Old North St. Louis: "Brickstarter" Campaign Hopes to Save Historic Home

Categories: Architecture

ONSLRG1316NMarket.jpg
Courtesy of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group
1316 N. Market in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.
Old North St. Louis represents one of St. Louis' great success stories in the last twenty years. Once a rapidly declining neighborhood full of blight and abandonment, Old North was one of the few areas of the city to see its population grow in the 2010 census. Located just a fifteen-minute walk from downtown on North Florissant Avenue, the neighborhood has benefited from a resilient population and stalwart businesses such as Crown Candy Kitchen.

See also: Chuck Berry's St. Louis Homes Before He Was Rich and Famous

The Old North St. Louis Restoration Group has also figured prominently in Old North's rebirth. For decades the nonprofit has rehabbed historic buildings, some dating back to before the Civil War, while simultaneously partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build new construction. The largely abandoned Fourteenth Street Mall, once the center of the neighborhood, has seen massive redevelopment at the hands of Rise Community Development and ONSLG, which now houses its offices on the newly renovated street.

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Photo by Chris Naffziger
Matt Fernandez outside the offices of ONSLRG on the newly renovated 14th Street shopping district.
But despite all the hard work, many buildings still await redevelopment and are slowly crumbling. In addition to his regular duties as community development specialist for Restoration Group, Matt Fernandez has taken up the additional task of saving a beautiful 100-year-old house at 1316 N. Market, just down the street from his own home. Fernandez's passion comes through when talking about why he both lives and works in Old North.

"I love everything about north St. Louis: the history, the architecture, the community," he says. "People love a good rebound story about revitalizing a community. We're rebuilding this community brick by brick."

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Photo by Chris Naffziger
The interior of 1316 N. Market, showing the successful stabilization of the exterior walls.
The current state of the house Fernandez seeks to save on behalf of Restoration Group will indeed require some "brick by brick" reconstruction. To the casual observer, the building looks like it could topple over with the slightest tremor. Once inside 1316 N. Market, one questions the wisdom of standing near the building, let alone entering it. But Fernandez is undeterred:

"Our experience shows that nothing is really beyond repair. The demolition cost would be very high because of the adjacent structures. It makes as much sense to stabilize the house than to have a vacant lot or building something new."

See also: The Spivey Building, East St. Louis' First and Only Skyscraper

Fernandez knows a thing or two about facing daunting odds in the reconstruction of seemingly doomed buildings. His own house, which he and his family are currently rehabbing, suffered a devastating collapse during a wind storm several years ago. Yet despite the challenges Fernandez persevered and completely restored the damaged portions of his home.

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Courtesy of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group
Former intern Annie White created this rendering of 1316 N. Market restored to its former glory.
Working with architect John Wimmer, Fernandez now has assembled a redevelopment plan for the 1316 N. Market, which suffers from many of the same challenges that his own house once faced. Dubbing his effort a "Brickstarter" campaign, he is seeking to raise enough funds to stabilize and partially rebuild the house. Reconstruction is already under way, and some of the most serious structural problems are now fixed. Once stabilization is complete, the house will be available for purchase with proceeds going toward saving additional buildings in the neighborhood.

Fernandez and ONSLRG hope to raise $25,000 in donations, and they have already arranged more than $5,000 to fund the ongoing critical stabilization work on the house. The group will also accept less conventional donations. As Fernandez put it last week, "building materials are just as good as money."

Why spend so much time and trouble on a single house? Fernandez aims to make a broader statement by saving 1316 N. Market: Just think, if several thousand people each adopted just one house apiece and put their passion and time into saving it, St. Louis would see fewer senseless demolitions. Much of the city's historic built environment in north St. Louis faces an uncertain future, and grassroots efforts -- such as the Brickstarter -- may be its best hope for preservation.

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

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16 comments
Roy Johnson
Roy Johnson

Too bad you can't save the people, they're the problem, sadly.

Renate Kheim
Renate Kheim

This is fantastic and I admire everybody,who is doing it. Coming from Europe, we are not tearing down historic buildings. They are too valuable. It is crime to buy a historic home, tear it down and build two house on the same lot. Greed and money counts in the US.

Madison Davis
Madison Davis

I've been to that neighborhood multiple times to view the progress versus just hearing about it, Historic areas always draw my attention. You've done a great job Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group, The residents were very friendly as well, I'm impressed!

Adam Woodson
Adam Woodson

^ i wish you had considered that before gracing us with your unsolicited wisdom.

Adam Usher
Adam Usher

Make as many comments as you guys want. Not going to change anything or anyone.

Adam Woodson
Adam Woodson

"Sorry, I call a spade a spade" i think you may have too high an opinion of your opinion.

Adam Usher
Adam Usher

I live in NoCo I see what's going on.

Christina Fox Dickherber
Christina Fox Dickherber

Adam, don't believe everything you hear. Maybe you should come visit our North City Farmers' Market some Saturday, & see how our neighborhood actually is, it's full of amazing people.

Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group
Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group

That's an insult to the many upstanding residents of Old North St. Louis, but we are also working on a comprehensive revitalization. We don't just focus on buildings, we focus on everything, including social development.

Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group
Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group

You clearly haven't been in Old North St. Louis in a while, if ever. Crime is very low in the neighborhood, and we have a great neighborhood watch and partnership with the police. Any "crackheads" are quickly dealt with and are not welcome in our neighborhood.

Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group
Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group

Thanks for sharing our project! Quick note that our Facebook page is actually at Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group. One of these days we need to get that Facebook generated page merged. Any support for this project is much appreciated, and donations are completely tax deductible. With the communities help we will save this fine historic building and many more after this one.

Adam Usher
Adam Usher

You can save the homes but it's going to take a lot more to fix the people who live in that area.

Sublunar Photography
Sublunar Photography

I love the bricks of our fine city. You don't realize how many beautiful brick buildings we have until you go to another city. There's a great documentary on this subject as well if you're into this sort of thing: http://www.stlbrickfilm.com/

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