Preservation, Not Parking

Misguided public policy surrounds the proposed demolition of the San Luis Apartments, formerly the DeVille Motor Hotel.  The San Luis, designed by modernist architect Charles Colbert, features quartz studded concrete which glistens in the sun like a pearl. This building possess far more utility than the proposed parking lot.  Located at 4438 Lindell, the Archdioceses of St. Louis argues for demolition.  They claim the New Cathedral, as well as Rosati-Kain High School, have parking shortages.  However the proposed lot actually has fewer spaces: 150 compared to the San Luis’ 180.  Moreover, is it wise to demolish a functional, secure building for a parking lot which will only be used intermittently?  St. Louis City, especially Grand Center and Downtown, has a surplus of parking only used during special events.  Afterward, as patrons flee the City, lots become a dead-zones devoid of life.  Such hedonistic short-sighted planning stymies our potential of becoming a 24/7 City.  St. Louis’ Leadership most promote residency.  A rehabilitated San Luis promotes this outcome.

Mid-Century Modernism is often decried, especially by those who grew with this design or saw it supplant turn of the century Victorian styles. Yet the historic San Luis, which opened in July of 1963, enriches Lindell Boulevard and the Central West End.  Such a dense, diverse neighborhood should maintain its fame by preserving that which makes in demand: the diverse street scape.  The Central West End’s heterogeneous built environment, with many uses and styles, elevates it above the suburban monoculture categorized by the preponderance of similarly bland structures.  This aesthetic diversity grants the Central West End, and the broader City, a comparative advantage over suburbia.  Moreover, St. Louisans should not demolish a building solely due to subjective criteria like architectural taste.  Many Victorian buildings, believed to be gaudy and excessive, were demolished under the same auspices.  We now see the folly of such destruction, as turn of the century buildings are in great demand.  There is no reason to believe that Mid-Century Modernism will not someday reach such levels of popularity.  We argue it has.

The Archdioceses claims that the New Cathedral does not have enough parking, however the San Luis currently has 30 more spaces than the proposed parking lot.  Regardless, existing lots and garages such as the one at Euclid and Lindell, as well as the one across from the Chase Park Plaza, provide more than enough parking.  On days where parking becomes an overwhelming concern, such as for example Easter, the Archdioceses could utilize these lots and shuttle parishioners.  Moreover, adaptive reuse is an option for the San Luis.  A developer could market the building’s close proximity to the Cathedral, stimulating demand for residential, thereby promoting pedestrian travel and alleviating the alleged parking shortage.

Residents of the Central West End and the City of St. Louis should demand more from the Archdioceses and political leadership.  For decades St. Louis pursued the short-sighted policy of demolition. Through decades of failure and hundreds of obliterated facades, it’s omnipresent that parking is neither an economic development tool nor sustainable urban planning.  Parking promotes free riders who visit the City instead of choosing residence.  For St. Louis to surpass 350, 000, and have a tax yield capable of supporting quality public services, leadership must promote policies which stimulate long-term residence not simply weekend visits.  The San Luis, a functional structure capable of being rehabilitated into housing, provides this opportunity.  The hedonistic demolition of the San Luis is an indictment of our institutions and political leadership, revealing their tunnel vision.  It is time for St. Louisans to take ownership of their City and chart a new course.

The proposed demolition of the San Luis, as its located the Central West End Historic District, will require the approval of St. Louis’ Preservation Board.  When this meeting occurs residents should testify and render support the rehabilitation of the San Luis and register their opposition to yet another wasteful parking lot.  St. Louis City cannot afford this demolition.  The cost is far too high!

Finally, here is the Save the San Luis flier. Please distribute it around town!

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