Posted on February 12th, 2013 No comments
On February 11, 2013, the Cultural Resources Office of St. Louis presented to the public the results of their survey of non-residential mid-century modern architecture in the City of St. Louis, MO. The details of their survey work during 2012 is documented here.
Nearly 250 buildings made their list of architecturally worthy buildings. That list was narrowed down to 40, and everyone from both the Cultural Resources Office and the Missouri State Historic Preservation
Office at Monday’s meeting reiterated how genuinely difficult it was to come to that new number. They all fell in love with certain buildings, harbored their favorites.
But because it’s a limited grant budget, and all this historical research takes time and money, the 40 buildings need to be narrowed down to 20-25 buildings that will make the final list. That’s why they are asking for St. Louisans to weigh in on which buildings we think should make the final cut.
Those in attendance were given a sheet of 16 stars to place upon the buildings we liked most.
Here’s Michael Allen bestowing one of his stars upon a building he wrote about. Turns out this South Grand vacant bank is already under threat of demolition for a new independent grocery store building on the lot. And this highlights why it’s important to have this list of our significant MCM architecture: if one of these buildings should come under fire, there will be documentation to prove why it matters.
Among the final 40, it was thrilling to see buildings that I’ve covered previously in this blog. These include:
Oak Hill Chapel in Holly Hills
The AAA Building, Optimist Building, Engineers Club and the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ Chancery on Lindell Boulevard in Central West End. (They could save a little time and just declare Lindell Boulevard an Historic District, similar to what was done on Washington Avenue, downtown.)
Carpenter’s Union Hall on Hampton Avenue
David P. Wohl Community Center, whose architect of record, Richard Henmi, was on hand to place his star upon it, once again:
Henmi, the architect of the Flying Saucer in Midtown, will also be in Jefferson City on February 27, 2013 as one of the people accepting a 2013 preservation award from Missouri Preservation. This is shaping up to be a special year for him, and all of us who love his work and those of his professional peers.
What Happens Next
They need your feedback by February 15, 2013 on which 20-25 buildings deserve further research to make the final list. Please review the 40 buildings. Download the comment sheet here, which also has information on where to send it.
In Spring, they plan to announce the 20-25 finalists that will get the full treatment of further
documentation and statements of significance that put them in historic context and serve as framework for the property owners and others to use for the architectural preservation and appreciation of these buildings.
Stay atop any breaking news on The Finalists by following Chris Madrid French on Twitter and Missouri Preservation on Facebook. Or just check back with B.E.L.T., ‘cos you know how freaking excited I am about all this!
Posted on March 25th, 2012 5 comments
Notre Dame High School Campus
320 East Ripa Ave, South St. Louis County, MO
Just a tad north of Jefferson Barracks Historical Park in South St. Louis County, on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, is the campus of Notre Dame High School. This all-girl Catholic school is also a fascinating flip book of architectural styles.
Here’s a shot that distills the essence of the Notre Dame aesthetic experience: to the right is the original School Sisters of Notre Dame house opened in 1897 and a sampling of its expansion in the mid-20th century. Previous to this moment, I knew nothing about the Notre Dame school, but the story of its endurance and might was easy to read in the buildings on its campus.
Courtesy of Bing, we get a bird’s eye breakdown of the Notre Dame campus, to which I’ve mapped out the years of its expansion.
As it is approached from its main entrance on East Ripa, you first see the L-shaped high school erected in 1955. It presents a staid appearance with its brick and glass block, even evoking a 1940s institutional feel.
The building finally cuts loose at the main entrance, opening up and soaring for a bit. It feels like a conscious concession to the more overtly modern geometry of the gymnasium it connects to.
A quick peek inside the entrance reveals terrazzo flooring and quintessential MCM metal stair railings, and overall has the lightness of the building it connects to.
The gymnasium was built 2 years before the high school, and it’s interesting that sports came before a high school, proper. The gym itself has a rounded roof resting on concrete pillars, which are filled in with glass block. The entrance has the light, overtly modern airiness of the early 1950s. See the very first photo above to see the whimsical font on the building’s corner stone – it feels like the opening credits to a Doris Day movie. Considering the spiritual and educational gravity of the place, it seems a bit cheeky. But I love it.
And this is also where you get the first juxtaposition of post-war modernism abutted to 19th century classicism. I love how the canopy lightly abuts the stone of the Sister School, and how a different bond and color of brick coordinates but refuses to imitate. It was a new era, and they embraced it, but in a respectful way.
But come the dawn of the 1960s, the surge of high school-age Baby Boomers swelling the attendance, the school needed even more room, and it was time to make a big, bold architectural statement. Aqua metal panels, steel and glass zoom out of the past and into the future, literally creating a bridge to…
…the thoroughly modern quadrant of the campus.
It’s now 1961, and the performing/ fine arts, administrative and pre-school needs of Notre Dame are downright giddy with color, form and materials. If not for that gorgeous, minimalist cross (above), you’d think this was any mighty corporate campus flush with post-war money and optimism.
But the religious intent of the campus is expertly applied in small details throughout, like this glass tile mosaic above an entrance.
A peak inside this entrance shows that, like the high school, the original fabric is still fully intact. And look at that chair! Are there more of these original chairs throughout the building? I am so impressed with how well-preserved and still-functional everything is, like the know what they have and love it!
Though there is one slightly disturbing thing happening right now. The originally-aqua metal panels are currently being painted white on this end of the campus.
Here’s another juxtaposition of old and “new,” and you can see how the white-coating is removing the joyousness from the MCM portions personality. The metal panels all appear to be in near-mint condition, so is this a purely cosmetic decision on the administration’s part?
I would like to know why they’ve decided to now go bland after 50 years of aqua. White-washing seems like something they’d have done in the late ’80s/early ’90s, when everyone was trying to stamp out a dated look. Yet Notre Dame let it be, and as you can see…
… it’s truly a thing of beauty. It should also be noted that blue and white are their sports colors, so that aqua was chosen for a good reason back in 1960.
Imagine this vista once the aqua is gone; it will no longer sing, just merely hum. Much like those window AC units. Which may be why so much original fabric remains – they’ve yet to renovate for central air.
At Romana Hall, on the northern-most edge of the campus, the metal panels are a different color (and I love how the canvas awning was made to match perfectly), so does this mean this was painted over at some point, as well?
I would love to know the story of the Notre Dame campus expansion. Who were the architects and administrators who worked together to create all these wonderful new buildings? Who has had the long-range vision over all the following decades to lovingly curate and maintain a century’s worth of architecture? And does this glorious patchwork quilt of a campus inspire its students to be as curious about Notre Dame’s past as those of us who chance upon it?
Posted on November 24th, 2011 1 comment
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.
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!
Posted on August 28th, 2011 5 comments
Hudson Road & College Drive
Yesterday while driving from Alton, IL back to South St. Louis, I made a quick detour to check on the state of a beloved, vacant building. The scene above is what I found:
a blank spot.
Here’s what used to be there. From the 1950s to 1985 it was the Northland Day Nursery School, owned and operated by Ruth Meyer, who lived in the house next door. The first part of the building went up in 1940 and was added onto several times over the years, including an in-ground swimming pool added in 1961.
I attended this nursery school off and on from 1969 to 1974. I went here in lieu of kindergarten, and even in the first few years of grade school, they’d let my mother drop me off for a couple weeks during summer vacation. This wasn’t all that odd, as several of the kids I grew up with here also did the same. If they liked you (i.e., you didn’t cause too much trouble) you were always welcome to come back when a babysitter wasn’t available.
It sat on 1.63 acres of land, and was a complete wonderland of exploration, inside and out. Take a look at the map above and see how large the yard was for us to run around in. It was like a little village, with a rabbit hutch, 2 playhouses, a sandbox, a jungle gym and that glorious pool during the summer. There was plenty of pavement for riding tricycles, trees for climbing and hiding behind.
Our parents would drop us off at this gate, and for the rest of the day we belonged to Miss Ruth (who had one finger permanently stained from applying Mercurochrome to scrapes and cuts), Miss Audrey, Miss Dorothy and Miss Joanne. That’s what we were taught to call them, and I’ve retained that habit of referring to ladies of all ages in a position of authority by adding Miss to their first name, regardless of their marital status. It’s an old southern trait that still serves well in the modern age.
Inside, the building was a a rambling labyrinth, constantly changing floor levels and ceiling heights. Some rooms were lined with shelves of toys, where Weebles wobbled but never fell down, or set up with a kid-sized metal kitchen with an old rotary phone where we called David Cassidy to sing “I Think I Love You” to him.
Down a set of steep stairs that we could only peer down, Miss Dorothy worked in a small kitchen making buckets of Kraft macaroni and cheese and pulling handfuls of potato chips from a giant metal tub. We got a mid-morning snack and a big lunch. Then it was nap time, with folding army cots lined up in several different rooms throughout, even in the far back room that was supposedly haunted.
That’s me on the far right, top row (note that the girl next to me has on a Mrs. Beasley costume). My best friend, Cathy Meeker, is the bride all the way to the left in the top row. We knew every nuance of all the Partridge Family and Sonny & Cher songs, and sang them loud and often until we were told to pipe down. This Halloween was the first time I ever saw a vampire movie, a Christopher Lee film shown on the afternoon program Dialing for Dollars. Cathy and I decided fangs were ultra cool, and that’s what I wanted my costume to be, but had to be a fairy instead. The wand helped soothe any disappointment.
And Santa came every Christmas, with presents galore. This year I got a knock-off Barbie doll which I then traded for a Liddle Kiddle locket. This was also the same room where we watched the 1969 moon landing, were scared to death of accidental blindness when learning about solar eclipses, and I got in trouble for heckling Alfie about one of the lamest Show ‘n Tell tricks ever performed.
Speaking of Alfie…
In 1993, some friends came over to my apartment, and one of them brought her boyfriend, Al. During the course of partying, Al said a few things that blipped my radar, and I got this vision of a tiny boy with a large head with Tweety Bird eyes and I asked him: “Does anyone ever call you Alfie?”
“Umm…yeah, my folks do.”
“Did you go to Northland Day Nursery School?”
“Hey Alfie, it’s me Toby!”
His eyes returned to Tweety Bird proportions, his jaw dropped and he turned beet red. Turns out he clearly remembered me and Cathy Meeker. Or to be more accurate, he remembered how we tortured him ceaselessly. He recounted a long list of wrongs I’d completely forgotten about. We were little shits, I guess, but he and I made amends during our impromptu Nursery School Reunion. Later I learned that his girlfriend got jealous of this occurrence and they never came around again, and I never got a chance to tell her, “Are you kidding? I’m still not into Alfie – he ate boogers!”
From this December 2006 photo, the bones of one of the playhouses remains. Inside this structure, we tarted ourselves up with kiddy make-up and perfume, or had round-robin choruses of Melanie’s “Brand New Key.” From here you could see the rabbit hutch under that closest tree, the ground under them covered in pellets that looked like chocolate chips, and caterpillars crawling up the trunk that looked like mustard when they were smashed by the boys.
To the very right in this photo is the remains of the other playhouse which was next to the pool, the remains of which are outlined by the red fence posts. In the adjacent basement, we had little changing stations with our names written in marker, where we kept our towel, swimsuit and swimming caps. Even as I stood in the cold on this day, I could hear us singing Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” underwater in that pool.
And that very gate, that very same fence is where I used to stand and peer out longingly at the cars passing by on College Drive, which was – and is – the back way into Florissant Valley Community College. From early on, I always wanted to be anyplace else but where I was, and those kids driving by to college equaled freedom in my mind. It’s poignant to think back to feeling I was missing out on something better during what were the easiest and merriest days of my childhood. By the time I came back here in 2006, I had been working hard on learning to be here – now, to stay present. It was a meaningful full circle moment to be back there, on the other side of the fence looking in, fully in the present and the past. Time stood still, and it was peaceful.
By 1986, the nursery school had closed. Miss Ruth’s daughter, Ruth Ann, took over her house, and the school sat vacant ever since. My memory is cloudy about it, but somewhere in 2009 I learned the property was for sale, and I continued to come visit.
There are several places from my past that I visit when needing to chill out and gain a healthier perspective. Being in the tangible presence of safe and happy places lets me see the timeline of life, and re-connect to the purer parts of the soul. It’s another form of why people keep mementos – a physical piece of the past that conjures memories and emotions. Buildings are an important part of this historical perspective of the lives we live, proof that we did and do exist, that we grow and change while staying connected to the root of our hearts and souls.
And now a physical piece of childhood is gone forever, my first deeply personal architecture to be demolished. Now I understand the stunned silence of our parents and grandparents when they return to see their childhood architecture gone. It’s an uncomfortable milestone of aging, and the ghost images those now-empty spaces conjure make you feel momentarily older than you actually are.
When standing, these buildings dutifully house our memories so we can cruise by from time to time to rummage through the toy box of time. When they’re gone, those memories become toys in the attic of already crowded minds. And now “I’m never going back to my old school.”
Posted on April 27th, 2011 No comments
Modern StL is teaming with the Trustees of Ladue Estates to present the first ever Open House and Walking Tour of the first-ever Missouri mid-century modern neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places!
Saturday, May 7, 2011
10 am – 2 pm
Ladue Estates, Creve Coeur MO 63141
$10 admission – $5 for Modern StL members
5 Homes Open To You
#1, 2, 3, 11 and 14 West Ladue Estates Drive are opening their doors. See an original teal GE metal kitchen. See how excited we are to be able to share these 5 gorgeous homes with you!
Guided Walking Tour
At 11am, noon and 1 pm, two Ladue Estates residents (Lea Ann Baker – who did the Historic Registry application – and architect David Connally) give a guided tour of the homes on West Ladue Estates Drive.
Self-Guided Walking Tour
The other 2 streets that make up this historic neighborhood are open for you to swoon through. With a paid fee, you will receive a brochure with neighborhood highlights.
This is a thriving, private neighborhood, so please respect their homes and park only on the East Sides of the 2 streets shown on the map above.
The tour begins at #2 West Ladue Estates (shown as X on the map above), which is also one of 5 homes open to you. Pay the fee here and begin your journey into an atomic-age wonderland! $10 fee the day of the event – $5 for Modern StL members. Rain or shine.
Posted on January 2nd, 2011 15 comments
S. Grand & Iron
South St. Louis, MO
The palatial hacienda-style funeral home with “that sign” is now for sale.
This building is absolutely gorgeous, in whole and for its details. The funeral home (read its history here) started in 1908, and they moved into this building in 1929, which was built for them, and is supposedly the first St. Louis structure made expressly for a funeral home.
I’ve always been fond of the mid-century rear addition, loving the juxtaposition between eras. Plus, how can you not love the reiteration of their logo in giant, 3-D (below)?
Take a look at the real estate listing. They’re asking only $375,000 for this massive building, which also includes 2 apartments. I ran into the family that were living in the place until recently, when they had to find a new place to live because the place is for sale. There was a language barrier preventing me from getting any details from them, because I wanted to ask the little boy just how was it living in a funeral parlor. Seems like something a kid would dig, right?
Take a close look at the photos on the property listing. There’s a beautiful chapel inside with a stage and seating for more than 200 people. It’s in a commercial district and has tons of parking.
This building is crying out to be a concert club. Think about it: music and food, the owner can live above the business. Because it’s by Carondelet Park, it’s easy to get to from Hwy 55.
So, do we yet have anyone inspired to do something with this fabulous place?
Posted on December 16th, 2010 7 comments
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
Posted on September 12th, 2010 4 comments
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!
Posted on April 7th, 2010 12 comments
Gravois Avenue & Meramec Street
South St. Louis, MO
This is a rather rundown intersection in the Bevo Mill neighborhood, but if you look through the grime, there’s some interesting visual history of when St. Louis (like other Rust Belt cities) actually produced goods, and those industries dictated the transportation, housing and society of the neighborhoods they resided in.
While stuck at this stop light contemplating these fanciful thoughts, I noticed the two buildings above had Hiliker For Sale signs. The building on the left is a 2-family flat from 1915, and next door is a 4-family from 1915.
And the one-story industrial building next to it, from 1918, is also for sale by the same company.
Even around the corner, on Meramec, the 4-family from 1915 is also for sale.
Which means the entire block bound by pink in the above aerial map (courtesy of bing.com) is for sale by the same agent, though info about these buildings are not on the Hiliker site. Included in this full city block is the jewel of the lot…
…the 9-story-total factory from 1928 which was formerly the Graham Paper Company. It sits majestically at the top of the viaduct, and in the late 20th century it served as a storage warehouse. I remember idle talk in the early 20s of it becoming loft apartments, but obviously that never happened.
All of these properties currently for sale are listed in city records as being owned by 4230 Gravois LLC, c/o Imagine Schools, which begs the question: did this organization buy all these properties with the intent of creating a campus, then changed their mind?
The Graham Paper Company building is a gorgeous example of dignified industry, which was par for the course for the 19th-into-20th century, and I admire how they tucked this large complex into a block already populated with multi-family housing.
What will become of this block? Must the buildings be purchased as a whole, or will “the whole” turn off any but the deepest pockets? It’s easy (but not desirable) for potential developers to dismiss the residential and remuddled one-story warehouse as demolition fodder, but the Graham complex cannot be denied. It’s a strange and intriguing plot of land, and the possibilities for a new use are plentiful…and worrisome.
If anyone has information on what’s happening with this block (including – and most especially – history of Graham Paper Company), please do share.
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.