Located just west of Grand on Chippewa, the Serenity Funeral Home property came up for auction at a St. Louis City tax sale in September 2018. Buildings that don’t sell at tax sale often face further deterioration and in some cases, demolition; in an effort to save the historic structure, we offered a bid and secured the property.
Anyone who has purchased a building at tax sale will attest to the fact that such purchases are accompanied by a plethora of unknowns, and Serenity was no exception. While we anticipated some of the usual issues like water and power being shut off, others were a surprise – the basement and other rooms were piled several feet high with trash, sections of walls and floors had suffered water damage, and, of highest concern, the roof was fraught with structural problems and on the brink of collapse.
Still, the potential was clear – the floor plan was conducive to that of an event venue with a spacious apartment above; there were more than 250 stained glass windows, all intact; an ample, 100+ space parking lot adjacent to the building was included in the parcel; original elements like brass chandeliers, hardwood flooring, and a pipe organ remained in what was, by and large, good condition; a full basement with roomy ceiling height offered storage and office space alike; and the location on Chippewa was promising – a corridor burgeoning with development projects and rehabilitation.
Pictured: An extensive search through piles of basement trash uncovered the original blueprints and architect Theodore Steinmeyer’s initial building sketch.
After assessing the building’s condition, stabilization began. Over the next few months, power was restored with separate meters for residential & commercial areas, water service was turned on, heaps of trash were cleared from the building, years worth of weeds and debris were removed from the perimeter & parking lot, carpeting was pulled up revealing original hardwood flooring, and some 200+ light bulbs were installed in the building’s many chandeliers.
If you’ve ever worked on a project where you feel like you can’t catch a break, we get it – shortly after starting stabilization, a large section of the roof collapsed. The results were catastrophic; roofing material, wood beams, brick, metal, and glass (not to mention a boatload of water!) poured into Parlor #3 (so-called on the original blueprints) with a force so great that the drop ceiling crashed to the floor on the level below.
Not ones to be deterred by large holes in roofs (ahem, 2755), we organized a response crew within hours and began the process of clearing out debris and rebuilding. After the structural work was complete, a new TPO roof was installed on the entire flat portion of the roof to ensure that the building’s future would be unencumbered by such catastrophes. Despite the extent of the damage, just two stained glass windows were damaged, and the broken pieces were carefully salvaged from the wreckage.
Our goal in purchasing the building was to preserve it, and ensure that its history was not lost to demolition or further decay. With our development focused elsewhere on Chippewa for the next few years, we wrapped up at Serenity and listed the building for sale. In July of 2020, a buyer in the form of the Karpeles Manuscript Library came to the table and purchased the building. Their previous location at 3524 Russell suffered a devastating fire in March 2019; however, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the museum’s director and some 80 firefighters, all of the contents of the museum were saved.
We’re looking forward to the day when we can walk through this building’s corridors and parlors to peruse historic manuscripts and documents.