Cupples Complex Shrinks as City Struggles to Keep Historic Buildings Standing

By Pistor, Nicholas Jc | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

Cupples Complex Shrinks as City Struggles to Keep Historic Buildings Standing


Pistor, Nicholas Jc, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


ST. LOUIS * The 20 red brick warehouses west of Busch Stadium were once called "the greatest institution of its kind in the world." At the dawn of the 20th century, the Cupples Station complex teemed with busy freight lines, factories and warehouses.

Today, after years of changing economics, bad development plans and damage from Mother Nature, nine buildings remain of the complex.

Soon, it will be eight.

On Monday, demolition crews arrived on Spruce Street and started work to make the century-old Cupples 7 warehouse nothing more than a memory of St. Louis' mercantile past.

At City Hall, officials said they are doing everything they can to keep historic buildings standing tall.

Jeff Rainford, chief of staff to Mayor Francis Slay, said the mayor will hold an "all hands on deck" meeting on Thursday seeking ideas and possible legislation to keep a similar scenario from happening again. That could include anything from stiffer fines on developers to creating a large fund to help the city save buildings before it's too late.

"We are pulling everybody together in city government to figure out what lessons we have learned from Cupples," Rainford said.

The problem, according to Rainford, is the difficulty of holding developers accountable for deteriorating buildings.

Rainford said one of the only options may be finding a way to create a fund that would enable the city to target such buildings, stabilize them and put a lien on the property to recoup its investment.

The good news about the Cupples station complex is that the remaining eight buildings all have been rehabbed. Preservationists have lamented, however, that downtown St. Louis is losing density, along with another link to its past and a possible showcase for real estate development.

The Cupples complex, built between 1894 and 1917, was said to be the first large-scale grouping of freight lines, factories and warehouses in one spot. It was the talk of the nation and a driving force behind the fortunes of merchants Samuel Cupples and Harry and Robert S. Brookings.

The complex fell into disrepair by mid-century. …

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