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  • 2013 RFT Web Award Winner for Best Architecture Blog

    Posted on January 27th, 2013 Toby Weiss 4 comments

    I want to extend a warm thank you with a sloppy bear hug to The Riverfront Times‘ judges who voted B.E.L.T. “Best Architecture Blog.” Here’s the kind words they said about this honor, if you scroll down to the last entry on the page.

    I’m touched that they referred to me as a storyteller, because it reflects the personal nature of how I cover a building. Architectural academics can turn people off with dense technical talk about the importance of a building. But if you talk from the perspective of how architecture shapes and affects us, it’s more compelling. The people who created and used these buildings reveals why they are important.

    And it’s that personal angle that has brought me the most pleasure from blogging (it’ll be 8 years this May). Arriving as comments and private emails, I get to hear personal stories and memories that were triggered by coverage of St. Louis buildings, great and small.

    For instance, I’m having email conversation with a woman who grew up in a house in Jennings that was an important part of my childhood. She’s filling me in about the 3 houses shown above, and we’re sharing our memories of the middle house. I only know these new things because she read this post, and left a comment.

    St. Louisans are supremely sentimental, which is great for blog comments. I still hear new old memories from people about the impact Northland Shopping Center had on their lives. 29 comments and counting. Possibly the most commented entry is about Top of the Towers, and along with recipes, their deeply personal memories are fabulous.

    And lots of ex-pats Google Rossino’s Italian Restaurant, and I become the one who breaks the bad news that it no longer exists. But then they share a memory, and it’s alive again, for just a brief moment.

    B.E.L.T. readers are a generous lot. They know what I like and feed my addiction. Along with memories, they sometimes send photos. Like David Aldrich, who is doing his own research about architecturally interesting J.C. Penney stores. He runs across this photo of the Wellston J.C. Penney, and sends it to me:

    I hear from the children who grew up in homes that were demolished for a McMansion. Or for a brilliant change of pace, I hear from someone who saved a home from teardown.

    It’s pretty cool to have the RFT like on B.E.L.T. They were even kind enough to give it Best Local Website in 2010. So thank you, guys. Especially since it’s the very first trophy I’ve ever earned!

    But it’s the people who’ve been reading and sharing for all these years that make it a truly worthwhile pursuit. You have turned what is obsessively personal geekery into something that has historical merit. And that so many of you care so much about these buildings feels like a warm group hug. I am deeply grateful to all of you for taking the time to read along.


  • Tropicanniversary For Real on March 15

    Posted on February 7th, 2011 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet or hail shall keep the postmen from their appointed rounds, but it sure did mess with Tropicanniversary!

    Snow and ice canceled our first date, and having to accommodate league bowlers who also got snowed out messed up the second date, so we’ve moved everything to a (hopefully) less snow-filled mid-March. March 15th to be exact.

    Like our streets, everything remains iced so it stays fresh for you in March. The same great raffle prizes (like retro bowling shirts and kitchen accessories), the same reduced bowling rates (.95 cent shoe rental, for starters) and drink specials await us all. We’ll also announce a special Members-Only house party that takes place at the end of March. So plenty of reasons to sit tight until Mother Nature gets it right.

    Official Modern StL T-shirts and decals also debut on March 15th. Keep track of the event on Facebook, and we’ll see you soon!

  • February 8 for Tropicanniversary

    Posted on February 1st, 2011 Toby Weiss No comments

    Due to the continuing crappy weather
    Tropicanniversary has been moved to Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

    It will still be a bowling Happy Hour from 6-9 PM. All the reduced bowling prices, drink specials and fabulous door prizes still apply as well. It’s just on a different day that allows for easier travel to and from (fingers crossed).

    See the updated Facebook Event here.

    More about the event here.

    Until then, stay safe and warm, and protect that bowling arm from too much shoveling!

  • MCM Popular Mechanics Part 2: Bigger Remodeling Projects

    Posted on January 30th, 2011 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    We continue mining the homemade mid-century modern treasures of the 1961 “Home Handyman” series by Popular MechanicsLast week we covered how to build the sleekest chairs, sofas and boomerang tables (plus a space age dog house!). This week, we stick with indoor projects.

    For loft dwellers, room dividers are a constant obsession. And who doesn’t have something in their house that needs to be screened off from view? But the prices of those things! All the tips you need to build your own are here, just double click to see full size.

    “Instead of considering an old-fashioned brick fireplace a problem when remodeling and modernizing a home, make it an eye-catching center of attraction…”

    But if done right, brick can coordinate with wood or cement to create a Swedish look:

    Note that with the 2nd fireplace idea shown above, you can combine a fireplace and a room divider, which is a great time saver.

    They show you how to create a basement rec room, while I dream of my living room looking like this!

    We should note that the houses that sprung up because of the Baby Boom were much smaller than what has been built since the mid-1980s. Whereas contemporary homes consider a refinished basement a way to get an optional  level, back in the ’50s and ’60s, they had to finish the basements to make a place to stash the older kids.

    Note the chairs that Marge and Olwen sit in for a game of Canasta in the basement. It’s interesting to note that today’s mid-century modern fascination is among the younger generations, while back in the day, all generations pretty much accepted modern design as a daily routine. Which is why those of us raised in an ugly post-modern world covet this time period – it was the last era when everything was supposed to be beautiful all the time.

  • MCM Popular Mechanics Part 1: Let’s Build Chairs!

    Posted on January 23rd, 2011 Toby Weiss 2 comments

    We’re trapped inside on snowy, winter weekends with regular plans canceled. What to do with this sudden spare time? Why, let’s fire up our wood shops and build some chairs! Who of us hasn’t longed for a serpentine mid-century modern chaise lounge? But have you seen the prices for a good vintage one? Well, the 1961 series of Popular Mechanics’ Home Handyman will let you have a brand new authentic chaise lounge. Click to see all photos at full size to get the details you need to start creating fabulous!

    Tim Wahlig, a carpenter friend of mine, bought the entire series at an estate sale. Because it was the height of post-war modernism, the series makes sure you can update your tired old homes with the most current looks, complete with all the instructions you need to be atomic-age for cheap, with a sense of accomplishment as a bonus. And their designs are amazing. Like this captain’s chair!

    “…minus turned legs and bow back, the captain’s chair becomes a chair that can take its place among modern furnishings,” indeed!

    Or take a stab at this dining room chair. Once you complete the first one, the other 3 will be a breeze!

    Once you have the confidence that you can use the table saw without losing digits, it’s time to move onto a sofa. They even detail the upholstering, which gives you a new talent to master.

    Your sofa needs a coffee table, and here’s the secret to having the classic boomerang table. Compared to the chair construction, this can most likely be completed in one quick afternoon.  And if you’re wondering about the proper finish for all this furniture you’ve built, Home handyman knows exactly the hip look:

    Since it promises to be an endlessly snowy winter, there’s plenty of free time to take a stab at the coveted pole lamp:

    And there’s even a nod to man’s best friend, who deserves a home to match your mid-century remodeling:

    In the coming weeks, I’ll share more pages from this fascinating series. They were seriously trying to help homeowners banish the banality of pre-war design, and they had exquisite taste. Wait till you see the room dividers, backyard living and how to update the exterior of your embarrassing revival home!

  • Tropicanniversary, February 2nd

    Posted on January 16th, 2011 Toby Weiss No comments

    Tropicanniversary Flier small

    On February 2, 2011, from 6 – 9 PM, Modern StL celebrates the 50th anniversary of Tropicana Bowling Lanes. For us, the owner is reserving half the lanes at reduced prices. There will be amazing raffle items, a history of bowling slideshow and drink specials. You also have the chance to buy our first official swag:

    T-shirt printing 014

    Here’s the Facebook invite. We hope to see you there!

  • St. Louis Mid-Century Modern Events

    Posted on November 11th, 2010 Toby Weiss No comments

    If you love Mid-Century Modern architecture in general, and St. Louis’ stash of MCM specifically, then set your sites on this coming week. You have 2 opportunities to be with others like you.

    # 1.

    Modern StL makes it social debut on Thursday, November 18th, from 5 – 8 PM at Atomic Cowboy. Our group has put together 25 atomic-minded gift bags which will go the first 25 people who join up. There will be a raffle for two Geneva Jelly Watches. Meet the people who want you to be a part of celebrating St. Louis MCM (that would be the Board Members), and mix and mingle with other folks who absolutely have the best taste in design and architecture because they came out to support Modern StL.


    I am very honored to be invited by the Landmarks Association to be the closing act of their  Mid-Century Modern Master Series. On Sunday, November 21st at 3 PM at Landmarks, I present St. Loves MCM: Embracing Recent Past Preservation.  This venerable organization describes it best on their website:

    From Mad Men to Design Within Reach, it seems as if America is embracing mid-century modern (MCM) with a passion.  With the Arch as out global calling card, it’s time for St. louis to embrace and protect its MCM heritage.  Join Toby Weiss as she showcases some of St. Louis’ best MCM buildings and looks at ways to ensure their preservation.

    The lecture will begin at 3:00 PM in the classroom at Architecture St. Louis at 911 Washington Avenue, Suite 170. Seating is limited to 50 people.  We strongly encourage reservations as we cannot guarantee seating without one.  To reserve a seat, please call 314.421.6474 or email:

    It is always a great pleasure to hear from and meet B.E.L.T. readers because we all have so much in common. Now in November, we have two chances to “Gabba gabba, we accept you, one of us!” I hope you can make it to one or (preferably!) both events.

  • Introducing Modern StL

    Posted on September 3rd, 2010 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    The Arch is the global icon of modernism, and it is the front door of St. Louis.  We have a glorious collection of mid-century modern buildings and neighborhoods, and we’re overdue in celebrating and protecting these assets.

    This is why we have formed a new non-profit group – Modern StL. We strive for the identification, education, preservation and celebration of St. Louis Modernism. We have plans for many different types of events (how would you like a walking tour of Ridgewood with some words by its architect Ralph Fournier?) and seminars, and swag, and on-line forums and… the possibilities are endless.

    The group met for the first time in June, and we’ve only recently incorporated with the state of Missouri. So we have a lot of work ahead of us to make everything official – including levels of membership and our first major event – but in the mean time, we invite you to explore our website in progress:

    To stay in the loop, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And we look forward to connecting with all St. Louisans who love St. Louis’ fabulous mid-century modern treasures.

    Modern StL Founders (l-r): top row - Nathan Wilbur, Lynn Josse, Michael Allen, Neil Chace, Darren Snow, Jeff King & Dan Semar. Bottom row - Amy Burger, Toby Weiss & Michelle Kodner

  • Julius Shulman Film Releasing on DVD

    Posted on May 6th, 2010 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    Guess what I just bought?
    Yep, Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman releases on DVD May 25th. It has extra footage and deleted scenes, just as Eric Bricker promised when it was first shown here in November of 2008.

    You can pre-order the DVD from now until May 25th, and it’s $25 flat, shipping and handling included. You’ll receive it 2-3 days after the 25th. Here’s where I went to order it, just now!

    Yeah, I’m geeking out. But I’ve waited a long time to own this and freeze-frame till the remote fries out.

    B.E.L.T. Julius Shulman Compendium

  • See the Julius Shulman film January 30th

    Posted on January 25th, 2010 Toby Weiss 2 comments


    Post-Script, After The Event
    Thank you to everyone who left their warm homes to spend time in Julius Shulman’s world.  It was a an intelligent and enthusiastic crowd, and it was a true pleasure to personally meet so many of you.  And Marlene Bricker is a joy!  Here’s a few photos from the night.

    Most interesting bit of news from the night is that Shulman’s home is for sale!  Within this link are some informative comments about the home, the realtor and its future prospects in a tear-down market.  Even better, this link has extensive photos of the home cleaned up for selling.  Looking at the shots of his studio made me tear up a bit – can you imagine living there?

    Let’s hope the family makes sure the buyer is properly respectful. This is definitely a home worth preserving.

    The Event

    Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, a documentary by native St. Louisan Eric Bricker, makes a return engagement to the Moore Auditorium on the Webster University campus, January 29-31st, 2010.  Here’s details about the film series and admission.

    I’m asking you to come see this glorious documentary on Saturday, January 30th at 7:30 pm because I will be part of a Q & A panel after the film, and would love the support of sympathetic B.E.L.T. readers!

    Yes, Marlene Bricker – mother of the director – asked me to be on the panel, which is so cool and sweet of her.  But knowing that my adoration of Shulman could render me a blubbering gush of “wow,” I suggested that the best architectural photographer in St. Louis should also be on the panel, and luckily, Ken Konchel said yes!

    So please do come out to see us this Saturday.  Admission is $6, the film is 83 minutes long, and the 3 of us will take questions directly after.

    Here’s my farewell tribute to Shulman, who passed away only last year.

    And here’s my 2008 review of the film we’re lucky enough to see again!