Posted on September 7th, 2014 No comments
St. Louis is a racist town. Historically and culturally, it is a part of our heritage. Our built environment provides visual proof of this racism. The only thing surprising about the resentful segregation that has boiled over and blown up in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014 is that it took this long to do so.
The Ferguson police killing of Michael Brown is inexcusable and heartbreaking. This piece is inspired by my sorrow over Michael Brown’s tragic fate, and the intense feelings conjured while watching the aftermath unfold on the familiar streets of what was once my home and to those it belongs to now.
Because it’s what I do, half this piece deals with the topic through photos of our buildings. This architecture tells the story of St. Louis’ northern expansion from urban to suburban, from white to black. It illustrates St. Louis’ White Flight as it traveled north up West Florissant from Highway 70 to New Halls Ferry, with a stop in Ferguson. Sharing our story through buildings is the best way I know how to process all the disturbing feelings I can’t shake in the wake of Michael Brown’s violent and unfair departure.
A WHITE LADY’S CREDENTIALS
I have spent a decade plus documenting the St. Louis built environment in photos and words through this blog. I am a North County (NoCo) native, born and raised in
Jennings – 14 Yr. Old Boy Murdered on Meadowlark
Ferguson – Personal Architecture: 509 Teston in Ferguson, MO
Black Jack – Tear Down Jamestown Mall
before landing in South St. Louis City in 1993.
Over half of my posts about NoCo brings up St. Louis’ history of White Flight, gently touching on our racism because it’s unavoidable. But it needs to stop being treated as a poorly hidden secret. I no longer wish to be politely genteel about how our racism is determined to destroy North St. Louis County the same way it did North St. Louis City.
My immediate and extended family is a classic example of North Siders following the trail up West Florissant to North County, and eventually leaving it completely when it got “too Black.” My family is just a few of the hundreds of thousands of other NoCo Whites who have done exactly the same. I’ve seen why and how it plays it out.
I love and explore all of St. Louis and spend a lot of time in North County, documenting its history as told through buildings and places. I manufacture any excuse to visit and hang out because I genuinely love North County more today than when I lived there. It feels good; it feels like home, because it is.
But where I differ from so many of my White brethren is that I do not resent the Black majority that are now the rightful citizens of NoCo. It is their home the same as it was once mine. They live, love and work there the same as we once did, but with one glaring exception: they have to deal with and work around the systemic and lingering resentment of Whites who willingly fled the area because of them. And that’s a White Problem the NoCo Blacks have had to deal with… until they just couldn’t anymore.
CREATING ST. LOUIS RACISM
St. Louis has always been a schizophrenic city. It’s the last of the old Eastern cities, and the Gateway to the younger West. That informs its Conservative vs. Progressive spirit. The Civil War Mason-Dixon Line ran right through it, and it’s been a struggle of North vs. South mentality ever since.
The national dominance that the City of St. Louis experienced from post-Civil War to post-Korean War was partially based on the population increase of Blacks from the South. And while it was, by constitutional law, safe for Blacks to come here, powerful White factions have always made sure the new arrivals were segregated into the City’s North Side.
While White St. Louis has enthusiastically embraced Black St. Louis culture – from music (milestone home of jazz, ragtime, blues and rock & roll) to food (BBQ and soul food are indigenous cuisine) – they made sure Blacks lived in a contained manner.
Before and after the Civil Rights movement, the real estate Red Lining of the 20th century (expertly detailed in the book Mapping Decline) remains a troubling problem barely disguised as predatory lending in the 21st century. While every race and income level has been injured by the housing bubble burst of 2008, in St. Louis the massive foreclosures are most dramatic in the predominantly Black towns of North St. Louis County. It’s Red Lining re-branded for the 21st century.
CREATING NORTH COUNTY
After World War 2, the Baby Boom created a need for more housing for everyone. With the help of President Eisenhower’s new highways and G.I. loans, people left St. Louis City in all directions for the largely rural County. To the North, West Florissant Avenue became a main corridor to fresh new homes and schools, so commerce built up along it to serve the fast influx of new residents.
St. Louis families of all races and income levels can trace their rising fortunes by how they leap frogged from one municipality to the next, ever-further away from the City lines. The huge exodus from the City over a 20 year span left the City to rot. This fact earned its own chapter in the 1999 book The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration 1966-1999 by Ray Suarez.
Because the City’s North Side had historically (and uneasily) accepted more Blacks, the migration to North County had more of a salt and pepper flavor than to the west or south. In private, North Side Whites acknowledged the additional motivation of leaving City blocks that got one more black family than they were comfortable living with. And that mentality remained as Whites and Blacks wrote the living history of North St. Louis County in the last half of the 20th century.
NOT LIKING WHAT WE SEE IN THE MIRROR
St. Louis County is a star pupil in the Suburbanization of Poverty. Here are some informative pieces with great historical reporting that detail how Ferguson got to this point:
St. Louis is an old industrial city that carried its archaic North vs. South mentality to the new suburbs, clinging to a stark segregation in North County. In the wake of Michael Brown’s death, we are bickering amongst ourselves about how racist we are or aren’t while the global community has learned exactly how racist we are and shakes its head in disbelief.
National reporters puzzled over the statistics and anecdotes about how oblivious a large percentage of St. Louis Whites are about our race problems. Veteran reporter Charles Jaco got to the heart of it in two Twitter posts on August 18, 2014:
“Despite the global focus, most white people in St. Louis this is just Ferguson, willfully blind to race and class issues that cause seething anger. In 19 yrs, discovered white people in StL are kind, considerate and oblivious to racial issues. Like StL BBQ sauce, they’re sweet but thick.”
Because we have a history of racially insulating our neighborhoods, it’s very easy for White St. Louisans to be completely unaware that Different Rules Apply. Speaking only from my experiences, native White St. Louisans who are not instinctively racist tend to be those who have traveled and/or lived outside of the region and have experienced places where you can palpably feel the ABSENCE of racial tension. It’s always an eye opener. The lesson learned from it is that it’s easier to accept all people as they are rather than how you want them to be.
There’s one trait that most every visitor notices about St. Louis (aside from how clean we are!): we are extremely nice people. We are inherently nice to each other, face to face, no matter the color or culture. But how we develop our towns, evolve our governments and speak in private conveys that White St. Louis has a long-standing problem with Black St. Louis.
This behavior grows more absurd as the world becomes more global and integrated via the internet and social medias that easily recognizes oppressive behavior even when we can’t see it ourselves. People around the globe quickly understood the gravity of #Ferguson and the importance of people standing up against abusive authority. The inequity was easy to understand outside of a large chunk of White St. Louis.
RESENTMENT OF BLACK NORTH COUNTY
White Flight is well-documented American process, and a motivating factor in creating St. Louis County. For a lot of White St. Louis, it’s a part of the stories of why your family moved to such and such, and why we live where we do. We talk freely – or in code – about it amongst ourselves, and instinctively seem to know when to not talk about it. And that right there reveals that we do know better but can’t let go of deeply ingrained prejudice.s
Several generations of St. Louis Whites are vocally resentful of having to “give up” North St. Louis and North County to the Blacks. They reveal deep resentment with the language used to describe what has become of the places they left behind.
Part of the White resentment might be because NoCo is such an engaging area of Metro St. Louis. See the Cruizin’ North County books for reasons why it’s such a deeply loved place. Leaving behind something you love is always bittersweet. If that feeling is coupled with a fear-based decision to move away, it can create contempt for those who took your place.
Do the White ex-pats want it back? Is that why there’s so much White anger toward NoCo Blacks? Because if you want it back, that might make some sense out of the blatant contempt for those who live there now. It doesn’t excuse it; it only provides a psychological understanding of the negative behavior.
NoCo remains a lovely place. This is what I strive to show on B.E.L.T. over the years (do a fast scroll through this category).
I’ve had countless conversations with former NoCo Whites who swear it’s all gone downhill and just looks bad. Granted, NoCo is an aging area; after 50+ years, everything gets raggedy around the edges. One of the reasons people originally fled St. Louis City is because it was old and worn out, and Urban Renewal bulldozed huge chunks of what they deemed irretrievable eyesores. It took new generations to see the beauty under the grime and exchange demolition for restoration. This is a natural evolution of cities, and renewal will eventually have to come to our Inner Ring suburbs. Just give it time.
Even when I get ex-NoCo whites to begrudgingly admit that their old neighborhood or house still look pretty good, they genuinely believe the rest of it has gone to shit. I believe they’re looking at it through puce-colored glasses.
Even as I choose to see through rose-colored glasses, I’m not blind to how poverty has ravaged many North County municipalities. Look at the corpses of Kinloch or Wellston to see the ways racism works through legal and illegal channels to exact revenge on those it fears.
As I’ve spent 10+ years photographing my NoCo homeland, looking at it through the detached lenses of architecture, remodeling, planning and sustainability, I think it’s beautiful. I see past glory, present strengths and future possibility.
As I traipse around all of St. Louis with a camera, I’ve been told that police would be called if I didn’t leave, or stared at harshly through screen doors, or glared at with side eye. This is always – without exception – in White parts of town. They ask no questions, they show only anger and distrust toward a White stranger.
Contrast that with when I go North. Someone will always walk up and ask what I’m doing – as anyone should, really – and I explain. I have countless conversations with Black residents about what and why I do. They get the sentimental angle if it’s where I’m from, and they are usually intrigued by the architectural angle: “So you like this building? Why?”
Most any architecture geek longs for that question, and a chance to exchange information. All of us long to know the worth of where we came from and where we live now, and it feels good to know it matters. Each of us is concerned about our little piece of the world we live in, and want to be comfortable in it.
The stress of being constantly harassed in your world builds tension. Tension has to be released. NoCo is the logical combustion chamber, because it’s where the 21st century population vs. its government and law enforcement statistics reveal continual oppression by minority Whites over majority Blacks.
FERGUSON HAS THE STRENGTH TO CHANGE THE TIDE
When the police continually harass only certain residents who pay taxes, start businesses, spend money at those businesses and keep the town going, those people will eventually rebel. Anyone who’s picked on can only take it for so long.
The Civil War ended in 1865, but the war of White over Black never did. America repeatedly goes to the legal mat to try and resolve this conflict, but Whites find new loopholes to continue blocking Blacks, with ever diminishing benefits. It’s embarrassing for a modern, post-Civil War society to continue parroting an archaic cultural prejudice that existed before we had electricity in our homes. And it’s disgraceful to willfully set up your fellow man to fail, be it Wall Street sharks or racial profiling.
The August 2014 murder of Michael Brown a block east of West Florissant was, finally, the wrong place at the wrong time. The 2-block stretch of West Florissant that has become intimately familiar as the background of Hands Up Don’t Shoot remains as essential today as when it was developed in the late 1950s. The businesses have changed repeatedly over the decades, but its vitality is only slightly diminished.
This short stretch of West Florissant Avenue remains an important revenue generator in Ferguson economics. That the businesses physically devastated by the upheaval want to rebuild and remain is a testament to that. Money talks, of course, but so does their patrons immediately coming to help clean up after looting. That’s the kind of community you want your business in.
Ferguson has spent the last 10 years reimagining and rebuilding itself for the way we realistically live in the 21st century. This town has become strong enough to push back at decay that knocks at its boundary lines.
Because all around Ferguson, once-White towns have been left to rot. It’s a precisely repeating pattern from St. Louis City in the 1950s to this very day. You can see the physical downfall of dozens of towns as the race population switches from majority-White to majority-Black. The easy, drive-by response of White St. Louis is to say Blacks just don’t care of their homes, their communities. But you cannot realistically blame things like bad roadways and decomposing sewer lines on the skin color of the people who live there. These are infrastructure issues handled by the local governments that collect their tax dollars.
When, for example, the Jennings, MO street department simply stops repaving its residential streets, it’s clear that the money they’ve collected is not going toward maintaining the roads. Nor is that money going toward maintaining a police department (disbanded in 2011) or a fire department (dissolving January 2015) or bolstering its public school system. This a much bigger problem than which neighbor is not mowing their lawn or patching their roof – it’s about the town you live in falling apart around you.
The cause of this repeating pattern is touched on in, again, that book The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration 1966-1999 by Ray Suarez. Wherein St. Louis criminologist Rick Rosenfeld says:
“What I don’t like about mobility in the United States out of cities into suburbs, and now increasingly from inner suburbs into outer suburbs, is the throwaway attitude that goes along with it. That once you move from a community, the larger metropolitan area or the larger community has no responsibility or not much for what got left behind there. What they leave behind is much worse without them. The tragedy of mobility here is not that people leave the city of St. Louis: it’s that so few resources go into the communities left behind to make them attractive to the families that are one or two cars down the line, who themselves might want to move into that neighborhood. I don’t think mobility is the issue. It’s our unwillingness to do anything about the tragic conditions that occur once people leave.”
The curious part is that St. Louis City is in tangible turn-around from the urban decay. The City is becoming a more desirable place to live than its bordering North County townships, where the scorched earth policies are repeating despite decades of lessons on how not to do it. In a nutshell: Don’t let the Whites who abandoned it continue to control it, because history shows they will run it into the ground. Those who actually live there need to steer policy and set the new rules.
And here’s where Ferguson matters. It has made tangible progress in keeping North County scorched earth creeping crud at bay. The citizens of Ferguson get this, and are the ones investing in new growth. But 6 – 11 shots later, everyone learns that the Ferguson police and government appear to be focused only on the racial aspects of the city, putting their energies into an imbalance that ignores Missouri law and several Constitutional amendments. It’s a myopic view dangerously at odds with its residents, and has caused real harm.
America has a long history of not tolerating those that tread upon them, and as of August 2014, Ferguson, Missouri has upheld that tradition. Because this town has pushed back against the usual markers of built environment and economic decay, it also has the strength to push back against authority that seeks to undermine it.
Ferguson has become a line in the sand of not allowing the same old destructive policies to take their city down. It’s a decisive moment where the new majority can take control and protect what’s good about their town. The energy that refuses to let Michael Brown’s death become another statistic has already strengthened Ferguson. There’s also a sense that Ferguson can teach us to be a more civilized and powerful St. Louis – City AND County, together. It’s one of the reasons these signs are all over Metro St. Louis.
Posted on February 9th, 2014 No comments
In a logical and inspiring attempt to help the St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees reconsider their plans for demolition, ModernSTL released this proposal.
It’s a compelling and workable starting point for understanding how the historic mid-century modern building by architect Frederick Dunn can be retained while also gaining the additional space required.
In the past, the Library Board has mentioned a very sound point: Why have we not heard complaint about our plan from the people who actually use this library?
It can be argued that the Board has been rather stingy with engaging the public on what they want or prefer for this (or any) branch. They have instead repeatedly cited voter mandate. But that tax issue was about the funding of the entire scope of the plan and the system’s needs. It’s doubtful that the majority of those voters gave their consent based specifically on “Yeah, tear down Lewis & Clark, will ya?”
At the event where ModernSTL shared the proposal for adding onto the library, residents who live next to and use the library decided to speak up against the Board’s plans, and ask for them to save it.
A letter writing campaign at the end of 2013 did result in the Board sending out a form letter in response to each postcard. They were very polite, but made it clear they are not budging from their original plan. So let’s try a new way to engage them to reconsider – please sign the petition if you agree they should at least reconsider saving their only significant building.
Keep track of all the love shown for the building and the fight to save it on the Save the Lewis & Clark Library Branch Facebook page.
Posted on November 13th, 2013 1 comment
We last checked in with the Strike ‘n Spare Lanes on North Lindbergh in December of 2011. Read about it here. And above is what the property looked like on October 16, 2013. But pull back the lens from this view and here’s the big picture:
I know Spirtas is trying to be clever, but their sense of humor is like a flat keg of beer. Why even bother – they got the job?
And here’s where they were on the first weekend of November 2013. As bad as their humor is, they are an efficient demolition company, so the job is probably clear by this time. But it was bittersweet to traipse around the last remnants, peering into the snack bar kitchen one last time…
There’s still a For Sale sign out front of the property, so are we assuming they’re making the land more desirable for a buyer? If anyone has any info about future plans for this site, please do share in the comments.
6149 Natural Bridge Road in Pine Lawn,MO
And this was the big surprise of fall – the building shown above is completely gone. Well, some remnants remain (below), and the bricks are being neatly palatalized, but essentially, it’s just gone. Here’s a rendering of it back in the day when it was Pine Lawn Bank.
Pine Lawn mayor Sylvester Caldwell put up a billboard at the end of this now-empty block. It reads:
“You Can See the Difference… You Can Tell the Difference. Mayor Sylvester Caldwell Presents… The Pine Lawn Board of Alderman Welcomes… New Retail Development. Coming to Pine Lawn FALL 2013.
JOBS… JOBS… JOBS… FOR THE PEOPLE OF PINE LAWN!!!”
Here’s what the block looked like lately. Seems the bank building, erected in 1920, went first. Here’s a more poetic look from Built St. Louis.
And here’s the latest at the intersection of Natural Bridge Road at Kienlen/Jennings Station Road. I wonder if the very corner building is also coming down. If it’s a clean sweep for new retail, it would make sense to remove it. But I cannot find any information about what the billboard promises, in the news media or on the Pine Lawn website. So some more history of the northern inner ring suburbs just disappears without a second thought. Here’s hoping it’s been demolished for something better.
Posted on October 20th, 2013 5 comments
The St. Louis County Public Library seems determined to demolish the Lewis & Clark branch for a new structure. We need them to reconsider this misguided goal. They can meet all their objectives without tearing down this building. We need to help them avoid making a huge mistake.
The importance of this building was recently covered on DOCOMOMO’s website, featuring killer historical photos of the branch. Next City placed it on the list of 10 endangered modern buildings. And I covered it here when the demolition idea was first touted. Modern-STL has been actively involved since that time in trying to engage the Library Board of Trustees about the importance of this building. Increasingly, it feels like talking to deaf ears.
Come to the Lewis & Clark branch on October 23rd to learn about this building, it’s architect and what we can do to make them reconsider tearing down this building. You can start with the Facebook page. And please join Modern-STL, Esley Hamilton and myself. Event details.
Since we can’t have a face-to-face with the Library Board of Trustees, I’m going public with what I would have shared with them privately - 6 Reasons to Save the Lewis & Clark Library:
1. Don’t Trash Your Legacy
The Lewis & Clark branch is the ONLY significant building left in the St. Louis County Public Libraries arsenal. Important public institutions deserve important buildings – and this is just such an animal. Needlessly trashing your only architectural asset sends the wrong message about learning from, and respecting, history – especially your own.
There will come a day when the County Library will want to celebrate its milestone anniversaries. Lewis & Clark is already a historical milestone at 50 years old. Then comes 75 and 100 years. Look to the St. Louis Public Library system for a template on how that kind of celebration benefits everyone. With this proposed demolition, The County would have no important buildings to celebrate their history because they trashed them.
2. Don’t Trash the History of North County
Lewis & Clark was the first branch built in North County. Great care was taken with making this 1963 building worthy of the burgeoning community it would serve. It was designed with a grace and beauty reflecting the power and aspirations of a new town in a far-flung locale. It was such a pioneering flag plant that the library didn’t erect another North County branch until 1975, letting Lewis & Clark service a rapidly growing community for 12 years.
It being the sole library in NoCo for so long is what makes it an emotional anchor for everyone who grew up there. This is why it’s the only library to make the pages of the popular nostalgia book Cruizin’ North County. New York master planners have no knowledge or interest in the history of St. Louis County (read the entire master plan). It is distressing that the St. Louis County library system also appears to be ignoring this history.
So many other touchstones of North County history have been unceremoniously trashed; the library is an institution that lends weight and importance to the history of the region. Let this one architecturally worthy building represent the history of community and education in North County. Come the 100th Anniversary, you’ll be glad you did.
3. Understand the Difference Between “Old” and Historical
The Library’s Facilities Master Plan document graphs the age of each of their buildings, and bases the needs for demolition for new buildings SOLELY on age (slide above from that Master Plan). They do acknowledge the level of maintenance on all their buildings has been good (and it is). The implication that a new building will solve their future maintenance issues is just absurd.
The Master Plan equates anything over 30 years old as bad. This is a 20th century, developer-driven, irresponsible line of thought that’s oblivious to the rapidly-growing importance of preserving mid-century modernism as the last great period of American architecture.
The Board of Trustees has been educated on the architectural pedigree of the Lewis & Clark building. The importance and benefits of preserving architectural history is a well-documented topic. To continue to willfully ignore that is to willingly court ignorance, which is the opposite goal of a library.
4. Acknowledge the Needs of a Modern Library
Libraries are research-driven environments, and the most shallow research into the needs of the modern library reveals articles in the New Republic and Wall Street Journal about what will keep libraries relevant in these technological times. It’s no longer about having more space to store physical books, but for the existing space to meet new needs. Libraries need to curate knowledge in an age of information overload, and to be a safe and welcoming place for the community to gather.
The Master Plan says Lewis & Clark needs 4,000 more square feet. If – in light of the modern needs of library science – this is still true, why not add it addition to the northeast side of the building? You have the space. An addition would be a way to have your legacy and thrive on it, too.
5. Erect Your New Building Elsewhere
We understand the politics of the voter-approved tax hike; when South County gets a brand new library building so must North County. Agreed. But why does it have to be the Lewis & Clark Branch?
The Flo Valley branch is only one year younger than Lewis & Clark. And more centrally located in NoCo. And is not architecturally significant. This would be a good candidate for an entirely new, state-of-the-art building. The Thornhill Branch (1975) has been pegged for demolition for a new building, as well.
There’s wiggle room in the master plan to meet all of library system’s needs without sacrificing your most prominent historical building.
6. Apply Emotional Intelligence to the Master Plan
The Master Plan that launched the system-wide need for renovations and demolitions repeatedly emphasize how important each library is to its community. But the Planners are from New York City so they fail to recognize the historic and sentimental touchstones of this building in this community. Clinging blindly to this document seems a stubborn stance for bolstering egos rather than community. A successful master plan considers the head and the heart, the numbers and the people who want to be more than statistics bolstering a bottom line.
The County library has only one building that perfectly represents its moment in history with a grace that still inspires the pursuit of knowledge and community. This building presents the County library with an opportunity to one day have their St. Louis City library headquarters moment: past, present and future knowledge all in one admirable package of civic architecture.
The County library has educated us for decades. The Lewis & Clark branch building is their chance for a poignant, teachable moment that inspires pride in the community it serves.
All they have to do is respect it by letting it stand.
Posted on March 14th, 2013 12 comments
Glasgow Village is a perfect example of an inner ring suburb that sprung up along the City of St. Louis border in the early 1950s. On this map, you’ll see that the last thread of the City boundary (Ward 2) hugs Riverview Drive. When they began developing this land along the Mississippi River bluffs, St. Louis City fire and police personnel were eager to have the homes being built within city boundaries to meet residency requirements. Stories are that they would offer more than the asking price just to have them.
Concurrently, the adjacent County land that is Glasgow Village (early history here) was also being developed. St. Louis County directories show only 3 streets in existence in Glasgow Village in 1951. By 1955, it was complete and filled with homes much like this.
Adhering to the “village” in its name, the new community needed a central commerce gathering place, and construction of Glasgow Village Shopping Center (shown in the map above) began in 1957. There were spots for 15 businesses, including the backside of the building which was accessed on foot.
The 1959 County directory (above) lists the original tenants. Many of these shops regularly contributed to the various Glasgow Village newsletters released by the trustees and the local schools.
Shops like Connie’s Village Dance Studio (which became Marion’s Village Dancing School by 1963) contributed to the close-knit village atmosphere that still prevails in the hearts of GV ex-pats, who regularly converse and contribute at Glasgow Village Friends.
The towering, angular sign at the corner of the shopping center long served as the striking symbol of the village.
And it still stood tall and proud in 2003 when I took the photo above. By then, the majority of the center was vacant, with the liquor store at 104 Glashop Lane (isn’t that a great street name?) pulling in a brisk business. But even in its reduced state, it was easy to understand how vital this place once was to the town.
By its siting, GV is rather remote, which was a great selling point during the suburban migration of the early 1950s. The shopping center became an instant “downtown,” taking care of just about all of the residents’ needs, and all within walking distance.
104 started off as Zimmerman’s Glasgow Pharmacy, part of the Rexall dynasty. And the dry cleaner’s shown above made the news in 1968 when it caught fire.
And just like any small town, the people who once lived there can pinpoint when it happened based on their personal memories.
The Italian American Delicatessen at 108 (above) morphed into Cusumano’s Village Inn by 1974.
And that storied pizza place lives on in O’Fallon, MO. Exactly when they left the shopping center is best left to the memories of the GV Friends, and hopefully they will chime in with comments here. Just as they recently shared information that some of the Cusumano family showed up to watch the demolition of the center. Which is a testament to how much this place meant to everyone who lived there.
The retail side of Glasgow Village was in drowning mode by 2003. By 2011, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was detailing the foreclosure woes of the town. They accompanied it with an editorial piece that tries to pinpoint why inner ring suburbs are having a tough time and (with quotes from yours truly on) how to solve it.
The St. Louis racial divide as it pertains to real estate has been deeply documented, with Mapping Decline being the most exhaustive resource for information on the whys and hows of White Flight and Redlining. Even though the federal government stepped in to ban the practice, the mentality still seems ingrained, transferring from North St. Louis City to North County, and requiring more recent intervention.
But there is never just one reason for decline, so lets look beyond St. Louis’ racial tensions. Along with rapidly advancing conspicuous consumption from the 1980s to mid-2000s that led to ever-bigger homes in far-flung locales, I think there’s topography at play in North St. Louis County.
Starting with the first settlers in 1764, St. Louis development always favored the southern half before the northern half for one very logical reason: the north is very hilly because the ancient confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers created mountainous mass. When it came to build and all you had were shovels and cattle-driven plows to move earth, you’d naturally choose the flattest terrains first.
This hilly topography later limited placement of interstates during the 1950s – 60s, and the rivers are a definitive end to the area. All of these factors combine to give far North St. Louis County a remoteness that does not exist in West and South County, where they can – and do – keep expanding. Look to the fate of Jamestown Mall to understand why through traffic is crucial for retail. It’s also crucial for keeping neighborhoods lively. The more pocketed communities tend to stagnate, and Glasgow Village is, sadly, a perfect example of this.
The iconic sign was a poignant focal point on February 25, 2013 when St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley held a press conference in front of the cranes in front of Glasgow Village Shopping Center. He announced an increased budget to demolish an initial 41 buildings in North County, mostly fire-damaged and vacant homes that had become nuisance properties. GV residents verified that the shopping center had become an insurmountable problem for their community. And so they demolished Glasgow Village Shopping Center.
The County plans to take down more than 100 buildings this year. Glasgow Village Shopping Center was the perfect way to make a dramatic media splash about the “aggressive program.” I have yet to see posted a list of all the properties due for demolition. Even though Doolie stated that “we recognize that we cannot demolish our way to neighborhood stabilization,” a lack of information on what buildings are coming down is troubling. Parts of the City of St. Louis have yet to recover from aggressive demolition during the mid-century Urban Renewal. I hope that the County does not repeat these errors with a misguided Suburban Renewal program.
There was interest in saving the Glasgow Village Shopping Center sign because it is such a powerful symbol of the community. But the demolition company did not have the budget to take it down in a manner that preserves it. Reports came in that once it hit the ground, it was dragged for a bit which damaged the porcelain face of the signs.
The Glasgow Village trustees did cart off one side of the sign that was relatively unscathed. I love the sentimentality that compelled them to save a last remnant, and am keen to know what they plan to do with sign.
There was nothing but torn concrete and straw by the time the photo above was taken on March 9, 2013. Too long a physical reminder of better days, the shopping center is now officially a memory.
Does anyone know of any solid plans for redeveloping this site?
Creating something new and vital here should be as important of a priority as erasing the problems. I understand why demolishing buildings gets media attention, but I hope Doolie and his team will continue to engage in public dialogue about their plans and progress. North County deserves a fighting chance for renaissance.
Posted on November 25th, 2012 No comments
The Lewis & Clark Tower was supposed to be Towers, and it was supposed to look like this. Gorgeous, right? Even looks a bit like a mid-century U.S. Embassy.
This drawing comes courtesy of John Lumea, who ran across an advertisement for it in a 1964 issue of Architectural Record. He was gracious enough to send it along, and point out that the ad does confirm who the architect is – George J. Gaza & Associates. We now even know who built it: United States Construction Co.
John, major thank you for sending the ad! Click to see it larger so you can take in all the words about “Missouri’s first cylindrical apartment.”
For all the backstory on Top of the Towers and Rizzo’s restaurant that sat at the very top, you can read this BELT entry.
The comments section is where the real action is, as we hear from the grandson of the developers of the complex, the granddaughters of both the developer and architect, plus fabulous memories of people who ate and worked there. Readers even share the exact spinning salad recipe, or Bruce Kunz shares a replica that seems so much simpler:
For those of you wanting to experience the Spinning Salad, I’ve come close to replicating it. Start with shredded lettuce, add a sprinkle of shreded carrots. Stir in your choice of a good blue cheese dressing and a bit of ranch to go with it. Top with chopped hard boiled eggs, ‘cracked’ (not coarse ground) pepper. Easier, just as flavorful and more consistent in texture.
And last but not least, sprinkle liberally with real bacon bits or pieces.
Thank you to everyone who has been contributing to the memories of Top of the Towers since October 2007. Every comment verifies just how important this place is in the history of North St. Louis County.
In response to the BELT entry sharing rare interior photos of the vacant restaurant courtesy of Michael Collins, a few readers sent me links to the postcard images above. It’s both intriguing and sad to see what was cross-referenced with what remains behind.
It’s also cool to see the back of the postcard, with the line drawing of the complex. Big hugs to everyone who sent links to these postcards; it’s thrilling to know your curiosity sent you Googling, and then you took the time to share.
Posted on August 19th, 2012 8 comments
This sign became…
…this sign. And that fact was consigned to the memory of a select few until it was brought to light by Dean Wieneke. Read his story here.
The beauty of the world wide web is that anyone can find anything, and the family of the men who were Dickerson Motors found the story of Dean finding their family’s sign. They got in touch with me both in comments on the blog entry and personal emails. Which lead to them graciously scanning old photos, which are shared with you now.
Julie Dickerson Chung and Carolyn Dickerson Zerman are the daughters of William E. Dickerson, who started Dickerson Motors, Inc. in 1951 with his brother Thomas E. Dickerson (whose son Don Dickerson provided some of these photos). It was a Lincoln Mercury dealership located at 6116 Natural Bridge Avenue. It was in the shadow of the only remaining gasometer in St. Louis.
Here is that spot today. Note that the building appears to have been sitting on the dividing line between St. Louis City and County.
Dickerson by day…
…and by night. These photos were taken shortly after the dealership opened.
A big day for Dickerson Motors was when actress and icon Debbie Reynolds stopped by the dealership in 1955 to buy a car. She was on her way back to California to marry singer and actor Eddie Fisher.
Above, Bill Dickerson hands Debbie Reynolds the keys to the car she chose. To put it in historical context, Miss Reynolds had just completed filming of the movie The Tender Trap, with Frank Sinatra. It would release in November of 1955.
And Debbie gets inside her new ride to zoom off and marry Eddie Fisher. The marriage would produce actress/author Carrie Fisher, and end tragically when Eddie left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor in 1959. This is just how her history played out and in no way infers her car from Dickerson Motors played any part in future marital dramas.
Don Dickerson (son of co-owner Tom Dickerson) shared the photo above, depicting the “Hot Rod Lincoln” that was part of the dealership’s racing team. In conjunction with the racing team, Don recalls:
“Before a race, my Dad was out zooming around Missouri to see what the Lincoln could do. He came over a hill at a very high speed and found that at the bottom of the hill was a buckboard with two horses pulling it. He slammed on the brakes but was going too fast to stop, killing two horses and totaling the car.”
To the best of Carolyn Dickerson Zerman’s memory, the car dealership closed around 1957-58. “I know my sister Julie was born around that time and was a “saving grace” to my Dad (above left), who hated to see the dealership close.”
The family does not know what became of the sign after Dickerson closed. In this entry about Ackerman Buick, former employee Tim Von Cloedt said Jerry Ackerman bought out Kuhs Buick on North Grand Avenue and moved the whole shebang out to Dellwood in the early 1960s. The first building on the lot went up in 1964 – so did the sign, now recycled as Ackerman Buick.
Where was the sign from 1958 to 1964? Considering how much information we’ve received so far, there just may be someone out there who knows the answer.
And this whole saga came to light when Dean and his family bought and dismantled the sign (above) to put it in storage at his father’s farm. As of this writing, Dean sold the sign to Fast Lane Classic Cars in St. Charles, MO, who plan to hang it on the side of one of their buildings.
So St. Charles is the newest chapter for one of the busiest, most recycled signs in St. Louis history. And thank you to all of the Dickerson family for being so generous with their photos and information.
Posted on August 5th, 2012 2 comments
Kappel Drive at West Florissant
On the west side of West Florissant is a short stretch of Kappel Drive, more like a termination of the road from the east side of West Florissant than a full block. All of the other homes in this immediate area are slight variations on the middle-of-the-road brick ranch built in the first half of the 1950s. But this little tiny block went more atomic.
A front wall of windows and a carport differentiate these from the rest of the homes. Seemingly tiny differences, but it catches the eye if you glance up the street from West Florissant.
A check of St. Louis County records shows all of these more atomic homes in Westwood Acres were built between 1956 & 1957, 1064 square feet of 3 bedrooms, one bathroom, and a full basement.
The dividing line between Dellwood and Ferguson may run through the backyard of these homes on the south side of Kappel. The rest of this neighborhood to the south is called Northland Hills, with homes starting at 1012 s.f. and having an attached garage. Records show the entire area was built up between 1955 – 1957.
Be it Dellwood or Ferguson, all of these subdivisions along West Florissant, north of Ferguson Avenue, were built in response to the construction of Northland Shopping Center, and the promise it fulfilled of turning farmland into modern neighborhoods.
When my father, Richard, came home from the Korean War in 1954, his father, Arthur, drove him up West Florissant to Chambers Road. At that time, only a few small, new businesses were popping up south of Chambers. This intersection was still widely known as the crossroads where farmers brought their produce to sell, and where you could buy horse and livestock equipment.
Standing at the intersection, Arthur points to the horse field at the northeast corner of Chambers and West Florissant and tells his son, “If you’re smart, you’d buy up property over there.”
Richard looks at his father as if he were insane.
Arthur points back toward Northland under construction, and all the land around it being plotted for housing and says, “We’re all moving north at a rapid clip. This field’s days are numbered. You might as well make some money from it.”
Of course Richard did not buy any of that land. And of course the intersection was completely built up by 1961, and development spread further north every month.
During those boom years, it looks as if one contractor was responsible for most of the ranch homes around the Dellwood/Ferguson dividing line. But somehow, these airy little numbers snuck into a short stretch of Kappel Drive. Everyone of them is still well under $100,000, in good condition and relatively remuddle-free.
Posted on November 6th, 2011 14 comments
509 Teston Drive
The first house that my mother and father bought after I was born was the one above, at 509 Teston Drive in Ferguson MO. It was built in 1953 as part of the Ferguson Park subdivision, and was (and remains) 864 s.f., with a full basement. Part of that basement was finished, because my father did it in a hurry to host the annual family Christmas party, and there just wasn’t enough room to cram them all in upstairs.
The house is now vacant and in the hands of HUD out of Kansas City, Kansas. Meaning, it was foreclosed. The last buyer paid $72,000 for it. It is available now, per this Zillow page.
The vinyl siding is an update, which happened sometime in the 1990s. From the photo above of my half sisters on Easter 1967, you can see it was originally clad in asbestos shingles. The kind that left a chalky film on your finger when you rubbed it. And we didn’t have a hand rail. City Halls weren’t as concerned with our safety back then; personal responsibility was the standard operating mode.
And note that it’s still the same picture window in both photos, as well as the wood front door!
Here’s the backyard in 2011. The hill doesn’t seem as steep as it did back in the day. My being older is part of it, I’m sure, along with natural settling and erosion. Note the cinder block wall to the right of the sad, faded little utility shed.
It used to be the wall of our carport, which was also my dad’s hangout. The place where I’d sneak sips of his ever-present frosty cold Busch while he mowed what seemed like a massive hill.
This is a shot my mom took from the top of the backyard hill in 1967. The metal awnings are long gone – hope they recycled them!
Since the place is currently vacant, I could peer in the windows and see the inside for the first time in 40 years, and I was struck by how much it was still the same, and how much I remembered even though I was under 5 years old during the 3 years we lived there.
That’s the same wood floor; we had bright orange red carpeting on the floor save for the bedrooms, and I clearly remember the size and color of the floorboards (seeing as how I spent most of my time down there).
This photo of my mother, father and I shows the closet door and handle is the same, though it – and all the woodwork – received a darker coat of stain over the years.
Whomever is working on the house is tearing down the wall between the living room and one of the 3 bedrooms. Also note the kitchen.
The wall coming down was once the classic, ubiquitous wood paneling. (Side note: I kept that green chair until it literally deteriorated in the mid-90s.)
The kitchen was patterned asbestos floor tile and metal cabinets. When they bought the place, the cabinets were olive green that they had spray painted white. I noticed that the kitchen retains the same white tile backsplashes with black trim, but everything else was obliterated. Shame, ‘cos those cabinets are sweet.
Anyone who knows their metal cabinets, can you decipher what that label to the right of my head says? I can’t get the picture any larger to figure it out, so could use your expertise. Oh, and I still have the GE handmixer you can see hanging on the wall. Still works perfectly!
I didn’t get to see the bathroom as it is today, which originally had light salmon pink wall tiles. I can’t share any photos from back in the day because all of them feature me in the tub or potty training, so you understand not sharing, right?
The thing that struck me most was seeing the original metal frame windows and sill in the living room. Because it sat low to the floor, I spent a lot of time peering out these windows, keeping an eye out for my pal Julie Schemmer across the street so I could go out and play, or fiddling with the cranks and levers till I was told to stop or I’d break them. That was obviously an over-exaggeration, ‘cos here they are over 40 years later, ma!
I’m amazed the house has gone through so many updates and changes, yet these windows remain. Seeing a replacement window propped up against the wall makes me wonder if they plan to replace the picture window, too. That would be a shame if they did, because the original windows just need to be sealed properly rather than replaced with something that will most likely look wrong.
Look out the window and you can see we had snow for Christmas of 1969. The drapes with the holiday cards pinned to them is the same window I peered through for the shot above this one. Under that window is a Zenith stereo with those kick ass Circle of Sound speakers. On the floor below it is the doll house I wrote about here. And I suppose it’s appropriate to say that it was while living here that my mother found Northland Day Nursery School as she was cutting through the back way from this house to West Florissant.
It was a genuinely moving thrill to be able to spend a little time with this house once again. Here’s hoping it finds a good new family – and that they leave that picture window as is!
Posted on September 7th, 2011 15 comments
Last time I visited at the end of August, the Ackerman Buick site was about 55% percent demolished. Here’s the Ackerman Buick back-story.
At this time, the neon sign (above) was the only thing standing that was still relatively intact, and I worried for it. Then the other day I got an email with this photo attached:
After closing my gaping jaw, I read the e-mail from Dean Wieneke, who wrote:
“Saw your article about the Ackerman dealership neon sign after I bought it from the wrecking company Spirtas. We started on it Friday, and just removed the neon and the bulbs and the cover up or add-on of “Ackerman Buick Inc” portion. Now it looks TOTALLY different, for the better I may add. It now says “Dickerson Motors Inc. Used Car Dept.” We’ll be finishing the removal sometime this weekend.”
I immediately replied to my new hero for more details, which he supplied, in spades:
“I’ve always been a big fan of this sign, being an old sign junkie. It has everything: it’s porcelain, it’s old, it’s large, it has a great font, it’s die cut across the top, it’s NEON, and it even has chaser lights at the bottom. Lets face it, this is a classic, one-of-a-kind, Americana old school sign from when thought was actually put in to signage, and not just something that corporate pumped out, like today’s boring dealership signs. I couldn’t let this have the same fate as the buildings did.
“I contacted Spirtas (who were/are great to work with) and within a day or so was told I could purchase it. So last Friday my brother, Joe, and my father, Jim, and I started in on this on one of the hottest days of the year and got it to the point you see now. We shall return this weekend with more wasp spray!
“The sign is 50 feet long and the sign portion is 8 foot high, had probably a hundred feet of neon on it and 144 lights across the bottom.
“What am I going to do with it…? Good Question! My beautiful and patient wife is wondering the same thing and is about ready to choke me over the whole ordeal. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m going to do with it really, but I just could NOT let it be destroyed by the wrecking claw! More than likely I’ll trailer it up and haul it to my house and store it until I can find a suitable place for it. It may end up on display in my Dads pole barn, but that seems to be a waste of a “local land mark,” so if someone has a better idea let me (and my wife, ha!) know.”
Since Dean has done such a great public service in the name of recent past preservation (and shared these 2 photos), let’s help him out if we can. There’s 2 things he wants to know:
• Does anyone have any knowledge about Dickerson Motors, Inc. ?
• Any do-able ideas for what to do with the sign so that the public can keep gazing upon it?
My first thought for the second question is the Antique Warehouse. Here’s some of the other neon signs they have safely stored away. But I know you all have way more brilliant ideas (and astounding recall of St. Louis history), so help a hero out, will ya?