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Symphony prepares to demolish historic house to make way for Powell Hall renovation

The ornate and historic Culver House has a steeple on its front-left corner and brick archways. It stands left of Powell Hall.
Chad Davis
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra plans to demolish the Culver House in the Midtown area to expand Powell Hall. That work could begin as early as Monday.

Demolition is expected to begin as soon as Monday on a historic house next to Powell Hall.

The project comes as a huge loss for preservationists who for months tried to persuade the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra to save the 19th-century house. Symphony officials are having it torn down to prepare for the $100 million renovation and expansion of Powell Hall.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra representative Eric Dundon said the issue was given much consideration.

“While in a perfect world, we would be able to save or move the building, we really felt as an institution that the best use of our money, time and resources would be to invest in the things that promoted the SLSO mission,” he said.

The home was filled with asbestos, black mold and rotting wood, symphony officials said.

Symphony officials had already made up their minds when they spoke with local preservationists interested in saving the home, said Andrew Weil, the executive director of Landmarks, which works to preserve the city’s historic buildings.

As the house is not located within a city historical district or preservation review district, it was not protected from demolition. So when concerned citizens heard about demolition plans earlier this year, Wiel said he couldn’t ease their worries.

“I had to tell him it was a failure of urban planning,” Weil said.

If the building had been included in the historical district or was listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places, Weil said he’s confident that contractors wouldn’t be planning its demolition today.

"In this case, there really just was no jurisdiction to deny the demolition request,” Weil said. “And so, off they went.”

The Culver House is known by other names, including the old Portfolio Gallery building and the Stephen Allen Bemis House. It’s been home to art galleries and chiropractors and was left vacant when the symphony acquired the house in the summer of 2015.

The renovation of Powell Hall will make the symphony more accessible for patrons and ensure the symphony has enough space to rehearse and perform in the future, Dundon said.

Workers salvaged many pieces of the house this week, Dundon said, including some wood, doors and stained-glass windows. Many of those pieces were given to the St. Louis nonprofit ReFab.

Losing Culver House is a loss for the community, Weil said, because there aren’t many 19th-century homes left in the neighborhood.

“It's disappointing that one arts institution would destroy another component of St. Louis's artistic and architectural and cultural heritage,” Weil said.

Farrah Anderson is the newsroom intern at St. Louis Public Radio. Follow her on Twitter: @farrahsoa.

Farrah Anderson is an intern at Illinois Public Media and a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is studying journalism. She previously interned for St. Louis Public Radio in the summer of 2022.

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