Two weeks ago I reported that Landmarks Association of St. Louis was scrambling to secure funding for a new downtown space it has planned, Architecture St. Louis. The project’s main underwriter, Larry Cohn, had pledged $500,000. He even wrote a check for a portion of that sum, but the check bounced.
Cohn had donated or pledged similarly large sums around town, but since last summer he has virtually disappeared.
“There are people that care about the built environment, but they don’t have a place to go,” says William Wischmeyer, president of Landmarks’ board of directors.
He thinks Landmarks will reach its goal. “We’ve raised enough money that we’re within $150,000 of making this thing go,” Wischmeyer reports. “We can sign the lease, sign construction contracts, then we can move in.”
In the wake of the bounced check, longtime Landmarks supporter H. Meade Summers Jr. has donated $200,000. The plea for year-end donations Wischmeyer sent to the membership in November netted another $50,000.
“The entire board has been charged with the responsibility to get out there and be very vigorous with whatever contacts they have,” Wischmeyer says, adding that he hopes heavy hitters in the development and construction business will come forward. “There’s certainly people that have done well by historic preservation in the last few years,” he notes.
That said, creating Architecture St. Louis represents a big step for Landmarks, whose main function during its several decades of existence has been to research and make nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to amped-up fundraising, the new venture would doubtless entail more public interaction.
So who is going to lead the charge?
Executive director Carolyn Toft, the public face of local historic-preservation activism for decades, declined to comment about Landmarks’ dealings with Larry Cohn, despite the fact that she’s apparently the only person at the nonprofit who knows Cohn personally.
According to Wischmeyer, Toft aims to retire “within a reasonable period of time.” At any rate, he adds, he doesn’t want to see fundraising fall entirely to her or her successor.
“Our board has been made up of people that are passionate about preservation. As our board evolves, to support this new initiative we will be looking for new board members that have the kind of skills we need on a board to sustain ourselves.”