Posted on July 27th, 2009 8 comments
Rue St. Catherine at Jefferson St.
Old Town Florissant, MO
Old Town Florissant, established in 1786, is a small, charming patch of old-fashioned in North St. Louis County. Everything is picturesquely quaint and refreshing, and a stroll down the streets makes one instantly crave hand-squeezed lemonade sipped on a porch swing. So walking upon the sight shown above was pleasantly surprising.
It’s surprising, but not unprecedented to see a quintessential mid-century modern domicile in this neighborhood. The several blocks that are authentically historic are ringed on all four sides by every hallmark of 1950-1960s suburban-boom architecture, and if not for Historic Florissant, Inc. forming in 1969, the whole area would most likely have been covered in ranch houses.
So how did this thoroughly modern place, built in 1955, wind up in the middle of the Currier & Ives print that is Old Town?
It’s Florissant Valley Fire House No. 1! According to the lieutenant who came out to chat, they move into their brand new firehouse on St. Ferdinand Street in about two weeks, and this place goes up for sale. He even said it would convert into a real nice home for someone… someone who’d really, really dig a lot of garage! That, and 6,155 square feet.
From the street, it’s of an unassuming scale that’s respectful of its surroundings. From the air, you get a startling idea of how large this 3-building complex really is, which just makes the ease with which it fits into the site even more artful.
The fireman gave a sales price for this building that was shockingly low, and reacted to my surprise with “Don’t quote me. The realtor knows better.” But just hearing a price that was in the realm of obtainable sets the imagination spinning… a perfect home/work space for someone who restores vintage cars, or an artist who needs a giant studio? A highly flexible home/business space? The possibilities are endless, the location is perfect, and the building is beautiful and in great shape. Here’s hoping it finds another loving owner, soon.
Posted on May 31st, 2009 11 comments
Bounded by Market, Chestnut, 8th & 10th Streets
Downtown St. Louis, MO
The new City Garden is supposed to open in time for the July 2009 All-Star Game at Busch Stadium, and after taking a walk around it on a glorious spring afternoon, looks like they can make that deadline. The western block looks basically complete and has a unique feeling about it. Most of the construction is now in the eastern block, with Pinocchio (above) waiting to be wheeled into his permanent spot.
Previously, I paid little attention to this project because I agree with everything in this Eco Absence piece. Why our City Fathers continued to stick to a bad plan begun decades ago is mystifying, especially as the parts of downtown they didn’t tear down were surging back to life. Did they ever contemplate just changing their minds and putting all this land to productive use, like putting buildings back on it?
I felt the same way about the Old Post Office Plaza: why is this even happening in the first place?! And then I experienced the place on a warm, spring evening, all lit up and vibrantly peaceful, and it felt glorious, which made me contemplate What Is vs. The Way it Should Be.
What happened to both the Gateway Mall and the Old Post Office square stubbornly eschewed logic and dispelled the vision needed for an equitable and democratic use of these important blocks. It still smarts, hard. But it’s done and we have no choice but to move on and hope the people in charge don’t mess it up even more. In the case of Old Post Office Plaza, it’s an endearing balm for the old wound, and accepted on the terms of “What Is,” it’s truly great.
Maybe the same will happen with Sculpture Garden? Along with the fine attention to materials and details, I noticed that the new landscape and sculptures were able to alleviate the sting of some of St. Louis’ most soul-sucking post-modern corporate crapitecture. Wonderous shapes distracted me from the mess that is the south side of Market Street. As the trees get taller it will be possible – by standing just so or sitting right here – to completely block out those nightmares for just a minute or three.
This garden feels like a giant bouquet of flowers to apologize for the horrible things “They” have done to our downtown. For the sake of moving on, it is often wise to graciously accept the apology and admire both the thought and the beautiful flowers.
Posted on May 5th, 2009 No comments
Good job of hearing from both sides. Now, what about actually having meaningful conversation face to face?
The Archdiocese goal of more parking can be achieved in several different ways. The value of that land and its greater use can be achieved in several different ways. More can be accomplished by joining together than by tearing apart, and the Friends of the San Luis are extending a hand to the Archdiocese. Here’s hoping they return the sentiment.
Posted on May 2nd, 2009 7 comments
Crestwood Plaza, Watson Road & Sappington
When’s the last time you went to Crestwood (yes, I know it has a new name but it will always be to me) Plaza? Judging by how dead the place was, I’m guessing “don’t remember” would be a common answer.
Even before Macy’s permanently closed the doors in March 2009, one had to dodge the tumbleweeds blowing through. Walking through the mall made me think of Dawn of the Dead, waiting for zombies to pop out of what used to be Walden’s Books and rip my arm off.
It used to be ultra creepy, now it’s “come in and play” because the owners of this dying mall followed through on some creative thinking, and they may just wind up making more money from this new venture than any attempts to revive it as a retail destination.
ArtSpace just threw a grand opening party, and everything about it was inspiring and delightful. Just to see the parking lots full and people crowding the mall was a minor miracle. That the hubub was for cultural arts rather than vacant consumerism was a major miracle.
I was itching to check out this brilliant adaptive re-use idea during the formative stage, but just never got around to it, as Crestwood Plaza was still creeping me out. So, throwing this party assured there would be live human beings around to keep me safe. Another incentive was to see the photography of Robert “Ferd” Frank (he was John Mellencamp’s bassist back when he was Cougar), whose work is displayed – and for sale – within Design Extra Interiors (photo above).
Yes, there’s a full-service interior design firm in the mall. It just makes so much sense that you have to wonder why this hasn’t happened before!
Remember all the art studios in downtown St. Louis before the loft rehab boom? That same concept in urban vertical has now gone suburban horizontal. All of the empty spaces inside the mall are renting for insanely cheap prices to anyone willing to put their own money and sweat equity into re-purposing dead retail spaces (where – as above – dressing room doors become display space) . That’s insane amounts of square footage already tricked out with everything you need in a setting designed for high traffic with maximum visibility.
Along with all the merriment of the day, I took perverse delight in Structure becoming Three-Legged Productions…
…and Mrs. Fields serving as advertising for the dance hall across the way…
…and Frederick’s of Hollywood goes Chicque.
There’s still a handful of “real” retail in business like Footlocker, Victoria’s Secret and Claire’s Boutique, but on this day those stores were pretty dead because there was too much excitement elsewhere. Actually, “dead” would be a normal day for Claire’s at Crestwood, but that’s the beauty of this venture: any of the retailers who have hung on will certainly reap the benefits of increased traffic.
And because the place is alive with music, and performers and playful shenanigans, it will inspire folks to make spontaneous purchases of arts, crafts and glitter lip gloss and Kenmore appliances.
As I was taking the photo above, a lady walked up to me and said, “When I moved to St. Louis in 1965, this was the place to be. It’s been painful to watch it die. But today, I’m feeling like it can become that again, and I couldn’t be happier.” Then she caught sight of a stilt-walker sauntering by and drifted off with a huge smile on her face.
Posted on August 27th, 2007 2 comments
River Roads Mall, Jennings MO
River Roads is now, for all worthy detail, gone. A vertical ruin of what was the JC Penney building still stands, and the grocery store (which started life as a Krogers) is still open for business. Everything else is a mound of debris or a throbbing hole in the ground. This has been a leisurely demolition, lasting about 18 months with still more work ahead before any new construction can happen.
My anxiety over the River Road Ruins is officially over. The white, turquoise and aqua tiles littered all around and always just out of my reach (photo above) are now gone, there’s nothing left to save. So, that chapter of the River Roads story is done, but I’ve had a new chapter of the story writing itself in my backyard.
With several pieces of the former Stix, Baer & Fuller building piling up in my yard, the idea to use them as a garden border popped up. After cutting through backbreaking zoysia to create dirt beds, it was a strange thrill to layout the River Roads pieces into a whimsical, mid-century modern garden chain. By the middle of May, perennials and annuals had been planted, and it was just a matter of watching it grow.
A side bar to the River Roads Memorial Garden is shown above. The hexagon is part of the interlocking Stix wall that faced Jennings Station Road. To its left (in front of the hosta) is a piece of the original Cross Keys Shopping Center in Florissant MO (4th row, 3rd from left) that was demolished in 2003. What looks like a “P” to the untrained eye is actually the mangled “R” rescued from the main Northland Shopping Center sign in 2006. There are also various other pieces of Northland in this tableau, which underscores why I had to do something vaguely useful with all these pieces junking up my backyard.
This has been my first true flower garden, so it’s been an education. One thing I’ve learned: sunflowers are scary beasts. They are too tall for comfort, and too heavy for their own stems to support them. Once the flowers finally arrive, they offer about 5 days of gorgeousness before morphing into bedraggled UFOs that become dangerous projectiles in summer thunderstorm winds. This is the debut and finale of sunflowers in my yard.
A round of applause goes to Wendy Fischer for helping to dig the flower beds and providing much needed enthusiasm to make this project happen, and to Cyndi Woollard for adding pieces of her world class garden to my starter kit.