Posted on April 1st, 2013 7 comments
The Record Exchange at 5320 Hampton Avenue in South St. Louis has put their (nearly historic) building up for sale so they can move to a bigger place. Here’s the sales brochure:
Hilliker gives it only one page. Very dull way to sell an exciting building. I’ve covered this building a few times (including a b&w study from 2001 on this page). It has been covered on Built St. Louis. So the realtor could legitimately say it’s a “much-talked about, much-loved building.”
Another selling point: this building recently made it onto the Final 40 List of the City of St. Louis Mid-Century Modern Survey. The night we attended the public meeting, it got an awful lot of votes. It stands a very good chance of making it to the Top 20 that will receive full documentation of its worthiness.
The owner of the building and the record store, Jean Haffner, knows his 1961 building by architect Joseph H. Senne is pretty special. But he was pleasantly surprised it had made it onto an MCM survey.
It is true they need a bigger place, something “about the size of a grocery store” said Haffner. (Side Note: the FYE at Hampton & Chippewa was originally opened in 1958 as a National Food Store.) They now do the bulk of their business on-line (at this site) and need to be better able to access their inventory while adding to it. Thus, a bigger building.
Have there been any interested buyers?
Haffner says yes. Including a party that would like to turn it into an art gallery as inspired by the metal mobile in the lobby:
This piece is titled “Pomegranate” and was designed for the library by a nationally-recognized artist whose name I was told, but forget. The Record Exchange is an overly stimulating place, so it’s an accomplishment that I remember this much of our conversation.
UPDATE: Thank you to reader Hillary who leaves the name of the artist in the comment – Fred Dreher. And thanks to Sally for this article about Dreher.
According to Mr. Haffner, he made sure it stayed with the building when he bought it in 1999, and at this point, the mobile alone is worth more than the asking price of the building.
They do need to sell the Buder in order to buy a new place. Here’s hoping the perfect buyer who loves the building as is comes along so everyone wins.
P.S. Thank you to everyone who sent messages and photos about the For Sale sign in front of the Buder. It’s impressive to have all these eyes on the street who also have my back and share this kind of information. You’re awe-inspiring!
Posted on January 10th, 2012 3 comments
A bit over year ago, we were talking about the Southern Funeral Home being for sale. And there were rumors that it was to be torn down to build a Dollar General.
Turns out those rumors are actually true, and on January 18, 2012 at 1:30 PM in Room 208 of City Hall, they are meeting to consider Dollar General’s request to change zoning and add parking and a trash enclosure. Details of the meeting are on the top right side of page 3 of this pdf.
The latest news in the neighborhood is that – right across the street from Southern – the Foodland grocery store (above) at South Grand & Iron is closing by the end of January. The steep discounting of inventory has already begun, and those without a car who rely on this store are bumming out.
But the big, logical question is:
Why would Dollar General want to pay for demolition of an old building and construction a new building, when they could move into the Foodland building right across the street?
They would be in the same exact location they want. The parking they need is already in place. And it’s all the square footage they could ever need – maybe even too much, which brings up interesting rental potentials. And there is already a successful precedent for this idea in the general area.
At Morganford & River Des Peres, Dollar Tree moved into this old National Supermarket. Faced with a 15,010 s.f. building, they sublet the back half to a plumbing supply company.
In the South St. Louis County areas where Dollar General currently resides, they are renting space within strip malls. But if they are deciding to build a free-standing building in the City boundaries, than can we assume they want something roughly the size of the existing Southern Funeral Home building, which is 10,136 s.f.?
The Foodland building – which was previously a Schnucks supermarket – is 34,003 s.f. That leaves plenty of room to rent space to other tenants. Other Dollar Generals are used to sharing space in strip malls, but this way, they’d own the building and make some extra money. And they’d be able to begin making money right after they do some remodeling, which is definitely cheaper than demolition and new construction.
Dollar General rethinking their plans to move into the Foodland building would still put them right where they wish to be while saving some money. Plus, Foodland is already zoned the way they want it. This would also spare the Southern Funeral Home to find a more sympathetic owner who would use it for a greater good.
What would be the downside to this idea? And is there a chance that Dollar General could reconsider?
UPDATE: At the January 18, 2012 meeting, Dollar General withdrew their proposal to demolish from the Preservation Board’s monthly agenda.
Posted on November 20th, 2011 17 comments
3500 South Kingshighway
South St. Louis, MO
The place in the City of St. Louis that most intrigues me is luxury car dealer Charles Schmitt & Co. The overhead garage doors seem to open selectively. The parking lot is always deserted. They seem to hide in plain sight, the violent violet shade of the building acting like a smoke screen as to what goes on in there.
One of my most treasured photos is from this series in about 2001, when I caught the building over a holiday weekend, half way through it’s transformation from neon pink to violent violet. Previous to this radical transformation, I never thought much about a neon pink building. That fact right there mystifies me – how can one take such a place for granted? But since that time, I gaze longingly and suspiciously at it every time I drive by, wondering how to infiltrate such a peculiar world.
Something tells me you only have access to this motor palace if you have lots of disposable income, a yen for certain types of automobiles and are a man. I don’t qualify for any of these, so must remain an outsider. That right there makes the place even more desirable!
The money action takes place in this small out building, painted a sophisticated shade of milk chocolate. The paperwork and wheeling and dealing over classic luxury cars remains separate from the display room and mechanics garage bays. This kind of separation of “church and state” is so old fashioned, so appealing.
This building went up in 1951, with the rest of the complex dating from 1952. Charles Schmitt & Co. officially claim to be doing business here since 1953, their longevity used as a key sales point, which can be seen on their website.
They didn’t have a website until 2003. Them being so cyberly-unfriendly just added to the mystique. But root around on their rudimentary site, and you learn they have been on eBay since 2002. I get the feeling Charles – who is now about 75 years old – had to be cornered into doing something like eBay. Why do I think that?
Take a look inside the luxury car tomb. This is a ring-a-ding boys club trapped in amber. I swear the wood paneling would permanently smell like cigarettes and Old Spice. I want to go to there. I don’t even care about the cars – take a look at all the paintings, knick knacks, statuary, photos and press clippings scattered everywhere. It is a living scrapbook of a colorful man who does it his way, even if it isn’t always entirely legal. That taint of danger? Ultimate Bad Boys Club, yes!
Mr. Schmitt’s bad boy status is well-earned. Scroll 50% down at this link (wherein the blogger borrowed one of my photos) to get some juicy back story on the fall from grace and hints of a rowdy party past with the big bucks who came through town to buy these used cars. Here’s a Cary Grant-owned Rolls-Royce they sold in 1982. You say Cary Grant and George Hamilton to me, and I will forgive any of his illegalities.
What kind of illegalities? A quick search through St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives reveals Mr. Schmitt on a prison work-release program for tampering with odometers, losing a $1.6 million defamation suit against Boatman’s Bank, and Jerry Berger reporting on him on a regular basis. Oh, to corner Mr. Berger to get the inside scoops!
Charles doesn’t seem to go out as much anymore, probably spending most nights at home in the Central West End. But if the eBay descriptions are accurate (like for this wicked Ferrari), the founder is “still active in all aspects of the business.” But does he enjoy it as much? Yeah, he’s taken a lot of lumps over the years, but I imagine the way you now sell used luxury cars just doesn’t have the same glamor it once had. Previous to the internet, it was a close word-of-mouth society, all those car collectors. 10-martini lunches and handshake deals just can’t compare with monitoring bids on a computer. And you know Charles isn’t the one doing that sissy website stuff!
Is there a successor in line for Charles D. Schmitt, or does this place die when he does? And every time a bent wrought iron fence spoke doesn’t get repaired, or a spotlight gets shot out without being replaced, I worry.
Because this is such a rarefied world, where only a select type can play, but do the new breed of car collectors want to play in faux-Old World flash? Hell, I’d be thrilled to be allowed to play in the showroom with my camera for an hour or two!
Posted on August 7th, 2011 11 comments
One of the most interesting chapters of how St. Louis City developed can be read with a drive along the entire stretch of Hampton Avenue. Starting at Interstate 64/Hwy 40 and heading south 4 miles to just past Loughborough Avenue, you will find an even balance of original buildings from both before and after World War 2.
The emphasis is on “original” because there was little need along Hampton to tear down old buildings to make room for bright, shiny New Frontier buildings because large chunks of Hampton remained vacant land awaiting development at the close of WWII.
I did not know this until I began researching the origin of Hampton’s mid-century modern buildings, and was stunned to learn from the 1940 City Directory that there was NOTHING on Hampton between today’s Highway 44 and Arsenal. In 1940! Or that they didn’t have to knock down a single building to develop the intersection of Hampton and Eichelberger (home of the fabulous Buder Library building) because even as late as 1948 there was still no Directory listing for anything on that stretch of road.
The St. Louis history of post-WW2 mid-century modern always focuses on the flight from City to County, or how old City buildings were demolished to make way for Urban Renewal. But along large swaths of Hampton Avenue, the mid-century modern buildings ARE the original buildings, and to think this happened within the City bounds at such a late date proves how the City of St. Louis is both so ancient and so young. This just adds to the schizophrenically endearing nature of our City, and highlights the importance of preserving and celebrating the historical and architectural uniqueness Hampton Mid-Century Modernism.
Hampton Avenue is close to the western city limits, and to a growing City that took from 1850 to 1900 to seriously expand west from Grand Boulevard to Kingshighway, Hampton would have been considered “out in the boonies.” According to the St. Louis Street Index, the name Hampton didn’t appear on a map until 1913, and only earned its top northern section between Manchester and Oakland avenues in 1921.
While there was continual residential development from the 1850s onward in the neighborhoods that surround Hampton Avenue (Oakland, Clifton, The Hill and Southwest neighborhoods), other than small pockets of commercial storefronts dating from the 1920s to the early 1940s, the bulk of Hampton Avenue appears to have been built up in earnest during and after World War 2. Meaning, once St. Louisans strengthened their commitment to the automobile, Hampton suddenly seemed much closer than before and worthy of commercial development.
This would also mean that the density of MCM buildings on Hampton were designed and sited with the idea that people would reach them by foot, bus, streetcar and automobile. So this wasn’t a case of slotting new modern buildings into a pre-established urban grid (as was the case with Lindell Boulevard modern in-fill), but rather a blank canvas to paint with both the old and new colors available to planners, developers and architects in the mid-century.
Since about 2002, I have been photographing the MCM on Hampton; some of the photos in this study are of a building in a younger or less-molested state. From the summers of 2010 to 2011, I purposely photographed 107 buildings, and spent way too much time pouring over physical City Directories at the St. Louis County Library headquarters, and on-line with Geo St. Louis. There are plenty of discrepancies between the two; I often had to rely on 1958 and 1971 aerial maps of Hampton to clear up confusion, or talking to an architect (Richard Hemi), a glazier (my father, Richard Weiss) who worked on a building in question, or asking older St. Louisans to dust off their memory caps and picture what used to be. So, I know there will be plenty of inaccuracies of info that will be discovered, but now is the time for everyone to join in and share what they know.
Of the 107 Hampton buildings that I photographed and researched, 46 were built between 1950 – 1959, and 29 were built from 1960 – 1969. Of the remaining 32 buildings, most were built between 1932 – 1949, with 5 of them going up between 1970 – 1976. Some of the older buildings were given a modern facelift to keep up with the Joneses, and if there was a building in the path of what would become an interstate they were demolished. One example is:
This grand palace at 2065 Hampton (at Wilson Avenue) opened in 1952 as Ollie Auto Top. Darren Snow found this photo as part of a display ad in the 1959 City Directory. The address was listed as vacant by 1969, and then Hwy 44 came through. A Steak ‘n Shake that sat at 2055 Hampton for about only 15 years also bit the 44 dust.
My research turned up a steady and over-abundant stream of liquor stores and bars all along Hampton, especially along the stretch running through St. Louis Hills. For instance, 5918 Hampton is today Area IV, and that storefront is carrying on a long tradition of housing only taverns, which began in 1936 with Robert Werges’ joint. Sometimes a retail block would begin and end with a liquor store; so no one ever had to walk too far for a brew? As the elders have said, all the smoking and drinking in Mad Men is not an exaggeration, and Hampton Avenue from 1936 – 1970 was the living proof!
After liquor, beauty and ice cream shops were the most popular along Hampton, followed closely by filling stations, which verifies how much more auto-centric Hampton was when compared to the other thoroughfares further east.
There were businesses that moved just blocks away to get into newer buildings (like Charles of Yorkshire beauty shop or Gassen’s Rexall Drug Store), and lots of realty companies opened shop for a short time, reflecting how the neighborhoods around Hampton were still building up in the 1950s-60s. But there was always another business ready to move into a vacated storefront, and that still happens today. No stretch of Hampton has yet experienced the kind of rot that affects other parts of the city and their main thoroughfares.
There are roughly 8 companies and institutions that still remain in the building first erected for them, including: Bayer’s Garden Shop whose building went up in 1948 as O.E. Bayer’s Garden, Furniture & Novelities; Porter Paints at 5400 Hampton, who set up shop in the new building in 1959; AB Dick Products still resides in their 1960 building at 2121 Hampton. Wise Speed Shop at 5819 Hampton moved into their new building in 1969, and only very recently did they close up shop and put the building up for sale.
There have been some demolitions for something new like a highway (as mentioned above), or taking down a small house or filling station to accommodate a larger building. For instance, Stein Brothers Bowling was on the northwest corner of the Hampton/Chippewa intersection in 1965, but it was torn down to make way for what became Lindell Bank & Trust (which looks MCM but really isn’t). But in general, buildings get remodeled rather than demolished, and even when they are remuddled unrecognizable, it’s preferable to demolition.
Two of the buildings in this survey are currently in the hot seat for demolition, which highlights why a study of the mid-century modern building stock on Hampton deserves a spotlight. This is a unique stretch of commerce in St. Louis City, an area that developed in tandem with St. Louis County, receiving the same kind of care and enthusiasm as shown to inner-ring suburbs like Ferguson, Jennings, Affton or Lemay.
I invite you to
And then travel this great street with new eyes – maybe even find some new ones that I overlooked due to being overwhelmed with the treasure chest that is Hampton Avenue!
Posted on July 4th, 2011 3 comments
This moment on this South Side front yard perfectly editorializes my feelings about our country: deflated hopes and nostalgia for democracy.
It’s full steam ahead into Coporatocracy, with both Republicans and Democrats serving only the 1% by flagrantly ignoring indisputable evidence of criminal actions in the financial sector that now runs America into the ground. It makes me feel angry, hopeless, scared and sad. Every firecracker that goes off sounds like the American Dream blowing up in our faces.
But then in the course of 24-hours during this Independence weekend, 3 glimmers of hope emerged from the ever-present fireworks smoke that blankets my South Side neighborhood.
Bates & Ulena
Mr. Yummy’s has been quietly for sale for quite a while. Read more about it here. Over the past couple of weeks, folks have been scraping and painting and cleaning the interior, which was a good sign. And then this weekend, the signs above appeared on the building. Mr. Yummy’s (and they’ve kept the sign!) has been re-purposed as a drive-thru laundry service!
I love that they took a look at the layout of this building on its lot at a busy corner and saw a new way to use it without altering the basic fabric. I love that its a rather unique type of business for this area. Personally, I love that I won’t be able to forget to pick up my dry cleaning because there will be a visual reminder twice a day, every day!
Kingshighway & Eichelberger
Less than a mile away, this old gas station that became an American Legion Post is now becoming something else: an ice cream parlor & deli!
The new owners have been remodeling the inside for a 1950s feel, plan to have both indoor and outdoor seating, and be open for pickles and ice cream by the end of July. And much like Yummy’s, they’re making do with re-purposing a small building, but on an even busier intersection. No need to demolish something – let’s recycle. And it feels like the return of modesty as a virtue.
Bates & Grand
The 2 storefronts that were El Burrito Loco are in the final stretches of opening as a Turkish restaurant, which adds a great new note to the international symphony that this immediate area has become. It’s great that those storefronts were vacant for such a short period of time.
Actually, it’s great that all 3 of these buildings in my immediate neighborhood were vacant for a short period of time – that they were deemed desirable and usable by 3 sets of brave entrepreneurs willing to take a chance during this Not So Great Depression. Statistically, the odds are stacked against them. Then again, our entire economy has shifted, and maybe you need to be real tiny so the mega-corporations that run the country don’t even notice you. It’s like the sneaky, backdoor way of upholding the American Dream, and I am grateful for the presence – and timing – of these 3 new businesses that fully represent Independence. Happy 4th of July!
Posted on June 17th, 2011 7 comments
On Nottingham in St. Louis Hills stands The Vedder apartment building. To some, it’s known as The Eddie Vedder, but to anyone who sees it, it’s magnificent.
And it just got even better. Take a look!
For the first time since I’ve known the building, the fountain is on! And with lights!
There is a For Sale sign in the front yard, which may explain the improvements. And what a seriously smart move – who can resist the Vedder with a working fountain?
Posted on June 6th, 2011 8 comments
Grouphug St. Louis celebrated the first round of some lovin’ for StL with a party to view all the submissions of fine folks hugging the things they love about our city. I was honored and jazzed to have the photo above make the Top 20, twenty photos we voted on to find the top 3 winners. And here’s all the photos!
The City of St. Louis is rightly and widely known for its massive collection of still-standing brick buildings from the mid-1800s onward. What gets overlooked in all the architectural appreciation is how many fine mid-20th century buildings we have, as well. The Gateway Arch gets all the attention (rightly so), but check out the Buder Building:
I chose this building for the Grouphug because it’s the perfect building for me. Early 1960s blonde brick and metal, graceful and stately because it was designed to be the Buder Branch of the St. Louis Public Library. Then it became a used record store. Mid-century modernism, books and records… that’s all I need to maintain a consistent level of satisfaction and the Buder has all 3. After this hug photo was snapped, I also gave it a big sloppy kiss. And that ain’t the first time I’ve done so!
An MCM Light Bulb Moment
Posted on May 23rd, 2011 27 comments
In July 2010, I was hopeful and optimistic about the construction that had started on the St. Louis Hills Office Center. Read the report here. Shy of a year later, it’s not a rebirth but a high-profile remuddle.
The new bits on the back of the building are blandly modern, all EFIS and glass grid, nothing to be excited about in either direction. But when the iconic green letters and green metal panels (seen above) disappeared from the building, it was time to find out if they were coming back (maybe they took them down for a cleaning?) and what is intended to occupy the building when it’s done?
I contacted the owner of the building, Dan Stevens, who had given us a tour of the building in 2007. He made it clear that he is no longer involved in the development of the building, and because they have destroyed all the vintage architecture of the building, does not approve of what has been done to it.
The St. Louis Hills Office Center has been owned by the Stevens family since 1974, and was put under Dan’s primary care. But in the last couple of years, more of the family has become legally and actively involved in the redevelopment, which creates group decisions with majority group votes. Dan does have experience with renovating old buildings (see the Ozark Theater in Webster Groves), but with this building, he says all of his input was outvoted. He divorced himself from the project and is deeply distressed that it has become “a huge, architecturally meaningless white elephant.”
Dan does not know what the intended use is for the completed building that’s gone way over budget. 16th Ward alderwoman Donna Barringer said the plan is to rent each floor to a company when the building is completed.
With the back wing of the building long gone, there is now a generous surface parking lot to take care of future tenants. Keep this in mind as we walk down Chippewa to see the rest of the buildings they also own on this block.
For several years now, this handsome deco brick building has been the only occupied property on the block. Even as they’ve been renovating the buildings around it, the comic store was still holding down the fort in the best looking building of the bunch.
And now it is gone, sacrificed for a surface parking lot. This is a complete tragedy and a complete waste when you view all the parking that will be available behind the office building. I realize it’s impossible to have on-street parking in front of this retail strip, which is why all these buildings have long had parking in the back, which seemed to work out for several decades. Will they be granted a curb-cut off Chippewa for this new lot? Or will patrons still have to access the alley to use it? Either answer still makes the loss of this building a deep shame.
The interior of the Office Center has been completely gutted for the new development, and the fabulous front stairwell has been exposed to the elements for several weeks now, which is disturbing. Does that mean it’s going too? Dan Stevens is taking this all so hard that I couldn’t bear to ask him.
He did say that he rescued the medical medallion that used to hang above the side door when he learned it was slated to be scrapped for its aluminum value. Learning that, chances are real good that the vintage green lettering is now landfill (and thank you to a friend for checking the dumpsters the day he discovered them missing from the building). And I’ve got a sinking feeling in my gut about the stairwell.
It is desirable to re-use a building, rather than demolish it, always. But having spent several years watching this building whittle away to a shadow of its former glory, I have to ask: Would it have been emotionally easier and developmentally cheaper to just demolish it? At least that would have been like yanking the bandage off real fast to get it over with. Instead, it has become an excruciatingly slow peel-off that takes the scab with it.
I feel bad for the building because from day one, it’s had nothing but trouble over being what it wanted to be. From neighbors in the 1950s forcing it to be redesigned, to owners in the 2010s erasing the last of its grace, the St. Louis Hills Office Center was a mid-century modern swan long gliding across the wrong lake.
Posted on March 6th, 2011 8 comments
South Kingshighway Blvd & Arsenal
South St. Louis, MO
Well, kind of.
The 1964 addition of the former Southwest High School (now the Central Visual/Performing Arts High School) once sported a notorious mural. A portion of its lush exoticism can be seen above. The mural was an identifier – of a neighborhood, of an area and a great marker when giving driving directions. Shortly after the public school became a magnet in the mid 2000s, they painted over the mural with a dull dark brown that attempted to mimic the brick. The irony of quashing vivid artistic expression on the wall of a creative arts institution was not lost on anyone.
Once the public art was gone, folks like myself who track the built environment started looking through our files to find any pictures we may have taken of the mural. I know I have a full-on shot of it from the mid-1990s because I used to live across the street from the place, and remember walking over to it, purposely to document the mural. For those of you who spent decades shooting film, you also know you have boxes upon boxes of photographs, and who has the time to sift through all that? But it’s been bugging me for far too many years: where’s that mural photo?
While looking for something else, I ran across this photograph. Because of the concert poster in the bus stop shelter (also known, briefly, as a Cher Chapel), the photo was taken in the early summer of 2002. This brief glimpse of the Southwest High School mural removes finding the better photo from my To Do list. Well, kind of.
If any of you know the origins of the mural and the decision to blot it out, please do share in the Comments.
Jim Wirt was one of the students who helped paint the mural, dating it back to 1983. And thanks to Michael Allen for passing along this post with black & white photos of the mural.
Posted on February 2nd, 2011 6 comments
2020 Hampton Avenue
South St. Louis City, MO
The mid-century building that was formerly an office for the Metropolitan Sewer District (they exited the tax records in 2008) is now owned by St. Louis City’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA). It is now also for sale. That sign, above, reads:
AVAILABLE – 3 Acres Retail Land – Building To Be Razed
The listing firm is very clear that everything must go, not even bothering to mention the building. Instead, they tout the land’s desirability for retail. This land butts right up against the north side of Hwy 44. If you can picture this immediate area, can you also picture exactly what type of retail that you would use would go in there? Even with all that traffic going by, would Trader Joe’s – or even Walgreen’s – think it’s a desirable site?
While it’s not the most spectacular of the mid-century modern stock that lines both sides of Hampton Avenue from Interstate 64 to where it ends at Gravois, it is a handsome, if unassuming, building. Because it’s now owned by the LCRA, info about the building is off-line, but I’m guessing from its corporate-patron lines and the other buildings around it that it originates in 1958-1961.
So it may not be a building that architectural historians will fret over, but it does beg the question:
Aren’t we yet past the automatic tear-down mentality?
This country is far too cash-strapped and unstable to still be engaging in such a wasteful mindset that it’s easier to tear down existing and build new. Whose got that kind of money anymore? Sure, a new developer could save a bit because someone else will foot the demolition bill, but where are the developers with the means to use this 3-acres of land for retail right now?
It is highly possible that in the last 2 years the LCRA did try to find new buyers for the building, and see this new tactic as the most logical way to go. But everything is on hold, everything has been reset, and the 2008 way of thinking about buildings and real estate is antiquated and irresponsible. If minimal mothball upkeep is done to buildings like these, there is a chance that sometime in the next 5-10 years there will be a start-up business or industry that would love to have a building like this in this location.
I realize gambling with City money is undesirable, but they gamble all the time with tax incentives and handouts to corporations that don’t need it, so what kind of damage comes from letting it breathe a bit and seeing if it would sell as is? If a developer comes along and says they want to take it down, then fair enough. But to assume the building has to come down for the land to be desirable is just so, so 1997. And no one can afford to be living in that kind of time warp.
Thank you to Jefferson Mansell of Landmarks Association for the heads up about the status of this building.