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Landmarks gave thanks for H. Meade Summers Jr.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 24, 2009 - At the 50th anniversary dinner of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis earlier this month, a new award was inaugurated replaced previous honors for people or organizations that had made significant contributions in the field of historic preservation in the St. Louis area. The new award is named for its first recipient: The H. Meade Summers Jr. Award.

The following is condensed from remarks made by Landmarks board president Bill Wischmeyer.

I won't go on at length about the past 50 years, but it is worthwhile remembering that in 1958, things were different. There was no National Register of Historic Places, no local historic districts, no tax credits. Highway construction and "slum clearance" were in the ascendency. But there was a small group of wise folks who recognized what we had and were determined to hang on to the best of it.

What got Landmarks started was the imminent destruction of the Captain Bissell Mansion in North St. Louis. Literally in the face of the threatening bulldozers, the organization was established and its first victory recorded. The Bissell House now stands, a permanent landmark. As do the Red Water Tower in Hyde Park, the Chatillon-DeMenil House in Benton Park, the Wainwright Building and Old Post Office downtown, all worthy examples of our early success.

How could anyone have thought to tear down these fixtures of our landscape, our cultural heritage. Yet many did.

... Tonight, as we gather to celebrate 50 years of dedication of so many, it is an honor to recognize the extraordinary commitment and accomplishments one of these leaders in particular, H. Meade Summers Jr.

It has been said, "A leader knows the way, shows the way, and most importantly, goes the way." Meade has done all of that and more. Indeed, for many years, the name H. Meade Summers Jr. has been practically synonymous with historic preservation in Missouri. During the past four decades, he has led the formation and funding of many of the state's major preservation organizations, and spearheaded the rehabilitation of some of the state's most prominent landmarks.

  • On the board of Landmarks for 33 years; president in 1971 and 72. Under his leadership, Preservation Week was begun and Landmarks pressed ahead with its vision to include the preservation of neighborhoods as well as individual sites. Walking the walk (as we are so often asked to do), the association, along with the Junior League, rehabbed 917 Russell in Soulard.
  • A member of the St. Louis County Historic Buildings Commission for 12 years.
  • On the board of the Missouri Historical Society for 22 years, guiding the bill through Missouri Legislature enabling the Society to be included in the Zoo-Museum tax district.
  • Co-founder of the Missouri Heritage Trust, now Missouri Preservation, our only statewide, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting, supporting and coordinating historic preservation activities throughout the state.
  • Chairman of the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation for 12 years.
  • Co-founder with Elizabeth Sayad of les Amis for the preservation of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., and the preservation of the Mid-Mississippi Valley's Creole culture
  • Served on the executive committee of the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Missouri
  • Member of the Executive Committee of the St. Louis Old Post Office Committee.
  • One of the founders of Missouri Mansion Preservation Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Missouri's Governor's Mansion
  • Established and funded the Meade Summers Jr. Foundation for Historic Preservation. Our association's new offices and educational facilities, Architecture St. Louis, are due in large part to a generous contribution from the foundation. Meade's enduring counsel, and steadfast support of preservation continue to guide and foster the work of Landmarks.

His advocacy for our mission alone would warrant special recognition. But there is more. The city of St. Louis and the state of Missouri are in debt to Meade for his role in the preservation of several important buildings and sites.
As chair of the Building Committee of the History Museum, Meade supervised transformation of the United Hebrew Temple into the museum's library, research center and archives. The project received national awards for outstanding adaptive reuse of an historic structure.

He secured funding for the replacement and reconstruction of the ironwork fence in Lafayette Square, and was instrumental in making the Jefferson Landing Historic Site in our state capitol an official Bicentennial Project.

Summers was a major benefactor of Emmanuel Temple Church of God in Walnut Park, including restoration and maintenance of the existing building, construction of a new wing and the initiation of a variety of social and educational programs.

He worked with then Gov. Bond to save the Wainwright building.

And we have a letter from Sen. Bond:

Dear Meade:

You and I are in the same boat, we were there at the beginning. The trouble is, people start adding up the years and neither of us comes out looking good. As you receive the Summers Award tonight, you and I can both take heart from this fact -- at least we weren't there when the Wainwright Building was built!

Thank you for your tireless work preserving historic architecture in downtown St. Louis. The rich history of St. Louis has been preserved and enhanced by visionaries, like you, who have seen the value of historic structures and their place in the economic development and rebirth of the central business districts in our great cities.

Congratulations and best wishes.

Sincerely, Kit