I feel like I've stayed true to my cup-half-full bent on this website for the 10+ years I've been writing about St. Louis. Lord knows we don't need more negativity and haters, we have our fair share of those in the suburbs and the STL Today commentors to keep the low self esteem kindled for years.
But, sometimes I've got to vent. And, I feel like I've earned that right, as I've lived here for 23 years and not just passed by and made armchair quarterback observations and ponderings from the sidelines.
So a recent fire and loss of another classic brick beauty to trespassers/firebugs has me on edge. The following scene is just a couple blocks from our home.
Ever wonder why St. Louis has so many vacant corner lots? This is it. This 1890 brick building was condemned in November, 2017 and the place is owned by a Florissant, Missouri resident who as of publishing has not paid their 2017 taxes.
Luckily no lives were lost and no firefighters were hurt and the fire did not spread to the boarded up home next door, which had to be entered to fight the fire. Yet, that property is still open to the elements and any other trespasser/firebug. Come on in!
I am always a little flummoxed by people who say North City is a postcard for abandonment and neglect and walking away vs. rooting down and fixing things. Yeah, there are many examples of that, but South City has it's own level of neglect and abandonment on display as well. The neighborhood I've lived in for several years is a perfect example. And, I could have chosen many others to make my point.
Neglect and abandonment is a city wide problem.
Speculators, slum lords, suburbanite "investors" sitting on properties without the means or desire to do anything continue to be a plague. "Investors" sit in their far away homes and are happy to let the St. Louis properties sit and sit, while trespassers and firebugs become our problem, not theirs. It's not easy to neglect a property and let it rot when you live next to it and have to see it every day. Shame holds sway, but not when it's out of sight and out of mind for these owners, it's "those" people's problem not theirs.
I'm not anti-outside investment be it from the suburbs or out of state, we need all hands/dollars on deck to help improve our city. But I'm not seeing the building permits rolling in from these investors, I've seen more sitting on properties and letting them rot.
Take a neighborhood like Fox Park, just south and west of Lafayette Square and directly east of Compton Heights, two of St. Louis' swankiest, wealthiest, most stable neighborhoods. But when you hit Fox Park, pockets of neglect are on full display. You would think a spot like this would be ripe for private investment and care by the city and the residents and the investors/developers. But, this has not been my experience as a whole having lived here for seven or so years.
It's happening, but it happens slowly.
I'll use my camera and a quick review of public city records to document and discuss every boarded up or burned out property in my neighborhood and see who's at the helm to make my point and let you know what I'm talking about. I'm shining a light on these properties not to embarrass the owners or the neighbors (hell, I'm a neighbor), but to say we have a problem and I care deeply about losing more properties to the elements and trespassers...as well as to suburbanite/out of state slumlords and speculators who can't even keep people out of these properties or keep a decent roof on to stave off the elements.
Places like Fox Park need investment by people who have skin in the game. People who care, regardless of where they are from. If not, we will lose our gorgeous housing stock. This neighborhood is incredibly diverse in architectural style and finishes. It is a straight up gem. But, we have not seen the kind of investment that we need to keep our most vulnerable buildings from falling to the elements or the many squatters that target this area as an easy place to trespass and take up shop. We don't need people googling tax sales and buying up properties with no intention to improve St. Louis.
You could say no one cares. But, I'm not sure that's true. I think having candid conversations about trespassing, property speculators and slumlords is something that comes hard to this part of the city. People mean well, but we need these buildings to be shored up by their owners and not open to the elements and any trespasser looking for a place to squat. It doesn't mean you are an agent of gentrification or anti-homeless to want to demand better of the owners of these boarded up buildings.
A home immediately behind me has been open for years. I've contacted CSB and other people who work for the city and nothing gets done. It is open today. Come on in. No one cares. After a while you quit. What more can I do? Pictures are included below to prove my point.
Man, if I had the money, I'd love to buy this building and bring it back to life and provide a quality place for people to live.
A homeless guy sets up a gas stove in there. I've seen it first hand. Getting something done is nearly impossible and this is a serious challenge that faces St. Louis. The inability to enforce the most basic of laws and regulations. Drive around north of Delmar sometime. Complete and utter lawlessness on the roads. It's dangerous as hell, especially as a pedestrian or scooter/cyclist. No one cares, especially not the cops. They quit on us. I wish I didn't have this cynical view. I want to like everyone and think we're all trying to move the city forward. But, that has not been my experience. Normal citizens get tired as well when you expend energy and try to do something positive, but are met with inertia and apathy from the city. It's a problem we must discuss vs. bury and act like it doesn't exist.
Think this would fly in small towns like Webster Groves, Missouri (you name the suburban town)? This is why people who demand decency from neighbors and property owners end up leaving for the suburbs. A decent quality of life is all people really want, and you can leave St. Louis and find those things very close to here where this stuff in not tolerated. I get it when people say they've had enough and move. Those small towns don't put up with this crap. We of course have to because there aren't enough people who care, residents and city workers alike.
The fire that just happened a couple weeks ago on Geyer and Ohio in Fox Park will continue to happen if no one is accountable for keeping people out of the boarded up shells that they own.
We need investment, owner accountability and neighbors to rise up and demand better. This isn't normal. It is okay to be pissed off about this.
What can a resident/neighborhood do to demand better when the city does nothing? I'm asking out of ignorance. I really don't know.
I'm at times embarrassed and frustrated of my city. We can and have to do so much better. Otherwise, it'll all be gone. Mother Nature and destructive human beings are forces that a brick building that is not maintained cannot fight forever. We are at risk here. When you drive around North City and say "how did this happen", well come on down to South City where the density is still there and get a taste for how history tends to repeat itself.
Here are several examples of the current situation in Fox Park. I'm seriously concerned that we'll continue to lose these homes/buildings one by one.
This beautiful home at 2746 Geyer was built in 1884. Sadly the Ballwin, Missouri owner hasn't paid taxes on the property since 2014. It has been vacant since 1994, maybe longer since city records started posting online in 1994. There are 34 CSB complaints against this property. It's easy not to give a shit about a property or paying taxes when you live in Ballwin. We sadly have to see their neglect on display daily dragging the block down:
Then you have 2714 Geyer built in 1883, this time a St. Louis resident from the Mark Twain Neighborhood is the owner since 2013. The property was condemned in 2015 and he is doing nothing. He hasn't paid his 2017 taxes. It sits and recently burned.
2704 Geyer built in 1896 is owned by a Clayton, MO investment firm since 2013. It has been vacant since 2007 and was condemned in 2010. 40 CSB complaints have been logged at this property. The front door is completely open since the fire at the adjacent property. See the photo for the evidence.
2618 Geyer was built in 1873. It is owned by a Ferguson, Missouri slumlord who hasn't paid taxes since 2015. It has been vacant since 2007 when it was condemned. The side of the building is fenced in with hurricane fence. You can't make this stuff up.
The next group of four board ups and burn outs span 2627, 2629, 2631 and 2633 Allen.
Starting on the right, you have an 1898 brick beauty owned by a Ballwin, MO speculator who purchased the home in a foreclosure in 2006 and it was condemned and boarded up in 2008. It has been vacant in one form or another since 1996 with 23 CSB complaints against it. To this suburbanite's credit, at least they've paid their taxes.
2629 Allen was built in 1896, but it may be not match for the current owner, an "investment" firm in Arnold, Missouri who've owned the property and done nothing since 2012. 42 CSB complaints have been called on the property that was "condemned to be demolished" in January, 2012. It has been vacant in one form or another since 1994. No permits have been issued on the home to make improvements since 2002.
2631 Allen was built in 1896 and is owned by the City's Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) since 2008; it's been vacant and condemned since 2012. It is collecting no taxes since it's owned by the city. This building is beautiful.
2633 Allen was built in 1900. It is owned by a Centennial, Colorado company who purchased it from the LRA and have done nothing. It has been vacant since 1989 and condemned twice! No taxes have been paid since 2015. The property has changed hands repeatedly over the years.
Just across the street is another board up at 2634 Allen built in 1905 and currently owned by a O'Fallon, Missouri and formerly Hazelwood, Missouri family since the start of online city records in 1997. It has been vacant since 2010. The taxes are paid but it has been deteriorating for years.
2738 and 2740 Ann Avenue was built in 1908 but it may be no match for the current owners who have not paid their taxes since 2015 and have continued to neglect this one. I've met them...trust me, they don't care about the neighborhood. Their address is listed as an abandoned building in Grand Center. The property was condemned in 2010, the current owners moved in for a short period of time and then left the property standing wide open. Squatters move in and out. I've called on the property several times. Nothing gets done. Nothing. The property is wide open to the elements and squatters via the second story window. The weeds grow, people dump trash on their property, the owners don't care. The city comes and pays to weed wack the overgrowth and pick up all the trash.
2653 Ann is a 1895 classic currently owned by an LLC in unicorporated St. Louis County near Sunset Hills, Missouri. See the pattern? This one was condemned and boarded up in 2010. The "holdings" company in the burbs has sat on this since 2009 when it purchased the foreclosure from Fannie Mae. Before the foreclosure, it was owner occupied. Who knows how long the suburbanite owners will sit on this one. Our problem, not theirs I suppose.
Moving on to 2242 Oregon, this one has been owned since 2013 by a University City, Missouri person who got the property in a tax sale and has let it sit vacant since 2014 and rack up 34 CSB complaints. It was condemned for occupancy/no demo in 2010. It is an old 1890 home with many odd alterations along the way. No taxes have been paid since 2015.
Then you have 2629 Oregon Place. This one was built in 1913. These owners are actually city folks who live very close to here. There is a building permit issued for exterior alterations, so hopefully this one is on the mend and will get the TLC it deserves.
Is this starting to feel exhausting? I know, the truth hurts sometimes, I'll keep going for completeness sake. There are more...
2839 Magnolia, an 1890 beauty sits boarded up and vacant since 1999 and boarded up and condemned since 2003 with 53 CSB complaints. This one has been owned by a now South City guy who moved from Belleville, Illinois (sounds familiar) since 1997 when the city records were published online. Come on man, what are you waiting for? Last time a permit was applied for was 1999, at least the taxes are paid up.
Next is 2324 Texas Avenue built in 1902...one of Fox Park's mini-mansions (as we call them). It is owned by a local firm for less than 2 years and it's taxes are paid up through 2017. They purchased the home from a Colorado investment firm that was snatching up foreclosures. While no building permits have been submitted, there is hope for this one with local ownership & there is a dumpster on the adjacent property.
The next board up is at 2815 Sidney. It's a 1911 home recently purchased by someone with the same address. They bought the property from a House Springs, Missouri couple. Taxes are paid, this one looks promising as well.
2823 Oregon has signs of life even though the damn thing was falling over as recently as a few months ago. I'm hopeful as the scaffolding is a sign of life. This 1890 building (another mini-mansion) was condemned in July, 2017, but there were several exterior alteration building permits issued in 2017. I think there's hope even though the 2017 taxes haven't been paid yet. The latest owners purchased the property in April, 2017 and live just to the west of here. Local ownership usually means care. Not always, but usually. This one should be on the mend.
2806 Magnolia is a serious concern. It's owned by the local electrical utility and they are dead set on destruction. They tend to be tough to fight, and they want this for space around their electrical operations. We can't lose this beauty. They (Union Electric per city records) have owned the property since 2015 when they purchased it from the previous owner/occupant. They've done nothing to it...they want to tear it down. How do I know? They wasted no time by applying for a demo permit in 2016. This one has to be watched. They can't have this property unless they are going to build a higher use building...but if I had to guess, I'd say they want "greenspace" around their conductors. The neighborhood will have to continue to raise hell on this one.
Tired yet? We must go on.
2749 Shenandoah is an 1889 beauty and sits across from the park. It's had a couple rehab starts and stops over the years, but nothing has come to fruition. Current ownership is on Cherokee Street vs the previous owner out in Westport Plaza in the burbs, so I'm hopeful even though the 2017 taxes haven't been paid as of publishing. This one needs some love and was condemned in September, 2017 yet building permits were granted in October, 2017 for exterior alterations. Hope, kids, hope.
2653 and 2651 Shenandoah sit side by side at Ohio Avenue. These along with 2656 Shenandoah right across the street at the southeast corner have been troublesome properties. I have done a lot of work in the park across the street and I've watched the squatters that have assumed these spots. Not good..zero dignity or respect for life. It's sad as hell and these homes need owners that can do something to improve the places.
But, the suburbanites strike once again. 2653 is owned by a Kirkwood, Missouri company but they've only sat on the property for since March, 2017, so maybe they'll take an interest in fixing things. 2651, vacant since 2003 is owned by a California "investment" company. Things don't look good, they've been "investing" in this property for 3 years.
Further, 2656 is a long standing problem, condemned in 1993, vacant since 1992. It's owned by a auto shop place on Jefferson just up the street since 2000. They bought it from a Maryland Heights, Missouri owner and have done zero to it. They are sitting on it. It's not a pretty sight.
2617-19 Armand is a 1914 four-family beauty. If this were in any small town in America it would be considered the "historic property". Here we have row after row after row of them, and they are devalued as just another brick building. No taxes paid on this on in 2017, it is owned by the same guy/firm since 1998 when the city online records start. Nothing is going to happen, this dude is sitting on it and happy with board ups, no permits since 2013. I'm not hopeful, but at least it's owned by a city guy, the taxes have been paid since he's owned it.
2647 Accomac is a 1907 building currently owned by a Sunset Hills, Missouri firm who bought it from a California foreclosure investment firm. Vacant in the mid nineties, an then again from 2012 to current times, things are looking up. A January, 2018 building permit for a carport was granted. This longtime problem property has logged 22 CSB complaints. I'm hopeful.
2706 Accomac made our list of favorite projects of 2017. This home has sat vacant since we've lived here. A $300K building permit makes us hopeful that it'll be done right and with care.
2724 Accomac is a long standing problem property. This one was listed as vacant since 2013 and was condemned in 2011 logging 56 CSB complaints along the way. It was owned by an entity in Maryland since 2012. The good news is, this one was purchased by some folks who live across the street. While no permits have been filed, the likelihood of someone negleting this one, while living across the street is low.
The future could be bright, but we just can't lose any more of our board ups to trespassers and firebugs.
Walk around a neighborhood like Fox Park and look at the houses. They are diverse, intricate works of art. This place needs quality investment to save these places that make St. Louis what it is. There is no doubt in my mind, this part of the city could be a whole place.
Maybe some of the boarded up properties I've shown here have development plans that I'm not aware of. If so, let me know and I'll spread some love for quality investment.
Here's to a brighter future for St. Louis and investment at the block to block level. If ten homes were rehabbed and occupied by owners, it'd be a bigger win than a 30+ story high rise in the city.