Since the departure of former Archbishop Raymond Burke, St. Lousians have a unique opportunity as time exists for further public discussion regarding the San Luis Apartments. Formerly the DeVille Motor Hotel, designed by prominent modernist New Orleans Architect and Dean of Columbia University School of Architecture, Charles Colbert, the concrete structure has no possibility of collapse and has not fallen to vandals or other public nuisances. In short the building remains completely secure. St. Louisans must discuss the potential impact of rehabilitation and the detriment of demolition.
If rehabilitated the San Luis could easily serve once again as a hotel. The Central West End has only a handful of such establishments, despite it’s status as once of our most desired neighborhoods. This hotel, which could once again bear the name DeVille, would stand out not only amongst our Region but the entire Midwest. Such quality representations of the Mid Century form are a certain rarity. The rehabilitated San Luis enhances the street scape and architectural merit of not only the Central West end but the entire Region. Redevelopment attracts attention nationally while reinforcing St. Louis’ prestige.
Located in in Scottsdale Arizona the Hotel Valley Ho, rehabilitated in 2005, reveals the utility of preservation.
Since its rehabilitation this hotel received numerous awards and serves as a destination enhancing Scottsdale Arizona’s economic base. Like the Hotel Valley Ho, the San Luis was once also a hotel. Placing the San Luis into its former use seems almost given as it would not only serve surrounding institutions like the Cathedral Basilica St. Louis and St. Louis University, but the Central West End and greater St. Louis Region. Located on the bustling Lindell Boulevard, near Highway 64, and both within walking distance from Metrolink and on a Metrobus line, the central location of the San Luis ensures it’s success and viability as a hotel.
St. Louis has a legacy of fine lodging establishments — and we have lost many. Notably they include the St. Nicholas, the Southern, the Planter’s, and the Lindell Hotel. Fortunately the Mayfair, Chase, Statler, Lennox, Majestic, and Hotel Jefferson are still standing while the majority are occupied and still serving their original use. St. Louisans must ask themselves, and the Archdioceses, whether its sustainable and wise to demolish a solidly in tact structure which represents a period of American History that’s threatened with severity equitable to the former Victorian styles. Mid Century design rather must be viewed as a unique commodity for which demand exists.
St. Louisans should view the Mid Century design of the San Luis with optimism and recognize that its aesthetic merit far outweighs that of a parking lot. Moreover, the financially encumbered Archdioceses must acknowledge the building’s potential return on investment far surpasses a parking lot. St. Louis City’s public officials should consider the demolition of the San Luis as a detriment to the Central West End National Register Historic, an economic development designation which ensures the neighborhood’s stability and bolsters its desirability. Although the San Luis does not currently contribute to the Central West End Historic District, therefore making it unable to receive historic tax credits, eligibility may change as the Mid Century style finds greater favor. By creating an anti-urban dead zone only used during a limited number of hours per day, unnecessary parking devalues the Historic District and the greater Central West End Neighborhood. Excessive parking renders historic, urban cities like St. Louis indistinguishable from banal exurban areas like Chesterfield.
The window of opportunity for the San Luis remains wide open as the current agenda remains uncertain. St. Louis’ citizens and the Archdiocese, through the leadership of local leaders, must reach a consensus regarding the best use of the site. The building provides no immediate threat whereas incorrect decisions may haunt our City for decades. Will future generations view this intersection and acknowledge that we took the correct route? Or will they bemoan a shortsighted, hasty decision?