Urban STL hosts B.E.L.T.

Urban STL does an amazing job of keeping a constant eye on St. Louis and sharing it with us in a quick and concise manner. The site also provides a forum for informal chat about any and every topic, and then they open up their blog to guest writers so that more voices can join in the civic conversation.

To that end, Urban STL just posted this piece that I wrote: Revitalizing St. Louis While Grandpa Naps.

The essay was inspired by having several conversations this summer with folks older than me who questioned the optimism so many of my peers have for the City of  St. Louis. They would counter any positive observations or facts with anecdotes of their former booster-ism quashed by disillusionment. Each of these people were just as confident that St. Louis’ best years were far behind it as I am certain there are great days ahead – and right now!

Rather than thinking they were wrong, I realized we were all right because our perspective is based on our experiences, and that there is no escaping the cultural forces that shape how we react to the world around us.  The older St. Louisans who experienced and lived through the steep decline of our City will naturally have a different perspective than those who are now part of its steady rise up from the ashes.

A mistake that any generation can make is to believe that time stands still, and that how it was is how it shall always be. Or the mistake of being so invested in how it was that they ignore how it actually is, right now. St. Louisans are a very nostalgic bunch and that’s fine, but not at the expense of the present and the future.

Thank you to Urban STL for letting me delve into this topic a greater length. Click here to read it.

RELATED
Another guest essay on Urban STL – Crying Over Spilt Milk: The Suburbs Happened, Get Over It!

Tower Grove’s Fountain Pond is So Shallow

Fountain Pond & Mock Ruins
Tower Grove Park
South St. Louis, MO

Great News Long Overdue
As reported from the park’s Facebook page,  the work “already underway includes: masonry repairs, plumbing upgrades, enhanced lighting, and improved landscaping of the area. The project is scheduled to be completed this summer.”

Good To Know
Look how shallow the water is in the pond!
The only thing that’s kept many of us from wading in that pond on a sweltering summer day is not knowing how deep it was. Now we know it’s not deep at all. In fact, it’s much like Paris Hilton – it’s very shallow.

So, now knowing exactly what’s under there + an improved sidewalk = I’m going in.
And I’m not the only one who’s seen this sight and had that thought. When the pond re-opens, the park rangers are gonna be busier than usual.

Come to the Soulard Stable Hootenanny, May 22

Our journey through St. Louis City Preservation Rights is coming to an end, and with the final attorneys’ bill in hand, we’re throwing a party to pay that down and celebrate a small victory.

The story began with trying to save the San Luis from demolition. It came down.

The reasons it came down seemed in violation of laws already on the books, so we took it to court. The judge said we had no standing to protest this.

Because this was a gross misunderstanding of the laws already on the books, and because this ruling put future buildings in the same jeopardy, we took the case to the next highest court.

Here’s a news report of what went down in court the first week of May.
We’re waiting for the final written judgment, but our group who filed the suit – and our attorneys – are pleased with the tone of argument in court on that day, so we’re closing up shop on this particular preservation adventure. And we’re feeling good about the safety of the rights of St. Louisans to protect worthy buildings from bad decisions.

The Anti-Wrecking Ball crew would love for you to join us on Saturday, May 22, 2010 from 8 p.m. – 1 a.m. at the historic Stahl Stables in Soulard for some music, mirth, raffle prizes and beer!

$10 at the door gets you a beer and 3 kick ass St. Louis bands:
The Union Electric
Leadville
Pretty Little Empire

There will be cash kegs of Schlafly to drink from after you finish the complimentary brew, along with some raffle prizes and special features that are still being firmed up as we type.

All proceeds go to our noble and benevolent lawyers and the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation. So we can all get tipsy and rock out knowing we’ve all done our small part to protect our rights and the next building threatened by a wrecking ball.

If you’re on Facebook, here’s the official invite.
And click here for even more information.

Paradowski Creative’s New Space

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!).

Lindell MCM Walking Tour, May 1st

Saturday, May 1st, 2010 at 10 a.m

Join Michael Allen (Ecology of Absence) and myself for a walking tour of mid-century modern buildings on Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End, St. Louis, MO.

This second edition of our tour is part of the Open Streets 2010 event, and is co-sponsored by the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation.  This tour is free, while the knowledge and appreciation of Lindell’s thick and rich stock of MCM buildings is priceless.

Here’s an overview of some of the buildings you will see up close and narrated.

Meet us at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 1st, at the Pope statue in front of St. Louis University’s Pius XII Library, 3650 Lindell Boulevard (the Pius XII is a breathtaking MCM beauty – check it out here).

The official leg of the tour is from Pius XII to the former Housing Authority building (recently saved from the CVS wrecking ball) at Sarah & Lindell. We will take a short break stop, and continue with the unofficial portion of the tour from Sarah to Kingshighway.

Join us at 10 a.m., or catch up with us at any point on the walk. Look for a large group of people completely smitten with the mid-century modern treasures of the Central West End.  We look forward to sharing the riches with you!

urbanSTL vs. the ‘burbs

I am so pleased to have an article freshly posted on urbanSTL, a fabulous new one-stop resource for St. Louis news and blogs.

Click over to read my piece, “Crying Over Spilt Milk: The Suburbs Happened, Get Over It!”

Especially loving the timing of this piece being published, as it comes in the rosy afterglow of St. Louis County voting an enthusiastic “yes” on Prop A.  This was a unique moment of Suburban & Urban joining together for a common goal, and this unity feels great!

The seeds of City/County dissension were planted in the 19th century, but come the 21st century it’s time to harvest that crop and whip it up into a bountiful meal so both sides can come to the table. Let’s eat, drink and be merry together as St. Louisans with no geographical suffix, just St. Louisans, period.

South St. Louis, Then & Now

Bates Street & Morgan Ford
South St. Louis, MO

FILE PHOTO This venerable “gasoline service station” opened in 1931, back when 2 gas pumps in front of a tiny garage was all that was needed to handle vehicular volume in this section of Bevo Mill.  We are fortunate to have such historical remnants of the city’s past still standing and operating today.

OK, this is actually a lame Photoshop gag.
I took this photo just the other day. With the vintage pickup truck parked in front, the place was an endearing warp in the space/time continuum.  This brief, anachronistic moment is Reason #1,238 why I love the City of St. Louis.

Hard To Get To MCM: Hayes Hi-Pointe

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Intersection of Clayton, Forest & Oakland Avenues
St. Louis City, MO

It’s hard to get noticed when you’re wedged into a 3-way intersection within a larger intersection of the wackiest interchange in the City of St. Louis.  People are too busy trying to figure out where to go to pay much attention to things that are not the world’s largest Amoco sign or the retro-fabulous Hi-Pointe Theatre.  For verification that this is no exaggeration, take a look at the map to see how confusing this slice of roadway really is.

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Getting on foot to try and get to the Hayes Hi-Pointe Building is almost as challenging, because of all the vehicles that are either a) confused about which way to turn, or b) irritated at those who don’t know which way to turn.  Photographically, the building itself is often encumbered with for sale/lease banners, overgrown landscaping (see above) or – as on this day – a boarded up window on the Oakland Avenue side, which was a fresh accident because the shattered glass was still spread across the sidewalk.

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Aside from all the challenges, it’s a sharply tailored slice of mid-century modern in the Hi-Pointe neighborhood.  City records claim the building is from 1905, which is absurd, both stylistically and construction-wise, and a 1958 aerial calendar shows nothing much at all on this odd plot of land.  By 1961, the City directory lists Alfred W. Hayes & Co. (the building’s namesake) and Algonquin Investment Co. at this address (plus a couple of physicians), and the architecture matches that year.

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A walk around this trapezoidal building reveals many subtle details not noticeable while driving by, and is a mini-workout because it’s all up or down hill, and the building does a nice job of attuning itself to the topography.  For all the difficulty the site, the intersections and the upkeep present, it’s still one of my most favorite overlooked mid-century modern gems in St. Louis City.

Valentine to a South City Apartment Building

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Chippewa & Lindenwood Place
South St. Louis City, MO

I’m sending a Valentine to the Crystal Tower Apartments in the Lindenwood Park neighborhood because it deserves some lovin’.   Though it never pops to mind when someone asks me about my favorite St. Louis City buildings, my heart beats a little faster each time I pass this art deco charmer.  So on this day of cupids, chocolates and roses, I’m leaving a cyber Valentine in the Crystal Towers lobby ‘cos I’m sweet on it!

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The apartment building went up in 1940, so its art deco flair is authentic.  It has 12 one bedroom apartments, and 6 two bedroom units.   So often with St. Louis City apartments of this vintage, the exterior is all handsome come on, while inside, the apartments are vanilla bland.  But courtesy of Craigslist, turns out Crystal Towers apartments are plaster cove ceilings and arches and gleaming wood floors and trim.  In short, it looks like it has been shown constant and loving care through all of its decades, which is a rare trait in apartments for rent.

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While working on this Valentine, I found that my crush on Crystal Towers goes back as far as 2001, when I used its outdoor entry patio as an example of texture for a black & white photo class assignment.

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Note that some 9 years later, the same concrete globe has been scrubbed of 2001 grunge, and someone keeps up on patching the cracks.   The entry has the subdued drama of a Hollywood movie set; maybe an exterior for Nick and Nora Charles in one of the movies from The Thin Man series?  The building is also slightly nautical, and even writes its name in cursive above the front door.

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Shall we assume it took its fanciful name for this pillar of glass block?  Which, if so, just adds to its harmless and charming allusion of swellegance.  This is why I want it to Be My Valentine!

What Vintage Is This Lindell Bank?

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Hampton Avenue & Chippewa
South St. Louis, MO

If you had to guess what year this building is from, what would you say?

You could look up the history of Lindell Bank, or know a little about the South St. Louis neighborhood it’s part of to make a guess.

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Folks are very familiar with this building because it’s on such a prominent, busy intersection.  I’ve heard people refer to it as “the statue bank,” or “the art bank,” because of the two sculptures flanking the Hampton Avenue entrance.   You could peek at the base of these pieces by Richard H. Ellis to get an important clue as to how old this building is, since the building doesn’t have a corner stone telling you its age.

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I’ve polled a whole lot of people about how old they think this building is, and everyone – including myself – places the design and construction somewhere in the early 1960s.  The details are what make this a solid guess.  5 different kinds of travertine creating visual language over a simple rectangle punctuated by mirror-images of entry cubes.  Above, note how the 2 bands of pink travertine – which is also used on the entry cubes – follow the bump-out of the drive up window, a subtle little detail not at all unusual on mid-century modern buildings of this vintage.  The scale, massing and materials of this building clearly make it a product of an architectural era long gone.

Except that this building went up in 1986.
Yes, 1986.

lindell-bank-aerial-map1

Here’s proof from a 1971 aerial map, which shows what some people remember to be an auto parts store that sat back on the property.  A 1958 aerial shot shows an even smaller building sitting diagonal even further back on the same property.  I’ve yet to run into anyone that knows what that older building was.

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That means that the neighborhood had to wait until 1986 to get a building that moved up to the sidewalks and owned that corner in a formal way. Previously, that important corner was a parking lot.  Along with Lindell Bank, who are the people responsible for such a thoughtful and handsome building so late in the post-modern architectural malaise?

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If you have any information about the buildings previously on this site, and the design and construction of this Lindell Bank location, please do share with the rest of us, OK?