What's an architect's worst nightmare? The sight of a historic building's original façade buried beneath layers of shoddy cover-ups surely ranks high on the list.
But architecture firm Rosemann & Associates was actually quite pleased to discover a thick coat of peeling white paint covering the former Packard Auto Dealership in St. Louis. And for good reason: If the building had not been painted, the National Park Service would have required the development team to restore the original exterior, and the building would look like every other one on the block. Instead the team was allowed to cover the original brick and stucco with a fresh colorful façade of beiges, deep browns, and pops of lime green and rustic terra cotta that pays homage to the building's art deco style yet makes a fresh, bold statement.
“The building's white canvas gave us an opportunity to make creative design decisions and breathe new life into the building,” says Chuck Reitzel, a project architect for St. Louis-based Rosemann & Associates. “If the original materials were exposed, we would have had a hard time justifying painting over that.”
The 1913 building reopened under the new moniker Packard Lofts in late 2006, and its vibrant presence helps set the tone for the revitalization of the city's west Washington Avenue Loft District, to date the most western expansion of St. Louis' loft district. In the early to mid-1900s the neighborhood, located just a few blocks from downtown, housed car dealerships and auto and clothing manufacturing warehouses that over the years have become vacant or, in the case of the former Packard Auto Dealership, served as underutilized warehouse space.
The project's developer, St. Louis-based McGowan & Walsh, has pioneered the district's redevelopment with a total of 10 mixed-use communities. “Lofts are generally still being pioneered here is St. Louis, but pushing them out this far west, you are even more of a pioneer,” says Kevin McGowan, chairman of McGowan & Walsh.
BODY WORK McGowan & Walsh purchased the building in January 2005 and hit the ground running. The former auto deal-ership, like many of the nearby warehouses, had slowly lost its architectural details over the years and become a dilapidated white box. Fortunately, most of the historical features on the building's façade were still intact but just buried underneath the all-consuming white paint. “When we applied the new paint to the building, we made sure to accent those pieces so they stand out and once again become a prominent feature of the architecture,” says Reitzel. The original terra cotta details, including designs in the shape of medallions and ribbons, now sparkle thanks to a fresh coat of bronze paint that pops against a tan background.
But not all of the building's historic elements were as easy to restore. The original windows had been torn out, and the team had to rely heavily on old photographs to recreate the patterns and profiles of the original windows as required by the National Park Service. Plus, the Park Service required the developer to refurbish elements of the original 8,000-square-foot auto show-room including the columns, mahogany casework, marble stairs, and mosaic tile floor. (The space will serve as a banquet hall for Mike Shannon's Steak and Seafood.)
The development team had free reign to recreate the rest of the interior space as desired. “We stripped the building down to the bare bones and started from scratch,” says Reitzel. The 33 one- and two-bedroom loft-style units, which sell for $150,000 to $400,000, feature contemporary open plans, sleek bathrooms and kitchens, 11-foot ceilings, and oversized windows and balconies with city views.
CALLING ALL RESIDENTS Don't be surprised if you see a cluster of scooters with the McGowan & Walsh logo parked outside of Packard Lofts. These free scooters are one of several incentives the company uses to attract people to its properties in the loft district—an area slightly off the beaten path that doesn't yet have the same traction as true downtown living.
“These projects [in the loft district] take time to catch on and get into people's minds,” says McGowan. “But we are selling on schedule, and the people moving down there are very happy.”
And for good reason. The loft district has an entirely different atmosphere than downtown and offers a more residential feel with plenty of green space to walk a dog, throw a Frisbee, or ride a scooter, of course.
- Be efficient with your space. Residents of McGowan & Walsh's loft district properties will all share amenities at the MW Club, a separate building which will house tennis courts, a fitness center, pool, and more.
- Offer creative incentives to entice buyers. The developer will place $10,000 in a pool for every firm contract signed at Packard Lofts by the end of the month. One buyer will win 75 percent of the pool; the last 25 percent will help fund a community playground.
- Be persuasive. The developer convinced the National Park Service to allow them to remove the large circular ramp that ran both inside and outside the building.
PROPERTY: Packard Lofts
DEVELOPER: McGowan & Walsh
LOCATION: St. Louis
RENOVATION COST: $8 million
LENGTH OF RENOVATION: 11 months
SCOPE OF PROJECT: Adaptive reuse of an underutilized warehouse