Busch Stadium Farewell


Last Season at Busch Stadium
Downtown St. Louis, MO
Breaking down the elements into outline form, I aesthetically love the current Busch Stadium because it lends a delicate airiness to the Lego blocks of the downtown skyline. The beginnings of the new (to the left, above) juxtaposed with the old stadium highlights Chunky vs. Sleek, and considering how huge our bodies, cars and houses are, a chunky new stadium makes perfect sense.

 

In the Spring of 2003, I was part of a small committee who tried to save Busch Stadium. A new stadium was going to be built, but we came up with alternate uses for the existing stadium, in hopes of keeping it and incorporating it into “Stadium Village” (any more word on that promise?). If the owners had situated the new place just a few blocks further south, the existing place could have served as St. Louis’ version of the Roman Coliseum. History preserved and reutilized for all manner of public events, retail and restaurant establishments, and a natural meeting and hanging place. The owners could have saved millions on demolition costs, and still made money from rental fees.

During this same time, I had a marketing job interview with a downtown architecture firm. Half way through the interview, it was revealed that the firm was part of the stadium demolition team, and thrilled to be partnered with the powerhouse HOK because of it. My gut reaction was “I’m staring into the eyes of Beelzebub,” and I mentally shut down, purposely steering the interview into the ground. Even though I was desperately unemployed, I didn’t want to be considered for the job.

I’ve never been down with the concept of allowing sports and retail profits to dictate civic and community evolution. Old vs. new, this story is filled with truth, propaganda and sentimentality. It was the sentimental angle that brought me to the ball park on Saturday night to visit the place one last time, take tons of photos, and say goodbye.

I choked up quite a few times while reflecting on both my personal past with the stadium, and the glorious baseball history that’s soaked into the concrete walls. I got lost in the sad poetry of crudely painted RedBirds (above left) and historic home run spots (above right) that won’t – and can’t -make it to the new stadium.


And I’ve never taken for granted these views from the stadium. No matter the decade, it’s always thrilled, even when a particular game didn’t. The arc, the Arch, the sweep and swirl of energy, and all the pieces that combine to turn a structure into the nucleus of a proud and glamorous era.
I don’t want to give this up.
Why are we giving this up?
Yes, I know the truth, the propaganda and the spreadsheets, and I resent the owners’ tugging on this city’s raging sentimental streak as they milk this season’s long goodbye. But I suppose there’s money to be made from that, too.

Speaking of money, I highly doubt that I will ever pay to see a game in the new stadium because A) I won’t be able to afford it, and B) I refuse to put my money in their coffers because C) we all originally voted against this idea. If someone pays my way, I’ll visit the Retro Brick Theme Park, and stare wistfully off into the distance where the last graceful cookie cutter stood, remembering how much I loved the old place… It’s going to be a long, mournful summer, and a bittersweet fall (since the Cards will go the distance).

To Wellston

wellston missouri mid-century modern architecture photos by toby weiss
Martin Luther King Dr. & North Kinshighway
St. Louis has racial divide in its DNA, and the history of St. Louis County is also the tale of White Flight. After WW2, the new world of tomorrow sprang up, and the architecture was as modern and adventurous as the future promised to be. On both sides of the city/county line, sleek samples of progress ushered folks into the suburban frontier, and all our inner-ring suburbs – especially on the north side – retain amazing examples of that promise because they were abandoned soon after they were built by Whites leapfrogging over Blacks on their way to deep county. Wellston is a perfect example of progress-to-stagnation Caucasian-Modern architecture.

Start with this excellent site, then motor west on Martin Luther King Dr. from downtown. In the mid-1950s, Sherman Park was given some future polish with googie pavillions for the sports field and the Wohl Community Center moved from across the street and into the park proper. The center still features an indoor pool wing, with sliding glass doors at ground level to let in fresh air, and massive expanses of glass block above that. In person, it’s an overwhelming sight.
wellston mo jc penneys photos by toby weiss
Martin Luther King Dr. between Hamilton & Hodiamont
Right before the county line at Hodiamont is the remains of the JC Penney’s, which closed around 1975. My father was a glazier, and remembers installing mirrors in the building in 1950, and at that time it was still an old-fashioned department store. So, the “Le Corbu” facade was tacked on sometime in the mid-1950s, at the height of the Wellston Shopping District’s popularity.

This building is still space-age triumphant in its decay, and while photographing it in 2003, I talked with a man who claimed to own it. He said the building was still in good condition, with only minor water damage on the top floor, and he’d like to turn it into a black history museum.
wellston mid-century modern photo by toby weiss
Evergreen & Martin Luther King Dr.
Another case of an old building getting a post-war face lift, in this case a streamlined deco in the late 1940s. This was the first Central Hardware in the county, just a block and a half past the city line. Its last incarnation was as Aalco Plumbing Supply.

state bank of wellston photos by toby weiss
Kienlen & Martin Luther King
Right as Skinker becomes Kienlen and city becomes county, banking becomes dramatic.
The advertising tower was there when it was tiny, old-fashioned Sky Bank. In the early 1950s, a brown and black granite facade was added to the (then) Easton side and it became State Bank. Automobiles strangled the street cars, so the glorious turquoise tile drive-thru addition was added in the early 1960s.

I was so smitten with the car-culture aqua-ness of it all, that I didn’t notice the sophisticated geometry of the addition until I shot it in black & white. I adore this building, and it’s at the point where the security guards (it’s now a Regions Bank) ignore me as I document every fine detail of the defunct drive-thru aisles.

And I document this because I know it will all come down. New buildings have been slowly going up around the Wellston Hub, and there is a grand plan. Historic preservation being what it currently is, if any saving gets done, it will be only of buildings retaining any of their pre-WW1 architecture. But this entire district was all about progress and commerce, and the old buildings sporting their mid-century makeovers say more about our former aspirations and dreams than any old wives tales a This Old House rehab would spin. I think it’s important to tell all of the story, and Wellston is a particularly juicy chapter.