Posted on October 20th, 2013 4 comments
The St. Louis County Public Library seems determined to demolish the Lewis & Clark branch for a new structure. We need them to reconsider this misguided goal. They can meet all their objectives without tearing down this building. We need to help them avoid making a huge mistake.
The importance of this building was recently covered on DOCOMOMO’s website, featuring killer historical photos of the branch. Next City placed it on the list of 10 endangered modern buildings. And I covered it here when the demolition idea was first touted. Modern-STL has been actively involved since that time in trying to engage the Library Board of Trustees about the importance of this building. Increasingly, it feels like talking to deaf ears.
Come to the Lewis & Clark branch on October 23rd to learn about this building, it’s architect and what we can do to make them reconsider tearing down this building. You can start with the Facebook page. And please join Modern-STL, Esley Hamilton and myself. Event details.
Since we can’t have a face-to-face with the Library Board of Trustees, I’m going public with what I would have shared with them privately - 6 Reasons to Save the Lewis & Clark Library:
1. Don’t Trash Your Legacy
The Lewis & Clark branch is the ONLY significant building left in the St. Louis County Public Libraries arsenal. Important public institutions deserve important buildings – and this is just such an animal. Needlessly trashing your only architectural asset sends the wrong message about learning from, and respecting, history – especially your own.
There will come a day when the County Library will want to celebrate its milestone anniversaries. Lewis & Clark is already a historical milestone at 50 years old. Then comes 75 and 100 years. Look to the St. Louis Public Library system for a template on how that kind of celebration benefits everyone. With this proposed demolition, The County would have no important buildings to celebrate their history because they trashed them.
2. Don’t Trash the History of North County
Lewis & Clark was the first branch built in North County. Great care was taken with making this 1963 building worthy of the burgeoning community it would serve. It was designed with a grace and beauty reflecting the power and aspirations of a new town in a far-flung locale. It was such a pioneering flag plant that the library didn’t erect another North County branch until 1975, letting Lewis & Clark service a rapidly growing community for 12 years.
It being the sole library in NoCo for so long is what makes it an emotional anchor for everyone who grew up there. This is why it’s the only library to make the pages of the popular nostalgia book Cruizin’ North County. New York master planners have no knowledge or interest in the history of St. Louis County (read the entire master plan). It is distressing that the St. Louis County library system also appears to be ignoring this history.
So many other touchstones of North County history have been unceremoniously trashed; the library is an institution that lends weight and importance to the history of the region. Let this one architecturally worthy building represent the history of community and education in North County. Come the 100th Anniversary, you’ll be glad you did.
3. Understand the Difference Between “Old” and Historical
The Library’s Facilities Master Plan document graphs the age of each of their buildings, and bases the needs for demolition for new buildings SOLELY on age (slide above from that Master Plan). They do acknowledge the level of maintenance on all their buildings has been good (and it is). The implication that a new building will solve their future maintenance issues is just absurd.
The Master Plan equates anything over 30 years old as bad. This is a 20th century, developer-driven, irresponsible line of thought that’s oblivious to the rapidly-growing importance of preserving mid-century modernism as the last great period of American architecture.
The Board of Trustees has been educated on the architectural pedigree of the Lewis & Clark building. The importance and benefits of preserving architectural history is a well-documented topic. To continue to willfully ignore that is to willingly court ignorance, which is the opposite goal of a library.
4. Acknowledge the Needs of a Modern Library
Libraries are research-driven environments, and the most shallow research into the needs of the modern library reveals articles in the New Republic and Wall Street Journal about what will keep libraries relevant in these technological times. It’s no longer about having more space to store physical books, but for the existing space to meet new needs. Libraries need to curate knowledge in an age of information overload, and to be a safe and welcoming place for the community to gather.
The Master Plan says Lewis & Clark needs 4,000 more square feet. If – in light of the modern needs of library science – this is still true, why not add it addition to the northeast side of the building? You have the space. An addition would be a way to have your legacy and thrive on it, too.
5. Erect Your New Building Elsewhere
We understand the politics of the voter-approved tax hike; when South County gets a brand new library building so must North County. Agreed. But why does it have to be the Lewis & Clark Branch?
The Flo Valley branch is only one year younger than Lewis & Clark. And more centrally located in NoCo. And is not architecturally significant. This would be a good candidate for an entirely new, state-of-the-art building. The Thornhill Branch (1975) has been pegged for demolition for a new building, as well.
There’s wiggle room in the master plan to meet all of library system’s needs without sacrificing your most prominent historical building.
6. Apply Emotional Intelligence to the Master Plan
The Master Plan that launched the system-wide need for renovations and demolitions repeatedly emphasize how important each library is to its community. But the Planners are from New York City so they fail to recognize the historic and sentimental touchstones of this building in this community. Clinging blindly to this document seems a stubborn stance for bolstering egos rather than community. A successful master plan considers the head and the heart, the numbers and the people who want to be more than statistics bolstering a bottom line.
The County library has only one building that perfectly represents its moment in history with a grace that still inspires the pursuit of knowledge and community. This building presents the County library with an opportunity to one day have their St. Louis City library headquarters moment: past, present and future knowledge all in one admirable package of civic architecture.
The County library has educated us for decades. The Lewis & Clark branch building is their chance for a poignant, teachable moment that inspires pride in the community it serves.
All they have to do is respect it by letting it stand.
Posted on September 7th, 2011 15 comments
Last time I visited at the end of August, the Ackerman Buick site was about 55% percent demolished. Here’s the Ackerman Buick back-story.
At this time, the neon sign (above) was the only thing standing that was still relatively intact, and I worried for it. Then the other day I got an email with this photo attached:
After closing my gaping jaw, I read the e-mail from Dean Wieneke, who wrote:
“Saw your article about the Ackerman dealership neon sign after I bought it from the wrecking company Spirtas. We started on it Friday, and just removed the neon and the bulbs and the cover up or add-on of “Ackerman Buick Inc” portion. Now it looks TOTALLY different, for the better I may add. It now says “Dickerson Motors Inc. Used Car Dept.” We’ll be finishing the removal sometime this weekend.”
I immediately replied to my new hero for more details, which he supplied, in spades:
“I’ve always been a big fan of this sign, being an old sign junkie. It has everything: it’s porcelain, it’s old, it’s large, it has a great font, it’s die cut across the top, it’s NEON, and it even has chaser lights at the bottom. Lets face it, this is a classic, one-of-a-kind, Americana old school sign from when thought was actually put in to signage, and not just something that corporate pumped out, like today’s boring dealership signs. I couldn’t let this have the same fate as the buildings did.
“I contacted Spirtas (who were/are great to work with) and within a day or so was told I could purchase it. So last Friday my brother, Joe, and my father, Jim, and I started in on this on one of the hottest days of the year and got it to the point you see now. We shall return this weekend with more wasp spray!
“The sign is 50 feet long and the sign portion is 8 foot high, had probably a hundred feet of neon on it and 144 lights across the bottom.
“What am I going to do with it…? Good Question! My beautiful and patient wife is wondering the same thing and is about ready to choke me over the whole ordeal. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m going to do with it really, but I just could NOT let it be destroyed by the wrecking claw! More than likely I’ll trailer it up and haul it to my house and store it until I can find a suitable place for it. It may end up on display in my Dads pole barn, but that seems to be a waste of a “local land mark,” so if someone has a better idea let me (and my wife, ha!) know.”
Since Dean has done such a great public service in the name of recent past preservation (and shared these 2 photos), let’s help him out if we can. There’s 2 things he wants to know:
• Does anyone have any knowledge about Dickerson Motors, Inc. ?
• Any do-able ideas for what to do with the sign so that the public can keep gazing upon it?
My first thought for the second question is the Antique Warehouse. Here’s some of the other neon signs they have safely stored away. But I know you all have way more brilliant ideas (and astounding recall of St. Louis history), so help a hero out, will ya?
Posted on March 11th, 2009 3 comments
Head north on Halls Ferry Road, and on the western side of the unincorporated portion between Jennings and Dellwood, Missouri you will find a large stash of choice mid-century modern homes tucked into the rolling hills. But stay on Halls Ferry, and pay attention to three homes that straddle Hudson Road, like this one, above.
Built in 1958, the 1,607 s.f. home sits on nearly an acre of land. It is unabashedly modern with its multi-levels of flat roofs and large expanses of glass to peer down the steep hill in the front yard. Every time I pass by with a camera, the newest owner is out on his riding mower, and I’m working up the courage to ask him if I can get closer, maybe take some pictures inside.
Two houses down, the original owners are still on the books for this place. Built in 1953, it is the definition of sprawling, clocking in at 2,438 s.f.
The last time I happened by, there was a large dumpster in the driveway, lending the impression of kids clearing out decades of living, though no for sale sign has yet popped up. Recent real estate transactions show that homes in this very immediate area go for insanely cheap rates of $90 – $115,000.
Right next door is a light blue ranch with a full butterfly roof. It went up in 1955 with 1,924 s.f. of space, and again, it appears the original owners may still be in residence.
All of the homes along this stretch have gigantic yards, so many mature trees that I’d worry in a wind storm, and exteriors that show little remuddling damage. While growing up in this part of town, we considered these to be the homes of “rich people.” I’m thinking it was a psychological reaction to the houses sitting so far up from the street atop steep hills. But even today, they are rather luxurious examples of suburban mid-century modern architecture.
Posted on April 28th, 2007 6 comments
11851 Benham Road
Unincorporated North St. Louis County, MO
I’ve admired this house for decades because of its simplistic deco beauty, and that it’s such a rare creature in this part of far North County. Near to where highways 367 and 270 meet, if the architecture is not commercial or Christian Northeast Hospital, it’s the standard ranch issue of suburban towns developed in earnest during the mid-1960s and on. But this little gem went up in 1935 or 1938 (depending on which records consulted), when the area was decidedly rural and Dunn Road was the highway system.
The St. Louis County Parks inventory of historic buildings reveals it was originally known as the Everett D. Fry House. The home is 2 stories, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, central air and 1964 s.f., with an ingenious carport/terrace double-duty spot on the south elevation. During the time I’ve been acquainted with it, the place has always been pristine, and modest about being a white rose among carnations. But in the 21st century, it got a little raggedy, and for over a year the home has been vacant.
On my last visit, I found the above signs in the window. A search for available FannieMae properties does not list this place, and after a number of owner changes in the past several years, it now belongs to an LLC, who bought it for $93,000.
Highway 367 is just about finished with a major (and much-appreciated) overhaul. Benham is a 2-lane road that parallels the highway. As the highway revamps, many of the ranch homes on Benham – north of this site, – have been bought and torn down. I’m assuming new homes will rise up in their place, but it could just as easily swing into commercial use; this part of town is transforming rapidly after a long period of stagnation.
This house would be a dream achievement for certain types of residential art deco aficionados. But there are now so many physical and market-driven barriers piling up around it that the prognosis is bleak. Another “that’s a damn shame” may be added to the list.
This home has been bought and is now fully occupied, with vehicles parked in the carport and a tidy yard. Thank you to whomever saw the beauty of this home!