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Loft conversion planned for St. Louis factory building

Loft conversion planned for St. Louis factory building

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Daylight that began spilling across a St. Louis factory floor 90 years ago may soon fill loft apartments designed for spaces where printing machines once roared.

Conversion as housing is planned for the Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co. building at 1519 Tower Grove Avenue. Pier Property Group, a new St. Louis real estate company, hopes to complete its purchase of the 250,000-square-foot building in March and begin its renovation as 160 loft-style apartments. The first units could be ready for residents in late spring 2018.

Michael Hamburg, PPG’s founder, said the $30 million to $35 million project, to be called Woodward Lofts, will help connect the rapidly growing Grove neighborhood to the north and areas to the south, which include Botanical Heights and the Shaw neighborhood.

“The thought is to be an infill anchor between all those areas,” he said.

Trivers Associates, a St. Louis architectural firm, bows deeply to the building’s early 20th-century “daylight” factory layout in designing Woodward Lofts’ modern apartments.

The “daylight” design figures heavily in the old factory’s rehab. Reinforced concrete floors and columns permit use of huge windows and clerestories that admit daylight deep into the building’s interior. Ford’s gigantic Model T factory that opened in 1910 in Highland Park, Mich., epitomized the design, which quickly spread to other industries nationwide.

Woodward & Tiernan, the dominant St. Louis printing company of its day, wanted to make a statement with the office and factory it completed on Tower Grove Avenue in 1926. The company hired Klipstein & Rathmann, a prominent architectural firm, to design the plant, which is more than 500 feet long. For its two-story office, Woodward & Tiernen chose a Classical Revival façade of brick with terra cotta ornamentation, according to the factory’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Hamburg said he plans to redo some of the old office area as retail space, perhaps as a coffee shop and a grocery.

Apartments will fill the rest of the building, including the southern side, which is curved to follow the adjacent rail lines. Hamburg said the old factory’s foot-thick walls and his project’s new, heavily insulated windows will muffle the sound of trains rumbling by just a few feet away. He predicted some residents will want to live near the tracks.

“You look out and see a cool train going by and can wonder what’s in it,” Hamburg said.

The apartments will have the exposed ductwork and open layouts typical of factory-cum-loft projects. Woodward Lofts, however, will have some unusually big windows.

Hamburg said the “daylight” factory design will provide every apartment “oversized window bays,” including some with window sections 20 feet high and 20 feet wide. Lofts beneath the building’s five rooftop clerestories are designed with two-story floor plans and 20-foot ceilings. Plans call for removal of roof sections between the clerestories to create narrow indoor courtyards. Garage parking for 175 vehicles also is part of the project.

Woodward & Tiernan lasted until 1959, when it was purchased by Universal Match Corp. Suburban Industrial Packaging has occupied the Tower Grove Avenue building for years. Hamburg said the old factory’s current use is limited to storage. PPG has the building under contract with its owner, JBG Properties LLC. Before PPG came along, St. Louis Language Immersion Schools considered the building for its base of operations.

Hamburg plans to use historic preservation tax credits to help finance Woodward Lofts. PPG also plans to seek from the city 10 years of tax abatement. The Forest Park Southeast Development Committee, part of Park Central Development — the area’s nonprofit development corporation — is likely to consider the project at its meeting this month.

Brooks Goedeker, Park Central’s executive director, said Woodward Lofts will add to the list of projects — including a microbrewery and a food truck operation — along South Vandeventer or Tower Grove avenues south of the Grove district on Manchester Avenue.

“It’s exciting to see there’s so much interest in that corridor,” he said.

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Tim Bryant is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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