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  • Here’s What Made the Plural in Top of the Towers

    Posted on November 25th, 2012 Toby Weiss No comments

    The Lewis & Clark Tower was supposed to be Towers, and it was supposed to look like this. Gorgeous, right? Even looks a bit like a mid-century U.S. Embassy.

    This drawing comes courtesy of John Lumea, who ran across an advertisement for it in a 1964 issue of Architectural Record. He was gracious enough to send it along, and point out that the ad does confirm who the architect is – George J. Gaza & Associates. We now even know who built it: United States Construction Co.

    John, major thank you for sending the ad! Click to see it larger so you can take in all the words about “Missouri’s first cylindrical apartment.”

    For all the backstory on Top of the Towers and Rizzo’s restaurant that sat at the very top, you can read this BELT entry.

    The comments section is where the real action is, as we hear from the grandson of the developers of the complex, the granddaughters of both the developer and architect, plus fabulous memories of people who ate and worked there.  Readers even share the exact spinning salad recipe, or Bruce Kunz shares a replica that seems so much simpler:

    For those of you wanting to experience the Spinning Salad, I’ve come close to replicating it. Start with shredded lettuce, add a sprinkle of shreded carrots. Stir in your choice of a good blue cheese dressing and a bit of ranch to go with it. Top with chopped hard boiled eggs, ‘cracked’ (not coarse ground) pepper.   Easier, just as flavorful and more consistent in texture.
    And last but not least, sprinkle liberally with real bacon bits or pieces.
    Enjoy.

    Thank you to everyone who has been contributing to the memories of Top of the Towers since October 2007. Every comment verifies just how important this place is in the history of North St. Louis County.

    In response to the BELT entry sharing rare interior photos of the vacant restaurant courtesy of Michael Collins, a few readers sent me links to the postcard images above.  It’s both intriguing and sad to see what was cross-referenced with what remains behind.

    It’s also cool to see the back of the postcard, with the line drawing of the complex.  Big hugs to everyone who sent links to these postcards; it’s thrilling to know your curiosity sent you Googling, and then you took the time to share.

     

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  • Remodel of the Former Flotken’s Building in Olivette

    Posted on October 28th, 2012 Toby Weiss 3 comments


    9634 Olive Boulevard

    Olivette, MO

    This 1961 winged beauty started life as Flotken’s Market. The Flotken family has a website about the history of the store with lots of interior photos. There’s even a blog where you can contribute memorabilia of the place, which includes a copy of the original 1961 lease.


    One touching thing from the Flotken’s blog is the 2006 obituary for owner Frank Flotken. A paragraph and a half is dedicated to this building:

    “In 1961, he opened a second store at 9643 Olive Boulevard in Olivette. Mr. Flotken designed a unique roof that descended from the sides to the middle, giving the appearance of wings.
    Mike Flotken explained his father’s design concept in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Dad wanted as much natural light as possible. With a traditional roof, you only get light from the front, and the ‘flying wing’ design allowed light to come in from the sides as well.”

    As of Fall 2012, a local construction company is in the middle of remodeling the building for jewelry store The Shane Co., who plan to move in early 2013. Compare this construction photo with the one above to see how much they have removed. Much of the brick from the demolished kneewall was still sitting in the dumpster the day I photographed this.


    While investigating who was doing what to this building, it was shared by Esley Hamilton that there is a correction to who the architect is.  From conversation with a former employee who remembers working on the building, Elsey learned this is the design of Sommerich & Wood, who also did the 1958 Red Bird Lanes.


    While a noticeable bit has been done to the exterior, I am optimistic that not much more will be done for two reasons:

    1) A jeweler benefits just as much from natural light as a grocer did, right?
    2) A peek behind the plywood walls shows a good amount of interior construction has already taken place, including metal framing of walls reaching up to the roof structure. Meaning, they can’t alter the basic structure too much more, only mess with the front facade.

    Granted, a lot of damage can be done with a new facelift. But so far, they’ve left so much in tact that it feels like The Shane Co. knows the allure of their new mid-century modern building. Let’s all keep an eye on their progress, and speak up if you see any new developments, please.

    Thank you to Andrew Weil of Landmarks for giving me a heads up that this remodel is taking place.

     

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  • Recycling: The History of an Auto Dealership Sign

    Posted on August 19th, 2012 Toby Weiss 8 comments

    This sign became…

    …this sign. And that fact was consigned to the memory of a select few until it was brought to light by Dean Wieneke. Read his story here.

    The beauty of the world wide web is that anyone can find anything, and the family of the men who were Dickerson Motors found the story of Dean finding their family’s sign. They got in touch with me both in comments on the blog entry and personal emails. Which lead to them graciously scanning old photos, which are shared with you now.

    Julie Dickerson Chung and Carolyn Dickerson Zerman are the daughters of William E. Dickerson, who started Dickerson Motors, Inc. in 1951 with his brother Thomas E. Dickerson (whose son Don Dickerson provided some of these photos). It was a Lincoln Mercury dealership located at 6116 Natural Bridge Avenue. It was in the shadow of the only remaining gasometer in St. Louis.

    Here is that spot today. Note that the building appears to have been sitting on the dividing line between St. Louis City and County.

    Dickerson by day…

    …and by night. These photos were taken shortly after the dealership opened.

    A big day for Dickerson Motors was when actress and icon Debbie Reynolds stopped by the dealership in 1955 to buy a car. She was on her way back to California to marry singer and actor Eddie Fisher.

    Above, Bill Dickerson hands Debbie Reynolds the keys to the car she chose. To put it in historical context, Miss Reynolds had just completed filming of the movie The Tender Trap, with Frank Sinatra. It would release in November of 1955.

    And Debbie gets inside her new ride to zoom off and marry Eddie Fisher. The marriage would produce actress/author Carrie Fisher, and end tragically when Eddie left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor in 1959.  This is just how her history played out and in no way infers her car from Dickerson Motors played any part in future marital dramas.

    Don Dickerson (son of co-owner Tom Dickerson) shared the photo above, depicting the “Hot Rod Lincoln” that was part of the dealership’s racing team. In conjunction with the racing team, Don recalls:

     “Before a race, my Dad was out zooming around Missouri to see what the Lincoln could do. He came over a hill at a very high speed and found that at the bottom of the hill was a buckboard with two horses pulling it. He slammed on the brakes but was going too fast to stop, killing two horses and totaling the car.”

    To the best of Carolyn Dickerson Zerman’s memory, the car dealership closed around 1957-58. “I know my sister Julie was born around that time and was a “saving grace” to my Dad (above left), who hated to see the dealership close.”

    The family does not know what became of the sign after Dickerson closed. In this entry about Ackerman Buick, former employee Tim Von Cloedt said Jerry Ackerman bought out Kuhs Buick on North Grand Avenue and moved the whole shebang out to Dellwood in the early 1960s. The first building on the lot went up in 1964 – so did the sign, now recycled as Ackerman Buick.

    Where was the sign from 1958 to 1964? Considering how much information we’ve received so far, there just may be someone out there who knows the answer.

    And this whole saga came to light when Dean and his family bought and dismantled the sign (above) to put it in storage at his father’s farm. As of this writing, Dean sold the sign to Fast Lane Classic Cars in St. Charles, MO, who plan to hang it on the side of one of their buildings.

    So St. Charles is the newest chapter for one of the busiest, most recycled signs in St. Louis history. And thank you to all of the Dickerson family for being so generous with their photos and information.

     

     

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  • Making Money from Clayton’s Mid-Century Modern Buildings

    Posted on July 1st, 2012 Toby Weiss 3 comments

    We covered the Clayton-Forsyth building in November of 2009. Here is the story and photos. That post was inspired by the old news that the owner of the building wanted it to come down to build a mixed-use development. But The Great Recession quieted that thought.

    The June 29, 2012 issue of The St. Louis Business Journal brings the thought back as a cover article (above). Turns out the building’s owner – Tony Novelly – has been banking buildings along this stretch of Forsyth, including the Clayton-Forsyth building, which is also known as The Lawyer’s Title building.

    With next door neighbor Tip Top Cleaners set to close, their building goes on the market for $1.7 million. Novelly had reportedly tried to buy them out before. The Business Journal has no hard facts about Novelly’s intentions, just strong implications. Even his son, Jared Novelly, says for the article that they have no immediate plans to redevelop all their properties on this block. “We’re always open to redevelopment, but it depends on what the market does. Nothing is going on right now.”

    It’s starting to feel like the era of mothballed buildings is in the starting stages of ending. If the real estate market is truly starting to come back to life, the mid-century modern buildings in Clayton’s Central Business District (CBD) are easy targets. Maybe not so much the building above, by architect Harris Armstrong, as it sits on the outskirts of the CBD.

    And maybe not this other Harris Armstrong building. It’s even on the National Register of Historic Places. Then again, Clayton has already torn down a much larger Armstrong building, shown here on the website of the Clayton History Society. National Register is not a guarantee of safety, just a distinctive title.

    And the Pierre Laclede Center is pretty safe, as they’ve recently spent millions to refurbish both buildings while respecting its mid-century modernism.

    After that, just about every other mid-century building in downtown Clayton, MO is ripe for teardown. Many have already been torn down to build new skyscrapers and/or parking. This is a business district, and there is supposedly more money to be made from skyscrapers, which give you density of inhabitants making money.

    Novelly already owns two corporate skyscrapers right next to and across from the buildings cited on the front cover of The BJ. So he does have a history of investing in the teardown of old buildings for behemoth new business centers. And it is being implied that he might soon have all the old buildings on this block. And past news articles have stated that he intended to tear down the Clayton-Forsyth building for a much larger mixed-use building, so it’s easy to assume his development history on that block will repeat.

    But let’s drop the supposedly inevitable for a moment, and put on our thinking caps. You know what would be brilliant? Embracing the unique mid-century modern heritage of the Clayton Business District, and making money off that.

    The prosperity and might of the Clayton CBD happened immediately after the end of World War 2. The majority of its buildings went up between 1945 to 1972, making it a quintessential mid-century modern city. It’s a text book example of the power and optimism our country had after the war, and the architecture they used to reflect that.

    To be a part of the New Frontier and The Great Society, elderly and established downtowns had to utilize federal Urban Renewal funds to demolish and make way for new, modern buildings. In the mid-1950s to late 1960s, the City of St. Louis went on a demolition spree, ridding itself of “ugly,” “unhealthy” and “dangerous” old buildings.

    As Downtown St. Louis crushed buildings into dust on the government’s dime, downtown Clayton was a blank canvas of relatively open land with prosperous business-owner residents who had moved there before The Great Depression. Or as the City of Clayton website tells it:

    By the late 1940s, Clayton was in the midst of a building and business boom that eventually changed the City from a quaint suburb to the hub of the St. Louis metropolitan area. In 1952, the City re-zoned the area that became the Central Business District, allowing larger commercial and retail businesses to expand.

    (In 1957), the City abolished the height requirement on new buildings, and plans for Clayton’s first high rises were soon in the works. However, City planners established strict requirements to ensure Clayton streets would not become tunnels amidst corridors of skyscrapers.

    So a boomtown had the foresight to require variety in its buildings. Low-rise and high-rise would co-mingle to create – literally overnight – a new and powerful metropolis that would soon overtake Downtown St. Louis as the business center of Metropolitan St. Louis. That’s the beauty of working with a blank canvas – you can build a city from the ground up in record time and have it architecturally reflect the powerful and expansive mindset of a forward-moving society.

    And here’s the kind of buildings they willingly chose to reflect their power.

    All of the buildings shown in this post are part of the mid-century modern quilt they weaved within 30 years. The largest percentage of them went up in a less-than 20 year period. This is why downtown Clayton has a certain aura about it. Because many of these original mid-century buildings are still in existence, sometimes tucked into the shadow of newer post-modern skyscrapers.  And it’s the melange of tall and small, street-level and sky-level that give downtown Clayton it’s powerful charm.

    America is still scrambling to understand how to live and prosper in this new Post 911 cyber world with a global economy. All of the old rules are crumbling around us, and that includes the rules of land development. The days of automatically clearing an old building for a new one are looking rather barbaric in hindsight. We simply can no longer afford to be a disposable society anymore.

    But luckily, holding onto your existing building stock can be just as profitable as the old crush-and-build model was for awhile.  Off the top of your head, how many historic sites can you think of across America that bring in busloads of tourists? Large chunks of New England figured out decades ago that there is money to be made in old buildings and towns, and that local, state and federal governments will even help you turn it into a profit-making destination.  I think any developer of an “ancient” building in modern-day Downtown St. Louis knows what I’m talking about, here.

    When it comes to the newer realm of mid-century modern architecture and towns, we can look to Palm Springs, California as a great example of preserving residential and commercial buildings. It is easily the hippest destination in the nation, a desert town drowning in tourists disposable income.  And let’s also consider all the building-buff travelers to downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has lovingly kept all of its art deco institutions in tact.

    Mid-century modernism is the last great American architectural style. People have been quicker to pick up on the benefits of preserving and using these buildings than past generations were to saving turn-of-the-20th century buildings. Both the building-huggers and developers are realizing that post-war Baby Boomer buildings and towns have several layers of worth and are worthy of keeping.

    And you know what? The downtown Clayton Business District is an original, authentic mid-century modern city! It even has a very healthy percentage of its original buildings that prove this. If the money-makers in Clayton were to play their cards right, the CDB could become the Palm Springs of the Mid West.

    Making money from existing historical building stock is a very real and attainable prospect. It is a compelling thought for Tony Novello while considering what to do with his Lawyer’s Title building. It’s a beloved building that has been allowed to go vacant, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Development is as much about marketing as it is capital expenditures and improvements. Maybe fly a mid-century modern flag up the pole and see who salutes the Mid West Palm Springs idea?

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  • Procrastinated & Missed It: Rayman’s Sinclair Demolished

    Posted on June 25th, 2012 Toby Weiss 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.

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  • Valentine’s Matchmaking

    Posted on February 14th, 2012 Toby Weiss 6 comments

    I just received the greatest Valentine in the mail, which begins with “You’re unmatched in my book,” and ends with two vintage matchbooks. One of them is above, for the Great Central Lumber Company in Rock Hill, MO. And look at the building drawing on the right!

    The building still stands to this day, and Great Central Lumber remains, now as one of several tenants. I’ve always admired this building, and it seems the original owners did, as well, making the effort to put a line drawing of it on their promotional matches. Can you think of any recent new buildings that are matchbook-worthy? And will matchbooks one day be a thing of the past?

    It first went up in 1966, and it’s shocking that it’s survived that stretch of Manchester Road for this long, in such unscathed condition.  Because the other Valentine’s matchbook* is for a drive-in that no longer exists in either of its locations.

    Tobey’s Drive-In, “Home of the Happy Hamburger” lists 2 locations inside the matchbook cover: 9600 Highway 66 in Crestwood, MO and 9315 Manchester Road in Rock Hill, MO.

    The Rock Hill Tobey’s was basically across the street from Great Central Lumber, and since 1999 there has been a god-awful ugly apartment complex on the land where the drive-in once was. The Crestwood Tobey’s was at 9600 Watson, and Plastic Football has the scoop on the building St. Louis County records say is from 1973.

    So this building nerd is having a good Valentine’s Day. And Happy Valentine’s to you, too!

    * It was manufactured by the Universal Match Corporation, St. Louis, another mid-century modern building that was demolished in 2010. Aside from losing a handsome building, it was also the long-time employer of a relative-by-marriage, who used to give me complete sets of matchbook series he helped produce. I especially remember a choice Bicentennial collection that helped me with my history homework far more than the school books did!

    UPDATE

    The man who sent the Valentine matchbooks wrote the following after reading this post:

    “The building that was Tobey’s still stands.  It became Steak n Shake and is now Reid Vann (9331 Manchester).  My dad and uncles built it many years ago (1980) and it originally had a zig zag type roof, very similar to the one on the walkway at McGrath Elementary, corner of Litzsinger and St. Clair. When Steak n Shake took over the Rock Hill store they remodeled extensively to fit the corporate image and removed the roof.

    When the Rock Hill Tobey’s was built, the Crestwood one already existed.  Mr Toberman planned to grow the franchise, but it never went above those two.  He told my dad, “I’m going to put McDonald’s out of business.”  The Crestwood store did not have the folded roof. “

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  • MCM Remuddle: Alton East Elementary School

    Posted on January 25th, 2012 Toby Weiss 3 comments

    Alton East Elementary School
    1035 Washington Avenue, Alton IL

    There’s much to admire about this 1955 school building in Alton. I love how the series of saw tooth entry doors are echoed in the picture window to the left.  And the tri-colored tile work of the columns creates a pattern that feels both jaunty and whimsical.  I even love how they have retained the early 1970s-era trash containers, which creates a tableau of the school evolving over the decades.

    It requires a certain administrative appreciation of the vintage architectural merits of a building to keep it  so perfectly intact and in tip-top maintenance.  I was happy to learn of the modern mechanical updates East Elementary was to receive as part of the Alton School District’s campaign to upgrade their schools, because it meant they would continue to use this fine building, rather than build something new and abandon this.

    But I hadn’t completely thought through just exactly what would happen with modern mechanical updates. And it appears that whomever was in charge of replacement windows hadn’t really thought through the comprehensive design of the building. Turns out, those in charge simply went with the lowest bid for all renovations, and when it comes to fenestration, they’re getting what they paid for.

    As the school building unwinds to the east of the grand front entrance, it introduces a rectangular grid of aluminum-frame windows abutting a block of brown marble tile, which is all the better to showcase the prerequisite mid-1950s stainless steel Helvetica letters. And the architects purposely chose a different window for this portion of the building than from the showcase sawteeth at the other end. Steel, brick and marble – it was all about creating motion and drama.

    But not anymore. Today, they have committed to the same style of vinyl replacement window across the entire front facade.  I can kind of hear the new “designer” rationalizing….”The brown vinyl will blend nicely with the brick, and coordinate with the marble, making it look more contemporary, don’t you think?”

    Before versus…

    …after. Well, technically, this is during.

    Here’s the secondary front entrance of East Elementary (and note there’s another of those retro trash containers!). Visualize what those silver doors will look like surrounded by large, chunky swatches of brown vinyl. Or maybe they will be kind and simply replace the doors, as well. I’d rather they have consistency than jarring inconsistency.

    We head down a driveway to the back of the school, which magically grows into two stories of glass block and brick. My father, Richard Weiss, was a union glazier, and he installed the glass on this building in 1955. He told me that from the day after the school opened, those glass block walls might as well have been screens for all the hot and cold breezes they let pass through.  He said mid-century buildings like this were beautiful, but certainly never energy efficient. They didn’t have to be, because energy was cheap back then, plus central air was right around the corner.

    After decades of students and teachers being uncomfortable for large chunks of the school year, they then hit the 21st century energy inflation crises, which is adding pauperism to misery. So there is no begrudging them wanting to be comfortable and use energy more efficiently. But why do the replacement windows have to be so god awful ugly? They don’t even work on this elevation!

    It’s important to point out that a replacement window is only as good as its installation. The best quality window will fail if installed wrong, while a low-quality window can perform like a champ if installed correctly. It’s obvious that these windows are low-quality. Here’s hoping with all my heart that they’ve spent a little more money on properly installing them so they actually do get the energy efficiency they rightly deserve.

    Before: beautiful to the eye of the beholder standing outside (and I bet it looked beautiful inside when the sun beamed through all that glass block), but not always a pleasure to the folks stuck inside on a bitterly cold and windy day in January.

    Afterwards: the inhabitants will be comfortable and safe for roughly $1,000,000. Which is a fraction of what they’d have spent to build a brand new school. So I truly applaud their efforts at improving the school for everyone who uses it, and for continuing to use a perfectly good building.

    I am fully aware that my whining about the murdered aesthetics misses the point of the greater good. But I do feel it’s important to document and acknowledge how handsome this building once was, and say a fond farewell.  And I want to take this chance to point out that something as seemingly trivial as choice of replacement windows can radically diminish the appearance of any type of building, so please choose carefully if you’re ever in this position.

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  • Update on the Alton Mid-Century Bank

    Posted on January 1st, 2012 Toby Weiss 3 comments

    Here is the story of the gorgeous Alton Savings & Loan with photos of it in it’s (relatively) untouched state.

    And here is the story that caused a pang of anxiety in the summer of 2011.

    And above is what’s going on as of this winter of 2011-2012.

    It is actually very good news that a Swiss company that manufactures and markets leading-edge ophthalmic diagnostic and surgical products is turning this building into its American headquarters. It is also good news that the Alton City Council thought it such a good idea to re-utilize this building that it gave the company a $300,000 TIF. But it was this part of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story that caused many of us to blanche:

    “We looked at others (buildings),” Braida said. “We looked all around the area. It’s beautiful. It needed someone to have a vision to update it and make it more appealing.”

    Architect Dan Hurford of Hurford Architects Inc. in Glen Carbon described the building as “quite contemporary even 50 years later.” He said it is in excellent condition structurally and mechanically. Renovation plans call for adding windows to a side of the building that does not have any. Morrissey Construction Co. will be the general contractor. Braida said the work is expected to be completed later this year.

    Technically, this side of the building does have windows – drive-up teller windows, to be precise. But they have punched new holes in the wall, and have neatly stacked up the undamaged black glazed brick (yes, I did take one. Sorry. Not sorry.). Do they plan to remove the teller windows and re-use the original brick? Or are they also having matching brick made?  Let’s cross our fingers until circulation cuts off that they will be sensitive to the original wall when filling in the lines around the renovations.

    The new owners stated they love the building, so I’m hopeful they won’t cause too much damage to the original fabric. I peaked in all the windows and saw that original light and door fixtures in the front and back stairwells remain. And the construction crew has been extra careful about taping off doorways so construction debris doesn’t infest other areas. If they planned on wiping away all the original fabric in those areas, they wouldn’t be taking such care right now. So it appears they are carefully planning this in stages.

    And here they are adding a huge picture window and/or door to the back side. Yes, it’s galling to see this being done. But I’m leaning on two positive angle:

    #1. This particular part of the building is so massive and so dramatic, that adding one tiny rectangle color block to the bottom left is kind of like making an abstract painting. They picked an appealing spot to do this in, rather than carve it up willy nilly.

    #2. Someone who really likes this building is spending over $1 million to keep it in use. So a little remuddling cannot dampen the true victory here.

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  • Goodbye to Strike ‘N Spare Bowling Lanes

    Posted on December 2nd, 2011 Toby Weiss 6 comments

    Strike ‘N Spare Lanes
    Schuetz Road & North Lindbergh
    St. Louis County, MO

    I awoke Thanksgiving morning to an email that the Strike ‘N Spare Lanes building and land was up for lease. Here’s a copy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story.  I didn’t even know it had closed, reportedly on this past Labor Day weekend.

    The property is – and always has been – owned by the Jewish Community Center, which is located right behind this property. AMF has been leasing the building for the past 10 years or so, though it has operated as Strike ‘N Spare since the building opened in late 1961/early 1962.

    The article states that the 5.3 acres of land and 49,887 s.f. building is being offered at $19,166 a month rent, and that it’s also “being marketed as a site for a new bowling alley or a site of multiple uses, including a bank, convenience store or gas station.”

    From a real estate point of view, this intersection in an unincorporated bit of northwest St. Louis County – nestled between Overland and Creve Coeur – would be a prime property. But topographically, it’s far from ideal for something as traffic-dependent as a convenience store or gas station.

    Take a look at the photo above; I am only half way down the hill this bowling alley sits atop of. It’s a very steep incline, a feature the original designers of this building took advantage of. Because as you whizz by down below on Lindbergh, your eye is caught by a bright loop-dee-loop seemingly floating atop a mountain.  I think we all understand the psychology of drivers, and if you are at all familiar with this stretch of road, can you imagine the average driver making the trek up the hill from Lindbergh to get some gas and Beef Jerky? Would they consider that truly convenient?

    Because of the lay of the land, whatever goes in the existing building or new structures that may appear must be a distinct destination.  A commenter in an August 21st post of Berger’s Beat types confident that apartments or condos will be on that property within a year. That makes complete sense, as everything in the immediate area behind this property is either apartments, commercial or industrial.

    But it would be so much better for someone to re-use this building, don’t you think?  Another bowling alley would be excellent, but what about a church? Today’s modern congregations seem to favor more s.f. for socializing and entertainment than they do a chapel. I’d also like to see it be an Ikea….. just had to throw that in there.

    When I took these photos in the summer of 2006, I was worried then that something bad was happening to the place because of the yellow “do not cross” tape. But it turns out they were pouring new sidewalks, and doing some exterior repairs and upkeep. AMF took good care of this building, and it’s only been vacant for a few months, so it’s safe to say it’s still sound.

    And it sure is, um, striking, with classic mid-century modern lines and materials. And let’s not overlook the glamor of that Googie roof line. And it’s those very features that give it a 50/50 chance for survival. That means the glass is half full, and let’s hope for the best.

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  • Inside the Top of Tower Restaurant

    Posted on October 23rd, 2011 Toby Weiss 29 comments

    Chambers Road & Hwy 367
    Moline Acres, MO

    This post about Top of the Tower Restaurant from October 2007 is by far the most-commented entry I’ve ever done. Within the comments, we hear from the granddaughter of Tower’s developer Bud Dallavis, as well as several people who worked there over the years. We learn that it did NOT spin (people confuse it with the former Stouffer’s restaurant in Downtown St. Louis), and a few people share the recipe for Rizzo’s famous Spinning Salad.

    A post comment from the end of July 2011 set off alarm bells:  Michael Collins went on an adventure inside the Top of the Tower building, and made it all the way to the top and inside the long-vacant Rizzo’s Top of the Tower. He even took pictures!  I pounced on him like a puppy to a chew toy, and he gladly consented to share his photos on Facebook so they could be shared on B.E.L.T. All of the photos you will see here were taken by Michael with his cell phone.

    The elevator in the Tower lobby no longer goes up to the top floor, but the stairs do. When Michael got to the top, the door to the restaurant was wide open, “and there were no signs stating no trespassing, although I’m sure they don’t really want anyone up there. I don’t really recommend going up there for your own safety.” He told of some strange encounters with questionable people (and dogs) during his time in the building, so I’m heeding his advice, and very grateful that he chanced it, took these photos and shares them to add to the history of a beloved North County restaurant that continues to be held warmly in the hearts of all who went there.

    After the adrenalin high of sifting through his photos, I was feeling like Peggy Lee asking “Is that all there is?” This is what the mythical place actually looked like? Really.

    My overall impression of Rizzo’s interior is what I call Spanish Bachelor. It’s a term I use to describe a late 60s/early 70s design plague in swingin’ suburbia. It was a hearty embrace of EZ Brick, Chianti bottles with candles stuck in ‘em, blackened wrought iron (real or fake), dark distressed wood, masculine-colored velvets, corduroy pillows and macrame plant holders. It was a look favored by heterosexual single men, and we’d have to ask one of the survivors of this faux-rustic 16th Century Spanish matador design decision what it was meant to convey.

    I never imagined that the penthouse showcase of the magnificent mid-century modern tower – all pink metal tubular sleekness – would look like this. In the photo above, the wood paneling on the window columns feels right for a place that opened in 1964.

    I’m assuming the ceiling was originally white so that the coffers radiating out from circle center met up with the paneled columns to create a starburst effect.

    But the rest of this….?
    OK, the place has been vacant for a long time, but we can overlook the neglect to get a sense of what was. And I’m getting the impression that lots of remodeling went on over the years. Or that there was one major sweep of a re-do in 1975…

    …because this wallpaper IS 1975 personified. And it has held up rather well, don’t you think?

    There is the fantasies that those of us who weren’t alive/participating in that era have, and then there’s reality. My fantasy for Top of the Tower might look a bit more like this series of photos. And maybe it did back in the day.  Remodeling and updates happen organically over time, and restaurants – particularly – have to stay somewhat current and fresh to remain open. So we see a wide hodge podge of design fads piled atop one another.

    Obviously, the restaurant conveyed differently with furniture and lighting. Have you ever seen your favorite bar during the day, exposed to natural and overhead light? Then you know there’s a real magic to low lighting at night. Cocktails help everything along, of course.

    But in all the memories that have been shared about Rizzo’s Top of the Tower, it was never about the decor (though the views were a major treat). It was the people who worked there, the excellent customer service, the superior quality of the food, and the sense of specialness all of these things combined created for everyone who went there.  We’re now looking at what remains of a place long separated from its magic.

    A major batch of thank you goes to Michael Collins for making these photos available to us.

    And for all of you who once worked there or ate there on a regular basis, could you please tell us about how the place looked over the years? What did it look like when it opened? What kind of changes were made over the years?

    Maybe seeing these photos will spark you memories and you’ll share in the comments as copiously as you did previously. If you have photos to share, that would be excellent, too.

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