An LV Home in St. Louis County

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The July/August issue of St. Louis At Home lists an LV Home for sale in… South County? How odd, but very cool. Even cooler: it’s the only LV Home built in the St. Louis area and one of the few to be built atop a full basement (the majority are built atop concrete slab on grade), which doubles the size of this kit home to nearly 3,000 square feet. I exceeded all speed limits in a hurry to see an LV so close to home.

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Summer 2004 is when I originally saw the LV display home in Perryville, MO, on assignment for a now-defunct design magazine to interview the LV creator and architect Rocio Romero. After a scenic drive through deep rural country, it was pleasantly jarring to see an ultra-modern metal box standing alone at the start of a farmer’s field. It appeared to be floating over a random, ironic site, and this urban/rural juxtaposition created a light tension.

Inside, the house felt spacious, sturdy and serene. The back wall of the house was a continuous series of floor-to-ceiling windows, which flooded the spaces with glorious amounts of natural light. The display home was the perfect size for two people, but the kits can be built to any custom size, so the possibilities for accommodating a family of any size was immediately apparent. The LV was sophisticated, casual and enchanting. The architect was passionate, industrious and detail-oriented. Altogether, it was a great concept cleverly executed and it was easy to understand why sales of the kits were on the upswing. Over the years, a cover feature in dwell helped spread the word, and it’s exciting to imagine this design dotting landscapes all over America.

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Most everyone I know who has toured the LV display shares this observation: all the windows are great, and it makes total sense on an isolated lot, but could you insert it into a typical urban or suburban lot and keep a decent level of privacy? Would you wind up ruining the aesthetic by covering most of the windows with drapes to keep neighbors on 3 sides from knowing your business?

This is why I needed to see the South St. Louis County LV: how does it function in established suburbia?

It functions very well. Yes, it does immediately stand out from its surroundings, but within the context of the neighborhood it’s surprising rather than jarring. Plus, the homes along this stretch of Theiss Road come in a wide variety of architectural styles, so the LV is just another flavor. The galvanized aluminum can make it a bright flavor at certain times of day, but it’s not fussy or flashy. Initially, the immediate neighbors were skeptical as they watched it going up, but now they love and accept it as a normal part of the landscape, so the LV adapts very well to denser surroundings.

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I learned this important piece of information because the homeowners – Joe and Jeanne Marie Spezia – were kind enough to give me a tour. They love their home and are rightfully proud of it, and are comfortable with the attention it brings. Their decision to build one was included in a cover feature about Romero in a 2007 issue of At Home, and in June 2009 was featured in both St. Louis Homes & Lifestyles and on the front page of South County Times newspaper.

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Because the Spezia’s love living here, the home is not officially for sale, but if someone were to come along and pay the right price, they’d seriously consider it. Until then, the LV has become the unique template for expressing who they are and how they choose to live.

The place expresses an immediate and vibrant personality courtesy of the creative mind of Jeanne Marie, whose re-purposing aesthetic and mosaic art punctuates every room of the house. Her studio is in the basement, and you can see more of her work here, as well as in these pictures of their home.

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The couple designed a unique back patio, whose half-wall is made of metal roofing straight off the Lowe’s shelves. Actually, many significant features of the home come from Lowe’s (like the foyer light fixture, below), which proves two things:
1. It’s not what you use, but how you use it
2. Limited budgets create imaginative solutions

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And budget rapidly became a huge issue for the homeowners. Their house-building adventure wound up costing far more than anticipated because of an endless string of complications. But most everyone who has been through a custom home build has a similar list of complaints and complications without achieving such a spectacular end result.

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Joe Spezia enthusiasticly pointed out every structural aspect of the house that makes it so exceptional: money-saving energy efficiency, 12″ thick vertical steel beams that make the place earthquake-proof (he jumped hard on the living room floor to illustrate that there is no vibrations, no movement), perfectly plumb surfaces and extra-thick walls and floors that effectively soundproof the house from the outside as well as create privacy inside.

For instance, Joe is a licensed massage therapist with a huge and relaxing studio space for his practice in the basement of this home. He recalls a time when, after clients had left, his wife asked if working in her studio next door with the TV on had bothered them. Joe replied that they heard nothing and he didn’t even realize she was down there. That’s how thick and insulated all the walls are.

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The large master bedroom (above) has an equally large bathroom with the most gorgeous clear, green glass tile walls, a bathtub you could swim laps in and a walk-in closet bigger than most bathrooms!

The entire home is about natural flow of space creating instinctive comfort, and even more so than experiencing the original LV display home, it conjured within me the intense desire to live in this home, exactly as it is. But the mercurial mind of an artist like Jeanne Marie is constantly changing things up and she is seriously considering removing the metal siding on the exterior of the home and replacing it with cedar.

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Initially, I was a bit shocked at this idea, but then I saw this photo of another LV Home that went with wood instead of metal, and it looks great. Which just goes to show two things:
1. Artists “see” things that the rest of us can’t
2. The very nature of the LV allows one to exactly create the home you see in your head.

See more photos of the Spezia’s LV Home here.

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Retro Storefront in St. John

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Intersection of Brown Road & St. Charles Rock Road
St. John, MO

The McCarty Studios building tells its story with one glance. The building originally went up in 1940, 5 years before St. John was incorporated as a village. The flashy new front facade – by my best guess – went on right around the time streetcars were losing ground to automobiles in the late 1950s.

Along with a house catty corner from it at this intersection, it is the only original building left. The Walgreens sits across the street from McCarty because they tore down the streetcar shed in 1961. The remaining corner has a commercial building that is classic early 1960s Institutional Modern (and now even houses the St. John City Hall).

The McCarty Studios made the architectural leap to be modern during a time when this inner-ring suburb of St. Louis County was booming with activity, they have stood pat ever since and have unwittingly become a retro curio of the recent past.

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I love that when they renovated the facade to reflect the new glamor of car culture, they chose to keep their 1948 vintage neon sign. This decision was most likely based on economics: we’re paying a bundle for this remodel – why pay even more money when we have a perfectly good sign?

When working in camera retail several years ago, I used to wait on one of the McCarty sons, and just had to tell him how much I adored their building and sign, and how glad I was that they hadn’t remodeled it into the fake stucco box fast-food look so common in today’s retail upgrades.

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He responded that they keep meaning to get a new sign but just haven’t got around to it. I probably spooked the poor man by passionately trying to convince him to not touch anything on that building because its retro distinctiveness was their very best form of 24-hour marketing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Here we are 5 years later, and all pieces remains in tact. Here’s hoping they continue to remain so busy that they don’t have time to think about remodeling!

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North County MCM: Independent Congregational Church

01-florissant-mcm-church 11370 Old Halls Ferry Rd, Florissant, MO 63033 photo by toby weiss

Old Halls Ferry & Redman Roads
North St. Louis County, MO

The abstract modern mountain peaks that make up the roof of this church are an iconic North County sight.  Those of us who grew up in the Black Jack/Florissant area thought of them as a normal part of the landscape that became especially cool during the Christmas season.  That’s when the peaks were alternately colored red and green by flood lights, and for a few summers, they even did red, white and blue for the 4th of July.  If anyone has photos of that 1970s-80s holiday phenomenon, please please pass me a copy.

UPDATE: As of Christmas 2017, those Christmas lights are back! And the roof has been gloriously restored. See here!

02-florissant-mcm-church christ the king united 11370 Old Halls Ferry Rd, Florissant, MO 63033 photo by toby weiss

So, this was a normal part of the suburban landscape of North St. Louis County, Missouri, and I never thought of them as special until I saw this photo by Ken Konchel in 2000.  It took the eyes of a superb architectural photographer to make me see just how special that roof was, and how unique the entire building was, in general.

I’ve heard firsthand how many of us St. Louisans have had the same kind of awakening about The Arch; it’s always been there, yeah of course it’s cool, but then one day you see it in a detached, abstract manner and you realize what a glorious and unusual beauty it is.  And so it was for me with the Independent Congregational Church.

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The church began in 1856 in near North St. Louis, moving to the west side of Fairgrounds Park in 1917 and then moving to the ‘burbs in 1959 to this building by architect Walter Manske.  The building blissfully retains most all (more on that in a minute) of its original pieces…

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…like these slanting rectangle hand rails leading from the lower level parking lot on the south side of the building.

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This is the 2-story rear of the building, as seen from the south parking lot.  Upstairs is a small chapel and administrative offices with stained glass fenestration.  Below are light-filled classrooms and a small auditorium.

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It was in the summer of 2006 that I went inside the building for the first time.  See more photos of that excursion here.  Once inside, the magnificence of the roof turned into awe over how the exterior structure dictated the interior.

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The holy, blinding white of the serrated exterior peaks transform into a wooden plank lining of unvarnished red wood, which lends this massive vertical space a reverent hush.  The cables suspending the metal can lights are a reverse echo of the triangles reaching toward the heavens.  The sheer, upward lift of the space truly does inspire one to think lofty, spiritual thoughts, which is the point of ecclesiastical architecture.

I have always been intrigued at how willing American religious parishes have always been to embrace the latest architectural styles and concepts.  The other-worldy goals of religious enlightenment must make them more responsive to grand architectural gestures, and I’ve always loved how the spare lines and expansive geometry of modern architecture – rather than feeling alien to them – gave them a whole new vocabulary of expression.  Quite often, it was a church that introduced modernism to a fledgling mid-century suburban community, setting a tone for the commercial and residential buildings around it.  God bless ’em!

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Blonde, Danish modern fixtures are carried throughout the lobby and auditorium of the church. The angles of this podium on the alter are gravity-defying and maddeningly cool.

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Here is a configuration of pews behind the main alter. To have those filled with white robes must be a breathtaking sight.

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In the lobby, above the original metal coat and hat racks, remains a pictorial history of parishioners (and their sports trophies). Above we see what looks the folks from the 1930s-40s, and below…

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…we come to the end of the picture-taking line, somewhere in the 1990s.  The pictures go from lily white to a mix of black and white folks, and it neatly tells the story of this church from inception to name change in 1998, when it became Christ The King Church.

From its various locations to the changing flesh tones of the photos, one gets the distinct impression that this parish may have followed the St. Louis pattern of White Flight.  My mother and I moved into Black Jack at the point in time when race became an issue for this community.  But it was also the town where I first lived, played and went to school with non-white kids, and it did much to debunk the myths of prejudice I heard all around me.  The current congregation is African-American, and pastor Andre D’Arden is the gentleman who let us roam freely through a building they are rightly proud to be in.

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I love that they have not changed much of the building, proving that a beautiful setting – no matter the vintage – allows the users to carry on their business with a sense of higher purpose.

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But there are some troubling aspects with the upkeep of this building.  Above is a photo from 2003 documenting the last of the globe lightstands in the upper north parking lot. As can be seen from this shot, people were taking pot shots at the glass.

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The globe lightstands traded off with these “U.F.O. hat” lightstands.  in 2009, all of them have finally bitten the dust, as well.

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And then there’s that roof.  During the time I lived in the area, it was always a blinding white, and I assumed it was made of cast concrete.  By 2006, normal wear and tear revealed circular plugs in the roof.  Simply placing a hand on the portion of the roof that swoops down to the sidewalk revealed it’s not concrete, but a textured, rubber membrane. And a rubber membrane in great need of a new coat of paint.

In the summer of 2006, I asked Pastor D’Arden about this. He noted the extensive construction work then going on to widen Old Halls Ferry Road, and that all of the dust and debris had really done a job on the roof.  It wasn’t a good idea to tackle a re-paint of the roof until the construction was done, and that made complete sense.

18-florissant-mcm-church http://ctk-ucc.org/ photo by toby weiss

Contrast the above photo from May 2009 with the first photo of this entry (from 2003), and you can see the onset of a deterioration that placed this church on the St. Louis County list of Mid-Century Modern Architecture Worthy of Preservation.

I can understand the garagantuan expense of materials and labor to prep and paint that roof being a deterrant. If you have limited funds, people would come before building. But maybe a special fundraiser and some volunteer painters? If they were to undertake such a project, I’d certainly donate money and would be first in line for a chance to scale that roof!

See more photos of the exterior and interior of this church here.

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Dellwood MCM: One Perfect Moment

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New Halls Ferry Road & 270
Dellwood, MO

I took this photo in the town of Dellwood in North St. Louis County in the early fall of 2003.  As a kid, I mentally referred to it as The Flying Building.  I chanced upon it right as they turned on the lights, which made it look even more so like it was launching into flight.

It was a quick moment, and I made mental note to come back and further explore this building with a camera. Upon returning for that purpose, it was clear the moment had passed. They had knocked down the original Buick sign and junked it up with a bunch more vinyl banners. But at least they haven’t torn down the building.

Yep, I probably just jinxed it.

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.

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.

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.

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The River Roads Memorial Garden

river roads demolition

River Roads Mall, Jennings MO
River Roads is now, for all worthy detail, gone. A vertical ruin of what was the JC Penney building still stands, and the grocery store (which started life as a Krogers) is still open for business. Everything else is a mound of debris or a throbbing hole in the ground. This has been a leisurely demolition, lasting about 18 months with still more work ahead before any new construction can happen.

river roads architectural pieces

My anxiety over the River Road Ruins is officially over. The white, turquoise and aqua tiles littered all around and always just out of my reach (photo above) are now gone, there’s nothing left to save. So, that chapter of the River Roads story is done, but I’ve had a new chapter of the story writing itself in my backyard.

dillards architectural pieces

With several pieces of the former Stix, Baer & Fuller building piling up in my yard, the idea to use them as a garden border popped up. After cutting through backbreaking zoysia to create dirt beds, it was a strange thrill to layout the River Roads pieces into a whimsical, mid-century modern garden chain. By the middle of May, perennials and annuals had been planted, and it was just a matter of watching it grow.

river roads mall leftovers

river roads memorial garden pieces of dead mid-century malls in St. Louis County A sidebar to the River Roads Memorial Garden is shown above. The hexagon is part of the interlocking Stix wall that faced Jennings Station Road. To its left (in front of the hosta) is a piece of the original Cross Keys Shopping Center in Florissant MO  that was demolished in 2003. What looks like a “P” to the untrained eye is actually the mangled “R” rescued from the main Northland Shopping Center sign in 2006. There are also various other pieces of Northland in this tableau, which underscores why I had to do something vaguely useful with all these pieces junking up my backyard.

stix baer and fuller architectural tiles with zinnia

sunflowers

This has been my first true flower garden, so it’s been an education. One thing I’ve learned: sunflowers are scary beasts. They are too tall for comfort, and too heavy for their own stems to support them. Once the flowers finally arrive, they offer about 5 days of gorgeousness before morphing into bedraggled UFOs that become dangerous projectiles in summer thunderstorm winds. This is the debut and finale of sunflowers in my yard.

river roads memorial garden

A round of applause goes to Wendy Fischer for helping to dig the flower beds and providing much-needed enthusiasm to make this project happen, and to Cyndi Woollard for adding pieces of her world-class garden to my starter kit.

Streamline Moderne in North St. Louis County

11851 Benham Road
Unincorporated North St. Louis County, MO
I’ve admired this house for decades because of its simplistic deco beauty, and that it’s such a rare creature in this part of far North County. Near to where highways 367 and 270 meet, if the architecture is not commercial or Christian Northeast Hospital, it’s the standard ranch issue of suburban towns developed in earnest during the mid-1960s and on. But this little gem went up in 1935 or 1938 (depending on which records consulted), when the area was decidedly rural and Dunn Road was the highway system.

The St. Louis County Parks inventory of historic buildings reveals it was originally known as the Everett D. Fry House. The home is 2 stories, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, central air and 1964 s.f., with an ingenious carport/terrace double-duty spot on the south elevation. During the time I’ve been acquainted with it, the place has always been pristine, and modest about being a white rose among carnations. But in the 21st century, it got a little raggedy, and for over a year the home has been vacant.

On my last visit, I found the above signs in the window. A search for available FannieMae properties does not list this place, and after a number of owner changes in the past several years, it now belongs to an LLC, who bought it for $93,000.

Highway 367 is just about finished with a major (and much-appreciated) overhaul. Benham is a 2-lane road that parallels the highway. As the highway revamps, many of the ranch homes on Benham – north of this site, – have been bought and torn down. I’m assuming new homes will rise up in their place, but it could just as easily swing into commercial use; this part of town is transforming rapidly after a long period of stagnation.

This house would be a dream achievement for certain types of residential art deco aficionados. But there are now so many physical and market-driven barriers piling up around it that the prognosis is bleak. Another “that’s a damn shame” may be added to the list.

2010 UPDATE
This home has been bought and is now fully occupied, with vehicles parked in the carport and a tidy yard. Thank you to whomever saw the beauty of this home!