everyone. With this proposed demolition, The County would have no important buildings to celebrate their history because they trashed them.

Noe view out the window in 1963.

Note view out the window in 1963.

50 years later, that same view of the neighborhood around the library remains in place. photo by toby weiss

50 years later, that same view of the neighborhood around the library remains in place.

2. Don’t Trash the History of North County
Lewis & Clark was the first branch built in North County. Great care was taken with making this 1963 building worthy of the burgeoning community it would serve. It was designed with a grace and beauty reflecting the power and aspirations of a new town in a far-flung locale. It was such a pioneering flag plant that the library didn’t erect another North County branch until 1975, letting Lewis & Clark service a rapidly growing community for 12 years.

It being the sole library in NoCo for so long is what makes it an emotional anchor for everyone who grew up there. This is why it’s the only library to make the pages of the popular nostalgia book Cruizin’ North County.  New York master planners have no knowledge or interest in the history of St. Louis County (read the entire master plan). It is distressing that the St. Louis County library system also appears to be ignoring this history.

So many other touchstones of North County history have been unceremoniously trashed; the library is an institution that lends weight and importance to the history of the region. Let this one architecturally worthy building represent the history of community and education in North County. Come the 100th Anniversary, you’ll be glad you did.

age master plan

3. Understand the Difference Between “Old” and Historical
The Library’s Facilities Master Plan document graphs the age of each of their buildings, and bases the needs for demolition for new buildings SOLELY on age (slide above from that Master Plan). They do acknowledge the level of maintenance on all their buildings has been good (and it is).  The implication that a new building will solve their future maintenance issues is just absurd.

The Master Plan equates anything over 30 years old as bad. This is a 20th century, developer-driven, irresponsible line of thought that’s oblivious to the rapidly-growing importance of preserving mid-century modernism as the last great period of American architecture.

The Board of Trustees has been educated on the architectural pedigree of the Lewis & Clark building. The importance and benefits of preserving architectural history is a well-documented topic. To continue to willfully ignore that is to willingly court ignorance, which is the opposite goal of a library.

4. Acknowledge the Needs of a Modern Library
Libraries are research-driven environments, and the most shallow research into the needs of the modern library reveals articles in the New Republic and Wall Street Journal about what will keep libraries relevant in these technological times. It’s no longer about having more space to store physical books, but for the existing space to meet new needs. Libraries need to curate knowledge in an age of information overload, and to be a safe and welcoming place for the community to gather.

Microsoft Word - FacilitiesMasterPlan Final.docx - FacilitiesMas

The Master Plan says Lewis & Clark needs 4,000 more square feet. If – in light of the modern needs of library science – this is still true, why not add it addition to the northeast side of the building? You have the space. An addition would be a way to have your legacy and thrive on it, too.

5. Erect Your New Building Elsewhere
We understand the politics of the voter-approved tax hike; when South County gets a brand new library building so must North County. Agreed. But why does it have to be the Lewis & Clark Branch?

The Flo Valley branch is only one year younger than Lewis & Clark. And more centrally located in NoCo. And is not architecturally significant. This would be a good candidate for an entirely new, state-of-the-art building. The Thornhill Branch (1975) has been pegged for demolition for a new building, as well.

There’s wiggle room in the master plan to meet all of library system’s needs without sacrificing your most prominent historical building.

6. Apply Emotional Intelligence to the Master Plan
The Master Plan that launched the system-wide need for renovations and demolitions repeatedly emphasize how important each library is to its community. But the Planners are from New York City so they fail to recognize the historic and sentimental touchstones of this building in this community. Clinging blindly to this document seems a stubborn stance for bolstering egos rather than community. A successful master plan considers the head and the heart, the numbers and the people who want to be more than statistics bolstering a bottom line.

The County library has only one building that perfectly represents its moment in history with a grace that still inspires the pursuit of knowledge and community. This building presents the County library with an opportunity to one day have their St. Louis City library headquarters moment: past, present and future knowledge all in one admirable package of civic architecture.

The County library has educated us for decades. The Lewis & Clark branch building is their chance for a poignant, teachable moment that inspires pride in the community it serves.

All they have to do is respect it by letting it stand.


The author visiting her favorite childhood spot in the Lewis & Clark Library. Photo by Jeff King.

Remodel of the Former Flotken’s Building in Olivette

9634 Olive Boulevard

Olivette, MO

This 1961 winged beauty started life as Flotken’s Market. The Flotken family has a website about the history of the store with lots of interior photos. There’s even a blog where you can contribute memorabilia of the place, which includes a copy of the original 1961 lease.

One touching thing from the Flotken’s blog is the 2006 obituary for owner Frank Flotken. A paragraph and a half is dedicated to this building:

“In 1961, he opened a second store at 9643 Olive Boulevard in Olivette. Mr. Flotken designed a unique roof that descended from the sides to the middle, giving the appearance of wings.
Mike Flotken explained his father’s design concept in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Dad wanted as much natural light as possible. With a traditional roof, you only get light from the front, and the ‘flying wing’ design allowed light to come in from the sides as well.”

As of Fall 2012, a local construction company is in the middle of remodeling the building for jewelry store The Shane Co., who plan to move in early 2013. Compare this construction photo with the one above to see how much they have removed. Much of the brick from the demolished kneewall was still sitting in the dumpster the day I photographed this.

While investigating who was doing what to this building, it was shared by Esley Hamilton that there is a correction to who the architect is.  From conversation with a former employee who remembers working on the building, Elsey learned this is the design of Sommerich & Wood, who also did the 1958 Red Bird Lanes.

While a noticeable bit has been done to the exterior, I am optimistic that not much more will be done for two reasons:

1) A jeweler benefits just as much from natural light as a grocer did, right?
2) A peek behind the plywood walls shows a good amount of interior construction has already taken place, including metal framing of walls reaching up to the roof structure. Meaning, they can’t alter the basic structure too much more, only mess with the front facade.

Granted, a lot of damage can be done with a new facelift. But so far, they’ve left so much in tact that it feels like The Shane Co. knows the allure of their new mid-century modern building. Let’s all keep an eye on their progress, and speak up if you see any new developments, please.

Thank you to Andrew Weil of Landmarks for giving me a heads up that this remodel is taking place.


MILESTONE: Mid-Century Modern Subdivision on Missouri’s National Register of Historic Places

Ladue Estates Subdivision
Creve Coeur, MO

For St. Louis fans, connoisseurs and scholars of mid-century modern architecture, know that a milestone moment has happened: Missouri has its very first post-war subdivision on the National Register of Historic Places.

St. Louis County is worrisome for Atomic Ranch lovers because it feels as if they’re being demolished the very moment after they are appreciated for their historical grace. The original post-World War 2 owners who embraced this architectural style and made these neighborhoods possible are leaving behind significant homes that become vulnerable to the tear down developers.  Here’s the tragic tale of an exceptional Ladue home that was demolished for a McMansion.

But in the face of fears that a lack of architectural appreciation and zoning laws will tear down important chapters of St. Louis history comes the first ray of hope: Ladue Estates was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May of 2010. And on October 1, 2010, St. Louis preservation luminaries such as Esley Hamilton and MiMi Stiritz were at the intersection of Ladue Road & West Ladue Estates Drive for the dedication ceremony.

But what makes this particular moment particularly sweet is that it was NOT brought about by architectural scholars, well-meaning activists or public servants. Ladue Estates was granted ground-breaking historic status because its RESIDENTS recognized its beauty and significance, and worked to make it official. And talk with any resident to learn that the hero of this triumphant tale is Lee Ann Baker (above left), while Lee Ann is quick to point out all the help she received over the 3 years it took to complete the National Registration form.

Take a moment to look through the fascinating history of Ladue Estates in this pdf of the winning application.  Note that it is 76 pages long because it extensively covers all 80 homes in the post-war subdivision, as well as the original builder and architect, and the Jewish heritage of 3/4 of the original owners. Then note that there are architectural historian professionals who are paid good money to research and fill out National Register applications for projects  a quarter of this size. Which is what makes Lee Ann’s accomplishment all the more amazing; it was truly a 3-year labor of love for a neighborhood they adore and want to see protected in perpetuity.

For the dedication ceremony, MiMi Stiritz read aloud this letter from the Missouri office of Historic Preservation:

…(Ladue Estates) represents a collection of high-style ranch houses that are nearly pristine in their historic appearance and setting. As one of the first luxury subdivisions in the area, it additionally reflects St. Louis County’s westward growth into what was primarily rural land. Its wide lots, expansive lawns, attached garages and sprawling floor plans epitomized the suburban dream of the post-war years.  In fact, Ladue Estates is such a good illustration of the suburban boom, it has been used as an example by staff of the National Parks Services National Register of Historic Places program in training classes.

The significance of Ladue Estates for its architecture and role in the development of Creve Coeur is easily apparent. What is not as obvious is its significance for cultural heritage. Over ¾ of the original owners were Jewish. At the time of Ladue Estate’s construction, there were still prejudices that resulted in restrictions as to where members of the Jewish community could re-locate. Built by Ben Goldberg, the Jewish owner of Goldberg & Co., Ladue Estates proved to be a welcome location for Jewish families who wanted a piece of the suburban life.

Shortly after the Ladue Estates development, the surrounding area became the home of several Jewish establishments including synagogues, educational facilities, and social and community services. While it would have been easy to nominate Ladue Estates for architecture and community planning alone, the citizens of Ladue Estates went the extra mile to bring this valuable information to life.

Finally, the state historic preservation office applauds the efforts of the citizens of Ladue Estates. They nominated this district through their own time and dedication. Their pride in their subdivision is evident and serves as a shining example of historic preservation efforts on the local level.

Being invited to such a milestone moment in mid-century modern preservation was an honor. Even better, it was an absolute joy to meet, tour the homes of and talk with residents of this enclave. They are a friendly, vibrant and industrious group of people dedicated to the care and maintenance of a subdivision they recognized as special long before retro-modern became fashionable. For them, it’s about the quality of life from an abundance of natural light and green space, accessible single-level floor plans and Old World craftsmanship that makes these homes as solid as they are beautiful.

Their conversations about 12-foot thick concrete foundations, window replacement, seamless room additions and architecturally compatible updates on their 54-year old homes have the same intensity of detail and passion as those working on their 102-year old home. And their glee in being able to show us one of the few remaining original ktichens was almost as great as our awe upon seeing this:

An entire kitchen of original GE metal cabinets in teal blue (the other original color choices were pink and pastel yellow)! In the picture above, you see the open door of one of TWO refrigerators, with the freezer to the right. And TWO wall ovens. AND they all still WORK!

To see more photos of this kitchen, other homes in Ladue Estates and the Dedication Ceremony, visit this Flickr photo page.

Learn more about this historical milestone neighborhood at the Ladue Estates Subdivision website.

And I want to express my deepest gratitude to Lee Ann Baker and every person who helped her undertake and complete such a gargantuan effort. The residents of Ladue Estates epitomize the intent of this very blog: the built environment in layman’s terms with special emphasis on the beauty and quality of mid-century modern architecture. So, they are my personal heroes, and as groups like Modern StL move forward with the preservation and celebration of St. Louis Modernism, we look to Lee Ann & Friends as a glorious example of worthwhile dedication and eternal inspiration. Thank you!!!!