Posted on October 10th, 2010 4 comments
9909 Lewis-Clark Blvd (aka Hwy 367)
Moline Acres, MO
Having recently visited 2 different libraries within 30 minutes in South St. Louis City, I got to reminiscing about the importance of libraries to our communities and to my personal history. Which reminded me that the St. Louis County Public Library system has a written plan to eventually demolish the Lewis & Clark Branch in North County. NOCO did a brilliant job of reporting this last year.
I am all for modernizing libraries to serve a new century; in St. Louis City, they have spent (and continue to spend) millions refurbishing existing libraries, and have done a brilliant job helping historic buildings remain vital and indispensable. St. Louis County is now in the middle of appraising their stock, and it’s troubling that their first thoughts are to demolish rather than refurbish.
Especially when they have a branch like Lewis & Clark, designed by renowned architect Frederick Dunn. His works are so important that Esley Hamilton will be speaking about it on October 17, 2010 as part of the Landmarks lecture series. And his groundbreaking church in St. Louis Hills was covered here this past summer. So, from the perspective of historic preservation, the Lewis & Clark Branch is clearly a contender on the name of Dunn, alone. Enlarge the aperture to include the context of its place in a developing North County of the 1950s-60s, this library gains even more reasons to be celebrated and elevated with a sympathetic update and remodel.
After WW2, North St. Louisans drove out Broadway to the Halls Ferry Circle into North County, which found Hwy 367 building up rapidly with businesses and homes. In the tiny inner-ring suburb of Moline Acres, they built this library in 1963, and right next door in 1964 they built Top of the Towers, which became the hub of everything that was cool, sophisticated and modern. Read more about Top of the Towers here.
This nucleus of activity allowed ranch home subdivisions and churches to spring up around them, and an exploding population contributed to the spread and dominance of far North St. Louis County. These are important chapters in the evolution of Metro St. Louis, especially because high design and skilled craftsmanship were still a standard part of our progress.
On a personal level, this building means a lot to me. By the mid-1970s, my divorced mother and I were living in nearby Black Jack, and money was tight, leaving no babysitter budget. My mother came up with the brilliant idea of using this library as a free babysitter for her grade school child. At least once a week, she dropped me off at the front door and let me know “you have only one hour to pick out books for the week.” This turned out to be an hour of productive freedom for both of us.
An hour never seemed like enough time, so I had to stay focused on researching and procuring before time was up, constantly looking over my shoulder at the clocks on the wall to make sure I got to the check-out counter before my mom arrived. This kept me well-behaved and quiet while stockpiling books and records that fueled curiosity and expanded knowledge. It also bolstered my sense of responsibility, independence and love for a building that felt like my personal playground.
The historical importance of a building comes from its design and its contributions to the community it served. All of the National Register buildings in Metro St. Louis made it onto the list because of these factors, and all of them required additional updates and remodeling to keep them viable for the present and the future. The Lewis & Clark Library falls into this category, and as we wade into the historical importance of mid-century architecture, it deserves much deeper thought than the wasteful decision to demolish.
Posted on February 18th, 2010 4 comments
I just ran across some black & white prints I shot in 2002 of two retail plazas on New Halls Ferry Road in Florissant, MO. Above is a detail of one of the two signs that represented Cross Keys Shopping Center, which went up in 1969 as a combination mall/open air retail giant at New Halls Ferry and North Lindbergh Blvd. The signs were ungodly tall and shiny, and always reminded me of a cross between Johnny Sokko’s robot and Batman. The signs were demolished in 2003 along with the rest of the original Cross Keys. The site was born again.
Still standing in its original state, about a mile south of Cross Keys, at New Halls Ferry and Parker Road, is Plaza Madrid. This plaza went up in 1970, and as you can make out on the photo above (click to enlarge), this part of Madrid was originally the National grocery store. Spent a lot of time at the magazine stand inside this building, but even as a kid, I knew this place looked cheesy. During its boom years, this part of town had a deep fascination with anything Spanish, and Madrid Plaza really went over the top with the theme.
Back at the original Cross Keys, this is a detail of what was originally a Krogers grocery store, which disappeared around the time Cross Keys also got a Schnucks. The center of this retail oasis was an indoor mall, but I can’t remember a time when it was as lively and thriving as the open-air stores along the perimeters. Actually, I remember the mall being a bit creepy.
In 2003, they cleared all the buildings and started from scratch, even giving it a new name: The Shoppes at Cross Keys. When you use pretentious, Olde English spelling for 21st century suburban shopping parks, you know there’s no place for a stainless steel Batman sign. The new concern is all Big Box open air, and though it lacks personality (which is the point, really) it is doing quite well, if cars on the parking lot are a fair indicator.
Plaza Madrid is also open-air, has loads of personality and its parking lots are sad and lifeless. They’ve been that way for about the last 15 years. Some other businesses have moved in and out of National building over the years, and it sits empty yet again. The beloved Dairy Queen (that occupied the Knockouts space, below) disappeared by the start of the 1990s, and you knew the jig was up when even the Radio Shack closed.
Plaza Madrid is in a good location, the buildings are holding up very nicely (especially those clay tile roofs, which are not budging) and the layout is perfect for exposure of individual shops, yet owners just can’t seem to make it happen.
I know retail is an unsympathetic creature of New, Newer, Newest and Madrid has the stench of old about it. Retail also requires either a complete lack of personality or the EIFS-fake personality of “lifestyle centers,” while Madrid just has played out kitsch from a different century, so it’s the wrong kind of personality. I’m not claiming this place is worthy of preservation, just saying that remodeling the buildings we already have is a smart idea. I will always hold on hope that retail can learn to think differently, maybe learn to save some money by recycling buildings, and that Plaza Madrid would be a good test lab for such a radical idea… scrub it up, patch it up, market the kitsch. Let’s learn to think outside the Big Box of retail Shoppes.
Posted on February 7th, 2010 10 comments
One of the most prominent intersections in Ferguson, MO has lately become notorious. CVS is mining the St. Louis area, and as they require being near an existing Walgreens, they want to move into the intersection of Hereford and North Florissant, on the spot of the now-vacant Sinclair gas station (shown above). The issue is covered in depth here at NOCO StL, and that post also includes comments that capture the tone of the debate.
In essence, CVS wants to buy and tear down 8 homes and receive a 5-year TIF in order to build a new store on the northeast corner of a desirable intersection, and have been working on procuring the homes and advancing the plans since spring of 2009. Ferguson neighborhood associations did not learn of these plans until September 2009. It’s become a case of who in Ferguson City Hall knew of these plans (and when did they know it), and were they purposely trying to usher in this development without public discourse?
The group Preserve Our Ferguson Neighborhood’s concisely explains why they are opposed to the plan here, and note that they are not opposed to CVS coming to Ferguson, just opposed to this plan.
The photo above – and the next two that follow – are photos I took in May 2007 as part of a personal photographic survey of Hereford/Chambers Road from N. Florissant east to Halls Ferry Road (I hope to document straight through to Riverview Dr.). These homes atop the hill on the northside of Hereford are a long-standing, iconic representation of Ferguson. Even though everything to the southwest of them long ago turned commercial, these houses remained. Meaning, that even during the boom years of Ferguson’s mid-century development, planners left this stretch of homes alone.
From 1945 – 1970, the clear delineation of commercial and residential in Ferguson is what made it so desirable for St. Louis city dwellers looking to relocate to the suburbs, and the long-standing respect for that pattern is a huge contributor to the renaissance Ferguson is now experiencing. There is a growing and tangible St. Louis population reclaiming both our city neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs because of the distinct flavor (and existing infrastructures) they retain. It is an organic reaction against anonymous homogenization that depletes resources and a reclamation of community that is at the core of the human experience. Ferguson is quickly becoming a poster child for inner-ring possibility, which is a responsible balance of respecting the past while moving forward.
From casual observation of how CVS has grown in the Midwest, it is clear that there is a corporate game plan that requires their stores to be in close proximity to a Walgreens. I’m not debating their strategy – it must work for them or they wouldn’t insist upon it – but I am noting that there stubborn adherence to this strategy finds them offering lame excuses when faced with community opposition.
For instance, in the Ferguson situation, the community has suggested other nearby commercial sites that could most likely be had without disrupting residential, and most of these sites are within eyesight of the Walgreens. But CVS corporate responds that there might be a lease restriction on the site, and they want to work only on the Sinclair site they have been working on for almost a year.
The City of Ferguson may have already offered them a 5-year TIF, and CVS might also get a Brownfield tax credit for building on the site of a gas station. Note that Ferguson can extend TIF to most any location it desires, so that’s not a crucial factor for CVS staying put with the Sinclair Plan. But one thing is very clear from our brief history of the company in St. Louis: they want empty commercial and seemingly expendable residential buildings near a Walgreens because dealing with an existing corporation can get tricky.
For instance, their Ferguson plan procures 8 occupied homes, but spares the Little Caesar’s pizza building at the northern end of the block on N. Florissant. It is cheaper to pay above-market price for private homes than wrangle with an existing business that full-well knows the rules of the real estate game. This may be why the Aaron Rents site mentioned as another possible location for CVS at the same intersection was immediately dismissed; who wants to tangle with evicting a retail chain when the goal is to get in, get what you need and seal the deal as quickly as possible?
From the CVS perspective, these location strategies are logical, and it worked perfectly for them at the intersection of Gravois and Hampton in South St. Louis City, the former site of a vacant Amoco station that also required 3 homes to be demolished. The Ferguson site is a repetition of that same game plan, so why not? But there’s another example that Ferguson needs to keep in mind: the failed attempt for a CVS at Lindell and Sarah in the Central West End.
Yes, the plan took place over vacant commercial buildings, but this property was not in eyesight of the existing Walgreens, just a few blocks east on the same side of the street. So, not the most ideal way to meet the corporate mandate, but still a viable property on a valuable street. But the next problem was persistent community opposition. In general, the majority of residents affected were not opposing the store being there, but rather the layout and design of the store. CVS played ball for one inning with some design modifications, but residents still weren’t satisfied and asked for further revisions. Without fanfare, CVS took their ball and left the game, and the CWE CVS plan was abandoned.
Simply because a corporation with deep pockets says it should be so does not make it fait accompli, especially within a proud community committed to the safe-keeping of their town’s present and future.
It is easy to understand the need to increase the Ferguson tax base, and this is classically accomplished in two ways: more residents and more business. It is a delicate balance, and Ferguson is once again facing the hefty kid on the playground who wants to plop down on the other end of their seesaw. The important message of this “controversy” is that Ferguson residents are expecting transparency and fair negotiations about developments that will produce the most good for their city, and that is the sign of a community with healthy self-esteem and optimism about their future potential. Ferguson’s heartbeat is gaining strength, and it is now healthy enough to fight for a fair deal.
There is valid concern about what to do with the Sinclair site if the CVS deal should fall through. Size-wise, old gas station plots can be problematic if you’re thinking inside the retail box. Though, considering the current revitalization in the heart of Downtown Ferguson, extending that line of thought a few blocks up to Hereford is not a stretch of the imagination.
And when it comes to revitalizing odd-shaped, vacant gas station sites in Ferguson, I do need to point out the photo above, also taken in May 2007. This is at Ames Pl. and (Hereford turns into) Chambers Road, less than a mile east of the Sinclair intersection. I once lived within walking distance of this former gas station, and was always intrigued by it because it appeared to be growing out of the side of a hill. Plus, those people above it could walk out their side door and onto the gas station roof, if they wanted to (and I really wanted to).
The building is short and narrow, while the lot is long but very narrow. So when the gas station finally folded many a year ago, it sat in this forlorn, vacant state. The asphalt was removed, and once the grass grew in, it really looked odd, like a cedar and glass carbuncle growing out of the greenery. But the last time I drove by, the site was back in use as a used car lot, which was a pleasant shock because I thought that plot of land and the building was a goner. Instead, against all odds, it’s reborn!
I am not at all suggesting that the Sinclair site should become a used car lot. I am just pointing out that even the oddest, and seemingly hopeless sites can find another life when it’s in a community that works together to make such things possible.
Posted on January 23rd, 2010 19 comments
The news that Macy’s is closing its Northwest Plaza store marks the sound of the footsteps of a dead mall walking. The fate of both the former Famous-Barr department store and Northwest Plaza makes me ultra sad, and even before this news I was always nostalgic for the Northwest Plaza of old. It once had energy and personality, then someone decided to put a lid on it. It’s been a slow suffocation ever since.
My deep fondness for the Famous-Barr at Northwest Plaza stems from one exact moment in time, and it radiates out from there forever more.
November 1978, Olivia Newton-John releases the album Totally Hot. It was a calculated move to capitalize on her “bad Sandy” from Grease. The songs were the most rock she’d ever be, and it was matched with a look which was a modern-day continuation of the 1950s black leather look that had ended the movie my friend and I had seen 7 times in the movie theaters that summer. Some of the songs on this record were more guitar driven, the vocals randy and tough, and to a long-time Livvy fan (Nerd Alert: I belonged to her fan club years before Grease) it was revolutionary.
Just as important as the music (which still sounds just as great today, thanks to the brilliance of producer John Farrar) was the album cover art work. I had just turned 13, and had been given the go-ahead to wear make-up to school, and this is exactly how I wanted to look!
A Friday night in December 1978, I was dropped off at Northwest Plaza, and I trudged through the snow to get to the very spot shown above: the Estee Lauder counter at this Famous-Barr. Where else would a newborn teenage girl go to get that smokey-eyed Livvy look? I stared down through the glass case at all the eye liner pencils, and my heart pounded with excitement at this whole new world of possibility before me. Then a sales lady asked how she could help, and my head started pounding with fear because I had no clue what to say, what to do. I was only used to using the products in my Mother’s make-up drawer, not buying my own!
The sales lady was very kind, and after a swift transaction, I walked away with a fat Estee Lauder eye liner pencil of a deep blue-gray. It was my first make-up purchase, my first adult thing, and I still remember the smell of the winter air as I walked out of the store, and turning to look back inside at the warm glow of a cosmetics department that had accepted me as one of their own. Even then, I knew it was a milestone girl-to-woman moment.
As most teenage girls tend to do at the start, I too often left the house looking like a hussy raccoon. I abused that pencil something fierce, and still never came close to looking like Lovely Livvy. I do believe that the stub of that inaugural eye pencil still exists in one of my junk piles, holding onto it because that time resonated so deeply. And so does the place that it happened at.
Which is why I went there today, to take one last look around, take some photos, and see if the Ghosts of Shopping Past still float under that majestic, astro ceiling. Today was also a gathering of the Facebook groups I Hung Out at the Northwest Plaza Fountain as a Teenager and Let’s Revitalize Northwest Plaza Now! As a person still grieving from the death of Northland Shopping Center, I had to join both groups and then get a look at the people who were foolhardy enough to try and save a dying mall.
I was there around 1:30, so didn’t get to see what was eventually about 300 people, as reported by NOCO StL. But Northwest Plaza is so scary dead that seeing the healthy handfuls of people already gathered at the spot where the fountain once lay was heart-warming.
Putting a roof over this outdoor plaza was a bad idea from the start; back in the day, I don’t recall a single soul agreeing that this was just what the place needed. But this is what the then-owners felt was necessary to keep up with the Retail Joneses, that shoppers want a hermetically sealed environment more than they want personality and ease of access that comes from open-air malls. With millions of dollars of renovation, they erased the low-slung, mid-century midwest ease that changed with the seasons for a clinical, soulless, Any Town U.S.A. warehouse.
I have a sharp, instinctual sense of direction, but once they put the roof over Northwest Plaza, I got lost (as in “will this be an anxiety attack?” lost) every time. I’d try to use the anchor stores as place reminders of the old layout, but it was all so tall and bland and disconcerting, that I’d get discombobulated. The jagged contrast between what it used to be and what it had become was so depressing that I haven’t stepped foot in the place for well over 10 years. It had nothing to do with crime or location or the types of stores within. It was about being creeped out about walking over the burial grounds of a once-beloved place. Oh, how I long to see even the blurriest photo of those lighted deers that graced the Plaza at Christmas time… Northwest Plaza exists only in memories. This mall that has its name is just a tombstone.
I am so ecstatic to see a passionate group of people wanting to save this place that I can taste it, but there’s also a bitter aftertaste. There is very little original fiber left to Northwest Plaza, so only a sense of the place we once loved can be revitalized. Even if future plans do include removing the roof, it still won’t be the Northwest Plaza being honored today, it will just be a new “lifestyle center” hoping to coast off nostalgic momentum.
Today also poked at the mental scab I have about the demolition of Northland Shopping Center, another beloved North St. Louis County place that could instantly transport you back to the golden days of yesteryear because it was still in its original state. And because of the era in which it was built, Northland was more architecturally significant than Northwest Plaza. But back in 2002-2003, when news of Northland’s demise was first reported, there was not yet Facebook groups to make people aware of what was happening and spur them into action. And trust that people feel just as passioantely about Northland as they do Northwest; even all these many years on, I still regularly get e-mails from people sharing their Northland memories after they’ve found my cyber memorial. The St. Louisan sense of place is very strong, and we should be proud of that.
But back in the pre-social network year of 2003, it was just me and a couple of other mourners who documented Northland’s last days. Even then, I knew trying to save it was a losing game; acceptance and love of mid-century modern architecture was barely stirring, and the idea of trying to save retail is a brand new concept brought about by the deaths of enclosed malls.
What was particularly galling was that as the last walls of Northland were being toppled, retail trends were swinging to (or actually, back to) open air plazas. Wow, and they just killed a great opportunity for a retro open air plaza, which could have been the mack daddy of St. Louis lifestyle shopping destinations. It was also right around this time that the first rumors of removing the roof swirled around Northwest Plaza. This double dose of irony was more than I could withstand and I learned to just let go of any efforts or thoughts of preserving retail because it’s just about following the money which is about following the trends, and obviously, no one cares about retail buildings anyway.
These hundreds of people who signed up cyberally and then, today, showed up in person are stirring hope in my heart. Are we ready to embrace sense of place, and ready to expect people-friendly and attractive built environments? Are we realizing how wasteful it is to keep destroying the places of our past for a future with a short shelf life? Regardless of what becomes of Northwest Plaza, I’m just relieved to hear others joining this conversation, and am so proud of St. Louis for taking this stand. You guys rock!
Posted on January 12th, 2010 6 comments
475 N. Lindbergh
This building was always a bank, as long as I can remember from growing up in North St. Louis County. In December of 2001 I snapped this quick picture as I waited in traffic, as a visual reminder to go back and photograph it properly at a later date. I like round buildings, in general, and I liked how this one’s roundness was composed of blonde brick panels with long, skinny windows between. It was a low-key but slightly whimsical building.
Since taking this photo, I’d passed the bank many times, but conditions were always wrong for photos. One brilliant spring day in 2007, I was back in the area and thought, “This is the day to shoot the round bank building!” But no, it was gone. All that remained was a busted up blacktop parking lot and a round hole where the building was. This is the only photo I have, the only reminder.
Now here it is, almost 3 years later, and Desco still has a For Sale sign up on an ugly, busted up blacktop property, with a listing price of $1.7 million.
The building was torn down and the property put up for sale well before the real estate meltdown, so that excuse for its vacancy is only 18 months old, at best . And I’m assuming Desco figured it would be easier to sell property in this dense retail corridor without the building on it.
It’s always been expensive to build new buildings, which is why – in the current financial climate – many companies are happy to convert existing retail/commercial buildings to their needs. And it has always been expensive to demolish a building of this size, but in happier economic times, realtors could afford to gamble on a bigger gain by clearing a property.
But in this case, the gamble has yet to pay off, and I wonder if Desco had left that unique bank building in place if maybe someone in today’s climate would have been more willing to take it at a reduced price and remodel to suit?
Our recession is teaching everyone a lot about thrift, sustainability, resources and conservation. It now seems shockingly wasteful to demolish a perfectly serviceable building in hopes of landing a buyer with really deep pockets for acquisition and construction. Especially in the case of this property, which – because it has neighbors on all sides – can only accommodate a small-to-medium sized building, much like the one that was once there.
I do miss the building, and do hope that Desco and their ilk contemplate the proverb: Waste Not, Want Not.
Posted on January 6th, 2010 12 comments
Natural Bridge Road
Bel Ridge, MO
Great name for a barber shop, isn’t it?
This tiny place, just east of the inner belt, fascinates me. Built in 1930, it’s only 252 square feet, and appears to have always been a barber shop.
Barber shops, in general, fascinate me because it’s a Guy Place. Ladies are no more welcome in them than guys are in beauty shops. Oh sure, anyone’s welcome through the door, but when the opposite sex “invades” one of these places, you can cut uncomfortable with a knife.
When the Clip Joint is open, there always seems to be at least two cars parked around it. Seems it would only take 3 people for the joint to feel crowded, but that’s probably part of the appeal of this joint.
Posted on November 15th, 2009 10 comments
West Florissant Avenue between
Goodfellow Blvd. & Lucas and Hunt Rd.
The only place I’ve seen such exotic exterior cladding is in a finite section of North St. Louis County, inside the inner-ring suburbs of Flordell Hills and Jennings. Most of them are on – or not too far away from – West Florissant Avenue, were built in 1940, and range from 850 – 950 square feet, so it’s a safe guess that it’s the work of the same designer/construction company.
The year they were built is of special interest, as it was that brief time period after the Great Depression but before World War 2. Meaning, this part of the county was already experiencing westward migration a full 5-6 years before the official start of the post-war Baby Boom.
But as a toddler living in Ferguson in the late 1960s, the only thing that made these houses stick out in my mind is that they have giraffe skin!
I first made the connection after seeing an episode of Marlin Perkins‘ Wild Kingdom about giraffes, and then passing by these homes the next day. Did the original builder take inspiration from dreams of a wild safari in Africa? Or was it an idea cadged from someplace else? If anyone has any insight or information, please do share.
It’s especially exciting when parts of the giraffe skin survive an exterior remodel. Adds a bit of pizazz, don’t you think?
I encourage you to take a drive down this exact stretch of West Florissant and note the harmonious mingling of bungalow residential and mid-century modern commercial buildings. It’s a compelling and easy-to-read chapter of the post-war development of our Metro St. Louis area, and makes a good case for a return to mixed-use zoning, which always brings variety and energy to any area that still allows such an old-fashioned way of living.
Posted on October 28th, 2009 2 comments
The inner-ring suburbs of North St. Louis County deserve a little attention. First up, the Ferguson Planning and Development department is buying up small, foreclosed homes for future use. This has long been a “if I had development money” dream of mine because as life gets too expensive to live it out on the fringes, people will start to migrate backwards over the former White Flight paths. This will make inner-ring suburbs desirable locations yet again.
North County finally has a blog!
Posted on October 18th, 2009 6 comments
Where North Highway 67 ends
North St. Louis County, MO
This is a picture of the very last house on the south side of Hwy 67. It’s past Jamestown Mall, but several yards before the mighty street comes to a whimpering end before a forest. I always thought this little stone house – built in 1948 – was so charming and so intriguing. There’s no front yard, but a little over 2 acres of backyard. But the feature that always caught my imagination was the outdoor terrace created in the space between the house and tiny garage.
I was both fascinated and jealous when passing by and catching someone using that special spot; how lucky were they?
In 2007, it became apparent the place was empty, and considering how developers were angling to obliterate every inch of greenery for a slight variation on the same retail they had just 15 miles down the road, I figured this place was toast. But when driving by yesterday, I saw two men working on the house. They were installing the new fascia you see in these photos. And then I noticed it was a new roof, as well, and that the LLC who bought the place would only do something like that if they planned to sell it as a viable, 1,389 s.f. home that someone would be happy to live in.
Consider that homes even more substantial and younger than this get sold as teardowns, and understand why my heart burst with happiness over the sight of men fixing this house for its future. They think it’s perfectly natural to save and re-use this little stone house, those lovable, wacky kids!
Posted on October 4th, 2009 17 comments
Jamestown Mall, Lindbergh & Old Jamestown Road
At the end of September 2009, The Urban Land Institute presented some ideas on what to do with a dying mall. In a pdf of their presentation, they advocate tearing down the existing building and creating a new, mixed-use destination. This proposal comes after the 2008 idea of turning the southwest (former Dillard’s) portion of the mall into senior housing and office space fell through due to, supposedly, national economic misfortune.
Jamestown Mall originally opened in 1973, shortly after my Mother and I moved into near-by Black Jack. There were plenty of places to eat, (including a Pope’s cafeteria and a restaurant inside the Walgreens), a movie theater and all the stores my Mother already had credit cards for, so we went there a lot.
I have good memories of the place, like hanging out at the Camelot music store, which got most of the grade-school and teenager money I had. There’s also not-so-good memories, like having to pick out clothes in the Pretty Plus department at Sears, which was located right near the mall entrance, so I was in plain sight of high traffic.
There were high school midnight movies where we were so stoned we could barely walk, so I barely remember The Song Remains the Same or Rainbow Bridge. There were periods of intense longing over toys in KayBee, gag gifts at Spencer’s and boys in my classes that I never thought twice about until I ran into them outside of school at the mall.
But these are all memories that I can conjure at will as I sit at home. The last few times I stopped at the mall, none of those thoughts went through my head while walking the mall. Instead, I was taken with the stainless steel and bronze sculptures that have been there since Day One, and meant nothing to me at the time, but now I think they’re beautiful, and I worry what will become of them if the mall is torn down.
Buildings are historical proof that hold memories , which is one of the reasons people get upset when certain buildings are slated for demolition. In the case of Jamestown Mall, it denotes a distinct period of Boom Town development in far North St. Louis County, and it holds plenty of memories, but the structure itself is unmemorable because it was purposely designed for all the action to be internal, so how it looked from the outside was an afterthought.
I loved everything about re-purposing a portion of it for senior housing, but since they’ve let that useful and innovative idea go, I’m completely on board with them leveling the existing mall and starting anew. But I am completely against the suggested new use for the land.
Take a look at the aerial view of the mall and the surrounding area and note how much green there is around it. Even with decades of new housing going up, this part of North County – out where the mighty Lindbergh Boulevard ends with a lackluster whimper – is still awesomely rural, verdant and never completely tamed. High density retail and residential kind of peters out northeast of the New Halls Ferry & Lindbergh intersection, and large swaths of rolling hills still hold working farms (there’s still a barnyard animal feed and supply across from the mall on Lindbergh because the area needs one). The Bubbleheads thrive out there for a reason – it’s woodsy seclusion sometimes interrupted by suburbia.
It was a weird gamble to put a mall in an area so far off the density grid. For the first 15 years of its existence, the only other non-Lindbergh way to get to the mall was via a winding, hilly back road with dangerous curves and a rickety bridge over a snake-ridden creek that only us locals used. “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s mall we go…”
But it was a successful gamble for awhile, because there was nothing else like it in this remote area. It was truly a shopping destination for St. Louis North Countians and those over the bridge in Alton, Illinois… until they got their own Alton Square. And Northwest Plaza had more of the big stores, and wasn’t all that much further the other way up Lindbergh. And then retail trends changed to several Big Box lots spread throughout a municipality and Jamestown Mall became the remote island of Misfit Stores.
The ULI proposal recognizes how remote this location is, so logically suggests that it be turned into a bells and whistle mixed-use destination, a place so chock-full of everything and the kitchen sink that folks from all over the region will be itching to go there… until the newness fades away into the next Retail Destination dog and pony show that’s easier to get to.
They also propose that the new use have a Vegas-like reenactment of urban density, which is flat-out silly when you glance at the distinctly rural qualities of the areas surrounding it. Florissant shouldn’t spend millions on a New Town, Part II.
I propose, instead, a totally original mixed-use idea that takes into consideration the area and its flavor and gives people something they can’t get anywhere else so that they are totally willing to come from all over to have a crack at it, repeatedly.
From the current proposal I’d keep the ice hockey pond and the farmer’s market. To stick with the sports theme, let’s go extreme: could someone finally give our area a full-blown skateboard park, please? Also add a bicycle motocross course. Some of the original building foundations could be left in place for both of these items, and because we don’t have anything like this currently, they’d pull a steady stream of people all year long totally willing to pay to play.
If one or both is too radical an idea to consider, maybe pay homage to the horse culture still existent in this part of North County, with something similar to Pere Marquette Stables?
Expand the farmer’s market idea by also creating a pick-your-own vegetable garden. Think Eckert’s apple orchard, with people paying to pick their own local vegetables that they know comes right from the ground. There’s plenty of room for seasonal harvests like strawberries in the spring, pumpkin patches in the fall, and just like Waldbart Nursery nearby (let them sponsor it and support local business), chop your own Christmas tree in the winter.
Right on the Old Jamestown and Lindbergh corner I’d slap down a restaurant that naturally features seasonal food that comes from the gardens, and a cafe for hot or cold beverages and treats, depending on the time of year. And so I don’t have to worry about the fate of the Jamestown Mall sculptures, move them into an outdoor sculpture and water garden for a unique dining-outdoors experience.
Any or all of these ideas would cost far less to develop than what is proposed, and promotes a sustainable, outdoors, healthy agenda that is not dependent on fickle retail trends or just-add-water urban islands inappropriate to the area. Even with our crap economy, they could begin with the gardens on existing empty land while demolition happens on the mall, so that everyone can see innovative progress happen in stages, and even take part in the process.
Are these far-fetched ideas, or is it do-able? Do you think it could pull people from all over the metropolitan area and contribute meaningfully to the area’s tax base? And what are some other uses for the land other than the cliched ideas being proposed?