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

Categories: Architecture

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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?

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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.

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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 change.org 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 naffziger@gmail.com



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