A Survey In St. Louis To Help Save Mid-Century Landmarks

St. Louis has lost its share of mid-century landmarks in recent years. In 2009, for example, the DeVille Motor Hotel – once a swanky hangout – made way for a decidedly uncool surface parking lot.

Some modern gems have barely managed to escape the wrecking ball. Kudos to you, lovers of the AAA Building and the “flying saucer” gas station.

Each battle over demolition tends to follow a familiar script. A developer proposes razing a structure, declaring that the unsightly thing must make way for progress. Preservationists scramble to justify why a seemingly shabby mid-century building is worth saving.

For many fans of mid-century architecture, fighting these case-by-case battles is no way to win the war. They need a new strategy and new tools.

Just in time, a new weapon is arriving in an unlikely form – a government survey. During the past year, a team of city officials, architects and preservationists have catalogued more than 2,300 non-residential buildings in St. Louis, most of them built between 1945 and 1970.

They winnowed the list to about 230 structures worthy of further review. Then they trimmed the list to 40. Last month, the city gave the public a chance to weigh in, hosting a meeting where attendees placed stars on their favorite buildings.

Soon, the city will release a master list of 24 buildings, each of which will undergo extensive review to document its history and significance.

In the end, the survey will give preservationists the ammunition they need in their quest to preserve the city’s mid-century heritage. If someone applies to tear down one of the structures, there will be no need for a mad dash to figure out why the building warrants preservation.

Plus, the survey may spur owners of the some of the buildings to apply for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. And St. Louis residents with only a passing interest in architecture may start taking notice of the mid-century churches, shopping centers, schools and other buildings they’ve taken for granted.

“Some people have said, ‘Do you mean we have to consider every strip mall important?’ and that’s not the case,” said Betsy Bradley, director of the city’s Cultural Resource Office, which is spearheading the survey. “What we do hope is that people will recognize we have some very fine buildings built in this period and that they have architectural quality and significance.”

Soldier on, St. Louis.

Photo source for graphics: The City of St. Louis, Missouri.

  • Click here to learn more about The City of St. Louis’ mid-century
    modern survey.
  • Betsy Bradley, Director of the City of St. Louis’ Cultural Resource Office
  • bradleyb@stlouis-mo-gov