River Roads Bulletin

River Roads Shopping Center (remains)
Jennings, MO
If you’ve been patiently waiting for a chance to nab one of those aqua bow ties off the former Stix, Baer & Fuller store, better hurry.

It’s taken well over a year for them to get to it, but now less than a quarter of this section remains, and the bow ties, hexagons and triangles litter the pit of the demolition site.
Above is what I was able to take with me, and the gathering of just these 2 pieces was accompanied by a constant hissing of “shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT!”

Because having come from a birthday dinner, I was in no way dressed for spelunking into a pit of construction debris. I had on the completely wrong shoes for climbing over fencing and hopping over large chunks of building guts. I was freaking out as I took photos and saw hundreds of pieces of that sophisticated, geometric marvel of wall scattered below. So the wrong shoes be damned, down I went.

One has to park rather far away from the demo site, and when carrying armfuls of heavy ceramic tile, the walk is noticeably long (especially in the middle of July, trust me). And there’s only me, and I’m hopelessly inappropriately dressed. So, I could only salvage the two pieces shown above.
But this is the kind of stuff I had to walk away from! Look, a section still intact enough to get the full picture of how they puzzle-pieced the facade together. It’s sublime! And take a look at that hexagon piece. Dozens of them are lying – intact – all over the ground, looking like MCM birdbaths. I was losing my mind at how much stuff survived the fall, and how little I could save. That piece shown above? Way too heavy for me to carry that far by myself in heels….shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT!!!!

So, if you want some shopping souvenirs, please hurry, because as the demolition work week continues, more and more of it goes into a trash dumpster.

Overland, MO Mid-Century Modern

Lately, Overland is notorious as the township with the deluded, egoistic mayor who refuses to relinquish the burning castle. Aside from City Hall ineptitudes that have inspired so many of its citizens to blog, Overland is a nice town; completely suburban, yet old enough to have been formed to urban standards. There is a formal downtown nucleus that spreads out into little tract homes, and at Christmas the main drags are festooned with the exact same lighted decorations decade after decade. Overland retains so much of its original fabric that it often feels like touring a museum of post-World War 2 Baby Boom suburban expansion. Yet the place is alive, feisty and curious in a low-key manner, which keeps it off the hipsters and aggressive developers radars.

These photos are a fair sampling of the commercial buildings along Lackland Road, right in the immediate vicinity of Skeeter’s Frozen Custard. Generally, they were all built between the end of World War 2 and 1955.

This particular building has changed hands many times (it was an upholstery shop for the longest time), with each new owner never feeling the need to radically alter its appearance. And I’ve noticed that about this entire stretch of road: the commercial buildings don’t stay vacant for very long and they seldom get radically remodeled. Some may say that a lack of apparent progress is the sign of a stagnant city, but I see Overland’s constant, gentle ripples as a city finely balanced.

One of my favorite examples of Overland being satisfied with its resources is the above service station. Walking onto the parking lot is like swooshing back in time, with that time being kept by the very same clock that’s graced the building since it went up in 1954.

The only major change the decades have wrought is the removal of the gas pumps. Other than that, it’s business as usual, utterly neat and tidy and friendly.

What year was this photo taken? The only thing that betrays 21st century is a package of blue M&Ms and Skittles in what is most likely the exact same vending machine the original owners plopped into that office 53 years ago.

Heading east on Lackland and crossing over Woodson Road (the city’s main drag), one can see the most curious of buildings. Some portion of the Knights of Columbus Hall was built in 1930, and dusty new additions have been plopped into the mix over the decades. The place is now massive, and appears dead to the world, but its ramshackle appearance always stays exactly the same (indicating regular upkeep), and its website shows a full roster of activities.

Just up the street, the YMCA sports the Deco Moderate look that was popular in new suburbs of the late 1940s. It gave new public buildings a sense of the modern urbanity but without all the drama. This style holds up well, as it never looks too dated (for those who require contemporary) or too radical (for those who like quaint). This YMCA building went up in 1948, is still in use, and still looks fabulous.

At the intersection of Lackland & Brown Road is this simple and handsome building, built in 1945. The curving corner, a ribbon of tiny windows and the dark brick pinstripes of the second floor give it a bit of a Steamliner Deco feel. There is always another business ready to take over any vacancies in this building, and it’s been this way since I first “met” the building in 1984. This intersection has businesses on 3 sides, but it’s a bit disconnected from the main commercial drags by houses. Meaning, it would have been a natural for this building – this intersection – to decay from natural suburban aging. But it hasn’t. What does Overland have going on that similar towns don’t?

Directly across the street is a building that always tickles me. I mentally refer to it as Googie Van Der Rohe because it looks like a Chicago Mies building accented with a Southern California roadside motel lobby. It was built in 1957 as a bank and remains so, and it looks like that!

The SoCal Googie looby was, obviously, the main entrance, meant to be accessed by foot, bus or car from the intersection. But in 1967 they moved the entrance to the opposite end of the building when they expanded that parking lot. The “new” entrance still has that afterthought look, and feels cramped because of the makeshift drive-through lanes crowding its scene.

I love that a bench was placed under the canopy, so that employees can lunch and smoke in Jetsons splendor, and that they have to walk quite a ways to get to it, as that door has a chain on it to make sure it stays shut.

So, the entrance is now useless as such, yet they’ve left it completely intact, with the “crazy man, crazy” light fixture hanging like it’s suspended in prehistoric amber. It’s such a queer thing to have so many different banks move in and out of this building, reconfiguring its guts and alley as banking needs change, yet they leave the essential Mod-ness of it alone. Is it a case of “out of sight, out of mind?” Or that no one bank is ever inside long enough to invest in remodeling the non-essential parts? Or does it cast some sort of 77 Sunset Strip spell over all inhabitants, rendering those who would vinyl side incapable of doing so?

By hanging a U-ey at Lackland & Brown, we drive back toward Woodson Road, hang a right and head straight into the thick of old fashioned Downtown Overland. And it really does seem to have gone out of its way to be old-fashioned from inception. County records show that most of this dense strip of buildings went up in the 10 years directly after WW2, so they built quickly during those last moments in time when pedestrian traffic still influenced how a commercial district was laid out.

The downtown strip has a few stalwart businesses, remainders from the old days. But, again, each time a storefront becomes available, it gets filled much quicker than these types of commercial districts usually do. And by quicker than usual, I mean that we can cruise the central commercial strips of, say, Normandy or Baden or Glasgow Village and see a chain of vacant storefronts. But not in Overland.

And they have never really had the room to renovate for expanded parking. Sure, they’ve taken down a building or 2 to squeeze in some blacktop spots, but overall, its street parking, and those spots are always filled and there’s always commerce taking place.

One of the liveliest spots in downtown is the diner, above. By keeping it tiny (572 square feet being a good definition of such) they were able to push the building up against the sidewalk and use the leftover space for parking, which was quickly becoming a bigger concern when the place was built in 1957.

Half of the building is decked out in Pseudo Deco, vaguely reminiscent of White Castles, while the other half is standard Corner Tavern Stone facade. That they were able to cram 2 distinct looks onto so little wall is most impressive.

And the interior has barely changed in 50 years.
What kills me is that one can easily walk from Paul Bros. service station (4th picture from the top of this entry) to this diner in about 10 minutes and somehow remain in a Leave It To Beaver world, untouched by the uglier aspects of modern time. And we’re not talking some retro homage; it’s the entire genuine article, unfussy and unconcerned that the diner reeks of decades worth of grease. It’s probably those ancient grease odors that makes the biscuits and gravey (spelled, my lord, with an “ey”) so damn great.

The Hacienda Mexican restaurant has long been a popular staple in the downtown strip, but it hasn’t always been this pink. It used to have a more traditional Northwest County Adobe look. I feel they updated the color to Flamingo Pink to better coordinate with the establishment behind it…

…which has spruced up its Lyndon B. Johnson congressional motel look with some hot sea foam green trim. Built in 1965, they were billed as “garden apartments,” for all doors faced into a central courtyard, much like in Southern California.

Every good downtown needs a dollop of seediness, so this place has become rather transient, in the most romantic sense of the word. The set-up is actually quite nice, but I couldn’t get in any closer for better shots, as the working girls crossing the tiny parking lot were real uptight about someone taking pictures of their place so early on a Saturday morning. I respect free enterprise, so I respectfully moved on.

Leaving downtown proper, we head back up Woodson Road, a couple of blocks south of Page Avenue, to one of my favorite buried MCM treasures. Overland is rather hilly, and note how this gem (above) plays with the topography by tapering a rectangle into the hillside. I love the feel of the windows melting into the ground, and the shades of blue springing out of green grass and blacktop.

This place was built in 1958, and it’s a perfect model of that year’s modern aesthetic. Tiny tiles of aquatic blues, the concrete block sun screen that throws polka dots amid the shadows, simple planes low to the ground, cool geometry in service to manufacturing prowess. If this building could have been erected next to the Googie Van Der Rohe bank, the story of 1950s American Progress would have been perfectly told in microcosm.

U.S Band & Orchestra Supplies now manufactures and wholesales instruments, and the building serves them well enough that they don’t think about it’s condition. This building needs some help. A good start would be to trim the hedges and kill the weeds, some waterproofing and paint on the faded surfaces.

Each time I pass this faded beauty, I have to fight the overwhelming urge to have at the tile with a bucket of Spic & Span and a water hose. Just imagine how those tiles gleam when clean, how this building must have impressed when it first came to the neighborhood. And it could do that once again, but the immediate commercial strip in which this building sits is heading toward the kind of decay that invites future developers to go for Big Box infiltration. Should this ever be the case, the one building that just might save the above gem is…

WOOFIE’S! Serving what has been called “the hot dog of the gods,” the building went up in 1955 and is only a dozen square feet bigger than the diner shown above. But this building was dedicated to the car from its inception, so the inside can now concentrate on being a tiny “shrine to the all-beef frankfurter.” It’s clean and bright, and on a brilliant sunny day, Woofie’s contrasted with my blue tile geo gem next door is a sight to break my heart. It speaks to me of all that’s good about America’s mid-century aspirations, and makes me proud that such a unique town like Overland is here for you and me.

A Wellston Bank

Kienlen Ave & Dr. Martin Luther King Dr.
Wellston, MO

Every few months I visit Wellston, just to keep track of what’s going on. There’s been a lot of activity in the area over the last few years, with a considerable amount of new home construction and a handful of new commercial buildings. While it’s heartening to see activity in the community, I worry about the conspicuous lack of rehab and preservation, and specifically, the fate of the former State Bank of Wellston.

Sited a mere 1.5 blocks northwest of the St. Louis City Limit, the State Bank of Wellston was a flashy focal point of Wellston’s welcome mat status in the post-WW2 suburban migration.

Erected in the late 1940s, the bank’s lighted advertising tower (above) was/is a notorious landmark. It looks like a cross between the old RKO Pictures Studio logo and a hipster alien spacecraft, which is also an apt description of the role Wellston played in the urban-to-suburban evolution of the St. Louis Metropolitan area.

The advertising tower touts Sky Bank, which is was until the early 1950s when a new granite facade lent the importance required of an upgrade to State Bank. The 1955 St. Louis Directory ad (above) reminds us that Easton Avenue was long the original name of Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. That moniker peters out less than a mile from this intersection, when it becomes St. Charles Rock Road.

When trying to recreate the 1955 directory shot, I couldn’t help but notice that liberties had been taken with the tower placement. But surprisingly, most everything else remains the same.

In the early 1960s, the bank expanded and embraced the supremacy of car culture by adding an aqua supreme drive-thru-banking addition. With the light fixtures that indicated open lanes long gone (above), I love that what remains looks like hubcaps. It’s both a sad and fitting commentary of what birthed and killed this now-abandoned drive-thru.

It is now a Regions Bank, and every time I photograph it, a security guard eventually comes out to kindly shoo me away. On this visit, the guard told me that the building had been sold in the late fall of 2005. Regions would build a new, larger structure across the street on Kienlen. I mused aloud to the security guard: While it’s nice that they decided to stay in this community, why do they need a bigger building when most banks are physically shrinking due to ATM- and on-line-banking? And who bought this building? And what will become of it? The security guard merely shrugged and made it clear I needed to stop taking pictures and just leave.

Mindful of all the new activity, Landmarks has made steps towards an historical survey of Wellston, in hopes of making its city hall and developers aware of Wellston’s varied historical fabric. My hope is that rather than concentrating on the earlier era of this municipality, all decades of its story will be represented, with this bank being a beautiful example of mid-century city-to-county aspirations.

Since it will no longer be a bank, it’s time to think about what else it could become: A bookstore or library (with drive-thru drop off book return!); a restaurant and bar (imagine the drive-thru area as the coolest outdoor dining area)? If Wellston were as sleepy as it once was, this soon-to-be-empty building could sit undisturbed for decades until a bright-minded person decided to bring it back to life. But Wellston’s on the move, and chances are this building will be demolished, because that’s what happens in St. Louis. Plus, people have yet to be alarmed about the cavalier destruction of our mid-century architectural heritage. This bank is a choice example of such.

RELATED To Wellston

Northland Demolition Part 4

July 31, 2005
The last visit was July 26th.
northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
And with the former Famous Barr building utterly gone and buried in a massive pit (above, right), the demolition crew got busy on the north arm of Northland.
northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
(Above, left) In the foreground, we’re looking down into what remains of the Famous-Barr upper basement as we stand on the upper parking lot. And what are the tree roots growing into? I never comprehended the complexity of Northland’s multi-levels until it was dismantled, and I’m still impressed with the designers’ ingenuity.
(Above, right) The former Baker’s Shoes gets a good medicine ball whack before the crew went home for the weekend.

northland center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
Demolition debris can’t help but be poetic in its descent. In person, the flow of the plaster and brick (above) was balletic.
northland shopping center demolition in jennings mo photos by Toby Weiss
It’s hard for me to watch them take this building down, but tearing it down also reveals the older layers I remember, and hidden layers that the public was never meant to see. The southern next door neighbor of the former Kresge’s was obviously an International Shoe at the time the place was built. This wooden construction plaque (above, right) had been buried behind the original drywall.
The former Kresge itself (above, right) revealed a few hidden treasures, and unwillingly gave up a few more pieces for me to cart off. Kresge’s is such a special and mythical place for me (and some others, too), that I will post a separate farewell entry to Northland’s Kresge’s in the near future.

kinney shoes at northland shopping enter photos by Toby Weiss
As we head down to the lower level, a sign (above, left) still recalls what shops were there right around the time Famous Barr vacated in the very early 1990s.
And Northland was obviously shoe shopping mecca with Kinney (above, right) being one of two stores that permanently marked their footware territory in concrete. The clothing store Worth’s had done the same, and it’s always a thrill to find store logos embedded in entry ways. From small towns to large cities, it was assumed that a shop would always be in that location, so it was no problem to pay a little extra for some sidewalk branding art.

northland shopping center demolition photos by toby weiss
To aid in asbestos removal, the demolition crew blasted a hole into the west wall of the top floor of Kresge (above), and by doing so, they revealed the deep aqua blue tile of the original facade. Actually, all shades of light to medium blues, in concert with all that stainless steel, was the dominate color scheme of Northland. Hmm, wonder where my inbred love of a light blue and silver color combo comes from…?
piles of rubble at northland shopping center photo by toby weiss
Here was a sobering moment.
A rubble mountain had sprung up in the middle of the lower level parking lot (above). At peak, it’s easily 25 feet tall, possibly taller, since I’m lousy at judging height. It’s a rather long ascent, and once at the top it does provide fantastic photographic views. Then it hit me:
These are remains I’m standing on.
All the busted up concrete and plaster they pulled out of the Famous Barr pit made this temporary landmass. And suddenly I was creeped out and ashamed to be standing atop it.

nothland medical building demolition photos by toby weiss
Got a good perspective on how the upper and lower levels of Northland come together on the southernmost end (above, left) by standing in the outdoor utility stairwell of the Northland Office Building. The patchwork of blue glass that makes up the exterior walls of its stairwells (above, right) are pretty banged up, with some panes missing, but it’s still breathtakingly beautiful to my eyes.

August 13, 2005
I was going to Northland at least once a week to survey, spelunk and photograph, but it started to weigh heavily upon me. So I let some time slip by, to give myself a break from the emotional burden. But I needed to get back with camera and tools to try and salvage as much of the Kresge as was possible for one girl to cart off. I desperately wanted to find something that said Kresge on it, just to have proof that it really existed.
The moment I got off work on this particular Saturday, the sky erupted into a mad, blazing storm that eventually caused massive wind damage and flash flooding throughout most of the St. Louis area. But I drove on, hoping a storm this wicked would quickly blow over.

northland shopping center grocery store demolition photos by toby weiss
And I wondered if the grocery store would still be there. Pictures I’d taken of it on my last visit are above.
northland shopping center demolition photo by toby weiss
It’s still an incessant downpour when I barge through a “Do Not Enter” gate, only to find this empty void among the debris (above). The grocery store was history, vanished into mud. I had so wanted to rescue one of those obscenely bright glazed tiles, but those had probably been ground into dust about 4 days ago. Now it was part of the oozing paste in the hole that was once a grocery store.
northland shopping center demolition photos by toby weiss
And quickly looking to my right, I see that exactly half of Kresge was sliced off (above, left)!
Now, it’s pouring down rain. I have no rain gear and a digital camera that’s allergic to water. I’m stuck in the car until it stops raining. So, I drive around Jennings and Ferguson for about 30 minutes, wondering who’ll stop the rain?
It never stopped.
In the upper level Aldi’s parking lot, I forlornly stared off into the dreary distance at what was left of Kresge’s (above, right). I couldn’t get to the building and its remains, and even when it stopped raining, it would be a toxic muddy mess. I also contemplated the irony of how Northland was now offically 50 years old, making it eligible for Historic Registry…yeah, whatever.
Water dripped down my windshield and my face; I knew it was over for me and Kresge. This was not how I wanted to say goodbye, but that’s how it ended.
This is all becoming too much of a heartache.

August 21, 2005

I return a week later and immediately notice that the large and elaborate Northland sign that officially greeted everyone at the the Lucas & Hunt/West Florissant intersection had been – literally – smashed into the dirt (above). They hadn’t even bothered to cart away the plastic letters, so what remains of the “R” seen in the foreground is now in the trunk of my car.
northland shopping center demolktion photos by toby weiss
The crew made a broad sweep across the upper parking lot, knocking down rows of light poles (above, left). It looked a bit like a razor had run across a beard, and left a fine layer of broken glass everywhere, like powdered sugar on a lemon bar.
The tower that accents the south arm of Northland (above, right) is still standing tall, but they have prepared the store fronts for the final blow by removing all glass and interior contents.

walgreens at northland shopping center demolition photos by toby weiss
The detritus of demolition has featured many a poignant and/or odd sight (above, left).
And the “opening up” of the former Walgreens (above, right) once again reveals how airy that space had once appeared from the sidewalk. With a footband of blue green tile, topped by panels of smooth stone and bookended by flagstone columns, it was certainly the most sophisticated Walgreens store, materials-wise.

kresges at northland shopping center demolition photos by toby weiss
With heavy heart, I made the trek across the wreckage of the parking lot to where Kresge once stood. On the upper level, it’s northernmost wall still stood (above), reminding me of some ancient ruin as it stood among its fallen parts. I stood for a long while in these remains, but didn’t have the heart to poke around for treasure. I was a bit too numb.
northland shopping center bowling alley demolition photos by toby weiss
So I walked around and down to the lower level. The space that was the Ambassador nightclub was formely a bowling alley, and since they were currently crushing it, long-buried bowling pins (above, left) were scattered among the asbestos-crusted construction shards.
northland shoping center bowling alley demolition ambassador photos by toby weiss
The lower level West arm in the middle of being beaten to the ground (above).

So far, this sections demise has been the most colorful, because these store fronts had retained more of it’s original store fronts, including the coral pink Vitrolite (above).

Here comes another sobering moment.
(Above, left) This area tucked under a “lattice work” stainless steel canopy once housed a popular music store, a cobbler and Worth’s clothing store. To the right of this picture (taken about a month previous) is the lower level Kresge display windows.
(Above, right) Standing in roughly the same position, the tree is still standing and…that’s about it. And here’s exactly where it became too much for me to bear…

As I stood ankle deep in the rubble (above) of what was my beloved Kresge, I literally lost it. I doubled over with stomache pain and cried and wailed with grief. And it surprised me.

I’ve been surverying and photographing Northland since March 2002. Away from the site, the sentimental angle takes over, but while “working the site,” my historical, architectural and photographic eye is in play. I seldom get too too emotional about it because I have documentation work to attend to. But at this very moment, my heart broke into a hundred pieces and tears literally dropped into the dust as I bent over trying to catch my breath. The eternal “goneness” of it all hit me too hard, and at the wrong time. I just lost the strength or the urge to continue on. I just wanted it to be over, because I was tired of smelling, seeing and shooting the corpse. I was numb from attending The Longest Wake.

Maybe ten minutes later, the emotional drama and physical drain subsided and I trudged on. I’d come too far in this self-appointed project to stop now.
And we find Lunch Among the Ruins (above, left), and the Rubble Mountain becoming just as wide as it is tall (above, right).

The lower level of the South arm is also prepped for crushing (above, left & right).
And I marvel yet again at the massing of space and place that is just one of the West Florissant entrances to Northland (below). It literally looks and feels like a section of any downtown city.

September 4, 2005

Oddly enough, the bank (above, left) is still open for business. Obviously, money talks. But how creepy is it for the folks working there?
When we invade the orange plastic fence boundary (above, right)

…to check out the deconstruction details. There is now an unobstructed view from the upper level to the Northland Office Building on the lower level (above, left). And has been their consistent policy, the demolition company places their sign (above, right) on the section that will be crushed next. This tower is the last remaining sign post of the main shopping center. It’s obliteration will be another sore point for me. Not looking forward to it, while also wishing they’d just hurry up and put the horse down…

Where Famous Barr was (above) is now filled in with all its own remains. This area was 3 stories deep. It’s now maybe a half-story deep. And looking across north, it’s just flat ground. It’s depressing. But at least it’s over.

Southernmost lower level “sketch”, above.

The demolition crew was using Office Building as it’s cool zone during the intense heat wave of early August. But now they’ve begun stripping and throwing out the interior of the building, leaving a ring of trash along all sides of its perimeter (above, left). And they’ve begun peeling off the the metal sun screens that gives the building its distinctively modern look (above, right). Paint lines show these panels were once blue green, but I don’t remember that at all. Though the thought of this color in horizontal bands against the white building sounds appealing. Many people mistakenly assume that modern architecture means stark white, and from Le Corbu to Northland, that simply wasn’t the case. Color and texture played a large part in shaping the spaces.

(Above, left) Hauling in the dumpsters also means the medicine ball is coming. I’m positive this is my last moment with Office Building (and a solo entry on it will also be forthcoming). I’m in no hurry to get back to the site because it’s just too large of a brain and heart drain. Almost 3 weeks weeks will pass before I can get back, and this demolition crew is fast and effcient. Everything will be gone by the time I get back. I dread the moment, but I will return.rf

Darla Court

Darla Court, Jennings, MO
As if Northland being demolished wasn’t hard enough, I found my childhood home behind Northland (on Meadowlark) now boarded up and condemned. A tangible piece of my personal past is being wiped off the map, and the timing of it borders on overkill.

The neighborhood itself is a classic hodgepodge, with homes ranging from the early 1900s to the late 1960s, and while half of the houses are as crisp as I remember them, the other half are abandoned and rotting.

We always traversed this neighborhood on foot, so I knew it intimately…or so I thought until I took a turn down a street I’d never been down before. This small area couldn’t be more tucked away and ignored, and thus has no compulsion towards suburban civility, feeling more like a bayou swamp settlement. In the midst of Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil I discovered a portal into The Modern WayBack Machine.
By taking a curious right and heading down a steep hill, I rolled back in time to a Jet Set Duplex Park. A paisley-shaped street is ringed with pristine examples of optimistic car culture multi-family dwellings, all butterfly winged carports and picture windows.

There were a few variations on the theme (above), but all are low-slung duplexes lovingly tended to.

I was numb as I stood gawking in the middle of the court, feeling as if I’d stepped into a 1960s postcard. The intense heat of the day made my head woozy, so I assumed I was imagining this clean and precise oasis of residential modern in the midst of a forgotten swamp land. But it was true! On this island, martini shakers still rattled at hibachi BBQs while alligators and scorpions surely lurked in the overgrown lawns of the homes outside this bubble.

How did I miss this place all these years?
I asked my parents about it, and they, too, had no idea it existed because they didn’t even realize you could go east of Huiskamp Ave in that neighborhood. So I didn’t feel like such a dunce for overlooking it. Plus, it’s tucked into the valley of a large dead end.

St. Louis County property tax records show that my Mid-Century Model Train Neighborhood was built in 1968 as Glenview Court. Meaning, it was built while we lived in the area, but sailed under the radar.

Most every duplex still retains its original and unique metal medallion on the front facade (note tikki stone faces, above middle), and the owners sit in lawnchairs under their carports wondering why this chick is casing their court. I keep returning because it’s like the Demolition Gods threw me a bone, allowing a new chapter within the doomed pages of my architectural biography.

Northland Demolition Part 3

Today’s visit to the Northland demolition site was about absence. Review this to see what was once anchoring the middle right portion of the above picture. There are now two loose ends with an enormous gaping hole between them.

On my last visit to the site, this building (above) was still standing. It was originally the post office. Note the cut-out on the left end of the building that was the loading dock, and how the enitre packge is very Neutra in line and execution.

Ignore the absurd cap that was put on its front (above) when it became a Family Dollar, and note the placement of simple geometry to indicate entry, lobby and main body. The area where the handicap parking sign stands now was once a decorative concrete block sunscreen. That was a very popular form of solar protection in the late ’50s/early ’60s, (and is still seen widely in Southern California), and protected the lobby from the harsh sun, at least until central air was installed.

Today, all that’s left of the building is….nothing. Just this shallow hole of dirt in the blacktop. 22 days ago, there was a building, and now there’s nary a tiny remnant. How in the hell did they demolish and clean up so fast? They’re still picking away at the carcass of the Famous-Barr building, while this one just vanished into thin air!

(Above) The last two original outlot buildings (Rapps/Schnucks to the left, Famous-Barr Automotive to the right) can obviously be dispensed of just as quickly as the post office. Considering how quickly they’re now moving, I need to visit the site once a week. But it’s getting harder to get onto the site, as they’ve blocked off all but 2 of the many entries. No matter how or when, something tells me this is the final photo of these buildings.

Northland Demolition Continued

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
Here’s where we left off, and now let’s continue…

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
On the upper level looking north (above, left) & south (above, right) onto what was and what’s left of Famous-Barr.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

(Above, left) I’m standing “inside” the FB now, about the level of the roof of the sub-basement and looking up at the “Blow Out Sale” store front. Standing in the same spot, I look up to my left and the escalator still strains to take me to the second floor (above, right). I look down to my left and study the massive pile of building debris tumbling into the bottomless dark basements waaay below ground. I swear I see pieces of what I covet dearly: the stainless steel that made up the “Northland” sign. As I start to climb down the pile to investigate further, I realize I’m breaking the very first rule of Demolition Spelunking:

Do Not Do It Alone!
There must be someone else around to at least know you disappeared in the building and alert the authorities.

I’m by myself, crap! But my chances of getting one of those mangled letters is right before me – 70/30% chance of success.
A few more steps down the shifting pile, and I get a vision of the suffocating horror of the 30%, and stop.
Crap! But a letter is right there, I swear it!
I’m supposed to be at my Pop’s Father’s Day BBQ in Brighton, IL in 40 minutes, and I’m not supposed to be getting these clothes dirty (too late), and I probably should also arrive in one piece… I had to let it go.
It still hurts.
So does watching this.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

Even as the place whittles away, it’s still an architectural love affair. I can’t get over something so modern, sleek and strong (above left) being torn down. And I see the old, whimsical wiring get up (above right), and marvel that the place hasn’t half burnt to the ground.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
(Above) Against what’s left of the upper level wall, staring down to the lower level.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

Letters and stars are history (above right), as the rest of the building now looks like a picked-over Thanksgiving turkey. Upper level at the former Kresge’s/McCrory’s (above right), demolition workers pulled all remaining interior trash out to the curb, which then sprouted an absurdist lawn mower blooming atop the greenery.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

Most all of the lights still burn at night, which gives the place a submarine feel, an underwater eeriness. On the north side of the lower level, I get to see interiors that I could only half make out during daylight (above left, former Worth’s/Studio 150). And the promenade towards what was Famous-Barr (above right) features perfectly lit destruction.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

(Above left) Lower level south side, looking at the rounded bank and a (long-blocked) stairwell up to the top level. It was an aresting sight, especially the light on inside the utility area to the left of the stairs, which felt oddly warm and inviting.

(Above right) Man, I so want this in my backyard!

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

(Above right) The Northland Bowl sign reappears!
The (now-vacated) Ambassador took down one of their signs, and unearthed both the original name and function of the building that was attached to Northland’s lower level north side in 1967.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

(Above left) Upper level north next to what was the FB, the former Baker’s Shoes/Kingsbury’s Shoes literally stands at the edge of the abyss.
(Above right), standing in the FB pit and looking up at the same store.

Even though I’m painfully sad over this loss, it’s been fascinating and absorbing to see the physical bones of the place, construction details, how damn solid it is…was. I wonder if any of the men who helped build the place 49-50 years ago have come out to watch it be taken apart?

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

(Above left) Lower level of the former Kresge’s, and I never run into anyone inside these buildings while I’m there during the day. They must only come out at night. But no one cares about this site, so they could very well spray paint freely while the crews are at lunch…
And it’s getting hard to travel Northland by car because they have closed off most all of the entrances and roads (above right) around this massive place. Also note the big, beautiful 50-year old tree. Sorry, goodbye.

Here’s some thoughts from other people about Northland. I’ve also received some wonderful notes from folks who grew up in the area, and are now watching it leave via my photos and/or their special Goodbye Treks to the place. Thanks for sharing how much you loved the place, too.
More to come.

Northland Shopping Center

Northland Shopping Center
Lucas-Hunt Road & West Florissant, Jennings, MO
Northland is a personal and architectural obsession of mine. If you want back story and photos, go here. An architect pal o’mine understands my obsession, and I thank him for publishing wreckage updates when I couldn’t bear to. In this space, I will visit various aspects of Northland’s demise, but for this moment, some hard news.

Wednesday, June 15th was the Ambassador’s last night of business at Northland. They are still trying to find a new location, and are even contemplating building a new place from scratch since relocating has turned into more of a hassle than anticipated.

As Northland dies and Buzz Westfall’s Plaza on the Boulevard rises from the ashes, Sansone is actively recruiting tenants to fill in the details of what Target and Schnucks will anchor. The Ambassador (and a subsidiary of Spruill’s International Catering) wanted to sign on with the Plaza, which seems like a win/win situation for all parties involved.

But the Ambassador was given a “no thanks.”
London’s Wing House – a successful outlot building nestled right into the West Florissant and Lucas-Hunt corner – must also leave (and this, after the owner dropped a big chunk of change on remodeling).

The Ambassador, Spruill’s and London’s Wing House are privately owned minority businesses with a sizeable and loyal clientele. They kept Northland alive for the last several years. But they are not corporate chains, so they are not welcome at Buzz Westfall’s Plaza on the Boulevard.

Even though this news doesn’t shock me, it still really pisses me off.

To Wellston

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

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

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

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

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

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

North County Modern

The Beverly Hills, Mo city hall and pharmacy as photographed in 2001 by toby weiss
Beverly Hills, MO
Natural Bridge Rd. just east of Lucas-Hunt Rd.
It barely exists as a municipality, and the scene above promises to change. Remodeling has begun because the pharmacy (which shares space with the City Hall) needs to expand. With a population under 700, it’s heartening that something is expanding here…

the glasgow village shopping center as photographed in 2003 by toby weiss
Glasgow Village, MO
Just a scootch past the city/county line, in the bluffs above Riverview Blvd., behind Chain of Rocks Park, which actually mattered much when the amusement park was in play. The shopping center is now really nothing more than this liquor store.

(This piece was originally posted in June 2005. Since then, Glasgow Village Shopping Center is gone.)

top of the tower and stelmacki's in moline acres missouri as photographed by toby weiss in 2001
Moline Acres, MO
Hwy 367 & Chambers Rd.
Top of the Tower Restaurant was a sophisticated destination in the late 1960/early 1970s, and to live in the apartments below was pretty hip. The movie theater on the lower level became many a defunct nightclub, but Stelmacki’s is still in place, and keeps the geometric marvel alive.

belle park plaza in spanish lake, missouri as photographed by toby weiss in 2001 and 2005
Spanish Lake, MO
Bellefontaine Rd. & Parker Rd.
My father’s wife ran a beauty shop in this plaza for almost 20 years. I’d seen it a thousand times over the years, but never noticed the subtle chevron theme until a couple of years ago. It was the city’s one and only attempt at jazzing up for the motor age, and they may have kept it subtle because it was just a few yards from the blacksmith’s shop.