Valentine’s Matchmaking

I just received the greatest Valentine in the mail, which begins with “You’re unmatched in my book,” and ends with two vintage matchbooks. One of them is above, for the Great Central Lumber Company in Rock Hill, MO. And look at the building drawing on the right!

The building still stands to this day, and Great Central Lumber remains, now as one of several tenants. I’ve always admired this building, and it seems the original owners did, as well, making the effort to put a line drawing of it on their promotional matches. Can you think of any recent new buildings that are matchbook-worthy? And will matchbooks one day be a thing of the past?

It first went up in 1966, and it’s shocking that it’s survived that stretch of Manchester Road for this long, in such unscathed condition.  Because the other Valentine’s matchbook* is for a drive-in that no longer exists in either of its locations.

Tobey’s Drive-In, “Home of the Happy Hamburger” lists 2 locations inside the matchbook cover: 9600 Highway 66 in Crestwood, MO and 9315 Manchester Road in Rock Hill, MO.

The Rock Hill Tobey’s was basically across the street from Great Central Lumber, and since 1999 there has been a god-awful ugly apartment complex on the land where the drive-in once was. The Crestwood Tobey’s was at 9600 Watson, and Plastic Football has the scoop on the building St. Louis County records say is from 1973.

So this building nerd is having a good Valentine’s Day. And Happy Valentine’s to you, too!

* It was manufactured by the Universal Match Corporation, St. Louis, another mid-century modern building that was demolished in 2010. Aside from losing a handsome building, it was also the long-time employer of a relative-by-marriage, who used to give me complete sets of matchbook series he helped produce. I especially remember a choice Bicentennial collection that helped me with my history homework far more than the school books did!


The man who sent the Valentine matchbooks wrote the following after reading this post:

“The building that was Tobey’s still stands.  It became Steak n Shake and is now Reid Vann (9331 Manchester).  My dad and uncles built it many years ago (1980) and it originally had a zig zag type roof, very similar to the one on the walkway at McGrath Elementary, corner of Litzsinger and St. Clair. When Steak n Shake took over the Rock Hill store they remodeled extensively to fit the corporate image and removed the roof.

When the Rock Hill Tobey’s was built, the Crestwood one already existed.  Mr Toberman planned to grow the franchise, but it never went above those two.  He told my dad, “I’m going to put McDonald’s out of business.”  The Crestwood store did not have the folded roof. “

R.I.P. Phillips 66

Here’s the backstory on one of my favorite buildings in St. Louis County.

This morning, I got word from Brett that dirt was being aggressively moved about the former Phillips 66 site at Manchester Road & Rock Hill.

By mid-afternoon, Rick sent me cell phone pictures showing the white, lattice-work towers were now horizontal.

The double-wing Phillips 66 sat abandoned and waiting for an inappropriately long time. And then it came down in less than 5 hours. I suppose a swift demise is preferable to a slow, painful one. But it’s still shocking.

I cut out of work a little early to view the remains, and pay last respects. Even though I knew what to expect, it still hurt.

The demolition crew had swept the shattered pieces of the building into 2 piles that seem much smaller than they should be. At this moment, they had left behind all of the towers. Considering how quickly the crew is demolishing the entire southwest corner of this intersection, these pieces will be gone by the end of day Friday.

Above, it looks like a leg bone sticking out of an open grave. OK, a little dramatic, but these kinds of things can happen at a wake.

The last business in this building was Windshields & More, and they kept the place in perfect condition. After they were made to leave, it was shocking to realize just how strict they were with maintenance. Within 3-4 months, all the white paint started peeling, with rust seeping through. The royal blue trim grew dingy. But all the exhaust fume erosion couldn’t mar the lines of a building that always looked like a bird starting its ascent.

And now, the bird’s wings are mangled in the concrete dust.

My digital card filled up fast, and I stood in the heat with vehicles roaring all around, deciding if I should walk back to the car to get another card and continue on. Then I got lost in lengthy contemplation and sadness, finally broken by an SUV honking in my ear. Coming back to reality, I realized I didn’t have the stomach to finish this task. After documenting the crime scene, I’d paid proper respect to a lovely building, and once the rush hour traffic clears, and the sun sets, the Double Bat Wing can finally rest in peace.

Phillips 66, Part 2

Manchester & McKnight, Rock Hill, MO
On the southwest corner of this ugly and congested intersection is a trim-line geometric bird waiting for flight.

It was built in 1963 as a Phillips 66 gas station. It was a rare species of their New Look line: The Double Canopy. Only the suburban intersections with the greatest promise of heaviest traffic got Bat Wing Deuce.

In the early 1960s, Rock Hill fit that description; today, times that by 150. This intersection is littered with unsightly power lines, traffic lights and signs, clunky after-thought storefronts and new-fangled retail devoid of personality. In the midst of the chaos is this light, delicate space age bird.

From an ariel view, you can see the bat wings, see how startling its appearance must have been back in the day, and how utterly alien it has become today.

I’ve spent years trying to get the proper picture of the building, a way to convey its movement in stillness. I put a wide-angle lens on the film camera, and stood in the middle of the intersection on an early Sunday morning… less chance of being plowed down by angry SUVs. But I just can’t capture the essence. A light pole or warped blacktop always mars the airy lines.

My mind’s eye always erases the ugliness around it, and all I see are those delicate lines. To my eyes, it’s a beautiful sight. To other drivers, it’s lots of honking because I missed the light turning green.

After Phillips 66 vacated, a chain called Windshields & More took over, and it was impeccably maintained. That indicates the owners appreciated their unique and functional building. Once while taking pictures of the place during business hours, one of the younger employees crossed the intersection to ask what I was doing. I told him I was taking some more in a series of photos of the place.
He gave me a queer look, and asked, “Why?”
“Because it’s a gorgeous building,” I said. “Look at it. There’s no other building like it.”
The kid stares back at it, squinting as he sees the building rather than just the place he works.
He finally says, “Huh. It is kinda weird, ain’t it,” and then lopes back across the street.

Because I love this building, that means it Must Come Down. My adoration equals destruction; it’s a strange Architectural Super Power I’m cursed with. I’d much rather have the ability to levitate or will a Triple Crown winner. But anyway…

Rock Hill is one of those land-locked municipalities. They’ve used up all the land, and have no new ways of generating income other than raising taxes or demolishing existing commercial and residential properties to build newer, bigger retail. Rock Hill decided both the northwest and southwest corners of this intersection should be in the hands of Novus Development. So, Windshields & More cleared out, and the Double Bat Wing has sat vacant for almost a year while Novus drops the ball.

In the Spring 2005 issue of SCA, Cliff Leppke wrote: “Today, original Harlequin stations are a scarce resource on the commercial landscape.” The first week of February 2006, the heavy machinery moved in to bust up concrete. Soon, they’ll bust up the rare Double Wing Bird, my El Condor Pasa…
“Away, I’d rather sail away, like a swan that’s here and gone.”

RELATED: Phillips 66, Part 1

Goodbye, Norma Jean

On Tuesday, October 18th, Billy Idol disappeared from the window, and excitement brewed within when I saw signs of renovation (above). I saw lamp shades; will Kabbaz add lighting to the Marilyn Gallery? I looked forward to the revamped unveiling of a new Marilyn.

This afternoon, signs say the candle burned out long before the legend ever did…
The black curtain backdrop has fallen to reveal freshly painted red walls, light fixtures, tables, chairs and a man busy on a ladder. Someone has taken over the storefront. That’s not surprising. With major new retail across the street, these old storefronts are now desirable property. If I could sit in the Starbucks’ drive-thru and stare at Marilyn paintings, it would make sense for a business to take advantage of that kind of visability.
I should have knocked on the door to pepper the Ladder Man with questions, but I was too sad and too shocked to do so. I walked away with a funeral dirge in my head and a heavy heart.
So was Billy Idol’s rebel yell Kabbaz’s comment on being evicted? Will a new shrine spot be found? How do I mend my broken heart?

With more bad news, of course.
Today I got word that this Lustron home that I toured in June was demolished on October 18th. Details coming as soon as my anger subsides.

And since my little BELT world was taking so many hits on this Sunday, I decided to really wallow in despair and view the last bits of the Northland carcass. An update is coming soon.

2005 has NOT been a good year for my favorite modern architecture in St. Louis. Death to Lustrons, Northland, Busch Stadium

…if I adore it, it’s coming down. It’s not paranoia, just fact. See the building above? It’s always been a glamorous favorite of mine, so of course it’s coming down any day now. The intersection of Rock Hill & Manchester is getting a massive makeover, so this gorgeous example of roadside jet set Route 66 architecture is toast.
I’ll cover this story in greater photographic detail in the near future. But right now, I’m too sad and angry to care.