A Legacy for Tomorrow

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I was driving a winding back road in Eureka recently when a sign at the entrance to the Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family Conservation Area caught my eye. I knew the Glassbergs back in the 1970’s during my stint at the Washington University faculty club and they were a lovely couple. Seeing that sign sparked fond memories of the Glassbergs, and I was pleased to see that they had left a legacy that reminds folks like me that their family was here, and that they cared deeply about nature and their community.

Personally, I am not a person who feels compelled (or qualified) to leave my mark on the world in such a literal way. When my time comes, I will be satisfied to have simply lived the best life I possibly could, but as a native St. Louisan I have a deep respect for the heritage ingrained in our city. We have long track record of creating exciting new structures, and a wonderful propensity for paying tribute to the builders of the past by revitalizing older structures to be enjoyed by current and future generations. One such project, City Foundry STL, is featured in this issue of St. Louis CNR.

Driving through St. Louis, you don’t have to look very far to find buildings that were long-ago shuttered and slowly being absorbed into a decaying urban landscape. The sad truth is that without a lot of vision, determination and funding, many of these structures will eventually be beyond help. Thank goodness there are people in our community who are willing, able and passionate about making the investments required to bring them back to life.

Transforming an old manufacturing site into an urban, mixed-use mecca while preserving as much of its original character as possible is the objective of City Foundry STL, a $230 million redevelopment project coming to life in Midtown St. Louis. City Foundry STL is but one facet of an $8 billion of development-related investment occurring within a five-mile stretch from the Gateway Arch to Washington University in St. Louis.

Steve Smith, CEO of Lawrence Group, is principal owner and developer of City Foundry STL.  Located on 14 acres, the site is bounded by Forest Park Avenue on the north, Highway 40 (Interstate 64) on the south, Spring Avenue on the east and Vandeventer Avenue on the west.

Smith developed City Foundry STL’s master plan in close collaboration with the neighboring Cortex Innovation District, directly west of the project site, to propel and sustain the synergy that both share in terms of innovative minds and their brightest ideas.

City Foundry STL sits on property that once belonged to one of the largest electrical manufacturers in the nation. The original foundry opened in 1929 and for the first 40 years, the site was known as Century Electric Foundry, where a vast variety of electric motors, castings and automotive parts were produced. After the final property owner, Federal-Mogul Automotive, closed its doors in 2007, the property stood vacant until Smith and team began preliminary work to develop City Foundry STL. As expected, the decade-long dormancy presented both challenges and opportunities.

An excerpt from a website chronicling the City Foundry STL project says it all:

If these walls could talk, they’d tell a story that’s uniquely St. Louis. They’d speak of more than a century of grit, hard work and determination. But most of all, of constant transformation. It’s a transformation driven by inspiration, creativity and collaboration – and the vision to create something new.

The project team has intentionally left as much of the character of the original foundry as possible with the perspective that it’s more important to preserve relics than to make things look new and precise. In addition to an oversized crane that will remain inside the building, original masonry, cleaned but not modified, will line the interior walls of a food hall that will be a central attraction. Smith said construction teams chose to leave the walls as they were rather than replacing them with a modern brick façade, in part to comply with historic preservation standards, but more to the point, because they felt it was important to retain the building’s original character.

Fantastic.

It’s an exciting time to be in the building industry and it’s wonderful to imagine how the builders of tomorrow will harness their vision to pay tribute to today’s work.

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