Richard Baron on Missed Opportunities

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The St. Louis Beacon recently published a conversation with developer Richard Baron, full of illuminating opinions and something I didn’t know previously: Lambert Airport could have been in Waterloo, Illinois.

I am elated he brought up and elaborated on one ultra important item: Metro Link Stations:

“There was the situation with Metro. When all of that started back in the ’80s there was no plan to take advantage of these transit stations — to build housing around them, retail around them. To use them as an economic driver, as was done in many other cities around the U.S. when light rail went in. Here was this enormous investment that was made, and look at the stations, and they’re bleak.

“You reach a point where you get terribly frustrated because the lack of leadership in this town is palpable — both on the public side and the private side. Go to Atlanta or Minneapolis, and the energy level and the effort on the part of the public-private side — partnerships, foundations — everybody is pulling together and have had a much better success than in St. Louis. We’ve had passive leadership, a watering down of the executives of corporations that have left. We have had executives who have no real identification with the city — who came in from out of town and live in the county and don’t relate to the city much. And it’s just a lot of little things that have exacerbated the problem.”

Read the rest of the article here.

And if you haven’t already, The Beacon is a must for followers of the STL built environment, along with Building Blocks at the Post-Dispatch.

North St. Louis MCM: Norwood Square

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Guess where the picture above was taken: Ballwin? Florissant? Mehlville?

When faced with low-slung, stylish 1960s ranch houses casually strewn amongst profuse greenery, these would be valid guesses. But instead, we are exploring Norwood Square in North St. Louis City.

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Norwood Square is actually a court (as shown in the aerial photo above), a half block northeast of the intersection of Union Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue in the Arlington neighborhood. And it doesn’t take a bird’s eye view to get the feeling that a giant scoop of the city grid was whisked away by a mega melon baller.

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On the ground, it is rather dramatic to see rows of deeply urban, 2-story brick residential buildings built between the 1890s – 1920s abruptly bisected by a swirl of deeply suburban, mid-century modern frosted sugar cookies. As you fleetingly catch glimpses of the original natives from inside Norwood Square, it feels like the ranch homes are circling the wagons ’round to protect their fabulousness from hostile forces.

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This mirage of displaced MCM sweetness is cited as the last new housing built in this part of North St. Louis.  City record show that these 40-odd homes were built between 1961 – 1974, with the bulk of them going up between 1961 – 1966. They range from 982 – 1,888 square feet, with a median square footage of 1,450.

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The circle that is Norwood Square is divided into East, West, North and South Norwood, which puts 4 of the houses (like the one above – which cleverly wraps its footprint around the curve) in the odd position of not knowing exactly which street they are on! Is their mailing address North Norwood or East Norwood, and how confusing is it to new mailmen on this beat?

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So what’s the story with Norwood? Why was this exotic dollop dropped here, and what was torn down to make that so?

Having been told stories of Public Schools Stadium, I wondered if Norwood Square is what popped up in its place.  But the stadium was a block east of here, on Kingshighway, and when it was demolished in the late 1960s, most of Norwood Square was built and firmly inhabited.

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Noticing that a few of the homes have some serious sink issues, I wondered if it was built atop the quarry that was supposedly shut down sometime in the 1940s because some kids accidentally died while playing there.  But no. The memories of some old school North St. Louisans’ remember the quarry at Kingshighway and Lexington, a good 2 blocks north east of here.

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So, for now, the why it appeared and what disappeared to make it so remains a mystery.  Please do share any historical information you may have in exchange for the details I share with you here.  Like the snazzy tile work that graces this split-level, above.

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Or the swanky pendant light fixture and concrete block screen of this entrance.

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From quick visual inspections over the course of several years, most all of the homes are still in good condition, always the sign of well-liked buildings. Many of them (see above) are meticulously preserved and cared for, a heart-warming sign of intense pride in their ranch house alien. Only rarely have I seen for sale signs on the yards, so I wonder if there might still be a hefty amount of original owners in tow, or a lot of kids inheriting them from the folks.

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This home is the equivalent of the half man/half woman Halloween costume!

To see more photos and details of Norwood Square, please visit the B.E.L.T. supplement at Flickr.

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Facing out onto St. Louis Avenue, like sentries protecting their MCM turf,  is a short row of 2-family versions.

The chalk and cheese concept of Norwood Square is not wholly unique.  Something similar was done in South St. Louis with Marla Court.  Or there’s Darla Court in the inner-ring ‘burb of Jennings. So, it’s not uncommon, but it’s always a pleasant surprise, yes?

UPDATE

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Steve Patterson – who first told me about the subdivision several years ago – sent along this aerial map from 1958. Seems the street grid was long interrupted in this part of town, and look at all those mature trees! This would also bear out the info Rick Bonasch shared about the original site being a dump.

Porter Paints Redux

Halls Ferry & Sundown, Jennings MO
On the northwest tip of the Halls Ferry Circle stands a 1961-vintage building that was originally a Porter Paints store. As a kid in the backseat as we swung around The Circle, 2 buildings always got my attention: the Katz drugstore (now a Save-A-Lot) and this building when it was still all bright orange and cream.

It’s a huge plus that the building is still in use. A closer look at the vertical tower shows the covering coat of paint peeling away, and the classic Porter Paint logo peeking through.

Shortly after having snapped these photos, I got an e-mail from the manager of the Porter Paints store at Hampton & Eichelberger in South St. Louis, MO.

His store looked like this (above) before the remodel. After a green standing seam metal cap was placed atop this retail strip, the lower half is all that remains of the iconic Porter tower. Do you want to know what became of the rectangle sign seen to the right?

It’s now in my backyard! The store manager had salvaged the sign during the remodel, and held onto it for all this time. Having run across this blog entry, he thought I might be interested in having it. He was absolutely correct about that. Huge gold stars to Jonathan Tag for
A. being so cool as to save the sign
B. finding me through a Google search and
C. giving me the sign.
Thank you, Mr. Tag!!

Blairmont & Bohemian Hill


Between the above, and the Bohemian Hill fiasco, I have two questions for the people who run the city of St. Louis:

What century is it?
Where’s you’re civic self-esteem?

Re: Blairmont
I’m pretty sure it’s the 21st century, yet both city & state government is dangerously close to resurrecting 19th century Jim Crow Laws that were completely abolished in the latter 20th century. This potential regression into segregation is just as absurd as it is illegal.

Re: Bohemian Hill
There’s no denying that St. Louis City has come back to life, and it’s the unique aspects of this city that have been its resurrecting life force. Yet our civic leaders still carry on as if we have to beg and grovel to every Daddy Walgreens to have any chance at survival. Rather than plan and deal with a sense of purpose and confidence, their continual cave-ins to homogenous, corporate pressure just reveals a lack of respect for themselves, their city and the citizens who voted them in.

Cycling & Religion


At the southern-most start of the Riverfront bike trail stand these majestic piles of…what? Not sand…the white pile looks like finely ground rock. But the blue pile? I just don’t yet know what they are. Anyway, the sheer height and weight of the white mountain against a gorgeous azure and fluffy white sky was a spiritual moment, and reminded me of this:

Church roof at Old Halls Ferry & Redman Road
Black Jack, MO
The church has changed names and denominations many times over the years, so forgive me for not keeping track of proper names. This roof is a North County landmark, especially at Christmas time, when spotlights alternate green and red across the spires. To those of us who grew up in North County, we took this futuristic sight for granted. It was simply a natural part of the topography, much like the big white pile on the bike trail. Biking and religion made a connection in my heart, now a convert.

In that vein, the Urban Review has a fine series of what I call “The Bike Rack Rants.” I’ve assembled the results; it’s an entertaining must-read for urban bikers.

Fill in the Blank


Ecology Of Absence found the above in August of 2004, and wrote that if anyone had any other info or photos, please contribute.
Eureka!
In September & October of 2003, I obsessed over these remains, trying to take THE perfect shot of it. The swoop and flow of that roof was so poetic. But be it black & white or color film, morning or afternoon light, I just couldn’t properly capture the sad, suspended drama of it.
I felt a slight sense of relief when the east half of the roof finally slumped to the ground. I could let go of the impossible shot.

photo by toby weiss
P.S. to EOA: I also have a shot of the mural. I lived across the street from it (above what is now The Royale) for 4 years. It’s buried in a pile of photos from the mid ’90s. When I get the courage to do the time warp again, I’ll pass along the memory of the mural’s florid beauty.