14-Year Old Boy Murdered on Meadowlark

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2800 Block of Meadowlark Drive
Jennings, MO

The headline on July 4, 2009 read, “14-year old shot and killed in Jennings.” The second paragraph reported that it happened in the 2800 block of Meadowlark, and my heart sank. It’s too sad for comprehension when a young boy is riddled full of drive-by bullets. That I intimately know the street where he took his last steps kept haunting me.

So I had to take a drive to the old neighborhood; I needed to know where it happened. It was easy to spot the memorial at the bottom of the steep hill on Meadowlark. The stuffed animals underscored just how young he was. I saw ghost images of my kid-self walking past that spot hundreds of times, right past the house of the neighbor lady who ran out to administer CPR to the boy as he died. Tears welled up, and I got lost in remembering Meadowlark.

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I was born one street south of Meadowlark, and when maternity leave was up, my mother had to find a babysitter. A neighbor said a woman on Meadowlark babysat in her home, and to give her a call. So my mother called Mildred Conine, who told her that she had recently stopped with full-time babysitting. My mother was desperate, and asked if Mildred could just watch me for a week while searching for another solution, and she agreed. After one week of taking care of me, she told my mother she would take the full time gig because I was such a quiet and sweet baby. Conine (I called her that because I couldn’t master the first name) and I were together for 12 years. She saw me take my first steps. She was my Other Mother.

The picture above is from May 1973. That’s me on the left, with Conine’s step-grandaughter, Debbie, on the front porch of her home at 2845 Meadowlark. The house was 600 square feet, built in 1939, with a full basement, a detahced garage that always smelled of the sawdust her husband Ray created, and a gloriously huge backyard for 2 dogs and a most wonderous vegetable garden.

I think about that house as much as I do Conine. After my parents divorced in 1973, she and the house were the only sense of normal I had left. It was a safe and happy place offering up endless adventure.

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The last time I visited with her was Christmas 1978. Then puberty came and my life went selfishly beserk, as teenage girls usually go. Conine died in 1988, Ray a few years after that. Over the years, I kept regular tabs on the house, noticing when the asbestos shingles were covered with vinyl, and that the garage was starting to cave in on itself. But everything else about it – and the street – was still so much the same that it was always a special “return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.” Always a treat until…

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…the spring of 2005, when I found boards on the windows and a condemnation notice on the front door. I stood on the front porch and broke into hard, devastated tears.

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The picture above is a view from Conine’s front porch. That large building in the distance is Northland Shopping Center. Conine (who never had a driver’s license) and I knew about 7 different routes to walk to Northland, and did so at least twice a week. We’d see $1 movies, get groceries at Schnucks and each trip usually included a stop in at Kresges, where the toy aisles babysat me while Conine shopped. Conine and Northland are forever linked in my sense memory.

And in the spring of 2005, crews had begun swinging the wrecking balls and dismantling Northland, which was already disturbing me. Then to swing by here and see Conine’s house vacated and condemned? It was too symbolic, too unfair and hurt deeply. So I just sat on the porch and cried for the past, the present and no future.

Northland disappeared, but Conine’s house got a reprieve. Someone bought it, fixed it up and sold it! It’s still occupied to this day. That was an optimistic turn of events for 2845 Meadowlark. But over the following years I’ve noticed something odd about this block.

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On the map above, “A” marks the spot of the memorial, “B” is the Conine house and the blue outline highlights all the houses on the opposite side of the street that are now vacant and condemned. In 2006, only one house was empty, and since Conine’s place got a second chance, I figured so would the one across the street. But as of July 4, 2009, 8 houses in a row are dead.

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While Conine’s side of the street (above) is intact and occupied, the other side is an overgrown, sad mess of decay. It’s the kind of mass decay that breeds trouble and makes uneasy neighbors. The news will probably not follow up on why the 14-year old was gunned down in a drive-by, but certain assumptions can be made when you see desolation row across the street. It happens all too often, and it will never not hurt for the people who once lived there, and the people who live there now.

I got back in my car and sadly, slowly drove up the street, seeing both the past and the present. And then why this death was bothering me so finally hit me: A young life was violently stamped out and he was the symbol of the present state of this block. He has no future. Does Meadowlark?

UPDATE
Follow-up information about the shooting.

Jennings Bank: In Plain Sight

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Jennings Station Road and Lewis & Clark Blvd.
Jennings, MO

Built in 1967, this building has always been a bank.  It is located in a nebulous part of North St. Louis County, where you move a block it’s Jennings, move a few blocks over it’s Bellefontaine Neighbors, though a bit of Moline Acres sneaks into a crack.  The bank that now occupies the building uses Jennings as their mailing address, so Jennings it is.

My paternal grandmother lived a few blocks away from here (with a Bellefontaine Neighbors mailing address), so I grew up with this bank as a normal part of daily life.  Back in the day, the concrete roof and columns were bright white, but the new beige does not diminish the dramatic tension of a delicate band of clerestory trapped between heavy concrete and solid brick.  Though the vertical blinds in the glass wall bump out do slightly mar the sense of floating.

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But drive by at night to get a better sense of light vs. heavy.  Do you notice something odd between night and day?

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At night, the virile and industrial bank vault is left exposed, but during the day, those vertical blinds keep it hidden.  Back in the day, it was always exposed.  If anyone knows why the current inhabitants keep this curious blind parting schedule, please do share.

Northland Demolition Part 4

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

Northland Demolition Continued

WHERE IT STOOD ON 6.19.05
northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
Here’s where we left off, and now let’s continue…

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
On the upper level looking north (above, left) & south (above, right) onto what was and what’s left of Famous-Barr.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

(Above, left) I’m standing “inside” the FB now, about the level of the roof of the sub-basement and looking up at the “Blow Out Sale” store front. Standing in the same spot, I look up to my left and the escalator still strains to take me to the second floor (above, right). I look down to my left and study the massive pile of building debris tumbling into the bottomless dark basements waaay below ground. I swear I see pieces of what I covet dearly: the stainless steel that made up the “Northland” sign. As I start to climb down the pile to investigate further, I realize I’m breaking the very first rule of Demolition Spelunking:

Do Not Do It Alone!
There must be someone else around to at least know you disappeared in the building and alert the authorities.

I’m by myself, crap! But my chances of getting one of those mangled letters is right before me – 70/30% chance of success.
A few more steps down the shifting pile, and I get a vision of the suffocating horror of the 30%, and stop.
Crap! But a letter is right there, I swear it!
I’m supposed to be at my Pop’s Father’s Day BBQ in Brighton, IL in 40 minutes, and I’m not supposed to be getting these clothes dirty (too late), and I probably should also arrive in one piece… I had to let it go.
It still hurts.
So does watching this.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

Even as the place whittles away, it’s still an architectural love affair. I can’t get over something so modern, sleek and strong (above left) being torn down. And I see the old, whimsical wiring get up (above right), and marvel that the place hasn’t half burnt to the ground.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss
(Above) Against what’s left of the upper level wall, staring down to the lower level.

WHERE IT STOOD ON 6.27.05
northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

Letters and stars are history (above right), as the rest of the building now looks like a picked-over Thanksgiving turkey. Upper level at the former Kresge’s/McCrory’s (above right), demolition workers pulled all remaining interior trash out to the curb, which then sprouted an absurdist lawn mower blooming atop the greenery.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

Most all of the lights still burn at night, which gives the place a submarine feel, an underwater eeriness. On the north side of the lower level, I get to see interiors that I could only half make out during daylight (above left, former Worth’s/Studio 150). And the promenade towards what was Famous-Barr (above right) features perfectly lit destruction.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

(Above left) Lower level south side, looking at the rounded bank and a (long-blocked) stairwell up to the top level. It was an aresting sight, especially the light on inside the utility area to the left of the stairs, which felt oddly warm and inviting.

(Above right) Man, I so want this in my backyard!

WHERE IT STOOD 7.04.05
northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

(Above right) The Northland Bowl sign reappears!
The (now-vacated) Ambassador took down one of their signs, and unearthed both the original name and function of the building that was attached to Northland’s lower level north side in 1967.

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

(Above left) Upper level north next to what was the FB, the former Baker’s Shoes/Kingsbury’s Shoes literally stands at the edge of the abyss.
(Above right), standing in the FB pit and looking up at the same store.

Even though I’m painfully sad over this loss, it’s been fascinating and absorbing to see the physical bones of the place, construction details, how damn solid it is…was. I wonder if any of the men who helped build the place 49-50 years ago have come out to watch it be taken apart?

northland shopping center demolition photos by Toby Weiss

(Above left) Lower level of the former Kresge’s, and I never run into anyone inside these buildings while I’m there during the day. They must only come out at night. But no one cares about this site, so they could very well spray paint freely while the crews are at lunch…
And it’s getting hard to travel Northland by car because they have closed off most all of the entrances and roads (above right) around this massive place. Also note the big, beautiful 50-year old tree. Sorry, goodbye.

Here’s some thoughts from other people about Northland. I’ve also received some wonderful notes from folks who grew up in the area, and are now watching it leave via my photos and/or their special Goodbye Treks to the place. Thanks for sharing how much you loved the place, too.
More to come.