Category: Building & Real Estate

Weese & Kiley’s Mid-Century Forest Park Campus Threatened

Thousands of students descended on the modern new campus on opening day in September 1967. There were housewives and veterans, recent high school grads and draft dodgers. They were future nurses and medical assistants, technicians, musicians and tradesmen. Many were educationally disadvantaged students who otherwise had little chance of an education beyond high school.

Many had come to this location as children, for they gathered at the site where once had stood The Comet, Amerca’s tallest and longest roller coaster with nine drops, a double dip and a 500-foot tunnel. On Friday July 19, 1963, after a restaurant fire, the Comet had watched as the rest of Forest Park Highlands burned to the ground beneath it. The Comet was disassembled and the charred remains of the Highlands bulldozed. In its place rose what then was known as Forest Park Community College.

Opening in 1967, college construction would continue for three more years. By 1970, William Moore could note in Against the Odds that 307 other community colleges already had sent representatives to Forest Park Community College to observe and learn. Forest Park was designed to be a leader that other colleges follow.

And the best designers lay behind plans for the new campus. From 1964 to 1967, acclaimed mid-century architect Harry Weese and his son Ben had worked with landscape architect Dan Kiley—the father of modern landscape architecture—to design an integrated, modern campus.

Fifty years later, St. Louis Community College plans to demolish two of Weese’s mid-century towers at the heart of the complex on Oakland Avenue and construct a new Allied Health building on Kiley’s lawn.

Harry Weese, Urbanist & Preservationist

A midwesterner trained at MIT and Yale, Harry Weese studied urban design at Cranbrook under Eliel Saarinen. His fellow students included Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia and Florence Knoll. He worked briefly for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in New York during the late 1940s before opening his own practice in Chicago.

Harry Weese loved old buildings, loved cities, loved public spaces, loved modern design and loved alcohol. All these he loved greatly. Before the last of these loves finally took its toll, Weese made major contributions in all of the other areas. As a juror in the competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, his was the voice that advocated against great opposition for Maya Lin’s wall of names. In his 1998 obituary, the New York Times describes Weese as “the architect […who…] produced some of the most powerful public spaces of our time.”

Weese was among the second generation of modernist architects like Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei and Philip Johnson. Though Weese never achieved the same international fame of Saarinen or Johnson, in some way his impact was greater. A rare advocate of historic preservation among modernists, Weese was partly responsible for saving Chicago’s Navy Pier, and in 1978 he even proposed that that city’s “L” stations be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1967, he undertook the renovation of Adler and Sullivan’s Auditorium Theater in Chicago. He supervised the restoration of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and Union Station in Washington.

Weese was also unabashedly an urbanist. Weese argued that the post-war boom in suburban development was wasteful and inherently unsustainable, and he advocated for higher density middle-class housing with access to public spaces and amenities. In an article in Places Journal, Ian Baldwin argues that Weese’s “unrelenting urban boosterism and deep commitment to public life and preservation made him arguably more influential than any of his contemporaries.”1

Weese’s Kinder, Gentler (Humanistic) Brutalism

Weese brought an independent voice to his design work. At a time when modern architecture conjured images of cold and expansive concrete brutalism, Weese brought in warmer materials and local textures. His 1958 United States Embassy in Accra, Ghana included louvered mahogany bays floating above delicate white pilotis. The overall effect is organic, warm and modern.

In his 1962 First Baptist Church in Columbus, Indiana—the church is a national historic landmark—Weese made use of warm red brick in a sculptural design that makes for a kinder and gentler interpretation of the brutalism then dominant in Europe and America. When much modern architecture had become formulaic, Weese’s 1968 Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist on Chicago’s Wacker Drive provided an expressive solution to an awkward site along the Chicago River, and it did so with a massing that addressed the monumental scale of the neighborhood.

1962 First Baptist Church—Columbus, Indiana:

1968 Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist—Chicago:

Much of Weese’s work is in the warmer materials of stone, brick, and wood. Yet he also experimented with steel, albeit the warm corten steel beloved of so many modern sculptors. In The Architecture of Harry Weese, historian Robert Bruegmann notes designs that push far beyond the orthodox International Style of Mies van der Rohe. Weese’s 1968 Shadowcliff is a home office suspended from corten beams cantilevered out from a Wisconsin rock face high above Lake Michigan. A window in the floor allows for views in all directions.

The Graham Foundation describes the work of Weese and Associates as syncretistic.

Although Weese was a self-avowed modernist, his early work … disregards numerous modernist conventions. Unfettered by the philosophical preconceptions of Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, Weese appears, like Saarinen and Aalto, to subscribe to a more humanistic modernism. … Weese’s buildings provide insight into a uniquely American approach to mid-century modern architecture that never lost sight of the social, political, and economic realities of contemporary life.2


Weese is perhaps best known for his design for the Washington Metro. At the height of the Cold War, the Metro’s graceful concrete vaults—now threatened with white paint by government bureaucrats—were designed to contrast with the fussy ornament of Moscow’s Stalinist subway stations. Good modern design has an economy of form, and Weese’s Metro remains a monument to the subtlety of the modern vision.

The Design for the College at Forest Park

The Junior College District of St. Louis and St. Louis County planned for a college on the site of the Highlands. It was one of three colleges backed by a $47 million bond issue, which at the time made it the most ambitious building program in the history of public higher education in the United States. According to the District minutes, the 35-acre Forest Park site was intended to house 7,000 full-time day students.

For their design for Forest Park Community College, Harry Weese and Associates and Dan Kiley envisioned a four-story complex arranged along two horizontal spines. Terraces and a sunken gathering space would tie the buildings together. Circulation would be by exterior walkways along the spine on the ground floor. These walkways would connect individual towers. Lecture halls were to be on the lower level, with labs on the top floor and classrooms and offices on the floors in between.

Kiley recently had finished his role with Eero Saarinen in designing the grounds of the Gateway Arch. For the college, he and Weese planned a series of courtyards connecting the spines at the western end of the campus. Trees would shadow the courtyards, the largest of which would step down to a large fountain, providing an exterior auditorium when dry.

A lawn to the north (facing Forest Park) would slope gradually down to a lake, which was never built. At the far eastern terminus of the spine, Tower A would stand atop a tall earthen berm. That berm and Tower A would jut out into the lake like Cahokia Mound rising above the flood plain. Across the lake would stand the theatre.

With the exception of the lake, much of the complex was built as designed. It has seen few alterations in half a century, with the exceptions of the ever growing surface parking lots to the south and the removal of some trees.

Weese’s structures float above a first floor of brick pilotis (piers) set on a concrete base. A fourth floor projects out from the mass of the building. Stair towers on the south side of the spine break up that facade, while the north facade accentuates the horizontal line of the complex. Weese designed bands of windows set back deeply from the brick facade, providing dramatic shadow lines. Perpendicular passageways pierce the spine at regular intervals, providing transparency through the brick spine. The red brickwork itself provides a texture and warmth not often seen in brutalist works from the period. Kiley intended his trees, once mature, further to soften the massing of the ensemble.

Together, Weese and Kiley created a modern center for public education that was simultaneously dense, urban and green. The master plan was approved in February 1965 and the initial building designs in June of that year. Rallo Construction and Kloster Construction built the complex. A spread in the Post-Dispatch on August 20, 1967 noted that between 4,000 and 5,000 students were inspected to enroll that fall, even though half the buildings were still under construction.

Thirty years after its construction, an article in Inland Architect extolled the design.

The student union, library, classroom and theatre buildings are models of how well buildings can be designed. Really virtuoso performances of structural/architectural spatial configurations, superb natural lighting and well-appointed materials, and the brick cladding is beautifully detailed.


Demolition for Towers A & B

Brutalism in architecture drew its name from the French brut—raw—referring to the raw or unfinished concrete surfaces favored my many mid-century architects. Even where brutalism adapted to other materials, it was typically massive in scale and sculptural in design. Brutalism was a reaction to the perceived frivolity of much modern design, a way of communicating the seriousness of architecture and of buildings and of the uses they serve. As such, brutalism found its most common expression in government and educational uses. But brutalism always had its detractors who perceived many such buildings as cold, totalitarian and … well … brutal.

After being maligned for decades, movements now are underway to preserve brutalist designs. In a culture that prioritizes the new, a 50-year-old design is often the most endangered. And Weese and Kiley’s design is now in its fifties. If the campus of St. Louis Community College—Forest Park is brutalism, then it is a very subtle, warm and humane brutalism. If you can look beyond the unfortunate parking lots and the bathrooms and fixtures that haven’t been updated in fifty years, the fact remains. Weese and Kiley’s design is stunningly good mid-century architecture.

In architecture, there are permanent buildings and then there are buildings that are disposable.

The school administration’s current plan is to build a $32 million 65,000 square foot Allied Health Building on Dan Kiley’s lawn facing Oakland Ave. The school will demolish Weese and Associates’ berm-topping Tower A—the most graceful in the complex—as well as Tower B. They will preserve the school’s surface parking lots.

In 1994, Weese and Kiley’s design for Forest Park Community College won the first ever 25-Year Award bestowed by the American Institute of Architects, St. Louis Chapter for buildings that have “withstood the test of time.” Twenty-three years after that award, the school’s leadership is seeking demolition.

Here we have the work of Harry Weese, that modernist who stood out for his advocacy to preserve our built history, and who simultaneously made history as one of the greats of modern architecture. And here we see a landscape by Dan Kiley, the father of modern landscape architecture. Here we see something permanent. And here we see plans to remove it for something disposable.


Design Evolves as Five-story, 122-Unit Soulard Project Nears Start

Design details for a five-story, 122-unit apartment building in Soulard continue to evolve. The project, which gained approval from the city’s Cultural Resources Office and Preservation Board nearly a year ago. The building, designed by VE Design Group, has taken on a much more block warehouse appearance. The building address is listed as 2424 S. 9th Street (map).

Along with the 126-unit project nearly underway at the other end of the neighborhood (map: 1302 Russell Boulevard), Soulard is set to see the addition of hundreds of new residents and the remake of two major underutilized sites.


From our previous report: Five-story, 118 Unit Apartment Building Proposed for 7th at Victor in Soulard

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 2.31.38 PM

Last week we mentioned an interesting residential infill project proposed for Soulard, immediately next to the recently completed Soulard IceHouse historic renovation. A rendering (though of low-resolution) of that proposal appears in the city’s Preservation Board Agenda posted online.

The city’s Cultural Resources Office recommends the Preservation Board, “approve the demolition of existing buildings and structures and grant preliminary approval to the proposed new construction”. The project would replace two brick buildings at 721 Victor Street and an adjacent structure.


Soulard infill

Soulard infill

Soulard streetview

From the agenda:
Whistler One L.L.C. has provided copies of contract for the purchase of four parcels at 2403, 2405, and 2415-17 S. 7th Boulevard and 721 Victor Street that it proposes to redevelop. The project would entail the demolition of a number of small warehouses and industrial structures: two buildings on the Victor Street property, one a Merit building and the other non-contributing, being constructed after both 1929, the date used in the Soulard Neighborhood Local Historic District Standards for the end of historic significance, and 1941, the cut-off date for contributing resources in the Soulard National Register Historic District; 2415-17 S. 7th Boulevard, Victor Iron Works, consisting of small buildings along S. 7th and a storage yard with a structure supporting traveling cranes at the corner of S. 7th and Victor Street, and another yard on the north side; and a Merit building at the corner of S. 7th and Barton Street. The new building proposed to replace them would be a five-story apartment building of 118 units with 59 on-site parking spaces.

There’s more on the myriad of National Register of Historic Places nominations as well:

St. Louis City Preservation Review Board – Final Agenda 04/25/2016 by

Microsoft to Open St. Louis Location in Cortex District

Tech behemoth Microsoft recently announced it would be moving its offices from Creve Coeur to the newest expansion in the Central West End’s Cortex area.

The move is part of a $55 million,180,00- square-foot office and lab expansion in the innovation district. Microsoft will be bringing nearly 150 jobs to the development, approximately 60 current jobs and adding 90 new positions.

Such a tech giant making the move to an area associated with St. Louis’ start up culture and research is a great vote of confidence for the district.

Microsoft will be leasing 30,000 square feet in the development.

The St. Louis office will be regional headquarters for states like Missouri, Kansas and Tennessee, according to Ervin Flores, General Manager of Microsoft’s Mid-America District.

The new development will also include a Microsoft Technology Center, where customers can work with employees to design custom technology system. Microsoft currently runs around 40 of these centers around the world, moving St. Louis into some exclusive company.

One major draw to Microsoft was the ability for Microsoft employees to interact with start ups and researchers in the Cortex district. The Technology Center will also give the district’s start ups and tech companies the opportunity to test the newest and cutting edge products form Microsoft.

On hand for the announcement of the project were Outgoing St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

Washing University will be the other anchor tenant, leasing 69,000 square feet of the development.

City Foundry Signs Zara, Patagonia, Reformation, Need Supply, and Others

Will City Foundry, the $340M project set to re-imagine a long-vacant manufacturing site in the center of St. Louis City…

Greenstreet Begins Marketing 18,000sf of Retail The Grove

The single largest influx of retail in the growing Grove is just around the corner. The long-planned Choteau’s Grove project…

New Renderings of Soldiers Memorial Renovation Highlight Accessibility

It’s been more than a year since an agreement was signed by the Missouri Historical Society and the City of…

Blight, Tax Abatement, Eminent Domain, Tax Credits, and Vision Create Nathaniel Rivers Place Project

Blight, tax abatement, eminent domain, and tax credits get a lot of attention in some parts of St. Louis City.…

Volpi Plans Renovation of Its Home on The Hill Since 1902

One of The Hill’s great small business institutions is making a big investment in its century-old location. Volpi has been…

Permit Issued to Relocate Home in NGA Footprint at 2530 N. Market

The story of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s move to north St. Louis City has been unfolding for years. The move …

Jubilee World Buys Historic Orpheum Theatre in Downtown St. Louis

Jubilee World, Inc. has purchased the long-vacant Orpheum Theatre in downtown St. Louis. In 2015, Jubilee World made the sprawling former St. Mary’s Orphanage at 5341 Emerson Avenue in the city’s Walnut Park East neighborhood its world headquarters.

While the Jubilee World website offers a lot of information, it’s a little unclear exactly who Jubilee World is, and what its plans for the Orpheaum Theatre may be. Its website lists 11 individuals under “Our Worldwide Leadership”, but does not provide any information about them. Dozens of countries around the world are listed on the organization’s “network” page.

An A. Merril Smoak Jr. is listed as Jubilee World president. A quick search finds that Smoak Jr. is an associate pastor of music and worship at Trinity Church in Livermore, California. He is also a professor and the dean of Olivet University’s Jubilee College of Music in San Francisco.

The Orpheum Theater was most recently owned by UrbanStreet, a Chicago developer that bought a package of Roberts Brothers owned properties in 2012. The theater came along with the Roberts Tower, Mayfair Hotel, and the Lofts at OPOP (AKA, the Board of Education building). The theater was renovated and the Orpheum name restored under the Roberts’ ownership.

{the Orpheum Theatre c. 1920}

The tower and Mayfair Hotel were the prizes. Once slated for 55 luxury condos but never completed, the tower was finished as 132 apartments. Sauce on the Side now occupies the plaza level retail space. The Mayfair underwent a complete restoration and reopened as a Magnolia Hotel in 2014.

UrbanStreet’s focus then turned to the vacant Crestwood Mall. The developer paid just $3.6M dollars for the 47-acre site in suburban St. Louis. A $104M redevelopment plan received a total of $25M in tax incentives. UrbanStreet then sold its row of former Robert’s properties along Locust Street in downtown to TWG Development of Indianapolis. That group has plans for market-rate apartments.

The Beaux-Arts style Orpheum was completed in 1917 at a cost of $500,000. It opened as a vaudeville house and was later sold to Warner Brothers in 1930, operating as a movie theater until the 1960s. After a restoration in the 1980s, it reopened as the American Theater and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

The 1,500-seat theater has played host to some of the biggest names in music and theater, including Pearl Jam, Phish, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Mathew Band, Cary Grant, Mae West, and Henry Fonda. Most recently the theater was used for private parties and corporate events.

Mission statement and organization history from Jubilee World:
Jubilee is a fellowship comprised of a globally diverse and eclectic body of musicians, dancers, actors, and members purposed to glorify God through the sacrifices of praise and worship.

Established in Los Angeles, CA, in 2002 as “Jubilee Mission” by a group of university students, the ministry began with a vision to form a non-denominational fellowship of Christian musicians to aid in increasing the presence and quality of Gospel music on campuses. Through partnerships with local fellowships and Christian organizations, the ministry began its growth, gradually extending its influence into other fields of the performing arts, as well as media and education.

In 2007, Jubilee Mission changed its name to Jubilee World to represent the organization’s diverse work in the field, which includes several
established ministries such as the Jubilee College of Music, BREATHE Music & Dance, (est. 2002), BREATHEcast (est. 2004), the Jubilee Chorus and the Jubilee Symphony Orchestra (est. 2007).

That same year, Jubilee also began to form a Senior Advisory Board to help broaden and strengthen the ministry’s goals and strategies. Jubilee exists to take up the yoke of the Lord, proclaiming to all peoples a spiritual trumpet call of hope, healing, freedom and rest in Christ through the ministry of the performing arts and mass media.

From Jubilee World regarding the former St. Mary’s Orphanage:
In 2015, Jubilee World acquired the former St. Mary’s Orphanage building at 5341 Emerson Ave. in St. Louis. The 164,000 square feet facility has since been getting a major facelift with constant renovations. The main chapel, offices, dormitories and bathrooms have all been since remodeled. Jubilee plans to finish the entire facility in 2 years to open up to the community once again.
Construction began in the summer of 1899 and was dedicated on November of 1900 having 225 girls and 13 sisters in residence. This facility has been a community landmark and staple for over 100 years.

Constructed to be completely self-sufficient, the facility featured a large olympic sized swimming pool, main chapel, cafeteria, 2 large gyms, boiler house, offices, baking oven, laundry plant, institutional kitchen and cold storage rooms for the over 200 residence. It also had classrooms, dormitories, playrooms, work rooms, vegetable gardens and chicken coops.
The facility and main chapel once again came to life with Jubilee’s 15th Anniversary Conference, concert and events for the community. The facility had not been utilized or in top working order for decades.

Jubilee and community leaders have a vision of rebuilding the campus to it’s former glory serving the neighborhood residence once again.

View Facebook pages for Jubilee San Francisco and Jubilee New York for additional information.