Located at 4483 Lindell Boulevard in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood, the former San Luis Apartments are currently under threat of demolition by the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Nationally-renowned architect Charles Colbert, FAIA, designed the building in 1961 and it opened two years later as the upscale DeVille Motor Hotel. By 1977 the Archdiocese had purchased the DeVille and converted it into the San Luis Apartments for senior citizens. After years of deferred maintenance, the Church opted to relocate the building’s residents in 2007 and announced plans to demolish it for a surface parking lot.
In March 2008, architects enlisted by the Archdiocese presented plans for the lot at a neighborhood meeting, touting the design’s advanced drainage system and plantings as forward-thinking while branding it as “green.” Arguments against the building’s preservation cited the need for more parking for the New Cathedral and Rosati-Kain High School; the Archdiocese’s desire to create a St. Louis University-like “campus” along Lindell was expressed as well.
This plan is incredibly flawed for a number of reasons:
- The new lot will have only 100 parking spaces while the San Luis already has 180 spaces built into its design.
- The building occupies a prominent place in Lindell’s famed high-rise streetscape which will be marred by the creation of a massive surface lot.
- The San Luis is one of the finest examples of mid-century modern architecture in St. Louis, and its loss would severely degrade the diversity of our architectural heritage.
- It is eligible for listing on the National Register, meaning that its owner could obtain state and federal historic tax credits which would make the San Luis’ rehabilition entirely affordable.
- Demolition of the existing building for yet another parking lot during this time of heightened awareness of sustainability and energy conservation would reach the height of absurdity.
The list goes on.
The Archdiocese has been rather mum on the topic of the San Luis since its plans received a virtually unanimous negative response last March. Former Archbishop Burke’s sudden departure has reportedly put the Church’s construction plans on hold, though its real estate officials are still negotiating with HUD to remove affordable housing restrictions from the property. This would do away with a major obstacle to the San Luis’ demolition though the Archdiocese will still have to bring its plans before the city’s Preservation Board before it can proceed. The San Luis stands within the Central West End Historic District, making it subject to the district’s design guidelines which do not allow for surface parking.
Public response in opposition to this plan is crucial to the San Luis’ preservation. Community input is needed to spur the Archdiocese to use some effort and imagination do what is best, and makes most sense, for the neighborhood.