UMSL's Short-Sighted Plan to Demolish a St. Louis Landmark: Incarnate Word Convent

Categories: Architecture

Normandie Hall at UMSL, formerly Incarnate Word Convent.
Acquired by the university in 1991, Normandie Hall embodies everything great about a college building: It holds nearly a century of fascinating history, it possesses a stunning design that harkens back to the American fascination with Old World architecture, and it stands proud with durable stone and brick construction. I found the cavalier attitude of UMSL's facilities manager, quoted in a recent Post-Dispatch article, disingenuous:
"Can you smell the mold?" Frank Kochin asked during a tour. "It's worse in the basement."

If the building's interior is currently in a state of disrepair, how is that not the fault of the university that has owned the building for the past twenty years?

The chapel of Normandie Hall at UMSL.

Also troubling is the university's push to swallow up more of the surrounding community. Sprawling out and even attempting to acquire the distant Normandie Golf Club (as laid out in UMSL's 2013 comprehensive plan) will fail to create the critical mass of activity that an urban university such as UMSL needs. These days the campus feels very much like a commuter school, dead between and after classes. Spreading out even farther will only exacerbate that.

UMSL 2013 Master Plan
UMSL's proposed expansion; Normandie Golf Club is the large pink area in the lower-left corner of the map.

And what about the residents who live near UMSL? Sandwiched between UMSL and Normandie Hall lies the charming community of Bel-Nor, a tidy subdivision of two-story brick bungalows built in the early 1900s. It's the 1,500 residents of Bel-Nor who have perhaps the most to lose at the hands of UMSL's expansion and demolition.

Dan Riley, who grew up in Bel-Nor and recently moved back, summarized the feelings of many of his neighbors:

Anyone who has spent any time in Bel-Nor -- whether they be long-time residents or passersby -- would recognize both the former Alumni Center and the Incarnate Word convent as two key architectural landmarks for the community; to us, demolishing them for "green space" makes about as much sense as tearing down the Hi-Pointe Theatre and the Cheshire to create more "green space" adjacent to Forest Park.

After hearing of UMSL's plans to raze Normandie Hall, Riley founded the Facebook page Save Incarnate Word Convent and a petition. As of this writing, the Facebook page has more than 1,200 "likes" and the petition more than 900 signatures. Are those enough to change UMSL's plans? Perhaps not, but it's a start.

Chris Naffziger writes about architecture at St. Louis Patina. Contact him via e-mail at

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
Save Incarnate Word Convent + Alumni Center
Save Incarnate Word Convent + Alumni Center

Kyle, we can assure you it's not haunted! It's an amazing building - full of natural light - and the only spirits around are the happy memories of students from both Incarnate Word Academy and UMSL's Pierre Laclede Honors College at UMSL!


Kochin's comment "can you smell the mold?" is indicative of negligent management of State-owned facilities.  Supposedly, the mold came about as a result of burst water pipes in a building left unheated over the Winter. 

Any "Facilities Manager" and anyone with common sense knows if a building's heat is turned off over the Winter, the first thing done is to shut off the water and drain the plumbing system. Sounds like a deliberate plot to justify the demolition and elected State Officials should be investigating this all-too-obvious plot !  Where are they and why are they not weighing-in on this damage ?  We should be demanding answers....


Unfortunately this plan to tear down Normandie Hall (the old Incarnate Word convent) is consistent with UMSL's complete disregard for history.  Both its own and the surrounding community.

The picture of the University Libraries at the top of the article shows a large empty space just to the south (closer to the camera) of the building.  This was the sight of the Bellerive Country Club clubhouse and the building at which UMSL's very first classes met.  It was torn down in 1977.  The justification, cost to renovate, same as being used to tear down the old IW convent.

Most, if not all, colleges and universities will go to great length to save their original buildings. The fact that UMSL demolished its own goes a long way to explaining why they have no problem with demolishing a building acquired later on.

One local resident wrote a letter to the chancellor protesting the proposed demolition.  In his letter of reply (and I do give him credit for replying instead of just ignoring her) he justified it by listing all of the other buildings in the area, including the old clubhouse, that the university has demolished.  To put it simply; two wrongs may not make a right but they do set a precedent and under that precedent the old IW convent has to go.  That is the UMSL view.

Mary Struttman
Mary Struttman

Old don't tear it down. Don't u have any respect for history or architecture?


The style is brutalist alright and brutal is a good way to describe the university's expansion methods.  They only want the good neighborhoods around them and they don't give a crap about what makes these neighborhoods vibrant and successful in an otherwise dismal region.  They definitely don't need any more space.

It is shameful to use taxpayer money to destroy a nice place to live and raise a family.

Now Trending

St. Louis Concert Tickets

From the Vault