Posted on September 7th, 2014 4 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 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 December 23rd, 2012 No comments
The former State Bank of Wellston is currently under interior demolition. Exterior demolition is set to begin January 2nd, 2013. Word is it’s coming down to make way for a McDonalds.
Here’s an overview of the Wellston Bank.
And there will be a future post memorializing the loss of this mid-century modern bank that was both stately and cruisin’ cool at the same time.
In the meantime, the neon fabulous Sky Bank light tower (above) is for sale.
This light tower has been a sign post, a marker, a marvel for almost 60 years. Sometimes, it’s the only thing about Wellston that people know or recognize. It is absolutely worthy of saving.
The demolition crew is looking for a buyer. There is some urgency because of the start date of exterior demolition.
Do you know of anyone who can help?
We could use a Christmas miracle, here.
If you’re interested, please contact me via blog comment or directly, and you’ll be put in touch with those with the details.
It IS a Christmas miracle. Here’s a note from Larry Giles:
I am in the final phase of securing the Wellston Bank sign and have managed to raise 6K thru donations and have the trucking lined up, 5K for the purchase price. We still need another 5K for the crane, crew and misc.
More details as they emerge.
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 May 20th, 2012 6 comments
Union Memorial United Methodist Church
Belt & Bartmer Avenues
North St. Louis, MO
A carload of us architecture fanatics were heading east on Page Avenue after a long day of photo adventures brought short by the setting sun. I glanced out the window to the south and saw a stained glass beacon pointing straight toward me, then it disappeared. I wasn’t sure if I really saw it, but quickly asked for them to turn the car around, let’s investigate.
At the peak point of a unique cul-de-sac of stately homes from the early 1900s (and some modern in-fill here and there), silhouetted against the sunset, the Union Memorial United Methodist Church spread out before us, like a swan taking flight. It was a breath-taking moment, with all of us exclaiming, “How did we not know about this?!” I vowed to come back as soon as possible in daylight.
And it was even more spectacular than the first time.
From the church website, we learn:
Bishop Clair, the resident bishop, officiated at the Ground Breaking Ceremonies held March 26, 1961. The Cornerstone Laying was March 7, 1963 followed by the formal opening in November, 1963. The Union Memorial United Methodist Church edifice is said to be the second largest “thin shell parabolic structure” of its kind in the United States.
And that roof is in pristine condition, and absolutely awe-inspiring.
I told my father, Richard Weiss, about finding this church, and once again, he floored me by revealing he did the stained glass installation somewhere between 1961 – 1962. He was the foreman on the job done by PPG Industries.
Richard told me that the City of St. Louis helped find a new site for the church when they had to relocate due to the Mill Creek Valley being demolished. This is verified on the church’s website, wherein they write:
During Dr. John D. Hicks’ pastorate, the city dedicated a mammoth redevelopment program. Union Memorial was located in what was called “The Mill Creek Area”. This area was to be cleared and rebuilt. The church did not have to move, but since many members had moved westward, the church decided to move west, also, and build a new church. A Building Committee of one hundred was appointed, which was empowered to negotiate with the Land Clearance Authority and to take all necessary steps to secure available land. The committee reported that the land and property at Belt and Bartmer was the best that they had found. Two architects were employed to draw up plans which were later accepted.
Here’s a 1958 aerial map of what was on the site before the church was built.
The original Union Memorial Church was dedicated in 1907 at a temple that was standing at the corner of Leffingwell Avenue and Pine Street. This is now part of the campus of what was the A.G. Edwards headquarters at Jefferson and Market in St. Louis City.
From my father I also learned some other important information:
• Cunliff Construction was the general contractor for the project, headed up by Nelson Cunliff. Nelson was the St. Louis Parks Commissioner who helped make The Muny possible in 1917. He and his brother, William, were responsible for several industrial, hotel and apartment buildings in St. Louis during the 20th century. Ray Schelmmer was the project superintendent.
• Inside the Cunliff Construction work trailer was a scale model of the building, made of sticks and plaster, which everyone had to constantly refer to understand the complexity of the structure.
• All of the stained glass panels and aluminum framing had to be fabricated on the site, rather than in a shop, as is typical. The architects had drawn a general map of how the glass should be laid out, but they had to be in person to see how it would actually pan out. There are panes of clear glass in front of the stained glass to protect it.
Richard wanted to know if I got a shot of the tiny portions of glass close to the ground (they were a bear to install). And I did. You can see what he’s talking about here, along with additional exterior photos of the church.
My father also told me an interesting story about the integrity of the congregation.
At the time of construction, this neighborhood was experiencing some unrest, with lots of robbery and burglary. Pastor John Hicks noticed all the work crews packing up their equipment and tools every night, and told them it would be safe to leave them on the site. The crews, with their expensive gear, were hesitant to chance it. But the pastor assured them they’d keep a watchful eye out and could guarantee that no harm would come to their belongings. My father’s glaziers began leaving their gear behind each night, and it was always there the next day. The Pastor’s word was golden.
And that spirit of community and integrity and pride lasts to this very day. They welcomed us into the church for a tour, and everyone we spoke with was eager and happy to talk about their church and the building that has served them well for 50 years. They even asked for copies of the photos to add to their historical archives.
Here’s an example of what they do for the community (and you can see their magnificent building in the background).
Inside, it is easily 95% original material that remains, including the angular benches with the cloth insert aisle caps. I can’t even keep my own furniture this clean, so I’m mightily impressed by all the effort they’ve made over the decades.
Note the material detail of the lobby, including the crosses as door handles.
When some benches needed to be removed to add sound and light equipment, they even re-purposed them as seating in the lobby. “Waste not want not” has served them well.
Note how the folded concrete roof moves from outside to inside. And these are the original doors (though upon seeing this photo, Richard noted that one door is no longer operable as it’s missing it’s jamb).
These floating, terrazzo stair treads lead up to the balcony that overlooks the nave of the church, but also gives you a heart-pumping view of the soaring tower of stained glass…
Make note of the stone home seen through this glass. That’s 5501 Bartmer, built in 1907, and it serves as the residence of the acting pastor of Union Memorial (their current pastor is Rev. Kevin Kosh). They tell the story best on their own website:
On November 20, 1977, the three John’s – Rev. John Hicks, Rev. John Doggett and Rev. John Heyward – officiated at the mortgage burning services. This occurred approximately five years before the mortgage was to be paid. During Dr. Heyward’s pastorate, additional property across the street from the church was purchased and used to house the pastor and his family.
These shafts of stained glass follow the angle on both sides of the church, and the experience of watching them ascend as you walk into the main auditorium really does lift the spirits. The beauty of mid-century modern church architecture is that they did finally have the means to recreate the poetic movement of faith and ascension. Today’s brick box stadium churches really do a disservice to the spirits they worship.
The congregation were rehearsing on a Saturday afternoon for Easter worship. Their singing voices just added to the magic of the space that they were so gracious to share with us – every nook and cranny.
I have yet to see a building of this vintage in such perfect condition. They take meticulous care of it. And even when they needed to replace some light fixtures, they did such a good job of keeping the tone, that I had to ask if they were original or replacement. Their understanding and love of their building is truly inspirational.
They took us down into the basement, a white subway tile space so spic and span you could eat off the walls! There is also a large auditorium with a stage known as the Lewis Fellowship Hall. They were decorating the stage for an Easter pageant. It was heartwarming to be looking at a space that was depicted many times in celebration photos hanging upstairs in the lobby.
They even kept and framed the original architectural drawing done by the architects of the building: William E. Duncan, Charles Novak Jr., and Harry A. Osborn, who billed themselves as Associated Architects. I could only find a trail of information on Charles Novak, who did the Brentwood YMCA in 1957, the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson in 1955, and the Golde’s Department store that used to stand in Sappington, on Manchester Road.
As seen from Page Avenue, two tiny mid-century modern homes lead up to the Union Memorial, and the sight of this with the old stone mansion on the right is such a beautiful encapsulation of the evolving history of St. Louis architecture, and how faith creates some of the most beautiful spaces ever.
Thank you to everyone at Union Memorial United Methodist Church (here’s their Facebook page, with the building front and center!) for giving us such an enthusiastic welcome and tour of your magnificent church.
Posted on November 2nd, 2010 5 comments
Shreve & Lexington Avenues
North St. Louis City, MO
The St. Louis City Talk blog pegged these houses above when covering the Kingshighway East neighborhood (scroll down 40%), and when I said to Matt Mourning that I wish I knew exactly where they are, he said, “I told you about them in January. They’re at Shreve and Lexington.” Within a couple days, Chris Naffziger and I were taking in this scene. St. Louis bloggers do not mess around (except when they forget something told to them 10 months ago – what a drag it is getting old!)
There’s actually 2 perfect rows of these houses, back to back on Lexington and Palm, creating an entire block of mid-century bungalows between Marcus and Shreve. All of them are 1,104 square feet, built between 1962-63, according to City records. The Lexington side also extends one block to the west, where the homes face Handy Park, with half of them of the same vintage, but with a few design variations and a little more space, clocking in at 1,173 s.f. These new homes were labeled the North Cote Brilliante Subdivision.
What makes the compact block of North Cote Brilliante so intriguing is what is across the street from them. Shown above is a good sample of what the residents of the 4700 block of Lexington see when looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows of their mid-century pads. These brick boxes date from 1911-1912, and none of them go over 725 s.f. This is standard for this era of single family homes in this area. It’s the mid-century homes that are out of place, in the best way possible.
Take a look at the aerial map and you see how different they look from their neighbors, with no alley dividing the backyards, and their bright, low-pitched roofs contrasting with the flat roofs all around them. Considering the history and density of the area, it’s natural to assume that similar homes were demolished to build the new houses. But why did they choose to demolish that particular block – plus another near-dozen across from the park – to insert new homes?
So began the research through old City Directories, which showed nothing at all at these addresses even as far back as 1921. In fact, in 1921, Shreve didn’t even exist as a street south of Natural Bridge, and Palm ended 10 blocks east at Clay Avenue.
A 1958 aerial map confirms that the sites in question were indeed blank, with Handy Park taking shape at this time. Turns out Handy Park was dedicated in June 1960 in honor of songwriter W.C. Handy, who matters greatly to blues music, in general, and matters specifically to our city because of his seminal 1914 classic “St. Louis Blues.”
The City made the ordinance to turn this land into a park in 1941, and even at the dedication 19 years later, the houses overlooking the park (shown above & below) were still 3 years away from being built and bought. So why were there sizable swaths of blank land in the middle of this neighborhood for so many decades?
Tired of pouring through books at the library, I took a delayed shortcut and called my father, Richard, to ask what was up with that part of Kingshighway East. His immediate answer: Handy Park was once a quarry. He remembered being 8 or 9 (which would be 1940 or ’41) and going with his parents to visit their friends who lived at Lexington and Aubert Avenue, and being specifically told not to go near the quarry which had recently been closed because some boys had been killed while exploring the site. For roughly 15 years, they filled the site with cement and stone to get it to a point where they could build the park.
His recollection of time period jived perfectly with the City park ordinance, and a quick cyber search verified that indeed there was an awful lot of quarry right there, as shown in the pink dot on the 1904 quarry map, above. According to Stone Quarries and Beyond, it was known as First Quarry, one of three owned by John B. O’Meara. The official address was at Euclid and Ashland Avenues, and limestone was pulled from it starting in 1876.
Which means that these homes on Palm – dating from 1926 to 1935 – had a quarry or a vacant dirt lot as their view until…
…these homes popped up in 1963.
It’s heartening to know that nothing was demolished to make these small, swanky homes, and it’s intriguing that many homes of this type were going in the North Side. For example, Norwood Square – just 1 mile west of here – went up on the site of a former trash dump. And similar homes (which can be seen here at St. Louis Patina) went up on always-vacant land on both Carter and Anderson Avenues – about 2 miles northeast of here – between 1952 to 1961. There’s also San Francisco Court that went up in 1957, and which will be covered in a future B.E.L.T. post.
There was a sizable chunk of new post-war housing being built in North St. Louis, yet all the various versions of St. Louis City history never mention this, even in passing. These new developments were a big deal to the people living in the area. In fact, on this block that you see above, there still resides two original residents who moved in to them when they were brand new in 1962. And note that most of them are in really good condition, which is evidence of decades worth of constant maintenance.
These houses were a big deal then, and they still matter today. Yet they don’t rate a mention in the developing history of North St. Louis. The story is told as if nothing new and inspiring went on in North St. Louis after World War 2. With a sidelong glance to the Urban Renewers, Red Liners and Paul McKee’s of St. Louis, I ask:
Why is that?
Posted on January 9th, 2010 3 comments
It was a January 2nd phone conversation with my Father, and I don’t recall what got us on the topic, but we started talking about Walnut Park, a neighborhood in North St. Louis. He began reminiscing about what that neighborhood was like well over 40 years ago, and named all of the companies and manufacturing firms (like the Chrysler plant, the small ammunition plant, etc.) in the area, and how all those employees populated the Walnut Park neighborhood.
As is the topography of his amazing memory, my Father started rattling off the names of companies, street by street, a list of by-gone firms that either folded, merged or moved their operations outside of American soil, and how this killed the vitality of the surrounding area. There’s no disputing that population density follows jobs.
As my Father walked down memory lane, he stumbled on the name of the long-time electric company on Semple Avenue. He described the building, what they manufactured, but that he couldn’t remember its name brought the conversation to a close. On January 3rd, there was this brief message from him on my answering machine: “Moloney Electric. The name of the place on Semple was Moloney Electric.”
On January 9th, he calls me back to say that the site of the January 8th ABB shooting IS the old Moloney Electric building. A search of Moloney Electric brings up a history of acquisitions which eventually resulted in ABB at its present St. Louis location.
Considering our earlier conversations about the building and the tragedy that took place shortly thereafter, I think I’m going to lay off for a little bit on having these types of historical conversations with my Father, Built Environment Nostradamus.
Posted on December 12th, 2009 2 comments
The Anti-Wrecking Ball Holiday Kegger was a qualified success. Success is measured by how many kegs were emptied (2) and how much of our lawyer fees were paid down (most of it!).
Thank you to every single person who came out to the inaugural event at the Old North St. Louis Community Gallery (gorgeous space in the most optimistic part of town) and for each person who contributed time, talent, booze and money to our adventures in preservation law.
And here’s a brief video of the evening.
And as our adventure continues, you can donate at any time through the Friends of San Luis Pay Pal account.
Posted on May 16th, 2009 7 comments
Intersection of North Broadway & Halls Ferry Road
Baden is the northernmost burg in St. Louis City, established in 1876. Because of its location as the terminus of major transportation lines, it became a popular gateway to North County. Or put another way, after World War 2, Baden was like training wheels for veteran city dwellers pedaling toward suburban living.
During the Great Suburban Exodus, the building shown below made an impressive effort to embrace the mid-century modern frontier by donning a sleek and colorful metal screen suit in the mid-1960s.
The heart of the downtown Baden Business District straddles North Broadway and is still mostly intact, building-wise. It is easy to conjure how it worked and felt in the first half of the 20th century, and will be relatively easy to revive as America re-embraces the logic of density in the coming decades.
The Y intersection of Halls Ferry & N. Broadway – known as “The Wedge” by locals – was a bit more flexible at changing faces to keep up with the changing times. Driving up the hill on the Halls Ferry side is like time traveling through architectural styles, from newest to oldest.
From the street, The Wedge looks and feels like one large scalene triangle of a building, but an aerial view reveals that 7 separate buildings make up this tableau (I’m excluding the white building on the northeast corner because it’s an unattached 1970 addition to The Wedge that looks and feels completely separate).
By following the history of these buildings and its past occupants, you get a clear picture of the dominance (before WW2) and decline (post WW2) of the Baden Business District.
At the southwest tip of the triangle is 8312 Halls Ferry, built in 1925, which got a new Art Deco-ish face right around 1944 when Baumgartner Kummer Realty moved in. In 1948, it became strictly Paul Kummer Realty, and he stayed put until 1983. Note the display window; is this where he posted enticing pictures of the new modern ranches in North County? It has been vacant since 1986.
Even though the next two buildings up the hill share the same pink fiberglass and burgundy Vitrolite tile as Kummer Realty, they are two separate buildings, both built in 1925, but obviously re-clad at the same time.
8314 Halls Ferry (above) has been home to John Flood, a paper hanging contractor (1932), Charles Schmidt Jewelers (1948-1960), Hartig Jewelers (1961- 65) and Baden Jewelry till 1968, when Paul Kummer Realty took it over. His business was obviously booming! It sat vacant from 1977 till the early 1990s, when a couple of outlet stores moved in, but then left. It remains vacant.
8318 Halls Ferry was Lungstras Dyeing & Cleaning Co. until it became Rockwood Cleaners in the late 1950s, then Hampton Cleaners & Laundry from 1961 till the building went vacant in 1966 and remained that way until a series of businesses came and went from 1999 till 2006. The space is currently vacant.
The building at 8324 Halls Ferry went up in 1927 and started life as Louis Becherer Hardware. I’m supposing the the missing cladding on the ground floor was Vitrolite that went up when the space became Leyerle Jewelry Co. from 1941 – 1983 (getting the impression that Baden was the place to buy jewelry?). The upstairs was an optometrists office for a bit of the 1930s before it converted over to residential rental. Since 1992, nothing much has gone on with either floor of the building, other than being stripped of its pretties.
We move up the hill to the L-shaped Ludwig Building, an impressive 4-story affair built in 1929 in the classic urban tradition of retail on the ground floor and apartments above (43 total). Most everything about this building has remained virtually unchanged, which may account for its current sad state. More on that in a second.
Storefront 8332 (shown above) started life as Baden Delicatessen and then became Howard’s Cleaners from 1941 to 1958 (how many cleaners did they need in one block?). From 1958 – 1990 it became a part of LeRose Flower Shop at 8330 Halls Ferry, and then converted back to single occupancy for Miss Connie’s Fashions and Matthews Realty & Investment. It has been vacant for most of the 2000s.
Here is the only entrance to the Ludwig Apartments that remained open in summer 2008, and at that time, there were occupants.
Here’s the overall corner view of the Ludwig Building, showing how grandly it occupies the summit of The Wedge. Note window A/C units in some of the windows and know that the apartments have never been updated.
At the end of 2008, all remaining residents were evicted, new owners bought the place for a song in early 2009, and now every entrance and storefront is boarded up.
From street view, the building is still remarkably intact, and I’m picturing a brave and adventurous developer knocking down partition walls to make larger apartments or even loft condos. The potential for this building is huge, as it is for everything in The Wedge.
The corner storefront of the Ludwig Building was a Velvet Freeze ice cream parlor from 1941 – 1999, and that is as it should be for such a great location.
This is the Muriel Street side of the Ludwig, and note that – somehow – the original transom glass has survived over all these storefronts! Attorney Edward Rothganger had an office at 848 Muriel from 1938 – 58, at which point The Baden News Press (yes, the town had its own newspaper until 1977!) expanded into this spot.
This side of the Ludwig had better luck with retail remaining, with Forever Diva’s (at 844 Muriel) being in business until everyone was evicted in winter 2008. Heading down the alley (to the left in the above picture), there is a long row of sealed overhead doors, which meant the apartments surely took pride in boasting “enclosed” or “off-street parking” as a perk for renters. With a little imagination, it could be a selling point again…
And we head down Muriel to North Broadway, where we return to the building that started our tour – The Medical Center. This 2-story brick building went up around 1925, and the place got a new face right around 1966 (see how the metal screen fastened to the brick).
8315 is the portion of this building at the tip of the wedge, which originally housed the Baden Building & Finance Corporation upstairs and Herman Ludwig Drugs at street level. In 1941, Boesel’s Royal Drugs took over the space until closing up shop in 1983. A Dollar Store and a beauty supply went in during the 1980s and 90s, but the entire building has been vacant since the City took it over in 1999.
Here we have the Baden Medical Center proper, so known by the fabulous stainless signage that remains in place to this day. In 1966, 7 doctors had practices inside, dwindling down to 4 by 1973, and one doctor and one attorney by 1986.
In the early 2000s, the City spent quite a bit of money to build a spiffy, multi-level bus stop at the tip of The Wedge, which also signaled that these buildings were ripe for redevelopment. But the bus stop is now overgrown and littered, and the For Sale signs on the Medical Center are a little moldy. But as long as they don’t tear them down, hope remains.
Posted on April 5th, 2009 5 comments
Intersection of Washington Blvd. & Jefferson Avenue
North St. Louis City, MO
The buildings on both corners of the west side of this intersection have got a new coat of paint, and the effect is absolutely stunning. It looks like colored eggs in an Easter basket.
When we get a new hairdo or whiten the teeth, it spiffs us up without changing the basic essence of who we are. Same goes for buildings. A little patching, a little paint and some prideful TLC goes a long way towards boosting civic self esteem. Thank you to these building owners for their fabulous efforts.