Midcentury Modern Fans Rally for 1967 Saucer

St. Louis residents are rallying—both in person and on Facebook—to save a Midcentury Modern building they call "the Saucer." Last night about 80 supporters gathered at the empty building on South Grand Avenue, whose fate may be decided tomorrow.

Built in 1967 as a Phillips 66 gas station, the Saucer housed a Del Taco restaurant until last year. When locals discovered that the complex's owner, developer Rick Yackey, wanted to tear down the Saucer to make way for a new retail development, they started to object.

"We've seen so many of these midcentury buildings be destroyed around the St. Louis area, and I think there are a lot of people who don't want to see another one demolished, especially for a planned strip mall," says Mike Batchelor, a resident of suburban St. Charles, Mo., who established a Facebook group, Save St. Louis Del Taco, on June 21. In just two weeks, the group has attracted more than 12,000 followers—an outpouring that surprised Batchelor. "I figured 50, 100 people tops; I never would have expected 12,000."

Designed by architect Richard Henmi of the firm Schwarz and Van Hoefen, the Saucer, with its 120-foot-wide roof, was the centerpiece of the Council Plaza project, a senior housing community constructed between 1964 and 1968. Yackey successfully had the nine-acre complex listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, and today the Council Plaza National Register District consists of two residential towers, a commercial building, and the Del Taco building. 

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen may have the final control, via a special ordinance, over the building's future. Tomorrow the board is scheduled to cast what could be its final vote on Board Bill 118, which would permit demolition of the Saucer, which the bill labels "blighted." Alderwoman Marlene Davis, who introduced the bill, did not return phone calls.

In St. Louis, the 28 members of the board of aldermen typically allow their colleagues to do what they want in their own wards. Hopefully that won't happen tomorrow, says Bill Hart, field representative for both Missouri Preservation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"This gives the aldermen an opportunity to reconsider saving a part of St. Louis history that obviously means a lot to a lot of people," Hart says. "It's not just a taco stand; it's part of a historic district."

The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Midwest Office joined a coalition with Missouri Preservation and the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, which sent a letter to the aldermen last month stating opposition to the bill. So far almost 2,000 people have signed a petition against the bill.

"There are only a few buildings like this in St. Louis, so architecturally it's significant," says Ryan Reed, preservation specialist at the Landmarks Association of St. Louis. "I'm optimistic about it. I hope it survives."

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Submitted by studebiker at: July 29, 2011
frequently the term "blighted" simply means anything in the way of some redevelopment scheme that seeks to replace it with what too often is a mediocre architecturally cliché project.