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Ald. Craig Schmid (D-10th) echoes those sentiments, saying that the building, which stood in his ward, was unsafe: "If we'd have found someone with some money, we'd have been interested in having it up, just for the sake of keeping old buildings," says Schmid. "The timing on this makes it look likes it's happening in a hurry, but it's been going on for years."
The issue that still lies at the heart of things -- even if the very walls in question have come down -- is whether there's enough data to even confirm the possibility of the Lemp site's being a stop on the Underground Railroad.
City officials universally point to a memo written by Douglas Eiken, of the Missouri Division of State Parks, dated Nov. 18, 1998. According to the report, a panel put together by the state argues there's no way that the site could've been either a slave quarters for the nearby DeMenil Mansion or an Underground Railroad site. They tab 3314 Lemp as something quite different.
Reads part of the memo: "Although the house appears to be of antebellum construction, in the opinion of the team, it is more likely a workers cottage constructed by German craftsmen and may be associated with the Lemp Brewery, which used the system of caves beneath this part of the city to store their products."
Like the others, Schmid quotes from Eiken's memo as the final word on the subject. "The only opinion I can have is what other people tell me," he says. "There was a delay in demolition so that the state could study it."
Clatto, though, says he has found support from archaeologists at both Washington University and St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley, who believe there's enough evidence to merit a longer-term dig at the site -- exactly what was on tap for this summer. "I think as a city we could've banded together and put up a fence for six months," he says. "It could've been monumental if this were indeed a site."
Clatto's class would've comprised 20 students from a variety of city schools, plus a couple of county students. "There are some very impressive kids in this group," he says. "It's a shame. They're extremely upset, hurt, bewildered. They asked, 'How could they do this? Don't they understand how important this site could be?' It just was not in that bad a shape that it needed to be torn down.
"The city's trying to do a number on us."
Clatto says that he set up the Archaeological Conservation Team Inc. as a nonprofit group, in conjunction with city schools, to help secure grants and outside funds to help with their summer fieldwork. He says that a couple of sources indicated that they would donate money to help shore up the walls at the Lemp site, ensuring that the area was safe for the kids. continued on page 12continued from page 10
As of Monday, Clatto was still involved in a full-on push to keep heavy machinery off the site so that (at the very least) the cave could be checked this summer. City officials seem to offer some mild hope of that happening.
This unfolding story proved rich not only in detail and vastly differing facts and opinions but in irony: For example, the notion of an all-black crew ripping down a house that could've been part of the Underground Railroad. Or the fact that a dilapidated adjoining building at 3316 Lemp was left standing.
Clatto, knowing the city's spin, says, "I know the city's going to try to crucify me on this. But this is wrong. I thought the goal was to educate kids."
At this point, Clatto's nonprofit group may try to buy the site outright, if LRA's willing. Even then, they may not be able to afford the additional fencing and liability insurance and might therefore have to shift to another site just six weeks before the scheduled class. (If a bulldozer comes on-site, it's all over.) And the city, with its tangled branches, is proving its bureaucratic mettle: The proponents of keeping the building up may not have filled out every line on every form, but the city certainly was aware of the efforts and didn't make the process one bit easier.
In short, the system failed at 3314 Lemp. The 20 kids scheduled to have spent their summer at the little house deserved better. The city stumbled badly, also creating an unnecessary PR fiasco. Though the local-government agencies involved may not be able to undo all the bad will they've already created, if they care at all about preservation (even if it's only job preservation), they'll try harder. Not next time, but this time. The clock's ticking. HUNGRY DOGS WALKING: Many letters to the editor have poured into the RFT concerning a piece on feral dogs in several impoverished East Side towns. Occasionally, though, such a sight is found closer to home. Recently, just blocks from the RFT office in tony University City, a lithe gray dog (with freakishly white eyes, no less) secured a giant sandwich from one of the Dumpsters between a pricey deli, Brandt's, and a pricey diner, Fitz's. To be fair, the stinky, strewn-about trash belongs to the pricey deli and its eastward neighbors, not the pricey diner.
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