Bright Future for a Mid-Century Modern Church

3900 Meramec St. resurrection church photo by toby weiss
3900 Meramec St.
South St. Louis, MO

Resurrection Church is a 1952 mid-century modern beauty that survived abandonment by the Catholic church to become a thriving Vietnamese church in the Dutchtown neighborhood. Let Rob Powers take you on an extensive tour of this gorgeous building.

3900 Meramec St. resurrection church photo by toby weiss

Notice anything shiny and new in this photograph of the side of the church, snapped just the other day?

3900 Meramec St. resurrection church photo by toby weiss

And you can see it on the rear of the church, above.
Crews are just about done capping all parapet walls of the church (and there’s a lot of them) with brand new copper. Some of it is replacing old, green patina copper original to the building, and some of it is going over original concrete parapets, which will protect them from further water erosion.

There are a couple of reasons why this is a significantly great bit of news. This maintenance project is really, really expensive. They could have saved quite a chunk of change by using any other metal but copper, but they stayed with the original material for this repair and maintenance.

And when you estimate how much they’re spending on copper and other roof repairs, consider how that money could have been applied to some serious renovating/remodeling/remuddling. But instead, they made a conscious decision to use appropriate, high quality materials to preserve the look of their church.

3900 Meramec St. resurrection church photo by toby weiss

Their commitment to,  and understanding of, the beauty and value of their building is heartbreakingly noble and life-affirming. Especially in light of Dotage St. Louis’ recent report on some seriously heinous remuddling of an art moderne building about 2 miles away from Resurrection.

While I am sickened and saddened by what they’ve done to the face of the building, I’m also pragmatic: these are business owners who have made a commitment to stay in their building in this city, and in tight financial times, put their money toward improving their property. Taste is debatable and subjective, but there’s no arguing the fact that they have contributed to the sustainability of this community by staying put in an old, mid-century modern building. I’d rather see it tarted up like a misguided prosti-tot than be torn down for no good reason.

So, the current owners of the Resurrection building seem to have a refreshing appreciation of the worth and beauty of their building, and their financial commitment to its upkeep is also like an insurance policy that this is one St. Louis City modern classic that can be removed off the Demolition Worry list. I hope their example can resonate with others who own buildings of this vintage, and that it inspires them to reconsider rash moves that can compromise the architectural integrity of this important chapter of our built environment legacy.

Hidden Mid-Century Modern

Bingham Avenue & Newport
South St. Louis, MO

Right next door to the South Side City Block For Sale, and practically in the shadow of the former candy company (background left in the picture above) is the home of Lyon Sheet Metal Works.

The company dates back to 1922, while their “new” building went up in 1950. The building itself is a basic brick factory, but the the glass block windows with stainless steel sills and that entrance are top of the line style for a company buried back in a part of town where few tread …today. But back in the day, with the candy/paper factory open and Western Bowl down the street, it was probably a rather hoppin’ intersection, but still off the beaten path.

Looking through the peeling grey paint, the metal panels that make up the mod, “L”-shaped facade appear to have originally been beige. In this case, I like the light grey better, as it poetically evokes what the company does, along with the stainless steel letters.

This is a strange and personal aside about Lyons:
I always get a pleasant little flutter in my tummy when I walk by this building, and always hear this line from the Pixies’ song “Subbacultcha”:  “She shakes and she moves me or something/she’s like jelly roll/ like sculpture!”

Head half a block down Newport to Meramec and you’ll find this little mid-century modern gem tucked into the line of dingy brick homes.  Built in 1956, it’s 1,362 square feet, slab on grade.  It’s taken a large amount of abuse, but I still see its glamor dying to shine again.

There is no other house even remotely like this within a mile radius. All the homes around it are 1910-1940s tiny brick bungalows. Circumstantial evidence would point to this being a mid-century in-fill. And because it’s such an oddity in this area, it boils my imagination….

…the original brick home burnt down, and the owners – who vacationed in Los Angeles every year and loved modern art – decided to turn that insurance money into their own slice of Southern California. They hooked up with a 3rd year architecture student at Wash U. for the drawings, but the construction foreman was not impressed: “No basement? In St. Louis? You’re nuts!”

Yeah, like I said, the imagination tends to runaway…

South Side City Block For Sale

Gravois Avenue & Meramec Street
South St. Louis, MO

This is a rather rundown intersection in the Bevo Mill neighborhood, but if you look through the grime, there’s some interesting visual history of when St. Louis (like other Rust Belt cities) actually produced goods, and those industries dictated the transportation, housing and society of the neighborhoods they resided in.

While stuck at this stop light contemplating these fanciful thoughts, I noticed the two buildings above had Hiliker For Sale signs.  The building on the left is a 2-family flat from 1915, and next door is a 4-family from 1915.

And the one-story industrial building next to it, from 1918, is also for sale by the same company.

Even around the corner, on Meramec, the 4-family from 1915 is also for sale.

Which means the entire block bound by pink in the above aerial map (courtesy of is for sale by the same agent, though info about these buildings are not on the Hiliker site.   Included in this full city block is the jewel of the lot…

…the 9-story-total factory from 1928 which was formerly the Graham Paper Company. It sits majestically at the top of the viaduct, and in the late 20th century it served as a storage warehouse.  I remember idle talk in the early 20s of it becoming loft apartments, but obviously that never happened.

All of these properties currently for sale are listed in city records as being owned by 4230 Gravois LLC, c/o Imagine Schools, which begs the question: did this organization buy all these properties with the intent of creating a campus, then changed their mind?

The Graham Paper Company building is a gorgeous example of dignified industry, which was par for the course for the 19th-into-20th century, and I admire how they tucked this large complex into a block already populated with multi-family housing.

What will become of this block? Must the buildings be purchased as a whole, or will “the whole” turn off any but the deepest pockets? It’s easy (but not desirable) for potential developers to dismiss the residential and remuddled one-story warehouse as demolition fodder, but the Graham complex cannot be denied.  It’s a strange and intriguing plot of land, and the possibilities for a new use are plentiful…and worrisome.

If anyone has information on what’s happening with this block (including – and most especially – history of Graham Paper Company), please do share.