Northland Demolition Part 4

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July 31, 2005
The last visit was July 26th.
northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
And with the former Famous Barr building utterly gone and buried in a massive pit (above, right), the demolition crew got busy on the north arm of Northland.
northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
(Above, left) In the foreground, we’re looking down into what remains of the Famous-Barr upper basement as we stand on the upper parking lot. And what are the tree roots growing into? I never comprehended the complexity of Northland’s multi-levels until it was dismantled, and I’m still impressed with the designers’ ingenuity.
(Above, right) The former Baker’s Shoes gets a good medicine ball whack before the crew went home for the weekend.

northland center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
Demolition debris can’t help but be poetic in its descent. In person, the flow of the plaster and brick (above) was balletic.
northland shopping center demolition in jennings mo photos by Toby Weiss
It’s hard for me to watch them take this building down, but tearing it down also reveals the older layers I remember, and hidden layers that the public was never meant to see. The southern next door neighbor of the former Kresge’s was obviously an International Shoe at the time the place was built. This wooden construction plaque (above, right) had been buried behind the original drywall.
The former Kresge itself (above, right) revealed a few hidden treasures, and unwillingly gave up a few more pieces for me to cart off. Kresge’s is such a special and mythical place for me (and some others, too), that I will post a separate farewell entry to Northland’s Kresge’s in the near future.

kinney shoes at northland shopping enter photos by Toby Weiss
As we head down to the lower level, a sign (above, left) still recalls what shops were there right around the time Famous Barr vacated in the very early 1990s.
And Northland was obviously shoe shopping mecca with Kinney (above, right) being one of two stores that permanently marked their footware territory in concrete. The clothing store Worth’s had done the same, and it’s always a thrill to find store logos embedded in entry ways. From small towns to large cities, it was assumed that a shop would always be in that location, so it was no problem to pay a little extra for some sidewalk branding art.

northland shopping center demolition photos by toby weiss
To aid in asbestos removal, the demolition crew blasted a hole into the west wall of the top floor of Kresge (above), and by doing so, they revealed the deep aqua blue tile of the original facade. Actually, all shades of light to medium blues, in concert with all that stainless steel, was the dominate color scheme of Northland. Hmm, wonder where my inbred love of a light blue and silver color combo comes from…?
piles of rubble at northland shopping center photo by toby weiss
Here was a sobering moment.
A rubble mountain had sprung up in the middle of the lower level parking lot (above). At peak, it’s easily 25 feet tall, possibly taller, since I’m lousy at judging height. It’s a rather long ascent, and once at the top it does provide fantastic photographic views. Then it hit me:
These are remains I’m standing on.
All the busted up concrete and plaster they pulled out of the Famous Barr pit made this temporary landmass. And suddenly I was creeped out and ashamed to be standing atop it.

nothland medical building demolition photos by toby weiss
Got a good perspective on how the upper and lower levels of Northland come together on the southernmost end (above, left) by standing in the outdoor utility stairwell of the Northland Office Building. The patchwork of blue glass that makes up the exterior walls of its stairwells (above, right) are pretty banged up, with some panes missing, but it’s still breathtakingly beautiful to my eyes.

August 13, 2005
I was going to Northland at least once a week to survey, spelunk and photograph, but it started to weigh heavily upon me. So I let some time slip by, to give myself a break from the emotional burden. But I needed to get back with camera and tools to try and salvage as much of the Kresge as was possible for one girl to cart off. I desperately wanted to find something that said Kresge on it, just to have proof that it really existed.
The moment I got off work on this particular Saturday, the sky erupted into a mad, blazing storm that eventually caused massive wind damage and flash flooding throughout most of the St. Louis area. But I drove on, hoping a storm this wicked would quickly blow over.

northland shopping center grocery store demolition photos by toby weiss
And I wondered if the grocery store would still be there. Pictures I’d taken of it on my last visit are above.
northland shopping center demolition photo by toby weiss
It’s still an incessant downpour when I barge through a “Do Not Enter” gate, only to find this empty void among the debris (above). The grocery store was history, vanished into mud. I had so wanted to rescue one of those obscenely bright glazed tiles, but those had probably been ground into dust about 4 days ago. Now it was part of the oozing paste in the hole that was once a grocery store.
northland shopping center demolition photos by toby weiss
And quickly looking to my right, I see that exactly half of Kresge was sliced off (above, left)!
Now, it’s pouring down rain. I have no rain gear and a digital camera that’s allergic to water. I’m stuck in the car until it stops raining. So, I drive around Jennings and Ferguson for about 30 minutes, wondering who’ll stop the rain?
It never stopped.
In the upper level Aldi’s parking lot, I forlornly stared off into the dreary distance at what was left of Kresge’s (above, right). I couldn’t get to the building and its remains, and even when it stopped raining, it would be a toxic muddy mess. I also contemplated the irony of how Northland was now offically 50 years old, making it eligible for Historic Registry…yeah, whatever.
Water dripped down my windshield and my face; I knew it was over for me and Kresge. This was not how I wanted to say goodbye, but that’s how it ended.
This is all becoming too much of a heartache.

August 21, 2005

I return a week later and immediately notice that the large and elaborate Northland sign that officially greeted everyone at the the Lucas & Hunt/West Florissant intersection had been – literally – smashed into the dirt (above). They hadn’t even bothered to cart away the plastic letters, so what remains of the “R” seen in the foreground is now in the trunk of my car.
northland shopping center demolktion photos by toby weiss
The crew made a broad sweep across the upper parking lot, knocking down rows of light poles (above, left). It looked a bit like a razor had run across a beard, and left a fine layer of broken glass everywhere, like powdered sugar on a lemon bar.
The tower that accents the south arm of Northland (above, right) is still standing tall, but they have prepared the store fronts for the final blow by removing all glass and interior contents.

walgreens at northland shopping center demolition photos by toby weiss
The detritus of demolition has featured many a poignant and/or odd sight (above, left).
And the “opening up” of the former Walgreens (above, right) once again reveals how airy that space had once appeared from the sidewalk. With a footband of blue green tile, topped by panels of smooth stone and bookended by flagstone columns, it was certainly the most sophisticated Walgreens store, materials-wise.

kresges at northland shopping center demolition photos by toby weiss
With heavy heart, I made the trek across the wreckage of the parking lot to where Kresge once stood. On the upper level, it’s northernmost wall still stood (above), reminding me of some ancient ruin as it stood among its fallen parts. I stood for a long while in these remains, but didn’t have the heart to poke around for treasure. I was a bit too numb.
northland shopping center bowling alley demolition photos by toby weiss
So I walked around and down to the lower level. The space that was the Ambassador nightclub was formely a bowling alley, and since they were currently crushing it, long-buried bowling pins (above, left) were scattered among the asbestos-crusted construction shards.
northland shoping center bowling alley demolition ambassador photos by toby weiss
The lower level West arm in the middle of being beaten to the ground (above).

So far, this sections demise has been the most colorful, because these store fronts had retained more of it’s original store fronts, including the coral pink Vitrolite (above).

Here comes another sobering moment.
(Above, left) This area tucked under a “lattice work” stainless steel canopy once housed a popular music store, a cobbler and Worth’s clothing store. To the right of this picture (taken about a month previous) is the lower level Kresge display windows.
(Above, right) Standing in roughly the same position, the tree is still standing and…that’s about it. And here’s exactly where it became too much for me to bear…

As I stood ankle deep in the rubble (above) of what was my beloved Kresge, I literally lost it. I doubled over with stomache pain and cried and wailed with grief. And it surprised me.

I’ve been surverying and photographing Northland since March 2002. Away from the site, the sentimental angle takes over, but while “working the site,” my historical, architectural and photographic eye is in play. I seldom get too too emotional about it because I have documentation work to attend to. But at this very moment, my heart broke into a hundred pieces and tears literally dropped into the dust as I bent over trying to catch my breath. The eternal “goneness” of it all hit me too hard, and at the wrong time. I just lost the strength or the urge to continue on. I just wanted it to be over, because I was tired of smelling, seeing and shooting the corpse. I was numb from attending The Longest Wake.

Maybe ten minutes later, the emotional drama and physical drain subsided and I trudged on. I’d come too far in this self-appointed project to stop now.
And we find Lunch Among the Ruins (above, left), and the Rubble Mountain becoming just as wide as it is tall (above, right).

The lower level of the South arm is also prepped for crushing (above, left & right).
And I marvel yet again at the massing of space and place that is just one of the West Florissant entrances to Northland (below). It literally looks and feels like a section of any downtown city.

September 4, 2005

Oddly enough, the bank (above, left) is still open for business. Obviously, money talks. But how creepy is it for the folks working there?
When we invade the orange plastic fence boundary (above, right)

…to check out the deconstruction details. There is now an unobstructed view from the upper level to the Northland Office Building on the lower level (above, left). And has been their consistent policy, the demolition company places their sign (above, right) on the section that will be crushed next. This tower is the last remaining sign post of the main shopping center. It’s obliteration will be another sore point for me. Not looking forward to it, while also wishing they’d just hurry up and put the horse down…

Where Famous Barr was (above) is now filled in with all its own remains. This area was 3 stories deep. It’s now maybe a half-story deep. And looking across north, it’s just flat ground. It’s depressing. But at least it’s over.

Southernmost lower level “sketch”, above.

The demolition crew was using Office Building as it’s cool zone during the intense heat wave of early August. But now they’ve begun stripping and throwing out the interior of the building, leaving a ring of trash along all sides of its perimeter (above, left). And they’ve begun peeling off the the metal sun screens that gives the building its distinctively modern look (above, right). Paint lines show these panels were once blue green, but I don’t remember that at all. Though the thought of this color in horizontal bands against the white building sounds appealing. Many people mistakenly assume that modern architecture means stark white, and from Le Corbu to Northland, that simply wasn’t the case. Color and texture played a large part in shaping the spaces.

(Above, left) Hauling in the dumpsters also means the medicine ball is coming. I’m positive this is my last moment with Office Building (and a solo entry on it will also be forthcoming). I’m in no hurry to get back to the site because it’s just too large of a brain and heart drain. Almost 3 weeks weeks will pass before I can get back, and this demolition crew is fast and effcient. Everything will be gone by the time I get back. I dread the moment, but I will return.rf

6 thoughts on “Northland Demolition Part 4

  1. I’ve was also sadly watching Northland fall. I’m glad you got upclose as I’ve enjoyed the photography.

    Did they just dump those candles or stars or whatever those metal embellishments were, which were located on 2 or 3 sides of the Famous Barr building? (I know they were still on the West side of the building before demolition.) Is there any chance someone saved those?

    I lived in Jenning until age 4, 1960, then in North City near Hallsferry Circle — where I could look out my 2nd floor bedroom window and still catch a glimpse of those fireworks!

    If you fondly recall the Halloween window painting by students at Northland, you might be interested to check out downtown Ferguson on Florissant Road the week or so before Halloween. You can grab paint at the Farmer’s Market there on Saturday and create your own masterpiece on a downtown window. Next year, of course!

  2. Again, thanks for the memories. I remember the fireworks on the upper level, the minature golf. I can remember a tent covered farm exhibit every year around Easter where us suburban kids got to see real livestock! I can remember seeing local groups such as The Acid Sette and the Poets perform on the lower lot around ’67 or ’68.

  3. Who can forget the miniature golf course out on the shoulder of the parking lot near West Florissant? Or, who can forget the annual Fourth Of July fireworks display on the parking lot of the upper level? The VP Fair had NOTHING on it!

  4. Who can remember the Battle of the Bands at Northland in the 70’s? Local bands vie to see who’s best. Good memories.

  5. I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to look at your photo documentation of my beloved Northland, even during its demise. There are so many memories I have of that place, and everytime I get to look at your pictures I return to the sixties, and become again the little boy that I was. Thank-you very much.

  6. I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I know that as long as people keep sharing ideas like this, the truth will eventually reveal itself and maybe it can make a difference somewhere.

    I think this blog rocks! Keep up the good work, I’ve bookmarked it and will definitely swing by again soon.

    Feel free to pay a visit to my Canada immigration site. It might not be your “cup of tea”, but it covers Canada immigration related topics.

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