Happy Birthday, Oscar

It was a pleasant shock to learn that modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer just turned 100, because I naturally assumed he was dead! Much like reading Dr. Suess, Oscar’s buildings are the most spacey fantasies gracing a mortal earth, and I figured an artist as fluid and singular as that high-tailed it onto a higher plain long ago. But it is comforting to know that he’s still here and still working. And that he’s not alone, because one of his contemporaries is still with us, as well.

I keep close tabs on Julius Shulman, the photographer I consider godhead, and was pleased that he had a 97th birthday. Considering Oscar, I fully expect 3 more birthdays for Julius, who is still alert, organized and unwavering in his passion for modern design.

It’s inspiring to know that an eye and heart for progressive, modern architecture can contribute to a long and productive life.

The latest edition of the St. Louis Suburban Journals featured Trautwein’s Shoe Store in a photo quiz, but also gave some valuable information that bears repeating in the proper forum.

The building and its remaining inventory (as seen above) are now for sale, and being aware of the beauty of the original neon sign, the seller will work with anyone wanting to preserve it. The seller is Lily Ann Crocker (a relative of the Trautwein brothers), and she can be reached at 314.496.9292 about any of these matters.

Independent Shoes

Trautwein’s Shoes
5227 Gravois, St. Louis, MO
Along the business section of Gravois in the shadow of Bevo Mill, storefront buildings are springing back to life thanks to the Bosnians, and the older businesess that have hung on up to this restoration renaissance.

But Trautwein’s closed sometime during the summer of 2003, and no one can figure out what to do with “the body.” The display window is a haunting reminder of what used to be, with shoes, decorations and declarations trapped like flies in prehistoric amber.

The mounted and laminated article in the window is from an April 12, 1989 South Side Journal, celebrating the shoe store’s 100 years of business. They moved from South Broadway to this Gravois location in 1923. In late 2002, I coveted a pair of shoes in the window and walked into buy them. It was like walking back into a time I’m too young to truly know, but the sense memory was overwhelming. One of the old men told me the shoe I wanted was not available in my size – check back in about a month when the new shipments come in. By the time I remembered to “check back,” the place was permanently closed.

While taking the above picture in summer 2004, the owner of a carpet business across the street came over to see what I was up to, and he filled me in. The elder Trautwein had died, the slightly less elder Trautwein was about to, and his daughter just didn’t know what to do about the store. Carpet Man then went into a mean-spirited diatribe about how Bosnians “buy all this stuff up,” and he wasn’t too pleased when I pointed out how they’ve brought this business section back to life with that horrible “buying up” habit of theirs.

Late fall 2004, and vandals busted in the front door, so now it’s borded up. Summer 2005, a deep mound of trash collects in front of the door. Somehow, some of the display shoes have toppled over, and the windows are beyond grimey. The daughter’s lack of activity has turned this place into a heartbreaking shrine, a fading momento of another era. It’s an unfitting ending; someone needs to show some respect and bury the body.
Before the door boarded up, I got this photo of the interior:

This just breaks my heart…literally.

Former Dreamland Shoe, Co.
Business District, Maplewood, MO
In 2002 (about a year before Trautwein’s demise), Dreamland was “Forced To Vacate After 53 Years.” At the time, a man at the hardware store a few doors down told me the building’s landlord had bigger plans that brought in bigger money. From the “after” picture (above, right) we see that T. Rohan Interiors expanded into the space.

Before it disappeared, I took quite a few shots of it, and in the process learned from a passerby that Dreamland was once supposedly a favorite of local drag queens because they specialized in large-size women’s shoes when no one else did.

While composing a daytime color shot, the owner unexpectedly walked out of his store and into the frame. I was stunned by this serendipitous event, and tried to say something, but I was overcome with sadness for him, and choked up. At least I have the photos of what he once had.