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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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  • Wild Safari in Jennings

    Posted on November 15th, 2009 Toby Weiss 11 comments

    giraffe-01

    West Florissant Avenue between
    Goodfellow Blvd. & Lucas and Hunt Rd.

    The only place I’ve seen such exotic exterior cladding is in a finite section of North St. Louis County, inside the inner-ring suburbs of Flordell Hills and Jennings.   Most of them are on – or not too far away from – West Florissant Avenue, were built in 1940, and range from 850 – 950 square feet, so it’s a safe guess that it’s the work of the same designer/construction company.

    The year they were built is of special interest, as it was that brief time period after the Great Depression but before World War 2.  Meaning, this part of the county was already experiencing westward migration a full 5-6 years before the official start of the post-war Baby Boom.

    But as a toddler living in Ferguson in the late 1960s, the only thing that made these houses stick out in my mind is that they have giraffe skin!

    giraffe-02

    I first made the connection after seeing an episode of Marlin PerkinsWild Kingdom about giraffes, and then passing by these homes the next day.  Did the original builder take inspiration from dreams of a wild safari in Africa? Or was it an idea cadged from someplace else?  If anyone has any insight or information, please do share.

    giraffe-03

    It’s especially exciting when parts of the giraffe skin survive an exterior remodel.  Adds a bit of pizazz, don’t you think?

    I encourage you to take a drive down this exact stretch of West Florissant and note the harmonious mingling of bungalow residential and mid-century modern commercial buildings.  It’s a compelling and easy-to-read chapter of the post-war development of our Metro St. Louis area, and makes a good case for a return to mixed-use zoning, which always brings variety and energy to any area that still allows such an old-fashioned way of living.

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  • Darla Court

    Posted on August 16th, 2005 Toby Weiss 3 comments


    Darla Court, Jennings, MO
    As if Northland being demolished wasn’t hard enough, I found my childhood home behind Northland (on Meadowlark) now boarded up and condemned. A tangible piece of my personal past is being wiped off the map, and the timing of it borders on overkill.

    The neighborhood itself is a classic hodgepodge, with homes ranging from the early 1900s to the late 1960s, and while half of the houses are as crisp as I remember them, the other half are abandoned and rotting.

    We always traversed this neighborhood on foot, so I knew it intimately…or so I thought until I took a turn down a street I’d never been down before. This small area couldn’t be more tucked away and ignored, and thus has no compulsion towards suburban civility, feeling more like a bayou swamp settlement. In the midst of Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil I discovered a portal into The Modern WayBack Machine.
    By taking a curious right and heading down a steep hill, I rolled back in time to a Jet Set Duplex Park. A paisley-shaped street is ringed with pristine examples of optimistic car culture multi-family dwellings, all butterfly winged carports and picture windows.

    There were a few variations on the theme (above), but all are low-slung duplexes lovingly tended to.

    I was numb as I stood gawking in the middle of the court, feeling as if I’d stepped into a 1960s postcard. The intense heat of the day made my head woozy, so I assumed I was imagining this clean and precise oasis of residential modern in the midst of a forgotten swamp land. But it was true! On this island, martini shakers still rattled at hibachi BBQs while alligators and scorpions surely lurked in the overgrown lawns of the homes outside this bubble.

    How did I miss this place all these years?
    I asked my parents about it, and they, too, had no idea it existed because they didn’t even realize you could go east of Huiskamp Ave in that neighborhood. So I didn’t feel like such a dunce for overlooking it. Plus, it’s tucked into the valley of a large dead end.

    St. Louis County property tax records show that my Mid-Century Model Train Neighborhood was built in 1968 as Glenview Court. Meaning, it was built while we lived in the area, but sailed under the radar.

    Most every duplex still retains its original and unique metal medallion on the front facade (note tikki stone faces, above middle), and the owners sit in lawnchairs under their carports wondering why this chick is casing their court. I keep returning because it’s like the Demolition Gods threw me a bone, allowing a new chapter within the doomed pages of my architectural biography.

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