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  • Catching Up on Demolitions

    Posted on November 13th, 2013 Toby Weiss 1 comment

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    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:

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    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?

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    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…

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    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.

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    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.

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    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!!!”

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    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.

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    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.

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  • Farewell to Garavelli’s Cafeteria

    Posted on June 27th, 2013 Toby Weiss 6 comments

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.”

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    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.

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    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!

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    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.

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    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.

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    And here’s the heart of the Garavelli’s experience – the food, the glorious food, served cafeteria-style!

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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:

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    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.

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  • Whoa, Where’d the Building Go?

    Posted on May 29th, 2013 Toby Weiss 2 comments

    01 4647 hampton ave demolished

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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  • The Saucer Earns a 2013 Preserve Missouri Award

    Posted on May 27th, 2013 Toby Weiss 3 comments

    1969 Saucer photo

    Here’s a good story to end May 2013 Preservation Month.

    In 1967, architect Richard Henmi designed the striking building above. Over the decades, it went from a gas station to a pair of taco fast-food restaurants. Then the building went vacant while the Council Plaza it is part of was being revived with help, in part, from Missouri Historic Tax Credits.

    Then in 2011 news leaked out that the developer of Council Plaza was seeking permission to tear down “the saucer.” Here was the reaction to the details of politics as usual.

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    And this is what hundreds of St. Louisans did to protest the intent of the developer and some pockets of the Board of Aldermen. Turns out it wasn’t just meddlesome preservationists who loved this building – most everyone was fond of it and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to demolish it.

    Both on the streets and via social media, we made a ruckus and offered up solutions for ways to re-use an iconic piece of St. Louis architecture that already qualified for historic tax credits. Here’s one example of the things we did to Save The Saucer.

    The Council Plaza developer changed his mind, refurbished and enlarged The Saucer and found two tenants for it.  It’s a true pleasure to drive by and see it hovering over a steady stream of customers. The Saucer’s revival gained plenty of positive national recognition, and in 2013 it earned this high honor from Missouri Preservation:

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    The award ceremony at the state capitol in Jefferson City, MO was cancelled due to snow in February, and rescheduled for May 7, 2013. That was a happy accident because it felt better to have this celebration during National Preservation Month. A small group of us representing the dozens of people whose passion played a big role in changing the right minds drove down to be a part of the ceremony in the rotunda.

    Here is the list of 2013 award winners we are so proud to be included among.

    And here’s Randy Vines giving the acceptance speech:

    All acceptance speeches that morning made note that Congress was, literally at that moment, voting on the fate of the Missouri Historic Tax Credits. One politician presented the award to his constituents and had to high-tail it off stage to go vote when the bell rang. The irony of it was not lost on anyone.

    Everyone had to wait 10 more days to learn that the tax credit remains unchanged. As is the case every year, the battle will surely resume again. I wonder how each politician who on that day handed a preservation award to the building owners voted on the bill.

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    Here we are in the afterglow of this triumphant chapter of the tale of the saucer. From left to right: Lindsey Derrington, Jeff Vines, Randy Vines, architect Richard Henmi and me.

    Here’s some interesting facts about our award:

    • This marks the first mid-century modern building to earn this recognition.  Along with Ladue Estates on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s with relief and gratitude that we now know Missouri recognizes and values MCM architecture.

    • We were the only project that day to have the building’s original architect on hand to accept the award.  It’s wonderful that our Modernist architects receive this kind of recognition while they are still here to know how important their contributions are.

    • Ours was the only award that day that did not go to the owner of the building.

    • Our St. Louis City group was the only one to not have a representing politician speak on our behalf and present the award.

    Thank you to everyone at Missouri Preservation for making such a milestone bold choice, ushering in a whole new era of historic preservation. And then they even fed us!

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    The luncheon gave us the opportunity to explore the state capitol, which is truly magnificent on so many levels. Whenever you may feel overwhelmed by the rancor and confusion of state politics, walk through these halls to instantly feel better about the past, present and future of our state. It perfectly embodies what great architecture does for the soul – it inspires.

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    Our group wanted Richard Henmi to keep the preservation certificate, and he was respectfully insistent it remain among us all. To that end, the plaque now hangs permanently in the StL Style storefront on Cherokee so that everyone can always be reminded of what they accomplished by loving The Saucer enough to stick up for it. Thank you to Randy (above) and Jeff Vines for giving it the perfect, permanent home.

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  • Former Buder Library on Hampton is For Sale

    Posted on April 1st, 2013 Toby Weiss 8 comments

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    The Record Exchange at 5320 Hampton Avenue in South St. Louis has put their (nearly historic) building up for sale so they can move to a bigger place. Here’s the sales brochure:

    5320 Hampton Avenue.indd - 5320 Hampton Avenue.pdf

    Hilliker gives it only one page. Very dull way to sell an exciting building. I’ve covered this building a few times (including a b&w study from 2001 on this page). It has been covered on Built St. Louis. So the realtor could legitimately say it’s a “much-talked about, much-loved building.”

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    Another selling point: this building recently made it onto the Final 40 List of the City of St. Louis Mid-Century Modern Survey. The night we attended the public meeting, it got an awful lot of votes. It stands a very good chance of making it to the Top 20 that will receive full documentation of its worthiness.

    The owner of the building and the record store, Jean Haffner, knows his 1961 building by architect Joseph H. Senne is pretty special. But he was pleasantly surprised it had made it onto an MCM survey.

    It is true they need a bigger place, something “about the size of a grocery store” said Haffner. (Side Note: the FYE at Hampton & Chippewa was originally opened in 1958 as a National Food Store.) They now do the bulk of their business on-line (at this site) and need to be better able to access their inventory while adding to it. Thus, a bigger building.

    Have there been any interested buyers?
    Haffner says yes. Including a party that would like to turn it into an art gallery as inspired by the metal mobile in the lobby:

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    This piece is titled “Pomegranate” and was designed for the library by a nationally-recognized artist whose name I was told, but forget. The Record Exchange is an overly stimulating place, so it’s an accomplishment that I remember this much of our conversation.

    UPDATE: Thank you to reader Hillary who leaves the name of the artist in the comment – Fred Dreher. And thanks to Sally for this article about Dreher.

    According to Mr. Haffner, he made sure it stayed with the building when he bought it in 1999, and at this point, the mobile alone is worth more than the asking price of the building.

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    They do need to sell the Buder in order to buy a new place.  Here’s hoping the perfect buyer who loves the building as is comes along so everyone wins.

    P.S. Thank you to everyone who sent messages and photos about the For Sale sign in front of the Buder. It’s impressive to have all these eyes on the street who also have my back and share this kind of information. You’re awe-inspiring!

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  • Saying Goodbye to Glasgow Village Shopping Center

    Posted on March 14th, 2013 Toby Weiss 12 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.

    Decline

    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.

     

     

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  • Defining An Era: The City of St. Louis Mid-Century Modern Survey

    Posted on February 12th, 2013 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    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.

    Here is the first part of the list of buildings.

    Here is the second part of the list of buildings.

    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:

    Former Buder Branch St. Louis Public Library

    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.)

    Pius Memorial Library, St. Louis University

    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!

     

     

     

     

     

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  • 2012 Review of St. Louis Mid-Century Modern

    Posted on January 6th, 2013 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    It was the end of December 2012, and I was on the bitingly cold, snow-covered roof of the former State Bank of Wellston. We were there to explore the building in its final days, and discuss how they were going to salvage the neon tower to keep it safe for future use. It was sadness tinged with hope.

    Standing atop the building as my feet turned numb from the cold, I thought of the heartbreaking months ahead documenting the Wellston bank’s demolition. But then a thought slapped me upside the head:

    There were far more wins than losses when it came to mid-century modern architecture in St. Louis in 2012.

    I didn’t yet know it, but the day after Christmas the website Curbed figured it out, citing two major St. Louis MCM wins in their article, Mapping the Biggest Preservation Wins and Losses in 2012. We’re #8 and #9 on the list of winners. We’re used to being on lists of shame for destroying buildings of all eras, and here we are getting a pat on the back for two major victories. And they are both mid-century modern buildings!

    The Saucer, by architect Richard Henmi (shown above) is now bustling with caffeinated folks at Starbucks. The other side is still in renovation mode for a new tenant.  The Triple A building (below) by architect Wenceslao Sarmiento stood up to a tear-down threat by CVS.

    The efforts to save both of these buildings from extinction are beautifully detailed here, by our city’s own Michael Allen for Next City, another national organization keeping an eye on our preservation wins in 2012.

    The fight to Save Our Saucer was, technically, a 2011 campaign that came to a conclusion in 2012. For both of our round Mid Town MCM buildings the amazing fact is that City Hall – specifically, the mayor and certain aldermen – spoke out quickly and emphatically against demolition of either of these buildings. This was a huge policy change from years previous with City Fathers who really didn’t want to deal with saving buildings built after World War 2.

    What caused this miraculous and productive change of perspective? I consider the following a major turning point.

    It was February 14, 2009 when a large group of St. Louisans came together for a Love In to publicize the threat against the former Hotel Deville, which became a vacant apartment called San Luis. The St. Louis Archdiocese wanted to take it down to make a surface parking lot. After a disastrous Preservation Board review in June 2009, we turned it into a court battle.

    The building came down and we lost the court case. We staged multiple events to raise money for our lawyer fees, and it was heartwarming to see so many people support us in this failed battle. Personally, it also created some tense moments with my deeply Catholic family who only saw it as me being part of a group that was suing the Catholic Church. Yikes.

    The San Luis Did Not Die In Vain

    A battle lost in such a large and public way turned out to be the moment that was needed to make positive changes in the future of mid-century modern architecture preservation. The Save Our Saucer campaign was a successful refinement of the Friends of the San Luis campaign. And the inconsistencies in St. Louis City preservation law were addressed almost immediately after the San Luis came down. The first tangible change was creating the organization ModernSTL (several of the ModStL board members were there at the Valentine’s Day Love-In) so that we had a central location for the education, preservation and celebration of St. Louis modernism.

    AUGST 2012 The MCM preservation efforts of ModernSTL made the news several times in 2012, which is recapped here.

    DECEMBER 2012 The victory inspired by the demise of the San Luis is the new architecture standards in the Central West End (CWE) purposely put into place to include the protection of mid-century modern buildings. Again, let Michael Allen give you the important details of this new standard.

    That residents and alderpersons in these CWE wards realized that post-World War 2 buildings are just as much a part of the area’s history as the original buildings made my heart break with happiness. That they stuck with it to turn it into legal business that prevents senseless destruction like The San Luis in the future is a miracle. This is a major rethink of what constitutes an historic building. I love these folks! Thank you.

    March 2012 The City of St. Louis received a $24,600 grant from the State Historic Preservation Office to survey the City’s mid-century modern buildings.  Mayor Francis Slay writes of this award: “This specific research will identify important mid-century modern buildings and should lead toward protection from thoughtless demolition and possible resources for their improvement. Our City is rich in beautiful and significant architecture – and this study will help it remain that way.”

    Here’s more details about the survey. It is expected to be complete by the summer of 2013. I am deeply humbled (and a little teary eyed) to learn that many B.E.L.T. entries have been used as part of their research on the city’s MCM stock.  My wish for 2013 is that downtown Clayton, MO will consider doing something similar.

    SPRING 2012 Having an article published in Atomic Ranch magazine was a personal highlight. But even better was that it was about Ladue Estates, the first mid-century modern subdivision in Missouri to land on the National Register of Historic Places. The residents who made this MCM preservation milestone possible have become good friends of ModernSTL, and it was a pleasure to stage a second annual open house and tour of their neighborhood in May 2012.

    2012 MCM Mind Shift

    In general, I have felt, read and seen a huge shift in mid-century modernism appreciation. Both in the private and public realms, people of St. Louis just get it! They get that this era of architecture has significant meaning in our history, and that many of these buildings are flat out gorgeous and worthy of keeping in use.

    Two great examples of re-using rather than demolishing MCM in 2012 include:

    This Sunset Hills building started life as the Mark Twain Cinema in 1967, and then became the Two Hearts Banquet Center, which closed in 2012. A local labor union bought the building to turn into their new offices. And here’s the kicker – they love the building as is. The renovations they are making are only to make it usable for their needs, not to destroy its essence. Here’s more of the story.

    At Spring Avenue and Delor Street in Dutchtown, the Southtowne Village apartment complex, built in 1962, stood vacant and vandalized. When chainlink went up around the bombed out site, I assumed they were being demolished. It was a great to be completely, utterly wrong!

    Thank you to 25th Ward alderman Shane Cohn for filling me in. The Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance is redeveloping the site by modernizing most of the existing buildings, and supplementing them with some new buildings better sited in the spaces left after demolition of the back buildings. The aim is more curb appeal and more urban density.

    As we can see from the mid-construction photo above, they’re adding some 21st century architectural bling to appeal to new tenants. The mid-century character of the buildings will be buried. But the major point is that instead of automatically tearing down these buildings, they are re-using them! And why not?  We now live in a time of wasted resources and limited means – it makes perfect economic sense to save money and the environment by re-using as much as you can.  Construction-wise, a building from 1962 is just as good  as one from 1862 for renovation, and I applaud the RHCDA for this enlightened way of thinking.

    A Short Journey to StL MCM Preservation

    Urban Renewal of the 1960s is what created the preservation movement, as we know it today. It took well over 25 years to change the perspective of the public and developers so that they would think first of preserving a turn-of-the-20th-century building rather than demolishing it. St. Louis, specifically, has benefited greatly from Historic Tax Credits that put so many of our classic buildings in downtown St. Louis back into service.  All of this is possible because of pioneering preservation efforts.

    In May of 2005, I started B.E.L.T. primarily as an outlet for documenting and promoting St. Louis mid-century modern architecture. St. Louis was a major recipient of federal Urban Renewal subsidies, tearing down hundreds of acres of our history to create a better society. When they began systematically tearing down these replacement buildings in the early 2000s, I was grief-stricken.  I literally stood on the rubble of Northland Shopping Center and bawled like a baby.  Something had to be done to update the preservation mindset to include the buildings of the greatest period of modern American progress.

    With the help and camaraderie of hundreds of forward-thinking St. Louisans, we have changed the preservation mindset to include mid-century modernism. And whereas it took decades to automatically save post-Victorian buildings, we understand the importance of saving post-WW2 buildings in less than 10 years!

    2012 was the year that all of this new mindset became glaringly, lovingly apparent. It bears repeating: There have been more victories than losses.  I’m even optimistic about the plight of Lewis and Clark branch of the St. Louis Count Library. In less than a year, their board has already acknowledged its merit; the story continues into 2013.

    From St. Louis City Hall, to activists, to social networks, there are thousands of people who deserve a hearty round of applause for making all of this possible. It also needs to be noted how progressive St. Louis is when it comes to architectural preservation matters. No matter the year it was built, we now know our buildings matter because our history – past, present and future – matters.  It takes great strength and confidence to protect and nurture the things that are worthwhile.

    St. Louis, you kick ass!

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  • Demolition Set to Start in St. John, MO

    Posted on January 4th, 2013 Toby Weiss 6 comments

    B.E.L.T. reader George McNatt left a comment that this building at Brown and St. Charles Rock Road is going to be demolished. All of the buildings connected to it are coming down as well, starting this January 2013.

    Here’s backstory on McCarty Studio.

    And why are these buildings coming down?

    If I told you there was a Walgreens on the opposite corner, could you get the answer with one guess?

    CVS was unsuccessful in Fergsuon (backstory here) and was shot down twice in the Central West End (both buildings spared from CVS demo are listed in this story). Guess they fared better in St. John, eh?

    George also reports that they are tearing down the building on the southeast corner of this intersection (map here) to put up a McDonald’s.  Considering they are reportedly going in on the site of the former State Bank of Wellston once it comes down, McDonald’s looks to have a strong first quarter of 2013.
    Geez.

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  • A Last-Minute Christmas Gift Suggestion

    Posted on December 23rd, 2012 Toby Weiss No comments

    The former State Bank of Wellston is currently under interior demolition.  Exterior demolition is set to begin January 2nd, 2013. Word is it’s coming down to make way for a McDonalds.

    Here’s an overview of the Wellston Bank.
    And there will be a future post memorializing the loss of this mid-century modern bank that was both stately and cruisin’ cool at the same time.

    In the meantime, the neon fabulous Sky Bank light tower (above) is for sale.

    This light tower has been a sign post, a marker, a marvel for almost 60 years. Sometimes, it’s the only thing about Wellston that people know or recognize. It is absolutely worthy of saving.

    The demolition crew is looking for a buyer. There is some urgency because of the start date of exterior demolition.
    Do you know of anyone who can help?
    We could use a Christmas miracle, here.

    If you’re interested, please contact me via blog comment or directly, and you’ll be put in touch with those with the details.

    UPDATE
    It IS a Christmas miracle. Here’s a note from Larry Giles:

    I am in the final phase of securing the Wellston Bank sign and have managed to raise 6K thru donations and have the trucking lined up, 5K for the purchase price. We still need another 5K for the crane, crew and misc.

    More details as they emerge.

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