Shanley Building

Protestors gathered at the Shanley Building in Clayton on May 11 to oppose its possible demolition. | photo by Max Bouvatte

A proposed downtown Clayton condominium development is drawing backlash from city officials and residents due to the possible demolition of a historic building.

During a May 20 review of the project, members of the plan commission/architectural review board and residents were widely critical of a two-phase project being proposed by HBE Corporation. The project is proposed for the block bounded by Central Avenue to the west, Maryland Avenue to the north and Bemiston to the east. The project would go south to an alley in approximately the middle of the block. Forsyth is to the south.

Commission members and residents expressed concerns about the project’s impact on businesses along both Bemiston and Central. Central Avenue, in particular, draws people to small businesses and restaurants.

A number of buildings would be demolished to make way for the project. The Shanley Building at 7800 Maryland Ave. was mentioned several times, and preserving it has been an issue for some time.

The building, which houses a license office, was built in 1935 and was designed by noted architect Harris Armstrong for the building’s original occupant, an orthodontist named Leo Shanley.

Shanley’s son also became an orthodontist and used the building until the early 1990s. For a while, the building was used by an interior decorating company.An architecture preservation group, ModernSTL, held a May 11 march through downtown Clayton, with about 20 people joining in, to the Shanley Building located at the corner of Maryland and Bemiston.

The march originated from the St. Louis Artists’ Guild on Jackson Avenue, where marchers heard a presentation on Harris Armstrong by architect Andrew Raimist of Kirkwood.

Raimist first became interested in Armstrong’s work after studying the archives at Washington University and later became friends with Armstrong’s widow.

“It’s a wonderful building,” said Raimist. “I don’t think it is the best place for condos. I think Fred Kummer (president of HBE) is looking at this from a financial view, which is a legitimate view, but it will destroy part of our heritage.”

HBE Proposal

HBE is proposing a 21-story condo building with 110 units with a four level, 250-spot parking garage underneath.

Steve Smith, an architect with the Lawrence Group and the project’s architect, said original plans for a hotel have been dropped. HBE and Lawrence Group have yet to disclose plans for the project’s second phase.

The development would be done without public funds.

Smith said condos will offer more variety in housing. While several apartment buildings have opened in Clayton in recent years, the first new condo project in over 10 years is now underway near Clayton High School.

Smith said the site will be developed at some point, if not by HBE for condos, than by someone else offering another project.

In addition to the Shanley Building, the site is occupied by a surface parking lot and a number of one- and two-story buildings, all of which would be demolished.

Commission members and residents expressed concerns about the project’s appearance and its impact on the area.

“This is the least inspirational building I have seen proposed, and it kills pedestrian retail on Bemiston and Central,” said Commission Chairman Steve Lichtenfeld.

He also questioned the size of the building, saying it would be out of place with other buildings in the downtown area, and with residential areas to the north. Other commission members agreed, with Ron Reim describing the building as “monolithic.”

During the plan commission meeting, several residents suggested that HBE look for ways to preserve the Shanley Building for use as part of the development.

Alderman Rich Lintz, who serves on the commission, described the building as a “cultural asset” and asked, “What are we getting that takes its place?”

The project will go before the plan commission/architectural review board again before going to the Clayton Board of Aldermen.