18 February 2012

Blast from Hyde Park's Past


I have recently been waxing nostalgic for an event I did not attend. In 1983, the Saint Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects held their second design charrette. The focus was the historic Hyde Park Neighborhood and addressing the abandoned Krey Packing Plant which covered three blocks immediately adjacent the Park itself.



At the time,Vince Schoemehl was the mayor, Betty Lou Custer, FAIA was the chapter's Executive Director and the chapter's logo was a line drawing of the Arch superimposed over the silhouette of Eads Bridge.

The charrette drew 83 participants who submitted 30 design schemes for the nine-acre site. The event took place at the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church. It was done in association with the Hyde Park Renovation Effort, Inc. (HYPRE) and Hyde Park Partnership. I'm not sure if those groups still exist.


Logo and letterhead of the local AIA from the early 1980s


The jurors were Ian McHarg, FASLA (Chair, Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania), Rodolfo Machado (Head, Department of Architecture, Rhode Island School of Design) and Jonathan Barnett, FAIA (Director, Graduate Program of Urban Design, City College of New York).


Jurors Barnett, Machado and McHarg with Advisor Malcic.

The professional advisor for the effort was Lawrence Malcic, AIA (now Design Director at HOK London) who at that time was the Assistant Dean for Planning and Development in the School of Business of Washington University in St. Louis.


Ink rendering by Hyde Park resident Victor Migneco of house with dormer.

So why am I nostalgic over an event that I didn't even attend? At that time, I did not live in Saint Louis and had never visited here. I was an undergraduate student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and had no idea that I might end up living in the Midwest. I didn't move here until 1985 when I started graduate studies in the School of Architecture led by Dean Constantine Michaelides, FAIA.


Planning document for design charrette participants outlining the study area.

Only in my final years of graduate school did I read a handwritten invitation on the blackboard which normally stood at the center of Givens Hall asking students to join a committee to work on a design charrette focused on Forest Park. I responded, joined the committee as the only student member and made many good friends. The chair of the Charrette Committee was Doris Danna, FAIA who impressed me with her thoughtful, considerate way of speaking. She was a dynamo and brought together disparate professionals and affiliates to work on this community design effort. For the Forest Park Charrette, the lead juror was Dan Kiley who I had the good fortune of meeting.


Ink rendering by Hyde Park resident Victor Migneco of St. Michael on Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

Reading through the materials from the Hyde Park Charrette brought back a strange kind of memory echo, where I could hear distant voices speaking about an esteemed event from history. I never really knew anything about Hyde Park except that it was an historic neighborhood struggling to reinvigorate itself.

Notices regarding Hyde Park community events.

All of the materials and records were typed using an IBM Selectric typewriter using the popular sans-serif font that I imagine was preferred by architects of the time. The document documenting the event is illustrated by beautiful lines drawings of the historic architecture of the area by Hyde Park resident Victor Migneco (not an architect).

In the instructions to the designers there's a remark with regard to music to the effect that, "Radios, except headsets and 'Walkmans' are discouraged."

The remarks from the juror's review of the designs are fascinating. They reflect on the differences in time and sensibility over the last 25+ years. I'm not sure how many people today would have agreed with Barnett's comment, "Most schemes did not try to reuse the existing buildings, and this is probably wise." He then goes on to refer to the schemes for a community college, high school, bath house and a regional shopping mall.

Ink rendering by Hyde Park resident Victor Migneco of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church.

I'm wondering how many deans of schools of architecture today would say that they would focus their comments on the architecture "because he is not knowledgeable about economics." (Machado) He comes back to terms like clarity, simplicity and strong form.

McHarg was clearly quite a character and more blunt in his criticism. He seems to question the basic assumptions of the charrette itself suggesting that they establish a firm program and then repeat the event based on having more substantive details. He suggests that one of the schemes "should be dynamited . . . similar to the worst of the 60's. Too much richness of ideas." He also remarks that the park should be rethought, he wouldn't like to see any major changes to it, but it should be kept "rape-proof". He does offer compliments for the existing rehabilitation he sees in the neighborhood, telling the residents that "they are doing it right [and] their work should good taste and restraint." So does that suggest he thought some of the architect's schemes didn't show the same attitude toward the existing historic fabric?

Ink rendering by Hyde Park resident Victor Migneco of house on Blair.



Someone made a recording of remarks made by Hyde Park residents giving their thoughts on "What should be done with the Krey site?" Some of the more colorful quotes include:
"We should make a nightclub and call it the 'Slaughterhouse'."


"It's such a big ugly building."


"We definitely don't need a junkyard there."


"Tear that sucker down."


"Blast it out of there. Anything that would make it better than it does now. I have no idea honestly . . . . I don't think we need more housing because we have a lot of great houses to deal with. Business doesn't thrill me, but I guess it would be good for my business."


"Something like they did in San Francisco, Ghiadelli Chocolate Works (or something like that) with a lot of shops and boutiques."


"It should be turned into a tourist place for people to come and explore . . . what the meat places in St. Louis put out."


"A Schucks. Put a grocery store in."
The program documents are incredibly detailed and thorough in their explanation of the neighborhood's history and urban conditions. The drawn illustrations are marvelous and suggest the potential loss of such skills of visualization that require patience, time and attention to detail. Are such things likely to be encouraged in today's practice of architecture and urban design?


Hyde Park Planning Process Diagram (1983).

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