Conservationists rally to stop wrecking ball in St. Louis Symphony Orchestra extension | metro

By | April 3, 2022

ST. LOUIS — About 25 people gathered at the Grand Center Saturday to urge the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra to save a 19th-century house that was being demolished for a $100 million expansion of the orchestra’s Powell Hall should be made equal.

They said they hoped the symphony could be more creative with their plans given the history and artistry of the vacant home at 3514 Delmar Boulevard.

“I’m not really opposed to expanding the symphony,” said Nathan Jackson, 25, a St. Louis architecture enthusiast who organized the event. “They need to expand and modernize their building, but I want the house to remain intact. This is a very important house.”

A police officer told Jackson that Powell Hall contacted authorities prior to the event to ensure they would not set foot on the property. The protest took place peacefully on the nearby sidewalk and lasted about an hour.

Jackson said the house just behind the symphony hall is one of the 100 most important historic buildings in the city. It was built circa 1886 for Lucius L. Culver, an executive of a wrought iron stove company. Architect Jerome Bibb Legg designed the Queen Anne-style house around the same time he was helping to build the famous St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall, a target for national political party conventions that were eventually demolished to house the Central Library to build downtown.

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“There were hundreds and hundreds of homes lining those streets,” Jackson told the group of the area. “Now we only have a few dozen.”

Jackson said he was puzzled that the house isn’t on the National Register of Historic Places, while Powell Hall, built in 1925, is. The house’s limestone block foundation supports a range of brick and stone work, including arched entrances and a tower. According to the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the interior contains “a potpourri of exceptional finishes.”

“It was great,” Robert A. Powell, founder of Portfolio Gallery and Education Center, said over the phone about the building he rented and later owned from 1989 to 2015.

When his African American arts organization started on the second floor, he said there was a small shop on the first floor that repaired violin bows.

“I don’t want it to be torn down, but then who wants it?” he said. “Who wants to buy it and take care of it?”

Last week, Steve Smith, who has been redeveloping much of the Grand Center area, offered to donate nearby land to move the building. So far, no one has said publicly that they would pay for such a move.

At the protest, Vivian Gibson, author of the memoir The Last Children of Mill Creek, said demolishing the building would be disrespectful to the neighborhood and those who grew up there.

“It’s a shame. There’s so little left,” she said. “I grew up in the city and I remember a lot of these beautiful buildings.”

Richard Reilly, 63, agreed. He looked at all the open parking lots around the house and Powell Hall.

“There’s plenty of room for me to build an addition to Powell Hall here,” he said. “There are a lot of creative ways to take that and integrate with what Powell Hall is going on here.”

Some suggested converting the house into a residence for visiting musicians or a restaurant.

“It’s up to the symphony not to drop the ball after being here for so long,” said Imran Hanafi, 49, holding a sign that read “Need Vision Not Demolition.”

The Preservation Board granted tentative approval Monday night for Powell’s 65,000-square-foot expansion that would destroy the historic home. The vote was 3-2. Michael Allen was one of the two who opposed it.

“They still have a lot of hoops to jump through,” he told the group on Saturday.

He encouraged them to contact the city’s culture department.

“You’re lazy,” he said of the symphony’s expansion plans. “Glad to see everyone out here. Fight on. They raise $100 million. They could do whatever they want with it.”

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