The city's Preservation Board Monday shot down plans to demolish the round, glass-walled structure near the corner of Lindell and Vandeventer and build a new CVS drugstore on the site.
The vote was unanimous, and not unexpected. City staff had recommended against approving demolition, citing the high architectural merit of the 36-year-old building, one of a string of Modernist structures along Lindell in the Central West End. Alderman Terry Kennedy weighed in against demolition as well.
“The AAA Building has a very unusual and significant character,” Cultural Resources Officer Betsy Bradley wrote in her report. “Its loss would eliminate one of the most distinctive buildings in St. Louis and a notable aspect of the urban design of Lindell.”
The building may be distinctive, but it's also a money pit with little potential for re-use, said Jim Fredericks, an attorney representing both AAA, which owns the 1.6 acre site, and CVS, which has an option to buy it. He pointed to expensive utility costs, a difficult floor plan and appraisals claiming the site is worth more vacant than it is with this building.
“There are a lot of buildings in St. Louis that are cute and nice. But they aren't functional,” he said. “This is going to become another dilapidated building in one of the most high-visibility sections of the city.”
Several local preservationists spoke up in favor of the AAA Building and its role in the development of Lindell. Ultimately all seven members of the Preservation Board sided with Bradley.
“It's just too unique to tear down,” said Melanie Fathman.
The vote is not necessarily the last word. AAA could still file a demolition permit, but if they do the matter will almost certainly wind up back before the Preservation Board for another vote. More likely is a re-design of the site, which also includes a garage that is considered far less architecturally significant. Or CVS could seek different location altogether.
The drugstore chain has been trying to build a store on Lindell for several years. Plans to tear down the old St. Louis Housing Authority building at 4100 Lindell for a new CVS met neighborhood pushback in 2009. It's been negotiating on the AAA Building for nine months, said Fredericks. He predicted both AAA and CVS would now head back to the drawing board.
“They still want to do this project,” he said. “Where they do and what they do, we'll need to figure out.”
The AAA Building is the latest in a string of so-called “Mid-Century Modern” structures in St. Louis to be the subject of demolition talk. While not necessarily old enough to qualify for historic status, these buildings, their supporters argue, contribute to the architecture of the city and should remain standing. In some cases, like the San Luis Apartments in the Central West End, those pleas have failed. In others, like the Midtown Del Taco, they've won out. Monday they scored another victory.