Mid-Century Modern For Sale in Old Town Florissant


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.

Sneak Peek: Downtown St. Louis Sculpture Garden


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.

See more sneak peek photos here.

San Luis on KSDK


See video of Randy Vines romancing the San Luis on KSDK.

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.

San Luis documentary “This Was The Future”

ArtSpace at Crestwood Plaza


Crestwood Plaza, Watson Road & Sappington
Crestwood, MO

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.


Woolworths Becomes Big Brother

Intersection of North Grand and Olive
MidTown St. Louis, Missouri
There should have been a ticker tape parade when the Woolworths building came back to life. We spend so much time lamenting doomed buildings and remembering lost buildings, and not enough time applauding those that come back to life. But maybe it is better to just chance upon the scene above and rejoice to each other as we walk by. Or to have the St. Louis Business Journal run a two-page spread about it with gorgeous photos (print edition only).

The revival of this building is truly glorious. Every aspect of the rehab and renovation is top-notch because it respected the original building and all of its various mutations throughout the decades. They didn’t radically alter it, only made it better, and even left some remnants of its life as the flagship Woolworths dime store in St. Louis City.

It was a genuinely sad end of an era when the remaining Woolworths’ closed in 1993. The downtown store at 6th and Locust was where I did all of my gift shopping, and the restaurant within was a great place to do old school lunch. The day it closed felt like a funeral day.

The closing of the store at the most prominent mid-town was the final spiritual nail in the coffin of MidTown. Sure, the Fox Theater came back to life several years previously, but it’s hard to be the life of the party when there are no guests. And walking past the dark Continental and Woolworths building to get to the Fox was disheartening and creepy.

But in one glorious moment, the recent past was forgotten and joy returned to Mid-Town. Late summer we went to a concert at the Fox, and while parking the car, we realized that the Woolworth building was ablaze with light and life. We pressed faces against the glass, marveled at the sleek and modern new interiors and just reveled in the impossible actually happening.

I’ve been drawn back to this block several times since then, and my heart beats with joy to see all the people, be a part of the bustle, soak up the energy. It took Big Brothers & Big Sisters and Kranzberg Arts reviving this building to make me realize 3 important things:
MidTown is truly back
There are just enough great visionaries in this town to keep hope alive
I have yet another reason to be a proud of St. Louis.

Washington Avenue Apartments

1133 Washington Avenue
Downtown St. Louis, MO
In the early 1960s, at the integral intersection of Tucker Blvd. and Washington Avenue, they tore down an old building to erect a new one. That was standard operating procedure for Urban Renewal. In the 21st century, they renovated the replacement building, which will hopefully become standard operating procedure for a greener Urban Efficiency.

Aside from the misguided civic politics that brought it about, I always liked the Days Inn hotel building. Aesthetically, I appreciated its low budget, corporate resort modernism. Having only experienced it past its prime, I also appreciated its prominent seediness. Every authentic downtown needs some disreputable locales, some hard-earned griminess to offset the homogeneous intent of progress and prosperity. The Days Inn gave strong hints of the trouble our parents warned us against when we felt the tug of wanting to go downtown to stir up some adventure.

Michael Allen neatly sums up the beauty of the remodel. There were no historic tax credits, media grandtsands or marketing magic; Brian Bruce simply bought the building and renovated it, then opened it. The affordable Washington Avenue Apartments are now available to renters who can’t afford most other downtown locales, and it looks amazing in and of itself and within context of its surroundings.

Along with living space, it has useful and welcome retail space at street level. What had been a car tunnel for Days Inn is now B & T Pizza. The place is always busy because the pizza is excellent (we had the Queens – sans mushrooms – and the sauce is tangy rather than St. Louis sugary while the crust is the perfect compromise between thin and thick) and the joint looks good. In fact, the interior just won a St. Louis AIA Merit Award for its “clean look with tongue-in-cheek attitude.”

The exterior face lift is understated sophistication and appears retro only because it kept all the Days Inn lines, even enhancing them by slightly angling the windows. It reminds me of the NY Times crosswords left sitting on a stone table at Grand Central Terminal, and it doesn’t get more urban than that! So, I applaud the greenness, the fortitude and the function of the new place, and thank all those involved for giving us such a beautiful building that sets such a high standard for responsible redevelopment in our downtown.

The Coca-Cola Syrup Plant

Michigan & Davis intersection, Carondelet Neighborhood
South St. Louis, MO
They applied for a National Register listing for this industrial complex, and it was added to the list in April 2008. Two months later, plans were announced to convert the former Coca-Cola syrup plant into 78 apartments and commercial space. Bravo!

As arresting and evocative as the 1920’s portion of the plant is, I also love the down-scale, no-nonsense metal sheeting updates on the north side of the complex. This portion appears to belong to International Foods’ Dairy House, so naturally, it still requires high fructose and oil receiving receptacles. Note the “rust” stains down the left side of the left-hand depository, and think about what that stuff does to your innards.

If this portion of the complex is indeed part of the renovation plans, I look forward to seeing what’s under all the metal, though I will miss its minimalist cubism glory as reflected on a perfect summer morning.

South City Remodel & Reuse

7800 Morgan Ford, South St Louis, MO
It’s been fun to watch a perfectly good building in a prime location prepare for its newest incarnation. The building has been internally split in two, with Dollar Tree in front and Dependable Construction in back.

This building at the intersection of Morgan Ford and River Des Peres started life in 1954 as a National supermarket. Then a Goodwill retail outlet took over the space for many years. Earlier this year they moved into Affton proper, leaving this building vacant. There were some worries as to what would become of it, but it was useless fretting. The lot was bought rather quickly and the renovations are well done and eye-catching without being gaudy.

This summer’s morning commute has been about watching the remodeling progress, with lots of quick, crappy shots taken from a cell phone at a god-awful early hour of the day. It was a tad unsettling when they started painting the blonde brick, and the new owners have done a bit of back and forth finalizing the multi-color bands of paint, but now that it’s done, I like it. Especially the ascending colors on the vertical tower.

The Dollar Tree signage is now up, and it looks good, too. It’s a nice remodel with a little scootch of fun thrown in. But the best part of this story is how a good building in a great location can continually attract many different owners without the aid of TIF or other City Hall incentives. Buildings do not have to be knocked down and neighborhoods disrupted to keep our city’s tax base cooking; a simple remodel will do. It’s just refreshing to see city real estate and commerce move effortlessly and logically through marketplace dictates without a lot of bureaucratic bungling. It helps to keep one optimistic about our progress and future.

Porter Paints Redux

Halls Ferry & Sundown, Jennings MO
On the northwest tip of the Halls Ferry Circle stands a 1961-vintage building that was originally a Porter Paints store. As a kid in the backseat as we swung around The Circle, 2 buildings always got my attention: the Katz drugstore (now a Save-A-Lot) and this building when it was still all bright orange and cream.

It’s a huge plus that the building is still in use. A closer look at the vertical tower shows the covering coat of paint peeling away, and the classic Porter Paint logo peeking through.

Shortly after having snapped these photos, I got an e-mail from the manager of the Porter Paints store at Hampton & Eichelberger in South St. Louis, MO.

His store looked like this (above) before the remodel. After a green standing seam metal cap was placed atop this retail strip, the lower half is all that remains of the iconic Porter tower. Do you want to know what became of the rectangle sign seen to the right?

It’s now in my backyard! The store manager had salvaged the sign during the remodel, and held onto it for all this time. Having run across this blog entry, he thought I might be interested in having it. He was absolutely correct about that. Huge gold stars to Jonathan Tag for
A. being so cool as to save the sign
B. finding me through a Google search and
C. giving me the sign.
Thank you, Mr. Tag!!

River Des Peres Living Room

River Des Peres, South St. Louis, MO
Driving to work, hung over, on a Monday morning when what do I see? Or did I? All cars in both directions hitting the brakes confirmed it was all true, and all fabulous.

On a flat out-cropping of rocks – the River Des Pew amphitheater – is a console TV and a burgundy recliner, the kind of items that get ejected from a basement rumpus room. So dusty and nondescript that they should blend into the background of a spot we whiz by without barely noticing. Yet, we spotted it immediately and smiled. Every phone call asking “Did you see it?” and every South Side conversation about it was full of laughter, awe and approval.

Something so simple can make us so happy. But it’s not a simple matter to get those items to that spot. The area is isolated from the apartment complex and neighborhood behind it. There’s no direct access by car other than to run up over the curb to the rocks and hope you can get back out. To carry these bulky and heavy items on foot would require leaving the bike/walk path above and climbing down the rocks. Much like Stonehenge, how did they do it, why did they do it, and what does it mean?

Sure hope the Parks Department lets this public art project stay in place, because it creates such joy. It will be interesting to see if it gets added to… an end table and floor lamp would nicely complete the tableau. Then again, I saw people stop their cars in the middle of the South Side Autobahn to take a picture, with brakes squealing all around them, like all good safety hazards do. So do drive by as soon as you can to enjoy the River Des Peres Living Room.