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  • Saying Goodbye to Glasgow Village Shopping Center

    Posted on March 14th, 2013 Toby Weiss 11 comments

    Glasgow Village is a perfect example of an inner ring suburb that sprung up along the City of St. Louis border in the early 1950s. On this map, you’ll see that the last thread of the City boundary (Ward 2) hugs Riverview Drive. When they began developing this land along the Mississippi River bluffs, St. Louis City fire and police personnel were eager to have the homes being built within city boundaries to meet residency requirements. Stories are that they would offer more than the asking price just to have them.

    Concurrently, the adjacent County land that is Glasgow Village (early history here) was also being developed. St. Louis County directories show only 3 streets in existence in Glasgow Village in 1951. By 1955, it was complete and filled with homes much like this.

    Adhering to the “village” in its name, the new community needed a central commerce gathering place, and construction of Glasgow Village Shopping Center (shown in the map above) began in 1957. There were spots for 15 businesses, including the backside of the building which was accessed on foot.

    The 1959 County directory (above) lists the original tenants. Many of these shops regularly contributed to the various Glasgow Village newsletters released by the trustees and the local schools.

    Shops like Connie’s Village Dance Studio (which became Marion’s Village Dancing School by 1963) contributed to the close-knit village atmosphere that still prevails in the hearts of GV ex-pats, who regularly converse and contribute at Glasgow Village Friends.

    The towering, angular sign at the corner of the shopping center long served as the striking symbol of the village.

    And it still stood tall and proud in 2003 when I took the photo above. By then, the majority of the center was vacant, with the liquor store at 104 Glashop Lane (isn’t that a great street name?) pulling in a brisk business. But even in its reduced state, it was easy to understand how vital this place once was to the town.

    By its siting, GV is rather remote, which was a great selling point during the suburban migration of the early 1950s. The shopping center became an instant “downtown,” taking care of just about all of the residents’ needs, and all within walking distance.

    104 started off as Zimmerman’s Glasgow Pharmacy, part of the Rexall dynasty. And the dry cleaner’s shown above made the news in 1968 when it caught fire.

    And just like any small town, the people who once lived there can pinpoint when it happened based on their personal memories.

    The Italian American Delicatessen at 108 (above) morphed into Cusumano’s Village Inn by 1974.

    And that storied pizza place lives on in O’Fallon, MO. Exactly when they left the shopping center is best left to the memories of the GV Friends, and hopefully they will chime in with comments here. Just as they recently shared information that some of the Cusumano family showed up to watch the demolition of the center. Which is a testament to how much this place meant to everyone who lived there.

    Decline

    The retail side of Glasgow Village was in drowning mode by 2003. By 2011, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was detailing the foreclosure woes of the town. They accompanied it with an editorial piece that tries to pinpoint why inner ring suburbs are having a tough time and (with quotes from yours truly on) how to solve it.

    The St. Louis racial divide as it pertains to real estate has been deeply documented, with Mapping Decline being the most exhaustive resource for information on the whys and hows of White Flight and Redlining. Even though the federal government stepped in to ban the practice, the mentality still seems ingrained, transferring from North St. Louis City to North County, and  requiring more recent intervention.

    But there is never just one reason for decline, so lets look beyond St. Louis’ racial tensions. Along with rapidly advancing conspicuous consumption from the 1980s to mid-2000s that led to ever-bigger homes in far-flung locales, I think there’s topography at play in North St. Louis County.

    Starting with the first settlers in 1764, St. Louis development always favored the southern half before the northern half for one very logical reason: the north is very hilly because the ancient confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers created mountainous mass. When it came to build and all you had were shovels and cattle-driven plows to move earth, you’d naturally choose the flattest terrains first.

    This hilly topography later limited placement of interstates during the 1950s – 60s, and the rivers are a definitive end to the area. All of these factors combine to give far North St. Louis County a remoteness that does not exist in West and South County, where they can – and do – keep expanding. Look to the fate of Jamestown Mall to understand why through traffic is crucial for retail. It’s also crucial for keeping neighborhoods lively. The more pocketed communities tend to stagnate, and Glasgow Village is, sadly, a perfect example of this.

    The iconic sign was a poignant focal point on February 25, 2013 when  St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley held a press conference in front of the cranes in front of Glasgow Village Shopping Center. He announced an increased budget to demolish an initial 41 buildings in North County, mostly fire-damaged and vacant homes that had become nuisance properties. GV residents verified that the shopping center had become an insurmountable problem for their community. And so they demolished Glasgow Village Shopping Center.

    The County plans to take down more than 100 buildings this year. Glasgow Village Shopping Center was the perfect way to make a dramatic media splash about the “aggressive program.” I have yet to see posted a list of all the properties due for demolition. Even though Doolie stated that “we recognize that we cannot demolish our way to neighborhood stabilization,” a lack of information on what buildings are coming down is troubling. Parts of the City of St. Louis have yet to recover from aggressive demolition during the mid-century Urban Renewal. I hope that the County does not repeat these errors with a misguided Suburban Renewal program.

    There was interest in saving the Glasgow Village Shopping Center sign because it is such a powerful symbol of the community. But the demolition company did not have the budget to take it down in a manner that preserves it. Reports came in that once it hit the ground, it was dragged for a bit which damaged the porcelain face of the signs.

    The Glasgow Village trustees did cart off one side of the sign that was relatively unscathed. I love the sentimentality that compelled them to save a last remnant, and am keen to know what they plan to do with sign.

    There was nothing but torn concrete and straw by the time the photo above was taken on March 9, 2013. Too long a physical reminder of better days, the shopping center is now officially a memory.

    Does anyone know of any solid plans for redeveloping this site?

    Creating something new and vital here should be as important of a priority as erasing the problems. I understand why demolishing buildings gets media attention, but I hope Doolie and his team will continue to engage in public dialogue about their plans and progress. North County deserves a fighting chance for renaissance.

     

     

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  • Defining An Era: The City of St. Louis Mid-Century Modern Survey

    Posted on February 12th, 2013 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    On February 11, 2013, the Cultural Resources Office of St. Louis presented to the public the results of their survey of non-residential mid-century modern architecture in the City of St. Louis, MO. The details of their survey work during 2012 is documented here.

    Nearly 250 buildings made their list of architecturally worthy buildings. That list was narrowed down to 40, and everyone from both the Cultural Resources Office and  the Missouri State Historic Preservation
    Office at Monday’s meeting reiterated how genuinely difficult it was to come to that new number. They all fell in love with certain buildings, harbored their favorites.

    But because it’s a limited grant budget, and all this historical research takes time and money, the 40 buildings need to be narrowed down to 20-25 buildings that will make the final list. That’s why they are asking for St. Louisans to weigh in on which buildings we think should make the final cut.

    Here is the first part of the list of buildings.

    Here is the second part of the list of buildings.

    Those in attendance were given a sheet of 16 stars to place upon the buildings we liked most.

    Here’s Michael Allen bestowing one of his stars upon a building he wrote about. Turns out this South Grand vacant bank is already under threat of demolition for a new independent grocery store building on the lot. And this highlights why it’s important to have this list of our significant MCM architecture: if one of these buildings should come under fire, there will be documentation to prove why it matters.

    Among the final 40, it was thrilling to see buildings that I’ve covered previously in this blog. These include:

    Former Buder Branch St. Louis Public Library

    Oak Hill Chapel in Holly Hills

    The AAA Building, Optimist Building, Engineers Club and the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ Chancery on Lindell Boulevard in Central West End. (They could save a little time and just declare Lindell Boulevard an Historic District, similar to what was done on Washington Avenue, downtown.)

    Pius Memorial Library, St. Louis University

    Carpenter’s Union Hall on Hampton Avenue

    David P. Wohl Community Center, whose architect of record, Richard Henmi, was on hand to place his star upon it, once again:

    Henmi, the architect of the Flying Saucer in Midtown, will also be in Jefferson City on February 27, 2013 as one of the people accepting a 2013 preservation award from Missouri Preservation. This is shaping up to be a special year for him, and all of us who love his work and those of his professional peers.

    What Happens Next
    They need your feedback by February 15, 2013 on which 20-25 buildings deserve further research to make the final list. Please review the 40 buildings. Download the comment sheet here, which also has information on where to send it.

    In Spring, they plan to announce the 20-25 finalists that will get the full treatment of further
    documentation and statements of significance that put them in historic context and serve as framework for the property owners and others to use for the architectural preservation and appreciation of these buildings.

    Stay atop any breaking news on The Finalists by following Chris Madrid French on Twitter and Missouri Preservation on Facebook. Or just check back with B.E.L.T., ‘cos you know how freaking excited I am about all this!

     

     

     

     

     

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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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  • 2012 Review of St. Louis Mid-Century Modern

    Posted on January 6th, 2013 Toby Weiss 1 comment

    It was the end of December 2012, and I was on the bitingly cold, snow-covered roof of the former State Bank of Wellston. We were there to explore the building in its final days, and discuss how they were going to salvage the neon tower to keep it safe for future use. It was sadness tinged with hope.

    Standing atop the building as my feet turned numb from the cold, I thought of the heartbreaking months ahead documenting the Wellston bank’s demolition. But then a thought slapped me upside the head:

    There were far more wins than losses when it came to mid-century modern architecture in St. Louis in 2012.

    I didn’t yet know it, but the day after Christmas the website Curbed figured it out, citing two major St. Louis MCM wins in their article, Mapping the Biggest Preservation Wins and Losses in 2012. We’re #8 and #9 on the list of winners. We’re used to being on lists of shame for destroying buildings of all eras, and here we are getting a pat on the back for two major victories. And they are both mid-century modern buildings!

    The Saucer, by architect Richard Henmi (shown above) is now bustling with caffeinated folks at Starbucks. The other side is still in renovation mode for a new tenant.  The Triple A building (below) by architect Wenceslao Sarmiento stood up to a tear-down threat by CVS.

    The efforts to save both of these buildings from extinction are beautifully detailed here, by our city’s own Michael Allen for Next City, another national organization keeping an eye on our preservation wins in 2012.

    The fight to Save Our Saucer was, technically, a 2011 campaign that came to a conclusion in 2012. For both of our round Mid Town MCM buildings the amazing fact is that City Hall – specifically, the mayor and certain aldermen – spoke out quickly and emphatically against demolition of either of these buildings. This was a huge policy change from years previous with City Fathers who really didn’t want to deal with saving buildings built after World War 2.

    What caused this miraculous and productive change of perspective? I consider the following a major turning point.

    It was February 14, 2009 when a large group of St. Louisans came together for a Love In to publicize the threat against the former Hotel Deville, which became a vacant apartment called San Luis. The St. Louis Archdiocese wanted to take it down to make a surface parking lot. After a disastrous Preservation Board review in June 2009, we turned it into a court battle.

    The building came down and we lost the court case. We staged multiple events to raise money for our lawyer fees, and it was heartwarming to see so many people support us in this failed battle. Personally, it also created some tense moments with my deeply Catholic family who only saw it as me being part of a group that was suing the Catholic Church. Yikes.

    The San Luis Did Not Die In Vain

    A battle lost in such a large and public way turned out to be the moment that was needed to make positive changes in the future of mid-century modern architecture preservation. The Save Our Saucer campaign was a successful refinement of the Friends of the San Luis campaign. And the inconsistencies in St. Louis City preservation law were addressed almost immediately after the San Luis came down. The first tangible change was creating the organization ModernSTL (several of the ModStL board members were there at the Valentine’s Day Love-In) so that we had a central location for the education, preservation and celebration of St. Louis modernism.

    AUGST 2012 The MCM preservation efforts of ModernSTL made the news several times in 2012, which is recapped here.

    DECEMBER 2012 The victory inspired by the demise of the San Luis is the new architecture standards in the Central West End (CWE) purposely put into place to include the protection of mid-century modern buildings. Again, let Michael Allen give you the important details of this new standard.

    That residents and alderpersons in these CWE wards realized that post-World War 2 buildings are just as much a part of the area’s history as the original buildings made my heart break with happiness. That they stuck with it to turn it into legal business that prevents senseless destruction like The San Luis in the future is a miracle. This is a major rethink of what constitutes an historic building. I love these folks! Thank you.

    March 2012 The City of St. Louis received a $24,600 grant from the State Historic Preservation Office to survey the City’s mid-century modern buildings.  Mayor Francis Slay writes of this award: “This specific research will identify important mid-century modern buildings and should lead toward protection from thoughtless demolition and possible resources for their improvement. Our City is rich in beautiful and significant architecture – and this study will help it remain that way.”

    Here’s more details about the survey. It is expected to be complete by the summer of 2013. I am deeply humbled (and a little teary eyed) to learn that many B.E.L.T. entries have been used as part of their research on the city’s MCM stock.  My wish for 2013 is that downtown Clayton, MO will consider doing something similar.

    SPRING 2012 Having an article published in Atomic Ranch magazine was a personal highlight. But even better was that it was about Ladue Estates, the first mid-century modern subdivision in Missouri to land on the National Register of Historic Places. The residents who made this MCM preservation milestone possible have become good friends of ModernSTL, and it was a pleasure to stage a second annual open house and tour of their neighborhood in May 2012.

    2012 MCM Mind Shift

    In general, I have felt, read and seen a huge shift in mid-century modernism appreciation. Both in the private and public realms, people of St. Louis just get it! They get that this era of architecture has significant meaning in our history, and that many of these buildings are flat out gorgeous and worthy of keeping in use.

    Two great examples of re-using rather than demolishing MCM in 2012 include:

    This Sunset Hills building started life as the Mark Twain Cinema in 1967, and then became the Two Hearts Banquet Center, which closed in 2012. A local labor union bought the building to turn into their new offices. And here’s the kicker – they love the building as is. The renovations they are making are only to make it usable for their needs, not to destroy its essence. Here’s more of the story.

    At Spring Avenue and Delor Street in Dutchtown, the Southtowne Village apartment complex, built in 1962, stood vacant and vandalized. When chainlink went up around the bombed out site, I assumed they were being demolished. It was a great to be completely, utterly wrong!

    Thank you to 25th Ward alderman Shane Cohn for filling me in. The Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance is redeveloping the site by modernizing most of the existing buildings, and supplementing them with some new buildings better sited in the spaces left after demolition of the back buildings. The aim is more curb appeal and more urban density.

    As we can see from the mid-construction photo above, they’re adding some 21st century architectural bling to appeal to new tenants. The mid-century character of the buildings will be buried. But the major point is that instead of automatically tearing down these buildings, they are re-using them! And why not?  We now live in a time of wasted resources and limited means – it makes perfect economic sense to save money and the environment by re-using as much as you can.  Construction-wise, a building from 1962 is just as good  as one from 1862 for renovation, and I applaud the RHCDA for this enlightened way of thinking.

    A Short Journey to StL MCM Preservation

    Urban Renewal of the 1960s is what created the preservation movement, as we know it today. It took well over 25 years to change the perspective of the public and developers so that they would think first of preserving a turn-of-the-20th-century building rather than demolishing it. St. Louis, specifically, has benefited greatly from Historic Tax Credits that put so many of our classic buildings in downtown St. Louis back into service.  All of this is possible because of pioneering preservation efforts.

    In May of 2005, I started B.E.L.T. primarily as an outlet for documenting and promoting St. Louis mid-century modern architecture. St. Louis was a major recipient of federal Urban Renewal subsidies, tearing down hundreds of acres of our history to create a better society. When they began systematically tearing down these replacement buildings in the early 2000s, I was grief-stricken.  I literally stood on the rubble of Northland Shopping Center and bawled like a baby.  Something had to be done to update the preservation mindset to include the buildings of the greatest period of modern American progress.

    With the help and camaraderie of hundreds of forward-thinking St. Louisans, we have changed the preservation mindset to include mid-century modernism. And whereas it took decades to automatically save post-Victorian buildings, we understand the importance of saving post-WW2 buildings in less than 10 years!

    2012 was the year that all of this new mindset became glaringly, lovingly apparent. It bears repeating: There have been more victories than losses.  I’m even optimistic about the plight of Lewis and Clark branch of the St. Louis Count Library. In less than a year, their board has already acknowledged its merit; the story continues into 2013.

    From St. Louis City Hall, to activists, to social networks, there are thousands of people who deserve a hearty round of applause for making all of this possible. It also needs to be noted how progressive St. Louis is when it comes to architectural preservation matters. No matter the year it was built, we now know our buildings matter because our history – past, present and future – matters.  It takes great strength and confidence to protect and nurture the things that are worthwhile.

    St. Louis, you kick ass!

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  • Demolition Set to Start in St. John, MO

    Posted on January 4th, 2013 Toby Weiss 6 comments

    B.E.L.T. reader George McNatt left a comment that this building at Brown and St. Charles Rock Road is going to be demolished. All of the buildings connected to it are coming down as well, starting this January 2013.

    Here’s backstory on McCarty Studio.

    And why are these buildings coming down?

    If I told you there was a Walgreens on the opposite corner, could you get the answer with one guess?

    CVS was unsuccessful in Fergsuon (backstory here) and was shot down twice in the Central West End (both buildings spared from CVS demo are listed in this story). Guess they fared better in St. John, eh?

    George also reports that they are tearing down the building on the southeast corner of this intersection (map here) to put up a McDonald’s.  Considering they are reportedly going in on the site of the former State Bank of Wellston once it comes down, McDonald’s looks to have a strong first quarter of 2013.
    Geez.

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  • A Last-Minute Christmas Gift Suggestion

    Posted on December 23rd, 2012 Toby Weiss No comments

    The former State Bank of Wellston is currently under interior demolition.  Exterior demolition is set to begin January 2nd, 2013. Word is it’s coming down to make way for a McDonalds.

    Here’s an overview of the Wellston Bank.
    And there will be a future post memorializing the loss of this mid-century modern bank that was both stately and cruisin’ cool at the same time.

    In the meantime, the neon fabulous Sky Bank light tower (above) is for sale.

    This light tower has been a sign post, a marker, a marvel for almost 60 years. Sometimes, it’s the only thing about Wellston that people know or recognize. It is absolutely worthy of saving.

    The demolition crew is looking for a buyer. There is some urgency because of the start date of exterior demolition.
    Do you know of anyone who can help?
    We could use a Christmas miracle, here.

    If you’re interested, please contact me via blog comment or directly, and you’ll be put in touch with those with the details.

    UPDATE
    It IS a Christmas miracle. Here’s a note from Larry Giles:

    I am in the final phase of securing the Wellston Bank sign and have managed to raise 6K thru donations and have the trucking lined up, 5K for the purchase price. We still need another 5K for the crane, crew and misc.

    More details as they emerge.

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  • Here’s What Made the Plural in Top of the Towers

    Posted on November 25th, 2012 Toby Weiss No comments

    The Lewis & Clark Tower was supposed to be Towers, and it was supposed to look like this. Gorgeous, right? Even looks a bit like a mid-century U.S. Embassy.

    This drawing comes courtesy of John Lumea, who ran across an advertisement for it in a 1964 issue of Architectural Record. He was gracious enough to send it along, and point out that the ad does confirm who the architect is – George J. Gaza & Associates. We now even know who built it: United States Construction Co.

    John, major thank you for sending the ad! Click to see it larger so you can take in all the words about “Missouri’s first cylindrical apartment.”

    For all the backstory on Top of the Towers and Rizzo’s restaurant that sat at the very top, you can read this BELT entry.

    The comments section is where the real action is, as we hear from the grandson of the developers of the complex, the granddaughters of both the developer and architect, plus fabulous memories of people who ate and worked there.  Readers even share the exact spinning salad recipe, or Bruce Kunz shares a replica that seems so much simpler:

    For those of you wanting to experience the Spinning Salad, I’ve come close to replicating it. Start with shredded lettuce, add a sprinkle of shreded carrots. Stir in your choice of a good blue cheese dressing and a bit of ranch to go with it. Top with chopped hard boiled eggs, ‘cracked’ (not coarse ground) pepper.   Easier, just as flavorful and more consistent in texture.
    And last but not least, sprinkle liberally with real bacon bits or pieces.
    Enjoy.

    Thank you to everyone who has been contributing to the memories of Top of the Towers since October 2007. Every comment verifies just how important this place is in the history of North St. Louis County.

    In response to the BELT entry sharing rare interior photos of the vacant restaurant courtesy of Michael Collins, a few readers sent me links to the postcard images above.  It’s both intriguing and sad to see what was cross-referenced with what remains behind.

    It’s also cool to see the back of the postcard, with the line drawing of the complex.  Big hugs to everyone who sent links to these postcards; it’s thrilling to know your curiosity sent you Googling, and then you took the time to share.

     

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  • Remodel of the Former Flotken’s Building in Olivette

    Posted on October 28th, 2012 Toby Weiss 3 comments


    9634 Olive Boulevard

    Olivette, MO

    This 1961 winged beauty started life as Flotken’s Market. The Flotken family has a website about the history of the store with lots of interior photos. There’s even a blog where you can contribute memorabilia of the place, which includes a copy of the original 1961 lease.


    One touching thing from the Flotken’s blog is the 2006 obituary for owner Frank Flotken. A paragraph and a half is dedicated to this building:

    “In 1961, he opened a second store at 9643 Olive Boulevard in Olivette. Mr. Flotken designed a unique roof that descended from the sides to the middle, giving the appearance of wings.
    Mike Flotken explained his father’s design concept in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Dad wanted as much natural light as possible. With a traditional roof, you only get light from the front, and the ‘flying wing’ design allowed light to come in from the sides as well.”

    As of Fall 2012, a local construction company is in the middle of remodeling the building for jewelry store The Shane Co., who plan to move in early 2013. Compare this construction photo with the one above to see how much they have removed. Much of the brick from the demolished kneewall was still sitting in the dumpster the day I photographed this.


    While investigating who was doing what to this building, it was shared by Esley Hamilton that there is a correction to who the architect is.  From conversation with a former employee who remembers working on the building, Elsey learned this is the design of Sommerich & Wood, who also did the 1958 Red Bird Lanes.


    While a noticeable bit has been done to the exterior, I am optimistic that not much more will be done for two reasons:

    1) A jeweler benefits just as much from natural light as a grocer did, right?
    2) A peek behind the plywood walls shows a good amount of interior construction has already taken place, including metal framing of walls reaching up to the roof structure. Meaning, they can’t alter the basic structure too much more, only mess with the front facade.

    Granted, a lot of damage can be done with a new facelift. But so far, they’ve left so much in tact that it feels like The Shane Co. knows the allure of their new mid-century modern building. Let’s all keep an eye on their progress, and speak up if you see any new developments, please.

    Thank you to Andrew Weil of Landmarks for giving me a heads up that this remodel is taking place.

     

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  • The Gateway Arch is Unimpressive

    Posted on September 9th, 2012 Toby Weiss 8 comments

    The October 2012 issue of Vanity Fair shares results that 46% of the 1,027 adults polled nationwide find The Gateway Arch the least impressive national landmark.

    What an odd question to ask people. But since they asked, Americans are good with natural occurrences like falls or canyons, they’re even good with carving presidents into the side of a mountain. But wholly man-made landmarks are ripe for a shrug.

    After an initial wave of irritation that anyone slam on our Arch, I remember that I used to take it for granted. It’s always been there, and once you go up inside of it and catch the view, what’s left?

    If I – as a proud St. Louisan – have treated it as the most boring ride at an amusement park, then the views of 1,027 people who may or may not have seen it in person are acceptable. I don’t see the point of The Alamo, because anything to do with war or battles bores and confuses me. But I’ve also never seen it, so it’s just a knee-jerk reaction.

    Beauty for Beauty’s Sake

    Americans tend to be practical people who want things to serve a purpose. Admirable form like the Chrysler Building also has a function as an office building, so it’s acceptable. Even the Seattle Space Needle (which is only a couple of years older than the Arch), goes a bit beyond being a symbol of its city with a restaurant at the top so it has some function beyond the views.

    But the Gateway Arch is basically a modern sculpture with an elevator. Take the elevator up to see views to the east and to the west in a narrow curved space that’s not conducive to hanging out. And back down you go.

    It’s truly a symbolic, minimalist art piece. An understanding of geometry, architecture and modern construction makes it impressive. But all those concepts may be too subtle for the room, naturally leading to the theoretical question, “What is the point?”

    What is the point of a flower? We understand its benefits for bees, butterflies and the environment, but they are not crucial to human existence. But their beauty and fragrance can move our souls, and many are willing to cultivate them for just that purpose – beauty for beauty’s sake. And that’s The Arch, as well.

    The Arch has other purposes beyond the beauty of its facade as the changing light and dark of day dances around it.

    It is the symbol of a time in America when power and progress could be poetic.
    It is a beacon that guides you without a compass, and takes you to the river.
    It is the impossible made real.
    It is the strength inherent in grace.
    It is eternally modern, but with the erosion of American dignity, it has become nostalgic.

    I didn’t realize all these things about The Arch until an early 21st century sunset ride as a passenger in car gave me the opportunity to simply gaze at it. And these realizations hit me fast and forcefully. Suddenly, I “got it.” And I was proud of our City for once having the towering vision to persevere for decades to build something that was only and simply beautiful and symbolic. It’s as simple as a flower, which is a complicated thing.

    Taking The Arch for granted is not just a Vanity Fair poll result. How many decades did it take for St. Louis to light it at night? And how many of you in St. Louis have never been near it, touched it, or been up inside of it? None of these things are crucial, but it does stir the soul, and you don’t know how powerful and empowering that can be until it overtakes you.

    My absolute favorite summary of the power of the Gateway Arch comes from Joe Thebeau, in the Finn’s Motel song “Eero Saarinen“:

    Eero, arching, westward over my city
    Stainless and brilliant
    Eero, arching, skyward into the universe
    Expanding, expansive possibility.

     

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  • Why Do Realtors List Mid-Century Modern Homes as Teardowns?

    Posted on September 3rd, 2012 Toby Weiss 6 comments

    4084 Meramec
    South St. Louis City

    This 1956 mid-century modern home plunked down in the middle of pre-WW2 homes in deep South St. Louis has been covered before. Scroll down half way at this link.

    It is now for sale. Here’s the info.

    The home is a $19,900 As Is foreclosure that needs a lot of work. Neglect has led to much water damage and remuddling. The extra photos that the realtor includes work hard to avoid revealing its raggedy shape, though the price is a dead giveaway. Here’s one photo that was not included:

    Sorry it’s such a crappy photo. It was taken through an encrusted window. But it does show that some of the original mid-century fabric remains. This is exactly the type of information that someone interested in rehabbing an MCM home would want to know: is there something there that’s worth my money and effort?

    One highly unusual (thus admirable) aspect of this listing is that the realtor does NOT ever use the phrase – or even imply – “tear down.” Homes of this vintage are regularly classified as tear downs, especially when they are in desirable zip codes on land that is, on paper, more valuable than the house.

    But if a home is in good condition, isn’t it a bit manipulative to call something a “tear down?” It’s a bit of judgement casting, an assumption that everyone who runs across the listing will think that a mid-century modern home is horrid.

    I completely understand the financially-motivated aspects of labeling a home a tear down. Everyone involved in the sale wants to get paid. But marketing has a very powerful influence everywhere, including real estate. How many under-performing stick-and-tissue new build homes in the deep exurbs have been purchased based on painting a pretty picture? And rechristening condos as villas has brought new life to a traditional form of high-density, low maintenance living. So words matter, and some aspects of pegging mid-century homes for demolition is absolutely suggestive selling.

    It is a fact that any home that you’re not the first owner of is going to need some remodeling. The cost of changes you intend to make are typically factored into what you’re willing to pay for a home. And there are millions of buyers who want to rehab a home, either to their liking or back to its historical authenticity. We all understand this as a selling feature for pre-WW2 homes. But in the world of the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), they are quick to label homes from after WW2 to the 1970s as tear downs.

    Actually, the MLS has yet to upgrade their descriptions so a realtor can choose phrases like “mid-century modern” or “modern ranch” as a choice for the style of home. It is a fact that sympathetic realtors and MCM-motivated buyers have to comb through mountains of homes by age to zero in on what is wanted. Why is an easily-identifiable group of willing buyers left to work so hard to find their home? Is it that difficult to add some new style categories to the MLS?

    It always boils down to education. And in the case of real estate, realtors who can identify and serve this new subset of mid-century modern buyers will emerge financially victorious. Wouldn’t other realtors, logically, like to benefit from this as well? So that’s the argument for updating the MLS: do you wanna get paid? MCM lovers are willing to pay.

    MCM Realtors in St. Louis

    In St. Louis, we do have some enlightened realtors that know their MCM and the audience who wants to buy them.

    Shannon Howard highlights St. Louis Homes with Soul on her realtor website. She also gives in-depth heads-up on her NOCO site, like this amazing MCM in Ferguson.

    Ted Wight knows a good MCM home when he sees one, and shares sales info and amazing photos of such on his blog, St. Louis Style.  He also walks the talk, having just recently purchased a William Bernoudy home, making him a realtor who is also saving mid-century homes in desirable locations from being torn down.

    Ginger Fawcett knows a good MCM when she finds it. Here’s her LiveLocal. And her frustration at MLS listings making it difficult to ID mid-century homes motivated her  ModernSTL board membership. Ginger’s desire is to educate fellow realtors about the MCM market, which then advocates changes in how these homes are listed. Her educational activities include a Parade of Homes, where multiple realtors put their MCM homes on an open house tour so MCM buyers can see multiple, desirable  properties in one day.

    If you’re in the market for a Metro St. Louis mid-century modern home, these are the three realtors that I know who fully understand what you’re looking for, and can ease the burden of what is, typically, a time-consuming MLS search.

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