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  • Downtown Clayton Mid-Century Modern Walking Tour, Oct 11, 2014

    Posted on October 5th, 2014 Toby Weiss No comments

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    Saturday, October 11, 2014 at 10am
    Guided Walking Tour of Downtown Clayton Mid-Century Modern Buildings
    with your hosts Toby Weiss & Darren Snow
    Sponsored by DOCOMOMO Tour Day 2014 & ModernSTL

    In 1968, Clayton commerce proudly featured the modernity of their “new executive city,” even defining “the Clayton Look” (above) in their brochure. 45+ years on, Clayton continuously seeks to – and does – demolish its mid-century modern heritage.

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    On Saturday, October 11, 2014 at 10am, join ModernSTL founding members Darren Snow and myself for a guided tour that is roughly 2 hours in length and less than a 3 mile walk. You will learn factual and interesting things about approximately 30 buildings much like the two shown above.

    1968 brochure downtown clayton missouri

    Downtown Clayton is an architecturally precise place, a city rapidly built after World War 2 to be thoroughly and proudly modern. But commerce and development cliches about “old buildings” constantly threaten to wipe out the core of what makes St. Louis’ second downtown business district so unique.

    Read Making Money from Clayton’s Mid-Century Modern Buildings for the gist of our walking tour.

    Darren and I can almost guarantee to deliver you a few chuckles and guffaws along with an informal education.

    8230 forsyth clayton mo
    We meet at 10 am at the building above, the Clayton-Forsyth Building (learn more about it here) at 8230 Forsyth.

    Map to the starting point.

    There is parking on-street in front of the building, as well as ample parking behind it. Enter parking through the driveways at either end of the building.

    The tour is free for ModernSTL members (it’s insanely cheap to become a member ), and $5 for non-members, which is also insanely cheap. We look forward to seeing some Clayton MCM with you!

     

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  • A White Flight Tour Up West Florissant Ave. to #Ferguson and North St. Louis County

    Posted on September 7th, 2014 Toby Weiss 1 comment
    Roughly an 8 mile stretch of avenue illustrates a chapter of St. Louis history from urban to suburban, from white to black.

    Roughly an 8 mile stretch of avenue illustrates a chapter of St. Louis history from urban to suburban, from white to black.

    St. Louis is a racist town. Historically and culturally, it is a part of our heritage. Our built environment provides visual proof of this racism. The only thing surprising about the resentful segregation that has boiled over and blown up in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014 is that it took this long to do so.

    Leave Hwy 70 at West Florissant to head north, and there's multi-family housing like this, from 1926, overlooking Bellefontaine Cemetery.

    Leave Hwy 70 at West Florissant to head north, and there’s 4-family flats like this, from 1926, overlooking Bellefontaine Cemetery. This stretch of road within the St. Louis City limits had gas streetlights until 1942, when the switch was made to electric.

    The Ferguson police killing of Michael Brown is inexcusable and heartbreaking. This piece is inspired by my sorrow over Michael Brown’s tragic fate, and the intense feelings conjured while watching the aftermath unfold on the familiar streets of what was once my home and to those it belongs to now.

    Leading to the North Kingshighway intersection is a row of new in-fill housing built in 2005 next to a remaining 2-family flat built in 1900.

    Leading to the North Kingshighway intersection is a row of new in-fill housing built in 2005 next to a remaining 2-family flat built in 1900.

    Because it’s what I do, half this piece deals with the topic through photos of our buildings. This architecture tells the story of St. Louis’ northern expansion from urban to suburban, from white to black. It illustrates St. Louis’ White Flight as it traveled north up West Florissant from Highway 70 to New Halls Ferry, with a stop in Ferguson. Sharing our story through buildings is the best way I know how to process all the disturbing feelings I can’t shake in the wake of Michael Brown’s violent and unfair departure.

    At Geraldine Avenue, which is the dividing line between Bellefontaine and Calvary Cemetery Calvary, is this commercial/residential building from 1909. In 1921 it housed a Kroeger's Market and Shields Florist (who remained until 1963).

    At Geraldine Avenue, which is the dividing line between Bellefontaine and Calvary (where Dred Scott is buried) Cemetery is this commercial/residential building from 1909. In 1921 it housed a Kroger’s Market and Shields Florist (who remained until 1963).

    A WHITE LADY’S CREDENTIALS
    I have spent a decade plus documenting the St. Louis built environment in photos and words through this blog. I am a North County (NoCo) native, born and raised in
    Jennings – 14 Yr. Old Boy Murdered on Meadowlark
    Ferguson – Personal Architecture: 509 Teston in Ferguson, MO
    Black Jack – Tear Down Jamestown Mall
    before landing in South St. Louis City in 1993.

    At the Union Blvd. intersection is a mixed-use building erected in 1911. It originally housed a drug store and barber, among several other businesses.

    At the Union Blvd. intersection is a mixed-use building erected in 1911. It originally housed a drug store and barber, among several other businesses.

    Over half of my posts about NoCo brings up St. Louis’ history of White Flight, gently touching on our racism because it’s unavoidable. But it needs to stop being treated as a poorly hidden secret. I no longer wish to be politely genteel about how our racism is determined to destroy North St. Louis County the same way it did North St. Louis City.

    A glance up Arlington Avenue, with homes built from 1922 - 1923. These homes have looked essentially the same and well-maintained as when I first noticed how lovely they were in the 1980s.

    A glance up Arlington Avenue, with homes built from 1922 – 1923. These homes have looked essentially the same and well-maintained as when I first noticed how lovely they were in the 1980s.

    My immediate and extended family is a classic example of North Siders following the trail up West Florissant to North County, and eventually leaving it completely when it got “too Black.” My family is just a few of the hundreds of thousands of other NoCo Whites who have done exactly the same. I’ve seen why and how it plays it out.

    Between Thrush & Plover Avenues, and across from Calvary Cemetery, are single- and multi-family residences built from 1908 - 1924, capped off by an in-fill apartment building from the mid-1960s.

    Between Thrush & Plover Avenues, and across from Calvary Cemetery, are single- and multi-family residences built from 1908 – 1924, capped off by an in-fill apartment building from the mid-1960s.

    I love and explore all of St. Louis and spend a lot of time in North County, documenting its history as told through buildings and places. I manufacture any excuse to visit and hang out because I genuinely love North County more today than when I lived there. It feels good; it feels like home, because it is.

    5760 West Florissant is the Walnut Park branch of the St. Louis public library. The original building moved here in 1971, and was remodeled in the early 2000s.

    5760 West Florissant is the Walnut Park branch of the St. Louis public library. The original building moved here in 1971, and was remodeled in the early 2000s.

    But where I differ from so many of my White brethren is that I do not resent the Black majority that are now the rightful citizens of NoCo. It is their home the same as it was once mine. They live, love and work there the same as we once did, but with one glaring exception: they have to deal with and work around the systemic and lingering resentment of Whites who willingly fled the area because of them. And that’s a White Problem the NoCo Blacks have had to deal with… until they just couldn’t anymore.

    This building at 5776 West Florissant was erected in 1927, and from 1930 to 1971 was the Walnut Park library. It was also the home of Fischer & Sons Cleaners, and as an old, painted over sign in the window once revealed, the Wilson Cab Co.

    This building at 5776 West Florissant was erected in 1927. Right-side storefront was the Walnut Park branch of the St. Louis public library from 1930-1971. Left side was once Fischer & Sons Cleaners, and as an old, painted over sign in the window once revealed, the Wilson Cab Co.  The in-fill apartment buildings to the right are from 1964.

    CREATING ST. LOUIS RACISM

    St. Louis has always been a schizophrenic city. It’s the last of the old Eastern cities, and the Gateway to the younger West. That informs its Conservative vs. Progressive spirit. The Civil War Mason-Dixon Line ran right through it, and it’s been a struggle of North vs. South mentality ever since.

    The national dominance that the City of St. Louis experienced from post-Civil War to post-Korean War was partially based on the population increase of Blacks from the South. And while it was, by constitutional law, safe for Blacks to come here, powerful White factions have always made sure the new arrivals were segregated into the City’s North Side.

    A 2-story home built in 1900 must have stood by itself for a decade or so, as the homes next to it are younger. City records shwo this to be saved from the Land Redevelopment Authority in 1998. Excellent!

    A 2-story home built in 1900 must have stood by itself for a decade or so, as the homes next to it are younger. City records show this to be saved from the Land Redevelopment Authority in 1998. Excellent!

    While White St. Louis has enthusiastically embraced Black St. Louis culture – from music (milestone home of jazz, ragtime, blues and rock & roll) to food (BBQ and soul food are indigenous cuisine) – they made sure Blacks lived in a contained manner.

    Before and after the Civil Rights movement, the real estate Red Lining of the 20th century (expertly detailed in the book Mapping Decline) remains a troubling problem barely disguised as predatory lending in the 21st century. While every race and income level has been injured by the housing bubble burst of 2008, in St. Louis the massive foreclosures are most dramatic in the predominantly Black towns of North St. Louis County. It’s Red Lining re-branded for the 21st century.

    Angelo Lombardo opened a fruit stand at the corner of West Florissant and Riverview in 1934. In 1965 they erected this building as Lombardo's Restaurant. They moved out to the airport in 1993, and this place has been a series of restaurants a banquet hall and church.

    Angelo Lombardo opened a fruit stand at the corner of West Florissant and Riverview in 1934.  Pavement ended at this intersection, turning into a 2-lane gravel road that wasn’t paved until 1940ish. In 1965 the Lombardo family erected this building as Lombardo’s Restaurant. They moved out to the airport in 1993, and this place has since been a series of restaurants, a banquet hall and church.

    A vintage matchbook from Lombardo's Restaurant in the late 1960s.

    A vintage matchbook from Lombardo’s Restaurant in the late 1960s.

    CREATING NORTH COUNTY

    After World War 2, the Baby Boom created a need for more housing for everyone. With the help of President Eisenhower’s new highways and G.I. loans, people left St. Louis City in all directions for the largely rural County. To the North, West Florissant Avenue became a main corridor to fresh new homes and schools, so commerce built up along it to serve the fast influx of new residents.

    Continuing north, the blocks from Hiller to Pamplin Places are retail and religious buildings ranging from 1935 to 1962. Across the street remains multi-family residential built from the 1920-40s.

    Continuing north, the blocks from Hiller to Pamplin Places are retail and religious buildings ranging from 1935 to 1962. Across the street remains multi-family residential built from the 1920-40s.

    St. Louis families of all races and income levels can trace their rising fortunes by how they leap frogged from one municipality to the next, ever-further away from the City lines. The huge exodus from the City over a 20 year span left the City to rot. This fact earned its own chapter in the 1999 book The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration 1966-1999 by Ray Suarez.

    At Era Avenue, this is the last bit of residential buildings until just after Goodfellow Blvd. The 2 homes on the left are from 1924, on the right was built 1941.

    At Era Avenue, this is the last bit of residential buildings until just after Goodfellow Blvd. The 2 homes on the left are from 1924, on the right was built 1941.

    Because the City’s North Side had historically (and uneasily) accepted more Blacks, the migration to North County had more of a salt and pepper flavor than to the west or south. In private, North Side Whites acknowledged the additional motivation of leaving City blocks that got one more black family than they were comfortable living with. And that mentality remained as Whites and Blacks wrote the living history of North St. Louis County in the last half of the 20th century.

    At the Goodfellow Blvd. intersection, this building went up in 1928 with retail at street level, doctors and dentists on the 2nd floor. 6324 is the most famous address, starting as the Community Hall in 1930, becoming the Imperial Ballroom in the 1940s & 50s. In the 1960s is when it became the legendary rock and r&b venue, Club Imperial.

    At the Goodfellow Blvd. intersection, this building went up in 1928 with retail at street level, doctors and dentists on the 2nd floor. 6324 is the most famous address, starting as the Community Hall in 1930, becoming the Imperial Ballroom in the 1940s & 50s. In the 1960s is when it became the legendary rock and r&b venue, Club Imperial.

    Pleasantly surprising that this old building at a major intersection remains relatively unchanged, and still host to an ever-revolving series of business. This photo is from 2003.

    Pleasantly surprising that this old building at a major intersection remains relatively unchanged, and still host to an ever-revolving series of business. This photo is from 2003. The border of St. Louis City/County is one block up, at Acme Avenue.

    NOT LIKING WHAT WE SEE IN THE MIRROR

    St. Louis County is a star pupil in the Suburbanization of Poverty. Here are some informative pieces with great historical reporting that detail how Ferguson got to this point:

    In Ferguson, Black Town White Power

    The County Map That Explains Ferguson’s Tragic Discord

    Now we're in North St. Louis County, and it gets crazy with a patchwork quilt of tiny towns. The house is from 1911, when it was a gravel road in unincorporated St. Louis County. The 2-story McDonough building (developed by a realtor who had his offices under the steel lettering) went up in 1955 in what had become Jennings, MO in 1947.

    Now we’re in North St. Louis County, and it gets crazy with a patchwork quilt of tiny towns. The house is from 1911, when it was a gravel road in unincorporated St. Louis County. The 2-story McDonough building (developed by a realtor who had his offices under the steel lettering) went up in 1955 in what had become Jennings, MO in 1947.  The venerable Knoedel’s Bakery remains across the street at 6715 West Florissant, in its 1953 building.

    St. Louis is an old industrial city that carried its archaic North vs. South mentality to the new suburbs, clinging to a stark segregation in North County. In the wake of Michael Brown’s death, we are bickering amongst ourselves about how racist we are or aren’t while the global community has learned exactly how racist we are and shakes its head in disbelief.

    With Jennings booming in the first half of the 1950s, new retail buildings were squeezed between those from the 1920s, like this strip between Helen & Janet Avenues.

    With Jennings booming in the first half of the 1950s, new retail buildings were squeezed between those from the 1920s, like this commercial strip between Helen & Janet Avenues.

    National reporters puzzled over the statistics and anecdotes about how oblivious a large percentage of St. Louis Whites are about our race problems. Veteran reporter Charles Jaco got to the heart of it in two Twitter posts on August 18, 2014:

    “Despite the global focus, most white people in St. Louis this is just Ferguson, willfully blind to race and class issues that cause seething anger. In 19 yrs, discovered white people in StL are kind, considerate and oblivious to racial issues. Like StL BBQ sauce, they’re sweet but thick.”

    From Jennings Station Road to College Ave is mostly single-family homes on both sides of West Florissant built in the 1940s. This is the tiny town of Flordell Hills, incorporated in 1945. Even then, it had barely any commercial business to generate revenue. Commerce resumes right after College Ave., when it reverts back to Jennings, MO.

    From Jennings Station Road to College Ave is mostly single-family homes like these on both sides of West Florissant, built in the 1940s. This is the tiny town of Flordell Hills, incorporated in 1945. Even then, it had barely any commercial business to generate revenue. Commerce resumes right after College Ave., when it reverts back to Jennings, MO.

    Because we have a history of racially insulating our neighborhoods, it’s very easy for White St. Louisans to be completely unaware that Different Rules Apply.  Speaking only from my experiences, native White St. Louisans who are not instinctively racist tend to be those who have traveled and/or lived outside of the region and have experienced places where you can palpably feel the ABSENCE of racial tension. It’s always an eye opener. The lesson learned from it is that it’s easier to accept all people as they are rather than how you want them to be.

    Near McLaren Avenue, at 7355 W. Florissant is the last remaining Velvet Freeze, which moved into the 1968 building in 1970. Next door had been a Steak n Shake from 1959 (it is now new credit union building).

    Near McLaren Avenue, at 7355 W. Florissant is the last remaining Velvet Freeze, which moved into the 1968 building in 1970. Next door had been a Steak n Shake from 1959 (it is now new credit union building).

    A week after Mike Brown's death by a Ferguson cop on August 9, 2014, the Velvet Freeze was boarded up. The paper sign read: "Stay Strong, God Is In Charge, We'll Be Back Soon."

    A week after Mike Brown’s death by a Ferguson cop on August 9, 2014, the Velvet Freeze was boarded up. The paper sign read: “Stay Strong, God Is In Charge, We’ll Be Back Soon.”

    There’s one trait that most every visitor notices about St. Louis (aside from how clean we are!): we are extremely nice people. We are inherently nice to each other, face to face, no matter the color or culture. But how we develop our towns, evolve our governments and speak in private conveys that White St. Louis has a long-standing problem with Black St. Louis.

    This behavior grows more absurd as the world becomes more global and integrated via the internet and social medias that easily recognizes oppressive behavior even when we can’t see it ourselves. People around the globe quickly understood the gravity of #Ferguson and the importance of people standing up against abusive authority. The inequity was easy to understand outside of a large chunk of White St. Louis.

    Lefholz Hardware was at 7525 West Florissant, just past McClaran Avenue. Company established in 1944, this building is from the late 1950s. They closed shortly after this 2005 photo. It was immediately remodeled and opened as Nu Fashion Beauty. This is one of the few business revenue generators in the small town of Country Club Hills, staking a spot inside Jennings, MO.

    Lefholz Hardware was at 7525 West Florissant, just past McClaran Avenue. Company established in 1944, this building is from the late 1950s. They closed shortly after this 2005 photo. It was immediately remodeled and opened as Nu Fashion Beauty. This is one of the few business revenue generators in the town of Country Club Hills, staking a small spot inside Jennings, MO.

    RESENTMENT OF BLACK NORTH COUNTY

    White Flight is well-documented American process, and a motivating factor in creating St. Louis County. For a lot of White St. Louis, it’s a part of the stories of why your family moved to such and such, and why we live where we do. We talk freely – or in code – about it amongst ourselves, and instinctively seem to know when to not talk about it. And that right there reveals that we do know better but can’t let go of deeply ingrained prejudice.s

    Across the street is the other strip of Country Club Hills commerce. The green house (from 1941) remains. Lam's Garden Chop Suey began life in 1975 as Church's Chicken. Demolished for a Walgreen's that opened in 2008.

    Across the street is the other strip of Country Club Hills commerce. The green house (from 1941) remains. Lam’s Garden Chop Suey began life in 1975 as Church’s Chicken. Demolished for a Walgreen’s that opened in 2008.

    Several generations of St. Louis Whites are vocally resentful of having to “give up” North St. Louis and North County to the Blacks. They reveal deep resentment with the language used to describe what has become of the places they left behind.

    Part of the White resentment might be because NoCo is such an engaging area of Metro St. Louis. See the Cruizin’ North County books for reasons why it’s such a deeply loved place.  Leaving behind something you love is always bittersweet. If that feeling is coupled with a fear-based decision to move away, it can create contempt for those who took your place.

    Northland Shopping Center opened in Jennings, MO August 1955, demolished November 2005. Read an extensive history of Northland.

    Northland Shopping Center opened in Jennings, MO August 1955, demolished November 2005. Read an extensive history of Northland.

    Do the White ex-pats want it back? Is that why there’s so much White anger toward NoCo Blacks? Because if you want it back, that might make some sense out of the blatant contempt for those who live there now. It doesn’t excuse it; it only provides a psychological understanding of the negative behavior.

    1958 aerial map of West Florissant, north of Lucas & Hunt (click to enlarge). And there's NOTHING along what would become a thriving retail district. New homes were up, but Ferguson Avenue had yet to be plotted. Canfield Drive had only just begun. The first building in the spot that becomes QTs erected in 1965. A Pontiac dealership was the first major retail to follow in the shadow of Northland Shopping Center. That building remains as of today as 9020 W. Flor.  By 1962, the empty spots were filling in rapidly.

    1958 aerial map of West Florissant, north of Lucas & Hunt (click to enlarge). And there’s NOTHING along what would become a thriving retail district. New homes were up, but Ferguson Avenue had yet to be plotted. Canfield Drive had only just begun. The first building in the spot that becomes QTs was erected in 1965. A Pontiac dealership was the first major retail to follow in the shadow of Northland Shopping Center. That building remains as of today as 9020 W. Flor. By 1962, the empty spots were filling in rapidly.

    NoCo remains a lovely place. This is what I strive to show on B.E.L.T. over the years (do a fast scroll through this category).

    I’ve had countless conversations with former NoCo Whites who swear it’s all gone downhill and just looks bad. Granted, NoCo is an aging area; after 50+ years, everything gets raggedy around the edges. One of the reasons people originally fled St. Louis City is because it was old and worn out, and Urban Renewal bulldozed huge chunks of what they deemed irretrievable eyesores. It took new generations to see the beauty under the grime and exchange demolition for restoration. This is a natural evolution of cities, and renewal will eventually have to come to our Inner Ring suburbs. Just give it time.

    In 1968, at 9131 West Florissant in Ferguson, MO was erected the McDonald's Systems Hamburgers chain. This 2008 photo shows the 3rd remodel from the original. The 4th version is the stone facade version seen by the world in the aftermath of Mike Brown's killing, also known as the place where journalists were arrested by Ferguson police.

    In 1968, at 9131 West Florissant in Ferguson, MO came the McDonald’s Systems Hamburgers. 2 years later it would be the site of my very first deliberate lie so I could see Mary Poppins a 2nd time. This 2008 photo shows the 3rd remodel from the original. The 4th remodel is the stone facade version seen by the world in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s killing, also known as the place where journalists were arrested by Ferguson police.

    Even when I get ex-NoCo whites to begrudgingly admit that their old neighborhood or house  still look pretty good, they genuinely believe the rest of it has gone to shit. I believe they’re looking at it through puce-colored glasses.

    Even as I choose to see through rose-colored glasses, I’m not blind to how poverty has ravaged many North County municipalities. Look at the corpses of Kinloch or Wellston to see the ways racism works through legal and illegal channels to exact revenge on those it fears.

    A Jack-in-the-Box went in at 9240 West Florissant in 1970. Northland Chop Suey - one of the last holdouts at Northland Shopping Center, moved to this location in 2005 during its demolition.

    A Jack-in-the-Box went in at 9240 West Florissant in 1970. Northland Chop Suey – one of the last holdouts at Northland Shopping Center, moved to this location in 2005 during its demolition.

    August 2014, Northland Chop Suey was hurt in the lootings after Mike Brown's shooting. But as with most of the shop owners in this block of West Florissant, they are staying put.

    August 2014, Northland Chop Suey was hurt in the lootings after Mike Brown’s shooting. But as with most of the shop owners in this block of West Florissant, they are staying put.

    As I’ve spent 10+ years photographing my NoCo homeland, looking at it through the detached lenses of architecture, remodeling, planning and sustainability, I think it’s beautiful. I see past glory, present strengths and future possibility.

    The 9100 block of West Florissant is made of a trio of these buildings, erected from 1967 - 1969. It is this 2-story building flanked by two matching 1-story buildings with storefronts facing W. Florissant and a row of store front on the sides. hey are distinctive for their white brick and lava rock vertical bands. In 1969 this building housed Big Daddy's Cocktail Lounge, the Razor's Edge barber shop on ground level; upstairs were small businesses like lawyers, graphic artists and a psychologist.

    The 9100 block of West Florissant is made of a trio of buildings, erected from 1967 – 1969. It is this 2-story building flanked by two matching 1-story buildings with storefronts facing W. Florissant and a row of store fronts on the sides. They are distinctive for their blonde brick and lava rock vertical bands. In 1969 this building housed, among others, Big Daddy’s Cocktail Lounge, the Razor’s Edge barber shop on ground level; upstairs were small businesses like lawyers, graphic artists and a psychologist.

    Detail shot of the mod-tastic lobby of the 2-story lava rock building. In the aftermath of the lootings, this building was hit hard, but it was hopeful to note that this entrance remained intact and as sharp as ever.

    Detail shot of the mod-tastic lobby of the 2-story lava rock building. In the aftermath of the lootings, this building was hit hard, but it was hopeful to note that this entrance remained intact and as sharp as ever.  My father installed the glass in these buildings and remembers the developer of the buildings as a young man who lived in Northwoods, and went bankrupt at the completion of the 3rd building. 

    As I traipse around all of St. Louis with a camera, I’ve been told that police would be called if I didn’t leave, or stared at harshly through screen doors, or glared at with side eye. This is always – without exception – in White parts of town. They ask no questions, they show only anger and distrust toward a White stranger.

    It was distressing and heartbreaking to see what transpired in front of these buildings during the protests and police actions. It is disturbing to see familiar surroundings as a backdrop of strife.

    It was distressing and heartbreaking to see what transpired in front of these buildings during the protests and police actions. It is disturbing to see familiar surroundings as a backdrop of strife.

    It has been healing to watch the independent business owners in the lava rock buildings shake it off, carry on and build anew. This is Ferguson.

    It has been healing to watch the independent business owners in the lava rock buildings shake it off, carry on and build anew. This is Ferguson.

    Less than 3 weeks from the killing of Michael Scott, HealSTL has been started in this lava rock storefront. St. Louis City alderman Antonio French and volunteers strive to teach leadership, register residents to vote and put Ferguson's majority into the civic and political process of their town.

    Less than 3 weeks from the killing of Michael Brown, HealSTL has been started in this lava rock storefront. St. Louis City alderman Antonio French and volunteers strive to teach leadership, register residents to vote and put Ferguson’s majority into the civic and political process of their town.

    Contrast that with when I go North. Someone will always walk up and ask what I’m doing – as anyone should, really – and I explain. I have countless conversations with Black residents about what and why I do. They get the sentimental angle if it’s where I’m from, and they are usually intrigued by the architectural angle: “So you like this building? Why?”

    When this stretch of road was still in Jennings, MO, this building went up in 1962 at Canfield Dr. The Canfield Apartments were constructed in 1970. It was Village Inn Pancake House until 1974 when it became Jason's Pancake House.  This 2009 photo shows that subsequent owners put an ostensibly festive canopy over the mid-century modern roof overhang.

    When this stretch of road was still in Jennings, MO, this building went up in 1962 at Canfield Dr. The Canfield Apartments were constructed in 1970. It was Village Inn Pancake House until 1974 when it became Jason’s Pancake House. This 2009 photo shows that subsequent owners put an ostensibly festive canopy over the mid-century modern roof overhang.

    Most any architecture geek longs for that question, and a chance to exchange information. All of us long to know the worth of where we came from and where we live now, and it feels good to know it matters. Each of us is concerned about our little piece of the world we live in, and want to be comfortable in it.

    The owners of Red BBQ took over the building in 2012, and thankfully removed that awning, letting the beautiful bones of the building back to daylight. Being next door to the QT, Red took a looting hit, and it's parking lot saw a lot of trouble, but they stayed open as much as possible, even setting up pits a bit up the street to feed protesters. They are another Ferguson business who plans to stay put.

    The owners of Reds BBQ took over the building in 2012, and thankfully removed that awning, letting the beautiful bones of the building back to daylight. Being next door to the QT, Red BBQ took a looting hit, and it’s parking lot saw a lot of trouble, but they stayed open as much as possible, even setting up pits a bit up the street to feed protesters. They are another Ferguson business who plans to stay put.

    The stress of being constantly harassed in your world builds tension. Tension has to be released. NoCo is the logical combustion chamber, because it’s where the 21st century population vs. its government and law enforcement statistics reveal continual oppression by minority Whites over majority Blacks.

    In 1965 at 9420 West Florissant and Northwinds Estate Drive was Hellrung Carpet. Behind it they were building an apartment complex. The QT went up in 1989, and as I spent 3 years documenting the demise and demolition of Northland Shopping Center, this place was an oasis of AC and beverages. Every trip NoCo includes a stop here. To see it burn was heartbreaking. To see it become a people's park makes sense. It feels odd for a gas station to have such emotional impact.

    In 1965 at 9420 West Florissant and Northwinds Estate Drive was Hellrung Carpet. Behind it they were building an apartment complex. The QT went up in 1989, and as I spent 3 years documenting the demise and demolition of Northland Shopping Center, this place was an oasis of AC and beverages. Every trip to NoCo includes a stop here. 

    FERGUSON HAS THE STRENGTH TO CHANGE THE TIDE

    When the police continually harass only certain residents who pay taxes, start businesses, spend money at those businesses and keep the town going, those people will eventually rebel. Anyone who’s picked on can only take it for so long.

    QT scene on August 16, 2014 Michael Brown Peach March. To see it burn was heartbreaking. To have it become a people's park makes sense. It feels odd for a gas station to have such emotional impact. Every trip back to this area, the QT feels like a phantom limb. Considering the QT corporate model of closing old ones when a new mega-mart is built ( like further up W. Florissant) I personally don't see them rebuilding this location. Make it a memorial!

    QT scene on August 16, 2014, Michael Brown Peace March. To see it burn was heartbreaking. To have it become a people’s park makes sense. It feels odd for a gas station to have such emotional impact. Every trip back to this area, the site now feels like a phantom limb. Considering the QT corporate model of closing old ones when a new mega-mart is built ( like further up W. Florissant) I personally don’t see them rebuilding this location. Make it a memorial!

    The Civil War ended in 1865, but the war of White over Black never did. America repeatedly goes to the legal mat to try and resolve this conflict, but Whites find new loopholes to continue blocking Blacks, with ever diminishing benefits. It’s embarrassing for a modern, post-Civil War society to continue parroting an archaic cultural prejudice that existed before we had electricity in our homes. And it’s disgraceful to willfully set up your fellow man to fail, be it Wall Street sharks or racial profiling.

    This commerce stretch of W. Florissant is 50% the same, 50% changed. This car wash sign (and its building) have been exactly the same since it went up as Hydro Spray Car Wash in 1972. That sign is so great. I'm slightly embarassed to admit that during the initial unrest and angry destruction, I wondered if the sign (and the building) were intact. I scoured all news footage looking for it. And there it remains, a wonderful advertising anachronism.

    This car wash sign (and its building) have been exactly the same since it went up as Hydro Spray Car Wash in 1972. This sign is charmingly retro. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that during the initial unrest and angry destruction, I wondered if the sign (and the building) were intact. I scoured all news footage looking for it. And there it remains, a wonderful advertising anachronism.

    The August 2014 murder of Michael Brown a block east of West Florissant was, finally, the wrong place at the wrong time. The 2-block stretch of West Florissant that has become intimately familiar as the background of Hands Up Don’t Shoot remains as essential today as when it was developed in the late 1950s. The businesses have changed repeatedly over the decades, but its vitality is only slightly diminished.

    The image of St. Louis County Police filling the car wash bays to keep an eye on peaceful protesters disturbs me. There's far too many disturbing events and images from August 2014. You can't ever un-see it. It reveals what authorities think of certain Ferguson residents, and those who support them.

    The image of St. Louis County Police filling the car wash bays to keep an eye on peaceful protesters disturbs me. There’s far too many disturbing events and images from August 2014. You can’t ever un-see it. It reveals what authorities think of certain Ferguson residents, and those who support them.

    This short stretch of West Florissant Avenue remains an important revenue generator in Ferguson economics. That the businesses physically devastated by the upheaval want to rebuild and remain is a testament to that. Money talks, of course, but so does their patrons immediately coming to help clean up after looting. That’s the kind of community you want your business in.

    Scene from the August 16, 2014 peace march for Michael Brown, up West Florissant at Nesbit Dr.  This is the residential section, with still-handsome ranch homes that began springing up in 1956.  This is also where police fired tear gas into a backyard.

    Scene from the August 16, 2014 peace march for Michael Brown, up West Florissant at Nesbit Dr. This is the residential section, with still-handsome ranch homes that began springing up in 1956. This is also where police fired tear gas into a backyard.

    Ferguson has spent the last 10 years reimagining and rebuilding itself for the way we realistically live in the 21st century. This town has become strong enough to push back at decay that knocks at its boundary lines.

    During the Aug. 16th peace march, with all eyes upon Ferguson, this resident spent 4 hours mowing the tree lawns on both sides of West Florissant from Nesbit to Highmont Drives. This is Ferguson.

    During the Aug. 16th peace march, with all eyes upon Ferguson, this resident spent 4 hours mowing the tree lawns on both sides of West Florissant from Nesbit to Highmont Drives. This is Ferguson.

    Because all around Ferguson, once-White towns have been left to rot. It’s a precisely repeating pattern from St. Louis City in the 1950s to this very day. You can see the physical downfall of dozens of towns as the race population switches from majority-White to majority-Black. The easy, drive-by response of White St. Louis is to say Blacks just don’t care of their homes, their communities. But you cannot realistically blame things like bad roadways and decomposing sewer lines on the skin color of the people who live there. These are infrastructure issues handled by the local governments that collect their tax dollars.

    Right before Kappel Dr (see some cool MCM on that street) on West Florissant it turns into Dellwood, MO. At the intersection of Chambers Road, this building went up in 1961 as Schnucks supermarket. They left in 1975, and Peaches Records and Tapes took over in 1977. The building was demolished in 2007. A gas mart is in its place.

    Right before Kappel Dr (see some cool MCM on that street) on West Florissant it turns into Dellwood, MO. At the intersection of Chambers Road, this building went up in 1961 as Schnucks supermarket. They left in 1975, and Peaches Records and Tapes took over in 1977. The building was demolished in 2007. A gas mart is in its place.

    When, for example, the Jennings, MO street department simply stops repaving its residential streets, it’s clear that the money they’ve collected is not going toward maintaining the roads. Nor is that money going toward maintaining a police department (disbanded in 2011) or a fire department (dissolving January 2015) or bolstering its public school system. This a much bigger problem than which neighbor is not mowing their lawn or patching their roof – it’s about the town you live in falling apart around you.

    This strip mall on the northwest corner of Chambers at West Florissant went up in 1961. It's been bustling since then - vacancies fill up fast. This part of Dellwood is very hilly; many of the businesses along this stretch are tucked into the bottom of a hill. This strip mall has a great (and longstanding) brick retaining wall on the left-hand side.

    This strip mall on the northwest corner of Chambers at West Florissant went up in 1961. It’s been bustling since then – vacancies fill up fast. This part of Dellwood is very hilly; many of the businesses along this stretch are tucked into the bottom of a hill. This strip mall has a great (and longstanding) brick retaining wall on the left-hand side.

    The cause of this repeating pattern is touched on in, again, that book The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration 1966-1999 by Ray Suarez. Wherein St. Louis criminologist Rick Rosenfeld says:

    Past Chambers, West Florissant is a mix of pure retail, residnetial from the 1930s and 40s that converted to mixed-use residential and commercial, and pure subdivision like Ferguson Acres, at Kroeger Dr. Oddly enough, this is in Dellwood, proper. Ferguson picks up again on the north side of this neighborhood.

    Past Chambers, West Florissant is a mix of pure retail, residential from the 1930s and 40s that converted to mixed-use residential and commercial, and pure subdivision like Ferguson Acres (built 1951), at Kroeger Dr. Oddly enough, this is in Dellwood, proper. Ferguson picks up again on the north side of this neighborhood.

    “What I don’t like about mobility in the United States out of cities into suburbs, and now increasingly from inner suburbs into outer suburbs, is the throwaway attitude that goes along with it. That once you move from a community, the larger metropolitan area or the larger community has no responsibility or not much for what got left behind there. What they leave behind is much worse without them. The tragedy of mobility here is not that people leave the city of St. Louis: it’s that so few resources go into the communities left behind to make them attractive to the families that are one or two cars down the line, who themselves might want to move into that neighborhood. I don’t think mobility is the issue. It’s our unwillingness to do anything about the tragic conditions that occur once people leave.”

    Back in Ferguson, on West Florissant before the Hudson Road intersection, this 2-story building from 1970 is indicative of how the architecture changed with a new decade. Everything near I-270 (opened in 1964) was building up too fast to invest in thoughtful architecture. This was the last of a certain breed, while heading toward the commercial suburban brick boxes that we've come to know and ignore all too well.

    Back in Ferguson, on West Florissant before the Hudson Road intersection, this 2-story building from 1970 is indicative of how the architecture changed with a new decade. Everything near I-270 (opened in 1964) was building up too fast to invest in thoughtful architecture. This was the last of a certain breed, while heading toward the commercial suburban brick boxes that we’ve come to know and ignore all too well.

    The curious part is that St. Louis City is in tangible turn-around from the urban decay. The City is becoming a more desirable place to live than its bordering North County townships, where the scorched earth policies are repeating despite decades of lessons on how not to do it. In a nutshell: Don’t let the Whites who abandoned it continue to control it, because history shows they will run it into the ground. Those who actually live there need to steer policy and set the new rules.

    From 1966, the former IGA Supermarket at West Florissant and Hudson Rd. It is Dellwood on this east side. It is also the place where my mother bought my Bobby Sherman and partridge Family records on a rack in the frozen food section. On the west side of Hudson was the now-demolished Northland Day Nursery School.

    From 1966, the former IGA Supermarket at West Florissant and Hudson Rd. It is Dellwood on this east side. It is also the place where my mother bought my Bobby Sherman and Partridge Family records on a rack in the frozen food section. Head west on Hudson, in Ferguson, past the former horse ranch on the northwest corner to what was Northland Day Nursery School.

    And here’s where Ferguson matters. It has made tangible progress in keeping North County scorched earth creeping crud at bay. The citizens of Ferguson get this, and are the ones investing in new growth. But 6 – 11 shots later, everyone learns that the Ferguson police and government appear to be focused only on the racial aspects of the city, putting their energies into an imbalance that ignores Missouri law and several Constitutional amendments. It’s a myopic view dangerously at odds with its residents, and has caused real harm.

    Right before hitting I-270, on the east side of W. Florissant (and still in Ferguson) is the Black Oak subdivision, developed from 1957 - 1960. It is the last of single-family residential on West Florissant. Parts of this neighborhood were threatened with demolition for the new QT a block south. Black Oak residents got schooling on how landlocked, revenue-starved townships are more than willing to boot people for commerce. They won this battle but know another war or two is ahead.

    Right before hitting I-270, on the east side of W. Florissant (and still in Ferguson) is the Black Oak subdivision, developed from 1957 – 1960. It is the last of single-family residential on West Florissant. Parts of this neighborhood were threatened with demolition for the new QT a block south. Black Oak residents got schooling on how landlocked, revenue-starved townships are more than willing to boot people for commerce. They won this battle but know another war or two is ahead.

    America has a long history of not tolerating those that tread upon them, and as of August 2014, Ferguson, Missouri has upheld that tradition. Because this town has pushed back against the usual markers of built environment and economic decay, it also has the strength to push back against authority that seeks to undermine it.

    Once you cross I-270, you're in Florissant, where the mighty avenue will come to an end at New Halls Ferry Road. At West Florissant & Dunn Rd. was - above left - the former 270 Drive-In. Today it is Clocktower Place. Above right, Kmart has taken over the former Venture department store (opened 1971). This is also the beginning of faceless retail boxes, built quickly to try and keep pace with folks rushing every further north, until they ran out of places to leap frog to. That's when they lept over the river into St. Charles County, leaving North St. Louis County behind.

    Once you cross I-270, you’re in Florissant, where the mighty avenue comes to an end at New Halls Ferry Road. At West Florissant & Dunn Rd. was the former 270 Drive-In. Today it is Clocktower Place. Kmart has taken over the former Venture department store (opened 1971). This is also the beginning of faceless retail Afshari boxes, built quickly to try and keep pace with folks rushing ever further north, until they ran out of places to leap frog to. That’s when they lept over the river into St. Charles County, leaving North St. Louis County behind.

    Ferguson has become a line in the sand of not allowing the same old destructive policies to take their city down. It’s a decisive moment where the new majority can take control and protect what’s good about their town. The energy that refuses to let Michael Brown’s death become another statistic has already strengthened Ferguson. There’s also a sense that Ferguson can teach us to be a more civilized and powerful St. Louis – City AND County, together. It’s one of the reasons these signs are all over Metro St. Louis.

    These signs are all across Metro St. Louis. Thank you to those who understand we're all in it together, and if you've ever told others you're "from St. Louis," that includes you, too.

    These signs are all across Metro St. Louis. Thank you to those who understand we’re all in it together, and if you’ve ever told others you’re “from St. Louis,” that includes you, too.

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  • Walking Tour of Lindell Mid-Century Modern, May 10, 2014

    Posted on May 6th, 2014 Toby Weiss No comments

    lindell flier

    May 10, 2014
    10:00 AM
    Meet at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, Lindell entrance

    $5 for non-members / Free for Modern STL members)

    Michael Allen and I will once again trip the light fantastic of mid-century modern beauties on Lindell Boulevard, in the Central West End.

    Take a quick peek at what this great street has in store for you.

    optimist international 01

    This Building Is Threatened

    Since planning the tour, the Optimist International building (above) has become a hot item. Or, rather, the land it sits on has become more valuable than the building possibly is.

    Here is a proposal for a new development on the corner of Taylor & Lindell.

    The Optimist is my personal favorite MCM on Lindell. I also understand and agree with the urban density rationale of the proposed development, as well as the irony of – in 1961 – tearing down a very urban property to put in this more suburban modern building. And now we’ve come full circle.

    optimist international 02

    The fate of this building promises to be a very lively debate, that pits newly embraced forms of CWE historic preservation against a deeper understanding of what it means to be an urban city.

    And this isn’t the only Lindell MCM currently on the tear-down radar – this building is also in the spotlight.

    So we have a lot to discuss and debate, and the best way to do that is in person, as a curious, knowledge-seeking group, on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 10 a.m. We’ll learn, we’ll laugh, we’ll burn some calories. We look forward to seeing you there.

     

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  • Documentary: A Conversation with Ralph Fournier

    Posted on May 3rd, 2014 Toby Weiss No comments

    The documentary about St. Louis architect Ralph Fournier is now available to the world, at large. For those who love his mid-century modern residential work, it will be a magnificent way to spend 17 minutes.

    For the backstory on this documentary, read Celebrating St. Louis Architect Ralph Fournier.

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  • Masters of Sex: St. Louis Reality vs. TV Depiction

    Posted on February 16th, 2014 Toby Weiss 12 comments

    masters of sex book

    The editor of St. Louis At Home asked me to dig into the real life locations depicted on the Showtime series Masters of Sex. See the Masters of Sex St Louis At Home article.  Also available on-line without the photos.

    Here we recap the article’s content with room to spread out, and add more engrossing details uncovered during the research process.

    Masters of Sex depicts Maternity Hospital a sublime, stucco Art Deco.

    Masters of Sex depicts Maternity Hospital as a sublime, stucco Art Deco.

    Maternity Hospital, erect 1926, still stands in the Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex at Kingshighway and Interstate 64.

    Maternity Hospital, erected 1926, still stands in the Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex at Kingshighway and Interstate 64.

    The series opens in December 1956 with the newly-divorced Virginia Johnson interviewing for her eventual position as Dr. William Masters’ assistant. Master’s office is in Maternity Hospital, shown as a handsome Art Deco hospital of white stucco. That was the first instance of TV separation from St. Louis reality, for the 1926 Maternity Hospital still stands today inside the Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex.

    Dr. Master’s office and practice was on the 3rd floor of this building, and other than the exterior facade and some molding and terrazzo flooring touches at the entrances, everything has been remodeled countless times since the 1950s. Very little about Master’s and his ground-breaking work remains within the record books of the hospital or Washington University. Local theory is that ultra-conservative St. Louis academia still finds it offensive to acknowledge his pioneering sex studies. Though his last name does make the list of blocks inside the circular wall of this outdoor smoking lounge in front of the building (below).

    smoking area maternity hospital st louis

    Still with the first episode, we see Dr. William Masters and his wife Libby living in an exquisite mid-century modern ranch home, which for 1956 would have put them on the cutting edge of St. Louis modern design, something a successful doctor could afford to indulge in. Meanwhile single-mother-of-two Virginia Johnson is shown living in one side of a 2-story, stucco duplex. Other than some more stucco (St. Louis just doesn’t have the climate for it), this type of living arrangement for Virginia is logical. So are these homes based on their real life domiciles, and if so, where are they?

    Masters of Sex exterior establishing shot of St. Louis brothel where Dr. Masters conducted research.

    Masters of Sex exterior establishing shot of St. Louis brothel where Dr. Masters conducted research.

    Episode 2 of Masters of Sex really lit a fire when they gave an establishing exterior shot of a local brothel (above). But it was a bit disconcerting that this was the 3rd or 4th time that wood clapboard homes were shown as the norm. Even to the distracted eye, St. Louis is a brick city – we don’t see wood siding as a constant until the post-WW2 suburbs. And it’s a cinch that a whorehouse would have to be inside St. Louis City boundaries, where a home of this type would be very rare.

    I was distracted with these type of architecture geek thoughts when the thoroughly engaging prostitute character Betty DiMello revealed that the sex study had moved “to a cathouse on Third & Sutter.” I waited for the episode to end before digging into maps of both St. Louis and East St. Louis, where there is no such intersection. So exactly where was this whorehouse?

    It was now time to dig into the source material for the TV show, the 2009 book Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love by Thomas Maier. It’s a factually dense book that easily moves you forward with anticipation. And this book sent me into obsessive research mode, deciphering fact from TV fiction.

    As the first season unfolded, it was addictive to figure out how the show’s creators and writers took the original and transformed it into an episodic drama. How a one-off sentence in the book becomes a story-arc, or how two different real life people are melded into one character with a completely fictitious yet fascinating backstory.

    The mid-century modern ranch home of Dr. William & Libby Masters, as seen on TV.

    The mid-century modern ranch designed by architect “Eine,” home to the TV version of Dr. William & Libby Masters.

    The interior TV set of The Masters' home.

    The interior TV set of The Masters’ home.

    One of the most revelatory differences between fact and artistic license is the home of Dr. William and Libby Masters. The viewer gets a distinct Mad Men vibe from their clean-lined, suburban mid-century modern ranch home. Maier’s book describes their real-world house as a “brick two-story Colonial” in “Ladue, an affluent suburb of St. Louis.” And here is their former home, built in 1934:

    The real life home of Dr. William & Libby Masters, in Ladue, MO.

    The real life home of Dr. William & Libby Masters, in Ladue, MO.

    The show’s producers made a conscious decision to place William & Libby in a new, atomic age home. They also added an infertility problem to their marriage, whereas in real life, they had two children by 1953. But one fact did remain intact: Libby & Bill did sleep in separate twin beds! (And here’s a gossipy fact: they installed an in-ground pool to this home in 1967, and the neighbors were scandalized to see Virginia Johnson lounging by it while Libby was out of town.)

    Other deviations from fact to television fiction include:

    • There’s no Provost Scully (as portrayed by Beau Bridges); he’s a combination of a few men at Washington University, including Chancellor Ethan Shepley.
    • There’s no real-life prostitute Betty DiMello, which means it’s unlikely anyone ever called Dr. Masters the “alpha dog of coochie medicine.”
    Dr. Ethan Haas and Gene The Pretzel King are made up characters (so there is no Gus’ Pretzel connection to Masters & Johnson, sorry)
    • St. Louis has yet to have a Rialto movie theater (so the entirely fictitious Dr. Austin Langham never banged the entirely fictitious Margaret Scully in a car parked in front of it)
    • St. Louis never had a Gardell’s, described in the show as a “nightclub in Coontown” (though senior citizen St. Louisans can tell you the rough whereabouts of the part of town once referred to by that wince-inducing moniker).
    • St. Louis never had a Commodore Hotel where gay male prostitutes set up shop. There were plenty of other gay haunts in the City during that time period (like the Grandel Square Hotel once at 3625 Grandel Square; the Golden Gate bar on Olive Street and Entres Nous on Pine Street), so the creators appear to have condensed that St. Louis scene into one convenient package.

    According to Maier’s research, there was most definitely a cathouse where Dr. Masters conducted research. He writes about how St. Louis Chief of Police H. Sam Priest protected Masters (who delivered their second child) so he could conduct studies in local brothels. Chief Priest and his detectives found willing candidates among prostitutes and made sure they were not busted in the weeks before and after the testing.

    Maier writes, “Between 1955 and late 1956, Masters expanded his study in such St. Louis neighborhoods as the Central West End to interviews with call girls in other American cities, such as Chicago, Minneapolis and New Orleans.”

    Ah ha! We have a locale on the brothel!
    But it’s not like old City Directories are going to list them as such, or old newspapers are going to report any fine details about raiding them. And since I had other questions needing clarification, I reached out to Thomas Maier, who was refreshingly friendly, helpful and prompt in his replies.

    The duplex Virginia Johnson lived in, as depicted on Showtime's Masters of Sex.

    The duplex Virginia Johnson lived in, as depicted on Showtime’s Masters of Sex.

    A real-life example of the home Virginia Johnson lived in after her 1956 divorce. Her actual home was in the spot of the modern condo shown to the left of this home.

    A real-life example of the home Virginia Johnson lived in after her 1956 divorce. Her actual home was in the spot of the modern condo shown to the left of this home.

     

    By the early 1960s, Virginia Johnson moved into this ranch home in Salem Estates in Ladue, MO, a "traditional subdivision" designed by St. Louis architect Ralph Fournier.

    By the early 1960s, Virginia Johnson moved into this ranch home in Salem Estates in Ladue, MO, a “traditional subdivision” designed by St. Louis architect Ralph Fournier.

    As learned from Maier, the Masters of Sex producers have yet to visit St. Louis, which explains the architectural discrepancies. While filming the pilot, the producers found a mid-century home in Huntington, NY that they liked, and later reproduced it on Sony’s Hollywood lot. An old wing of the Jamaica Hospital in Queens, NY stood in for Maternity Hospital. And even though the scenes set on the Washington University campus looked authentic, it’s actually the former Guggenheim estate in Long Island, NY.

    He also only knows the general location of the whorehouse as Central West End. Dang it!

    I am a life-long, ardent participant in the suspension of disbelief that is Hollywood. But the first season’s episodes aired while I was deeply consumed by Maier’s book and my research, and I found myself second-guessing and dismaying over the deviations from Masters & Johnson’s actual story. Which kinda killed my buzz – totally of my own doing. But it did not keep me from watching and thrilling to every episode, it only clarified that I need to apply more effort to maintain my Hollywood vs. Reality balance.

    And the producers’ decision to put Dr. Masters in an MCM ranch did eventually pan out in real life:

    The mid-century modern ranch in Ladue, MO that Dr. William Masters & Virginia Johnson moved into after their 1971 marriage.

    The mid-century modern ranch in Ladue, MO that Dr. William Masters & Virginia Johnson moved into after their 1971 marriage.

    Above is the home, built in 1951, that Bill & Gini (since we got this far, it’s OK to use their nicknames, right?) moved into after they were married in 1971. Oh please oh please let the series go on long enough to get to that soap opera plot twist!

    Anyway, this home became a place for their more famous or notorious clients to stay for therapy, avoiding possible detection at the more public Reproductive Biology Research Foundation office at 4910 Forest Park Blvd. (long-since torn down). From the book:

    The Ladue house on South Warson Road was more contemporary than most, sheltered by tasteful plantings that shielded activity from the street. Upon entering, guests walked into a vestibule and could follow one of two ramps – to a spacious dining room and kitchen on one side, and to several bedrooms on the other, including the master suite with two king-sized beds placed together. In the back of the house were a large terrace, a kidney-shaped inground pool, and a stable with enough surrounding acreage for Johnson’s daughter, Lisa, to ride her horse. When Cindy Todorovich later bought the South Warson house, she found a secret panel with a peephole. “I’m not saying there was anything kinky going on, but maybe it had something to do with their research,” she recalled.

    Apartment building at Maryland Avenue & North Taylor in St. Louis' Central West End, home of Dr. Masters' mother, Estabrook.

    Apartment building at Maryland Avenue & North Taylor in St. Louis’ Central West End, home of Dr. Masters’ mother, Estabrook.

    The book also has some fun facts that seriously need to go into the series.

    The apartment building shown above is where Dr. Masters’ mother, Estabrook, moved to after she was widowed. The child abuse and transformation of his mother’s personality as shown in the series is true. What also needs to be shared is that the staff of Masters & Johnson’s Repro Bio office often spent their lunch hours at Estabrook’s apartment on the 8th floor, because it was a nice walk to and from the office. And since she was now privy to the details of their work, she helped out by sewing silk masks for study volunteers to wear to protect their anonymity.

    So Where’s the Brothel?
    I made endless inquiries to pinpoint the locale of this place (or places). Librarian friends at both the St. Louis City and County libraries worked on it (along with providing assistance in digging up old phone book and directory information – thanks Adele!), and I followed all leads about anyone who knew a cop or a friend who had brothel info.

    Elder St. Louisans mused that a brothel in St. Louis city couldn’t have existed for very long without being busted, and they certainly wouldn’t have been in such luxurious quarters as shown in the screen cap earlier in this post. And the 1952 book U.S.A. Confidential by Jack Lait & Lee Mortimer verified that there was an “overpopulated harlot population” in St. Louis, including “a lot of call-girls” moving “into the new Ford Apartments.”

    It was the friend of a friend who verified that a city brothel just wouldn’t be all that glamorous. Roland Kulla is a St. Louis native now living in Chicago, and he shared the following memories and photos from when he lived in the eastern border of the Central West End:

    roland kulla 01

    “I lived at 3850 Olive St. near the Vandeventer Ave. intersection, from 1947-1954.  The street was very busy then – lots of shops, and bars and a small department store across the street, the streetcar line ran down Olive.  We lived in an apartment above my uncle’s bakery, Sausel’s (new-born Roland is shown with his family in front of that bakery, above) where my father worked.  Stories about the brothel next door at 3848 came from my mother, as I was too young to know.

    “The buildings on that corner formed a courtyard in the back.  You came through a yard to get to the back door.  Our back doors were right next to each other – although there was a wooden fence between them (photo below).  Mom told the tale that sometimes the clients would knock on our door by mistake.

    Roland Kulla and his friends in front of the fence that separated their back door from that of the brothel next door.

    Roland Kulla and his friends in front of the fence that separated their yard from that of the brothel next door.

    “(The brothel situation) had changed by 1954 when we moved, as there was a legit neighbor there that we were friendly with. The layout of the apartment, which would have been similar to the one next door, was a small bedroom in the front over the stairs.  There was a double parlor – the front one with a fireplace – divided by sliding doors.  We used both parlors as bedrooms, with the small one used the nursery since there was always a new baby.  Beyond that was a hall bath, and then a big dining room that went the width of the building.  And then a big kitchen in the rear with two walk-in pantries.”

    3848 Olive was the site of a St. Louis brothel from 1947 - 1954.

    3848 Olive was the site of a St. Louis brothel from 1947 – 1954.

    The rear of the buildings (since demolished) on Olive. A wood fence separated 3850 from the brothel at 3848.

    The rear of the buildings (since demolished) on Olive. A wood fence separated 3850 from the brothel at 3848.

    Roland took the two photos above in the early 1990s. The buildings were completely demolished about 10 years ago, with only The Lighthouse of The Blind building (which formed the east flank of the rear courtyard) remaining on the block.

    We are in no way implying or supposing this was the location of Dr. Masters’ laboratory, especially since it was cleaned up prior to beginning his local field studies in 1955-56. It does verify that such places existed, and for long stretches of time, and they were not opulent.

    My hope is that I will eventually run across a retired St. Louis City cop who worked under Chief Priest, or had passed-down knowledge of assistance for Dr. Masters, and that so much time has passed they are willing to talk location details. If you’re as curious as I am about finding Bill’s cathouse, and know someone who knows these kinds of things, please let me know. The seedy underbelly of St. Louis was deep and vivid, and in this particular case, led to major scientific discoveries that permanently and positively altered the sexual landscape. If those brothel buildings still stand, they deserve an historic marker, don’t you think?

    The real life Virginia Johnson and Dr. William Masters.

    The real life Virginia Johnson and Dr. William Masters.

     

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  • Sign the Petition to Save Lewis & Clark Library

    Posted on February 9th, 2014 Toby Weiss No comments

    lewis and clark library proposal

    In a logical and inspiring attempt to help the St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees reconsider their plans for demolition, ModernSTL released this proposal.

    It’s a compelling and workable starting point for understanding how the historic mid-century modern building by architect Frederick Dunn can be retained while also gaining the additional space required.

    In the past, the Library Board has mentioned a very sound point: Why have we not heard complaint about our plan from the people who actually use this library?

    It can be argued that the Board has been rather stingy with engaging the public on what they want or prefer for this (or any) branch. They have instead repeatedly cited voter mandate. But that tax issue was about the funding of the entire scope of the plan and the system’s needs. It’s doubtful that the majority of those voters gave their consent based specifically on “Yeah, tear down Lewis & Clark, will ya?”

    1425262_655479497836946_1973224755_o

    At the event where ModernSTL shared the proposal for adding onto the library, residents who live next to and use the library decided to speak up against the Board’s plans, and ask for them to save it.

    Here is the on-line petition via MoveOn.org.

    A letter writing campaign at the end of 2013 did result in the Board sending out a form letter in response to each postcard. They were very polite, but made it clear they are not budging from their original plan.  So let’s try a new way to engage them to reconsider – please sign the petition if you agree they should at least reconsider saving their only significant building.

    Keep track of all the love shown for the building and the fight to save it on the Save the Lewis & Clark Library Branch Facebook page.

    And the graphic shown above is available as a T-shirt.

     

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  • Celebrating St. Louis Architect Ralph Fournier

    Posted on January 21st, 2014 Toby Weiss 7 comments

    Fournier-Postcard-Front

    January 16, 2014 – It was a glorious moment in time for St. Louis mid-century modern architecture, the opening reception for Suburban Modernism: The Architecture and Interior Design of Ralph & Mary Jane Fournier. The Morton J. May Foundation Gallery at Maryville University was so crowded that people were gently perspiring on a cold night. Retired architect/full-time painter Ralph Fournier (below) was bombarded with well-wishers, though he had a more personal and private viewing of his legacy with close friends and family earlier in the week.

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    We’ll talk details of the exhibit that you must see before it closes on February 22nd. But, first, I want to trace the outlines of the story that made this moment in time so overwhelmingly glorious.

    The Origin Story

    Two residents of Ridgewood  – the subdivision that straddles the boundaries of Webster Groves and Crestwood, MO – were inspired to track down and talk with the architect of the homes they lived in from this November 2007 St. Louis magazine article about Ralph Fournier. Nathan Wilber and architect Neil Chace (both officers on the board of ModernSTL) met Fournier, and that is their story to tell. Then they began this blog about Ridgewood.

    One of our early dreams at ModernSTL was to celebrate Fournier’s work with walking tours of the many mid-century modern subdivisions he helped design with builder Burton Duenke, and – here was the big, wild dream – make a documentary of his work and his life.  We toyed with the loose tooth of the idea, and on July 3, 2011, Neil, Nathan and myself did this:

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    That’s Neil (left) and Nathan at Ralph’s home going over piles of his archived materials that he kindly pulled out of deep storage for us to pour over. See that look on Nathan’s face? That’s how we felt for the entire 2.5 hours that Ralph let us ask him endless questions while trying not to gush over a man we consider a rock star of the highest magnitude.

    Along with Ralph’s candor, patience and excellent memory for detail, I was overcome by the walls of his home. Everywhere are his paintings and drawings, they’re even stacked up in piles on the floor. You can trace the continual evolution of his style that began when he retired in 1989 and made a full-time commitment to painting, with stops at portraiture, landscape, spiritual and travel scenes. The only thing absent in his gallery is architectural paintings, because he’d done that for over 40 years – there is so much more he needs to express.

    Nathan Wilber, Ralph Fournier & Neil Chace at Fournier's home, July 3, 2011.

    Nathan Wilber, Ralph Fournier & Neil Chace at Fournier’s home, July 3, 2011.

    We told him of our idea to make a documentary of his life and work, and not only did this unassuming man agree to take the journey, but – wait for this – he let us walk out of his house with those large piles of his architectural history!

    After we left his company, we stood dazed with disbelief on the sidewalk in front of his house. He had graciously shared his work and personal life with us, which made us realize that his life story perfectly summarized America’s mid-20th century: A young man who worked in an east coast factory, went to college, got drafted into World War 2, came home to finish school on the G.I. bill and started working as an architect right when America desperately needed new homes to handle the Baby Boom ( he and his wife, Mary, included). His story needed to be told.

    Ralph Fournier and Toby Weiss, July 3, 2011.

    Ralph Fournier and Toby Weiss, July 3, 2011.

    We divvied up the pile amongst us, and spent the next few weeks scanning everything so we could safely return them to Ralph. Making a documentary is a giant task rendered gargantuan when those inspired to do so have no experience or skills with producing one. So the idea had a long germination period as we explored resources for making it happen. And we felt an urgency to do this because Ralph was 91 years old at the time. He had to remind us of this because we didn’t believe or comprehend it!

    Near the end of 2012 a fairy godmother appeared to magically make the documentary happen. Jessica Senne, AIA, NCIDQ, is a professor of Interior Design at Maryville University. She had the desire and resources to not only make the documentary, but it would be just one part of a larger exhibition she would stage of Fournier’s work. She shared her vision, and we loved it. We turned over the scanned files of Ralph’s work and set the wheels in motion for Jessica to meet Ralph and help cement her exhibit ideas.

    Documentary filming day at (left) Ralph Fournier's home, February 2013. Jessica Senne is to the right of Fournier.

    Documentary filming day at (left) Ralph Fournier’s home, February 2013. Jessica Senne is to the right of Fournier.

    The Exhibit

    Jessica and her team of student volunteers and college faculty worked diligently throughout 2013 to procure funding for the exhibit, and to program and build all the pieces of the exhibit and documentary by the January 13, 2014 deadline. The effort and labor of love that went into that is her story to tell. What she and her crew accomplished is magnificent!

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    The exhibit Suburban Modernism is masterfully laid out to convey the width and depth of Fournier’s architectural contributions to St. Louis. The story is told through Ralph’s own drawings and photographs, plus sales brochures and magazine articles as the subdivisions unfolded onto the St. Louis County landscape.

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    It’s a multi-media gallery, which enlivens the 3-dimensional resonance of residential architecture. Above are drawings made of existing Fournier homes lived in by 3 separate ModernSTL board members. Jessica’s students did a measure and photo of these homes to create the plans, and even built a life-size replica of the wall partition panels used to construct these modular homes, as well as a scale model (below) to show how Fournier’s designs feel.

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    Along with beautifully framed color renderings on trace paper by Ralph, and modern day color photos of some of his custom designs, they filled the back wall of the exhibit space with replicas and actual copies of Ralph’s art work (below)! You walk away with a clearer understanding of the man who helped make hundreds of affordable, modern homes for St. Louis families, homes that still stand and serve beautifully today.

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    What makes this installation so exceptional is that it celebrates a residential architect. Modern architectural careers and legacies are primarily based on public buildings, like office towers, museums and government commissions. Architects long ago abandoned the residential design aesthetic championed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles & Ray Eames or Pierre Koenig, to name a few.

    Just when America needed a lot of homes real fast is when the majority of talented architects turned their attention to big, visible projects with large budgets. And those are the projects and names usually cited in text books and popular opinion, even in St. Louis.

    It’s important to shine a light on a dedicated residential practitioner like Ralph Fournier, someone who genuinely cared about how to make daily life beautiful, pleasing and affordable to young families, and who had the genuine talent to make mass production feel like your personal work of art, even to this very day.

    All of these details are expertly and engagingly covered in the video documentary narrated by Ralph Fournier himself.

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    I walked away from Suburban Modernism with a booklet (available at the gallery), a T-shirt and a poster (available through ModernSTL). I haven’t had this much concentrated swag since mooning over David Cassidy! And I am profoundly grateful to everyone who stayed true to the vision of bringing this body of work to life, and paying respect to the man who generated it. And many a huge thank you to Jessica Senne for making this happen.

    You have until February 22, 2014 to experience it firsthand. The Morton J. May Foundation gallery hours are generous, open until 11 pm Monday – Thursday, until 7pm on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday from 11 am – 11 pm. It’s free, so there’s no excuse to miss it if you have even a passing curiosity about St. Louis’ mid-century modern residential history. If you read this blog, that’s you – so go!

     

     

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  • Catching Up on Demolitions

    Posted on November 13th, 2013 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    strike and spare 2013 01

    We last checked in with the Strike ‘n Spare Lanes on North Lindbergh in December of 2011. Read about it here. And above is what the property looked like on October 16, 2013. But pull back the lens from this view and here’s the big picture:

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    I know Spirtas is trying to be clever, but their sense of humor is like a flat keg of beer. Why even bother – they got the job?

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    And here’s where they were on the first weekend of November 2013. As bad as their humor is, they are an efficient demolition company, so the job is probably clear by this time. But it was bittersweet to traipse around the last remnants, peering into the snack bar kitchen one last time…

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    There’s still a For Sale sign out front of the property, so are we assuming they’re making the land more desirable for a buyer? If anyone has any info about future plans for this site, please do share in the comments.

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    6149 Natural Bridge Road in Pine Lawn,MO
    And this was the big surprise of fall – the building shown above is completely gone. Well, some remnants remain (below), and the bricks are being neatly palatalized, but essentially, it’s just gone. Here’s a rendering of it back in the day when it was Pine Lawn Bank.

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    Pine Lawn mayor Sylvester Caldwell put up a billboard at the end of this now-empty block. It reads:

    “You Can See the Difference… You Can Tell the Difference. Mayor Sylvester Caldwell Presents… The Pine Lawn Board of Alderman Welcomes… New Retail Development. Coming to Pine Lawn FALL 2013.
    JOBS… JOBS… JOBS… FOR THE PEOPLE OF PINE LAWN!!!”

    naural bridge at jennings sta

    Here’s what the block looked like lately. Seems the bank building, erected in 1920, went first. Here’s a more poetic look from Built St. Louis.

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    And here’s the latest at the intersection of Natural Bridge Road at Kienlen/Jennings Station Road. I wonder if the very corner building is also coming down. If it’s a clean sweep for new retail, it would make sense to remove it. But I cannot find any information about what the billboard promises, in the news media or on the Pine Lawn website. So some more history of the northern inner ring suburbs just disappears without a second thought. Here’s hoping it’s been demolished for something better.

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  • 6 Reasons Why to Save the Lewis & Clark Library

    Posted on October 20th, 2013 Toby Weiss 5 comments

    lewis-and-clark-library-2013

    The St. Louis County Public Library seems determined to demolish the Lewis & Clark branch for a new structure. We need them to reconsider this misguided goal. They can meet all their objectives without tearing down this building. We need to help them avoid making a huge mistake.

    The importance of this building was recently covered on DOCOMOMO’s website, featuring killer historical photos of the branch. Next City placed it on the list of 10 endangered modern buildings. And I covered it here when the demolition idea was first touted. Modern-STL has been actively involved since that time in trying to engage the Library Board of Trustees about the importance of this building. Increasingly, it feels like talking to deaf ears.

    Come to the Lewis & Clark branch on October 23rd to learn about this building, it’s architect and what we can do to make them reconsider tearing down this building. You can start with the Facebook page. And please join Modern-STL, Esley Hamilton and myself. Event details.

    Since we can’t have a face-to-face with the Library Board of Trustees, I’m going public with what I would have shared with them privately -  6 Reasons to Save the Lewis & Clark Library:

    1. Don’t Trash Your Legacy
    The Lewis & Clark branch is the ONLY significant building left in the St. Louis County Public Libraries arsenal.  Important public institutions deserve important buildings – and this is just such an animal. Needlessly trashing your only architectural asset sends the wrong message about learning from, and respecting, history – especially your own.

    There will come a day when the County Library will want to celebrate its milestone anniversaries. Lewis & Clark is already a historical milestone at 50 years old. Then comes 75 and 100 years. Look to the St. Louis Public Library system for a template on how that kind of celebration benefits everyone. With this proposed demolition, The County would have no important buildings to celebrate their history because they trashed them.

    Noe view out the window in 1963.

    Note view out the window in 1963.

    50 years later, that same view of the neighborhood around the library remains in place.

    50 years later, that same view of the neighborhood around the library remains in place.

    2. Don’t Trash the History of North County
    Lewis & Clark was the first branch built in North County. Great care was taken with making this 1963 building worthy of the burgeoning community it would serve. It was designed with a grace and beauty reflecting the power and aspirations of a new town in a far-flung locale. It was such a pioneering flag plant that the library didn’t erect another North County branch until 1975, letting Lewis & Clark service a rapidly growing community for 12 years.

    It being the sole library in NoCo for so long is what makes it an emotional anchor for everyone who grew up there. This is why it’s the only library to make the pages of the popular nostalgia book Cruizin’ North County.  New York master planners have no knowledge or interest in the history of St. Louis County (read the entire master plan). It is distressing that the St. Louis County library system also appears to be ignoring this history.

    So many other touchstones of North County history have been unceremoniously trashed; the library is an institution that lends weight and importance to the history of the region. Let this one architecturally worthy building represent the history of community and education in North County. Come the 100th Anniversary, you’ll be glad you did.

    age master plan

    3. Understand the Difference Between “Old” and Historical
    The Library’s Facilities Master Plan document graphs the age of each of their buildings, and bases the needs for demolition for new buildings SOLELY on age (slide above from that Master Plan). They do acknowledge the level of maintenance on all their buildings has been good (and it is).  The implication that a new building will solve their future maintenance issues is just absurd.

    The Master Plan equates anything over 30 years old as bad. This is a 20th century, developer-driven, irresponsible line of thought that’s oblivious to the rapidly-growing importance of preserving mid-century modernism as the last great period of American architecture.

    The Board of Trustees has been educated on the architectural pedigree of the Lewis & Clark building. The importance and benefits of preserving architectural history is a well-documented topic. To continue to willfully ignore that is to willingly court ignorance, which is the opposite goal of a library.

    4. Acknowledge the Needs of a Modern Library
    Libraries are research-driven environments, and the most shallow research into the needs of the modern library reveals articles in the New Republic and Wall Street Journal about what will keep libraries relevant in these technological times. It’s no longer about having more space to store physical books, but for the existing space to meet new needs. Libraries need to curate knowledge in an age of information overload, and to be a safe and welcoming place for the community to gather.

    Microsoft Word - FacilitiesMasterPlan Final.docx - FacilitiesMas

    The Master Plan says Lewis & Clark needs 4,000 more square feet. If – in light of the modern needs of library science – this is still true, why not add it addition to the northeast side of the building? You have the space. An addition would be a way to have your legacy and thrive on it, too.

    5. Erect Your New Building Elsewhere
    We understand the politics of the voter-approved tax hike; when South County gets a brand new library building so must North County. Agreed. But why does it have to be the Lewis & Clark Branch?

    The Flo Valley branch is only one year younger than Lewis & Clark. And more centrally located in NoCo. And is not architecturally significant. This would be a good candidate for an entirely new, state-of-the-art building. The Thornhill Branch (1975) has been pegged for demolition for a new building, as well.

    There’s wiggle room in the master plan to meet all of library system’s needs without sacrificing your most prominent historical building.

    6. Apply Emotional Intelligence to the Master Plan
    The Master Plan that launched the system-wide need for renovations and demolitions repeatedly emphasize how important each library is to its community. But the Planners are from New York City so they fail to recognize the historic and sentimental touchstones of this building in this community. Clinging blindly to this document seems a stubborn stance for bolstering egos rather than community. A successful master plan considers the head and the heart, the numbers and the people who want to be more than statistics bolstering a bottom line.

    The County library has only one building that perfectly represents its moment in history with a grace that still inspires the pursuit of knowledge and community. This building presents the County library with an opportunity to one day have their St. Louis City library headquarters moment: past, present and future knowledge all in one admirable package of civic architecture.

    The County library has educated us for decades. The Lewis & Clark branch building is their chance for a poignant, teachable moment that inspires pride in the community it serves.

    All they have to do is respect it by letting it stand.

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    The author visiting her favorite childhood spot in the Lewis & Clark Library. Photo by Jeff King.

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  • South St. Louis Breakdown

    Posted on August 8th, 2013 Toby Weiss 11 comments

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    Since February 1993, I have lived in South St. Louis. In May 1999, I bought a house between the Bevo and Holly Hills neighborhood, where I remain. It’s a Mayberry kind of neighborhood with many residents who’ve lived here more than 40 years; a short, out-of-the-way, one way street, so it’s rather quiet.

    south side breakdown 02

    Until I switched to paying for lawn mowing, I was the moron on the block with embarrassingly tall grass. I balanced that by being the alley sheriff, picking up never-ending trash that eschewed dumpsters, calling the non-emergency number when things I couldn’t fix went awry. A salvaging neighbor has caused me 2 flat tires from the screws he leaves in the alley between our garages. But it was easy to shake off because the joy far outweighed the annoying.

    south side breakdown 03

    In Spring 2011, our block experienced a series of home break-ins and a front porch mugging at gun point. I could move or fight back. I bought a home alarm system and joined the Bevo Neighborhood Stabilization team that sprung up in the wake of similar problems all around us. It worked impressively well for pushing back the crime in our immediate area.

    But the last two summers have been wearisome. July 4th fireworks go from mid-June to the end of July. The morning of July 5th is war torn, with bomb shards smeared on the streets and smoke hanging in the air. The rest of the time, it’s gun shots in the distance, or sometimes so close you feel a slight vibration. A bullet hole in my roof caused a drastic water leak. Some of those bullets recently killed the clerk at the 7-11 right down the street.

    My end of the alley has become a pain in the ass. There’s constant dumpster issues, and people forget to mow/whack the patch of grass between their back fence and the paved alley. It looks like the cover of R.E.M.’s Murmur. I’m tired of alley sheriff duties; if they don’t care, why the hell should I?

    south side breakdown 04

    This year, some family moved to South St. Louis County, so I’ve been slowly exploring the nooks and closed crannies of the place where Catholic South Siders fled to in the 1950s and 60s. It’s an odd place – they keep quiet, they keep clean and they spend all their time indoors. You seldom see anyone out on their perfect lawns or walking their peaceful streets. It looks like a movie set before the morning crew arrives.

    south side breakdown 05

    It was heaven to spend a good portion of this 4th of July holiday swimming in a backyard pool in SoCo. The lack of rat-a-tat-tat firecrackers was soothing, the lack of trash a treat. But even before this Zen sabbatical, I had been feeling the stirrings of packing up and moving out of the South Side. Even though it felt like a betrayal, I couldn’t stop feeling it. Why is all this wearing me down now? We had been through much worse in previous years, but now I want to retreat?

    June 2013, The Blind Eyes released an EP, which instantly became my summer soundtrack. They are consistently tight, joyous and impressive to my ears. “Armour” is the lead-off track, and after having rocked with it for several spins, I finally listened to the words. And it made me cry. The Blind Eyes had precisely diagnosed my broken South Side spirit. They’d felt it, too.

    Here’s the song “Armor” – give it a listen. And here are the transcribed lyrics, some of which I know are wrong, but it hopefully won’t diminish the gist:

    Not a second thought when you hear the sound
    Of shots ringing out when the sun goes down
    Took a little while but we finally learned
    A way to fiddle on while the city burned

    Pass it off so we can sleep when we lay down at night
    Armored with the thoughts of everything will be alright

    Used to shake it up nearly every day
    With those who’ve figured out how to keep the beasts away
    Building up a wall but it tumbled down
    Never telling when it’s gonna come around

    Pass it off so we can sleep when we lay down at night
    Armored with the thoughts of everything will be alright

    It’s hard to let it go
    But let it go

    south side breakdown 06

    The song conjures images of the arson in Benton Park and dead bodies across the entire city. And I cried some more. The Blind Eyes’ music gives the song a bittersweet optimism. Previously, they celebrated my fellow City Dwellers with 2011’s “Hold Down the Fort,” which felt like a rallying cry as we battled demolitions and burglars.

    But the personal reveal from “Armour” is that my armor is rusting thin. Instead of bolstering my spirits, this song is like a tearful hug to try and keep me from bolting.

    And then on August 3, 2013, the King of South St. Louis – Bob Reuter – died. He literally dropped off the planet, leaving a huge hole in the soul of the South Side. Reuter was a photographic mentor, schooling me about black & white printing and his life during late hours in the Forest Park Community College darkroom. He captured South Side people, I captured its buildings, so there was a common ground, a common passion for a specific place.

    I keep picturing his camera, inadvertently abandoned and still, and can’t bring myself to even look at my camera bag, much less go out and continue documenting why this place has such a strong hold on so many of us. Reuter never let anything keep him from his quest to tell stories, to live free. He had the armor to protect his creative spirit. His passing is still too raw to inspire me past this current weakness of spirit.

    It’s not like I have the financial means to move, or even a solid plan. It’s just a restlessness and uncertainty, like a wife wondering if there’s a more meaningful life to be had away from her husband, and she’s two steps away from an emotional affair with a co-worker. In this case, my “emotional affair” would be South St. Louis County.

    south side breakdown 07

    Having these thoughts constantly looping through my heads fills me with guilt and regret, because I can’t help loving the South Side even when it’s callous toward me and brutal to those in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    So tonight, I will once again turn on the bedroom fan for white noise to drown out the yelling, the souped-up cars roaring down the street, and the gun shots…

    Pass it off so we can sleep when we lay down at night
    Armored with the thoughts of everything will be alright

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