Posted on February 7th, 2016 5 comments
700 Berkshire Blvd at Wood River Avenue
East Alton, IL
On February 4, 2016, word came from Alton Daily News that the former Citizens Savings & Loan was going down. Read the item.
This fanciful cylinder has long-delighted mid-century modern fans not simply because it’s a round building (and people love a round building, yes?) but that it also retains most of its swanky ornamentation and it has a “draw bridge.”
The Citizens Bank building, by architect Alvin K. Stolze, is a rare time capsule of 1964 that inspires retro lust and ideas of what it could be in the future. Learn more about the building here.
The only things missing from the current-day structure is the fountains under the suspension bridge and the yellow and red glass bricks (seen here in the original state) that gave the southern exposure a regimented Mondrian feel.
This detail shot shows the textured glass block and the vandal damage done to it over the years of vacancy. We can also see how the red and yellow blocks were spray painted over, giving the building a crossword puzzle update in the early 2000s. Remnants of yellow and red peek through the slivers when a projectile pierces the facade.
My father, Richard Weiss, installed the non-brick glass on this building (like the entrance shown below) in 1964 when he worked for Rainbow Glass. He explained that brick layers were responsible for the glass block curtain wall, and that, even then, his glazier brethren thought it a folly to use so much glass block for two reasons: there’s no insulation properties and glass block in reach of people will always be damaged, both unintentionally and intentionally.
After the “oh wow” of spotting this building as you drive by, the walk up the bridge to this entrance renders you speechless. This looks like a jet set bar with an under-the-sea theme!
How did the architect sell them on this idea? But bless their progressive hearts for going with it. And thank you to the decades of facilities managers who kept the dream alive.
This bank captured imaginations for over 50 years. Even while discussing why the building is coming down, East Alton mayor Joe Silkwood acknowledges how special it was in this brief podcast chat.
In the podcast, Silkwood says the building sat vacant for almost 7 years and that it became unusable for both market and structural reasons. What to do with a building like this in East Alton is a burden – there’s just no market for adaptive reuse of fanciful mid-century modern buildings. But the structural decay issues were preventable.
I say this because in November 2010 there were 3 of us who came across the building, and we were flipping out with wonder and glee. As we combed every inch of the exterior we found that a basement door was unlocked and slightly ajar, so of course we went inside. While in a state of MCM ecstasy, I found (but don’t remember) a moment of documentarian clarity and recorded this video of a journey through the 2nd floor:
In this video, you will hear the sound of a camera shutter going off. Sharks after chum are not as frenzied as we were in trying to capture as much evidence as possible.
Those are St. Charles metal cabinets, obviously original to the building, and following through on the yellow and red theme of the exterior.
I hope that during their request for demolition phase, East Alton city hall allows for those who know the value of what’s in the building to buy it and cart it off. These cabinets are just one of many treasures that deserve to be saved. A pre-demolition auction for the ornamentation and fixtures would be a sound funds generator while creating property marketing and general civic good will.
While on our adventure, we found a sign that read “Building Closed 1/25/10. Please call Todd Adamitis 618.xxx.xxxx.”
After we exited the building (empty-handed, it must be noted!), we worried about the havoc that could be reeked because of that unlocked door. So one of us made several calls to the phone number listed, letting him know about the situation and why it needed to be addressed. There was no response to those calls.
In November 2010, the building was in an understandably worn state, but completely salvageable. Even though it was unused and uncared for since at least January, there wasn’t even the mold and mildew smell so common in vacant buildings. Its relatively stable state is what fired our imaginations over what could be.
Six years of neglect can take any building past the point of ROI.
Mayor Silkwood mentions that attempts were made to find new owners for the building, but also says, “It wasn’t a practical or useful building.”
After listening to my father detail the problems with “that much glass block,” I agree with the practical part. Bringing it up to modern energy efficiency standards and replacing damaged glass bricks would be very pricey renovation budget item.
I disagree with the useful part. Several miles away, a 1960 MCM bank has been repurposed (stories here), so the local market can handle visionary developers with a love for the mid-century aesthetic. In the right hands, this building could easily live another useful life. It happens all the time.
But let’s look at context. While parts of next door Woodriver, IL are coming back to life, this particular part of town is not yet viable. And there is nothing nearby that would sustain such a bold and costly renovation. The aforementioned Alton Savings & Loan is in a higher density part of town that knows the value of historic renovation and financially benefits from such. But it would be a huge stretch to expect a developer to plunk down the benjamins on a risky round building in this locale. Timing and context make demolition a far sounder fiscal decision.
So now it’s just a matter of saying a proper goodbye to this unique and glamorous bank building. We have from now until late Spring 2016 to document and reminisce, and again, I hope the powers-that-be allow for parts of the structure to find new stewards. If that happens, please be sure to let me know.
Posted on May 30th, 2015 2 comments
May 30, 2005 was the very first B.E.L.T. entry. 10 years later, the title of the maiden post ironically sums up my current mindset about the state of my relationship with St. Louis:
As a person who trends to the positive because it has more power for meaningful change, I’m not comfortable with the cantankerous and curmudgeonly state of mind I’m currently in about my beloved hometown. Rather than prattle on in the negative, I prefer to say nothing at all. This is why new postings have been scarce throughout 2013 and most of 2014, and came to a complete halt after expressing my feelings about #Ferguson in September 2014.
But a 10-year anniversary of a blog is a special thing, especially in the ADD cyber world, so I want to acknowledge my relationships with this blog, this town and the people who have been a part of this journalistic journey. So to quote an overzealous 5th grade classmate who was picked to lead our physical education class for the day: “10 jumping jacks! Ready? BEGIN!”
An Outlet for an OCD Photo Habit
I wanted to be like Julius Shulman, and happily went down that path with several years of serious dark room lurking over black and white film of St. Louis architecture, grand and unassuming (like the example above, of the former Mark Twain Theater in Sunset Hills, MO). Then I got a digital camera. Film vs. digital is the equivalent of espresso vs. cocaine, and I went on an epic bender.
I believe there should be a purpose and/or outlet for creative expression, so felt a burning need to do something with this stockpile of images. This need coincided with blogging going mainstream. I started my first blog, M.E.L.T. in March 2005.
M.E.L.T. was the necessary blogging due diligence and learning curve to get to what really mattered – St. Louis buildings, grand and unassuming. I still clearly remember the joyous moments I discovered Ecology of Absence, Urban Review STL and Built St. Louis. These men and their output were inspiring, fascinating and entertaining. I felt I had something to offer about our town’s built environment that wasn’t covered by them, so it would not be a pale imitation of their work, nor step on their areas of expertise.
A Mid-Century Modern Cheerleader
The launch of B.E.L.T. created a place to share photos and stories of my travels around St. Louis, and beyond. It was also the opportunity to dig deep into the demise of Northland Shopping Center, in Jennings, MO, that had both deep personal meaning and important historical context about mid-century modern architecture coinciding with the development of St. Louis County.
While all eras of St. Louis architecture matter to me, it’s the architecture from roughly 1940 to 1970 that resonates strongest. Those are the photos and stories I shared the most, and the buildings I worried about the most. MCM architecture was too young to yet be properly appreciated by the preservationists and general public, while also being too old for developers and the general public to care about. In 2005, Northland Shopping Center and Busch Stadium were the biggest examples of MCM disregard leading to demolition.
I felt an urgent need on two fronts:
- To call attention to the last important era of American architecture, with the hopes that the preservation communities would catch on and get behind protecting the best examples.
- Photographically capture and share as many of our local examples as I could before they disappeared.
Much to my surprise and eternal gratitude, it wasn’t hard to sell. Turns out there were plenty of St. Louisans who understood and agreed with my agenda. They were generous with information – hipping me to things to check out, or filling in missing details – and enthusiasm.
B.E.L.T. sometimes helped to make it easier for us like-minded folk to protect or celebrate MCM architecture.
Protection-wise, a large group of us went up against an arm of the St. Louis Archdiocese to save the San Luis in 2009. We lost the fight (and the building), but learned valuable lessons about how to handle future threats.
In retrospect, it really didn’t take long for the City of St. Louis to get on board with saving worthy mid-century buildings. One great example: By Spring 2013, Missouri gave us an award in Jefferson City for helping to save the Grand Center Saucer (with the original architect, Richard Henmi, in tow!).
Celebration-wise, a Spring 2010 post about an Atomic Crash party in Indianapolis ended with a question about doing something similar here in St. Louis. The first 4 commenters on this post became founding board members of what became – and remains – Modern STL.
Because of B.E.L.T. I’ve been honored to be invited to take part in symposiums, seminars, lectures, exhibits and documentaries, tours and film screenings (hello Julius Shulman!). And most astoundingly of all, esteemed people who actually are architectural experts because they have the education, experience and encyclopedic minds have repeatedly referred me to as an “authority” on St. Louis mid-century modern architecture.
No disrespect to any of them when I say, “Man, you’re soooooo wrong!” I am not an authority, by any measure. I am only a storyteller who illustrates the tales with photos. I am only a cheerleader for an architectural style that needs proper respect. The beauty of the little big town of St. Louis (and the internet) is the ability to reach the key people who actually can, and do, make a positive difference. To quote Freddie Mercury, “I thank you all.”
But It’s Been No Bed of Roses
By 2013, there was many fine people, blogs and organizations covering St. Louis architecture – and MCM specifically – that my compulsion to cover it relaxed. My slacking blog entries wouldn’t cause any harm because others had the wheel. So I took the time to pursue another lifelong passion – music – and that is an ongoing staple of my free time (shameless plugs: The Remodels & The Jans Project).
Then there was August 9, 2014. On that Saturday, as Michael Brown was shot down in Ferguson, I was about 1.5 miles away in neighboring Jennings, showing someone a street where I once stayed. To an outsider, they were shocked at the state of decay and disrepair of the streets and homes. Seeing it through their eyes – rather than with my typical nostalgia and loyalty to North County – I was stunned and saddened. Later that night, I learned of what happened to Michael Brown, and I was heartbroken.
From that moment on, the events that transpired in Ferguson radically altered my perspective. What was the point of rallying to save a building (the Lewis & Clark Library in neighboring Moline Acres) when the people of North County were in turmoil? Many buildings in Ferguson and Dellwood were sacrificed to the anger. I was compelled to talk about in this post. But in the face of systemic injustice to some of our people, I lost the heart to talk about buildings.
Come November 24, 2014, with the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, I was sickened and in tears as Ferguson and Dellwood burned. It truly felt as if the Powers That Be were purposely letting it be destroyed to make a convoluted point.
Since then, 3 things are really pissing me off:
- Football Is More Important Than You: Governor Jay Nixon – who had to be dragged into inept action about Michael Brown’s death in North County – couldn’t move fast enough to potentially wipe out part of the North City riverfront to build a new football stadium. And telling us that we had no voting rights about partially funding a new stadium because we’re still paying for the current stadium. And this boondoggle trail is already muddied by crooked money. Why is it that every 20 years we have to pony up so a select group can make even more entertainment dollars?
- Special Rules for Millionaires: You are fine-tooth-combed for a car loan, but the City of St. Louis couldn’t be bothered to do a credit check on Paul McKee before giving him unprecedented land-massing allowances and tax breaks. McKee is defaulting on multi-million dollar loans on his North City properties. Ecology of Absence uncovered and reported the details of McKee’s disregard for North Side people and property several years before City Hall issued the free pass to supposedly redevelop it. Unfortunately, history and truth is never as important as continually forcing upon us underperforming Silver Bullet Solutions.
- Causing Destruction to Save You: The City of St. Louis is lobbying to demolish occupied North Side homes and businesses so the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency might remain in the city because, supposedly, the NGA’s tax money and employment is more important than that which is already there. Why not 2-bird-1-stone it and use the vacant Pruitt-Igoe site for this project? Or is that not owned by Paul McKee?
And Enough Already!
These are the St. Louis thoughts that lately occupy my mind. This is why it’s better I say nothing at all. Anger and criticism is easy to cave into, but it leaves me feeling inappropriate and rotting, a disillusioned Pollyanna.
There are St. Louis built environment happenings that are surprising and cool. For instance, the Northwest Plaza redevelopment is, so far, an interesting balance of original buildings with new construction and uses (above, under construction, April 2015). And all the modern in-fill housing and mixed-use buildings slated to go up around The Grove in South St. Louis is life affirming. Jennings called a quick halt to Family Dollar wanting to take down a Frederick Dunn church on West Florissant, and then found another tenant for the church.
But I can’t muster the energy to cover those things. I’m trying to muster up the courage to photographically cover the demolition of the Lewis & Clark Library (being dismantled, above, April 2015), and reeling from the irony of the failed effort winning an award. I don’t know if I have it in me to watch another beloved and worthy building go down needlessly, much less share the story with others. It’s probably best to just grieve in private, over this and all the other St. Louis people and places that trouble me. I count on this being a momentary phase, please.
Some Stats, Acknowledgements & Forecasting
In 10 year, there have been 437 B.E.L.T. entries (or 438, counting this one). Google Analytics reports these are the Top 10 most-read posts:
- A White Flight Tour Up West Florissant Ave. to #Ferguson and North St. Louis County
- Masters of Sex: St. Louis Reality vs. TV Depiction
- Urban vs. Rural
- Sneak Peek: Downtown St. Louis Sculpture Garden
- Top of the Towers
- Inside the Top of Tower Restaurant
- Mid-Century Modern For Sale in Old Town Florissant
- Overland, MO Mid-Century Modern
- Southern Funeral Home For Sale
- CWE Mid-Century Modern: Lindell Boulevard
Here are the Top 10 posts with the most comments from readers. Only 3 overlap with the most-read, so can we conclude these are of most interest to us locals? (Note: I disabled comments on the West Florissant White Flight post to avoid the hatred. People still found ways to get ‘em in, though.)
- Top of the Towers
- One More Walgreens Will Surely Complete Our City
- Overland, MO Mid-Century Modern
- Sunset Hills Teardown, Revised
- 2 More Gasometers Coming Down
- Northland Shopping Center Artifacts
- Tear Down Jamestown Mall
- Rossino’s Italian Restaurant
- Inside the Top of Tower Restaurant
- Barely There: St. Louis Hills Office Center Update
And this would be the only time I get to indulge as such, so off the top of my head – in no particular order – are 10 of my personal favorite posts:
1. Hampton Avenue Mid-Century Modern
2. North County MCM: Independent Congregational Church
3. Heavenly Mid-Century Modern: The Union Memorial United Methodist Church
4. Personal Architecture: Northland Day Nursery School
5. Shutters – Why?
6. The Doors of St. Louis Hills
7. Harris Armstrong, South Side
8. MILESTONE: Mid-Century Modern Subdivision on Missouri’s National Register of Historic Places
9. Unnerving Florissant Modern
10. The Dorsa, “The Ultimate in Mode Moderne”
St. Louisans are so heart-warmingly generous with information, and love to share their knowledge. Along with post comments, I have received so many wonderful emails from so many helpful people. To everyone who provided pieces of the puzzle, thank you a million times for caring and sharing.
B.E.L.T. also made it possible to meet so many amazing, enthusiastic people who care deeply about St. Louis, and I’m eternally grateful for those that became good friends and fellow adventurers. So many of these posts double as a personal scrapbook of good times I had with great people.
Thank you to any organization or publication that bestowed an award upon B.E.L.T. and/or its author. That’s way cool. And to all the journalists who asked for my thoughts or assistance, thanks for believing St. Louis buildings are newsworthy.
As for the future… I bet I post again. Like I said, I hope the “you kids get off my lawn!” phase is a temporary affliction. And I am exploring the world of podcasting. The St. Louis built environment would definitely be a reoccurring topic, providing a chance for you to hear from some of the St. Louisans who’ve enriched my blogging experiences.
And thank you for being a part of the past 10 years. It was pretty kick ass!
Posted on November 13th, 2013 1 comment
We last checked in with the Strike ‘n Spare Lanes on North Lindbergh in December of 2011. Read about it here. And above is what the property looked like on October 16, 2013. But pull back the lens from this view and here’s the big picture:
I know Spirtas is trying to be clever, but their sense of humor is like a flat keg of beer. Why even bother – they got the job?
And here’s where they were on the first weekend of November 2013. As bad as their humor is, they are an efficient demolition company, so the job is probably clear by this time. But it was bittersweet to traipse around the last remnants, peering into the snack bar kitchen one last time…
There’s still a For Sale sign out front of the property, so are we assuming they’re making the land more desirable for a buyer? If anyone has any info about future plans for this site, please do share in the comments.
6149 Natural Bridge Road in Pine Lawn,MO
And this was the big surprise of fall – the building shown above is completely gone. Well, some remnants remain (below), and the bricks are being neatly palatalized, but essentially, it’s just gone. Here’s a rendering of it back in the day when it was Pine Lawn Bank.
Pine Lawn mayor Sylvester Caldwell put up a billboard at the end of this now-empty block. It reads:
“You Can See the Difference… You Can Tell the Difference. Mayor Sylvester Caldwell Presents… The Pine Lawn Board of Alderman Welcomes… New Retail Development. Coming to Pine Lawn FALL 2013.
JOBS… JOBS… JOBS… FOR THE PEOPLE OF PINE LAWN!!!”
Here’s what the block looked like lately. Seems the bank building, erected in 1920, went first. Here’s a more poetic look from Built St. Louis.
And here’s the latest at the intersection of Natural Bridge Road at Kienlen/Jennings Station Road. I wonder if the very corner building is also coming down. If it’s a clean sweep for new retail, it would make sense to remove it. But I cannot find any information about what the billboard promises, in the news media or on the Pine Lawn website. So some more history of the northern inner ring suburbs just disappears without a second thought. Here’s hoping it’s been demolished for something better.
Posted on June 27th, 2013 6 comments
Garavelli’s Cafeteria & Banquet Hall
6600 Chippewa, South St. Louis, MO
2013 has not been a good year for restaurant institutions in St. Louis. First Ponticello’s Pizza in Spanish Lake, then Duff’s in the Central West End, and now Garavelli’s.
Just short of 100 years in business, the current owners (of 23 years) have to close due to financial strain. Reportedly, their electric bill ran to $6,000 a month during the ultra hot summer of 2012. They simply can’t afford another summer like that. And their customer base is dwindling due to advanced age.
We’ll get back to the age factor in just a moment. Let’s look at the drive-thru menu (above) objectively. What other convenient drive-thru is going to offer you vegetables like that? Where else can you quickly grab a pork steak and two sides to go for under $10? As of June 28, 2013 the answer is “nowhere.”
Garavelli’s began in 1914, and eventually had multiple locations throughout St. Louis, including DeBalivere in the Central West End and Manchester Road in Rock Hill. This building in St. Louis Hills, on Route 66, went up in 1946, right before the dawn of mid-century modernism as personified by car culture. But in keeping with the rapid ascension of the Auto Age, they installed the drive-thru because they were in a prime motorcade location.
A dear friend (who is under the age of 60), who is beside himself for losing the best fast food ever, aptly describes the place as “very Mildred Pierce.” The 1945 Joan Crawford movie or the recent HBO remake? Take your pick – both apply. But a great description, especially for the pie!
Immediately after World War 2, the early-American, faux Colonial aesthetic still prevailed, and that Mildred Pierce-ness begins in the foyer of Garavelli’s.
There’s been much remodeling over the years, but its essence remains in tact. And whistle clean. The stairs (above) lead to the basement banquet hall. They added a stair lift to accommodate the disabled, along with an accessible ramp out front. It’s easy to make cracks about the age of their clientele – everyone does – but it also makes the place fully accessible to everyone.
And here’s the heart of the Garavelli’s experience – the food, the glorious food, served cafeteria-style!
OK, let’s talk about the aging issue.
Cafeteria-style dining has been fading from favor for the past 30 years, with Garavelli’s being one of the last hold outs. There are still a couple of Miss Sheri’s open, similarly located in parts of town with a large senior population. It’s a 20th century form of dining that has been usurped by car-centric fast food chains.
Modern Americans have overwhelmingly voted with their pocketbooks for fast, convenient cheap crap over sit-down, low-priced real food. The cafeteria is much like blacksmiths and phone booths – there’s just not a vast market for them anymore. And even as a child in the 1970s, my mother would make cracks about cafeterias (which we ate at frequently) being for the elderly because they served a wide variety of small portions. Which is another aspect that dooms cafeterias – we are now a Super Size Nation.
But Garavelli’s is known for their generous portions – almost too large – at ridiculously low prices. Younger folks who have done Garavelli’s tend to disparage the food; depends what you get. They are known for their fish, pork steaks and meatloaf. The sides are always delicious. With such an astoundingly large and ever-changing selection, you’re bound to have a wide scale of hit and miss.
But popular consensus is that they are consistently good. “Good” is an under appreciated quality in a Foodie world. And it’s real food- unfussy, untrendy. Which brings us to a major aspect of Garavelli’s downfall that could have been righted.
Restaurants are all about marketing – marketing your style, your vibe, your cuisine. How many times have we bought into crap because it was so expertly presented? But marketing can only take you so far, which is why the restaurant business is notoriously difficult to succeed in for the long haul. To last 99 years means you had to have the food part down pat.
But somewhere along the way, Garavelli’s lost the marketing instinct. I hear it’s because the current owners are just too darn busy churning out the meals to their loyal customers. The owner said he hasn’t had a vacation in 6 years – that’s exhausting. And facing financial difficulties with maintaining the expected standards, who has time – or money – to invest in marketing? All understandable.
The owner also said that it was impossible to make any changes to the menu, as even the slightest change created an uproar with the steady customers. But their fare is not what needed to change, it was simply a need for some marketing.
In today’s world, marketing can be next-to-free by investing some time in social media. Garavelli’s did start a Facebook page (it’s where they broke the sad news of their closing), but it was not utilized in a consistent or engaging manner, probably because of the age of their majority demographic. But social media is also an opportunity to create a new customer base.
With Garavelli’s heritage, history and reputation, they could have traded on the inherent sentimentality of St. Louis. Draw in those Baby Boomers! And with its authentic mid-century pedigree, draw in the young hipsters. Every demographic is into good food at a great price, especially when there’s a drive-thru in a convenient location. But you have to get the word out.
A good pal of mine (well under 60 years of age) who is a good arbitrator of great places to eat dines there on a regular basis. He is always the youngest man in the room. But he’s kept this culinary paradise a close secret because he didn’t want others catching on and crowding him out. He simply wanted a wide variety of consistently good food at a cheap price available to him without dealing with the PBR Crowd. I truly understand and respect that mindset, but it’s also part of the downfall of Garavelli’s. It needed younger blood to discover its many charms.
When the distress signal went up about Garavelli’s difficulties, ModernSTL was hoping to intervene by hosting events there. Let the large and adventurous St. Louis MCM audience be introduced to an authentic Route 66 experience, and they tell 2 friends, and so on and so on. A form of free marketing. But before the social wheels could be set in motion, the owners had to wave the white flag.
And within days of the news, American Eagle Credit Union bought the place. Reportedly, demolition of the building will happen fairly quick. So not only does St. Louis lose an historic restaurant, we also lose this view:
I’m going to miss this sight – a building that looked like a ship from some angles, a man wearing a fedora from other angles, a new vinyl sign each day tempting you with meals you’re too busy to make for yourself, and that wonderfully Googie sign.
The owners truly intend to carry the recipes to a new location. But let them have a well-deserved rest to recharge their batteries. Thank you for enthusiastically and loyally carrying on the Garavelli’s tradition. And a fond farewell to a St. Louis Hills landmark.
Posted on May 29th, 2013 2 comments
This building always reminded me of Matt Helm, the fictional government counter-agent, as portrayed by Dean Martin. Here’s a taste of The Silencers.
The first in a series of films released in 1966, it became a short-lived TV show in 1975, but the character debuted in book form in 1960. Come 1961, The Magnum Building was erected. Magnum, gun, Matt Helm, mid-century cool = conjuring Dean Martin. Often architecture makes you think random, fanciful thoughts.
The Magnum was surely once a sharp, sophisticated building. Underplayed so as not to call too much attention, but with details that warn of underestimating its lethalityl. By the time it was covered in this Hampton Avenue study, it had obviously seen better days.
Then it caught fire in the summer of 2012, with the kind of drama right out of the pages of a spy novel. It was condemned for occupancy by the fall.
It was sad and disrespectful to watch it deteriorate. Maybe in the last 20 years no one even noticed the building, gray and fading into the street traffic. Now it stuck out because of the bright board-up plywood, like a Sharpie-scrawled sticky paper name tag on a worn-out smoking jacket. It was doomed.
A demolition permit was granted in April 2013. I pass this way frequently and never saw signs of demolition, so it must have crumpled quickly, like Matt Helm retired with a bullet to the gut.
The end of May 2013, it’s a parking lot in the making. A parking lot for what, exactly? The sleek little MCM building to the right remains vacant; does the dry cleaners need more car space? Whatever, it’s weird to see open space in this section of Hampton, veering toward the curve. Farewell to The Magnum Building.
Posted on March 14th, 2013 17 comments
Glasgow Village is a perfect example of an inner ring suburb that sprung up along the City of St. Louis border in the early 1950s. On this map, you’ll see that the last thread of the City boundary (Ward 2) hugs Riverview Drive. When they began developing this land along the Mississippi River bluffs, St. Louis City fire and police personnel were eager to have the homes being built within city boundaries to meet residency requirements. Stories are that they would offer more than the asking price just to have them.
Concurrently, the adjacent County land that is Glasgow Village (early history here) was also being developed. St. Louis County directories show only 3 streets in existence in Glasgow Village in 1951. By 1955, it was complete and filled with homes much like this.
Adhering to the “village” in its name, the new community needed a central commerce gathering place, and construction of Glasgow Village Shopping Center (shown in the map above) began in 1957. There were spots for 15 businesses, including the backside of the building which was accessed on foot.
The 1959 County directory (above) lists the original tenants. Many of these shops regularly contributed to the various Glasgow Village newsletters released by the trustees and the local schools.
Shops like Connie’s Village Dance Studio (which became Marion’s Village Dancing School by 1963) contributed to the close-knit village atmosphere that still prevails in the hearts of GV ex-pats, who regularly converse and contribute at Glasgow Village Friends.
The towering, angular sign at the corner of the shopping center long served as the striking symbol of the village.
And it still stood tall and proud in 2003 when I took the photo above. By then, the majority of the center was vacant, with the liquor store at 104 Glashop Lane (isn’t that a great street name?) pulling in a brisk business. But even in its reduced state, it was easy to understand how vital this place once was to the town.
By its siting, GV is rather remote, which was a great selling point during the suburban migration of the early 1950s. The shopping center became an instant “downtown,” taking care of just about all of the residents’ needs, and all within walking distance.
104 started off as Zimmerman’s Glasgow Pharmacy, part of the Rexall dynasty. And the dry cleaner’s shown above made the news in 1968 when it caught fire.
And just like any small town, the people who once lived there can pinpoint when it happened based on their personal memories.
The Italian American Delicatessen at 108 (above) morphed into Cusumano’s Village Inn by 1974.
And that storied pizza place lives on in O’Fallon, MO. Exactly when they left the shopping center is best left to the memories of the GV Friends, and hopefully they will chime in with comments here. Just as they recently shared information that some of the Cusumano family showed up to watch the demolition of the center. Which is a testament to how much this place meant to everyone who lived there.
The retail side of Glasgow Village was in drowning mode by 2003. By 2011, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was detailing the foreclosure woes of the town. They accompanied it with an editorial piece that tries to pinpoint why inner ring suburbs are having a tough time and (with quotes from yours truly on) how to solve it.
The St. Louis racial divide as it pertains to real estate has been deeply documented, with Mapping Decline being the most exhaustive resource for information on the whys and hows of White Flight and Redlining. Even though the federal government stepped in to ban the practice, the mentality still seems ingrained, transferring from North St. Louis City to North County, and requiring more recent intervention.
But there is never just one reason for decline, so lets look beyond St. Louis’ racial tensions. Along with rapidly advancing conspicuous consumption from the 1980s to mid-2000s that led to ever-bigger homes in far-flung locales, I think there’s topography at play in North St. Louis County.
Starting with the first settlers in 1764, St. Louis development always favored the southern half before the northern half for one very logical reason: the north is very hilly because the ancient confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers created mountainous mass. When it came to build and all you had were shovels and cattle-driven plows to move earth, you’d naturally choose the flattest terrains first.
This hilly topography later limited placement of interstates during the 1950s – 60s, and the rivers are a definitive end to the area. All of these factors combine to give far North St. Louis County a remoteness that does not exist in West and South County, where they can – and do – keep expanding. Look to the fate of Jamestown Mall to understand why through traffic is crucial for retail. It’s also crucial for keeping neighborhoods lively. The more pocketed communities tend to stagnate, and Glasgow Village is, sadly, a perfect example of this.
The iconic sign was a poignant focal point on February 25, 2013 when St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley held a press conference in front of the cranes in front of Glasgow Village Shopping Center. He announced an increased budget to demolish an initial 41 buildings in North County, mostly fire-damaged and vacant homes that had become nuisance properties. GV residents verified that the shopping center had become an insurmountable problem for their community. And so they demolished Glasgow Village Shopping Center.
The County plans to take down more than 100 buildings this year. Glasgow Village Shopping Center was the perfect way to make a dramatic media splash about the “aggressive program.” I have yet to see posted a list of all the properties due for demolition. Even though Doolie stated that “we recognize that we cannot demolish our way to neighborhood stabilization,” a lack of information on what buildings are coming down is troubling. Parts of the City of St. Louis have yet to recover from aggressive demolition during the mid-century Urban Renewal. I hope that the County does not repeat these errors with a misguided Suburban Renewal program.
There was interest in saving the Glasgow Village Shopping Center sign because it is such a powerful symbol of the community. But the demolition company did not have the budget to take it down in a manner that preserves it. Reports came in that once it hit the ground, it was dragged for a bit which damaged the porcelain face of the signs.
The Glasgow Village trustees did cart off one side of the sign that was relatively unscathed. I love the sentimentality that compelled them to save a last remnant, and am keen to know what they plan to do with sign.
There was nothing but torn concrete and straw by the time the photo above was taken on March 9, 2013. Too long a physical reminder of better days, the shopping center is now officially a memory.
Does anyone know of any solid plans for redeveloping this site?
Creating something new and vital here should be as important of a priority as erasing the problems. I understand why demolishing buildings gets media attention, but I hope Doolie and his team will continue to engage in public dialogue about their plans and progress. North County deserves a fighting chance for renaissance.
Posted on June 25th, 2012 3 comments
8000 South Laclede Station Road
St. Louis County, MO
As I drive around, I make mental notes of buildings to photograph. When they’re places passed on a regular basis, I guess I take them for granted as being part of the landscape – they’ll always be there when I get around to it.
Rayman’s Sinclair, at Heege and Laclede Station Roads has always been one of those “taken for granted” places. It was a full service Sinclair station in pristine condition, looking like a vintage postcard.
In 2010, there was a corporate shake-up that forced some Sinclair station owners to cease-and-desist with the brand name. The last dinosaur riding into the sunset is covered here.
At that time, Rayman began removing any Sinclair signage and verbiage from his shop. He even got clever, creating a cartoon character that was the classic Sinclair green, and looking like a cross between an alligator and dinosaur. I appreciated his cheekiness. While driving through the intersection, I took the shot above, as he was in mid-transformation.
All the pictures I have of this place are hasty shots from the car while traversing this busy and slightly awkward intersection during rush hour traffic. And with every such shot came the mental note to come back, park and get good photos of the place that was built in 1958.
And here is my very last hasty shot of Rayman’s Auto Sales, Repair & Gas. According to the Affton-Shrewsbury Patch, it will become a new Courtesy Diner.
What I’m most disappointed with myself about is that the shop closed about 2 or 3 months ago. That should have been a red flag for me to photograph it, right? But I assumed someone else would move into the building, being in such great shape, conveniently located and all.
What is most ironic about a Courtesy Diner going in is that they do look like and/or try to evoke the very same porcelain tile facade of the Sinclair station they demolished. Here’s an example of the new-ish Courtesy on Hampton Ave. But I understand there’s issues with gas tanks underground and such, so I’ll let it pass… just like I did with all the opportunities to properly record it for photographic history.
There are two Sinclair stations, proper, that I know of. Above is the station at Chippewa and Giles Streets in South St. Louis, built in 1953.
And here is one at 1st Capitol Dr and South 5th Street in St. Charles. Note that both of them still have the round white neon clock still hanging in the window. Wonder if that was a corporate-issue item back in the day?
While researching all this, I ran across a new Sinclair corporate website, and it reports that there are about 140 Sinclair stations in Missouri, including the South St. Louis station. Was there another corporate shake-up and retail Sinclair was OK once again? Do we get the dinosaurs back? Their corporate history is fascinating, but dry (lots of great building photos, though), so who knows.
All I know is I blew it. Hopefully what happened to Rayman’s will be a positive photographic lesson I learn to act on.
Posted on September 7th, 2011 15 comments
Last time I visited at the end of August, the Ackerman Buick site was about 55% percent demolished. Here’s the Ackerman Buick back-story.
At this time, the neon sign (above) was the only thing standing that was still relatively intact, and I worried for it. Then the other day I got an email with this photo attached:
After closing my gaping jaw, I read the e-mail from Dean Wieneke, who wrote:
“Saw your article about the Ackerman dealership neon sign after I bought it from the wrecking company Spirtas. We started on it Friday, and just removed the neon and the bulbs and the cover up or add-on of “Ackerman Buick Inc” portion. Now it looks TOTALLY different, for the better I may add. It now says “Dickerson Motors Inc. Used Car Dept.” We’ll be finishing the removal sometime this weekend.”
I immediately replied to my new hero for more details, which he supplied, in spades:
“I’ve always been a big fan of this sign, being an old sign junkie. It has everything: it’s porcelain, it’s old, it’s large, it has a great font, it’s die cut across the top, it’s NEON, and it even has chaser lights at the bottom. Lets face it, this is a classic, one-of-a-kind, Americana old school sign from when thought was actually put in to signage, and not just something that corporate pumped out, like today’s boring dealership signs. I couldn’t let this have the same fate as the buildings did.
“I contacted Spirtas (who were/are great to work with) and within a day or so was told I could purchase it. So last Friday my brother, Joe, and my father, Jim, and I started in on this on one of the hottest days of the year and got it to the point you see now. We shall return this weekend with more wasp spray!
“The sign is 50 feet long and the sign portion is 8 foot high, had probably a hundred feet of neon on it and 144 lights across the bottom.
“What am I going to do with it…? Good Question! My beautiful and patient wife is wondering the same thing and is about ready to choke me over the whole ordeal. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m going to do with it really, but I just could NOT let it be destroyed by the wrecking claw! More than likely I’ll trailer it up and haul it to my house and store it until I can find a suitable place for it. It may end up on display in my Dads pole barn, but that seems to be a waste of a “local land mark,” so if someone has a better idea let me (and my wife, ha!) know.”
Since Dean has done such a great public service in the name of recent past preservation (and shared these 2 photos), let’s help him out if we can. There’s 2 things he wants to know:
• Does anyone have any knowledge about Dickerson Motors, Inc. ?
• Any do-able ideas for what to do with the sign so that the public can keep gazing upon it?
My first thought for the second question is the Antique Warehouse. Here’s some of the other neon signs they have safely stored away. But I know you all have way more brilliant ideas (and astounding recall of St. Louis history), so help a hero out, will ya?
Posted on February 26th, 2011 6 comments
328 N. Fillmore
Here’s the construction site of another new home in Kirkwood. Here’s what it will look like:
Here’s what was torn down:
Those familiar with it always remarked how Harris Armstrong it seemed at first glance. Look a little longer and you realize it’s a modernizing remodel.
The home that is now demolished was from 1917. Somewhere along the way, it was given the ultra-spare modern update, maybe during the late ’50s-early ’60s when anything with even a whiff of Victorian or Traditional to it was considered gauche.
Also of interest is who sold this house to Lewis Homes. The previous owner is listed as Sister of Mercy of the Union. Check out this link and learn this group disbanded in 1991 to instead become Sisters of Mercy of America. Assumption can be made that if they were still using the old title for real estate transactions (for which they pay no property tax, according to St. Louis County records), they have owned this place since at least 1991.
Good thing the Sisters of Mercy don’t own this beauty:
This is a neighbor across the intersection of N. Fillmore and E. Washington. This home and the demolished one are what added spice to this immediate block, because so many eras of architecture are covered. High variety in a bucolic, high-density setting is invigorating. Regardless of time period built, not a one of these homes are immune to teardowns. There’s been plenty of outrage over some of the victims of this trend, but no real solutions… yet.
Posted on May 27th, 2010 3 comments
200 block of E. Main Street
Of the 3 buildings pictured above, the first two from the corner are now gone because of a major fire in the early morning hours of May 26,2010. Read the detailed story with photos from the Belleville News-Democrat.
The consistently excellent reporting by the BND revealed that what I always thought of as two distinct buildings is actually 3 buildings. And while it was obvious that the facade of the former Fellner’s department store was a very choice mid-century modern retrofit, I had no idea just how very, very old all 3 of these buildings are (and, sadly, were) – dating back to 1865!
By late Wednesday afternoon, the sad remains of the two buildings (partially depicted above) were demolished and being carted off.
This part of downtown Belleville constantly amazes me because so very much of its original density has been preserved simply because it’s still being used. And I’ve admired the Fellner storefront because it was so tastefully done, adding a thick chapter of jet set glamor to the Belleville business district story. Now there are two businesses down and a violent void. But because it is such a visible and functional spot, neighbors are immediately thinking ahead. As quoted from the BND report:
“It’s a tragedy to lose a building built in 1865,” said Geri Boyer, a resident of the Writers’ Lofts across East Main Street from the fire. “But, because I’m involved in development, it does open up some development opportunities for the buildings that are left. It opens the door for some potential for that space: parking, green space, a courtyard. Maybe it becomes a restaurant with outdoor seating.”
Boyer is an engineer and owns the Kaskaskia Engineering Group in Belleville. One of the structural engineers employed by her firm inspected the burned buildings.
“She made the same assessment the fire chief had already made: It was really unstable and something needed to be done immediately,” Boyer said.
This portion of the former Fellner still remains, and was saved by the intact fire wall, as reported by BND:
A fire wall that divided the thrift store from the community center stopped the fire’s progress. That wall separated the women’s department of the old Fellner’s from the rest of the clothing store.
The fire wall extended from the basement to the roof and was one story higher than the building that was on fire, which helped firefighters, (Belleville Fire Chief Scott) Lanxon said.
“If there are no places to stop a fire like that, there’s a chance you could lose a whole city block,” Lanxon said. “That’s what they’re there for, to stop from losing a city block.”
Lanxon stressed the importance of keeping fire walls intact. “If a fire wall is intact, it does its job. If there are holes made in it for one reason or another, if people punch holes through them, the fire could spread,” he said.
A reader’s poll within this on-line news report shows that the overwhelming majority of participating readers want the city to “rebuild so new businesses can open there,” and I love that can-do spirit, and agree with them. But I do hope that this portion of the MCM retro-fit can be retained as a remnant of the story that was extinguished. Maybe it can even inform the look or style of the new structure that may rise from the ashes.