ST. LOUIS • The mural of a hippie named Beardy McGreen on a building south of downtown had shown passers-by the two-fingered peace sign since 2006. Now it and the building are both gone, victims of a clerical error.
In December, the building, which stood in a protected historic district, was quickly demolished without the required city review because of a city employee’s error, described as a data entry mistake. Beardy’s likeness, painted on a garage door, was ripped off the front of the building and discarded in a pile of bricks.
The caricature was created and named in 2006 by stencil artist Peat Wollaeger at the behest of developers hoping to boost the city’s dilapidated Chouteau’s Landing. The image, painted on the front of a century-old vacant saloon, became known to those who visited the nearby White Castle just south of Busch Stadium. Mountain Dew even put a version of it on a special soda bottle.
The 1890s-era building, located at 818 South Fourth Street, was part of the South Fourth Street Commercial District, which had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. That designation requires all demolition permits for buildings within the district to be reviewed by the Cultural Resources Office, the city’s preservation agency.
Because of the data entry error, that review never happened. In December, demolition crews arrived and turned the building to dust.
On Wednesday, the city conceded that the lack of review was a mistake.
“A manual data entry transfer between two databases was made incorrectly, causing the permit application to appear to be for a structure not entitled to review,” said Don Roe, the city’s director of Planning and Urban Design.
Breakdowns like that worry some preservationists who fear other historic structures in the city could face the wrecking ball before clearing the mandated safeguards, where officials can assess whether a building can be saved.
“I’ve added an additional redundancy to the manual process so that we have an additional set of eyes watching out for potential errors,” Roe said.
The building, located in one of the city’s oldest areas, was built around 1890. It originally housed the Max Risch Saloon and the John Gass Butcher Shop.
“I just think it’s crazy how each one of these buildings in St. Louis is going away,” Wollaeger said. “I thought the (mural) was going to spark something in that neighborhood.”
The building was a piece of developer Steve Murphy’s overall plan to revitalize the area and turn it into an “energetic arts district” similar to the SoHo section of New York City. But those plans died. Last year, Murphy’s five-story Powell Square building was demolished after the city said he failed to take care of the property. Murphy, who couldn’t be reached for comment, then sold the Fourth Street property to Terrence C. McDonald.
McDonald said Thursday that he plans to pave the property this spring and turn it into a parking lot. He said he might develop it for entertainment use after the Gateway Arch project is off the ground.
“It was open, hollow, damp,” McDonald said of the building. “The inside was completely destroyed.”
He said he filled out all of the correct forms and had the building demolished in about four or five weeks. He did say that he expected to have some opposition to the demolition.
“I got a call about 75 percent into the tear-down telling me what had happened,” McDonald said.
It was too late. The building came down.
The building’s demolition was discussed on Vanishing STL, a blog dedicated to the city’s destroyed architecture.
Business owner Scott Rinaberger heard about it and remembered Beardy. He wanted the mural for his new School of Rock music education location in Kirkwood. Rinaberger contacted the demolition company to see if the mural was still there. His request appeared to go nowhere, so he drove down to the site before a Rams football game and saw the empty space where the building once stood.
“You killed Beardy,” Rinaberger remembered saying.
But there, he saw a pile of rubble. And in it was Beardy McGreen.
“We were able to salvage most of him,” Rinaberger said. Now, the bearded peace-lover takes up most of a wall in the school’s main performance studio.