Central West End "Progress"

A “Special Progress Section” was included in the May 7, 1961 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. These 3 examples shown boasted about the progress on Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End, like the Optimist building.

They also touted the new building for the Engineer’s Club, which is by the same architecture firm as the Optimist building, Schwarz & Van Hoefen.

And then there was the new chancery office for the Catholic Archdiocese, which was under construction at the time of publication. By clicking on the above photo to read the caption, one finds this quote:

The Catholic Church has been a bulwark in the fight against decay, providing assistance for the Central West End Association and other neighborhood groups.

Ironically, the same Catholic Church that championed progress on this block of Lindell now wants to tear down one of those progressive buildings they helped usher in.
Learn more about the push to save the San Luis here.

It was a sweet justification to find this “Special Progress Section,” because it supports what I’ve been trying to say about the Central West End and Lindell Boulevard, in particular: all chapters of its story are important and vital. And it is highly irresponsible and short- sighted to begin destroying buildings that were considered the desirable solution to older buildings they felt needed to be destroyed. The cycle has got to stop! We can no longer (literally) afford to squander our history and resources. There must be real understanding of past and present, and a practical plan and vision for the future based on the realities and aspirations of the entire community.

You can see how these 3 buildings look today by clicking here.

Mid-Century Modern on The Hill

Like a fly trapped in prehistoric amber, a house for sale in The Hill neighborhood of South St. Louis city is eerily preserved. You can buy the house and get the furnishings, or buy the furnishings and get a house. Either way, it’s a fascinating concept.

See the house here.

Learn the entire story here.

Crestwood Remuddle: Creston Center

Creston Center, Watson & Grant Intersection
Crestwood, MO
The Creston Center, Before. It was a simple and spare 2-level shopping plaza built in 1961. Note the snappy vertical sign to the left, in the auto-centric spirit of this stretch of Route 66. To its right is another 3-sided sign that spun around so 3 major tenants could have equal billing. And a tiny out-building sat close to the corner, making the most of every square foot of land.

The Creston Center, After. The ginchy Creston sign topples, as does the out building, and the remodel is a hot mess.

Now, I’m not saying the original was an important piece of design worth preserving intact. It was very appropriate and utilitarian retail design for the time, and the cantilevered balcony that created covered parking for the lower level is a nice mid-century modern touch. Its simplicity kept it under the radar in the 21st century, but in a bid to jazz up the place and get a full tenant load, the owners paid for a remodel that is just… a steaming hot mess.

In December 2002, when the above photo was taken, the place was about 65% rented. Today, the place is now about 50% rented, so remodeling to make it more attractive to tenants didn’t really play out as intended.

And “more attractive” is obviously in the eye of the beholder. Minimal lines and a flat roof are anathema to current day retailers; they want more “there” there to catch the eye of modern shoppers.

So they put bulky caps on the slender metal poles and went to town on the roof. They gave that roof a height and heft and flash which creates the feeling that the cantilevered balcony is just going to collpase under all that rigamorale.

Why the mixture of shingle mansard and pup-tent standing seam metal? I would have loved to hear the “designers” rationale for this absurd combination, especially because the addition of standing-seam boosted the budget for no good reason. Did they claim that this over-scaled mish-mash would create a dynamic energy so crucial for luring shoppers? Or that the mansards would indicate the prime locations in the building? Or was the rationale as mundane as the metal would ease the cost of re-shingling in the future?

Whatever the case may have been, the Creston Center was an overlooked and unassuming retail center that became a 3-ring circus of hubris and bad taste. I cringe every time I pass it and feel bad that their remuddle became a huge waste of money and intentions.

Mid-Century Apartments on the Border

Geneva Apartments
Southwest St. Louis City, MO
This sleek bit of mid-century cool is hiding in plain sight in southwest St. Louis city. Most probably miss it because it’s tucked into the hills and valleys of the city/county border, along the River Des Peres, a road we race down to get someplace else. Some people know the distinctive Geneva logo on the brick side of the building, a saucy and sexy script font made of stainless steel.

Or maybe it gets overlooked because it’s a fading beauty? The Geneva Apartments were built in 1958, and just imagine how audacious this place must have seemed at the time, all linear pink and white, hinting that if this apartment were in Los Angeles, Kim Novak would stay here, you just know it.

Today, the pink has faded to salmon, some inappropriate replacement patio doors mar the lines, some water-damaged plaster flaps in the breeze and ground floor doors and windows that were once transparent are now blocked off. But I love that renters are required to have white window coverings, which keeps the aesthetics in line and that no significant remuddling has been done. Sit tight, and in just a little while, the Geneva’s retro appearance will become its prime calling card. Well, that, and its ultra prime location by the Metrolink station.

I love the deft use of all the touchstone MCM building materials: metal, ceramic, stone and glass. I love that in the detail shot above, it could well be a picture from Southern California, but it’s St. Louis. I love this place lit up at night, the spotlights casting arches across the entrance. I don’t love the overgrown landscaping because it hides some of the building’s beauty.

Sneak around the corner and push through the trees and find this secret side courtyard. In the center is a former fountain or planter, to the left is a sliding patio door, so imagine the lucky soul who lives in that apartment.

If I had to give up home ownership and move into an apartment, the Geneva would be the place. Checking out their website, the rates are reasonable, the square footage of the floor plans is do-able and the building and the site are fantastically unique. The Geneva’s location is ideal, as it flirts with the county border; the city claims it as the western edge of the Lindenwood Park area. If you’re car-less, this is certainly the place to be, and probably explains why I see so many elderly living here.

The Geneva is a long apartment building with 2 distinct faces: its Mies-ian public front, and a main elevation that is all minimal brick geometry punctuated by the same white balcony “cubes” on the front elevation. The owners of the building obviously prefer this elevation, as it’s the side shown to potential renters in the photo tour at this site. It is an impressive view, as the building lazily crawls up a hill. With all the mature greenery, it looks and feels like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unsonian concept successfully transferred to multiple-family residential.

By the late 1950s, the city of St. Louis was pretty much filled up, and The Geneva found a way to wedge into the very last unbuilt acerage at the edge, and then stood alone as an oasis for modern renting for about 3 years until…

…the first building of the Park Val apartment complex went up in 1962, followed by 5 more separate buildings in 1964. Each one is clad in brick that is proudly pink, with taupe-colored brick used as accent around window wells and vertical punctuation on windowless elevations.

This complex had to be planned around some serious hills and valleys (which may be why this property sat undeveloped for so long?), creating all kinds of odd occurrences in siting and access. For instance, to reach the rental office near Weil Avenue, you have to cross a long foot bridge 1-story off the ground. Stand in certain spots and all the bridges and stairs can start to look like an M.C. Escher drawing!

As you can see from this photo tour, the place is nicely groomed and landscaped. They have the quintessential MCM kidney-shaped pool, and a charming bit of personality: each main entrance of each building has a name etched in limestone. The main office building is “Brian.” Walk around and see Terri, Kathy and Sandra. Do they refer to each building by name rather than address? I certainly do, because it’s much easier that way.

Walk just a little further up Weil Avenue and you come to Florinda’s Court apartments, built in 1961. This complex sits at the very edge of Shrewsbury (across from the Shrewsbury Bowl and Shop ‘n Save), and are a classic example of garden apartments. There are 3 distinct styles of buildings surrounding the interior courtyard: 2-story building with scroll-work balconies giving off a vauge seaside tourist vibe, the motor court two-family “flats” shown above, and the plain brick box shown to the left below. But in the case of the last two types, they added angular roof lines for a bit of jaunty hipness.

How the utterly useless plastic shutters got into the picture is a complete misery, er, mystery. The original designers would have had no aesthetic need for them, and if subsequent owners thought tacking those brown Bandaids alongside the windows would soften the modern look of the place, they were blind and wrong.

These 3 apartment complexes are a poignant snapshot of a unique time in the mid-century history of city to county living, of home ownership vs. renters, of cars vs. pedestrians. I love that all 3 places are still going strong and are now even better positioned to be viable and useful in this era of escalating gas and energy prices, and they look fabulous doing so.

First Grade Flashback: Our Lady of Good Counsel

our lady of good counsel 1160 St. Cyr Road, Bellefontaine Neighbors, MO photo by toby weiss1160 St. Cyr Road, Bellefontaine Neighbors, MO
We were driving down Bellefontaine Road and we came to the intersection of Bellefontaine and St. Cyr. I say to Rob, “You know, I’ve never taken a left down this road. Let’s see what’s down there.”

As I turn, Rob says there’s this really great modern church at the top of the hill with a swooping concrete roof. He’s covered it on his website…and…I didn’t hear another word he said.

From the first glance of it, I was stunned. Pulling into the parking lot, I was overcome. I’d obviously been down this road before, many times, a long, long time ago. This was the church my Grandma Weiss went to and I’d been inside it many, many times.

You know those flashback scenes in movies? That’s exactly what happened to me standing in the parking lot, staring up at the church. A dozen old reels of mental film were unspooling concurrently at a rapid pace.

The First Reel:
Easter of 1973, and what turned out to be the last time I was in this church. My parents had recently divorced, but Dad picked me up to go to church with him and his mother. I was decked out in a white and brown smock dress and a pair of fake leather white clogs with dark brown wedge heels (come on, it was 1973!). Oh, how I loved those clogs, and the thick hollow sound they made as I dragged my heels.

As we walked up the sidewalk to the auditorium, Dad was getting annoyed with that sound.
“Toby, pick up your heels.”
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
“Toby, stop dragging your feet.”
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
By now we’re in the auditorium, heading for a pew, and the clogs made a whole new sound on the carpet: thwook, thwook, thwook.
“Toby, I told you to stop dragging your heels!”
Thwook, thwook – oops!

Dad abruptly pulls me up into the air by one hand, and swats my butt. I’m swaying back and forth with each swat, and the clogs fall off my feet and land with a loud “da-thunk thunk.” I look down at my clogs contrasted against the red carpet, and tears of embarrassment fill my eyes…. fade out.

our lady of good counsel 1160 St. Cyr Road, Bellefontaine Neighbors, MO photo by toby weissRob and I peer in through the doors, and I see small glimpses of the auditorium, just enough for more film reels to unwind. I had total recall of every single form, line and texture of the interior. Being too young to listen to what was being said at the alter, I spent every service visually scanning every detail of that room. I could feel the childhood sensation of tracing those concrete arches as they dived into the wooden trellis screens. I could recall my fantasies of swinging like a trapeze artist from the braided support cables.

These flashbacks were intense and vivid, and they came on with such force because they had been suppressed for so long. Not once over all these years had I thought of this building; it had long ago left conscious memory. But seeing one small piece of it from a distance unlocked that brain sector, and turns out I knew that building almost as well as the people who designed and built it. And then I forgot all about it, since I got out of going to this church – or any church – after that Easter Clog Debacle.

This part of North County was once a happening place, which is why my grandparents moved there. As the website of this municipality relays, “From the year 1950 to the year 1960, Bellefontaine Neighbors experienced a period of very rapid population growth, the 766 people in 1950 having increased to 13,650 people by 1960.” The Archdiocese website says this church was built in 1951, but a corner stone says 1965, so maybe they had to add on to accommodate the crowds. By the early 1980s, most of our family had moved away from the area, leaving Grandma – who never had a drivers license – hard pressed to get a regular ride to church, even though she lived a quarter of a mile away. This was a common story, a tale also known as White Flight, and was a contributing factor to it being shut down by The Church in 2005.

our lady of good counsel 1160 St. Cyr Road, Bellefontaine Neighbors, MO photo by toby weissSo anyway, that is the unique power of the built environment: physical proof of our pasts, depositories of memories our brains can’t hold because of all the dates, numbers and names we have to remember daily. Buildings are bookmarks in the story of our lives, and in the case of this building, it is the most interesting and compelling character in the short chapter of my church-going years.

Unnerving Florissant Modern

Halls Ferry Medical Arts Building
Florissant, MO
As a kid, this building scared me. As an adult, it both repulses and attracts. It hovers and squats, begs you to look at it yet wants you to stay away. The complete lack of windows makes it seem unfriendly to those outside and inside.

Thanks to Live Search Maps, I now know that daylight does reach the inhabitants through a center light well. So I no longer need worry about the people inside. But the exterior impression is still unnerving in the same way as Donald Trump’s comb over: Yes, it’s grotesque but I can’t stop trying to dissect it.

It opened in 1973, so it’s in that muffled time period after mid-century modernism but before the carnival sideshow buildings of post-modernism. It sits directly north behind Interstate 270, near the intersection of New Halls Ferry and Dunn Road, tucked oddly into the site. You only see it from New Halls Ferry when driving toward the highway, so it feels like it’s in hiding, waiting to crush you if you happen to walk to close by (though this is deep suburbia, so there are no sidewalks).

When parts of the building are in full sun, it can be striking, like a graceful alien mothership. The stark minimalism of the base – punctured only by double glass doors in the front and back – is audacious in scale. The second story “hat” with bowtie-shaped corners is overblown like a 3-can Red Bull buzz. But again, at the right time of day, it feels jovial… as long as you stay back several yard.

The building was rather popular in the early days. I knew lots of people who had doctors within, and they all seemed to come and go without harm. In the early 1980s, I was scheduled to go there for a blood test and blew it off because I just couldn’t bring myself to walk in the joint.

Under the newest ownership, the Medical Arts building has deteriorated. As seen above in December 2006, a stone aggregate panel had slipped off the frieze. Being able to see what was behind there blew my theory that those panels were originally intended to be windows until the budget ran out. Another look at the first photo shows they did repair it as cheaply as possible.

Mold runs rampant along the north side of the building, as do water stains on all sides. There is no sign of regular building maintenance, though, strangely enough, the landscaping that runs down both sides is always trim and tidy.

When recently talking about this building, a relative who had a doctor there in the mid-1970s said, “Oh, it had the nicest fountain inside the center court.” Which highlighted that one never truly knows a building until you’ve experienced all of it. So, maybe it was time to peak inside.

Going inside means facing this! It really does feel as oppressive as this view looks.

But when contemplating the rear entry up close, it’s not so bad, right? I love the simplicity of the glazing, and the sleek door handles. A defunct phone booth is a quaint touch. Plus, those are vintage plastic office chairs, all 1973 olive green, of course. So, I summoned the courage and darted inside for a quick peek.

This place has got it going on, chair-wise!
I was struck (and relieved) by how much daylight there was, and all the greenery in the atrium. Look through the glass and you can see part of the fountain. I’m guessing it’s not running at this late date, since the pool is now filled with rocks. I wasn’t able to gather details…

Usually, I photographically prowl around inside a building until I get the stink eye. But in this case, I saw no human beings, which creeped me out and made this a 2-frame/30-second sprint.

The sign is intriguing. It wanted to mimic the shape of the building but gave up, so instead uses some of same materials. But that script-like type face is misleading because it’s way friendlier than the building.

While it instinctively unnerves, the building also attracts me because it elicits such strong emotion. Sure, they’re generally negative emotions, but when living in landscapes hellbent on homogeny, a little Boo Radley in a building is a good thing.

Craigwoods: A Kirkwood Mid-Century Subdivision

Craigwoods Subdivision, Kirkwood MO
While taking a new shortcut to Big Bend and Interstate 270, I looked down into a valley along Craig Road and saw a storybook village of mid-century ranch houses. Because it was the end of winter and the trees were bare, the houses were plainly visible. Once the trees are fully in bloom, the houses are hidden under a sylvan umbrella.

Craigwoods is a 4-street tract tucked into a bowl behind St. Josephs Hospital. Kirkwood is known for a large stock of picturesque historic homes, though it’s actually far more eclectic than popular notion. There are several decades worth of custom homes built in popular styles of the day, with quite a lot of mid-century and post-modern homes resting peacefully next to quintessential Kirkwood historic architecture.

This small but rambling subdivision was built from 1953 to 1955. Houses range from 1,300 – 3,000 s.f. Many of the homes still have the original owners living there, and when listings for them do appear, they sell quickly.

Lately, Kirkwood has been battling a teardown plague, but as of this writing, there are only 2 instances of new in-fill housing in Craigwoods. Both are large, multi-story jobs inappropriate to the horizontal neighborhood, but because the lots are large, hilly and tree-filled they don’t stick out as jarringly as is usually the case elsewhere.

Because the subdivision is so hilly, there are many split-level ranches, which then provides more opportunities for outdoor terraces, usually over the multi-car garage. One characteristic of the uniquely American ranch house style is the attached garage. But rather than the garage eating up half the facade, the ranch style originally found ways to discreetly tuck it into the design so it didn’t call too much attention to itself. Moving it to the backside of the house was a popular option, and made more sense for families. Since everyone was in the backyard anyway, all the stuff needed for outdoor living was neatly stacked into the garage.

That was the original beauty of the ranch style: a new, informal residential architecture that took into account how American families actually lived after World War 2.

Here’s a house in Craigwoods that’s undergoing renovation. So far, they appear to be staying true to the original feel of the house.

A good friend of mine is a buyer’s agent specializing in finding mid-century homes for those so aesthetically inclined. She has noticed that buyer’s have a tendency to become disenchanted with the houses she shows them because so many of them have been remuddled and would require remodeling to return them to their former glory. In general, most every new owner of an existing home has to do some form of renovation; that inevitable expense is usually factored into the overall cost of purchasing the house.

But for some strange reason, some who want an MCM ranch house hold onto the unrealistic expectation that they will easily find an untouched gem and simply move their stuff into a dwell dollhouse. I think this speaks more to a certain lifestyle mindset than the reality of buying any type of house over 20 years old.

The typical American ranch home is now – or very close to being – officially historic. One must put on their “historic rehab” thinking caps and undertake the adventure. Here’s a thoroughly illustrated example of a family who did just such a thing with just such a house.

I ran across a term new to me that describes Craigwoods: Contractor Modern. From Lester Walker’s indispensable book American Shelter:

Contractor Modern, Countrywide – 1955
This style has been called the true twentieth-century vernacular mode. Its compactness and simplicity and its use of many stylistic features dictated by the experience of builders and contractors made it the most commonly used style for the thousands of subdivision ranch houses being constructed all over America…. The contractors used (Frank Lloyd) Wright’s ideas but built expediently with factory-made, often synthetic, materials, such as imitation plastic stone, pressed fiber imitation wood siding, and metal shutters and siding.

From a fascinating New York Times article in 1982, suburban homeowners (who put style 9th on the list of important factors in choosing a house) chose the ranch as the third most popular option, perceiving it “as economical, modest and simple.” Fast-forward to the financially-and energy-challenged 21st century, and “economic, modest and simple” seems once again a virtue.

CWE Mid-Century Modern: Lindell Boulevard

Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End
St. Louis City, MO
The Central West End is a beloved historical part of town. Residents have worked very hard for almost 40 years to revive what had fallen on hard times and preserve the historic architecture and density that gives the CWE its distinct flavor. It was once a city district on the losing end of White Flight and families and businesses motoring out to the deep suburbs.

After World War 2, the bounty of Civic Progress created Urban Renewal, which meant tearing down all the old, ugly Victorian buildings to make clean, modern buildings that mirrored America’s eager brave face of the future. They were a well-meaning group of WW2- heroic City Fathers with blinkered sight, and it required the generations after them to call a halt to such frenzied destruction of America’s urban centers .

In St. Louis “they” caused great harm to the meat of downtown, and the CWE felt the sweeping hand of progress, too. Along the main thoroughfare of Lindell Boulevard, many ugly old Gilded Age residences were torn down to build clean new buildings with modern lines and fancifully optimistic faces. It was a period of random death and acute growing pains. Time heals, and these replacement buildings have become an accepted part of the CWE fabric. History repeats, and one of these replacement buildings is poised to kick off another misguided demolition spree. 55 years is too long a period for people to remember what history teaches us.

3765 Lindell, Triple Links Bldg.
We start our tour of Lindell’s Mid-Century Modern (a.k.a replacement) buildings a bit west of St. Louis University because its currently a problematic topic when it comes to demolishing the past for its own future. In the early 1950s, they made the bold move to design and build the most sophisticated of modern libraries on their campus, which most likely inspired all subsequent activity heading west. Tragically, it comes as no surprise that they now hope to strip the Pius XII Library of its MCM elegance because MCM is the New Victorian (i.e., ugly and dirty and it must be purged).

So we skip the ever-controversial SLU, and start with the building, above, that was originally built in 1914, and that the International Order of Odd Fellows has been in since 1921. In 1964 they slapped on the facade you see today, and they were so jazzed by this modern update that they threw a party on July 19, 1964 to celebrate it.

There are quite a few Lindell examples of giving a new face to an old building, which in today’s parlance would be considered very green of them. Actually, the greenest building is the one already built, so rather than chase down LEEDs for sexy new buildings, remodels of existing buildings – even the replacement buildings – is far smarter, hipper and earth-friendly.

3800 Lindell
Across the street from Triple Links was originally the grand private home of James Brock. In 1960, his house was demolished to build the above headquarters for International Business Machines. Today, it houses SLU offices. It was a mid-century replacement building that has survived 48 years of adaptive re-use. A thorough scrubbing of its concrete filigree curtain wall would let its original corporate cool radiate prosperity once again.

3860 Lindell
This building opened in 1945, so it was being built during WW2, which makes it a rare bird for the time period. It is the poster child for masculine, institutional art deco. The soaring entry reeks of Gotham City even before spying the man with lightning bolts carved above the door. This is a building that Clark Kent would run out of to find a phone booth. The city cleared out Toodle House Restaurant (with a private residence above) so the railroad and telegraph unions could have this building. It currently houses St. Louis Job Corps.

3912 Lindell
This is an interesting block of Lindell, as it’s a balanced mix of giving old buildings new fronts and tearing down old buildings for new buildings that would swing. Above is a building that was a private residence built in 1897, but after a 1960 remodel became the home for Equitable Life Insurance. They had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time when, just next door they built…

3914 Lindell – the former Playboy Club
The grand old home of Ellen Huctson was cleared so the Playboy Club could open their 4th club on October 16, 1962. Hugh Hefner opened his first club in Chicago in 1960, and the distinct design flavor – corporate pimp casual Friday’s – carried into this building as well. Hef is, easily, the first truly modern 20th century man, and the modern man was all about the car. So the new Playboy building added a driveway to drop one in front of the dramatically lit outside terrace before the valet whisked your car into the Playboy garage.

Fischer & Frichtel were the general contractors, and Pittsburgh Plate Glass did the windows. I know this because my father, Richard Weiss, was the glazing foreman on the job, and he – along with all the sub-contractors – were invited to the grand opening of “this beautiful building. It was truly something.”

By the late 70s, the Playboy Club moved out to the Viking Hotel at Lindbergh & Watson Roads, and this building remained vacant until Kearbey’s nightclub opened in the late 1990s, altering very little of the long-shuttered building. And then the building sat dead again until the City Grille and Brewhaus gave it a go. One patron was kind enough to get plenty of pictures of what remained in tact from the Bunny Years before City Grille abruptly folded. Today, the building is in horrible visual shape. The City Grille was too feisty with coats of paint, both inside and out. A front window is smashed in, and it doesn’t look like there’s anything Bunny Fabulous left to pry off the walls as a memento of when the CWE was swanky. There does remain a few pieces of the past they’ve yet to destroy…

Marble tiles stamped with the eternally-cool Playboy logo still lead the eye to the patio and the view across the street of a building that went up to bolster the fading swinger’s self-esteem.

3917 Lindell – Automobile Club of Missouri
One of two round white buildings on Lindell, it looks like the curvy female answer to the boys-will-be-boys clubhouse across the street. But this building was erected in 1977! As early as 1942 the Automobile Club was listed in this same spot, and they certainly waited a long time to join in the CWE urban renewal.

Maybe the delay was so that they could get exactly the perfect building. It’s a truly iconic piece on Lindell – everyone knows and admires this building, and Triple A takes exceptional care of it. They must stock pile drums of white paint for constant touch ups in between new coats. A view through the endless ribbon of windows reveal many original fixtures still in place, and the whole thing has a distinct 1960s Jetsons feel. Were the original plans drawn up in the 60s and they sat on them for a bit, or did they purposely try to evoke a by-gone era, even though it wasn’t all that by-gone? Again, it feels like a sly wink to the club across the street.

3926 Lindell
Built in 1909, it was listed as a private residence of Sara Wesnick in 1942. By 1960 it had become commercial, housing multiple small business at once until it went vacant in 1973. The International Society of Krishna Consciousness have been here since 1980. The new facade is so geometrically simple and graceful that I want to pinpoint it as late 1940s. Does anyone have an accurate read on the remodel?

3940 Lindell
And here’s another old building that got a new face to blend in with all the forward-thinking architectural antics on the block. It was originally a home built in 1899. By 1960, owner Jane Horan had moved on, and after a remodel it became an office building big enough to house 3 companies. It’s becoming clear that so many of these grand palaces were going to seed with all these old widows rattling around in them. Large chunks of grand CWE homes on the private streets were subdivided and degraded as boarding houses during the 1960s and 1970s, which is why the loyal rehabbing of most of them back into single-family luxury is so awe-inspiring.

But Lindell, a main artery in the city, appears to have always been half commercial, half residential. So as old mansions drooped under lack of care, and with most people still not attuned to saving their (then) recent past, it was a cake walk to buy up the brick and stone bags of bones, pummel them down and build anew atop the spot. Remember that it wasn’t until 1968 that Jackie Kennedy Onassis spoke out against the horrendous thought of demolishing Grand Central Terminal, helping to save and restore it. It took a pissed off Jackie O. (who’d already rehabbed the White House during her brief tenure) to change the thinking patterns of a generation fixated on westward expansion, asking them to look back on where they came from:

“Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes.”

Jackie O. took a stand against replacement buildings pretty much like this…

3960 Lindell
The Ira Goodpasture residence was cleared away for this office building to go up in 1955. Maybe Ira’s place was a bigger version of the building to the left in the above picture. Maybe Jackie would have hated that this new version of suburban corporate modern planting itself in an old urban neighborhood. Judging by build dates for the rest of Lindell’s MCM stock, this brand new building was quite the pioneer; it had to look positively alien at the time. A building like that was common in the new car-centric business districts of Jennings or Affton, but just a whole lot too stark for the people waiting to catch a street car. The building has held up very well, and is now a regal example of how tastes change over time.

4020 Lindell – The Continental
Built in 1965, it certainly does look like a place Christopher Walken’s character would live. It feels like it turned seedy about 10 minutes after opening day, and always makes me feel like I want to give it a bath. A row of houses originally stood on the spot that is now this place and the McDonald’s next door to the east, with most of them listed as vacant by 1960. Every time I turn a camera on the place, everyone in the parking lot and lobby gets visibly freaked out, which makes me love this sordid little building even more.

4100 Lindell
It looks like a Southern California motor hotel, but was built in 1957 for the Remington Rand Division of Sperry Rand, which has the ultimate The Organization Man ring to it. City directories are very vague about what was originally in this spot; almost as if the spot didn’t exist. It now houses the St. Louis Housing Authority.

4108 Lindell
Built in 1948, this low slung building is a great example of commercial architecture that bridged the realms between art deco and International style. I call it Deco Moderate, a popular commercial style in that time right after WW2 when the country took stock of how to accommodate the population explosion. Deco Moderate is both modern and quaint at the same time, hedging its bets and successfully fitting into whatever goes on around it. By 1960, the St. Louis Society for Crippled Children moved in, and they kept that name (and the building) well into the 1980s. We may be able to pinpoint the exact moment political correctness took hold in St. Louis when they changed the name to The Saint Louis Society for Children and Adults With Physical Disabilities in 1993 and moved to Olivette, MO. The building is currently vacant.

4236 Lindell
Lucy Heine’s house came down so the Lindell Building could go up in 1958. This building is classically handsome in a corporate International way, like a miniature of the insurance building C.C. Baxter worked in. In 1980, the Hickey Mitchell Insurance company had a floor, so there you go.

It exudes grey flannel offset with a subtle pastel blue tie. Each office surely had a hat rack and bottle of V.O. tucked into the bottom desk drawer. Every material, texture and proportion is carefully weighed for how it shall convey sophistication. The only thing that mars its mid-century cool whisper is the For Lease sign that eternally rests on its front lawn.

4331 Lindell
The south side of this block is mostly the stately, vine-covered apartments, preserving the history of upwardly mobile in flux to the area in the teens and 1920s. Across the street, the modern building above quietly nestled in. Built in 1935, listed as the residence of Robert McClaran in 1942 and the new home of Knights of Columbus in 1960, which may be when it got the face lift. The K.C. was part of the distinctly Catholic bent of this immediate area, so it’s sweetly ironic that Thrive helps with family planning inside these walls. This building also gains allure by its juxtaposition with the traditional apartment building next door, which is one of the beauties of this stretch of the CWE: history continually flips the pages of its scrapbook via its buildings.

4359 Lindell – The Engineer’s Club
Much like the Triple A, the Engineer’s Club was always in this spot, and treated themselves to this new building in 1965. Its horizontal, Frank Lloyd Wright-like nature sprawl is really out of character for the area, but that’s where the drama is.

The sun dial aspect of the building is always a treat, the campus grounds are always immaculate and the owners of the building are willing to give up some of their parking (behind the building) to the Rosati Kain girls. They are neighborly, aesthetically appealing and loyal to the area, which may be why such an odd suburban addition to a dense urban area now feels just right.

4400 Lindell – Towne House Apartments
This is the cherry block for CWE MCM, and now the most controversial. Catholicism is the instigator of the good and the bad of this gorgeous block.

The Cathedral Basilica is the imposing and awesome cornerstone at Lindell & Newstead, which began construction in the spring of 1907. Everything about this block is Catholic because of it, and the apartments directly across the street were even called Cathedral Apartments. Until 1965, when it was torn down to build, above, the Towne House Apartments. How did such a Miami Beach Modern get erected in this spot? Because secular mid-century modern architecture was allowed to retool this block starting in 1961.

4445 Lindell – The Catholic Center
The Archdiocese kicked off the MCM frenzy with this striking space capsule of a building. They blessed the block with this fabulousness in 1961. Its blatant hipsterism is at odds with the seriousness of intent, which is what makes it so special.

My father, again, was the PPG glazing foreman for this building, which he still refers to as “the White Castles central office.” He remains fully impressed by the place, reeling off intricate details of its construction…1″ glazing of 25X Solex gold anodized glass with anchor bolts 5″ off every vertical, imported Italian marble floors that they had to remove shoes before walking on, the very best in aluminum frame doors from West Door… “it was a beautiful building, sophisticated engineering, a real pleasure to work on. They had no budget, so they were spending money like mad. It paid off; it’s a beautiful building.”

Seeing this building purring up against the Basilica is to cherish the broad sweep of 20th century architecture styles. But they, too, had to knock down some buildings to create this striking panorama. The residence of Alice Wahl came down to build the Chancery’s Office.

And they demolished the Sisters of St. Joseph convent in 1960 in order to build its next door neighbor to the west…

4483 Lindell – San Luis Apartments
This complex opened as the Deville Motor Court in 1963, and the Archdiocese wants to demolish it to make a surface parking lot for the Rosati-Kain girls. Even though it has plenty of built-in parking (that was the original point of the place), and even though its simple to reconvert it back to a hotel, and even though it fits right in (and kinda dominates) the majority of this MCM block, the church wants it gone. They own it, so have every right to do as they please. So why is everyone so upset?

Local historical preservationists have weighed in.
The local press is weighing in.
Residents of the area weighed in with letters to the editor and their own websites.
Even the National Trust for Historic Preservation has weighed in!
Each voice makes brilliant points, but really, why do they care about this place?

In a nutshell, we are tired of the imperious disregard for the environments we live in and love.

So far, this Lindell tour has shown how they picked away at the original fabric of the CWE to revive what was dying an unnecessary death. Old buildings that they felt had outlived their usefulness and beauty were demolished or renovated to reflect then-current standards and aspirations. Time and progress marches on, and it’s never a flawless process; there were plenty of disgruntled folks at that time. Time heals, and these same older residents now accept the replacement buildings on their own terms.

But the key point is that old buildings were replaced. They wanted new buildings to keep the density that creates vitality that creates cash and tax dollars. In the case of the Deville Motor Court/Holiday Inn Midtown/San Luis Apartments, the Archdiocese wants to tear down their building to make a blank spot. They plan to nicely landscape it, maybe offer up a little park for the people (who don’t want to bother with Forest Park right down the street), but it’s still a proposal for a void!

My father – yet again – was the glazing foreman for the Deville. H.B. Dale (which today is now H.B.D.) was the general contractor in a hurry to erect the building. My father remembers it as a horrible job, a 6-8 man union crew working overtime until 7 or 8 each night in frigid temperatures to install glass from the outside. He says it “was built on the cheap,” and while he liked the look of the cement board aggregate (above) because “it was something brand new and I always liked a contemporary building,” it was still cheap, and he’s surprised that it has held up so well over the years.

So maybe the Archdiocese is being honest when they say the building is expensive to maintain and draining their budget. First, a suggestion: turning off the lights that blaze 24 hours inside the vacant building would cut down on the electricity bill. Second, the maintenance bill gets high when a building is allowed to rot because the owners had a future plan to demolish it.

Word is that the Archdiocese did bring in a firm to assess the building and the cost to rehab it. The numbers given did not reflect the historic state and federal tax credits the building would be eligible for because they have not given thought to any process that would give the building new life. The church is apparently not motivated by revenue that would be generated by any reuse of the building on their property. They can – and will – do as they wish.

The prospect of this building coming down is sad because of the potential it possesses, and frightening because of the message it conveys. It would be a waste of resources during a time when America is going green in an attempt to save the environment. It would be an unwelcome void in the CWE fabric. It could be the signal for other property owners to devalue their replacement buildings, and start up another round of “urban renewal. ” And it’s this very concept that finally has the National Trust stepping up to acknowledge the merit of Mid-Century Modern architecture. They finally made the bold step of cranking up preservation by several decades to say “Yes to Yesterday.” Whew! Glad you could make it, and welcome.

4482 Lindell – The Jackson Arms Apartments
We stand in the parking lot of the San Luis and look across the street to a tower that appears to be a photographic negative image of the central Deville tower.

Built in 1965, this place is fabulous, whimsical and cool, all in the same breath. It is the aesthetic favorite of younger STL generations who immediately get the inherent beauty of vintage MCM design, and recognize a good specimen in the Jackson Arms.

There is much that I love about the details of this building, and I especially love how it looks up against the turn-of-century house next door. The private residence taken down for the Jackson probably looked much like it. The co-mingling of the distant past and the recent past of St. Louis is the flavor of the CWE. Contrast is what makes every one of these buildings pop out and declare their value, and it’s a special treat to have a 120+ years architectural time capsule working for us every day.

4494 Lindell – Optimists International
Also across the street from San Luis is my absolutely favorite CWE MCM building. From materials, to proportion, to the quiet elegance it exudes, everything about it is exquisite. Rob Powers coined the term Onassis Modern to describe a certain type of 1960s architecture, and the first time he said it, I pictured Jackie Kennedy standing in the lobby of Optimists International when it opened in 1961.

4501 Lindell – Lindell Terrace Apartments
The Deville Motor Court’s next door neighbor across N. Taylor is the stately and spare Lindell Terrace Apartments. A private residence was demolished to erect this. One of the reasons my father felt the Deville construction was so cheap is that he watched them build this place at the same time the Deville was going up. They used more traditional and substantial materials, so they must have had a bigger budget.

This high rise does a wonderful job of bridging the gap between classic and modern, which is why it blends nicely with the traditional apartment buildings directly to its west. And with many of the MCM replacement buildings on Lindell, planners seemed to thoughtfully consider the nature of the district and tried to make the insertion of the new as seamless as possible.

There’s no denying that this rush of redevelopment helped the CWE, so developers were allowed to go crazy. Sometimes they were too radical (I’m thinking of the large retail plaza between Vandeventer & Sarah), foisting deeply suburban layouts on a cosmopolitan urban neighborhood. But people use it, and it does contribute to the crazy energy of the area, as well as the tax base. The CWE historical ordinances enacted in 1979 have made sure that subsequent developments don’t get out of hand architecturally, and that the oldest building stock is rightfully protected. I admire the 50-year balancing act this part of town has juggled with, and hope they rightfully include the newer models in their protective embrace.

4545 Lindell
Now here’s an exciting brand spanking new addition to the street scape: 4545. I think it’s a superb specimen of 21st century modern architecture, and it gets a huge assist from being slotted between two classic CWE apartment buildings. The juxtaposition creates an energetic sexual tension on the street, with the youngster demurely taking a back seat to the older opulence of its neighbors without sacrificing any style.

This lot was once a residential building that kept flip-flopping from private residence to business from the 1940s – 1970s. By the 1980s it became a vacant lot. When plans for the lot were unveiled, there was scant negative reaction, and when construction began in 2005, excitement was rampant. Residents and potential buyers were welcoming a high-style, ultra-sleek modern addition to the street scape, which further highlights how sophisticated this part of town and its people are, and always have been. Instinctively, the CWE gets that history is a continual conversation, and the more voices chatting the more vibrant a cocktail party it becomes.

4625 Lindell
I truly never paid any attention to this building. It’s brutalist tendencies were somehow ignorable, even though it was a rhino among giraffes. But once the 4545 went up, this bank building suddenly had contemporary context. Also note that the stacking of the 4545 subtly apes the stacking of the bank. Intentional or coincidence? The original building on the lot was a private residence that turned into a bible church in the 1960s. City Bank built the new building in 1971, but also shared the space with Miss Vanderschmidt’s Secretarial School. Oh, how I love that name, which she held onto until 1980. Bless her un-PC heart!

4630 Lindell
A few private residences were taken down so the Bel Air Motel could go up in 1957. The above photo was taken in August of 2006, and even with the atrocious mauve paint job, it still hummed a jazzy tune while sipping umbrella-festooned cocktails. Those drinks would have been at Henrici’s Restaurant, which shared the space for decades. Check out postcard shots of the place in its heyday, and join the convo about what’s to become of the place.

The building now has new windows, a fresh coat of white paint and crews working on Saturdays, so it really is coming back to life. That entirely inappropriate portico needs to go, but from this illustration it seems they won’t design something more in keeping with the building’s Meis-Lite aesthetic. But I’m not complaining, because if any building on Lindell was vulnerable for the tear down, it was this one.

Some reports say the Roberts Brothers want to build a tower atop the rear of the building, ostensibly for more hotel rooms. But they are adamant about bringing cool, retro boutique hotel style to the CWE, which is sure bet when it comes to typical clientèle in the area. If they had their eye on a project like this in this area, do you think they checked in with the Archdiocese about the San Luis? Wouldn’t that building give them more of everything they’re aiming for, retro hotel-wise? The Roberts are plugged in, savvy and fearless, so it’s not far-fetched to imagine them inquiring as to what the church planned to do with the building after moving out the Cardinal Ritter senior citizens. This is purely circumstantial conjecture on my part, and luckily a similar vintage building, the next block up, came into view. But the facts do highlight that these commercial MCM buildings are desirable to a new breed of developers who smell money coming from the younger generations who revere this architectural genre. Even in St. Louis.

Will the bird sculpture remain atop the underground parking garage? It’s an apt symbol of modern phoenixes rising from the ashes of ancient ruins, which is a spirited part of Central West End history.

Top of the Towers

Chambers Road & Hwy 367
Moline Acres, MO
The Lewis & Clark Tower still stands as a slightly-raggedy reminder of the brief moment when North County was progressively modern and willing to create the image of glamorous new suburban frontiers. That’s the impression it still gives off to those of us who were stuck with a babysitter so our parents could party here, but childhood impressions are not always reality.

While reading the newspaper at the end of August, the picture of the man shown above caught my eye. He had a real Rat Pack “ring-a-ding-ding” air about him, so I read the obituary. Impression and reality heartily clinked martini glasses when revealed that this man, Bud Dallavis, was the developer of the Lewis & Clark Towers and its iconic, spinning Top of the Tower Restaurant.

Development is listed as beginning in 1963, county records put 1964 as the birth date of the complex, and in 1965 architect George J. Gaza is listed as the only full-time commercial resident. That he stayed until 1967 while the complex was completed begs the question: was he the Tower architect?

In 1966, the place was 100% jumping with at least 7 floors of wedge-shaped residential apartments (now condominiums,) each with two sliding doors out to the continuous balcony, with its own swimming pool and gym in the basement. Businesses on the first two floors of the Tower included Alpha Interior Designer, Donton & Sons Tile Co., Figure Trim Reducing, King’s Tower Pharmacy and a Missouri State License office.

Shooting off the Tower is a strip of retail facing Hwy 367, long-anchored by Stelmacki Supermarket, a rare, independent grocer still unaffected by the continuous grocery wars. The site slopes down to the West, creating a lower 2nd level building which held the Towers Bowling Lanes and the Lewis & Clark Theater (shown below). Occupancy for the complex was robust for 10 years, with an influx of dentists and doctors filling tower spots when others moved out. The Courtesy Sandwich Shop even had a storefront for a bit. The Tower didn’t show any longterm vacancies until the late 1970s.

The remaining claim to fame of the Tower is the long-closed restaurant at its top, Rizzo’s Top of the Tower Restaurant, “the revolving restaurant… a landmark for many years where diners could view the downtown St. Louis and Clayton skylines, as well as the Alton river bluffs.” Considering how popular it once was, and how its myth still lingers, there’s surprisingly little information to be found about it. Internet searches only turned up a fuzzy photo of someone’s matchbook collection which includes a Rizzo’s cover, and entertainer Tony Viviano, who seems a natural to have performed in the joint.

While visiting with my father, Rich and his wife, Ann, I asked if they ever ate at the Top of the Tower Restaurant, which became a rapid fire series of memories of the place, starting with Rich saying, “You know there were supposed to be 2 towers, right? Which is why it’s plural Towers.”

No, I didn’t know that, but that does explain why the building ends the way it does (shown above) and why the land closest to Chambers Road has remained vacant all these decades. So what happened to the other tower? Rich says that the company who originally owned it ran into some problems of partners stealing from each other, which left no money.

I tell him about the obituary for the developer whose name I couldn’t remember, and Rich asks, “Was it Bud Dallavis? He was the public face of the Towers, head of Quick Realty,” which the obit later confirmed as correct. I countered that the man pictured was really good looking, to which Rich says, “Yeah, that has to be him,” and to which Ann responds, “We were ALL really good looking at the time. We were a handsome group of people.”

She was not bragging, just stating fact. This was suburbia in the mid-1960s, post-JFK assassination, mid-Beatles revolution. Rich and Ann were a part of the World War 2 and Korean War vets who left North St. Louis city in the late 1950s for the greener (and whiter) lands of burgeoning North County. Watch Mad Men to know exactly how they dressed during the work day, how they gussied up for frequent evenings out.

And Rizzo’s Top of the Towers was a popular, happening spot for them. The restaurant was turned out in the finest china and table linens, the food good. Was it expensive? Indicative of the times, Ann responds, “I have no idea what the bill came to at the end of the night. Women never saw the bill because we never paid.”

To which Rich tells tales of the endless rounds of free cocktails courtesy of Dick Grace, the Towers bartender commonly called “Buttsey.” Buttsey had perfected a way to look like he was taking money and putting it in the cash register, but it usually went into his pockets, and lingering guilt led to lots of rounds of “on the house.” Mr. Grace was found dead in his bed in the Towers apartments in the mid-1980s, a fatal heart attack at the age of 49, all those cuisines, cocktails and cigarettes catching up to him. By that time, the Towers and surrounding area were pretty much ate up by neglect, with all the original pioneers heading ever-further away.

The rest of their memories just further cemented the vibe the building gives off to this day. Even though well-past its glory, it’s still in service. Most of the store fronts (shown above right) are occupied, and the Tower balconies are dotted with an endless series of satellite dishes, BBQ grills and plants. Heading out in any direction from the Tower reveals dozens of commercial buildings that followed its modern lead, now-shabby ghosts standing in the shadow of the Lewis & Clark Towers. May they all remain until the time they are brought back to life as proof that just once, for a short space in time, we had fabulous optimism for the future.

North County Modern