Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Official Guards Treasure of Past

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Official Guards Treasure of Past

Article excerpt

THE TOWER IS no longer there, the windows and doors on the first floor are boarded up, the ornate roof is gone and the glass is missing from all of the second- and third-floor windows.

But the building at 3615 Martin Luther King Drive - like many of those in St. Louis - carries with it a history that could never be replaced.

The building once was home to the Prince Hall Masons, the black Masons' group here. Built in 1908, the building was the site of countless social affairs and civic activities among blacks here for decades. It was the first black Masonic lodge built west of the Mississippi River.

Over the years the neighborhood has become rundown, and the Masons now hold meetings and other functions at another building. Not too long ago, the masons wanted to tear the old building down.

Kate Shea said no.

She has that power. Shea is the commissioner of heritage and urban design for the city. And she thinks that St. Louisans often don't appreciate their heritage.

"There is great architecture and history here, and I don't think people give that much thought," Shea said.

"How many people know that Tower Grove Park is one of only three National Landmark parks in the entire country?" she asked. Or that the Ville neighborhood - which is being nominated for the National Register of Historic Places - dates from the 1830s, when it was a village outside St. Louis?

"St. Louis has always looked to the future but never valued its past," Shea lamented. "I'm told, for example, that in 1840 the city tore down everything built in 1820."

Shea grew up an Army brat who lived all over the United States. Sixteen years ago, she moved to St. Louis from New York City "because I thought it would be a great place to live."

In that, she's not been disappointed. "But I'm still astonished the way St. Louisans don't value the resources they have," she said.

Shea cited numerous examples from all over town. One is a row of stone homes in the Carondelet area built in the 1820s. At one point, she said, plans were to tear down one of the stone homes on Stein Street for some sort of development. The residents, she said, wanted to tear down the home. …

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