No Casino at Chain of Rocks

Riverview Drive at 270
North St. Louis City, MO

There remains one untouched portion of North St. Louis where you can see and feel the river.  Bike or walk the Riverfront Trail and the Chain of Rocks Bridge, and see years worth of diligent work by Trailnet and Confluence Greenway to give everyone a tranquil taste of the beauty and power of  the Mississippi River.

St. Louis City Hall and Koman Properties see this same area as empty land ripe for a casino – a way to keep within city bounds the 13th gambling license that was put in jeopardy when the President Casino folded. They have devised a plan for inserting a new casino here that does not take into consideration the people who live here, the people who use this area, and the ecology that makes the area unique. Their plan is not well thought out, and they’re trying to keep it closed to public input.

This is why the residents of the Chain of Rocks neighborhood and other concerned citizens gathered on October 23rd to stage a photo that will be sent to the state Gaming Commission. And I was honored to be asked to take the group picture (that’s me on the ladder!). Here’s KSDK coverage of the event.

Barb Floreth,  one of the planners of this event (and a resident of the City’s 2nd Ward in the bluffs above Riverview), wrote this piece explaining their side for Urban StL.

Together with other neighborhood associations who would be directly impacted by the proposed casino, Barb and her husband Chris Ballew have worked hard to ensure that this project is not a backroom handshake deal. The State Gaming commission has welcomed response from concerned citizens, and will keep that in mind when they make a November decision on which – if any – location gets the license.

So far, the group has handed out 1,000 pre-printed postcards for us to fill out and send to the Gaming Commission to express your concern. Print out this postcard to help show your support of No Casino at Chain of Rocks.

Chris Ballew (left), Barb Floreth (seated) are Chain of Rocks neighborhood residents. The man on the bike pedaled to thephoto event from Grand Ave. & Hwy 44.

If you are familiar with this part of town and this spot at the foot of the Chain of Rocks Bridge, in particular, then you know the 2-lane road that is Riverview Drive. When looking at the drawings and plans for the proposed casino, the residents learned that the developers are only concerned with traffic coming in from Interstate 270. They have not given any thought to who will use Riverview and its existing traffic problems. If the developers have overlooked this crucial factor – how consumers would get to the casino – what else have they overlooked?

The projected financials are another interesting aspect. Mayor Slay acknowledges that the new casino could bring in $50 million in business from Alton. Basically, that’s poaching business from another casino, right? Which is rather un-neighborly, and highlights the cut-throat aspect of casino competition. No one seems to concentrate on creating NEW clients, just re-routing the same base. And let’s consider human nature: gamblers will flock to the newest casino, but will eventually return to the one closest to their house. The proposed Chain of Rocks Casino will most likely wind up dead in the water because of its remote location.

But Slay is willing to bet on this project because of the projectd $2 – 11 million it could bring to the City coffers.  But what is the long-term cost of this project? Is it worth decimating everything Trailnet, Greenways and the 2nd Ward have achieved? Is it worth alienating the people who live in this part of town (who happen to be City voters) by literally putting a casino in their backyard?

The Gaming Commission granted a half hour public meeting about this project, which was more than City Hall or Koman wanted. But the Commission is open to further comment. If you think this proposed casino is a bad idea, please speak up by writing to the Missouri Gaming Commission to let them know you do not want a riverfront casino built in St Louis City at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.

Leann McCarthy
Missouri Gaming Commission
3417 Knipp Drive
P.O. Box 1847
Jefferson City, MO 65102

Learn more at the blog No Casino at Chain of Rocks.

Put On A Happy Face

paint-jobN. Rock Hill Road
Webster Groves, MO

Painters going in for the second coat of a saturated, perriwinkle purple on a home beside the train tracks.  Yeah, the roof needs some attention – structure- and shingle-wise – and replacement windows are overdue. But that type of maintenance costs.

Paint is the cheapest form of instant gratification, and in this case, mood enhancement.  The owners are thinking “put on a happy face;” the neighbors may be thinking “send in the clowns.”  I think there ought to be clowns.

One thing I love about New Orleans’ neighborhoods is their warm and abundant embrace of vibrant house colors.  This purple addition to the yellow neighbor is a mini-recreation of that Big Easy feeling in the Webster Groves hills.
Thank you for doing this.

A Kirkwood Rainbow


E. Clinton & S. Fillmore
Kirkwood, MO

Some remodeling work is being done to typical post-WW2 bungalow in Kirkwood.  While vinyl siding can – technically – be painted, it’s usually a short-lived solution.  So, I have the feeling the place is being spruced up to go up for sale.

I love that the paint crew left behind this rainbow display, and much like a real rainbow, it was a beautiful but fleeting thing. After a couple of peacock days, the siding is now 100% conservatively beige.


There’s a Crayola box of vinyl siding colors available, but the vast majority go with white, off whites, grays and beiges. Considering that a certain type of new homes (that were) being built are nothing but a tall, plain box encased in vinyl (even the chimney – man that’s unattractive), why not add some much needed interest with multiple colors of vinyl? Imagine it: a white ground with different accent colors, decorative borders and flourishes?

One can drive through other parts of Kirkwood and see wood sided homes with this type of multi-coloring.  And this little guy shows how fun it can be in moderation.  Plus, the color of the vinyl does not change the price. So, a re-think on how to display vinyl siding would be a welcome sight.

This Crappy Economy


Photo taken March 2, 2009

Tucker Blvd. & Washington Avenue
Downtown St. Louis, MO

The sales center for the Jacob Development Group closed up shop last year. When Downtown loft development took a nosedive, they didn’t even have time to remove the Christmas tree from the window of The Bogen.

Reminder: The Julius Shulman Film

Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman
Saturday, November 22nd, 6:15 pm, Tivoli Theater
The man who took the picture above has finally been honored with a documentary film about his work, vision and contributions to the worlds of art, architecture and photography. Visual Acoustics will be shown this Saturday as part of the St. Louis Intentional Film Festival.

The tickets are only $10, and can be bought on-line here. If you need convincing, take a quick overview of why this man matters. Then go see Birth of the Cool as a warm-up. Then watch the film’s trailer.

See you this Saturday, and it should be easy to spot me: that one weeping silent tears of joy for 83 minutes. Come say hello and spot me a tissue!

POST-SCRIPT Hopes and expectations were high and the documentary met and exceeded them. A towering achievement on so many levels. It allows us to know the man behind the photos, and he is just as fascinating and singular as his work. My only complaint is that, at 83 minutes, it’s too short!

Director Eric Bricker took questions afterwards, and I asked: will there be DVD distribution of this film, and will there be more footage shared as DVD extras? Yes, we will be able to own a copy, most likely before 2009 ends, and yes, there is more footage, but exactly what has yet to be decided.

Owning a copy is important so one can pause it and contemplate the photos. I have had the good fortune of being able to see many of Shulman’s prints in person (both in St. Louis and Palm Springs), and countless prints in books. Visual Acoustics offers up large handfuls of photos I’ve never seen, and that will be worth the price of purchasing the DVD, no matter what the cost!

Thank you to Bricker and his crew for this labor of love. The film brought me to tears three times. It educated and inspired all of us in attendance, and I want to see it again right now!

Woolworths Becomes Big Brother

Intersection of North Grand and Olive
MidTown St. Louis, Missouri
There should have been a ticker tape parade when the Woolworths building came back to life. We spend so much time lamenting doomed buildings and remembering lost buildings, and not enough time applauding those that come back to life. But maybe it is better to just chance upon the scene above and rejoice to each other as we walk by. Or to have the St. Louis Business Journal run a two-page spread about it with gorgeous photos (print edition only).

The revival of this building is truly glorious. Every aspect of the rehab and renovation is top-notch because it respected the original building and all of its various mutations throughout the decades. They didn’t radically alter it, only made it better, and even left some remnants of its life as the flagship Woolworths dime store in St. Louis City.

It was a genuinely sad end of an era when the remaining Woolworths’ closed in 1993. The downtown store at 6th and Locust was where I did all of my gift shopping, and the restaurant within was a great place to do old school lunch. The day it closed felt like a funeral day.

The closing of the store at the most prominent mid-town was the final spiritual nail in the coffin of MidTown. Sure, the Fox Theater came back to life several years previously, but it’s hard to be the life of the party when there are no guests. And walking past the dark Continental and Woolworths building to get to the Fox was disheartening and creepy.

But in one glorious moment, the recent past was forgotten and joy returned to Mid-Town. Late summer we went to a concert at the Fox, and while parking the car, we realized that the Woolworth building was ablaze with light and life. We pressed faces against the glass, marveled at the sleek and modern new interiors and just reveled in the impossible actually happening.

I’ve been drawn back to this block several times since then, and my heart beats with joy to see all the people, be a part of the bustle, soak up the energy. It took Big Brothers & Big Sisters and Kranzberg Arts reviving this building to make me realize 3 important things:
MidTown is truly back
There are just enough great visionaries in this town to keep hope alive
I have yet another reason to be a proud of St. Louis.

Washington Avenue Apartments

1133 Washington Avenue
Downtown St. Louis, MO
In the early 1960s, at the integral intersection of Tucker Blvd. and Washington Avenue, they tore down an old building to erect a new one. That was standard operating procedure for Urban Renewal. In the 21st century, they renovated the replacement building, which will hopefully become standard operating procedure for a greener Urban Efficiency.

Aside from the misguided civic politics that brought it about, I always liked the Days Inn hotel building. Aesthetically, I appreciated its low budget, corporate resort modernism. Having only experienced it past its prime, I also appreciated its prominent seediness. Every authentic downtown needs some disreputable locales, some hard-earned griminess to offset the homogeneous intent of progress and prosperity. The Days Inn gave strong hints of the trouble our parents warned us against when we felt the tug of wanting to go downtown to stir up some adventure.

Michael Allen neatly sums up the beauty of the remodel. There were no historic tax credits, media grandtsands or marketing magic; Brian Bruce simply bought the building and renovated it, then opened it. The affordable Washington Avenue Apartments are now available to renters who can’t afford most other downtown locales, and it looks amazing in and of itself and within context of its surroundings.

Along with living space, it has useful and welcome retail space at street level. What had been a car tunnel for Days Inn is now B & T Pizza. The place is always busy because the pizza is excellent (we had the Queens – sans mushrooms – and the sauce is tangy rather than St. Louis sugary while the crust is the perfect compromise between thin and thick) and the joint looks good. In fact, the interior just won a St. Louis AIA Merit Award for its “clean look with tongue-in-cheek attitude.”

The exterior face lift is understated sophistication and appears retro only because it kept all the Days Inn lines, even enhancing them by slightly angling the windows. It reminds me of the NY Times crosswords left sitting on a stone table at Grand Central Terminal, and it doesn’t get more urban than that! So, I applaud the greenness, the fortitude and the function of the new place, and thank all those involved for giving us such a beautiful building that sets such a high standard for responsible redevelopment in our downtown.

Must See: Birth of the Cool

Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design & Culture at Midcentury
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
Washington University Campus until January 5, 2009
Birth of the Cool is an absolutely amazing exhibit about the heart of MCM. For fans and connoisseurs of the style, it is longings come to life, iconic images in books and magazines standing before you more breathtaking than imagined.

For the unknowing, it is a concise and compelling text book. For the unconvinced, it is casual persuasion of respect for the style. In keeping with the economy of shape and form that is MCM, the exhibit is not an overload of things but rather an economical gathering of precise items for maximum impact.

Within 6 galleries, music, design, art, culture, housing, furniture and politics mingle to create understanding of why the style evolved and why it endures as a romantic American ideal. I could gush on for paragraphs about the contents (like the above chair display, in the only photograph I took before being told to stop), but I’ll spare you the frenzied adjectives and cut right to the most extraordinary part.

Julius Shulman is a photographic god who still walks and shoots on this earth. Birth of the Cool has a heaping tablespoon of his black & white and color prints. The only reason this is not the personal highlight is because I have had the humble privilege of seeing most of these prints at exhibits in St. Louis and Palm Springs, California. But in the spirit of “it’s not what you got but how you use it”…

One gallery is all about Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22. In the middle of the room, encased in glass is a wooden architectural model of the home (gasp). Along the walls are Shulman’s omnipotent photos of such, images I’ve seen countless times. But when they are gathered in one place and put in context with a 3D replica, the effect is the most awe-inspiring feeling to have short of being invited into the actual house. The curator achieves maximum impact with a minimum of objects, exemplifying the aesthetic with two architectural artists who embodied it.

The ultimate moment of this exhibit will come on November 22nd, 2008 with a screening of the new documentary Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman. Watching the trailer gets me misty eyed, so I’ll save this topic for a date closer to the event. But do mark it on your calendar.

From an interest level of passing curiosity through to full blown fanatic, Birth of the Cool is a must-see. The gallery is easily accessible (location and time-wise), and it is free. There are no excuses, only priceless results.