After "P" in Pevely Sign Crashes to the Ground, Preservationists Ask If Work Was Legal [UPDATE]

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SLU did not mind its "P's," now there are lots of "Q's." - AIMEE LEVITT
  • Aimee Levitt
  • SLU did not mind its "P's," now there are lots of "Q's."

Update: Mayor Slay's office has many of the answers.

Something very strange is going on with the Pevely Dairy complex's iconic sign.

On Tuesday, as a crew worked to remove the "P" in the word "Pevely" atop the old factory building at Grand and Choteau, the huge character got loose from its ropes and plummeted to the street below.

Photos obtained by KSDK show the huge letter smashed on the sidewalk next to a school bus.

Luckily, no one was hurt. A spokesperson from St. Louis University -- the college owns the building and wants it demolished for the construction of a $75 million medical facility -- told the TV station that a rope had snapped. He added that the rest of the letters would be carried through the building when they are removed.

This disaster brought to you by the letter 'P.' - KSDK
  • KSDK
  • This disaster brought to you by the letter 'P.'

But hold on just a cotton pickin' minute! The incident has a lot of folks asking if any work to remove the sign -- even the kind that doesn't result in a 30-foot-high piece of metal sailing through the air -- was legal. Urban preservationists like Jeremy Clagett, the author behind What Should Be STL, battled last year to keep the buildings from being torn down. The war to save Pevely Dairy was ultimately lost in February, with one of the minor consolation prizes being that SLU needs a demolition permit to tear down the office building at Choteau and Grand.

Yet, as Tuesday's accident proves, work has begun on the site even though SLU doesn't have the permit.

"They seem to think they do not need a demo permit to do that work," says Clagett. "There seems to be a discrepancy about whether they had the authority to remove that sign or not." Clagett says he's been talking with the contractor in charge of the demolition, Ahrens Contracting, Inc., for weeks about paying for the sign to be removed and put in storage. Clagett thought he could raise the money (an estimated $10,000) on Kickstarter, then repurpose the marquee in some way. But he says he wasn't told the sign was coming down this week and only the accident drew attention to the work. Since raising questions about the accident he says the Ahrens employee he was dealing with has cut off contact.

Putting aside any sentimental feelings about saving the sign, the question remains -- was SLU within its rights to remove the sign without permits?

"That is still a gray area," Clagett says. "I haven't received any definitive information on that."

Not even the folks at City Hall seem to understand what's happened. Mayor Francis Slay's chief of staff Jeff Rainford is looking in to the convoluted matter and Slay tweeted this yesterday:

A manager at Ahrens Contracting said all questions had to go to the school and a call to SLU's spokesperson was not returned.

In the meantime, be careful out there St. Louis, there's still a whole EVELY up there.

Update: From Mayor Slay's blog --

What's Up With the Pevely?

Several people have brought to my attention the (continuing) removal of a sign (PEVELY) atop the former Pevely Dairy building by its owner. You asked if the work was legal - and safe.

The City's Building Division reports that the removal of this sign does not require a permit. The Cultural Resources Office reports that, were such a permit required, it would not have the authority under the Preservation Review District ordinance to deny it, because removing the sign does not meet the definition of demolishing the building, which is in such a district. So, legal.

The Building Commissioner did visit the work site on Tuesday. He reports that the proper equipment in present and reasonable safety precautions, including roping off the sidewalk, have been taken. He will continue monitor the situation, particularly since there has already been an accident on the site.

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