Skinker DeBaliviere Infill and Rehab

Renovations and new construction in the Central Corridor -- defined by the area south of Delmar Avenue and North of Interstate 44/55.
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"Last worst block" of Skinker DeBaliviere sees infill boom

By Jeff Fister

Posted Wednesday, November 23, 2005


As more evidence of the building boom in the Central West End, a local builder and a couple of rehabbers are transforming what the builder calls ?the last worst block in Skinker-DeBaliviere.?

Mark Jaffe has built six new single-family homes and has plans for a total of 25 homes in the 5700 block of McPherson, a small corner of the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood. It lies west of DeBaliviere Avenue and south of Delmar Boulevard.

Great news, but they START at $339,000??? That seems awfully high for that block.

"The homes will have brick fronts", huh?...and I guess vinyl siding on the side facades, giving it a CHEAP look. If that is indeed the case, I say these homes are NOT worth $339,000...anyone who'd pay that kind of money for a structure that poorly tries to masquerade as St. Louis urban housing should be ashamed of themselves. When, oh, when will SOMEONE with a little clout (or sense) make some effort to ensure that St. Louis retain it's title as "the brick city"?????????????? If it's got vinyl siding (even real wood siding) on the sides, it ain't 'St. Louis'. Period.

Marmar wrote:
"The homes will have brick fronts", huh?...and I guess vinyl siding on the side facades, giving it a CHEAP look. If that is indeed the case, I say these homes are NOT worth $339,000...anyone who'd pay that kind of money for a structure that poorly tries to masquerade as St. Louis urban housing should be ashamed of themselves. When, oh, when will SOMEONE with a little clout (or sense) make some effort to ensure that St. Louis retain it's title as "the brick city"?????????????? If it's got vinyl siding (even real wood siding) on the sides, it ain't 'St. Louis'. Period.




I don't think vinyl in and of itself is the enemy. I think cheap infill in general is not in good taste. I'd love to see more infill like the Bohemian Hill trio (or at least something of similar uniqueness) start popping up around St. Louis.

Matt Drops The H, I have nothing against vinyl, just developers who are using it on the side facades. The kind of vinyl siding I'm talking about is the kind that mimics wood siding (frame construction). Wood siding is not what one would associate with the typical St. Louis house. (Yeah, true, there are frame houses in the city, but the typical St. Louis scene is brick). Vinyl siding on the sides with brick fronts makes a structure look like it's trying to be something it isn't...like it's got a mask on, trying to fool you, therefore, cheap. The Bohemian Hill structures look okay, but the vinyl isn't lurking on the sides (from what I recall), acting like you can't see it (or like you're not supposed to look there), its on the front, used as visual contrast, like many older stuctures in the city, which is alright with me (but I'd rather they use real wood in these cases).

Remember, vinyl is cheap. Do we want a cheap looking city?

No, we don't want a cheap city, Marmar. I just think it's time to see some new construction with a more unique aura--not necessarily including brick.

I think we're all for new construction, I just hope we keep it in the tradition of what makes St. Louis so great. Otherwise, what would be the point? Comments I've heard in the past from several visitors and newcomers who had never been to St. Louis before was that of seeing all the brick, and indeed, St. Louis is known for that. Who would want to change that tradition, especially when in many other cities (Chicago being one) old frame construction is being replaced by brick? Besides, there are other alternatives to brick beside vinyl, or frame construction, if you will.

good point, marmar. i'd like to see the city get a little bit tougher on builders who use vinyl.



i'd bet that new homes built of brick or some other quality material would have a higher resale value. it'd be interesting to look at the houses built in the city during the 1980s/90s to see whether you could build a case that proves this. a project, perhaps, for the already-overworked folks at urban review st. louis or eco absence, maybe?

I just drove through some of the blocks in this area north of Delmar towards Union and it amazing to see so many beautiful old buildings in such horrible shape. They still look better than the brick front cardboard boxes that have sprung up on a number of the blocks. I would almost rather have them not build at all if it is going to look that bad, but at least these new ones will stabilize the area enough that it becomes economical to rehab all of the older ones.



Maybe a sort of tax-deduction that would make up for the cost of using brick on all four sides would allow for more quality construction? This could be a chance for St. Louis to get a leg up on all of the other cities. If there are any taxes on construction, building materials, labor, etc, etc they should be done away with as well.

If I had my druthers about the whole infill thing, I'd insist that the old methods of construction be used...and before you guffaw at the cost of doing so, a couple years back I saw on "This Old House" that in Boston, several builders, craftsmen, carpenters, etc. were learning the old methods of construction in order to truly fit new construction in with the old. I think St. Louis architecture is every bit as important to itself as Boston's (though much of Boston's is from an earlier era), and therefore just as worthy to follow suit. Should I even mention that the same thing was done in many European cities after the ravages of WW2? Methinks some of our developers aim too low, or are cutting corners to reap higher profits in these vinyl sided monstrosities. Vinyl belongs in the far out burbs, with all the other plasticity that they offer.

Again, Marmar, I'd have to disagree.



The best way to respect our architectural heritage is not to pollute it with emulation. We simply do not have the skilled labor to pull off historic replicas on any wide scale.



Though a lot of St. Louis has come and gone, a lot still remains. We have plenty of beautiful buildings to showcase. I think it's high time we begin building innovative designs with our infill that draw a clever contrast to all of our red brick.



Sadly, much of the Northside infill seems to be vinyl-clad suburban-style houses, or, if not, the Pyramid classic brick-facade only structures.



This city has a lot of infill opportunities. I'd rather see something interesting put in than something that tries to blend with the existing block but just doesn't.

Yeah, Matt Drops The H, its quite more a pipe dream on my part than reality...and I DO AGREE with you about being more creative with new construction, but the vinyl crap still MAKES ME CRINGE!!! You said it yourself in your statement about the North Side. Those hideously cheap looking things you see from Hwy 70 are a joke. (What are those going for anyway, about $59,000? Even that would be a little high for those.) It's frustrating to see such lack lustre construction in the city anywhere...I'm one who remembers when St. Louis was at it's peak, and it greatly saddens me to see it "abused" in this way.

European cities put ultra-modern glass and steel infill right into the midst of historic neighborhoods all the time. It works because they demand quality design which respects its surroundings. Notice I say RESPECTS its surroundings, not COPIES. The important thing is DESIGN, not materials.



I wish local developers would spend some time looking through the many terrific architecture magazines available at the Downtown Library. This city really needs a dose of new inspiration.

Marmar...I think we agree then that vinyl is an eyesore the way it is typically used and it rarely does anything to better a neighborhood architecturally speaking. But as Framer notes, it's not necessarily material, but design.

I'm sorry, but "new" design will never compete with what was once built, but there is no reason that it cannot be copied. There is new construction in North St. Louis, but it looks like sh*t, not so much because they have vinyl siding on the sides, but because even the brick front looks like sh*t because they do not get the dimensions right. They need to measure the old ones and copy them inch by inch and they will have something unique.



Sorry, but modern in 99% of the cases = inferior.



The only cases where it works is where it is out of place and complements the better architecture, like the modern house on Lindell. It's a great house, but only an idiot would think that Lindell would look better with "newer, cutting edge, housing" all along that road.

Bastiat wrote:
I'm sorry, but "new" design will never compete with what was once built, but there is no reason that it cannot be copied. There is new construction in North St. Louis, but it looks like sh*t, not so much because they have vinyl siding on the sides, but because even the brick front looks like sh*t because they do not get the dimensions right. They need to measure the old ones and copy them inch by inch and they will have something unique.



Sorry, but modern in 99% of the cases = inferior.



The only cases where it works is where it is out of place and complements the better architecture, like the modern house on Lindell. It's a great house, but only an idiot would think that Lindell would look better with "newer, cutting edge, housing" all along that road.






I don't think you can really say what's inferior as it's all so subjective to ones tastes.

Bastiat wrote:

The only cases where it works is where it is out of place and complements the better architecture, like the modern house on Lindell. It's a great house, but only an idiot would think that Lindell would look better with "newer, cutting edge, housing" all along that road.




If Lindell were comprised of a significant number of vacant lots, I think newer, cutting-edge infill might still be in order.

I think that most retro new construction tends to be subpar. The stuff they want to look old never quite looks as well made as the old stuff. Which is why we need a new focus on newer more unique architecture for infill projects.

I think modern is great, but I also think that the old that we have here in St. Louis is greater than most any other American city. The modern can be built anywhere, while what we have can never be reproduced fittingly with current methods. Vinyl CAN be used in contemporary design, I'm sure, if a good enough architect can work out a good enough design, but this horrific idea of brick fronts and vinyl sides can only fool an idiot as to whats going on...and what's going on is cutting cost for the builder, unforgivable in a city like St. Louis, IMO.

Bastiat wrote:
They need to measure the old ones and copy them inch by inch and they will have something unique.




Uh, I think that would be the exact OPPOSITE of "unique". And of course the question must come up: Where do we draw the line as to what era is acceptable to "copy"? The 1930's? The 1890's? Let me guess, we should try to recreate 1904, right?



Give me a break. This is the 21st Century! I think its time we start living in it. Don't get me wrong, I love our old brick architecture. We're tremendously blessed that so much of it still survives. I just think its time to progress a bit, to add our own mark.

Framer wrote:
Bastiat wrote:
They need to measure the old ones and copy them inch by inch and they will have something unique.




Uh, I think that would be the exact OPPOSITE of "unique". And of course the question must come up: Where do we draw the line as to what era is acceptable to "copy"? The 1930's? The 1890's? Let me guess, we should try to recreate 1904, right?



Give me a break. This is the 21st Century! I think its time we start living in it. Don't get me wrong, I love our old brick architecture. We're tremendously blessed that so much of it still survives. I just think its time to progress a bit, to add our own mark.




Sorry, I wasn't clear. I meant unique compared to the rest of the country where "modern infill" is the norm.



And I meant if they are going to try to do the traditional brick style, at least the proportions right. It is dreadfully obvious that most of the infill (even all brick) is new, not because of the materials, but because the proportions match those in West County. So, maybe I was going a little too far with the "inch by inch", but they should be trying to emulate the buildings from the better architecture era.



Perfect example:

Image



Here is an example of a building they could have copied and built for the same cost:

Image



It's not that I'm against modern infill, but let's have it in areas that are not architecturally significant like Old North St. Louis, Lafayette Square, Central West End (outside of the highrise corridor, of course), etc. These are areas that are unique because of their architecture and set St. Louis apart from new cities like Atlanta and Houston that can match us building for building with every new modern building.



For the areas like North St. Louis that have lost a lot, I think Saint Louis needs to think outside the box. How about repealing some of those taxes and laws that make building genuinely good-looking replicas cost prohibitive. How about a taxbreak for using better building materials on all sides?



Does anyone else find it ironic that one hundred years ago, brick was used as siding? I thought we were supposed to be richer these days. You never hear people say "they don't build them like they used to" when refering to computers or TVs. I think this is because those industries have had less government interference in their development.



Also, St. Louis needs to become a right to work city if it wants more new construction.

Bastiat



There is a BIG difference in saying government laws and regulations have influenced buildings negatively verse technology like computers and TVs.

I am calling you out on this one because the two are as different as night and day, construction materials (not technology) to devices like CDs, computers, etc... To make a comparison would be to compare the materials of the two and how the government says one is better for the environment. Please don't bash the government when using comparing apples to oranges and expecting them to taste and be composed alike.



Economics teaches that government works to correct and improve the economy not a negative factor but a guarding variable in the equationg of business, money, and the big scheme of things.

Does anyone else find it ironic that one hundred years ago, brick was used as siding? I thought we were supposed to be richer these days.




I think this is/was more an issue of available local building materials.



In Milwaukee (where I grew up) the vast majority of residential housing has been frame construction with wood siding for the past 100+ years. That's because Wisconsin had lots of untapped forests at the time. Wood was plentiful, inexpensive and strong. Sure, there are brick homes and buildings also, but they were more expensive to make as brick was costly to ship in or produce locally. (And many of those original wood-frame houses are surviving just fine, by the way, not necessarily "inferior" to the brick ones).



St Louis on the other hand, was the brick-making center of the country at the turn of the 20th century.

What is locally available definetely does play a part, but I've started to do a little research on government regulations for my Economics thesis "Government taxation, regulation, and labor laws have led to cheaper quality architecture more so than changing tastes and preferences" (or something along those lines). I'm just sick of hearing about the "evils" of the free market that are creating all of these strip malls and ugly big box stores. America is a lot less capitalist than it was during the Gilded Age or at least before the New Deal.



It was a lot of the laws under the New Deal that are hurting the quality of our buildings. I haven't gotten that far in my research, but the Davis-Bacon Act ensures that bricklayers, stonecutters, plumbers, etc are paid the "prevailing wage" in the area. This translates to about $20-30 an hour for most of these jobs in the St. Louis area. In Houston, it is about $10.



And that doesn't take into account tariffs on steel and other building materials, etc. I've just started on this project, so if anyone has any helpful information, please let me know.

Marmar wrote:
Comments I've heard in the past from several visitors and newcomers who had never been to St. Louis before was that of seeing all the brick, and indeed, St. Louis is known for that. Who would want to change that tradition, especially when in many other cities (Chicago being one) old frame construction is being replaced by brick?




Yeah, but all of those new "brick" buildings in Chicago have cinder block sides instead of vinyl siding. An improvement, but not much of one. I have seen a few townhouses there with brick on all four sides (or at least three), but they are all $1 million +.