San Luis on KSDK

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See video of Randy Vines romancing the San Luis on KSDK.

Good job of hearing from both sides.  Now, what about actually having meaningful conversation face to face?

The Archdiocese goal of more parking can be achieved in several different ways. The value of that land and its greater use can be achieved in several different ways.  More can be accomplished by joining together than by tearing apart, and the Friends of the San Luis are extending a hand to the Archdiocese.  Here’s hoping they return the sentiment.

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San Luis documentary “This Was The Future”

Jennings Bank: In Plain Sight

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Jennings Station Road and Lewis & Clark Blvd.
Jennings, MO

Built in 1967, this building has always been a bank.  It is located in a nebulous part of North St. Louis County, where you move a block it’s Jennings, move a few blocks over it’s Bellefontaine Neighbors, though a bit of Moline Acres sneaks into a crack.  The bank that now occupies the building uses Jennings as their mailing address, so Jennings it is.

My paternal grandmother lived a few blocks away from here (with a Bellefontaine Neighbors mailing address), so I grew up with this bank as a normal part of daily life.  Back in the day, the concrete roof and columns were bright white, but the new beige does not diminish the dramatic tension of a delicate band of clerestory trapped between heavy concrete and solid brick.  Though the vertical blinds in the glass wall bump out do slightly mar the sense of floating.

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But drive by at night to get a better sense of light vs. heavy.  Do you notice something odd between night and day?

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At night, the virile and industrial bank vault is left exposed, but during the day, those vertical blinds keep it hidden.  Back in the day, it was always exposed.  If anyone knows why the current inhabitants keep this curious blind parting schedule, please do share.

This Was The Future

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Towards the effort to save the San Luis, a documentary was made in 48 hours over the first weekend in March 2009. I was honored to be asked to be a part of this adventure, and a big round of applause to everyone involved. You’re all brilliant.

There are plans for a proper screening in May during Preservation Week (details forthcoming), but you can watch it now.  It’s less than 8 minutes long, so watch it a couple of times, and pass it around.  It’s an easy way to raise the profile of a building longing to be spiffed up and returned to its glamorous life.

Mid-Century Fetish: Down With Love

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Down With Love, released in 2003, is a homage to classic Doris Day & Rock Hudson films of the 1960s, starring Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger. It works as both a tongue-in-cheek commentary and earnest love letter to that style of romantic comedy film.

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Critics buried the film, and basically no one but me and my Mother saw it in the theaters. But two crew members did get nominated for a few independent film awards, and rightly so, because they were the meat and potatoes of this venture.

Costume designer Daniel Orlandi totally nailed the spirit of a typical Doris Day wardrobe, which was fabulous! Production designer Andrew Laws studied the sets of the original Day-Hudson films, then injected them with the revival of mid-century modern design that was foaming to a head, and thus created the ultimate fetishistic object for MCM design fans.

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The lobby of Know magazine

Over the years, I have seen Pillow Talk – where Doris Day plays an interior decorator – easily 40 times. The sets are just as important as the actors and the plot and, for the last 10 years or so, I watch the backgrounds more than the foreground. So when Down With Love set decorator Don Diers said their sets were intended to be a “distinct character in the film,” my applause is deafening for a goal perfectly achieved. As with Pillow Talk, I can watch this film with the sound down and still be wildly entertained.

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Catcher Block's office

The movie begins with this narration:
The place: New York City
The time: now – 1962. And there’s no time or place like it.

Diers confirmed this by saying, “Our New York exteriors existed in the back lot world of Universal. We made a concerted effort to recreate a 1963 Hollywood New York, as opposed to anything that might have been mistaken for reality. Through Fox Research, we searched a lot of old movie stills for just the right tone.”

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Barbara Novak's Manhattan penthouse apartment

This level of fantasy detail is supremely delightful. Bringing to life idealized versions of what 1962 surely looked like is thoroughly satisfying and can be a time-consuming hobby.

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Here’s a piece on how to re-create the Barbie doll feel of Barbara Novak’s penthouse apartment.

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The bachelor pad of Catcher Block

The bachelor pad of Catcher Block

And here’s a piece on how to get that “woman’s man, man’s man, man about town” look for your bachelor pad.

Another view of Cathcer's apartment

Another view of Catcher's apartment

Catcher's fireplace and vintage stewardess

Catcher's fireplace and vintage stewardess

As much as I genuinely love and strive to document real-world examples of mid-century modern architecture and design, I do get uneasy about the fetish aspect of it. The definitions of “fetish” succinctly explain my uneasy feelings:

1. an object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency

2. Any object, idea, etc. eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect or devotion

3. Any object or nongenital part of the body that causes a habitual erotic response or fixation

Cubicles of secretarial pool at Know magazine
Cubicles of secretarial pool at Know magazine

Finding evidence of a design time period and collecting the items and/or trying to recreate that look is a time-honored tradition. Early American architecture was founded on the revival of most every European building style of most every century. So, reverential recreation of mid-20th century design is a natural progression, and may be the only thing that finally preserves the best examples of such for future generations.

Lobby of Novak's Now magazine

Lobby of Novak's Now magazine

But there does exist unrealistic expectations among those cultivating a mid-century way of living. The most intriguing example comes from the stories of a realtor friend who specializes in finding St. Louis MCM homes for her clients.

Coming into Barbara Novak's office

Coming into Barbara Novak's office

In a nutshell, some folks want to live in subdivisions with homes like these, but they want it to look exactly as it did when first built. They look at what 40+ years of inhabitant’s remodeling did to the place and just don’t want to deal with the effort required to restore it to that original state.

Novak's office

Novak's office

Remodeling industry figures show that the average homeowner remodels at least the kitchen and bathroom every 10 years, and that when someone moves into a pre-existing home, some form of remodeling will take place. This is a psychological, aesthetic and functional desire to erase previous footprints and mold the home to your wants and needs.

Waiting area at Now magazine

Waiting area at Now magazine

If the house is over 25 years old, it’s going to automatically need upgrades to systems, roofs and exterior finishes. Maintenance is an on-going chore for a house of any age.

It is easily understood that the purchase of a period home is going to require a lot of work. Whether wanting to totally modernize it or restore it to its original state, it is the equivalent of a second full-time job until the job is done. Wait, the job is never truly done, so scratch that. It’s more like raising a child.

The Pan Am building is real, the rest is Hollywood

The Pan Am building is real, the rest is Hollywood

A house built in the 1950s or 60s is now, technically, a period home. Aside from the maintenance and repairs it will require, if you want to take it back to the original form, it requires remodeling. Many homeowners – especially first-time buyers – understandably don’t want to deal with this much work and expense. If that’s their mindset, then walking into a 1960s ranch that only looks like that from the outside is a major bubble pop, and disillusionment thwaps hard upside the head.

But what is it about mid-century architecture that makes it harder for us to accept the remodeling realities of a place that has been normally remuddled over the decades? Why do we expect these period homes to be like a perfectly preserved dollhouse?

Set for the closing credit musical number

Set for the closing credit musical number

Maybe it’s because it is the recent past. The second half of the 20th century went by at lightening speed; 25 years can feel like only 5 years gone, and how much can you mess up something in that short period of time? A home built in 1912 is an antiquated beast requiring massive work to bring it to current standards. But a 1950s ranch has central air conditioning and drywall, so we recognize it as “of our time.”

Then we see something like Down With Love, where they wave a magic Hollywood wand and create a mid-century Xanadu. Target lets us take home credible recreations of that era. Dwell shows regular people living in that world. It’s as easy as populating a dollhouse, right?

If only.

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Childhood Memories of a Ladue MCM Teardown

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In Spring 2006, I documented the last days of a Ladue mid-century modern home that was tagged for teardown. It was built in 1950 for Louis and Mary Zorensky, and the undeniable beauty of this home, coupled with its sad fate, sparked a lot of posthumous anger and admiration.

See the departed Zorensky Residence here.

Learn more about what replaced it here (scroll down 30%).

A Google aerial shot of the Zorensky Residence.

A Google aerial shot of the Zorensky Residence.

Recently, one of the daughters of Louis Zorensky found the B.E.L.T. entry about her childhood home, wrote to say she was moved by the photos, and ask if it was possible to have copies of them.

I sent her a photo CD that included the published photos along with many unpublished extras. I consider it a duty to photographically preserve mid-century modern history, and an honor when some of those photos can preserve treasured family memories, as well.

The same space after the Zorensky Residence was torn down for redevelopment.

The same space after the Zorensky Residence was torn down for redevelopment.

Irene and her sister Doris were kind enough to share some of their memories of their life inside this dearly departed home, and I now share them with you. What touches me the most is that you can tear down a home, but love keeps it alive beyond the physical plain.

From Doris Zorensky Cheng

My brother, David, let me know about your website and its incredible pictures of our family home. When I pulled up the website, I was amazed at the photographs and how they captured the essence of its wonderful siting, daring 1950’s architecture, wall planes and roofing following the lay of the land and its modern detailing with lots of glass, overhangs and ins and outs.

Thank you so much for the wonderful comments on your website. My father would have hated to see the house demolished but he would have so appreciated those comments. He loved that house that he and Mom built and took such good care of. He also loved the old trees that had been part of a larger parcel of land that was an arboretum for a previous owner. He worked to preserve them. That some people so appreciated his house would have made him so happy.

I was 7 years old when we moved in. My schoolmates would tell me that they had seen our glass house on Warson Road and how different it was. One person actually told me that people living in glass houses should not throw stones.

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Another memory is of my brothers, sisters and me playing pretend in the tall pine tree grove at the front of our house. We also had fun rolling down the hill in the back, especially when there was snow. And then there was the fun modern furniture and the quirky details like the circular planter in the entry hall, the wood cabinet bar area and the radiant heated terrazzo floors that we sometimes sat on to get warm.

But as a child, I did not appreciate the house itself as I can now. Your wonderful photographs helped me see it with a fresh eye. I just wish another family that loved 50’s modern architecture could have bought and preserved it. I am grateful for having your pictures. Thank you so much.

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From Irene Zorensky Fowle

Growing up in the Mayview home was an interesting experience. My parents always had a great appreciation for modernism, which was reflected not only in their home but in a remarkable contemporary art collection which they were able to showcase in that home. The large walls and high ceilings, the lovely angles of natural light, the neutral colors, and the overall openness of the home allowed the art to breathe and help define the space; there were no ornate moldings and lots of color to detract from the art.

Obviously, the very open floor plan was quite distinctive. My parents gravitated towards very neutral colors and natural materials .They had unpainted cabinets, natural wood doors, cork floors in the back hallway, beautiful earth-colored terrazzo floors (with delicious radiant heat–especially a treat after playing in the snow)–all avant garde then.  They had architecturally simple but very high quality matte chrome and nickel hardware – all of this in a time and geographic locale where shiny brass doorknobs and colonial design prevailed (and still does!!).

It looks like the subsequent owners painted one of the living room walls bright red, and obviously they painted the exterior gray-green covering up the natural brick, redwood trim, and rough limestone that my parents worked so hard to preserve.

My parents had window coverings and curtains that were frequently left wide open to allow the vistas of the trees and landscape to add color and definition to the home. The large, expansive windows also contributed to this openness – my Dad loved the outdoors, both working in his yard and enjoying the views from the house. The land had been an arboretum when my Dad bought it, so most of the large, incredible trees (many of them removed, sadly, for the new house)  were there when he bought the land and throughout the 40-plus years my parents lived there . As one of five kids, the three acres were great growing up as we had lots of space to run and sled on the magnificent hill and have hideouts under the great trees.

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It was interesting growing up in that house. I always felt different from my friends with their traditional cozier homes, but there was also an inherent pride in that differentness. My mother kept the house spotless and in magnificent condition, and you captured in your blog the found items that revealed my Dad’s habit of never throwing anything away. He kept so many of the original materials from the construction of the house. The archaeological finds you detail – bits of wallpaper, hardware, keys – was so characteristic of my dad.  Also, he participated in the architectural design of the home; as a real estate developer, he was also a frustrated architect and a part-time artist. He had a real vision in a time when it was rare to approach home design with such inherent purity and a sense of symbiosis with the land. Your touching photos really capture this! It sounds like the original bathrooms and the kitchen with its meticulous metal cabinets were there to the end, even with the 50’s colors of ceramic tile, etc. in tact.

Also, very striking was the lovely proportion of the house, not only in scale with the lot and the sweep of the land, but also relative to the lovely house across from it–I hope that home does not have the same demise!

I am so grateful that you captured the house. I thought about going in before it was torn down, but I was worried about  what the subsequent owners might have done to change the house that was my home, and also, afraid of how painful it might be. Your photo dialogue has really been a great gift to me and my siblings. I wish my mother were well enough to share it with her – she would be very honored and touched. You have made my late dad proud!!!

North County MCM: Halls Ferry Road

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Head north on Halls Ferry Road, and on the western side of the unincorporated portion between Jennings and Dellwood, Missouri you will find a large stash of choice mid-century modern homes tucked into the rolling hills.   But stay on Halls Ferry, and pay attention to three homes that straddle Hudson Road, like this one, above.

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Built in 1958, the 1,607 s.f. home sits on nearly an acre of land. It is unabashedly modern with its multi-levels of flat roofs and large expanses of glass to peer down the steep hill in the front yard.  Every time I pass by with a camera, the newest owner is out on his riding mower, and I’m working up the courage to ask him if I can get closer, maybe take some pictures inside.

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Two houses down, the original owners are still on the books for this place.  Built in 1953, it is the definition of sprawling, clocking in at 2,438 s.f.

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The last time I happened by, there was a large dumpster in the driveway, lending the impression of kids clearing out decades of living, though no for sale sign has yet popped up.  Recent real estate transactions show that homes in this very immediate area go for insanely cheap rates of $90 – $115,000.

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Right next door is a light blue ranch with a full butterfly roof.  It went up in 1955 with 1,924 s.f. of space, and again, it appears the original owners may still be in residence.

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All of the homes along this stretch have gigantic yards, so many mature trees that I’d worry in a wind storm, and exteriors that show little remuddling damage.  While growing up in this part of town, we considered these to be the homes of “rich people.”  I’m thinking it was a psychological reaction to the houses sitting so far up from the street atop steep hills. But even today, they are rather luxurious examples of suburban mid-century modern architecture.

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North County Modern
Top of the Towers
Streamline Moderne in North St. Louis County
Unnerving Florissant Modern

North St. Louis MCM: Norwood Square

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Guess where the picture above was taken: Ballwin? Florissant? Mehlville?

When faced with low-slung, stylish 1960s ranch houses casually strewn amongst profuse greenery, these would be valid guesses. But instead, we are exploring Norwood Square in North St. Louis City.

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Norwood Square is actually a court (as shown in the aerial photo above), a half block northeast of the intersection of Union Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue in the Arlington neighborhood. And it doesn’t take a bird’s eye view to get the feeling that a giant scoop of the city grid was whisked away by a mega melon baller.

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On the ground, it is rather dramatic to see rows of deeply urban, 2-story brick residential buildings built between the 1890s – 1920s abruptly bisected by a swirl of deeply suburban, mid-century modern frosted sugar cookies. As you fleetingly catch glimpses of the original natives from inside Norwood Square, it feels like the ranch homes are circling the wagons ’round to protect their fabulousness from hostile forces.

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This mirage of displaced MCM sweetness is cited as the last new housing built in this part of North St. Louis.  City record show that these 40-odd homes were built between 1961 – 1974, with the bulk of them going up between 1961 – 1966. They range from 982 – 1,888 square feet, with a median square footage of 1,450.

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The circle that is Norwood Square is divided into East, West, North and South Norwood, which puts 4 of the houses (like the one above – which cleverly wraps its footprint around the curve) in the odd position of not knowing exactly which street they are on! Is their mailing address North Norwood or East Norwood, and how confusing is it to new mailmen on this beat?

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So what’s the story with Norwood? Why was this exotic dollop dropped here, and what was torn down to make that so?

Having been told stories of Public Schools Stadium, I wondered if Norwood Square is what popped up in its place.  But the stadium was a block east of here, on Kingshighway, and when it was demolished in the late 1960s, most of Norwood Square was built and firmly inhabited.

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Noticing that a few of the homes have some serious sink issues, I wondered if it was built atop the quarry that was supposedly shut down sometime in the 1940s because some kids accidentally died while playing there.  But no. The memories of some old school North St. Louisans’ remember the quarry at Kingshighway and Lexington, a good 2 blocks north east of here.

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So, for now, the why it appeared and what disappeared to make it so remains a mystery.  Please do share any historical information you may have in exchange for the details I share with you here.  Like the snazzy tile work that graces this split-level, above.

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Or the swanky pendant light fixture and concrete block screen of this entrance.

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From quick visual inspections over the course of several years, most all of the homes are still in good condition, always the sign of well-liked buildings. Many of them (see above) are meticulously preserved and cared for, a heart-warming sign of intense pride in their ranch house alien. Only rarely have I seen for sale signs on the yards, so I wonder if there might still be a hefty amount of original owners in tow, or a lot of kids inheriting them from the folks.

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This home is the equivalent of the half man/half woman Halloween costume!

To see more photos and details of Norwood Square, please visit the B.E.L.T. supplement at Flickr.

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Facing out onto St. Louis Avenue, like sentries protecting their MCM turf,  is a short row of 2-family versions.

The chalk and cheese concept of Norwood Square is not wholly unique.  Something similar was done in South St. Louis with Marla Court.  Or there’s Darla Court in the inner-ring ‘burb of Jennings. So, it’s not uncommon, but it’s always a pleasant surprise, yes?

UPDATE

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Steve Patterson – who first told me about the subdivision several years ago – sent along this aerial map from 1958. Seems the street grid was long interrupted in this part of town, and look at all those mature trees! This would also bear out the info Rick Bonasch shared about the original site being a dump.

Eero Saarinen: Shaping The Future

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The Kemper Art Museum is my new favorite place for wallowing in mid-century splendor. Their new exhibit on Eero Saarinen is even better than Birth of the Cool, and it is an embarrassment of riches to be able to say that.

As always, taking pictures (or leaning) in the Kemper is strictly forbidden and studiously enforced, so I can only share with you these crappy cell phone shots.  Shown above are architectural models of the TWA Terminal and Dulles International airports! Below, a color rendering Eero did of one of the TWA lounges!! And this is what is in just one corner of one room!!!

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The exhibit is very thorough without being ponderous, and displayed so that one can skim lightly and take away useful tidbits (Eero could write with both hands at the same time and write backwards) or really dig in and start to feel what it was like to work with him as he created and refined an idea.

Everything the man touched conjured a new design reality, and this energy reverberated well past him to affect and elevate those who brought his creations to life.   Look at the photos of the TWA Terminal or the Ingalls Hockey Rink during construction and be blown away by the intricate wood forms the men built to mold the concrete.  Marvel at new fabrication tricks invented to create structural panels for the IBM Research Center building.

There are original sketches of his iconic tulip chairs within one room dedicated solely to his furniture designs.  There’s an 18-minute documentary about Eero’s life and work created just for the exhibit.  It is easy to get lost for hours in this exhibit, but luckily it is in residence until April 27, so there’s plenty of opportunities to do it piecemeal, or just keep gorging on this architectural buffet.  Kemper is open most all times you need them to be open, so there’s no excuse to miss it.

Need more convincing?

Here’s a quick blast of photos from the exhibit.

Here’s a short video about the exhibit.

My Favorite Walgreens

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My favorite Walgreens no longer exists, and this is a highly ironic story.

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In South St. Louis City, we’re used to them tearing down bowling alleys so they can build a Walgreens. But in this case, in 2003, they tore down a Walgreens to build another Walgreens! It’s all true.

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This mid-century fabulous Walgreens was on Watson, just a scootch east of the intersection of Rock Hill/Elm. This one stayed open while they built a brand new one right at the intersection proper. Once it opened, they tore this one down, and now a short strip mall with a Blockbuster Video stands in its place.

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To this day, I still see a phantom image of it as I pass by. It’s roof reminded me of the Flying Nun’s head gear as she was airborn.  And it’s still a weird feeling to miss a Walgreens… know what I mean?

American Look 1958

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This clip is billed as “The definitive Populuxe film on 1950s automotive, cheap industrial, viagra dosage interior and architectural design.”

Highlights
At the 4:05 mark is a setting that looks like every 1960s Elvis Presley movie.
5:27 – bowling!!
5:54 begins the parade of residential and public architecture.

This clip is billed as “The definitive Populuxe film on 1950s automotive, recipe industrial, interior and architectural design.”

Highlights
At the 4:05 mark is a setting that looks like every 1960s Elvis Presley movie.
5:27 – bowling!!
5:54 begins the parade of residential and public architecture.

Click to see the clip.