The Ville's Sara-Lou Cafe Is One of 10 'Places in Peril' Across Missouri

The Sara-Lou Cafe, photographed in 2012 by the intrepid Paul Sableman. - FLICKR/PAUL SABLEMAN
The Sara-Lou Cafe, photographed in 2012 by the intrepid Paul Sableman.
A 112-year-old building in St. Louis' Ville neighborhood is one of the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation's "places in peril" this year — along with a host of other properties owned by the city's Land Reutilization Authority, or LRA.

The Ville site at 4067-69 St. Louis Avenue was the longtime home of the Sara-Lou Cafe, but it's sat vacant for years. After its owner's death, it fell into the hands of the LRA, the "owner of last resort" for thousands of city properties. It's since been plundered of copper and other materials.

Writer Chris Naffziger, who featured the Sara-Lou site on his St. Louis Patina blog in 2014, titled his piece, "Sara Lou's Not Doing Well." "I would not be surprised if it collapses this winter," he wrote at the time.

But the building has hung on, and next year could see new life for the Sara-Lou. The LRA has extended a one-year option to purchase to the non-profit Northside Community Housing Inc, Missouri Preservation writes. They're hoping to assist in the organization's efforts to purchase and restore the building.

Explains the group, "The Café building is a historically significant landmark, gathering spot and family restaurant in St. Louis’s North City. Its loss would represent a loss of urban fabric, density and the rich history of this neighborhood.

"By listing on Missouri’s historic Places in Peril, it is hoped that Northside Community Housing, Inc, will garner further visibility and credibility in its case for support and will help raise the philanthropic dollars needed to rehabilitate this local landmark."

Other sites on this year's Missouri Preservation list include the Barbagallo House in Kimmswick and the former Lincoln School in Jackson. Closer to home, Historic Preservation has listed both Westland Acres, "a residential subdivision of approximately 130 acres on the border of the villages of Chesterfield and Wildwood in suburban west St. Louis County," and St. Louis' LRA holdings as a whole.

According to the organization,
The Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) in the City of St. Louis owns over 11,200 parcels of property. LRA estimates that there are approximately 6,200 buildings on these various properties, both commercial and residential, constructed between 1870 and 1950. Many are located in local or National Register historic districts, and even more if surveyed might be determined eligible for historic district listing. Most of the LRA’s holdings are located in distressed neighborhoods due to a large number of tax foreclosures, so it is possible that LRA will end up owning more potentially historic buildings in the future.

LRA’s major policy of disposition of these buildings each year has been ad hoc demolition, presenting a major threat to preservation of the vernacular architecture of St. Louis. The St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) is currently in its third year of funding the demolition of LRA-owned buildings in North St. Louis, where the District is spending a planned $13.6 million per year over twenty years to demolish 1,300 vacant buildings, creating passive storm water retention spaces in place of buildings. In South and Central St. Louis, MSD plans to separate storm water from city sewers, but in North St. Louis has chosen the cheaper route of simply creating storm permeable land by removing the buildings. Furthermore, the City of St. Louis increased its annual demolition funding through a ballot initiative, spending about $1 million annually on building demolitions.

... Currently LRA lacks to funds to market for-sale properties, but the promotion of dollar houses and stabilization efforts are great preservation tools. It is hoped that this listing will amplify the cause for further change and also announce to preservationists the need for citizens to step up and purchase LRA buildings. Never before have there been these tools to aid with preservation and counteract demolition policies, and now is the time for people to take advantage of them before we lose thousands of great buildings.
For additional context on the Places in Peril list, see Missouri Preservation's website.
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About The Author

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of Euclid Media Group, overseeing publications in eight cities. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and was previously editor-in-chief of the RFT and the LA Weekly. She lives in St. Louis.
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