Thursday, December 29, 2005
He said, "Hi. Are your parents home?"
I answered, "This is my house."
"Oh. Well let me go shut off the truck."
I was a little sour at first, but since many folks I know informed me at my recent birthday that they didn't know I was "so young," I guess it's nice to have someone make a mistake in the opposite direction to balance things out.
More importantly, I'm excited that St. Louis still has reasonable enough real estate prices that I can own a house at this age, let alone a fairly large (if dilapidated) 120 year old house. That's a lot of why I was so eager to move back here. Had we stayed in Chicago, we wouldn't have been able to own a building (let alone a fairly intact historic one in a neighborhood of our choice) for decades. With the real estate prices in Chicago, there is no way that anyone would have ever mistakenly thought me too young to be the owner of the building, cos I would definitely not look like a kid anymore by the time I could afford to buy property up there.
Come to think of it, this particular contractor lives in the county, likely in an area where young people cannot afford to own property, either. Maybe he should think about moving to the city. Then again, his advice for dealing with the parapet walls (which need to have all their bricks relaid) of our historic house was to suggest simply knocking the things down and not replacing them. Maybe he should not think about moving to the city....
Either way, I'm happy to be here!
Dear drivers in Brentwood,
As a resident of the neighborhood you only see as a commercial area, I am sick of you all being bad drivers. Every time I leave or come back to my apartment, I fear my safety as I think one of you will hit my car and probably jeopardize my life. Please be respectful and remember that people do live around here. Here are some simple guidelines for driving that you should take heed to not only in my neighborhood, but always when driving.
1. A stop sign means stop; it is not a suggestion to slow down. When I make a complete stop, it is not because I am resigning my right of way to let you, in a hurried panic, rush off to your next shopping destination. I do so because it is the law and it applies to you as well. If it my right of way, I will go. If you decide to go before me and I'm making a left turn, you will risk hitting me at your own fault and you will pay to repair my car. If you do something obviously stupid, I will honk at you until you get the point and the hell out of my way.
2. Read street signs. If you are leaving Brentwood Square and making a left from Eager, the lane that has the sign that says "40 East Only" it means just that. It is illegal to drive through the intersection and you risk hitting people entering the 40 West lane. Again, if you do this, you will risk hitting somebody at your own fault and you will pay to repair their car.
3. When changing lanes, there is something installed in your car called a turn signal. Use it. Brentwood is a busy street and any time you change lanes it is risky, especially when you don't use your turn signals. If you hit somebody because they don't expect you to come into that lane, you will pay to repair their car.
4. Pay attention to your own light. At Brentwood and 40 East, the northbound light turns green before the southbound one does as to let people traveling north on Brentwood enter 40 East. If you are going southbound and decide to drive because the cars going in the opposite direction are moving, you risk hitting someone at your own fault and you will pay to repair their car.
5. If you are entering an on-ramp and making a right turn onto it, the person turning left to enter it has the right of way if they have a left turn signal. You must yield to these people. If you do not, you risk hitting someone at your own fault and you will pay to repair their car, or else somebody else will hit them when they have to stop in the middle of a busy intersection and it will still be your fault.
6. If it is raining hard enough that you have to use your windshield wipers, turn your lights on. This is the law. If it is dark, turn your lights on. This is the law.
If you follow these rules, we can coexist peacefully. These are all things that you should have learned when you acquired your license. Maybe you have forgotten and just need a refresher. I hope this worked for you.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Dead people endorsing the other side? Time to finally take notice of all those dead voters who are still registered!
I guess we can conclude from this post in the Slay blog that his administration wants to keep 22nd Ward Alderman Jeff Boyd in office. Not surprising--seeing as how both Boyd and Slay are definitely in favor of using eminent domain to build dubious commercial projects, it's a match made in heaven.
Monday, December 26, 2005
--Overheard on the #30 Soulard bus today. One teenager talking to his friends as we drove through the Near North Side, the most demolition-ravaged part immediately north of Downtown.
Just incase you think that the average kid living in a planner- and 'dozer-ruined neighborhood doesn't understand why his neighborhood looks the way that it does.
Also of note: A coworker informed me that on next Monday, January 2, busses will again run on Sunday schedules. Share the news with all the public transit riders in your life!
(Thanks for the tip, Adria!)
Our basement on October 3, 2005. Over 300 broken computers were among the debris that we removed.
The same space on October 6, 2005. Everything thrown out except for a few antiques that we discovered in the rubble, including an enamelled cast iron sink now in use in our kitchen.
Here is the Weather Ball atop the General American Life Insurance Building at 15th and Locust. I took this photograph last week from the roof of the building, looking up (of course). The ball, which dates to the 1950s, is a constant red these days. In the past, the building manager would change the color according to weather conditions.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Thursday, December 22, 2005
We have no photograph of the building. May someone else have a better memory of the building than ours.
Rob Powers did get a photograph of another great commercial building across the street that came down in 2001. The "Heller Co." sign and its greatly-altered building still remain in use. This block was one of many thriving commercial blocks on the former Easton Avenue; by the 1930s almost every block of Easton from downtown through the Wellston Loop was chock-full of buildings housing apartments, stores and offices. The street must have been fabulously urban.
Today, traces of the past density remain, especially between Grand Avenue and the city limits. But the vitality is less evident, and certainly less concentrated. Enough buildings remain to make the thoroughfare a likely candidate for future revitalization.
Perhaps now Wohlert will at least cover all of the windows on the church building, left open since the Archdiocese removed the stained glass windows. Perhaps he will clean up the mess left by his tree removal crew, who felled many of the lovely old trees on the grounds of the parish. Hopefully he will perform basic maintenance on the buildings according to city code until a certain future for the buildings emerges.
That future has often been said to be housing. Turn the main church into condominiums, say preservation-minded folks. Does anyone have another idea?
Monday, December 19, 2005
I note that no one from the neighborhood attended save demolition advocates Alderman Joe Vollmer (D-10th) and Father Vincent Bommarito of St. Ambrose Church. Did anyone there really know about this important decision?
The votes were interesting. The vote on a motion by Commissioner Luis Porello (second by Mary Johnson) to grant the demolition permit went this way:
Yea: Porello, Johnson
Nay: John Burse, Melanie Fathman, Anthony Robinson, Richard Callow
The vote on the motion to deny the permit, made by Richard Callow and seconded by John Burse went this way:
Yea: Callow, Burse, Fathman, Robinson, Johnson
Citizens interested in urban design and historic preservation can make a difference when we work together to challenge the status quo. In this case, we turned the situation around and got the Preservation Board to flat-out deny demolition. Although this is a preliminary review, and the developer can return to the Board for approval again, the vote shows that they will have to redesign their plans to save at least the church to make it past the Board. It's likely that the developer will keep trying to get the plan exactly as it is, though, so we'll see how long this victory lasts.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
N & G Ventures LC
Noble Development Company
VHS Partners LLC
McEagle Properties LLC
West Alton Holding Company LLC
Oakland Properties, Inc.
Blairmont Associates Limited Company
That address is 1001 Boardwalk Springs Place in O'Fallon, Missouri -- pretty damn far from north St. Louis. 1001 Boardwalk Springs Place is the address of the largest office building in the sprawling ersatz New Urbanist WingHaven development. This also happens to be the mailing address for Paric Corporation and McEagle Development, the well-known companies founded by wealthy developer Paul McKee, Jr. (Paric is now led by McKee's son Joe.)
Readers know that we have detailed the adventurous purchases of rogue real estate companies Blairmont Associates LC and VHS Partners LLC, and that we along with other northsiders have been wondering what the hell these silent speculators have been trying to do in our neighborhoods. But few people would have known that Blairmont and VHS shared an address with these other companies, because both Blairmont and VHS were registered anonymously and their only known agents were Harvey Noble and Steve Goldman of Eagle Realty Company and Roberta M. Defiore. Even fewer would have known the links between Blairmont, VHS, Noble Development Company and N & G Ventures. Without seeing this report, I would have never learned of this additional entity or of the definite link with McKee's enterprises. Campaign finance disclosure again proves to be a valuable democratic tool. Together, these four companies own 244 north side properties and hold an option to buy one city-owned parcel:
VHS Partners: 101
N & G Ventures: 58 plus one option
Noble Development Company: 3
The holdings of these companies are geographically confined: most are in the 63106 zip code and the a well-defined southern part of the 63107 zip code; all are in either Ward 5 or Ward 19; nearly every property is a vacant lot, with only a handful of vacant buildings in the inventory. (Although we know that they did attempt to trick a legally-blind woman into selling her own house to them.)
The question remains: What exactly is the tie with McKee? Perhaps he's just their landlord... Really, what is the link? And what is the plan for such a large area of the city?
The alternating silence and aggressive pursuit of properties by the entities at 1001 Boardwalk Springs Place is disturbing no matter how good their plan could be. These companies need to talk to their neighbors, who are very worried about the intentions and methods behind these companies. Consensus is built through communication; suspicion grows through silence.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Expanded version of report written for Landmarks Association of St. Louis, September 2005.
The St. Aloysius Gonzaga parish had its origin with an 1892 petition by Catholics in the newly-developing Fairmont district of St. Louis. These Catholics, almost exclusively of German origin, were among a wave of residents who moved into the area after the development of Scullin's electric streetcar line. Their petition was successful, although the parish would not have a permanent church building for another 33 years. On March 9, 1892, Vicar General Henry Muehlsiepen came to the area to deliver a mass at a private residence, an act followed by his ordering a census of the area that showed 60 families ready to organize a new parish. Reverend F.G. Holweck, assistant pastor at St. Francis De Sales church, became the first pastor on May 27, 1892.
For the parish, the Church purchased for $8,500.00 ten acres of land on Reber Place between Columbia and Reber avenues. This large amount of land was subdivided into three city blocks (CB #4054A, 4054B and 4054C) in an inviting arrangement, with the church buildings planned for the center block and new homes planned for the two flanking blocks. The arrangement of spaces showed some sense of visual drama, with Magnolia Avenue running up to the middle block, where the church would sit, and continuing around the church block with two home-lined streets. The site is probably one of the best examples of urban planning by a parish in the entire city.
The parish undertook construction of a temporary frame church building, dedicated on October 16, 1892 in honor of St. Aloysius, and a school building. With Rev. Holweck acting as pastor and as real estate agent for the lots on the residential blocks, the parish grew fast and reported 130 families at some point in the mid-1890s. Masses were largely in German. The parish was strong enough for a permanent church, and the parish turned to the renowned St. Louis church architect Joseph Conradi for plans. Conradi designed an elaborate Gothic edifice that would have been marvelous -- had it been completed. After laying the cornerstone on May 7, 1899 and building the basement, the parish quickly ran out of money for completing the structure. The parish roofed the basement and the incomplete building became the second home for St. Aloysius Gonzaga parish.
Around the turn of the century, numerous Italian immigrants arrived in the Fairmont district. Later to become the ethnic group most widely associated with the area, the Italians at the time were struggling to establish cultural institutions that honored their heritage. Italian Catholics in St. Aloysius Gonzaga parish were far from the city's only two Italian-speaking parishes, and turned to their local parish for assistance. In 1903, Rev. Holweck invited Rev. Ceasar Spigardi of St. Charles Borromeo Church to organize a mission for Italians in the St. Aloysius building. This mission raised funds to organize the St. Ambrose parish, which was able to move into its own temporary building by year's end.
A new pastor, Rev. Francis G. Brand, arrived in 1903 and worked to pay off the church's debts. He oversaw construction of the existing rectory (built in 1904 by plans from "Koester") and convent (built in 1911 by plans from Joseph Stander and Sons). Building permits show that in 1914, the parish started building a new school building at the northeast corner of South Magnolia and January (since demolished). Most importantly, though, Brand led efforts to build yet another church building, designed by Ludwig and Dreisoerner (a firm on whom extensive information does not seem to be available) in the Romanesque style. As a late example of a St. Louis church in the Romanesque style, St. Aloysius Gonzaga displays the conservatism of archdiocesan architecture at the time. This building had its cornerstone laid on May 2, 1925, and was completed in April 1926. Construction cost $500,000. The old unfinished church building was remodeled for use as the parish bowling alley and gymnasium, a use it held until the parish closure in 2005.
The parish went on to peak at 800 families in the 1950s. In 1962, the parish built a new school building. The original 1914 school building was wrecked at some point. The school closed in 2002 and the parish was closed in 2005 after dwindling to 315 families.
Clay Mines Under Church
Claims that old clay mines are undermining the main church building likely have some truth, although I have not located conclusive evidence. A June 10, 2005 article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch describes damage to the building caused by settling, including a supposed split down the center of the building and rapid settling of part of the building around the bell tower. The article states that the parish tried to stabilize the building: "about 15 years ago workers put 63 pins in the foundation -- nothing held."
Inspection of plat maps and atlases has not confirmed that this location was the site of a clay mine. No Geological Survey of Missouri spends much time on clay mining, and only the 1890 edition contains county maps of clay mines. The Geological Survey of Missouri's 1890 supplement The Clay, Stone, Lime and Sand Industries of St. Louis City and County shows that the site sat above clay deposits connected with the Cheltenham district, but locates the closest recently active mines or pit a half-mile to the north. Many brickworks mined the belt of clay that runs through this area. Evans and Howard as well as Laclede-Christy had nearby brick kilns and mine entrances. The site may have been host to an unmapped and short-lived pit; those were common in the Cheltenham district. Compton and Dry's Pictorial St. Louis of 1875 does show a few small dome-like structures near this location which may be kilns. Yet little subdivision of the Fairmont district had taken place by 1875 and the structures may be haystacks.
The mine tunnels supposedly under St. Aloysius Gonzaga may be extensions of the mine drawn on the map found in The Hill, which is located north of Columbia Avenue. Larry Giles, who has thoroughly researched the clay-mining operations in the Cheltenham district, speculated in an interview that there probably is a mine tunnel under St. Aloysius, because the tunnels were rarely mapped and never disclosed to the State Geological Survey. Without a map of that particular mine, Giles says, it would be impossible to make a definite identification of any tunnel under the church. He says that whatever tunnel exists under the church building would also extend through surrounding blocks, and any shrinkage thereof would be systematic. Filling the tunnel without substantial excavation would be impossible; new development on the site could be plagued by severe settling if it is occurring on the land.
A search on Pitzman's 1878 real estate atlas offers no suggestive leads; the full site of the parish and its subdivision is shown as being owned by Union National Bank of St. Louis. On the Pitzman atlas, no parcels south of Columbia Avenue are owned by brick or ceramic companies, likely due to the establishment of subdivisions there. Without access to the interior of the church building, there is difficulty in making any determination of the physical condition of the 1926 building. From the exterior, it looks sound, and the Building Division has not condemned it. One imagines that a listing on the National Register of Historic Places and the subsequent availability of historic tax credits could make renovation, even with structural problems, feasible.
Preservation Board Considering Demolition
Yet new development threatens to destroy the St. Aloysius Gonzaga parish complex for a rather conventionally New Urban subdivision. The developer who purchased the parish buildings from the archdiocese this year, Wohlert Company LLC, has sacrificed the grace of the setting for uninspiring tract housing. Gone would be the stunning head-on view of the steeple from Magnolia Avenue and the old-growth trees. Consideration of preservation of at least the 1926 church seems obvious, but an even wiser plan would save the main church and the older buildings to retain one of the city's most intimate church settings. Ample space for new housing would remain on the block.
The staff of the city's Cultural Resources Office has submitted the proposed demolition for review, stating that the buildings are of high merit and eligible for National Register listing. That opinion is correct, and is an accurate interpretation of the city's Preservation Review Ordinance, which suggests that demolition of the complex for the subdivision is imprudent and possibly an abuse of the ordinance. Yet the Cultural Resources Office is bowing to the pressure to let the development proceed, and is recommending that demolition be allowed. The Preservation Board should go against this recommendation and instead instruct the developer to come up with an alternate plan that respects the Preservation Review Ordinance and gives The Hill area a dignified and historic urban setting, of which it has few remaining. The same developer recently built a home at January and South Magnolia that is totally disrespectful of context, with an attached garage and materials inappropriate for all but a flimsy shed. Within a two-block radius, numerous examples of bad infill housing abound -- replete with vinyl siding and garage doors facing the street. The Hill area contains several large tract-house developments from the last 25 years, including the new Parc Ridge Estates development on the cleared site of the Truman Restorative Center.
Survey of Historic Churches of St. Louis Collection of Landmarks Association of St. Louis.
Toft, Carolyn (ed.). The Hill: The Ethnic Heritage of an Urban Neighborhood. St. Louis, Mo.: Washington University School of Social Science, 1975.
Wayman, Norbury. The Hill. St. Louis: Community Development Agency, 1976.
Friday, December 16, 2005
I have a few questions for you:
1. Did you realize that the publicly-announced meeting on the riverfront plan scheduled for Decmber 3 did not happen? And that no press release has been issued by Great Rivers Greenway, the Planning and Urban Design Commission, the Mayor's Office or your office explaining why it did not happen or when it will happen?
2. The Arch grounds are surrounded by an ugly wall formed by concrete traffic barriers. Do you think that maybe redesigning that wall should precede or at least accompany grand riverfront plans?
3. Have you walked around on the east riverfront? The riverfront south of the Arch grounds? North? What are your plans for those areas?
Thank you for your work so far.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
For an odd reason, the St. Louis Preservation Board had recommended that the nomination be tabled until the mural could be repaired, even though the current ownership group stated that it needs tax credits to be able to restore the mural. Well, a motion to recommend approval of the nomination almost sailed through until member Richard Callow moved to table the nomination and reconsider it after the mural issues could be resolved. Never mind that the nomination of Council Plaza was only invoking "urban planning" and not "architecture" or "public art" as a criteria for significance. The Preservation Board unanimously voted for Callow's motion.
Wisely, the state council went ahead with the listing so that the mural can be restored -- provided that the owners intend to honor the promises they have made publicly at the Preservation Board and Missouri Advisory Council meetings. Even though the towers are rather clunky concrete boxes, the murals and brickwork on the windowless side elevations add depth and human scale that redeems the heavy-handed site plan.
At least the old spaceship-style gas station building, now Del Taco, stands intact. That may be the most attractive building on the site. (See a photo by Toby Weiss here.)
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Next door, a lovely late 1870's townhouse is undergoing and ambitious rehab from an owner who is rehabbing other buildings in the neighborhood. Across Hadley Street is Ames School, one of the city's finest elementary schools.
The owner of the lot?
Blairmont Associates LC, one of the near north side's most active collectors of vacant lots and buildings. Where the owner of the house next door sees a need to restore his building, Blairmont sees nothing but the future value of the land and is willing to hurt its neighbors today so that its owners can profit tomorrow.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Of course, if they want to avoid attention they will need to do more than sell the Clemens House. We will continue to monitor their abuse of other historic buildings (such as the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings at 1201 Cass, if Blairmont is reading) and many northsiders are actively working to uncover the identity of Blairmont. People who are investing their time, labor and money in rehabbing homes on the near north side have a right to know who is behind Blairmont Associates LC and VHS Partners LLC. Some people think that they know, as the comments section on this blog shows.
For the record, we have no evidence that isn't already public record. Our guess is as good as yours -- probably worse, since we have neighbors who know a lot more than we do about them.
Friday, December 9, 2005
Crown's was deserted, save for Mike Karandzieff and three staffers holding down the place. Mike himself waited on us, and we chatted with him before ordering our usual order. It's great that this place is so dependable and near. Earlier in the day, Claire had walked down to Marx Hardware on 14th Street to take back some wrong-sized cornerbead and to buy a miter box; the Marx brothers took back the cornerbead even though they operate on a cash-only basis and don't have a refund system. However, we have been regular customers of theirs since before we even moved into our place, and they reward our return trips with generosity.
After we ate -- and after we decided to splurge for delicious sundaes as cold as the air outside -- we walked back home. Light streamed out of a small storefront on 14th Street behind Crown's. Inside, a crew of twentysomethings was scraping paint off of a wall while listening to music. This is the future home of The Urban Studio, a community space that our neighbor and fellow twentysomething Old North St. Louisan Phil Valko has created.
We returned home full of hope and good cheer. I was so inspired by the spirit of the neighborhood that I finally found the strength to remove the broken old faucet from our sink so that we could replace it.
Anyone wanting to partake of the Old North community spirit is welcome to join residents for the neighborhood New Village Brewing Company's holiday beer-tasting tonight at 7:30 p.m. Email me at michael-at-eco-absence.org for details!
Thursday, December 8, 2005
Though it's been almost a year now since my at-long-last return to StL from Chicagoland, I remain acclimated to Chicago winters. So to me, this ain't cold. With the exception of the period when we had no heat in our house, I have not yet felt the cold unshakably deep down in my bones, which was always the feeling that signaled the start of real winter to me in Chicago. I stand by the often-open front door of the grocery store where I work and get asked, "Aren't you cold?" all day long, but ....well, no, I'm not cold. And I'll knock on wood before I type this (knock, knock), but in Chicago, you never really know it's winter until your car breaks. Yes, there are a few inches of snow on the ground right now in StL, but I'll eat my hat if they last four days. In Chicago, you look at the same snow for four months, and it gets gray and icy and hard, and what little exposed pavement there is gets this sickly pale look from so, so much chemical road salt.
My attitude may also be a result of what I used to always hear my mom say about St. Louis winters when I was a kid. Every winter, without fail, she would complain and complain that St. Louisans don't know how to drive in snow. (For the record, she grew up in Detroit, and spent several years living in Nova Scotia.)
For a Detroit-born child, or someone who's spent recent winters in Chicago, this isn't bad. But both of us had the luxury of living in homes with heat--something thousands of St. Louisans don't have--so that had a bit to do with our words as well. I guess it's all relative. If you've seen worse winters, this is bad, but if you're used to StL's otherwise warm climate or you don't have a warm place to stay, I can see how this could be overwhelming. And if you've never seen winter before, well.... Our four-month-old kittens were pretty impressed when we opened the curtains for them to look outside this morning.
"...and that park downtown with the sculpture."
Yeah yeah, real cute. We all know you'd scrap the Serra sculpture entirely if a certain wealthy St. Louis Serra enthusiast wasn't looking over your shoulder. But yeah, we realize you'll save it, and try to move it to Grand Center in the process, since your administration thinks that the only reason Grand Center is such a failure is that it doesn't contain enough art (when in reality, the problem is that it contains absolutely nothing but art and parking lots for art).
This time, the bowling alley is the Montclaire in Edwardsville, Illinois. I have never been there, and can't say anything about its architecture or history. I can say that many bowling alleys of all ages are closing or being torn down in the St. Louis area, and only a few new "boutique" style alleys are opening. The new alleys usually don't have more than 8 or 12 lanes and are often more geared toward alcohol sales than bowling.
Proprietors of bowling alleys that have closed recently have blamed the closures on the decline of league bowling, which guaranteed steady revenue for older alleys with high maintenance costs. I wonder if our atomized society will ever support good, affordable bowling alleys again. St. Louis once had enough bowling alleys to rival the most blue-collar of the other Rust Belt cities. Now, there are only a handful left, with only three lanes left in the city (two of which are small, new and not affordable to working-class people).
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Manchester is not exactly a safe street, yet it attracts hundreds of people every weekend night. These people are coming to the nightlife without surface parking. If the lot gets developed for a building, the crowd at Atomic Cowboy or Novak's is not going to fall off -- the crowd will only grow. Surface parking in a major location would only reinforce people's reservations about the business district; people are encouraged by vitality, architectural density and storefront activity. This site is perfect for a new building.
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
The family survived. They all got out alright. That's the most important thing.
One adult cat died and several kittens are unaccounted for, but all the birds and dogs survived, and there are a good eight or nine kittens staying at a neighbor's rehab house.
The family lost everything except the surviving pets and the clothes on their backs. They didn't have insurance. The Red Cross has been putting them up in a hotel for the time being.
The first floor of the house looks like it might not be too damaged, but a section of the side gable roof fell in onto the second floor and took a few bricks along with it. The building is not habitable. Sadly, the family did not have insurance.
Besides the tragedy of the family losing their home, several pets, and their belongings, there is a sad side to this architecturally: That fire happened on the very last intact block of Old North. That was the last block in ONSL which has never had a single demolition (despite a recent narrow brush with big-time speculators Blairmont LC), retaining some very early buildings. This is significant, considering the degree of loss here--ONSL is a very old neighborhood just outside of the very core of an older, industrial American city, so it's had a lot of demolition over the years.
If one could possibly take anything positive from this, it's that the neighborhood has done a good job of helping. The scene I've heard described was one of everybody trying to help--neighbors were out in decidedly non-winter clothes, holding onto rescued dogs, blow-drying wet kittens, arranging temporary homes for the pets, and watching neighboring buildings in case the flames spread. A friend of mine from South City who was sent to help at the fire through her volunteer work with the Red Cross said that folks from the neighborhood group approached her to coordinate the neighborhood response with that of the Red Cross. She said, "You guys are very lucky to have such a great group." And, of course, if any neighborhood can bring back an injured building, ONSL can. The damage on this house pales in comparison to that of others that are being saved in the North Market Place development. I hope that we can come up with a plan to bring this building back.
If you would like to help the family, there are several ways you can contribute. You can drop off donations at the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group office. We're assuming that the family had a total loss, so anything you could bring would help. Blankets, clothing for larger sizes (men's, women's, and young women's), toiletries, nonperishable food, and other household items would all help. If you would like to donate money, you can bring a check to the Restoration Group office or mail it there. Make the check out to "Old North St. Louis Restoration Group," and in the memo field write "ONSL Fire." The Group is going to pool all of the money donated for the family, and write them one big check with the total amount.
The ONSL Office is located 2800 N. 14th, St. Louis, MO 63107 (directly across the street from Crown Candy). The #30 Soulard bus stops at that corner, and the #74 Florissant bus stops a couple of blocks away at Florissant and Saint Louis. They are open from 9-5, M-F. (If you have some stuff you'd like to give but can't make it then, drop us an e-mail [eoa-at-eco-absence.org] and we can figure out a time for you to drop stuff off with us to pass along to the Group when they're open.)
Please consider donating a little something to the family, if you can. They've lost everything, and it's awfully cold this time of year.
Monday, December 5, 2005
Friday, December 2, 2005
Blairmont's attorney, Steven Goldenberg, successfully obtained a continuance from Judge James Dowd of the Circuit Court, claiming that it will conduct an engineering study on the Clemens House and submit that the court. This indicates two things:
a.) Blairmont's owners are still hiding from the public and preparing some revelation to head off any moment at which their watchdogs might have a clue on their identity;
b.) Blairmont likely is getting ready to justify demolition of the Clemens House with the study.
Rumors have flown here and there about Blairmont's identity. One source has Blairmont being a northside business family investing the last dollars of a failed empire; another more likely scenario has Blairmont being a front for a well-known suburban developer plotting a large scattered-site housing development.
But I think that I have solved the case: I think that the land is being bought up by relatives of our new police chief S. Jammu. Sound kooky? You say there isn't a chief named Jammu? I swear that the pieces all fit together to make a convincing story! Either that or Jonathan Franzen is on the joyride of his life.
All kidding aside, Blairmont Associated Limited Company is an irresponsible property owner whose failure to maintain its property warrants the lawsuit filed by the Building Division. If I were an eminent domain sort of guy, I would say here's a case where it might be wise to use it. Blairmont controls 89 properties and its affiliated enterprise VHS Partners LLC controls an additional 101 properties. Of course, if the plan is to build new houses the powers that be would more likely endorse the effort than try to stop it.
Thursday, December 1, 2005
ROSA PARKS DAY
The small, mobile memorial was touching--rather than a name left on some unread stone in some mossy corner of the city, the words moved along major arteries all through St. Louis, quietly jarring daydreaming bus-riders, pedestrians, and motorists from their drifting thoughts. I hope that having those words on city busses, which are normally a largely ignored part of the daily city scenery, helped remind people who saw the busses that simple, everyday places and services we take for granted were not accessible to everyone in the very recent past. And really, they're still not accessible to everyone--simple things like having access to reliable transportation, a good school, a good job, safe housing, and medical care continue to be special priveleges in our city, our state, and our society.
We still live in a city where the North and South Sides are very different, and Delmar remains a blurry-but-undeniable color line between less and more vanquished parts of town.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
During its run of over two years, Gallery Urbis Orbis has provided a foundation for progressive cultural life. The gallery has cleverly used the traditional opening to create a monthly night in which some of the city's smartest people get together and chat. Ideas have been shared and big plans have been made on even the least-attended First Friday opening here. The gallery has mixed these dependable, almost salon-like evenings with other programming that falls outside of the realm of the "art gallery": a meetup of political activists and artists; a meet-and-greet with aldermanic candidate and urbanist Steve Patterson; a memorial service for a well-loved city booster; countless planning meetings for cultural efforts large and small; and many other things. Much like the late, lamented Commonspace, Gallery Urbis Orbis served as a civic space with a citywide audience. Creating another space like it -- and I do hope that someone does -- will be a challenge.
Gallery co-owner and painter Alan Brunettin, whose work will be featured at this final opening, has often graced the gallery window on Tenth Street as he works on a painting. As far as I know, Alan has been the only artist to consistently work in a street-level, visible space. His presence has been encouraging to pedestrians, suggesting a liveliness that complements the solid old buildings around the space well (and draws one's eye away from the hideous hulk of the Renaissance Grand parking garage across the street).
Alas, the gallery closes. Alan and Margie Newman, his partner and gallery co-owner, will depart for Chicago in January. Things change, of course, but this one is truly bittersweet.
We will be serving the complimentary wine, one last time, this Friday at Gallery Urbis Orbis (419 N. 10th Street) from 5:00 - 10:00 p.m. I hope the turnout is large and spirits high despite the loss, because this fine space and its creators deserve no less.
Investment in the schools is down: Gifted and ESL are on the chopping block, and Montessori may follow.
Rather than responding argumentatively, I would like to share some stories from my life.
Several weeks ago, my parents came to visit us, to see our newly purchased house and help us work on it. My mom had seen the place before, but it was my dad's first time seeing our house. He was very proud of us. He told us how happy he was to see that the neighborhood is starting to do better, because when he lived and worked here in the past, it was not. He told us about how he lived in an apartment on 14th Street as a kid. The apartment had no bathtub. When they needed to bathe, they would take water from the kitchen faucet to fill up a metal basin which sat in the kitchen. Once, after a hard day of working out in the heat in the junkyard, his father took him to the public bath house on Saint Louis Avenue to shower, because they knew the kitchen basin would not be enough. Dad commented that as a kid he knew they didn't have a lot of money, but when he remembers things like that, he knows that they were really, really poor. After a quiet pause, he said "Everything that has happened in my life happened because of the gifted program. College. Jobs. Everything happened because someone labelled me a smart kid and put me in gifted."
I now live in the neighborhood where my dad used to live when he was a little kid, going through extreme poverty. I live exactly one block from Ames School, where he later worked as a teacher after completing college thanks to the background he got in the gifted program. Sitting here, close to these two sites, I am almost frozen with fear over what the SLPS will be like without gifted, and what that will mean for all the kids who would have gotten that important extra educational push.
Peter Downs notes that the statewide cutting of gifted and ESL mimics cuts in the St. Louis Public Schools. What really stands out to me is that at Euclid and Washington Montessori Schools, fourth and fifth grade students were taken off the Montessori program this year. They were reorganized as standard classrooms.
I went to Washington Montessori from kindergarten to third grade, and I went to Euclid Montessori from fourth to fifth grade. Though I faced many typical SLPS nightmares there (ranging from small things like bad, nutritionless lunchroom food to big things like a friend ending up in a coma due to construction workers' negligence, and a bunch of us getting shot at on the playground during gym), overall the education I got there was outstanding. My first to third grade teacher, Mrs. Saputo, and my fourth to fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Debaun, were probably the best teachers I've had in my entire life. The Montessori method of using concrete objects to express abstract ideas was wonderful. To this day, when I'm trying to remember what part of speech a word is, I picture the big red circle for verbs, the giant black triangle for nouns, and so on. When I am tutoring a kid in complex multiplication problems, I help myself understand how to break down the problem by picturing the beads we used in my Montessori classes to represent large numbers.
But Montessori went beyond regular math and grammar lessons. Because of its fluid structure, teachers were able to give us individual instruction based on our own needs. When I was in second grade, Mrs. Saputo was able to give troubled readers their own lesson for their level, give a different lesson to average readers, and let dorky little me make up my own spelling words (Because of her class, I was one of six winners of the city spelling bee in fourth grade.). Outside of the traditional curriculum, we had other great lessons. Mrs. Debaun brought in a botanist, and my class worked with him to restore and plant small raised flowerbeds around the school (which previously had been solidly overgrown with weeds). She had people bring in live chickens to our class. Presenters came in and burned incense and taught us about Native American culture. Mrs. Debaun herself told us about her vacation to China and taught us to make Chinese papercuts. We visited a local home for babies born to crack-addicted mothers, and stitched together a quilt to donate to the home. We weren't just learning about the three R's, but about the larger world beyond ourselves. We learned very tangibly how to plant a seed and nurture it into a vegetable, how to sew something and share it--pure Montessori.
Also significant is that because of the structure of the classrom, we children were able to learn to do our work on our own, which is a very, very important lesson. We were also encouraged to sit and work together, which I partially credit for the fact that my best friend from third grade and I are still close to this day.
I still learn by the Montessori method. I remain less interested in sitting in a lecture hall than in going out and working in my community. I don't have a college degree yet, but from my Montessorian tendencies, I am learning how to curate a film series, tutor at-risk children, and research the landscape of my city.
I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn't gotten to attend gifted and if I hadn't gotten to take Montessori classes. I wonder what my dad's life would have been like if he hadn't gotten to attend gifted. Where would he be now? Would I exist? Would my dad have a job at all, let alone one that paid the bills? Would he still be scraping by, eating biscuits and lard as he did when he was a kid? I really, really don't want to think about the terrible, horribly grim answers to these questions, but all across St. Louis and the state of Missouri, students who would have been in the gifted program or who would have taken Montessori classes will have to spend their lives finding out.
Today's post in the Slay blog is entitled "Growing Jobs." It talks about business incubators in the city, and businesses they have churned out.
Business incubators are certainly important. It is wonderful that someone is out there trying to help independent businesses get on their feet.
Still, I don't think it answers my question. The programs discussed in the post are great, but when our city has 9.1% unemployment, they are only one little drop in a big bucket.
Then again, the current city administration's idea of creating jobs seems to be eminent domaining people out of their homes to build yet another big box store. It temporarily creates some demo and construction jobs, but all that the city gets in the long term is a couple dozen $6 and $7 an hour part-time jobs where people are forced to stand on their feet on a hard floor all day long. Oh, there's also eminent domaining people out of their homes to build newer, cheaper, uglier homes, but that doesn't even create long-term $6 an hour jobs. We lose the refined, exceptionally crafted architectural fabric that makes our city stand out among other American cities, and we're left with little but a vast parking lot and jobs that by definition require people to get public assistance to survive.
We're starting to get people moving back in to the city right now, and perhaps more importantly, people are excited about the city again. But people won't stay in a place where they can't meet their basic needs. If you can't get a job, you can't feed yourself, and if you start to starve, the survival instinct's gonna kick in sooner or later.
This administration needs to get more proactive about creating good jobs--the kind of jobs that pay a living wage, the kind of jobs that people can keep, the kind of jobs that don't force people on to public assistance because they pay so little. So far, Slay's record shows that he seems to think that tearing down a historic building = a job. It does not. (In a debate earlier this year, Irene Smith asked Mayor Slay what his economic development plan for the North Side is. He responded by saying that his administration had torn down thousands of buildings on the North Side. That was all he could come up with.) And opening a big box store that pays $7 an hour is not really creating a job, either (I can show you my paychecks and the bills they're somehow supposed to pay to personally show you what a $7.50 an hour job is worth.). Where are the good, sustainable jobs?
The current city administration needs to get serious about creating actual decent jobs in St. Louis, and it must stop pretending that knocking down historic buildings is the same thing as creating sustainable jobs. The Slay administration must start seriously trying to improve the St. Louis Public Schools for the thousands of (mostly black) children who rely on them (A $7 an hour job don't pay for private school, that's for sure!), so that our city's children actually have some of the skills they need to get, keep, and create jobs in the city. Jobs and schools are two intertwined problems, and they are two of the most important problems that the city of St. Louis must face if it wants a positive future. In response to these problems, the Slay administration has shown only that they are very, very good at sitting on their hands.
Our latest site update covers a recent theft of cast iron from the James Clemens, Jr. House (also known as the Clemens Mansion).
UPDATE: The hearing of the City of St. Louis vs. Blairmont Associates Limited Company will he heard tomorrow, Thursday December 1 at 1:30 p.m. in the City Circuit Court's Division 5 in the Civil Courts Building at Tucker and Market. Judge David Dowd will preside. The case number is #054-2163 and the court phone number is 314-622-4342.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
It's noteworthy that the author of the blog posted this the day after the Post-Dispatch ran a front page story with the headline "As city again attracts residents, jobs slip away."
It's great that there are rehabs, and I guess some of the new construction going on in the city could be worse (in terms of demolition, urbanity, and building materials, though on the whole it's pretty bad), but building permits alone only reflect a little piece of the story. I want to know: Slay, where are the jobs?* And more specifically, as someone who makes $7.50 an hour, I want to know: Where are the decent jobs that pay a living wage?
And while we're measuring important investment in the city, why not talk about investment in the schools? You can cry "past administrations" all you want, but the fact is that the cuts at the recent budget meeting of the School Board were very hurtful to an already critically injured system, and you know it.
*According to the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association, the unemployment rate for St. Louis City in 2004 was 9.1%.
Let's see. There's:
1) This incident
2) The construction of a new Schnucks and Lowe's site at Loughborough Commons has been stopped because the vibrations it created are damaging nearby homes.
3) The construction on the Century Building site, which is being developed by DESCO (The real estate arm of Schnucks), has been stopped for several months because the piers they poured are faulty.
4) The long-abandoned Schnucks just north of Downtown is still owned by DESCO. They don't even bother to turn the lights on here at night, even though the parking lot is a very popular cut-through for motorists and pedestrians alike. This site cuts off Hadley street between Cass and Ofallon, taking out a vital part of the street grid (There are just a couple of routes between Downtown and the Near North Side.), so people naturally travel through it, but DESCO leaves the lights off despite the obvious risk to public safety.
All I can say is that at this rate, any time I have to go near a Schnucks, I should probably wear a thick helmet with a light on top of it. Yeesh.
Officials investigate tornado siren warning system failure
Apparently, sirens did not sound in several municipalities out there in St. Louis County.
We heard them here in Old North St. Louis, though they sounded a good fifteen minutes after the most dangerous weather had already passed. Perhaps most troubling, though, was how garbled the voiced instructions were. They came from several different speakers, each of which spoke at a slightly different time. The result was.... well.... Let's just hope we never actually have to count on those speakers for instructions in case of an actual disaster, because we will all be in big trouble.
For the curious: The City Of St. Louis Emergency Management Agency's rather outdated, uninformative website (Shouldn't this be used to disseminate useful information, rather than animated GIFs and event schedules from 2003?)
Monday, November 28, 2005
Both have the same addresses for tax bills (those of Eagle Realty Company and Roberta DeFiore), the same agent (Harvey Noble) and only invest in north side neighborhoods in the 63106 and 63107 zip codes. The only difference is that most of the VHS Partners' properties are west of Florissant and east of Grand between Delmar and Natural Bridge, while Blairmont Associates sticks to areas east of Jefferson and west of Broadway between Cass and Branch. Oddly, neither Blairmont or VHS has many properties in depressed Hyde Park. At least not under these names.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
But here is the more important part. The author of the blog sez:
"It is offered “as is” – and may require environmental remediation."
MAY require remediation? The site is/was a COKE PRODUCTION PLANT. Coke is a byproduct of petroleum. Coke production is one of the most toxic industrial processes known to humanity--no exaggeration. Study after study after study has found that byproducts of coal production lead to the growth of cancer in human and lab animal skin and lungs. (Try Googling "coke production" together with "cancer" and you'll get a lot of relevant reading.) I'm hoping that this comment was intended to be cute, but not everyone reading would know enough about the site to realize that. When the subject is this grave, it's just not funny.
Here's a story that broke first in the blogs and was picked up on television news. I feel good about helping get the story to the attention of news organizations with wider audiences. (Note that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has yet to report the problems with the parking garage gone wrong.)
Friday, November 25, 2005
St. Louis Centre, of course, was a ghost town. A windowpane in the skywalk over Locust Street near a Famous-Barr entrance was missing and covered with plywood. The tile floors are caked in more grime than many abandoned houses I've been inside. Gold's Gym will be opening inside the mall at the corner or 7th and Locust, but will wisely have its only entrance off of the street.
At least Papa Fabarre's, the lovely cafe inside of Famous-Barr, was bustling on Wednesday when we joined a friend for lunch there. Federated would do well to leave Fabarre's alone, unless they want to completely kill off the store. Fabarre's has been a consistent and largely unchanged part of Famous-Barr for many decades, and has not lost any of its charm. Its menu is broad and simple, with low prices that only a department store could afford to get away with. (I frequently get a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato and fried there for $4.64 including tax.)
Anything unique about the store is departing next year, except for Fabarre's. Right?
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Blairmont owns the James Clemens House, the scene of an unfortunate robbery last week. (More on that soon!)
No one has found much about them, as their corporate registration was done through a third party and their mailing address was at Eagle Realty Company.
The city Assessor's database record for the Brecht buildings gives a new address, however.
According to the record, Blairmont Associates' address is 4131 Davis Street in Boulevard Heights. 4131 Davis Street is a private residence owned by Roberta M. Defiore, Ph.D., who is employed by St. Louis University and assists the St. Louis Archdiocesan Office of Urban and Community Affairs, the strategic planning arm of the Church.
Interesting. But I still don't know who Blairmont is. For all that I know, this record is in error and the address is wrong. The record leaves out the customary "LC" behind the name of Blairmont, but that's probably one of those danged old typos Claire mentioned.
Word is circulating that the city's Building Division is suing Blairmont over the condition of the Clemens House.
Whatever is going on, Blairmont may want to come forward and tell Fifth Ward residents the who, what and why they want to know -- before suspicions run too deep.
"Mr. Miserez asked Ms. Kathleen Barney to give a project status update on the Ninth Street Garage construction issues. Ms. Barney reported there were deficiencies in many of the piers poured and that with a total of 56 piers, 16 of the poured 37 piers were discovered to be substandard. The Office of Administration monitors the construction for MDFB and is considering that all the piers are bad. The developers of the project have hired experts to evaluate the piers, which has caused a delay to the project. Ms. Barney reported that the problem is the developer's responsibility and there will be no additional costs to MDFB."
We reported the news about the concrete pouring on August 16.
(Thanks to Arch City Chronicle for the link.)
DetroitBlog Thoughtfully Covers the Loss of a Small, Vernacular Detroit Building (or, "Why don't I recognize the neighborhood I grew up in?!?")
In a similar vein, and also good reading: an earlier and more elaborate detroitblog post on the history and decay of a common Detroit row house, and an update showing what that same rowhouse looks like when it's engulfed with overgrowth during the warmer months.
Wondering about analogous disappearances in St. Louis? Check out EoA's pages on 2652 Geyer, Dummitt's Confectionary, 19th and Farragut, 1854 N. 39th, Florissant Center Apartments, 914 Madison, Chouteau Avenue row houses....the list goes on. Or, if you really want to learn about disappearances in vernacular architecture, walk down a block in Hyde Park, or any other city neighborhood, for that matter.
The CSB Turns 20 Years Old, Still Takes About 20 Years to Get Around to Handling Residents' Complaints
Incase you're not familiar with it, the Citizens' Service Bureau is like customer service for the City. Street light burnt out? Call the CSB. Boards have been taken off of a vacant building? Call the CSB. Is your dumpster overflowing, your alley blocked with illegally dumped tires, your neighbor parking on mud on the lawn front of their house, your sidewalk half-ruined by a sloppy City demolition of an LRA building? Call the CSB!
But as anyone who's ever called the CSB knows, it ain't quite that easy. They have a very, very slow turn around time. Partially, this is due to the sheer volume of calls they get; St. Louis is a big city, and maintaining it is a lot of work. But the CSB could run much more efficiently if it was better organized. The biggest problem is that each time somebody complains, a brand new case file is created. CSB complaints are not connected to addresses. For example, imagine that someone had broken in to a vacant building on our block by taking the boards off of it and leaving them off. If I called to complain, then you noticed it and called to complain, then you told your next door neighbor and she called to complain, and then the business owner on the corner saw it and called to complain, that would create four separate reports that would not be linked to each other in any way. Instead of having a file labelled 634 N. Grand, there would be four different reports filed under separate case numbers. There is no way of tracking properties that have repeated problems. And if there are four separate reports, does the Building Division then get sent to the same place four times over? How does that work? The current system does not make sense.
If CSB reports were tied to addresses, it would be possible to see if the problem had already been reported and scheduled for a response. It would also be possible to keep track of problem properties and address them. If people are continuously illegally dumping or breaking boards off a certain building, law enforcement or another agency might be able to address that.
It would also make sense to be able to review complaints by property owner, to establish if there is a major pattern of problems that requires action. For instance, our neighbors on Sullivan who happen to have a City dumpster behind their house get in trouble sometimes when there is too much dumping in it. That may or may not be their fault, but it's not that big of a deal. The CSB Representative could look up all three properties that they own and see that it's not a consistent issue--the dumpster still needs to be taken care of, but it's not a frequent enough problem to warrant significant concern. However, in Forest Park Southeast, trash frequently piles up around the property at 4501 Manchester, which is owned by PJD Investment Co., (which is operated by Dave Renard of the Renard Paper Company. The Renard Paper Company sits directly across the street from 4501 Manchester, but Dave never stops to clean up the trash!). If someone called the CSB to complain about the latest pile of insulation, branches, and broken light fixtures dumped in front of 4501 and left unabated, the CSB Representative might be able to look up PJD Investment Co. and see that they also own properties on Swan, along Manchester, and elsewhere in the neighborhood, and that those properties often have similar problems (illegal dumping, no maintenance, and boards being removed). The records would show that PJD Investment Co. has owned these buildings for years, and so it's not as if they had only just purchased them and had not yet had time to address problems. The records would suggest that PJD Investment Co. is a bad neighbor and a negligent property owner, and the City could take steps to do something about it. I am, of course, wary that this might be mis-used as a form of small-time eminent domain in order to take desirable property away from owners. But optimistically speaking, if CSB complaints were indexed by property owner and punitive actions were taken only where they were really, truly necessary, this could be a powerful tool for getting negligent landlords in line. (Of course, the single most negligent landlord in St. Louis is the City's own Land Reutilization Authority, but that's a whole different essay. Who knows, maybe keep a record of what a mess they make of their own property would do some good?)
One more way that the CSB needs to change is that there should be a way to expedite cases in which there is an extreme problem at hand. Sometimes, a problem as simple as a pile of tree branches or a removed board-up can create great problems. But I cannot count the times I have told a CSB representative that the problem was making life on our block much more dangerous, only to receive fumbled variations on "There's absolutely nothing I can do about it." CSB responses can take weeks and even months to be completed, and they don't come any faster if the issue at hand is causing great personal danger to community residents. You just have to keep walking past that trash-covered vacant apartment building where suspicious people sleep on the porch and lawn every night. You just have to keep walking past the alley full of branches where people hide. You just have to keep hearing the agonizingly slow, screeching metallic rattle of somebody dragging stolen scrap metal down the alley behind your apartment every night, cos the CSB doesn't care if that boarded up building on your block is an active center of theft, they'll get to it when they get to it. If the CSB was really oriented towards making the quality of life better for St. Louisans, it would speed up cases where people or property were in significant danger. This could save lives, and might also help to protect StL's wonderful old buildings from architectural theft and other forms of vandalism.
In closing, I will leave you with a paragraph I submitted in response to the satisfaction survey that the CSB invites StL residents to fill out after their complaint has received a response. I got this e-mail on November 2. Those of us living around this corner had been complaining to CSB since late summer, when the problem materialized, and it took until November 2 for me to get this response from the CSB. I wrote this in the comments box at the bottom of their satisfaction survey:
"This large deposit of branches started blocking the alley behind Swan over two months ago! The blockage of the alley created a large amount of crime on our corner, from people who knew they could deal drugs and harass neighborhood residents because no police car (or other car) would be able to follow them up the alley. On my way home from work (I can't drive, so I was forced to walk past that corner.), I was cussed out and threatened IN FRONT OF MY OWN HOME repeatedly by vagrants who took to living next to the pile of debris. I explained this to the representative on the phone, but she didn't seem to care, and it still took you guys this long to take care of it (There should be a way to expedite CSB requests in cases where they are causing or contributing to unusually dangerous conditions!). We've already had to move out of that area because it was so dangerous, and you're just now getting around to taking care of that problem?!? That's not acceptable! I don't know how anyone in city government expects people to start moving into St. Louis if we can't even take care of little basic problems like this for people who already live here."
Monday, November 21, 2005
One of them did have something to say about the new logo (unveiled today!), though: "It looks like a whiffle ball."
"Like a whiffle ball?" I asked.
"You know the old logo that looked like the Death Star?"
"It looks like that, but like it was drawn by a child. It looks like it was drawn by a child. The letters are all lowercase, and that makes it look even more childish. Nobody likes it. Billion dollar company, and that's the best they can come up with?"
...hm. I wonder when we'll see this brave new design posted atop the massive, gray tower on Pine Street?
Becker's essay is one of the best accounts of Federated's name-erasing sweep across the country. While the essay only mentions the death of Field's, its arguments apply to the end of Famous-Barr too.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
To the curious and interested.....
awhile back I sent out an update message on the Century Building malicious prosecution suit. At the time I reported that we had had a hearing on the motion made by the plaintiffs to disqualify Matt Ghio as our attorney. During a hearing on Friday for another matter we learned that Judge Ohmer had denied the disqualification motion back on September 30th, but neither side had been notified. Chalk one up for the good guys!
Thanks to all who sent messages of inquiry and support.
- The music of Grandpa's Ghost of Pocahontas, Illinois. If you really want to know what Illinois sounds like at night when the spirits start coming out to play, don't take the word of some guy from New York City. Getcherself some Grandpa's Ghost.
- Ching Ching's Old Fashioned Snack Shop at 3332 N. 19th Street, just a few blocks north in Hyde Park. While I am not wild about some of the "rehab" touches on this building, the story behind it is encouraging: a couple saved up their own money and avoided a rehab loan to take this former LRA building from a shell to one of Hyde Park's bright lights. And what a light it is! The food is awesome. Where else on the north side can vegetarians like us get a burger and fries that we can eat? That's right, veggie burgers are available in Hyde Park.
UPDATE: Ching Ching's closed in 2006.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Currently, this entire space is covered by three parking lots. One of these lots is crudely paved with gravel ringed by the top of a remaining foundation walls of a now-gone building. The sidewalk along Locust is in horrible disrepair. This area is a visual and functional dead zone in a downtown rapidly gaining pedestrian movement.
Civic bigwigs want to keep it that way, except they would replace the asphalt and gravel covering the lot with grass. They have released proposed renderings of a sterile and ill-designed "plaza" that is too large to be a good urban space and too devoid of uses to remedy the blight of the location.
The one use the planners have allowed to intrude upon the site is an ugly glass-walled addition to the Mayfair Hotel, proposed by the Roberts Companies. This addition would sit in from the sidewalk lines, and not even come close to fronting Locust or Eighth streets. Yet it would be large enough to make building a building at the corner feasible. The design is based upon the site's always being dead space.
Could we please bring this site back to life? The last thing downtown needs is more open space. One block to the east of this site is the more modestly-sized "plaza" built by Mercantile Bank on the site of the Ambassador Building, wrecked in 1996 and 1997. This open space consists of a big driveway and some landscaping, so it's pretty unattractive. But its size is not wholly inappropriate to a big city and, if a building were built across Locust on a parking lot, the site would be framed tightly. If Mercantile would turn the site over to civic use (there is not even a place to sit on the site at present), this could be a fairly urban downtown plaza.
Let's be sensible.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Below is a paraphrased and exaggerated version of the exchange.
HIM: This bridge is still going to be the biggest bridge being built right now, he told me. Despite the scaled-back design and the elimination of the impressive single-span truss, it will still create some local records for truss width and height. It will be monumental.
ME: Oh, interesting. Very good.
HIM: Do you live in the neighborhood?
HIM: Well, we scaled back all of our plans for the interchange. The parkway is gone. All we are proposing is one interchange at Cass Avenue. This won't have such a big impact on the neighborhood. This won't be as disruptive.
ME: Good. That's what I came to see -- how it will impact the neighborhood. I haven't seen the maps yet, so let me look at them before asking any questions.
So, he first stressed how big and important the bridge will be under the new plans, then how it will be less harmful to Old North St. Louis. I see they have strong talking points that address the two types people most interested in the bridge: highway enthusiasts and near north side residents.
Too bad the plans don't match the spin on the second point. The bridge's off ramp will claim the historic Joseph Wangler boiler works and, despite its not being in the way of the new off ramp, the factory building and warehouse at 13th and Cass. Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh streets will be interrupted for the off ramp and will not connect to downtown. Several homes in Old North east of I-70 are still being torn down for a new interchange at St. Louis Avenue.
Not as disruptive as before, yes.
Still very damaging to the built environment on the near north side. My concerns are somewhat parochial and surround the connectivity of the heart of Old North St. Louis with downtown. The biggest impact of the bridge on the city cannot be mitigated without halting the project completely -- it will become a wall between the area of Laclede's Landing and the North Riverfront industrial corridor. This wall will eliminate views of the downtown skyline from numerous large warehouse buildings on the North Riverfront being considered for future loft apartment conversion. The bridge piers will cut too close to exciting projects planned for the old Southwestern Freight Depot and the St. Louis Stamping Company buildings.
For another opinion on the bridge, read Steve Patterson's recent post in Urban Review St. Louis.
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
Please let us know.
Here's my list:
- Swan, Norfolk and Vista at Taylor
- St. Charles from 10th to 9th and 8th to Broadway (lots of demolition of new junk needed for this)
- Dolman at Lafayette and at Chouteau
- Carroll at the Truman Parkway
- Hadley between Warren and Benton
- Benton between 13th and Hadley
- 14th between St. Louis and Warren and between Madison and Chambers
- Montgomery between Blair and 13th
- Chambers between 13th and 14th
- Locust between 4th and Broadway
- Pine between Jefferson and Beaumont
- 16th and 17th between Martin Luther King and Cole
- 15th between Delmar and Cole
- 13th between Market and Clark
- Geyer between Jefferson and Ohio
That's just off the top of my head and includes merely places that I have been in the last week. What do you want to add?
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
In the old days, wreckers like Spirtas would have done something dramatic. The Cardinals cancelled an implosion when they fell ahead of schedule on completion of the new stadium, a decision that will save money and avoid spectacle. Nowadays, even the passing of a landmark like Busch Stadium is treated like a neutral even by city leaders. The suggestion the Cardinals propaganda makes is that the demolition is a non-event that will be over before we realize it is going on. They promise the noise and dust won't be too extreme, the season will start on-time at the new stadium and nothing will be out of the ordinary. The new stadium itself is almost a non-building, with its trite, neutral appearance.
Demolition, however, is very much out of the ordinary. The psychological impact of seeing a landmark destroyed is big, and once there is a huge pile of rubble where Busch Stadium once stood the spin will be hard to justify. There will be a disruption.
The Stadium will be gone, and a scar will be left in its place. At the rate it will take the Cardinals to redevelop the old site, the city and its residents will be faced with that scar for a long time to come.
Sunday, November 6, 2005
Recent Slay Blog entries part B: Two major transit projects destroyed Old North in the first place, so why not make it an even three?!?
"•The new bridge would be good for Downtown and for the City of St. Louis"
Yeah, EXCEPT FOT THE NORTH SIDE. The bridge will further cut my neighborhood, Old North St. Louis, off from Downtown with the big, icky wall it would create. Already, there are only a couple of walking routes left, and in order to drive on the neighborhood you have to go around it. The street grid between Downtown and my neighborhood has been barbarized, and to what end? The abandoned Schnucks (Still owned by Desco! GEE, THANKS DESCO!) isn't really worth those dead ends, is it?
Old North's connection to Downtown is part of what has driven its amazing revitalization in recent years. Certainly, the fact that Michael and I could walk to our Downtown jobs in under half an hour was part of what drew us here. And it seems that every time I go Downtown, I run into people I know from Old North. During my Sunday AM shift at the grocery store today, two of my neighbors happened to come into the store to shop, completely independently of each other. Old North folks are connected to Downtown. Oh, and I need not point out that Downtown's growth will naturally spill out into the surrounding areas.... If we let them remain connected to Downtown, that is.
What I find particularly offensive about the bridge plans is that major transit lines smashing through this area drove its destruction in the first place! Old North was one of the densest, most vital areas of the city, with multiple dwellings and businesses on nearly every lot. When the Interurban Rail tracks smashed through part of the neighborhood in the 1930s, bringing demolitions and relocating many tightly knit communities, the area gradually began its decline. (Even today, some of the most devastated areas of the neighborhood are near those tracks!) Within a couple of decades, the area was again the victim of a large-scale transportation project, this time when highway 70 was constructed. It cut the neighborhood right in half, and to see what came of it, you need only look at a satellite image of the area and see how many vacant lots there now are. Even as the area now rebounds, parts of the neighborhood east of the highway seem to go left out of the positive change.
You'd think that Old North and the City of St. Louis would have learned that slicing up Old North with transit lines that bring demolition and create physical barriers is a really, really bad idea--the kind of idea that killed the neighborhood in the first place! But what does Slay's blog say about the bridge?
"•The new bridge will be built"
So, we keep blocking and chopping up regular ol' city streets and walking paths, only to lament that we must build more enormous-scale transit projects because for some mysterious reason, no one can get around. And we keep assaulting the Near North Side with stupid, destructive transit projects, even though they have a terrible track record.
This reminds me so much of old 1930s and '40s plans for St. Louis that I've read. Entire city neighborhoods, including Old North and Hyde Park, were declared "obsolete." And there was a definite focus on big streets--first it was the widening of North Florissant (which now gets moderate traffic at best!) and Gravois to make a sort of city street expressway, and later the expressways themselves were put in. The idea was demolish demolish demolish, and make big wide roads for cars. If that line of thinking worked for this area, wouldn't it have worked sometime in the past 70 years? Why is now different? And why are we still operating on these outmoded, obviously ineffectual methods of city planning?
The author of Mayor Slay's blog also commented on the problems with financing the bridge, declaring:
"You can’t build a bridge on pointed fingers."
Yeah, I'll tell you where you can point them fingers, and for that matter, where you can put that bridge. Take it and use it to permanently slice your neighborhood apart and to isolate your community from its surroundings. Put it there in your gleaming Southwest City neighborhood and see how your neighborhood looks in ten years. Take that bridge and keep it, 'cos we don't want it here.