Posted on August 19th, 2012 8 comments
This sign became…
…this sign. And that fact was consigned to the memory of a select few until it was brought to light by Dean Wieneke. Read his story here.
The beauty of the world wide web is that anyone can find anything, and the family of the men who were Dickerson Motors found the story of Dean finding their family’s sign. They got in touch with me both in comments on the blog entry and personal emails. Which lead to them graciously scanning old photos, which are shared with you now.
Julie Dickerson Chung and Carolyn Dickerson Zerman are the daughters of William E. Dickerson, who started Dickerson Motors, Inc. in 1951 with his brother Thomas E. Dickerson (whose son Don Dickerson provided some of these photos). It was a Lincoln Mercury dealership located at 6116 Natural Bridge Avenue. It was in the shadow of the only remaining gasometer in St. Louis.
Here is that spot today. Note that the building appears to have been sitting on the dividing line between St. Louis City and County.
Dickerson by day…
…and by night. These photos were taken shortly after the dealership opened.
A big day for Dickerson Motors was when actress and icon Debbie Reynolds stopped by the dealership in 1955 to buy a car. She was on her way back to California to marry singer and actor Eddie Fisher.
Above, Bill Dickerson hands Debbie Reynolds the keys to the car she chose. To put it in historical context, Miss Reynolds had just completed filming of the movie The Tender Trap, with Frank Sinatra. It would release in November of 1955.
And Debbie gets inside her new ride to zoom off and marry Eddie Fisher. The marriage would produce actress/author Carrie Fisher, and end tragically when Eddie left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor in 1959. This is just how her history played out and in no way infers her car from Dickerson Motors played any part in future marital dramas.
Don Dickerson (son of co-owner Tom Dickerson) shared the photo above, depicting the “Hot Rod Lincoln” that was part of the dealership’s racing team. In conjunction with the racing team, Don recalls:
“Before a race, my Dad was out zooming around Missouri to see what the Lincoln could do. He came over a hill at a very high speed and found that at the bottom of the hill was a buckboard with two horses pulling it. He slammed on the brakes but was going too fast to stop, killing two horses and totaling the car.”
To the best of Carolyn Dickerson Zerman’s memory, the car dealership closed around 1957-58. “I know my sister Julie was born around that time and was a “saving grace” to my Dad (above left), who hated to see the dealership close.”
The family does not know what became of the sign after Dickerson closed. In this entry about Ackerman Buick, former employee Tim Von Cloedt said Jerry Ackerman bought out Kuhs Buick on North Grand Avenue and moved the whole shebang out to Dellwood in the early 1960s. The first building on the lot went up in 1964 – so did the sign, now recycled as Ackerman Buick.
Where was the sign from 1958 to 1964? Considering how much information we’ve received so far, there just may be someone out there who knows the answer.
And this whole saga came to light when Dean and his family bought and dismantled the sign (above) to put it in storage at his father’s farm. As of this writing, Dean sold the sign to Fast Lane Classic Cars in St. Charles, MO, who plan to hang it on the side of one of their buildings.
So St. Charles is the newest chapter for one of the busiest, most recycled signs in St. Louis history. And thank you to all of the Dickerson family for being so generous with their photos and information.
Posted on July 4th, 2011 3 comments
This moment on this South Side front yard perfectly editorializes my feelings about our country: deflated hopes and nostalgia for democracy.
It’s full steam ahead into Coporatocracy, with both Republicans and Democrats serving only the 1% by flagrantly ignoring indisputable evidence of criminal actions in the financial sector that now runs America into the ground. It makes me feel angry, hopeless, scared and sad. Every firecracker that goes off sounds like the American Dream blowing up in our faces.
But then in the course of 24-hours during this Independence weekend, 3 glimmers of hope emerged from the ever-present fireworks smoke that blankets my South Side neighborhood.
Bates & Ulena
Mr. Yummy’s has been quietly for sale for quite a while. Read more about it here. Over the past couple of weeks, folks have been scraping and painting and cleaning the interior, which was a good sign. And then this weekend, the signs above appeared on the building. Mr. Yummy’s (and they’ve kept the sign!) has been re-purposed as a drive-thru laundry service!
I love that they took a look at the layout of this building on its lot at a busy corner and saw a new way to use it without altering the basic fabric. I love that its a rather unique type of business for this area. Personally, I love that I won’t be able to forget to pick up my dry cleaning because there will be a visual reminder twice a day, every day!
Kingshighway & Eichelberger
Less than a mile away, this old gas station that became an American Legion Post is now becoming something else: an ice cream parlor & deli!
The new owners have been remodeling the inside for a 1950s feel, plan to have both indoor and outdoor seating, and be open for pickles and ice cream by the end of July. And much like Yummy’s, they’re making do with re-purposing a small building, but on an even busier intersection. No need to demolish something – let’s recycle. And it feels like the return of modesty as a virtue.
Bates & Grand
The 2 storefronts that were El Burrito Loco are in the final stretches of opening as a Turkish restaurant, which adds a great new note to the international symphony that this immediate area has become. It’s great that those storefronts were vacant for such a short period of time.
Actually, it’s great that all 3 of these buildings in my immediate neighborhood were vacant for a short period of time – that they were deemed desirable and usable by 3 sets of brave entrepreneurs willing to take a chance during this Not So Great Depression. Statistically, the odds are stacked against them. Then again, our entire economy has shifted, and maybe you need to be real tiny so the mega-corporations that run the country don’t even notice you. It’s like the sneaky, backdoor way of upholding the American Dream, and I am grateful for the presence – and timing – of these 3 new businesses that fully represent Independence. Happy 4th of July!
Posted on January 2nd, 2011 27 comments
S. Grand & Iron
South St. Louis, MO
The palatial hacienda-style funeral home with “that sign” is now for sale.
This building is absolutely gorgeous, in whole and for its details. The funeral home (read its history here) started in 1908, and they moved into this building in 1929, which was built for them, and is supposedly the first St. Louis structure made expressly for a funeral home.
I’ve always been fond of the mid-century rear addition, loving the juxtaposition between eras. Plus, how can you not love the reiteration of their logo in giant, 3-D (below)?
Take a look at the real estate listing. They’re asking only $375,000 for this massive building, which also includes 2 apartments. I ran into the family that were living in the place until recently, when they had to find a new place to live because the place is for sale. There was a language barrier preventing me from getting any details from them, because I wanted to ask the little boy just how was it living in a funeral parlor. Seems like something a kid would dig, right?
Take a close look at the photos on the property listing. There’s a beautiful chapel inside with a stage and seating for more than 200 people. It’s in a commercial district and has tons of parking.
This building is crying out to be a concert club. Think about it: music and food, the owner can live above the business. Because it’s by Carondelet Park, it’s easy to get to from Hwy 55.
So, do we yet have anyone inspired to do something with this fabulous place?
Posted on May 1st, 2010 4 comments
1928 Locust Street
St. Louis City, MO
On a rainy Saturday in April, Landmarks Association and Alex Paradowski gave a tour of the new space for his company, Paradowski Creative. Alex worked with Alan Nehring and HBD Contracting to breathe new life into this old building.
The oldest part of the building at 20th & Locust dates from 1892, and the entire complex was once Missouri Light & Power, the city’s first electric utility, and the precursor to what is now Ameren UE. Read more about the building and its creation on their wesbite.
The creative agency has transformed the inside of a stately brick warehouse into a modern wonderland of colors, textures and shapes. They have also repurposed many pieces of the building that were removed – or unearthed – during the design and construction process. It is these tangible pieces of the past that grounds the concept from floating away in a cloud of whimsy.
Shown above is Alex in one of 3 conference rooms that, with the flip of walls, transforms into one large meeting space.
The painting on the white glazed brick wall is of their previous home on Broadway in central downtown St. Louis. I appreciate a firm that appreciates their past, but also get a special kick because I once worked for the design/build firm who did the renovation of that building. I like their new building much, much better.
The ground floor space is divided into multiple functions that are designated by varying colors, lighting and ceiling heights. Each area speaks its function with a casual energy that’s required for creative thinking and and inspiration.
Bathrooms on the 1st and 2nd floors are absolutely fabulous. Look in the mirrors, above, to see the stalls, which are much like the bathrooms in the Chase Park Plaza Theater lobby, but with one vast improvement: rather than knock or pull on a door to know if it’s available, these have tags that indicate vacant or occupied. It’s the details that matter most, really.
The main work room of the ground floor is gloriously open, with space ingeniously suggested by iron posts framing each cube. They are still in punch list phase, and this is a creative agency so things will continually change, but note the hanging space divider on the left side of the above photo.
We were all extremely taken with these plastic sheets of random letters, like a life size Seek & Spell.
There are endless spaces for spontaneous gathering and play, which are crucial for creatives, and often overlooked in offices of this type. Above is a library cove tucked under the mezzanine, which is made even more inviting by the natural light pouring through the gigantic windows, original to the building.
Another space we all fell in love with is the employee lunch room, which looks and functions more like a hip bistro in the Central West End.
An overhead door pops open to meld indoors and out. All the brick in the above photo is repurposed from in and around the building, and the juxtaposition of original fiber against new modern fixtures feels wonderful.
There is a 2nd floor mezzanine level with more offices, work areas, lounges and meeting spaces (oh, and a pool table!).
The view from the mezzanine is pretty spectacular, giving one a sense of the immensity of the ground floor and the industrial art of the ceiling soaring above.
There’s much more to the new Paradowski offices than can be covered here (like the employee parking under the building, or the exercise and locker rooms), and the stories Alex shared of the rehab and renovation of the space are fascinating. Especially the story of how Missouri’s Historic Tax Credit program made such a venture possible.
Alex’s excitement and love for the building is contagious and inspiring, and with NSI just up the street (in another repurposed historic building), this part of the city that was once automobile alley is becoming a creative alley. The beauty and possibility of the City of St. Louis is endless, and thanks to Paradowski Creative for underscoring the fact (and thanks for the tour!).
Posted on April 29th, 2010 5 comments
Vasel & Pavia Avenues
This is the cutest damn thing I’ve seen all year! It reminds me of a Liddle Kiddles playhouse!
I love Quonsets. Love saying the word, love spotting them across the American landscape (especially the double or triple runs), love the way they look and love how endlessly adaptable and durable they have proven to be.
The Quonsets usually get repurposed as utility or storage buildings, in both urban and rural areas. This is the first time I’ve seen one repurposed as a cottage… and in Affton of all places. That’s just The Best!
But the St. Louis County property records feel a bit intolerant about this Quonset house. Their records show it’s from 1947, 756 s.f. with two bedrooms and a full basement. And then they list the style as Colonial.
As if giving it another name will erase its essence?
Never. The Quonset will not be denied. All hail the Affton Quonset House!
Mascoutah, IL Quonset
Posted on April 7th, 2010 13 comments
Gravois Avenue & Meramec Street
South St. Louis, MO
This is a rather rundown intersection in the Bevo Mill neighborhood, but if you look through the grime, there’s some interesting visual history of when St. Louis (like other Rust Belt cities) actually produced goods, and those industries dictated the transportation, housing and society of the neighborhoods they resided in.
While stuck at this stop light contemplating these fanciful thoughts, I noticed the two buildings above had Hiliker For Sale signs. The building on the left is a 2-family flat from 1915, and next door is a 4-family from 1915.
And the one-story industrial building next to it, from 1918, is also for sale by the same company.
Even around the corner, on Meramec, the 4-family from 1915 is also for sale.
Which means the entire block bound by pink in the above aerial map (courtesy of bing.com) is for sale by the same agent, though info about these buildings are not on the Hiliker site. Included in this full city block is the jewel of the lot…
…the 9-story-total factory from 1928 which was formerly the Graham Paper Company. It sits majestically at the top of the viaduct, and in the late 20th century it served as a storage warehouse. I remember idle talk in the early 20s of it becoming loft apartments, but obviously that never happened.
All of these properties currently for sale are listed in city records as being owned by 4230 Gravois LLC, c/o Imagine Schools, which begs the question: did this organization buy all these properties with the intent of creating a campus, then changed their mind?
The Graham Paper Company building is a gorgeous example of dignified industry, which was par for the course for the 19th-into-20th century, and I admire how they tucked this large complex into a block already populated with multi-family housing.
What will become of this block? Must the buildings be purchased as a whole, or will “the whole” turn off any but the deepest pockets? It’s easy (but not desirable) for potential developers to dismiss the residential and remuddled one-story warehouse as demolition fodder, but the Graham complex cannot be denied. It’s a strange and intriguing plot of land, and the possibilities for a new use are plentiful…and worrisome.
If anyone has information on what’s happening with this block (including – and most especially – history of Graham Paper Company), please do share.
Posted on February 7th, 2010 10 comments
One of the most prominent intersections in Ferguson, MO has lately become notorious. CVS is mining the St. Louis area, and as they require being near an existing Walgreens, they want to move into the intersection of Hereford and North Florissant, on the spot of the now-vacant Sinclair gas station (shown above). The issue is covered in depth here at NOCO StL, and that post also includes comments that capture the tone of the debate.
In essence, CVS wants to buy and tear down 8 homes and receive a 5-year TIF in order to build a new store on the northeast corner of a desirable intersection, and have been working on procuring the homes and advancing the plans since spring of 2009. Ferguson neighborhood associations did not learn of these plans until September 2009. It’s become a case of who in Ferguson City Hall knew of these plans (and when did they know it), and were they purposely trying to usher in this development without public discourse?
The group Preserve Our Ferguson Neighborhood’s concisely explains why they are opposed to the plan here, and note that they are not opposed to CVS coming to Ferguson, just opposed to this plan.
The photo above – and the next two that follow – are photos I took in May 2007 as part of a personal photographic survey of Hereford/Chambers Road from N. Florissant east to Halls Ferry Road (I hope to document straight through to Riverview Dr.). These homes atop the hill on the northside of Hereford are a long-standing, iconic representation of Ferguson. Even though everything to the southwest of them long ago turned commercial, these houses remained. Meaning, that even during the boom years of Ferguson’s mid-century development, planners left this stretch of homes alone.
From 1945 – 1970, the clear delineation of commercial and residential in Ferguson is what made it so desirable for St. Louis city dwellers looking to relocate to the suburbs, and the long-standing respect for that pattern is a huge contributor to the renaissance Ferguson is now experiencing. There is a growing and tangible St. Louis population reclaiming both our city neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs because of the distinct flavor (and existing infrastructures) they retain. It is an organic reaction against anonymous homogenization that depletes resources and a reclamation of community that is at the core of the human experience. Ferguson is quickly becoming a poster child for inner-ring possibility, which is a responsible balance of respecting the past while moving forward.
From casual observation of how CVS has grown in the Midwest, it is clear that there is a corporate game plan that requires their stores to be in close proximity to a Walgreens. I’m not debating their strategy – it must work for them or they wouldn’t insist upon it – but I am noting that there stubborn adherence to this strategy finds them offering lame excuses when faced with community opposition.
For instance, in the Ferguson situation, the community has suggested other nearby commercial sites that could most likely be had without disrupting residential, and most of these sites are within eyesight of the Walgreens. But CVS corporate responds that there might be a lease restriction on the site, and they want to work only on the Sinclair site they have been working on for almost a year.
The City of Ferguson may have already offered them a 5-year TIF, and CVS might also get a Brownfield tax credit for building on the site of a gas station. Note that Ferguson can extend TIF to most any location it desires, so that’s not a crucial factor for CVS staying put with the Sinclair Plan. But one thing is very clear from our brief history of the company in St. Louis: they want empty commercial and seemingly expendable residential buildings near a Walgreens because dealing with an existing corporation can get tricky.
For instance, their Ferguson plan procures 8 occupied homes, but spares the Little Caesar’s pizza building at the northern end of the block on N. Florissant. It is cheaper to pay above-market price for private homes than wrangle with an existing business that full-well knows the rules of the real estate game. This may be why the Aaron Rents site mentioned as another possible location for CVS at the same intersection was immediately dismissed; who wants to tangle with evicting a retail chain when the goal is to get in, get what you need and seal the deal as quickly as possible?
From the CVS perspective, these location strategies are logical, and it worked perfectly for them at the intersection of Gravois and Hampton in South St. Louis City, the former site of a vacant Amoco station that also required 3 homes to be demolished. The Ferguson site is a repetition of that same game plan, so why not? But there’s another example that Ferguson needs to keep in mind: the failed attempt for a CVS at Lindell and Sarah in the Central West End.
Yes, the plan took place over vacant commercial buildings, but this property was not in eyesight of the existing Walgreens, just a few blocks east on the same side of the street. So, not the most ideal way to meet the corporate mandate, but still a viable property on a valuable street. But the next problem was persistent community opposition. In general, the majority of residents affected were not opposing the store being there, but rather the layout and design of the store. CVS played ball for one inning with some design modifications, but residents still weren’t satisfied and asked for further revisions. Without fanfare, CVS took their ball and left the game, and the CWE CVS plan was abandoned.
Simply because a corporation with deep pockets says it should be so does not make it fait accompli, especially within a proud community committed to the safe-keeping of their town’s present and future.
It is easy to understand the need to increase the Ferguson tax base, and this is classically accomplished in two ways: more residents and more business. It is a delicate balance, and Ferguson is once again facing the hefty kid on the playground who wants to plop down on the other end of their seesaw. The important message of this “controversy” is that Ferguson residents are expecting transparency and fair negotiations about developments that will produce the most good for their city, and that is the sign of a community with healthy self-esteem and optimism about their future potential. Ferguson’s heartbeat is gaining strength, and it is now healthy enough to fight for a fair deal.
There is valid concern about what to do with the Sinclair site if the CVS deal should fall through. Size-wise, old gas station plots can be problematic if you’re thinking inside the retail box. Though, considering the current revitalization in the heart of Downtown Ferguson, extending that line of thought a few blocks up to Hereford is not a stretch of the imagination.
And when it comes to revitalizing odd-shaped, vacant gas station sites in Ferguson, I do need to point out the photo above, also taken in May 2007. This is at Ames Pl. and (Hereford turns into) Chambers Road, less than a mile east of the Sinclair intersection. I once lived within walking distance of this former gas station, and was always intrigued by it because it appeared to be growing out of the side of a hill. Plus, those people above it could walk out their side door and onto the gas station roof, if they wanted to (and I really wanted to).
The building is short and narrow, while the lot is long but very narrow. So when the gas station finally folded many a year ago, it sat in this forlorn, vacant state. The asphalt was removed, and once the grass grew in, it really looked odd, like a cedar and glass carbuncle growing out of the greenery. But the last time I drove by, the site was back in use as a used car lot, which was a pleasant shock because I thought that plot of land and the building was a goner. Instead, against all odds, it’s reborn!
I am not at all suggesting that the Sinclair site should become a used car lot. I am just pointing out that even the oddest, and seemingly hopeless sites can find another life when it’s in a community that works together to make such things possible.
Posted on October 4th, 2009 32 comments
Jamestown Mall, Lindbergh & Old Jamestown Road
At the end of September 2009, The Urban Land Institute presented some ideas on what to do with a dying mall. In a pdf of their presentation, they advocate tearing down the existing building and creating a new, mixed-use destination. This proposal comes after the 2008 idea of turning the southwest (former Dillard’s) portion of the mall into senior housing and office space fell through due to, supposedly, national economic misfortune.
Jamestown Mall originally opened in 1973, shortly after my Mother and I moved into near-by Black Jack. There were plenty of places to eat, (including a Pope’s cafeteria and a restaurant inside the Walgreens), a movie theater and all the stores my Mother already had credit cards for, so we went there a lot.
I have good memories of the place, like hanging out at the Camelot music store, which got most of the grade-school and teenager money I had. There’s also not-so-good memories, like having to pick out clothes in the Pretty Plus department at Sears, which was located right near the mall entrance, so I was in plain sight of high traffic.
There were high school midnight movies where we were so stoned we could barely walk, so I barely remember The Song Remains the Same or Rainbow Bridge. There were periods of intense longing over toys in KayBee, gag gifts at Spencer’s and boys in my classes that I never thought twice about until I ran into them outside of school at the mall.
But these are all memories that I can conjure at will as I sit at home. The last few times I stopped at the mall, none of those thoughts went through my head while walking the mall. Instead, I was taken with the stainless steel and bronze sculptures that have been there since Day One, and meant nothing to me at the time, but now I think they’re beautiful, and I worry what will become of them if the mall is torn down.
Buildings are historical proof that hold memories , which is one of the reasons people get upset when certain buildings are slated for demolition. In the case of Jamestown Mall, it denotes a distinct period of Boom Town development in far North St. Louis County, and it holds plenty of memories, but the structure itself is unmemorable because it was purposely designed for all the action to be internal, so how it looked from the outside was an afterthought.
I loved everything about re-purposing a portion of it for senior housing, but since they’ve let that useful and innovative idea go, I’m completely on board with them leveling the existing mall and starting anew. But I am completely against the suggested new use for the land.
Take a look at the aerial view of the mall and the surrounding area and note how much green there is around it. Even with decades of new housing going up, this part of North County – out where the mighty Lindbergh Boulevard ends with a lackluster whimper – is still awesomely rural, verdant and never completely tamed. High density retail and residential kind of peters out northeast of the New Halls Ferry & Lindbergh intersection, and large swaths of rolling hills still hold working farms (there’s still a barnyard animal feed and supply across from the mall on Lindbergh because the area needs one). The Bubbleheads thrive out there for a reason – it’s woodsy seclusion sometimes interrupted by suburbia.
It was a weird gamble to put a mall in an area so far off the density grid. For the first 15 years of its existence, the only other non-Lindbergh way to get to the mall was via a winding, hilly back road with dangerous curves and a rickety bridge over a snake-ridden creek that only us locals used. “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s mall we go…”
But it was a successful gamble for awhile, because there was nothing else like it in this remote area. It was truly a shopping destination for St. Louis North Countians and those over the bridge in Alton, Illinois… until they got their own Alton Square. And Northwest Plaza had more of the big stores, and wasn’t all that much further the other way up Lindbergh. And then retail trends changed to several Big Box lots spread throughout a municipality and Jamestown Mall became the remote island of Misfit Stores.
The ULI proposal recognizes how remote this location is, so logically suggests that it be turned into a bells and whistle mixed-use destination, a place so chock-full of everything and the kitchen sink that folks from all over the region will be itching to go there… until the newness fades away into the next Retail Destination dog and pony show that’s easier to get to.
They also propose that the new use have a Vegas-like reenactment of urban density, which is flat-out silly when you glance at the distinctly rural qualities of the areas surrounding it. Florissant shouldn’t spend millions on a New Town, Part II.
I propose, instead, a totally original mixed-use idea that takes into consideration the area and its flavor and gives people something they can’t get anywhere else so that they are totally willing to come from all over to have a crack at it, repeatedly.
From the current proposal I’d keep the ice hockey pond and the farmer’s market. To stick with the sports theme, let’s go extreme: could someone finally give our area a full-blown skateboard park, please? Also add a bicycle motocross course. Some of the original building foundations could be left in place for both of these items, and because we don’t have anything like this currently, they’d pull a steady stream of people all year long totally willing to pay to play.
If one or both is too radical an idea to consider, maybe pay homage to the horse culture still existent in this part of North County, with something similar to Pere Marquette Stables?
Expand the farmer’s market idea by also creating a pick-your-own vegetable garden. Think Eckert’s apple orchard, with people paying to pick their own local vegetables that they know comes right from the ground. There’s plenty of room for seasonal harvests like strawberries in the spring, pumpkin patches in the fall, and just like Waldbart Nursery nearby (let them sponsor it and support local business), chop your own Christmas tree in the winter.
Right on the Old Jamestown and Lindbergh corner I’d slap down a restaurant that naturally features seasonal food that comes from the gardens, and a cafe for hot or cold beverages and treats, depending on the time of year. And so I don’t have to worry about the fate of the Jamestown Mall sculptures, move them into an outdoor sculpture and water garden for a unique dining-outdoors experience.
Any or all of these ideas would cost far less to develop than what is proposed, and promotes a sustainable, outdoors, healthy agenda that is not dependent on fickle retail trends or just-add-water urban islands inappropriate to the area. Even with our crap economy, they could begin with the gardens on existing empty land while demolition happens on the mall, so that everyone can see innovative progress happen in stages, and even take part in the process.
Are these far-fetched ideas, or is it do-able? Do you think it could pull people from all over the metropolitan area and contribute meaningfully to the area’s tax base? And what are some other uses for the land other than the cliched ideas being proposed?
Posted on September 27th, 2009 33 comments
Interstate 44 near Shrewsbury Exit
St. Louis, MO
As reported by the Webster-Kirkwood Times, the two gasometers that mark the boundary between St. Louis City and County are currently being demolished.
The natural gas storage tanks owned by Laclede Gas were erected in 1925 and 1941, and have been inactive since 1995. They sit on just under 6-acres of land, which was purchased by a development firm that plans to grade and seed the soon-to-be-vacant property so it looks “nice” while trying to attract a new owner to build on the site.
I’d like to know if the property developers even considered selling the property as-is, just in case there’s an entity out there that would like to re-use these iconic and impressive structures for other purposes. Considering the current commercial real estate market, they may be sitting on this property for a bit, so they have some time play with, and could possibly save themselves demolition fees if a buyer wanted the gasometers to remain.
Are there other uses for such unusual structures? Vanishing STL covered the demolition of another gasometer in St. Louis City, and in another post about its history, he shares information about how Vienna, Austria re-purposed four of theirs.
Granted, the highway has locked these gasometers into a remote location surrounded by industrial, so that could limit the scope of new use, but limitations are what inspire some of the most compelling ideas. It’s depressing that, yet again, there is a willful lack of imagination and possibility about high-profile structures that are part of the Greater St. Louis history. And there is one more opportunity to squander our last remaining gasometer near Goodfellow, in North St. Louis City.
I wanted to document how most of us experience these twin towers: sturdy yet delicate-looking guide posts along the highway that change size, color and texture with the distance, time of day or weather. Their absence will matter, and they will be missed.
Posted on September 6th, 2009 4 comments
As a kid, I was always fascinated by this building because it was just my size. It was like a little doll house plopped onto the black top parking lots of the buildings surrounding it on West Florissant in Country Club Hills. When I went back to visit it in 2002 to take the photo above, I was struck by how antiquated the notion of a single doctor working out of a cracker box seems today. For at least the last 30 years, our doctors are bunched together in large office buildings built for just that purpose, and the care within can be just as impersonal and confusing as those buildings.
This 1,152 s.f. building from 1956 was the office of Dr. Hubert S. Pruett (who once played with the St. Louis Browns!). In 1963, the space was labeled The Sheldon Medical Building, as if it were to house more doctors, but it remained the private practice of Dr. Pruett until Dr. Samuel G. Ramirez took over in 1975.
With the Sheldon back in my consciousness, I started noticing the plethora of tiny medical buildings dotting St. Louis. Like the one above, at 9717 Manchester, in Rock Hill. In 1953 it was the office of dentist Albert Thomas. By 1963, chiropractor Elizabeth J. Lochner took over, and took care of patients well into the early 1990s.
There are many intriguing things about these tiny medical buildings. For instance, they tend to be at the far limits of St. Louis City and the inner-ring suburbs, so were built in the mid-century with cars in mind. Private practice doctors followed the population out to St. Louis County, and while their patients were buying bigger homes, the doctors were content with less than 2,000 s.f.
Most interesting of all is that even in the midst of our square foot gluttony, most of these match boxes are still used today, and quite often the use stays in the health care realm.
This office at 9846 Manchester in Rock Hill fits the Tiny Medical Building M.O., but actually opened in 1952 as Woodard Rug Cleaners. But by 1963, the true nature of this building was realized when Alfred W. Moller opened his veterinarian practice. Hey, human or animal, it’s still medical care, right? It became West Side Animal Clinic in 1972, and as you can see, they are still there to this very day.
An early example of what would become the standard of group physicians is shown above, at 2730 Watson in the Clifton Heights neighborhood of South St. Louis City. From 1958 – 1980 it housed multiple physicians and optometrists (for humans), then it became a veterinary clinical laboratory until the mid-1990s. Today, the office facing onto Southwest Avenue belongs to a chiropractor, so it went full circle back to the humans.
These medical offices also highlight the rapidly changing nature of 20th century American medical practice, which is really more the story of health insurance. Up to the 1930s, doctors made house-calls, but with the advent of Blue Cross & Blue Shield insurance from 1930-1940, companies could buy into tax-free policies for their employees, and the need for more doctors increased. With this growth of supply and demand, commercial insurance companies were finally ready to join in, increasing the number of insured from 20,662,000 in 1940 to nearly 142,334,000 in 1950.
These tiny medical offices were built for general practitioners who finally had a chance to make real money and care for their patients with total autonomy. But by 1964, the numbers of doctors going into general practice were dwindling, with the focus moving over to medical specialists. A solution for both general and specialized medicine to financially prosper was enacted in 1973 as the Health Maintenance Organization, and became the large HMO buildings so many of us visit today.
This huge shift in the medical industry to group health care made these tiny medical buildings obsolete for private practice. It’s a deep irony that some of these buildings now house medical specialists, like the office (above) at 3185 Hampton in South St. Louis City. But here’s a spin on this type of building: it was built in 1962 for American National Insurance, who used the building until 1990, when it became the City Spinal Center. So even when the contents start off differently, these mid-century modern cubes just broadcast a medical nature. Or actually, it would be merely a snapshot, as this medical period only lasted roughly 15 years.
I am continually impressed with the adaptive re-use of these tiny buildings; most don’t stay vacant for too long. Then again, depending on where they are, they are also highly vulnerable to demolition. This little gem of concrete, cubist mid-century modernism (above) at 7810 Natural Bridge Road was being prepped for demo when I took this photo in 2005. It started life as a doctor’s office, and by the end of its run, it held a carpenter’s shop and a travel agency. So, the building was still useful, but it was in the area surrounding the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and was taken down for some vague reason still unresolved.
But the majority of tiny medical buildings remain to this day. Shown above is the place built for dentist Conrad J. Zoeller in 1954, at 9300 Gravois Road in Afton, MO. He worked from this 748 s.f. office until the mid-1990s, and it was recently a hearing center until it – or rather its parking lot – found a whole new use as a produce stand!
Today, because of the health insurance industry, the medical profession is in worse shape than its former buildings. Doctors can’t practice as responsibly and freely as they did when in these little stand-alone buildings, while their buildings keep finding a way to help humans and their pets.
Even the little building on West Florissant that first opened my eyes to this short chapter of medical architecture still has a healthy, beating heart. It is now a hair care center, ingeniously divided up as a barber shop through one entrance and a beauty salon through the other. Here’s hoping that in the next couple of years, our health care system can transition into adaptive re-use as flexibly as its former buildings do.