A William B. Ittner-designed school won’t be coming down anytime soon after the St. Louis Preservation Board on Monday blocked a request to demolish it.
The unanimous vote came despite support from the neighborhood’s alderman and a recommendation from city staff to allow the demolition of the historic Hempstead Elementary School on Minerva Avenue. Designed by the famed architect at the turn of the 20th century, the building was closed by St. Louis Public Schools in 2004.
But the plan to tear down the school to make way for senior housing is not dead. The neighborhood’s alderman said he plans to add it to a redevelopment plan via city ordinance, giving the Preservation Board less leeway to deny demolition requests.
Patricia Moncrief applied for approval to tear down the school building, heavily damaged by a 2014 lightning strike and fire, to make way for a 60-unit independent living facility. In its place, a standalone independent living facility operated by the nonprofit Moncrief heads, Proverbs 31 Women’s Ministry, would go up.
“It is a low-income area and it’s an area that’s in desperate need of revitalization,” she said.
St. Louis Cultural Resources Director Dan Krasnoff cited the area’s weaker market conditions and the lack of new construction around the structure when explaining staff’s recommendation. But the structure itself, made of reinforced concrete, is not in jeopardy of crumbling in the near future.
“These Ittner schools are beautifully designed, they were a heavy investment by the city back at the turn of the century, and we generally don’t build buildings like this anymore,” he said.
Despite the vote, Moncrief intends to press on with her plan, saying she “anticipated some obstacles.”
Supporting her effort is Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, who wants to pass a redevelopment plan for the project. Applications to demolish historic structures covered by such plans “shall be approved except in unusual circumstances,” according to the city’s preservation ordinance.
“I think she will need it anyway in order to do a project of that magnitude,” Boyd said.
Boyd actually attended Hempstead Elementary, one of nearly 50 schools Ittner designed in the city.
He had fought to preserve Arlington School, another Ittner-designed school on Burd Avenue, even though he said the developers behind the Arlington Grove project in his ward initially didn’t want to save it.
But the mixed use Arlington Grove development was large enough to absorb the costs of rehabbing Arlington School, Boyd said. And Hempstead’s condition after the fire makes it an “eyesore” and a danger to residents.
“It would be a sad day to actually see it demolished,” Boyd said. “But safety first.”