Hug It Out: Some Buder Building Love

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

Barely There: St. Louis Hills Office Center Update

6500 Chippewa
South St. Louis, MO

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.

See the building before demolition and remuddle

See photos from the start of demolition in 2007

See the 2007 tour of the building

The Mural on Southwest High School

South Kingshighway Blvd & Arsenal
South St. Louis, MO

Found it!
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.

“Bldg To Be Razed” on Hampton

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.

Southern Funeral Home For Sale

S. Grand & Iron
South St. Louis, MO

The palatial hacienda-style funeral home with “that sign” is now for sale.

This building is absolutely gorgeous, in whole and for its details. The funeral home (read its history here) started in 1908, and they moved into this building in 1929, which was built for them, and is supposedly the first St. Louis structure made expressly for a funeral home.

I’ve always been fond of the mid-century rear addition, loving the juxtaposition between eras. Plus, how can you not love the reiteration of their logo in giant, 3-D (below)?

Take a look at the real estate listing. They’re asking only $375,000 for this massive building, which also includes 2 apartments. I ran into the family that were living in the place until recently, when they had to find a new place to live because the place is for sale. There was a language barrier preventing me from getting any details from them, because I wanted to ask the little boy just how was it living in a funeral parlor. Seems like something a kid would dig, right?

Take a close look at the photos on the property listing. There’s a beautiful chapel inside with a stage and seating for more than 200 people. It’s in a commercial district and has tons of parking.

This building is crying out to be a concert club. Think about it: music and food, the owner can live above the business. Because it’s by Carondelet Park, it’s easy to get to from Hwy 55.
So, do we yet have anyone inspired to do something with this fabulous place?

Wish You a Merry Christmas

How people express their holiday joy to the outside world is what makes this season so special. Last year, more about Emmett suggested I see the light displays shown above and below. You can click the photos to see them enlarged. And Emmett eloquently explains why these are so special, viagra (plus, view shares the addresses).

“There is no display anywhere that comes close. If you are looking for a Wildwood McMansion festooned with lights designed by Himmler’s descendants, purchased in 2010 (and soon to be trash canned), this isn’t your place.

But if you want completely idiosyncratic designs with often-ancient lighting sets carefully maintained by people too poor to buy new ones against a background of housing where no two homes are alike, plus narrow streets and close set-backs so that you can almost reach out and touch the displays … go thither. I will stack the denizens of Lemay up against the trendies in the Central West End, Benton Park, or Soulard for refined artistic sensibilities and pure right-brainism.”

Staying in the immediate South Side area, the light display at Korners is so tasteful and sympathetic to its architecture that it warms my heart on a cold night.

Along Loughborough Avenue, east of Hwy 55, I love this line drawn in the sand (or on Christmas Eve, it would be drawn in the snow!).

The chain of light displays along Holly Hills on the north side of Carondelet Park is a must-see magical moment. Among blocks of gorgeousness, this one above is my absolute favorite. It reminds me of the Avon Christmas album covers that hypnotized me as a child.

I think the magic of this season comes from the memories it constantly conjures. May you be remembering the happiest and warmest ones, and making new memories. And may your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white!

“If I’m feelin’ tomorrow like I feel today…”

“…I’ll pack up my truck and make my get-away.”

Pedaling on a Sunday morning through that woozy boundary line of The Patch and Carondelet neighborhoods, when the sight above made me hit the brakes. It was the embodiment of an old river city, the poetry of mud and W.C. Handy blues.  The metal chair is now all 5 layers of colors, all decades at once; the past is the present and if you think it won’t see much future, they been sayin’ that since I Like Ike.

The CSB has reams of complaints on this ram-shack-le, plenty claim “Derelicts on Private Property.” In the Great Depression he’d have been out-of-working class – how dare the neighbors cast judgment! …Oh, they were vehicular in nature! Not gonna make a Sanford & Son crack, even though Redd Foxx is a St. Louis native.  Just a couple of Canon shots, hopin’ there’s no slingshot through the metal blinds aiming at my head, and slowly pedal away.

Happy Ending for the St. Louis Hills Office Center

6500 Chippewa
South St. Louis, MO

There’s construction activity at the St. Louis Hills Office Center, that magnificent multi-story mid-century modern building at the merge of Watson and Chippewa in St. Louis Hills.

I am sooo happy to have been dead wrong about the fate of this building when I first began reporting on it in June 2007.  See pictures of how it once looked.

After the demolition of the parking garage ell of the building was completed in early 2008, this building sat ignored and forlorn. But considering all the controversy between the St. Louis Hills Neighborhood Association and the owner, it was feeling like no news was bad news. So when construction work began anew by ripping things off the building, I assumed the fat lady was powdering her nose in the green room in preparation for heading to the stage to begin singing.

But by taking a moment to inspect the building permits posted inside the front entrance, it was a moment of pure joy to read that roughly $1.5 million is being spent to build an “addition to existing bldg & Ext. & Int per plans.”  So all the brick down in the pit (above) is to clear openings to the new addition.

Will the addition follow the footprint of the original wing? And will the medical emblem above the side door be returned once construction is done? Oh, I want to see the drawings! Oh, I’m so happy that there’s new life ahead for this gorgeous building.  It’s such an important intersection in South St. Louis, and the entire complex of buildings that strings off of the Office Center is such a fine example of mid-century development of this prestigious neighborhood.  This new work would not be taking place without consent of the alderwoman, so I’m appreciative of the seeming miracles she pulled off to make this finally happen.

In fact, the entire complex of buildings has gotten a facelift. The one-story building next door (to the right, above) recently got new windows and a new face. The material of the new cladding is not appropriate, but they tried to make it look appropriate, so there is some design-awareness being applied. But I hate quibbling about such a minor thing when the major news is that this entire complex is coming back to life. It’s entirely possible that in 2011, this block will once again be bustling like it did back in the day. Congratulations to our City for another happy ending!

Needing a New Garage

Ohio Sreet
South St. Louis, MO

Man, and I thought my garage was bad!

So many of the detached, one-car garages that populate the alleys of the City of St. Louis are well over 60 years old, and no matter how good the upkeep, they start to poop out. It’s an all too common story that city inspectors cite a garage for decay, and you must either fix it or demolish it.

If you’re going to the expense of fixing it, thoughts naturally turn toward enlarging it because what’s the cost of several more feet? But in these tight, fenced-off backyards, you can only go so wide. So many people opt to tear them down, or just stop using them all together.

Even though it’s tight quarters, I use mine. But the 70-year old concrete floor is in real bad shape, which has led to some moisture issues, so I spend a lot of time dreaming of a new garage (and the money that will magically appear to make it so). I don’t want another pitched roof version; a flat roof would be nice, but I’ve been told by carpenters and designers that I don’t want to do that.

OK, so how about a flat roof that slops down toward the backyard? Again, told no; to accommodate a car at the low end, the length of the roof and the angle would be ridiculous both visually and cost-wise.

Well, lookey here!
Less than 2 miles from my house is a South Side garage (OK, carport and shed, but still) with exactly the roof and look I want. Well, maybe not clad in vinyl.
OK, I could only afford vinyl, but not narrow strips, and maybe vertical?

Anyway, this is the type of garage I want, and here’s proof that it’s possible in St. Louis City, both structurally- and permit-wise. Now, I need to take up a collection… if each of you sends a dollar, in a month I could have over $6,000, and would just need an architect and builders to do everything for that price. Let’s see a show of hands, shall we?

‘Bout Sums It Up

Bates & Ulena
South St. Louis, MO

Art imitates life on a storage shed in the parking lot of Mr. Yummy’s.

This is brand new graffiti that’s sprung up in my neighborhood. Typically, my neighbor’s deal with this in a quick manner by painting over it, so it probably won’t last long.

The Mr. Yummy’s proprietor has been on vacation for awhile, so this may be an editorial comment about the lack of his wares. Personally, it sums up how I was feeling while first laying eyes on it, which in turn made me smile… the transformative power of art.

It’s simple, expressive and uses no curse words. I give it an A!