Posted on October 28th, 2009 2 comments
The inner-ring suburbs of North St. Louis County deserve a little attention. First up, the Ferguson Planning and Development department is buying up small, foreclosed homes for future use. This has long been a “if I had development money” dream of mine because as life gets too expensive to live it out on the fringes, people will start to migrate backwards over the former White Flight paths. This will make inner-ring suburbs desirable locations yet again.
North County finally has a blog!
Posted on July 24th, 2008 16 comments
Halls Ferry Medical Arts Building
As a kid, this building scared me. As an adult, it both repulses and attracts. It hovers and squats, begs you to look at it yet wants you to stay away. The complete lack of windows makes it seem unfriendly to those outside and inside.
Thanks to Live Search Maps, I now know that daylight does reach the inhabitants through a center light well. So I no longer need worry about the people inside. But the exterior impression is still unnerving in the same way as Donald Trump’s comb over: Yes, it’s grotesque but I can’t stop trying to dissect it.
It opened in 1973, so it’s in that muffled time period after mid-century modernism but before the carnival sideshow buildings of post-modernism. It sits directly north behind Interstate 270, near the intersection of New Halls Ferry and Dunn Road, tucked oddly into the site. You only see it from New Halls Ferry when driving toward the highway, so it feels like it’s in hiding, waiting to crush you if you happen to walk to close by (though this is deep suburbia, so there are no sidewalks).
When parts of the building are in full sun, it can be striking, like a graceful alien mothership. The stark minimalism of the base – punctured only by double glass doors in the front and back – is audacious in scale. The second story “hat” with bowtie-shaped corners is overblown like a 3-can Red Bull buzz. But again, at the right time of day, it feels jovial… as long as you stay back several yard.
The building was rather popular in the early days. I knew lots of people who had doctors within, and they all seemed to come and go without harm. In the early 1980s, I was scheduled to go there for a blood test and blew it off because I just couldn’t bring myself to walk in the joint.
Under the newest ownership, the Medical Arts building has deteriorated. As seen above in December 2006, a stone aggregate panel had slipped off the frieze. Being able to see what was behind there blew my theory that those panels were originally intended to be windows until the budget ran out. Another look at the first photo shows they did repair it as cheaply as possible.
Mold runs rampant along the north side of the building, as do water stains on all sides. There is no sign of regular building maintenance, though, strangely enough, the landscaping that runs down both sides is always trim and tidy.
When recently talking about this building, a relative who had a doctor there in the mid-1970s said, “Oh, it had the nicest fountain inside the center court.” Which highlighted that one never truly knows a building until you’ve experienced all of it. So, maybe it was time to peak inside.
But when contemplating the rear entry up close, it’s not so bad, right? I love the simplicity of the glazing, and the sleek door handles. A defunct phone booth is a quaint touch. Plus, those are vintage plastic office chairs, all 1973 olive green, of course. So, I summoned the courage and darted inside for a quick peek.
This place has got it going on, chair-wise!
I was struck (and relieved) by how much daylight there was, and all the greenery in the atrium. Look through the glass and you can see part of the fountain. I’m guessing it’s not running at this late date, since the pool is now filled with rocks. I wasn’t able to gather details…
Usually, I photographically prowl around inside a building until I get the stink eye. But in this case, I saw no human beings, which creeped me out and made this a 2-frame/30-second sprint.
The sign is intriguing. It wanted to mimic the shape of the building but gave up, so instead uses some of same materials. But that script-like type face is misleading because it’s way friendlier than the building.
While it instinctively unnerves, the building also attracts me because it elicits such strong emotion. Sure, they’re generally negative emotions, but when living in landscapes hellbent on homogeny, a little Boo Radley in a building is a good thing.
Posted on October 27th, 2007 51 comments
Chambers Road & Hwy 367
Moline Acres, MO
The Lewis & Clark Tower still stands as a slightly-raggedy reminder of the brief moment when North County was progressively modern and willing to create the image of glamorous new suburban frontiers. That’s the impression it still gives off to those of us who were stuck with a babysitter so our parents could party here, but childhood impressions are not always reality.
While reading the newspaper at the end of August, the picture of the man shown above caught my eye. He had a real Rat Pack “ring-a-ding-ding” air about him, so I read the obituary. Impression and reality heartily clinked martini glasses when revealed that this man, Bud Dallavis, was the developer of the Lewis & Clark Towers and its iconic, spinning Top of the Tower Restaurant.
Development is listed as beginning in 1963, county records put 1964 as the birth date of the complex, and in 1965 architect George J. Gaza is listed as the only full-time commercial resident. That he stayed until 1967 while the complex was completed begs the question: was he the Tower architect?
In 1966, the place was 100% jumping with at least 7 floors of wedge-shaped residential apartments (now condominiums,) each with two sliding doors out to the continuous balcony, with its own swimming pool and gym in the basement. Businesses on the first two floors of the Tower included Alpha Interior Designer, Donton & Sons Tile Co., Figure Trim Reducing, King’s Tower Pharmacy and a Missouri State License office.
Shooting off the Tower is a strip of retail facing Hwy 367, long-anchored by Stelmacki Supermarket, a rare, independent grocer still unaffected by the continuous grocery wars. The site slopes down to the West, creating a lower 2nd level building which held the Towers Bowling Lanes and the Lewis & Clark Theater (shown below). Occupancy for the complex was robust for 10 years, with an influx of dentists and doctors filling tower spots when others moved out. The Courtesy Sandwich Shop even had a storefront for a bit. The Tower didn’t show any longterm vacancies until the late 1970s.
The remaining claim to fame of the Tower is the long-closed restaurant at its top, Rizzo’s Top of the Tower Restaurant, “the revolving restaurant… a landmark for many years where diners could view the downtown St. Louis and Clayton skylines, as well as the Alton river bluffs.” Considering how popular it once was, and how its myth still lingers, there’s surprisingly little information to be found about it. Internet searches only turned up a fuzzy photo of someone’s matchbook collection which includes a Rizzo’s cover, and entertainer Tony Viviano, who seems a natural to have performed in the joint.
While visiting with my father, Rich and his wife, Ann, I asked if they ever ate at the Top of the Tower Restaurant, which became a rapid fire series of memories of the place, starting with Rich saying, “You know there were supposed to be 2 towers, right? Which is why it’s plural Towers.”
No, I didn’t know that, but that does explain why the building ends the way it does (shown above) and why the land closest to Chambers Road has remained vacant all these decades. So what happened to the other tower? Rich says that the company who originally owned it ran into some problems of partners stealing from each other, which left no money.
I tell him about the obituary for the developer whose name I couldn’t remember, and Rich asks, “Was it Bud Dallavis? He was the public face of the Towers, head of Quick Realty,” which the obit later confirmed as correct. I countered that the man pictured was really good looking, to which Rich says, “Yeah, that has to be him,” and to which Ann responds, “We were ALL really good looking at the time. We were a handsome group of people.”
She was not bragging, just stating fact. This was suburbia in the mid-1960s, post-JFK assassination, mid-Beatles revolution. Rich and Ann were a part of the World War 2 and Korean War vets who left North St. Louis city in the late 1950s for the greener (and whiter) lands of burgeoning North County. Watch Mad Men to know exactly how they dressed during the work day, how they gussied up for frequent evenings out.
And Rizzo’s Top of the Towers was a popular, happening spot for them. The restaurant was turned out in the finest china and table linens, the food good. Was it expensive? Indicative of the times, Ann responds, “I have no idea what the bill came to at the end of the night. Women never saw the bill because we never paid.”
To which Rich tells tales of the endless rounds of free cocktails courtesy of Dick Grace, the Towers bartender commonly called “Buttsey.” Buttsey had perfected a way to look like he was taking money and putting it in the cash register, but it usually went into his pockets, and lingering guilt led to lots of rounds of “on the house.” Mr. Grace was found dead in his bed in the Towers apartments in the mid-1980s, a fatal heart attack at the age of 49, all those cuisines, cocktails and cigarettes catching up to him. By that time, the Towers and surrounding area were pretty much ate up by neglect, with all the original pioneers heading ever-further away.
The rest of their memories just further cemented the vibe the building gives off to this day. Even though well-past its glory, it’s still in service. Most of the store fronts (shown above right) are occupied, and the Tower balconies are dotted with an endless series of satellite dishes, BBQ grills and plants. Heading out in any direction from the Tower reveals dozens of commercial buildings that followed its modern lead, now-shabby ghosts standing in the shadow of the Lewis & Clark Towers. May they all remain until the time they are brought back to life as proof that just once, for a short space in time, we had fabulous optimism for the future.
North County Modern
Posted on June 6th, 2005 2 comments
Beverly Hills, MO
Natural Bridge Rd. just east of Lucas-Hunt Rd.
It barely exists as a municipality, and the scene above promises to change. Remodeling has begun because the pharmacy (which shares space with the City Hall) needs to expand. With a population under 700, it’s heartening that something is expanding here…
Glasgow Village, MO
Just a scootch past the city/county line, in the bluffs above Riverview Blvd., behind Chain of Rocks Park, which actually mattered much when the amusement park was in play. The shopping center is now really nothing more than this liquor store.
Moline Acres, MO
Hwy 367 & Chambers Rd.
Top of the Tower Restaurant was a sophisticated destination in the late 1960/early 1970s, and to live in the apartments below was pretty hip. The movie theater on the lower level became many a defunct nightclub, but Stelmacki’s is still in place, and keeps the geometric marvel alive.
Spanish Lake, MO
Bellefontaine Rd. & Parker Rd.
My father’s wife ran a beauty shop in this plaza for almost 20 years. I’d seen it a thousand times over the years, but never noticed the subtle chevron theme until a couple of years ago. It was the city’s one and only attempt at jazzing up for the motor age, and they may have kept it subtle because it was just a few yards from the blacksmith’s shop.