Hey St. Louis, Buy Local – Brick By Brick

The only downside to Thanksgiving is it marks the end of reasonable shopping until December 25th. The mere thought of the huckster retail hell that begins with Black Friday causes me real anxiety. That they start Black Friday earlier every year has me contemplating therapy.

If this rings true for you as well, the antidote is to shop local. Buying as much of your holiday bounty from independently owned St. Louis businesses supports your community, your neighborhood and the local folks who’ve stuck their neck out to go against the Big Box tide.

A perfect way to celebrate this Black Friday is to StL two-bird-one-stone it on the local tip by heading to the St. Louis Curio Shoppe between 1 – 3 pm and buy a DVD copy of Bill Streeter’s film Brick By Chance and Fortune: A St. Louis Story.

The Curio Shoppe specializes in selling only St. Louis-produced or St. Louis-centric items. Did you know we have a large group of local soap makers, who make soap so pure you could eat it (if you had to)? Go to there and see for yourself. And it makes all kinds of sense to meet Bill Streeter there and have him sign a copy of his movie; a movie that makes all kinds of sense as a gift for every St. Louisan.

Here’s the Facebook invite for more details.

If you can’t make it out for this event, you can order the film on-line. Here’s the PayPal link.

A special thank you to Streeter for giving all of us who appear in the film free copies. You’ve already taken care of a sizable chunk of my Christmas shopping with this generous offering. And thank you for making all of us proud of our Brick City!

Hampton Avenue Mid-Century Modern

1118 Hampton Avenue photo by Toby Weiss

One of the most interesting chapters of how St. Louis City developed can be read with a drive along the entire stretch of Hampton Avenue. Starting at Interstate 64/Hwy 40 and heading south 4 miles to just past Loughborough Avenue, check you will find an even balance of original buildings from both before and after World War 2.

1130 Hampton Avenue South St Louis photo by Toby Weiss

The emphasis is on “original” because there was little need along Hampton to tear down old buildings to make room for bright, more about shiny New Frontier buildings because large chunks of Hampton remained vacant land awaiting development at the close of WWII.

1300 Hampton Avenue South St Louis photo by Toby Weiss

2150 Hampton Avenue, building by Schwarz & Van Hoefen

I did not know this until I began researching the origin of Hampton’s mid-century modern buildings, ampoule and was stunned to learn from the 1940 City Directory that there was NOTHING on Hampton between today’s Highway 44 and Arsenal. In 1940! Or that they didn’t have to knock down a single building to develop the intersection of Hampton and Eichelberger (home of the fabulous Buder Library building) because even as late as 1948 there was still no Directory listing for anything on that stretch of road.

2185 Hampton Avenue in South St. Louis photo by Toby Weiss2301 Hampton Avenue in South St. Louis photo by Toby Weiss

The St. Louis history of post-WW2 mid-century modern always focuses on the flight from City to County, or how old City buildings were demolished to make way for Urban Renewal. But along large swaths of Hampton Avenue, the mid-century modern buildings ARE the original buildings, and to think this happened within the City bounds at such a late date proves how the City of St. Louis is both so ancient and so young. This just adds to the schizophrenically endearing nature of our City, and highlights the importance of preserving and celebrating the historical and architectural uniqueness Hampton Mid-Century Modernism.

2330 Hampton Avenue in South St. Louis photo by Toby Weiss2340 Hampton Avenue, South Hampton Professional Building photo by Toby Weiss

Hampton Avenue is close to the western city limits, and to a growing City that took from 1850 to 1900 to seriously expand west from Grand Boulevard to Kingshighway, Hampton would have been considered “out in the boonies.” According to the St. Louis Street Index, the name Hampton didn’t appear on a map until 1913, and only earned its top northern section between Manchester and Oakland avenues in 1921.

2525-31 Hampton Avenue, Castelli Tuxedos, photo by Toby Weiss2634 Hampton Avenue art deco photo by Toby WeissWhile there was continual residential development from the 1850s onward in the neighborhoods that surround Hampton Avenue (Oakland, Clifton, The Hill and Southwest neighborhoods), other than small pockets of commercial storefronts dating from the 1920s to the early 1940s, the bulk of Hampton Avenue appears to have been built up in earnest during and after World War 2. Meaning, once St. Louisans strengthened their commitment to the automobile, Hampton suddenly seemed much closer than before and worthy of commercial development.

2727 Hampton Avenue, South Hampton Place Apartments photo by Toby Weiss3433 Hampton Avenue South St. Louis photo by Toby Weiss

This would also mean that the density of MCM buildings on Hampton were designed and sited with the idea that people would reach them by foot, bus, streetcar and automobile. So this wasn’t a case of slotting new modern buildings into a pre-established urban grid (as was the case with Lindell Boulevard modern in-fill), but rather a blank canvas to paint with both the old and new colors available to planners, developers and architects in the mid-century.

3701 Hampton Avenue Police Officers Association photo by Toby Weiss3810 Hampton Avenue, since demolished photo by Toby Weiss

Since about 2002, I have been photographing the MCM on Hampton; some of the photos in this study are of a building in a younger or less-molested state. From the summers of 2010 to 2011, I purposely photographed 107 buildings, and spent way too much time pouring over physical City Directories at the St. Louis County Library headquarters, and on-line with Geo St. Louis. There are plenty of discrepancies between the two; I often had to rely on 1958 and 1971 aerial maps of Hampton to clear up confusion, or talking to an architect (Richard Hemi), a glazier (my father, Richard Weiss) who worked on a building in question, or asking older St. Louisans to dust off their memory caps and picture what used to be.  So, I know there will be plenty of inaccuracies of info that will be discovered, but now is the time for everyone to join in and share what they know.

4647 Hampton Ave in South St. Louis photo by Toby Weiss4651-53 Hampton Avenue in St Louis Hills photo by Toby Weiss

More on this building.

For the sake of space, only 30 of 80 buildings could be included here.

See all 80 Hampton MCM buildings and their history here.

4650 Hampton Avenue South St. Louis, now loft apartments photo by Toby Weiss4705-21 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis HIlls photo by Toby Weiss

Of the 107 Hampton buildings that I photographed and researched, 46 were built between 1950 – 1959, and 29 were built from 1960 – 1969. Of the remaining 32 buildings, most were built between 1932 – 1949, with 5 of them going up between 1970 – 1976.  Some of the older buildings were given a modern facelift to keep up with the Joneses, and if there was a building in the path of what would become an interstate they were demolished. One example is:

This grand palace at 2065 Hampton (at Wilson Avenue) opened in 1952 as Ollie Auto Top. Darren Snow found this photo as part of a display ad in the 1959 City Directory. The address was listed as vacant by 1969, and then Hwy 44 came through. A Steak ‘n Shake that sat at 2055 Hampton for about only 15 years also bit the 44 dust.

5013-25 Hampton Avenue, Hampton House of Liquors, photo by Toby Weiss5220 Hampton Avenue, Dippel Plumbing, photo by Toby Weiss

My research turned up a steady and over-abundant stream of liquor stores and bars all along Hampton, especially along the stretch running through St. Louis Hills. For instance, 5918 Hampton is today Area IV, and that storefront is carrying on a long tradition of housing only taverns, which began in 1936 with Robert Werges’ joint. Sometimes a retail block would begin and end with a liquor store; so no one ever had to walk too far for a brew? As the elders have said, all the smoking and drinking in Mad Men is not an exaggeration, and Hampton Avenue from 1936 – 1970 was the living proof!

5320 Hampton Avenue, former Buder Branch Libray now Record Exchange in St. Louis Hills, photo by Toby Weiss

More on this building here and here.

After liquor, beauty and ice cream shops were the most popular along Hampton, followed closely by filling stations, which verifies how much more auto-centric Hampton was when compared to the other thoroughfares further east.

5333 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis Hills photo by toby Weiss5400-08 Hampton Avenue, Porter Paints photo by toby Weiss

More on this building here.

There were businesses that moved just blocks away to get into newer buildings (like Charles of Yorkshire beauty shop or Gassen’s Rexall Drug Store), and lots of realty companies opened shop for a short time, reflecting how the neighborhoods around Hampton were still building up in the 1950s-60s. But there was always another business ready to move into a vacated storefront, and that still happens today. No stretch of Hampton has yet experienced the kind of rot that affects other parts of the city and their main thoroughfares.

5411-25 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis Hills, South Hampton barber shop photo by Toby Weiss5600 Hampton Avenue in South Hampton St Louis photo by Toby Weiss

There are roughly 8 companies and institutions that still remain in the building first erected for them, including: Bayer’s Garden Shop whose building went up in 1948 as O.E. Bayer’s Garden, Furniture & Novelities; Porter Paints at 5400 Hampton, who set up shop in the new building in 1959; AB Dick Products still resides in their 1960 building at 2121 Hampton. Wise Speed Shop at 5819 Hampton moved into their new building in 1969, and only very recently did they close up shop and put the building up for sale.

6425-31 hampton Avenue in St Louis Hills photo by Toby Weiss

There have been some demolitions for something new like a highway (as mentioned above), or taking down a small house or filling station to accommodate a larger building. For instance, Stein Brothers Bowling was on the northwest corner of the Hampton/Chippewa intersection in 1965, but it was torn down to make way for what became Lindell Bank & Trust (which looks MCM but really isn’t). But in general, buildings get remodeled rather than demolished, and even when they are remuddled unrecognizable, it’s preferable to demolition.

7001 Hampton Avenue, St. Louis Hills Veterinary Clinic photo by toby Weiss

Two of the buildings in this survey are currently in the hot seat for demolition, which highlights why a study of the mid-century modern building stock on Hampton deserves a spotlight. This is a unique stretch of commerce in St. Louis City, an area that developed in tandem with St. Louis County, receiving the same kind of care and enthusiasm as shown to inner-ring suburbs like Ferguson, Jennings, Affton or Lemay.

7047 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis HIlls photo by Toby Weiss

I invite you to

see a total of 80 Hampton MCM buildings at this link.

And then travel this great street with new eyes – maybe even find some new ones that I overlooked due to being overwhelmed with the treasure chest that is Hampton Avenue!

South Side Copies
“Bldg To Be Razed” on Hampton

Save Our Saucer Rally & a Talk with Its Architect

Want to show some love for The Saucer? Then show up Wednesday, July 6th at 6 PM at South Grand and Forest Park Parkway.

Bring signs, posters and other items to show how much you love the Spaceship. Hear some knowledgeable folks share their love of the building and voice ideas for other uses for it.  There will even be limited edition Saucer T-shirts available!

Let’s all come together to show the Board of Aldermen (who have their final vote on its fate Friday, July 8th) how beloved this building is and why it would be a tragedy to tear it down for unspecified plans.

“There may be plenty of interest in reusing that awesome saucer if it is marketed properly! The building has the ability to be remodeled, adapted, or expanded to meet the needs of a new tenant or tenants,” says local architect Paul Hohmann. “We’ve been in touch with a number of local businesses, who may be interested in saving that iconic building, and we love it so much, we’re working with anyone interested to connect them with the opportunity to preserve it!”

As it stands on public record, the developer sounds adamant that he only wants a new building in its place, and is stubbornly opposed to re-using, remodeling or adding on to the existing building. This seems like a narrowly-focused and short-sighted view point from a developer who has shown creative thinking on so many other St. Louis City projects.  Maybe if we all did the work of delivering a new tenant to him, he’d change his mind?

I just got off the phone with recently retired architect Richard Henmi, who was the Associate and Chief Designer for Council Plaza – and the Saucer, specifically – while he was a member of the architectural firm Schwarz & Van Hoefen. He has been closely following all the media coverage about the Saucer (I met him when he commented on my previous post about The Saucer) , saying “I’ve never seen so much coverage for such a tiny building!”

He drove by the building this past Sunday and said, “The 6-inch solid concrete roof has held up very well, though it should be checked thoroughly before doing any work on it.”

What would Henmi like to seen done with the building he designed? He is aware that the developer would like more square footage for more paying tenants, and says that one could add onto the north and east sides of the building while maintaining the integrity of the roof. “It would need to be done carefully, but it could be done.” Henmi also envisions how the roof overhang would make for a pleasant outdoor dining patio, especially by adding low walls and landscaping around it.

He has seen the proposed adaptation on the blog What Should Be,  and while he does not agree with the concept, he loves that people’s imaginations have been fired up about the building, and would love to see it become a “Wash U. sketch problem” for the next semester of architectural students at Washington University (where he graduated from in 1947).

Henmi cannot make tomorrow night’s love-in because he is attending a family reunion in California, but once he returns, he said he will do all he can to save the building, as he’s already experienced the sadness of seeing 2 other of his buildings demolished in the past. And he will work with us to go through his drawings he donated to the Missouri Historical Society in 1989, so soon we should have copies of original drawings of The Saucer as designed for its original use as a Phillips 66 in 1967.

See you tomorrow night at the rally to Save Our Saucer. Here’s the Facebook invite for more info. And please remember – this is a positive event about our love for this unique and endearing building, so let’s share only our love and ideas for its future.

Saving the Del Taco Saucer from Politics As Usual

St. Louis is energized over the intent to demolish the flying saucer-shaped Del Taco at South Grand and Forest Park Parkway. Those who love the iconic and unique googie-style building are coupled with those who love the fast food franchise in separate campaigns to save the building and its contents. Those in St. Louis City government who love the developer are fast-tracking a new bill that allows him to demolish a building he originally planned to keep standing, and let him do so without having to follow the usual legal process .

As a blogger concentrating on St. Louis mid-century modernism and an officer of the non-profit organization Modern STL, it’s obvious that I oppose the demolition of The Saucer. But for me, the real story is the troubling and flagrant display of personal politics overshadowing logical thought about the greater good and economic viability of Grand Center and MidTown (a.k.a. Politics As Usual in the City of St. Louis).

Here’s the bullet points of the story:

•In 2007, Developer Rick Yackey pays for a National Register application of all the buildings (including Del Taco) in the Council Plaza. Washington D.C. deems the entire Plaza historically significant and grants it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.  This National Register placement allows for the use of Historic Tax Credits to offset some Council Plaza redevelopment costs.

• In 2008, the developer is also granted a 10-year tax abatement by the City as part of the 374 South Grand TIF Redevelopment Plan, thus offsetting even more costs.

• In 2009, the corporation running Del Taco files for bankruptcy and allegedly stops paying rent to Council Plaza developers.

• In 2011, the developer wants paying tenants on that property, so revises the Council Plaza plans to demolish The Saucer for construction of a new building rather than find a new tenant for his existing Historic National Register building.

• On June 17, 2011, 19th Ward (where the Plaza resides) Alderwoman applies for an extension of the TIF set to expire at the end of 2011, with no mention of demolishing one of the contributing buildings.

• On June 25th, 2011, without supposedly reviewing details of his plans for the new building or its tenants, the alderwoman introduces a new bill that cancels previous demolition safeguards on the TIF site, and re-blights something that was no longer blighted because TIF monies had improved the site. This will allow the Developer to demolish The Saucer free of legal due-process previously put in place for just such an occurrence.

On the surface, this amounts to a major switcheroo, and begs the questions:
• Who knew what when and how long did they withhold this information?
• Is it OK for the City to condone a Developer playing all sides against each other to have their cake (i.e., historic tax credits and tax abatement) and eat it too?
• Since the City is investing our loss of tax dollars on this project, shouldn’t they diligently research exactly what the new plan is and if it will be economically sound?

The Developer Once Liked The Saucer
It is a common occurrence for development plans to change as a project moves along. At the time Rick Yackey and Bill Bruce bought the 9-acre Council Plaza site, Del Taco was basically the only regularly money-making building left on the site, as the office building and the 2 residential towers were nearly empty. With Del Taco filing bankruptcy in late 2009, it is presumed that they have had problems paying rent on a timely basis and – of this writing – employee rumor has it this particular franchise is now closed, or will be closing shortly.

So, the building that was essentially the only money-maker became a liability, and it’s logical that a development company paying for expensive construction would like some money coming in. As the landlords, they can now find new tenants. Since it’s a drive-thru, a Starbucks springs to mind as a good fit for the building and the area. Considering the building’s location and notoriety, finding a new tenant for one building may be easier than the expense of constructing a new building requiring multiple tenants.

The unique flying saucer building was originally built in 1967 as a Phillips 66 gas station. It had a unique pedigree, as well. At the time, Phillips 66 was known for its bat-wing model, a nation-wide design that came down from their corporate office. But in this rare case, the same architects that designed the rest of Council Plaza also designed this special edition of Phillips 66.

The Council Plaza architects were the firm of Schwartz & Van Hoeffen, who contributed many important buildings to the mid-century St. Louis landscape, including the Engineer’s Club (1959) and Optimists Club (1962) buildings on Lindell Boulevardin the Central West End, and the Mansion House Apartments (1967) in downtown St. Louis. Some of their buildings have already been demolished; these two men were part of the architectural team for the construction of the original Busch Stadium, and as principals in the firm Russell, Mullgardt, Schwartz & Van Hoeffen, they designed Northland Shopping Center, which opened in 1955 and was completely demolished by November 2005.

Aside from it being a fun building that’s captured the hearts of St. Louisans for so many decades, Michael Allen points out in this piece that “Its tapered round form anchors the corner of the complex and offers a memorable counterpoint to the rest of the complex.” But all of these factors weren’t even mentioned in the National Register Application (read it here); it was simply and logically included as one of the reasons “The Council Plaza fully retains its integrity of Design through the retention of its original form, plan, spaces, structure and style… integrity of Workmanship… fully retains integrity of Feeling… retains its integrity of Association and continues to function as it did when constructed.”

The Council Plaza Flats are now done, and there are some SLU students living there, but the retail aspect remains empty. Understandable, because these are tough economic times. If they are having a hard time finding paying tenants for the renovated building, what compels them to believe it will be viable to secure tenants for the proposed new-construction building? “Signed letters of intent from two national chain restaurants” is good, but check the definition of “intention” while looking at economic forecasts. By its nature, development is always a gamble, but this particular gamble feels foolish.

Talk of creating a more pedestrian-friendly building is laughable. All of Council Plaza was originally designed with cars in mind. And even though plenty of people do walk to Del Taco, until they take care of the dangerous intersections around it (and the new bill claims all streets and entrances will remain as is), there will never be anything remotely pedestrian-friendly about this site.

Black & white film photo I shot in 2001.

The Alderwoman Professes to Know Nothing
Council Plaza sits in the 19th Ward, which is governed by Ald. Marlene Davis. She smartly signed off on the original 2008 TIF plan, and when construction didn’t move along as quickly as planned (another common construction occurrence), she instituted a new plan on June 17th, 2011 that extends the TIF agreement that allows the developers until August 31, 2012 to finish the project.

But when it comes to this new change of plans, a June 23, 2011 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article about the proposed demolition reports this (bold face is mine):

Alderman Marlene Davis, whose ward includes the site, said she generally agreed with the plan, though she hadn’t been briefed on its specifics since a broader plan for neighboring Council Towers was approved in 2008. The area needs more shopping opportunities, she said, and, barring unusual circumstances, people have the right to tear down buildings that they own.

“I support the development plan that (Yackey) showed me, which includes new retail,” she said. “I’m not part of the decision-making process of what you may keep or change.”

If we take what she says at face value, it would mean that Ald. Davis has had no talks with the developers since 2008, until recently when she was given only the most minimal details about the proposed new building. But that was all she needed to hot-foot paperwork to introduce Board Bill 118, a proposed ordinance that includes a blight study of The Saucer (and – by association – claims that Council Plaza is still crime-ridden and unsafe; great way to attract tenants, yes?) and would abolish all the safeguards previously set in place to prevent easy demolition of any building in Council Plaza.  In addition, the TIF would pay for the demolition.  Read more about the bill and the blight study here.

Typically, a request for demolition in a historic district would need to go before the city’s Cultural Resources Office for debate. But in this case, in a matter of 3 working days from the TIF extension, someone took this blight request directly to the St. Louis Redevelopment Corporation for quick approval and created Bill 118 that takes the matter directly to the Board of Alderman (BOA), thus bypassing any prolonged demolition applications and potentially messy debates about the building’s merit.

Exactly who worked so quickly and diligently to pass through this change of plans? I wonder, because Davis implies she doesn’t really know any specifics about the new plans. So what would compel her to work so quickly for an undefined plan? Of course she supports changes that improve economic development in her ward, but in this case, what are these changes, exactly? If you’re going to bat for something, wouldn’t you want details? You surely wouldn’t go to all this effort merely on the word of a developer, would you?

2006 photo by Jessica Borchardt of me taking more photos of The Saucer.

The other troubling aspect of her public statement to the newspaper is: “I’m not part of the decision-making process of what you may keep or change.”

Any business looking to renovate a building – with or without historic tax credits – in the City of St. Louis has to work with their ward’s alderman to assure an achievable goal.  Seeking their assistance is a normal part of the process. And monitoring the condition and viability of any income- or tax-producing building in their ward is most definitely part of their regular duties. It is safe to say that the majority of the successfully re-emerging business and residential districts in the City of St. Louis were made possible because of the decisions of an alderperson. Just as it is safe to say that most buildings that come down in St. Louis did so only after its alderperson weighed in on the matter.

In the case of this change of plans at Council Plaza, it is artless and graceless for Ald. Davis to claim in the press that she has no part in the decision-making process. And it’s curious to assume that her peers on the BOA should automatically approve plans she claims to lack details on. Either she knows full well all the details (and since she’s endorsing it, should be proud of it), or she truly doesn’t know details and is simply counting on the “business as usual” tradition of Aldermanic Courtesy to take care of developers the City already holds in favor.

Either way, it’s another discouraging example of why St. Louis continues to lack self-esteem in the realm of commandeering this City toward a strong economic viability that also bolsters civic pride (and undoubtedly, pride bolsters a city’s economy). What is the point of all the paperwork and expense of Historic Designations, TIF ordinances and due process if it will all be shunted aside by aldermanic loopholes – both legal and courteous?

Also discouraging is the lack of Big Picture Thinking on the matter of The Saucer. Grand Center just launched their initiative to build a better “sense of community” with a “serious planning effort” for a common vision for the area. Anyone who’s ever come to Grand Center from Highway 40 knows they’ve arrived when they see The Saucer – it’s like the entry gate to our cultural district. If City Hall needs proof that this building matters to us, take a look at the numbers and the comments on the Facebook page that immediately sprung up to oppose its demolition.

All this media attention would sure make it easier to find a new, paying tenant for the Spaceship historical landmark. And if the BOA were to take a break from Aldermanic Courtesy and deny demolition, all that joy and civic pride would come in handy during the next (odd-numbered ward) aldermanic elections.

What You Can Do
• This Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 10a.m. in room 208 of City Hall is when the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee (HUDZ) invites the public to weigh in on this bill to allow for the demolition of The Saucer for a new building we yet know nothing about. Show up and share your thoughts.

• You can also sign this petition, which is a joint effort by nextSTL and ModernSTL, and will presented to the BOA before a final vote is made on Bill 118.

• You can contact Ald. Davis with your views. You can also contact any of the members of the HUDZ committee (find their contact info here), who are:
Fred Wessels, Chair – 13th Ward
Jennifer Florida – 15th Ward
Terry Kennedy  – 18th Ward
Charles Troupe – 1st Ward
April Ford-Griffin – 5th Ward
Phyllis Young – 7th Ward
Stephen Conway – 8th Ward
Kenneth Ortmann – 9th Ward
Gregory Carter – 27th Ward
Lyda Krewson – 28th Ward
Marlene E Davis – bill sponsor
Jeffrey L Boyd – 22nd Ward

If you love the building, speak up. If you could care less about the building but dislike this type of St. Louis City politics, speak up. Suggesting solutions is always better than mere griping.

“Bldg To Be Razed” on Hampton

2020 Hampton Avenue
South St. Louis City, MO

The mid-century building that was formerly an office for the Metropolitan Sewer District (they exited the tax records in 2008) is now owned by St. Louis City’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA). It is now also for sale. That sign, above, reads:

AVAILABLE – 3 Acres Retail Land – Building To Be Razed

The listing firm is very clear that everything must go, not even bothering to mention the building. Instead, they tout the land’s desirability for retail. This land butts right up against the north side of Hwy 44. If you can picture this immediate area, can you also picture exactly what type of retail that you would use would go in there? Even with all that traffic going by, would Trader Joe’s  – or even Walgreen’s – think it’s a desirable site?

While it’s not the most spectacular of the mid-century modern stock that lines both sides of Hampton Avenue from Interstate 64 to where it ends at Gravois, it is a handsome, if unassuming, building. Because it’s now owned by the LCRA, info about the building is off-line, but I’m guessing from its corporate-patron lines and the other buildings around it that it originates in 1958-1961.

So it may not be a building that architectural historians will fret over, but it does beg the question:
Aren’t we yet past the automatic tear-down mentality?

This country is far too cash-strapped and unstable to still be engaging in such a wasteful mindset that it’s easier to tear down existing and build new. Whose got that kind of money anymore? Sure, a new developer could save a bit because someone else will foot the demolition bill, but where are the developers with the means to use this 3-acres of land for retail right now?

It is highly possible that in the last 2 years the LCRA did try to find new buyers for the building, and see this new tactic as the most logical way to go. But everything is on hold, everything has been reset, and the 2008 way of thinking about buildings and real estate is antiquated and irresponsible. If minimal mothball upkeep is done to buildings like these, there is a chance that sometime in the next 5-10 years there will be a start-up business or industry that would love to have a building like this in this location.

I realize gambling with City money is undesirable, but they gamble all the time with tax incentives and handouts to corporations that don’t need it, so what kind of damage comes from letting it breathe a bit and seeing if it would sell as is? If a developer comes along and says they want to take it down, then fair enough. But to assume the building has to come down for the land to be desirable is just so, so 1997. And no one can afford to be living in that kind of time warp.

Thank you to Jefferson Mansell of Landmarks Association for the heads up about the status of this building.

Wish You a Merry Christmas

How people express their holiday joy to the outside world is what makes this season so special. Last year, more about Emmett suggested I see the light displays shown above and below. You can click the photos to see them enlarged. And Emmett eloquently explains why these are so special, viagra (plus, view shares the addresses).

“There is no display anywhere that comes close. If you are looking for a Wildwood McMansion festooned with lights designed by Himmler’s descendants, purchased in 2010 (and soon to be trash canned), this isn’t your place.

But if you want completely idiosyncratic designs with often-ancient lighting sets carefully maintained by people too poor to buy new ones against a background of housing where no two homes are alike, plus narrow streets and close set-backs so that you can almost reach out and touch the displays … go thither. I will stack the denizens of Lemay up against the trendies in the Central West End, Benton Park, or Soulard for refined artistic sensibilities and pure right-brainism.”

Staying in the immediate South Side area, the light display at Korners is so tasteful and sympathetic to its architecture that it warms my heart on a cold night.

Along Loughborough Avenue, east of Hwy 55, I love this line drawn in the sand (or on Christmas Eve, it would be drawn in the snow!).

The chain of light displays along Holly Hills on the north side of Carondelet Park is a must-see magical moment. Among blocks of gorgeousness, this one above is my absolute favorite. It reminds me of the Avon Christmas album covers that hypnotized me as a child.

I think the magic of this season comes from the memories it constantly conjures. May you be remembering the happiest and warmest ones, and making new memories. And may your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white!

The U.S. Census & St. Louis’ Over 50 Housing Stock

American housing statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau are making the media rounds, and the media has already begun taking a negative slant. Take a look at the coverage by the city with the most housing stock over 50 years old, Buffalo, New York. They lead off by slamming New Orleans for the highest vacancy rate.

At least the St. Louis Business Journal’s headline about the statistics focuses on St. Louis. We have the 2nd highest vacancy rate. Here’s their article.  Here’s some St. Louis housing stock stats they break down for easier consumption:

  • Housing units 180,490
  • Occupied units 143,045
  • Seasonal units/units that are not occupied but have been sold or rented 2,514
  • Vacant units 34,931
  • Vacancy rate 19.35%
  • Units built since 2005 1,706
  • Share of units built in past five years 0.95%
  • Units built before 1960 145,264
  • Share of units built more than 50 years ago 80.48%
  • Median year of construction for existing units 1939
  • Median value of owner-occupied housing units $119,900
  • As I hunker down in my home built in the median year of 1939 (another useful stat), I’m afraid to read any other local media outlet’s take on this news, because it will surely be negative – that’s what the media (and reader comments) excels at.  Words have power, and going for the negative spin only holds a benefit for those hell bent on tearing down rather than building up. As these new stats make the media rounds over the next few days, I ask you to consider a positive take on every negative you hear.

    For examples of positive spin, let’s look at a stat like 80.48% of our homes are over 50 years old:
    • Ask most any carpenter or architect and they will tell you you’re better off in a home over 50 because they were built to last.
    • St. Louis is the 3rd most sustainable city in America because of its older housing stock.
    • People move to out city because of the deep and vast character of our original housing stock.
    • St. Louis is proud to have so much of its heritage to show off.

    You get the point.
    Perception becomes reality, the power of positive thinking is that it brings positive results.  Your response to the following declaration will reveal if you’re part of the problem or the solution:

    St. Louis is such an affordable, historic, well-built and handsome city that the vacancy rate is a temporary set back.

    St. Louis Holiday Shopping? Buy Local

    Today is Black Friday, the kick-off to the holiday shopping season. As we work on lists of gifts to buy for family and friends, let’s consider the importance of buying local: it keeps much-needed money in our community. This is so crucial, that StL is extending the concept one more day to Small Business Saturday.  But imagine taking this Buy Local concept one step further, and buy something made by an actual St. Louisan – you help them pay the bills that helps them contribute to our community, and you give a highly unique gift that makes, say, the Kindle purchased on-line at Amazon seem lazy by comparison.

    I took a look at the walls of my dining and living rooms and realized I have a catalog of just some of the hundreds of options we have for buying local art. I was also pleasantly surprised to realize that I have only St. Louis-made art on my walls. Trust that this was not a conscious decision; I’ve only acquired things that move me deeply, and it just so happens that the people of the city I love also make art that enriches my life every single day.

    Take a look at the vignette above in one corner of my dining room. On the right is “Venus de Milo” by Tony Renner. It’s part of his Birth of the Cool series, 12 paintings inspired by the Miles Davis ( a St. Louisan!) album of the same name.

    To the left of the painting is a 1958 photograph by the late Orville D. Joyner, “Man standing at bar during office Christmas party.” I got it at a July 2006 exhibit of his decade’s worth of work, and even got it signed by Joyner himself! And to the left of that is a piece by my friend Gina Dill-Thebeau, a gifted interior designer whose endless creativity needs multiple outlets .  It is a miniature study of what became a giant 3-piece triptych.

    Sweeping across an entire wall is a photo series by Croatian-born Biljana Erdeg, a.k.a BiBi. Not only is she an evocative portrait photographer, but one of the most artful printers in a darkroom. This series of photos are from a New Year’s Eve 2004 Gypsy celebration we went to. The Romani immigrants are a very closed society, but BiBi had been working on a portrait series with some of them, so was invited to their New Year’s party, and brought along a camera. An entire night of wonderful, musical people made for gorgeous images, and being able to see these memories every day is an endless gift.

    Dominic Finocchio is, seriously, one of the most talented men walking the face of this earth. All who have heard his work with The Love Experts knows he is a moving and accomplished musician, and his art is even, possibly, more moving. This painting, “Roman Statuary,” has so many layers of meaning. After decades of longing, Dominic finally made it to the Vatican museum in Rome, and as he stood overwhelmed by beauty in the Antiquities room, he snapped a photo with a crappy disposable camera before a guard stepped up to stop him. That photo became this painting.

    And BiBi and Gina appear yet again in my dining room. On the left is a photo from a portrait session BiBi did with me. On the right is an oil pastel by Gina from an abstract series she did about motherhood.

    This Marilyn Monroe painting by Demetrie Kabbaz was the culmination of a mysterious and magical relationship with the artist himself. It began with spotting a series of Marilyn (and other icons) paintings in a deserted store front on South Kingshighway (chronicled here), which sparked a friendship (Kabbaz himself hung this painting on my wall!) and a St. Louis magazine article that brought him a tiny portion of the recognition he deserves for his decades of idol worship.

    This is the very first painting I bought, in May 2002. I was stunned immobile when spotting it across the large loft space on Washington Avenue where an art exhibit was staged. I couldn’t stop staring at it… it called up deep, seldom-recalled childhood memories that – now recalled – made me feel warm and secure. I guess from spending so much time staring at it, a lady came up to ask. She took me to the artist, William M. Reznick (is this him, now deceased?), an abstract artist and furniture maker.

    Turns out the painting is titled “Memory Mark,” like a bookmark for memories. It was his interpretation of lying on his back as a child and staring up through the glass-top dining room table at the chandelier hanging above. It was his personal memory, yet had made me do the very same thing – remember abstracts of the past!

    Because he had just finished the painting earlier that day, and because it was his first shot at what he considered realism (so he was a bit nervous about showing it), and my emotionally overwhelmed response to it, he sold me this painting for far less than his other work sold. At the time, it broke my bank to get it, and every day that I see it, I am grateful to have gone without food for a bit to have this in my life.

    And this is the power of art, and the magical connection of St. Louis art. This is my argument for buying local St. Louis art this holiday shopping season. If Santa is reading, I’m missing some St. Louis Smiths on my walls… I need a Brian David Smith and a Dana Smith. And we all need to support St. Louis financially and creatively.

    If you need a kick start into StL Gift Giving, head over to Cherokee street for STL Style and the St. Louis Curio Shoppe. They can set you up with gifts far more valuable than anything at a mall, and also point you in other StL-centric directions. And may your holidays be merry & bright!

    Louis Sullivan’s Lions

    705 Olive Street
    Downtown St. Louis, MO

    St. Louis has an 1893 Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler building on the National Register, the Wainwright Building, which ranks as either the first or second (depending on whose counting) skyscraper built. Not as well known (even to my Architectural History & Theory teacher in college!) is that we have a second Sullivan & Adler building that survives to this day. On the northwest corner of 7th & Olive is the building which was designed as the Union Trust Building. Starting in 1902 it began a series of name changes: St. Louis Union Trust, Missouri Trust, Central National Bank, Lincoln Trust, and finally, to the name on its National Historic Landmark plaque, The 705 Building.

    It also went through some serious remodeling, including a 1905 addition by Eames & Young on the north end of the building. But the most heinous crime was a 1924 remuddle which scrapped off the exterior of the first two floors. Here’s what it looked like from 1893 to about 1923.

    Aside from the circular windows that still survive on the alley side of the building, the upper 13 stories have remained intact, including the lions shown above.

    Typically, I dislike parking garages. But when the roof of a parking garage puts me this close to my beloved lions, then I really dig this parking garage, and don’t mind having had to pay $5 to use it!

    To the right in the above photo is the Railway Exchange building, where I worked for Famous Barr advertising for 13.5 years. For half that time, we were on the 8th floor, and the Advertising President’s office looked down on these two lions. The the fool sat with his back to them!

    When he was out, I’d sneak into his office to gaze lovingly at them; they were both inspirational and a sedative for deadline stress. They also got me in trouble when I was caught hanging out the President’s window with a camera, trying to get a shot without a dirty window between me and the lions.

    And now 10 years later, a parking garage that I was forced to use on a Sunday afternoon has given me the closest, clearest access to all the lions. It was the best kind of September Sunday St. Louis Serendipity!

    Join with City To River on August 18th

    On August 17th, 2010 we get to see the 5 design concepts for The Arch grounds. On Wednesday, August 18th, you should come to the Schlafly Tap Room to see the designs up close and leave your comments.

    This event is sponsored by City To River, a grassroots coalition of St. Louis City residents who love our City so much that they are working overtime to make it even better than it already is. This makes me so proud that I get misty eyed. Seriously.

    Ray Hartmann was right about City To River when he wrote in the August 2010 issue of St. Louis magazine:

    “What’s most amazing about the idea (of removing the highway) is how it’s come forward as the evolving dream of a bunch of heretofore-unknown, regular-guy, not-all-that-connected citizen bloggers. I met with three of them – Rick Bonasch, Paul G. Hohmann and Alex Ihnen – and still can’t tell you who’s in charge. They are as ego-free as any group of activists I’ve met in three decades on the job.”

    This Wednesday is your chance to meet these 3 stand-up guys (and all the other wonderful folks in the group), and to see and participate in the future of The Arch grounds and the strengthening of our beloved Matriarch of the Mississippi.

    If you’re on Facebook, here’s the invite to the event.

    And if all this wasn’t enough to draw you out, there’s also St. Louis Trivia, hosted by Matthew Mourning and Randy Vines!

    This is the place to be on Wednesday, August 18th. I’ll see you there!