"Mar. 7, 1969 --- SERVICE WITH STYLE --- Against the sky the saucer shaped roof of this structure has an arresting effect on motorists. Those who take the time discover a gas station at Grand Boulevard and Forest Part Avenue. The $140,000 building, which is part of Council Plaza development, was designed by architect Richard T. Henmi of Schwarz & Van Hoefen (now Schwarz & Henmi). The roof is an inverted cone, 120 feet in diameter. The cone is a reinforced concrete thin shell. The station, like every building in the Mill Creek Valley redevelopment area, had to be approved by the St. Louis Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority. Photo by Floyd Bowser/St. Louis Post-Dispatch"
St. Louis Del Taco building may live, after all
July 26, 2011
Viva Del Taco?
On Sunday, the owner of the old Del Taco building in Midtown backed off plans to knock it down, saying he would explore a range of other alternatives before seeking a demolition permit from the city.
After weeks of silence on his plan to bulldoze the saucer-shaped landmark at South Grand and Forest Park boulevards near St. Louis University, developer Rick Yackey sent a statement to the Post-Dispatch pledging to hire an architect, talk with potential tenants and hold a community meeting to explore possible uses of the building.
"I am a developer, not a demolition man," Yackey wrote, noting that he has performed more than 2 million square feet worth of historic rehabs in the city, been honored by the Landmarks Association of St. Louis and never once applied for a demolition permit.
Yet demolition was to be the fate of the Del Taco building, according to plans filed with the city last month. Yackey, who owns the structure and neighboring Council Plaza, indicated he would knock down the 1967-built former gas station and replace it with new buildings for retail tenants.
That news prompted a flurry of protests from fans of both the restaurant and the building's funky midcentury architecture. Even as the Del Taco itself closed, thousands of people signed online petitions to save the structure. Supporters held rallies. Mayor Francis Slay weighed in, urging reuse. Eventually, aldermen changed the redevelopment plan to require review by the city's Preservation Board before any demolition permit could be issued. That's where things stand now.
Yackey said his goal is an "economically viable" project that fits in with the neighbors. Demolition was always a last resort, he said, but the existing structure, just 2,000 square feet under a vast cement canopy, has very little leasable space.
"This isn't about disliking the building," he said. "It's about things being functionally obsolete."
But after the uproar, and after talking with Slay and Alderman Marlene Davis, Yackey decided to see whether he can keep the building. He has hired an architect to study adding on to the ground floor, and he's talking with the owner of a neighboring property about swapping some land for more parking spaces.
That is great news both for the Del Taco building itself and for the broader cause of preservation in St. Louis, said Randy Vines, who helped organize rallies in support of the building. The outpouring of support shows that people care about distinctive buildings, even if they're just a few decades old, he said. And the protesters tried hard to keep a positive tone.
"We've done our best to offer solutions," Vines said. "Certainly this is a building that can be adapted to another use."
Yackey said he's talking with potential tenants already. He wouldn't say who, but Kaldi's Coffee and local pizza chain Pi confirmed last week that they're interested. Yackey also plans to hold a "community meeting to explore reuse and redevelopment ideas."
And, Yackey said, he won't rush to knock the building down.
"I have not applied for and will not apply for a demolition permit until completing this investigative process," Yackey wrote. He said he expects that will take two or three months.
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