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  • 6 Reasons Why to Save the Lewis & Clark Library

    Posted on October 20th, 2013 Toby Weiss 5 comments

    lewis-and-clark-library-2013

    The St. Louis County Public Library seems determined to demolish the Lewis & Clark branch for a new structure. We need them to reconsider this misguided goal. They can meet all their objectives without tearing down this building. We need to help them avoid making a huge mistake.

    The importance of this building was recently covered on DOCOMOMO’s website, featuring killer historical photos of the branch. Next City placed it on the list of 10 endangered modern buildings. And I covered it here when the demolition idea was first touted. Modern-STL has been actively involved since that time in trying to engage the Library Board of Trustees about the importance of this building. Increasingly, it feels like talking to deaf ears.

    Come to the Lewis & Clark branch on October 23rd to learn about this building, it’s architect and what we can do to make them reconsider tearing down this building. You can start with the Facebook page. And please join Modern-STL, Esley Hamilton and myself. Event details.

    Since we can’t have a face-to-face with the Library Board of Trustees, I’m going public with what I would have shared with them privately –  6 Reasons to Save the Lewis & Clark Library:

    1. Don’t Trash Your Legacy
    The Lewis & Clark branch is the ONLY significant building left in the St. Louis County Public Libraries arsenal.  Important public institutions deserve important buildings – and this is just such an animal. Needlessly trashing your only architectural asset sends the wrong message about learning from, and respecting, history – especially your own.

    There will come a day when the County Library will want to celebrate its milestone anniversaries. Lewis & Clark is already a historical milestone at 50 years old. Then comes 75 and 100 years. Look to the St. Louis Public Library system for a template on how that kind of celebration benefits everyone. With this proposed demolition, The County would have no important buildings to celebrate their history because they trashed them.

    Noe view out the window in 1963.

    Note view out the window in 1963.

    50 years later, that same view of the neighborhood around the library remains in place.

    50 years later, that same view of the neighborhood around the library remains in place.

    2. Don’t Trash the History of North County
    Lewis & Clark was the first branch built in North County. Great care was taken with making this 1963 building worthy of the burgeoning community it would serve. It was designed with a grace and beauty reflecting the power and aspirations of a new town in a far-flung locale. It was such a pioneering flag plant that the library didn’t erect another North County branch until 1975, letting Lewis & Clark service a rapidly growing community for 12 years.

    It being the sole library in NoCo for so long is what makes it an emotional anchor for everyone who grew up there. This is why it’s the only library to make the pages of the popular nostalgia book Cruizin’ North County.  New York master planners have no knowledge or interest in the history of St. Louis County (read the entire master plan). It is distressing that the St. Louis County library system also appears to be ignoring this history.

    So many other touchstones of North County history have been unceremoniously trashed; the library is an institution that lends weight and importance to the history of the region. Let this one architecturally worthy building represent the history of community and education in North County. Come the 100th Anniversary, you’ll be glad you did.

    age master plan

    3. Understand the Difference Between “Old” and Historical
    The Library’s Facilities Master Plan document graphs the age of each of their buildings, and bases the needs for demolition for new buildings SOLELY on age (slide above from that Master Plan). They do acknowledge the level of maintenance on all their buildings has been good (and it is).  The implication that a new building will solve their future maintenance issues is just absurd.

    The Master Plan equates anything over 30 years old as bad. This is a 20th century, developer-driven, irresponsible line of thought that’s oblivious to the rapidly-growing importance of preserving mid-century modernism as the last great period of American architecture.

    The Board of Trustees has been educated on the architectural pedigree of the Lewis & Clark building. The importance and benefits of preserving architectural history is a well-documented topic. To continue to willfully ignore that is to willingly court ignorance, which is the opposite goal of a library.

    4. Acknowledge the Needs of a Modern Library
    Libraries are research-driven environments, and the most shallow research into the needs of the modern library reveals articles in the New Republic and Wall Street Journal about what will keep libraries relevant in these technological times. It’s no longer about having more space to store physical books, but for the existing space to meet new needs. Libraries need to curate knowledge in an age of information overload, and to be a safe and welcoming place for the community to gather.

    Microsoft Word - FacilitiesMasterPlan Final.docx - FacilitiesMas

    The Master Plan says Lewis & Clark needs 4,000 more square feet. If – in light of the modern needs of library science – this is still true, why not add it addition to the northeast side of the building? You have the space. An addition would be a way to have your legacy and thrive on it, too.

    5. Erect Your New Building Elsewhere
    We understand the politics of the voter-approved tax hike; when South County gets a brand new library building so must North County. Agreed. But why does it have to be the Lewis & Clark Branch?

    The Flo Valley branch is only one year younger than Lewis & Clark. And more centrally located in NoCo. And is not architecturally significant. This would be a good candidate for an entirely new, state-of-the-art building. The Thornhill Branch (1975) has been pegged for demolition for a new building, as well.

    There’s wiggle room in the master plan to meet all of library system’s needs without sacrificing your most prominent historical building.

    6. Apply Emotional Intelligence to the Master Plan
    The Master Plan that launched the system-wide need for renovations and demolitions repeatedly emphasize how important each library is to its community. But the Planners are from New York City so they fail to recognize the historic and sentimental touchstones of this building in this community. Clinging blindly to this document seems a stubborn stance for bolstering egos rather than community. A successful master plan considers the head and the heart, the numbers and the people who want to be more than statistics bolstering a bottom line.

    The County library has only one building that perfectly represents its moment in history with a grace that still inspires the pursuit of knowledge and community. This building presents the County library with an opportunity to one day have their St. Louis City library headquarters moment: past, present and future knowledge all in one admirable package of civic architecture.

    The County library has educated us for decades. The Lewis & Clark branch building is their chance for a poignant, teachable moment that inspires pride in the community it serves.

    All they have to do is respect it by letting it stand.

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    The author visiting her favorite childhood spot in the Lewis & Clark Library. Photo by Jeff King.

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  • The Saucer Earns a 2013 Preserve Missouri Award

    Posted on May 27th, 2013 Toby Weiss 3 comments

    1969 Saucer photo

    Here’s a good story to end May 2013 Preservation Month.

    In 1967, architect Richard Henmi designed the striking building above. Over the decades, it went from a gas station to a pair of taco fast-food restaurants. Then the building went vacant while the Council Plaza it is part of was being revived with help, in part, from Missouri Historic Tax Credits.

    Then in 2011 news leaked out that the developer of Council Plaza was seeking permission to tear down “the saucer.” Here was the reaction to the details of politics as usual.

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    And this is what hundreds of St. Louisans did to protest the intent of the developer and some pockets of the Board of Aldermen. Turns out it wasn’t just meddlesome preservationists who loved this building – most everyone was fond of it and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to demolish it.

    Both on the streets and via social media, we made a ruckus and offered up solutions for ways to re-use an iconic piece of St. Louis architecture that already qualified for historic tax credits. Here’s one example of the things we did to Save The Saucer.

    The Council Plaza developer changed his mind, refurbished and enlarged The Saucer and found two tenants for it.  It’s a true pleasure to drive by and see it hovering over a steady stream of customers. The Saucer’s revival gained plenty of positive national recognition, and in 2013 it earned this high honor from Missouri Preservation:

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    The award ceremony at the state capitol in Jefferson City, MO was cancelled due to snow in February, and rescheduled for May 7, 2013. That was a happy accident because it felt better to have this celebration during National Preservation Month. A small group of us representing the dozens of people whose passion played a big role in changing the right minds drove down to be a part of the ceremony in the rotunda.

    Here is the list of 2013 award winners we are so proud to be included among.

    And here’s Randy Vines giving the acceptance speech:

    All acceptance speeches that morning made note that Congress was, literally at that moment, voting on the fate of the Missouri Historic Tax Credits. One politician presented the award to his constituents and had to high-tail it off stage to go vote when the bell rang. The irony of it was not lost on anyone.

    Everyone had to wait 10 more days to learn that the tax credit remains unchanged. As is the case every year, the battle will surely resume again. I wonder how each politician who on that day handed a preservation award to the building owners voted on the bill.

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    Here we are in the afterglow of this triumphant chapter of the tale of the saucer. From left to right: Lindsey Derrington, Jeff Vines, Randy Vines, architect Richard Henmi and me.

    Here’s some interesting facts about our award:

    • This marks the first mid-century modern building to earn this recognition.  Along with Ladue Estates on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s with relief and gratitude that we now know Missouri recognizes and values MCM architecture.

    • We were the only project that day to have the building’s original architect on hand to accept the award.  It’s wonderful that our Modernist architects receive this kind of recognition while they are still here to know how important their contributions are.

    • Ours was the only award that day that did not go to the owner of the building.

    • Our St. Louis City group was the only one to not have a representing politician speak on our behalf and present the award.

    Thank you to everyone at Missouri Preservation for making such a milestone bold choice, ushering in a whole new era of historic preservation. And then they even fed us!

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    The luncheon gave us the opportunity to explore the state capitol, which is truly magnificent on so many levels. Whenever you may feel overwhelmed by the rancor and confusion of state politics, walk through these halls to instantly feel better about the past, present and future of our state. It perfectly embodies what great architecture does for the soul – it inspires.

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    Our group wanted Richard Henmi to keep the preservation certificate, and he was respectfully insistent it remain among us all. To that end, the plaque now hangs permanently in the StL Style storefront on Cherokee so that everyone can always be reminded of what they accomplished by loving The Saucer enough to stick up for it. Thank you to Randy (above) and Jeff Vines for giving it the perfect, permanent home.

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  • 2013 RFT Web Award Winner for Best Architecture Blog

    Posted on January 27th, 2013 Toby Weiss 4 comments

    I want to extend a warm thank you with a sloppy bear hug to The Riverfront Times‘ judges who voted B.E.L.T. “Best Architecture Blog.” Here’s the kind words they said about this honor, if you scroll down to the last entry on the page.

    I’m touched that they referred to me as a storyteller, because it reflects the personal nature of how I cover a building. Architectural academics can turn people off with dense technical talk about the importance of a building. But if you talk from the perspective of how architecture shapes and affects us, it’s more compelling. The people who created and used these buildings reveals why they are important.

    And it’s that personal angle that has brought me the most pleasure from blogging (it’ll be 8 years this May). Arriving as comments and private emails, I get to hear personal stories and memories that were triggered by coverage of St. Louis buildings, great and small.

    For instance, I’m having email conversation with a woman who grew up in a house in Jennings that was an important part of my childhood. She’s filling me in about the 3 houses shown above, and we’re sharing our memories of the middle house. I only know these new things because she read this post, and left a comment.

    St. Louisans are supremely sentimental, which is great for blog comments. I still hear new old memories from people about the impact Northland Shopping Center had on their lives. 29 comments and counting. Possibly the most commented entry is about Top of the Towers, and along with recipes, their deeply personal memories are fabulous.

    And lots of ex-pats Google Rossino’s Italian Restaurant, and I become the one who breaks the bad news that it no longer exists. But then they share a memory, and it’s alive again, for just a brief moment.

    B.E.L.T. readers are a generous lot. They know what I like and feed my addiction. Along with memories, they sometimes send photos. Like David Aldrich, who is doing his own research about architecturally interesting J.C. Penney stores. He runs across this photo of the Wellston J.C. Penney, and sends it to me:

    I hear from the children who grew up in homes that were demolished for a McMansion. Or for a brilliant change of pace, I hear from someone who saved a home from teardown.

    It’s pretty cool to have the RFT like on B.E.L.T. They were even kind enough to give it Best Local Website in 2010. So thank you, guys. Especially since it’s the very first trophy I’ve ever earned!

    But it’s the people who’ve been reading and sharing for all these years that make it a truly worthwhile pursuit. You have turned what is obsessively personal geekery into something that has historical merit. And that so many of you care so much about these buildings feels like a warm group hug. I am deeply grateful to all of you for taking the time to read along.

     

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  • Follow B.E.L.T. on Tumblr

    Posted on May 20th, 2012 Toby Weiss No comments

    Check out the B.E.L.T. Tumblr feed.  And follow along!

    It will serve as a supplement to this blog (which is coming up on its 7th anniversary at the end of May). It’s a place to post quick items on the fly – both my own and others in St. Louis and beyond – and a more friendly place (yeah, that’s a side-eye to Flickr) to post additional photos of buildings covered in a regular blog post.

    I like to stretch out and really dig into a building or place, but I don’t always have the time to do it the way I prefer. So rather than create radio silence, the Tumblr site allows me to continue to share all the sights in a more casual style. Please book mark, RSS or follow B.E.L.T. Tumblr.

    Oh, you can also find me on Instagram as @toby1319.

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  • Atomic Ranch Open House, May 6, 2012

    Posted on April 29th, 2012 Toby Weiss No comments

    Ladue Estates is the first mid-century modern neighborhood in Missouri to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. This is such an accomplishment that it even got the attention of Atomic Ranch magazine, who feature the subdivision in the current issue (also marking the first time they’ve covered St. Louis, period).

    To celebrate all these milestones, ModernSTL and the fine people of Ladue Estates are throwing an Open House on May 6, 2012, from noon – 3 pm.

    6 historic ranch homes will be open for your inspection and amazement.
    Me and the photographer – Bruce Daye – of the Atomic Ranch article will be at the ticket tent to sign copies, if you’re so inclined.

    $20 for 6 homes in this atomic neighborhood, $10 if you’re a member of ModernSTL. You can join ModernSTL on the day to get the discount.

    Here are more details and photos about this event.
    This includes a map to Ladue Estates, parking and ticketing information.

    Here’s the Facebook invite.

    If you are MCM ranch home-inclined, you will love meeting the homeowners of Ladue Estates.
    If you are a die-hard Atomic Ranch reader, you will love having the pages come to life.
    If you’re a regular B.E.L.T. reader, please stop by and say “hello.”

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  • Yours Truly in Atomic Ranch Magazine

    Posted on February 26th, 2012 Toby Weiss 8 comments

    Like many of you, I am a subscriber of Atomic Ranch. It was especially cool to have the Spring 2012 issue land in my mailbox because it verified that I actually did something I’d always longed to – BE in an issue of Atomic Ranch.

    The only way to be in an issue is to have an AR-worthy house (and I don’t have that – yet) or contribute a story or photos. I wrote a story and edited photos by Bruce Daye about Ladue Estates, the first mid-century modern subdivision in Missouri to land on the National Register of Historic Places.  It’s a first for me, and as was pointed out by a faithful AR reader, it also marks the first time any St. Louis home has been featured in the magazine.  So, St. Louis was late to the game, but then we overachieved with an entire subdivision. How’s that feel?

    It feels great!

    In 2003, a black & white photo of mine was printed in the letters section of dwell magazine, which had me bouncing around like Navin in The Jerk seeing his name in the phone book.  Shouldn’t be hard to imagine how majorily I’m dorking out to a feature article in Atomic Ranch.

    Because I wrote about Ladue Estates in the past, I’ve had the great pleasure to become friends with the neighborhood trustees, and they are the ones who asked me to write the piece for Atomic Ranch. So big bear hugs with sloppy kisses to them for making this personal milestone moment possible. And I’m thrilled to be a small part of the legacy of this amazing atomic age subdivision.

    I am also a board member of ModernSTL (as is one of the Ladue Estates trustees!) and we will have a Ladue Estates Open House and magazine signing event on Sunday, May 6, 2012. We’ll share all the details once we have them ironed out. But if this piece of news made a little part of you tingle, mark it on your calendar now.

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  • Hey St. Louis, Buy Local – Brick By Brick

    Posted on November 24th, 2011 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    The only downside to Thanksgiving is it marks the end of reasonable shopping until December 25th. The mere thought of the huckster retail hell that begins with Black Friday causes me real anxiety. That they start Black Friday earlier every year has me contemplating therapy.

    If this rings true for you as well, the antidote is to shop local. Buying as much of your holiday bounty from independently owned St. Louis businesses supports your community, your neighborhood and the local folks who’ve stuck their neck out to go against the Big Box tide.

    A perfect way to celebrate this Black Friday is to StL two-bird-one-stone it on the local tip by heading to the St. Louis Curio Shoppe between 1 – 3 pm and buy a DVD copy of Bill Streeter’s film Brick By Chance and Fortune: A St. Louis Story.

    The Curio Shoppe specializes in selling only St. Louis-produced or St. Louis-centric items. Did you know we have a large group of local soap makers, who make soap so pure you could eat it (if you had to)? Go to there and see for yourself. And it makes all kinds of sense to meet Bill Streeter there and have him sign a copy of his movie; a movie that makes all kinds of sense as a gift for every St. Louisan.

    Here’s the Facebook invite for more details.

    If you can’t make it out for this event, you can order the film on-line. Here’s the PayPal link.

    A special thank you to Streeter for giving all of us who appear in the film free copies. You’ve already taken care of a sizable chunk of my Christmas shopping with this generous offering. And thank you for making all of us proud of our Brick City!

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  • Mid-Century Modern Bus Tour, October 8th

    Posted on September 25th, 2011 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    “Now, you’re either on the bus or off the bus.” – Ken Kesey

    How would you like to take a tour of some of St. Louis’ best mid-century modern residential, commercial and spiritual buildings? You can just sit back and leave the driving to Modern StL on October 8, 2011, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

    $25 puts you on a bus with either Michael Allen or myself as your tour guide, along with other ModernSTL board members sharing their areas of expertise. It begins at 9 a.m. with a tour of the Ethical Society hosted by architect and Harris Armstrong scholar Andrew Raimist. It ends at 1 p.m. with a narrated tour of Priory Chapel. Between, we cruise through Downtown & Mid-Town St. Louis and some finer residential mid-century modern. Details are still being ironed out, but it’s guaranteed that you will learn, laugh and love the architectural gems of St. Louis even more than before!

    ModernSTL was asked by DOCOMOMO to be a part of this nationwide, weekend event celebrating the Modern Movement.  The American mid-century modernist symbol is on our river front, so we’re thrilled to finally have St. Louis represented in this 5th annual Tour Day.

    Advance ticket purchases are through PayPal at this link.

    There is a limit of 100 seats, and reservations are required. So if you’re on the bus, you gotta hurry, and I hope to see you bright and early on Saturday, October 8th.  You could bring donuts, that’d be cool…

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  • Save Our Saucer Rally & a Talk with Its Architect

    Posted on July 5th, 2011 Toby Weiss 3 comments

    Want to show some love for The Saucer? Then show up Wednesday, July 6th at 6 PM at South Grand and Forest Park Parkway.

    Bring signs, posters and other items to show how much you love the Spaceship. Hear some knowledgeable folks share their love of the building and voice ideas for other uses for it.  There will even be limited edition Saucer T-shirts available!

    Let’s all come together to show the Board of Aldermen (who have their final vote on its fate Friday, July 8th) how beloved this building is and why it would be a tragedy to tear it down for unspecified plans.

    “There may be plenty of interest in reusing that awesome saucer if it is marketed properly! The building has the ability to be remodeled, adapted, or expanded to meet the needs of a new tenant or tenants,” says local architect Paul Hohmann. “We’ve been in touch with a number of local businesses, who may be interested in saving that iconic building, and we love it so much, we’re working with anyone interested to connect them with the opportunity to preserve it!”

    As it stands on public record, the developer sounds adamant that he only wants a new building in its place, and is stubbornly opposed to re-using, remodeling or adding on to the existing building. This seems like a narrowly-focused and short-sighted view point from a developer who has shown creative thinking on so many other St. Louis City projects.  Maybe if we all did the work of delivering a new tenant to him, he’d change his mind?

    I just got off the phone with recently retired architect Richard Henmi, who was the Associate and Chief Designer for Council Plaza – and the Saucer, specifically – while he was a member of the architectural firm Schwarz & Van Hoefen. He has been closely following all the media coverage about the Saucer (I met him when he commented on my previous post about The Saucer) , saying “I’ve never seen so much coverage for such a tiny building!”

    He drove by the building this past Sunday and said, “The 6-inch solid concrete roof has held up very well, though it should be checked thoroughly before doing any work on it.”

    What would Henmi like to seen done with the building he designed? He is aware that the developer would like more square footage for more paying tenants, and says that one could add onto the north and east sides of the building while maintaining the integrity of the roof. “It would need to be done carefully, but it could be done.” Henmi also envisions how the roof overhang would make for a pleasant outdoor dining patio, especially by adding low walls and landscaping around it.

    He has seen the proposed adaptation on the blog What Should Be,  and while he does not agree with the concept, he loves that people’s imaginations have been fired up about the building, and would love to see it become a “Wash U. sketch problem” for the next semester of architectural students at Washington University (where he graduated from in 1947).

    Henmi cannot make tomorrow night’s love-in because he is attending a family reunion in California, but once he returns, he said he will do all he can to save the building, as he’s already experienced the sadness of seeing 2 other of his buildings demolished in the past. And he will work with us to go through his drawings he donated to the Missouri Historical Society in 1989, so soon we should have copies of original drawings of The Saucer as designed for its original use as a Phillips 66 in 1967.

    See you tomorrow night at the rally to Save Our Saucer. Here’s the Facebook invite for more info. And please remember – this is a positive event about our love for this unique and endearing building, so let’s share only our love and ideas for its future.

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  • St. Louis Mid-Century Modern on Display in “Parade of Homes”

    Posted on May 18th, 2011 Toby Weiss No comments

    I know several people who regularly attend the open houses of for sale homes.  While some of them are always on the look out for the perfect home to move into, generally it’s the ultimate in window shopping combined with HGTV voyeurism.  Meaning, it’s a great hobby to have!

    What if you’re really into mid-century modern homes? How would you like if 10 of them were all open on one day? It’d be like a parade of atomic age goodness, or in the parlance of 1950s’ newspaper real estate sections, a “Parade of Homes”!

    This Sunday, May 22, 2011, from 1 -4 PM that’s exactly what’s happening. Modern StL board member Ginger Fawcett enlisted fellow real estate agents with mid-century modern listings, and they’ve banded together to have them open and free to the public for 3 hours. Lately, when a choice MCM goes on the market in St. Louis it gets snapped up pretty quick, so coordinating 10 properties like this at one time is a rare feat. It is also the first such event in St. Louis. Lots of groundbreaking here!

    The 10 homes you can view (and buy, if you’re so inclined) are:

    • 2 Sleepy Hollow in Olivette
    • 36 Stoneyside Lane in Olivette
    • 41 Oak Park Dr. in Creve Coeur
    • 8 Graybridge Lane in Ladue
    • 1220 Kenmore Dr. in Glendale
    • 2409 Saint Giles in Kirkwood
    • 1735 Ridgewood in Crestwood
    • 1309 Honeywood in Crestwood
    • 1901 Wilson in Chesterfield

    See photos, listings and maps of all the open homes here.

    Look for these signs at the entrance to neighborhoods and in the yards of the for sale homes, and enjoy!

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