San Luis Sayonara?

San Luis Sayonara?

The San Luis apartments with demolition equipment at the ready.
Brian Newman

Opposing campaigns are dueling over the fate of a midcentury apartment building and the St. Louis city block on which it sits. The Archdiocese of St. Louis, which currently owns the 11-story San Luis apartments, plans to demolish the structure, replacing it with a surface parking lot for approximately 100 cars to serve its nearby high school. By razing the existing building, which is located within the bounds of a historic district and currently offers parking for 180 cars, the Archdiocese will introduce a substantial gap in the otherwise consistent face of a stately urban corridor, Lindell Boulevard.

Designed by Charles Colbert in 1963 as a hotel, the building once featured 226 guest rooms and amenities including swimming, ice-skating, and several restaurants. It was purchased in the 1970s by the Archdiocese and hotel rooms were converted to apartments. It housed a dwindling population of tenants until 2007.

In a sustained effort to preserve the urban context of these blocks, local organization the Friends of the San Luis is fighting to stop the demolition. Despite having the backing of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the battle, and a unique example of mid-century modernism, is rapidly being lost.

Recently, the local preservation board approved demolition for the San Luis. In a counter-action, Friends of the San Luis filed a petition in Circuit Court to obtain "a temporary injunction that would prohibit the Archdiocese of St. Louis from proceeding with any demolition work at the San Luis Apartments until our organization has exhausted its legal appeal of the approval of the demolition permit,"according to a statement. The judge, however, refused the injunction.

Lyda Krewson, alderwoman for the neighborhood in question, cautiously supports the Archdiocese’s plan. Krewson is well aware of the San Luis’ standing within the historic district, but contends that, “it’s not a contributing building. Until recently, there was no outcry about the architectural wonders of this building."

Krewson believes that the Archdiocese never intended to renovate or sell the structure and following years of minimal maintenance, the building and site are in dire condition. While she is restrained in her backing of the demolition, Krewson said she, “doesn’t want a vacant building there for years and years and years. Having a vacant building will have a negative effect.” She added, “it’s hard to be excited about surface parking there. It will be as nice as a surface lot can be."

The next Friends of the San Luis versus Archdiocese of St. Louis hearing is scheduled for Friday, July 24th, when the Friends will again attempt to both secure the right to appeal the preservation board’s decision and to obtain a restraining order to halt the demolition.