Bad Buzz: King Bee building residents have turned on downtown St. Louis developers Sam Glasser and Dave Jump

Six years ago, downtown developer Sam Glasser introduced Jill Holtrop to the King Bee building, a turn-of-the-century millinery warehouse on the western edge of the Washington Avenue loft district.

Holtrop, a saleswoman who was living in Chesterfield, eyed the King Bee's maple flooring and thick, curvy support columns. Her interest was piqued. "I had never considered living downtown," recalls Holtrop, a 57-year-old woman with finely arched eyebrows and a pouf of blond hair. "I just thought it would be an adventure."

Holtrop and her future husband, Jim, sold their respective suburban homes, and for $260,000 bought a 3,100-square-foot loft with a row of south-facing windows. On May 1, 2003, their grown children gathered in the light-filled living area to see Jim and Jill exchange wedding vows.

Six years ago, downtown developer Sam Glasser introduced Jill Holtrop to the King Bee building, a turn-of-the-century millinery warehouse on the western edge of the Washington Avenue loft district.

Holtrop, a saleswoman who was living in Chesterfield, eyed the King Bee's maple flooring and thick, curvy support columns. Her interest was piqued. "I had never considered living downtown," recalls Holtrop, a 57-year-old woman with finely arched eyebrows and a pouf of blonde hair. "I just thought it would be an adventure."

Holtrop and her future husband, Jim, sold their respective suburban homes, and for $260,000 bought a 3,100-square-foot loft with a row of south-facing windows. On May 1, 2003, their grown children gathered in the light-filled living area to see Jim and Jill exchange wedding vows.

Three years later, the Holtrops' urban adventure went awry. Alerted by contractors they hired to replace their heating and cooling system, they began to suspect that the building at 1709 Washington Avenue was rife with code violations.

In 2006 building and fire inspectors confirmed several problems: a furnace system without proper ventilation; a four-story staircase with several air conditioners stored on landings, also improperly ventilated; and untested sprinkler and alarm systems.

St. Louis' acting building commissioner Frank Oswald calls the violations at the King Bee "major," but says none of them are severe enough to warrant condemnation. What's unusual to Oswald is the way they arose in the first place.

"Usually when somebody else is [violating code]," says Oswald, "they're doing it on their property, and they haven't sold it as a condominium."

The fundamental issue, adds Oswald, is that the developer failed to alert the St. Louis Building Division before converting the warehouse to residences. He explains that most developers begin by filing a plan, which kicks off a series of reviews and inspections, before anyone moves in. "It clearly was not done appropriately," Oswald says.

Deputy Fire Marshal Baron Ross agrees. "The life-safety requirements for a warehouse or factory are quite different from where people are going to be sleeping," he explains.

The Holtrops and the owners of eight other condos claim Glasser and his partner Dave Jump have sold them substandard housing. On March 19 the condo owners filed a lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court alleging breach of contract.

Elkin Kistner, the disgruntled owners' attorney, says Glasser and Jump should have brought the building up to code before they started selling condos. "You had a developer who was selling units not in compliance with the law in multiple respects," Kistner says. "The unit owners were deceived as to what they were buying." Jump and Glasser's attorney, Paul Puricelli, declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The King Bee Nine, so to speak, aren't the first denizens of Washington Avenue to butt heads with the duo. After buying the Knickerbocker building, Glasser and Jump raised the rent on the Downtown Children's Center, nearly forcing out the nonprofit daycare. Then in 2001, Knickerbocker residents sued — and eventually settled — over a promised parking garage.

This latest lawsuit caps two years of skirmishes between King Bee residents and Glasser, the more visible of two partners. Glasser keeps a sixth-floor office on Washington Avenue for his general contracting firm, Samuel & Co. He lives on Lindell Boulevard in a home that belongs to his girlfriend, real estate agent Eileen Cervantes.

When a reporter arrived at the manicured brick home late last month, Glasser ordered her off the property. "I have no interest in speaking with you," he said from behind a wrought-iron gate. Clad in a Polo golf shirt and his signature tortoiseshell glasses, he added, "Careful what you say."

In 1999 Glasser and Jump, a major downtown landholder, bought the nine-story warehouse with the scrollwork façade, built in 1911 for the King-Brinsmade Mercantile Company. According to their application for state historic tax credits, they paid $1.25 million.

At the time, a number of artists worked in the building, and some of them lived there under the radar. "That building's been active for a lot of years," says artist Keith Buchholz, who used the King Bee for his performance art in the 1980s.

It was obvious the building came together piece by piece, says Peter MacKeith, a Washington University architecture professor who rented a loft from Glasser in 1999. "There were whole floors or half-floors that were as yet unrenovated." (MacKeith still lives at the King Bee and says he's done so "quite peaceably.")

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...