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  • Walking Tour of Lindell Mid-Century Modern, May 10, 2014

    Posted on May 6th, 2014 Toby Weiss No comments

    lindell flier

    May 10, 2014
    10:00 AM
    Meet at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, Lindell entrance

    $5 for non-members / Free for Modern STL members)

    Michael Allen and I will once again trip the light fantastic of mid-century modern beauties on Lindell Boulevard, in the Central West End.

    Take a quick peek at what this great street has in store for you.

    optimist international 01

    This Building Is Threatened

    Since planning the tour, the Optimist International building (above) has become a hot item. Or, rather, the land it sits on has become more valuable than the building possibly is.

    Here is a proposal for a new development on the corner of Taylor & Lindell.

    The Optimist is my personal favorite MCM on Lindell. I also understand and agree with the urban density rationale of the proposed development, as well as the irony of – in 1961 – tearing down a very urban property to put in this more suburban modern building. And now we’ve come full circle.

    optimist international 02

    The fate of this building promises to be a very lively debate, that pits newly embraced forms of CWE historic preservation against a deeper understanding of what it means to be an urban city.

    And this isn’t the only Lindell MCM currently on the tear-down radar – this building is also in the spotlight.

    So we have a lot to discuss and debate, and the best way to do that is in person, as a curious, knowledge-seeking group, on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 10 a.m. We’ll learn, we’ll laugh, we’ll burn some calories. We look forward to seeing you there.


  • No Casino at Chain of Rocks

    Posted on October 24th, 2010 Toby Weiss 7 comments

    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.

  • Mid-Century Modern Subdivision Crestwood Hills

    Posted on August 30th, 2010 Toby Weiss 16 comments

    Crestwood Hills Subdivision
    Crestwood, MO

    On Watson Road at Sturdy Dr. – between Sappington and Lindbergh – is this crazy pair of mirrored buildings (Dental Centers North & South) from 1974. They’re festooned with every 1960s commercial architecture trick – even lava rocks! – as if they picked up all the litter after the mid-century party was over and fashioned it into a house dress. One day I got curious about the neighborhood behind these wacky buildings, so headed down Sturdy Drive and landed in a small subdivision dotted with houses like the one above.

    Crestwood Hills lays out in, roughly, the shape of a pitchfork, with the spikes ending at East Watson Rd (aka, Hwy 66), encompassing only 6 short streets. County property records show that all of them were built between 1955 – 1957, but the wide and unending variety of styles gives it the look of unfolding over a longer period of time.

    It’s apparent that a goodly number of the homes still house the people who originally bought them in the mid-50s. Then there’s an encouraging handful of homes (like the one above) that have been bought in the last few years by younger generations who know what they have, were happy to get it for under $175,000 in desirable Crestwood, and are lovingly reviving its mid-century modern ranch beauty.

    Drive through this neighborhood and you’ll get whiplash from trying to take in all the different types of homes. So it’s better for your neck if you walk it, but there are no sidewalks. That’s one hallmark of a classic mid-century suburban neighborhood – they more often than not did away with sidewalks. Was that a budgetary decision? Or was the love affair with how the automobile could transform every fiber of daily life raging so hard that they imagined no one would need never walk again?

    But I do love how the automobile figured into the layout of these homes. Even a fairly typical traditional ranch home like this got the carport. And it’s not just a place to park the car, but also sports a utility shed under the sloping roof and a flower planter, with both anchoring the open end of the house. I also love how this carport lends transparency, as you’re able to peer straight into the backyard.

    And in the spirit of no two Crestwood Hills houses being exactly the same, the developers used the same basic floor plan for this home, but changed out several details and finishes to make it wholly unique. I’m guessing that screening in the carport was a later remodel by the owners, which is cool. Several of the homes have turned the carport into a garage, which is a standard renovation. But it’s astounding how many of the original carports remain in tact.

    And we pause from all this atomic age fabulosity for the Smith Sturdy Cemetery. On East Watson, between  Gayle Avenue and Fox Park Drive, this tiny little burial ground with, maybe, 50 tombstones, just pops out of nowhere. It’s both disconcerting and intriguing, and because I can find no solid background information, it remains a mystery.

    There’s a sub-species of homes in this neighborhood that fascinate me because they have no traditional front door. The designers and/or developers just dispensed with such a quaint notion, and planted a chimney where a front door should be.

    And here’s another example of how the main entrance to the home is under the carport. Which underscores the new informality that was middle America in the middle of the 20th century; it was perfectly OK for your guests to squeeze between the cars and the house to knock on the door. Think about how many times you’ve been to someone’s house where they leave the overhead garage door open so you can come through the door that leads into the kitchen, rather than the formal front door. Well, with a house like this, you don’t even have to go through the trouble of opening a garage door and exposing all your junk to the world. It just is!

    And because of this odd entrance situation, this may be why so many of the homes similar to this one leave the carport intact, because how else would you get in without going into the backyard?

    This home highlights what happens if you decide to mess with the basic floorplan and close up that carport. Follow the fascia line to the right of the chimney and you can tell they added on this covered porch around a new front (well, side entrance, actually) entrance. But the driveway still leads up to what was the carport… so how do they get into their house when they get out of the car?

    Every other house in Crestwood Hills is a fairly standard sturdy brick ranch home, which was rather clever of the developers; might as well appeal to the traditional as well as the pioneering and recoup the building money as quickly as possible.  But even with a ranch as traditional as this one, above, they throw in a few modern details that lets it blend nicely with the more adventurous homes around it.

    Crestwood was once a boom town, increasing its population from 1,645 to more than 11,000 people between 1950 and 1960. They couldn’t build ‘em faster than the folks were moving in, but they tried. This neighborhood went up in 2 years, and I admire the richness of variety and detail that went into such a hasty project.

    Of interest is that the more traditional homes tend to have basements (above), while the decidedly modern homes are slab on grade. Though sometimes an unassuming brick and vinyl will also be slab on grade. What made them decide to change it up like that? This makes me think they’re may have been more than one developer/builder mining this neighborhood.  If anyone has any background information on Crestwood Hills, please please fill us in!

    Remember the house above that walled in its carport and created a porch on the other side? This is what it most likely looked like before the extensive remodel. And I love how they created a semi-circular drive in the front lawn, an ingenious way to get more cars onto the property while also adding a nice new bit of geometry to the overall look.

    Look at the generous screened porch on this one! And how the semi-open porch and the completely open car port are embraced by the sweeping roofline. This 1957 home is 1,344 square feet, but it looks so much larger because of the fine balance of indoors and out.

    The square footage of all these homes range from roughly 1,200 to 1,500. Back then, for a family moving from the city, it was a step up in elbow room. Somewhere in the 80s and 90s, it was considered too small. But a little over 50 years later, living in under 2,000 s.f. makes all kinds of sense if you want to pay your utility bills and eat. We’re struggling through a Great Recession, but I call it The Great Reset; we were living too large on money we didn’t really have, but the meter’s been reset and, out of necessity, we’re cycling back down into a more modest and humane way of living. And that’s why homes like these – when they’ve managed to survive unscathed by teardowns – become a great asset: we can afford to live in them and they’re beautiful and well-built. Try getting all 3 things like that in a just-add-water cul-de-sac village in the exurbs!

    At 1,924 s.f., this appears to be the largest home in Crestwood Hills, and also the most dramatically modern.  Look at those Neutra-esque bent columns holding up the carport! So cool that it (almost) distracts one from the hideous shutters someone slapped onto the home in later years.

    The homes in this neighborhood remain so basically intact 50+ years on that it melts my heart. How did they mange this? Is it because of the wide range of styles? Or that it remained such a stable neighborhood for so many decades? I really need to know! So, again, if any of you grew up in this neighborhood or know anything about it, please share some details.

  • Put On A Happy Face

    Posted on August 28th, 2009 Toby Weiss 3 comments

    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.

  • The House Always Wins

    Posted on June 23rd, 2009 Toby Weiss 9 comments


    Here’s a great report – with video footage – of what transpired last night.

  • Today’s the Day we Save the San Luis

    Posted on June 22nd, 2009 Toby Weiss No comments


    Today is when the Preservation Board reviews the proposal to demolish the San Luis.

    Today is the day you can show up to persuade the Board to deny this permit.

    It is especially important that we turn up in large numbers, because in some political corners they consider the permit a done deal.

    If you’re tired of Old Boys Network politics as usual, please come and support this effort.  The Board will make its decision ON this night, so if you want to immediately know the fate of the San Luis, come to:

    1015 Locust Street, Suite 1200
    Downtown St. Louis, 63101
    4 PM – ?

    For all the latest information, visit No Parking Lot On Lindell.

  • A Kirkwood Rainbow

    Posted on March 28th, 2009 Toby Weiss 3 comments


    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

    Posted on March 5th, 2009 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    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

    Posted on November 16th, 2008 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    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

    Posted on November 6th, 2008 Toby Weiss 3 comments

    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.