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Kranzberg buys two historic buildings from SLU for the arts, saving them from demolition

People begin to gather on Sept. 13, 2023, for a demonstration in protest a plan by St. Louis University to demolish two historic buildings on Olive St. in Midtown St. Louis. They are near Mills Creek, a predominantly Black neighborhood that was razed in 1959 to make way for urban renewal.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
People begin to gather in September for a demonstration in protest of the demolition of two historic buildings on Olive Street near Mill Creek Valley. The predominantly Black neighborhood was razed in 1959 to make way for urban renewal. The Kranzberg Arts Foundation has purchased the buildings from St. Louis University.

The Kranzberg Arts Foundation is acquiring two historic buildings on Olive Street from St. Louis University that preservationists have worked to prevent the university from demolishing.

Kranzberg leaders are working with the Landmarks Association of St. Louis to save the buildings. The buildings at 3221-3223 and 3225 Olive Street sit on the boundary of Mill Creek Valley, the historically African American neighborhood that St. Louis officials demolished in 1959.

After renovations, the buildings will be used for performance space, art galleries, and food and beverage outlets, Kranzberg Arts Foundation Executive Director Chris Hansen said.

“This allows us to connect the Grand Center Arts District with SLU’s campus and allows us to have a new gateway to get up to ours and create new experiences,” Hansen said.

Renovations will begin later this year with project details to be announced at a later date, Hansen said.

Efforts to preserve the buildings began last year after the university announced demolition plans. Neither is on the National Register of Historic Places.

But preservationists said the buildings highlight a kind of architecture prevalent in St. Louis in the early 1900s.

The 3221-3223 address was once home to Dante’s, a nightclub that shut its doors in 2014. It was constructed by prominent restaurateur Tony Faust more than a century ago. Faust used the space as a market near the turn of the 20th century.

“It's an interesting purpose-built market building, we don't have very many of those in St. Louis, aside from the public markets that still survive,” said Andrew Weil, executive director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

Weil said the other building once housed a sewing school and hardware store. While it doesn’t hold the same historical significance, he said its architecture stands out.

“Taken together, it's much better in the opinion of our organization and in the opinion of many people that care about the architecture and the urban fabric of St. Louis, to reuse these buildings, not convert them into landfill and not convert them into vacant lots with no future planned purpose,” Weil said.

St. Louis University Vice President for Facilities Michael Lucido said in a statement that the university is pleased to see Kranzberg leaders using the space to help bring more activity to midtown.

The buildings are near SLU, Harris-Stowe State University, the Grand Center Arts District, Chaifetz Arena and the Locust Business District. Weil hopes SLU and Kranzberg’s agreement will attract more visitors and businesses while keeping these original buildings.

“That area doesn’t need more vacant lots, it needs more reactivated buildings, so that’s what our ultimate goal was,” Weil said.

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.