We've Moved

Ecology of Absence now resides at www.preservationresearch.com. Please change your links and feeds.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans Update

E-mail from an anonymous rescue worker that has been circulating online:

There are dead animals floating in the water, pets left behind. Surely people thought they would be back to collect the pets. Not so. The rescuers smell like gas when they come back in; there's gas in all of the water that consumes the area. Fires are burning all over the place. Our teams are tired and they are thirsty and they are hungry. And they have a place to sleep and water to drink and food to eat. I can only imagine how the people without these "luxuries" are feeling right now.

Each night will be a race against time. When night falls, people can't get picked up from roofs, the rescuers can't chop into people's roofs to check the attics for anyone alive or for anyone dead (sadly, there are dead). At night we can't see power lines we can't see obstacles, we can't see any of the things that will bring down a helicopter or pose a danger to boats rescuers.

One of the teams came in today after having been out for hours at a time. One particular rescuer went straight to a corner and collapsed into tears. I went directly to him and just held his hand. What else could I do?

I said nothing. He said it all. They lowered him 26 times and he pulled 26 people to safety. He wants to be back out there but there are mandatory rest periods. His tears are tears of frustration.

Entire teams are working on nothing but evacuating the hospitals. All four of the major hospitals are beginning to flood. Critical patients have to get out or surely they will be lost. Generators cannot run forever; that's just the way it is. There are limited facilities to take those that are rescued and those that need to be evacuated. Anything that leaves by air leaves by helicopter. There are no runways for planes that aren't under water. Only one drivable way in and out.

Water everywhere and more keeps coming. Until they can do something about the three levees that are broken, more water will come and more water will kill. The water poses major health threats. Anyone with even a small open cut is prone to infection. Anyone who touches this water and touches his eyes, nose or mouth without find a way to 'clean' himself first will be sick with stomach problems before long. It's bad and it's getting worse. It's not going to be anything better than devastating for days or weeks at best.

I wish I could tell you that I'll check in again soon. I can't. I don't know when my next message will get out. We'll be leaving where we are within just an hour or so.

Jeff Chapman (Ninjalicious), 1974 - 2005.

Jeff Chapman, better known as Ninjalicious and as founder of the zine Infiltration and a leader of the urban exploration (UE) community, passed away on Tuesday, August 23, 2005. He was 31.

I've never been big on reading material that labels itself as UE, but what I've read of Ninj's work has stood out to me as being different. He shows a great reverence for the sites he visits. Besides just visiting and photographing restricted sites, he researches them and advocates for preservation. Clearly, his exploration was driven by love for places as much as it was for sheer thrills. His natural curiosity shows through both in his writing and in the depth of his exploration. Abandoned places scare the crap out of me, and even when I love a building and have visited it half a dozen times, there are often certain places I just won't go in a building because they scare me too much. Ninj, though, would reach a door seemingly leading to nothing, and instead of turning around he'd crawl down a rusty ladder, climb through several tunnels, and then spend hours crawling through a dense maze of steam pipes, just to see what was there, just to know that place. That really impresses me.

Also impressive is his deep understanding of the relationship between his work and architectural ideas. Ninj was involved with the Toronto Architectural Conservancy and in particular its efforts to preserve historic hospitals in Toronto. He created the hilarious Cloney Time portion of the infamous site Not Fooling Anybody, which is edited by his wife and collaborator Liz Clayton. He wrote about buildings and changes outside of simply exploring abandoned and forbidden places -- he understood that there were many ways to consider the captured space that is architecture.

We'd hoped to meet Ninj someday, even though we didn't know him beyond the complimentary e-mail he sent to Michael last year about Ecology of Absence, in which he said he took especially great interest in the writing on the site. The more we've read about him since his passing, the more we wish we'd gotten to meet him. He seems like he was very friendly and inclusive, and like he put so much out there into the world. But I guess we'd just assumed he'd be around and that we'd meet him someday. Now, he's left us. It's not often that I feel so hard hit by hearing of the death of someone I never knew, but Ninj was just such an institution that he can't be gone, can he?

For more information about Jeff Chapman, see Death of a Ninj from The Torontoist (August 25). Better yet, seek out his diverse writings and web projects.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

French Village Drive-In, 1942-2005

A reader e-mailed me today to let me know that the French Village Drive-In is being demolished. I drove out to the drive-in this evening and saw that this is indeed happening. The siding on the ticket house has been removed, and the screen wall dismantled, but the rest of the structures remain...for now. In one week, most of it will be gone.

I had no idea the demolition was imminent -- the church that is tearing it down has threatened to tear it down before with no action. The loss is sad. This is one of the few structures designed to accommodate automobiles that I advocated preserving.

Monday, August 29, 2005

King of the Ghetto

The one-story corner commercial building at 4501 Swan Avenue was until last month home of the Genesis Mission, an outreach organization for homeless people. Say what you want about Genesis -- and there's probably a lot to say -- they had the building in use during daytime hours seven days a week. They were evicted in July, and thus began a cycle of trouble that may still be very young.

First, almost immediately after the mission closed, homeless people began sleeping on chairs on Taylor Avenue up against the building. Then, the mission threw out all of their remaining donations into a huge dumpster. This work happened in one day's time, but the dumpster sat in front of their building for over one week, attracting illegal dumping. (Some folks came and salvaged items, including perfectly functional bicycles, winter coats and furniture!) Before the dumpster finally disappeared, the dealers showed up to play in the alley behind the building, taking advantage of the fact that a huge load of tree branches effectively blocks that alley and creates a great place for vice. Locals around here always avoid that alley, and now must avoid that corner.

The dealers are moderately aggressive, and seem to do well here. Why wouldn't they? This part of Forest Park Southeast is neglected, and the street closures and disrepair -- to be chronicled on our site soon -- make this a perfect place for crime. Oh, and this part of the neighborhood is a political pariah in many ways, so complaints are likely to be ignored.

Suffice to say that the corner of Taylor and Swan is becoming a trouble spot. We currently live near this corner, but are moving out in a few weeks to a northside neighborhood that is infinitely safer and prettier with a better sense of community. We can't wait -- but not all of our friends can move out or want to move out. Hopefully someone will take care of this corner, which would necessitate the larger goal of reopening closed streets and giving due political attention to this part of Forest Park Southeast.

By the way, the owner of 4501 Swan and the trash-strewn vacant lot across Taylor at 4461 Swan -- a lot that neighbors here keep mowing and cleaning -- might be familiar to some of us:

King Auto Financing Inc.
3300 South Kingshighway
St. Louis, MO 63139

King gets to safely sell cars elsewhere while the rest of us don't often invite friends over out of fear that their cars might get stolen. (Ours is your run-of-the-mill St. Louis beater, so we don't worry much.)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Marrocchi Exhibits: Online and in the Real World

New to Ecology of Absence are photographs from St. Mary's Infirmary by Yves Marrocchi.

Yves will be exhibiting photographs from in and around the ruins of St. Louis at Meshuggah Cafe, 6683 Delmar Boulevard in the University City Loop, starting tomorrow. His photographs show deft sensitivity to lighting and an intense curiosity about objects left behind in abandoned places. Check out his work.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sonic Atrophy: 2001-2005

Readers may recall Sonic Atrophy, the website with haunting photographs of abandoned places in and around St. Louis. Sonic Atrophy existed from 2001 until yesterday and was probably the only site of its kind in St. Louis until I started Ecology of Absence in 2003. It was still the only site of its kind because Ecology of Absence took off in a different direction. Repeated viewings of Sonic Atrophy re-kindled my awe for documenting urban decay, and led me to begin again my work photographing changes in St. Louis.

That site's creator, Tripfate, informed us last night that the site was going to become defunct; s/he no longer has the spare time to maintain the site. As of yesterday, the site was still available online. Now, it is gone.

I miss it.

Animal Regulation indeed

Mayor Slay’s campaign literature in this past election kept repeating that “St. Louis will be a great city again!!!!!” It implied that we are not currently great (bullshit!), and that if elected, Mayor Slay himself would personally make this city into a shining beacon of urbanity.

Well, today I got a letter in the mail from the City of St. Louis Department of Health. We just had our cats vaccinated, and now the city wants us to pay its standard $4 vaccination and registration fee. At the bottom of the page, it said:

Interesting. The implication seems to be that 1. we’re not a great city right now (again, bullshit!) and 2. the only thing keepin’ us down is that our kitties and puppies are reproducing too much.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Transcript available

CBS New Sunday Morning has posted a transcript of this morning's program, Form Over Function, which featured preservation battles over Edward Durrell Stone's 2 Columbus Circle building in New York, historic homes in the Chicago suburb of Kenilworth and the Century Building in St. Louis.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Good News in FPSE

Thank goodness! David Renard has finally sold his Forest Park Southeast properties to Amrit and Amy Gill, who are taking on another 33 properties there. The Gills do great work, and have almost singlehandedly put the life back into Midtown. Unlike other investors in FPSE, the Gills aren't land-banking or demolishing old buildings. Hopefully they'll keep the neighborhood affordable.

Work Resumes on Shoppe/Garage Structure

Work resumed at the Century Building Memorial Parking Garage on Wednesday, when I took this photograph. When I was there, the workers were drilling and also working on the elevator shaft structure rising on the southeast corner of the site.

Is it just my fuzzy vision, or does that corner sit several feet closer to Olive Street than the Century Building did?

And, does anyone know if the Old Post Office has any tenants other that the phony library branch, the Court of Appeals, Webster University and the Pasta House Company? Since the renovation is nearing completion, I expect a triumphant tenant roster of entities other than those owing or offering favors.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Century Building Memorial Parking Garage work stoppage update

What is causing the ongoing work stoppage at the hole in the ground where there used to be a Century Building?

Little Birdie #1 said that they drilled down 60 feet and hit water.

Little Birdie #2 said that they had been doing concrete testing. After two weeks, the concrete poured was bad, so they wanted to give it a full 28 days to cure completely (Concrete takes 28 days to cure.). This sounds possible, but strange because so much has been poured and built already. Piers are there, as are much of the beginnings of an elevator shaft, although it is possible.

Little Birdie #3 said that they drilled down 60 feet and hit water, and they didn't know when they'd be able to start again.

Little Birdie #4 said that they drilled down 60 feet and hit water, and they need to drill down 80 feet. When the concrete testing story was mentioned, this birdie said that a lot of things are going wrong with the garage, but they'll start work again tomorrow.

It's hard to say conclusively what's true, but it's interesting to me that this problem of the site being full of water keeps coming up.

Very early in the life of the Century Building, there was an office where one could purchase tickets for the ill-fated Titanic. Part of the reason the Titanic ultimately sank was that some of its officers tried to push ahead despite bad conditions because they wanted to set a world record on the maiden voyage of the ship. Foolish pride and pushing ahead despite the conditions is sinking work on the former site of a ticket office of the Titanic, at least for the time being.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Sounds of Summer?

Snap! Whoosh!

Those are the sounds of a gabion wall rusting out and spilling gravel into the streets of Hyde Park. Or maybe it's the sound of some kid with wire snips cutting the baskets open, in which case another sound would be heard: a cry for help as the vandal is buried under gravel.

Not very reassuring sounds. Hope they are only coming from my imagination.

Shoppes, garage stalled

Work has stopped on the Century Building Memorial Parking Garage (also sometimes called the Ninth Street Garage), the structure being built on the Century Building site. The work stoppage started last Monday, when an irate Steve Stogel was seen inspecting the site and yelling at workers. Word on Olive Street is that there is a problem with the new piers poured this spring.

The ongoing folly of Stogel's abuse of the Century site continues. Perhaps leaving the Century base plates and basement walls in place left enough of that building's energy behind to fatally doom the garage and its shoppes. Or perhaps suing caring downtown residents is a self-cursing gesture.

We'll have more information as it comes in.

The Stained Glass Fence

On one of those rare instances where we watch network television news, we caught a report on a KTVI Channel 2 news program about the South Patrol's efforts to return stolen stained glass windows to south city building owners. Buried at the end of the reports was this tidbit:

The thief sold all of the windows to a single local antiques dealer who cut a deal with police to escape prosecution.

There's the real story. The police can catch every "stained glass bandit" and these dealers remain, ready to sell stolen goods and fueling the market in thievery by creating demand.

Who was this dealer? KTVI didn't release the name.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Reform the Central West End MetroLink station

The Central West End MetroLink station has become the least accessible station in the system. Once upon a time, the station was quite easy to access -- its entrance on Euclid Avenue pt it on an open street, there were a few back paths to the station and all was well. In the twelve years since the station opened, the growth blob of the Barnes-Jewish-Childrens Hospital has engulfed the station with new buildings and a disastrous closing of Euclid between Forest Park and Childrens' Place. The station's visibility has declined and access is not as easy. The only back path remaining is an illegal and unwise walk from the platform to Taylor Avenue, which bypasses ticket machines and validators. This path is no option to disabled persons, either. The main entrance on Euclid is obscured by the street closure, which has created an elbow flow at the Euclid and Childrens Place intersection. This flow has made pedestrian life in this area difficult since people don't come to the same sort of stop at an elbow as they did at a full T intersection. That is, they don't really stop.

Lately, a large half-block section of sidewalk on Euclid immediately south of the station has been closed for six months for construction of a new building. A covered scaffold could have been put in palce during the project's duration but such a pedestrian and transit-friendly gesture is of little interest to BJC planners.

I don't even have to mention ow the mono-use blob development of the hospital has made life pretty boring around the station -- there are no shops, no bathrooms and little visual interest.

What needs to be done to make the station better?

- Re-opening Euclid.

- Creating another station entrance at Taylor.

- Creating some strategic cut-throughs in the enormous and large-scaled hospital complex.

- Placing storefronts in the new hospital building adjacent to the station. (Tenants won't move in, of course, if Euclid remains closed south of Forest Park.)

The situation at the Central West End MetroLink station is proof that density alone doesn't make for an inviting and person-friendly built environment. Access and thoughtful design choices are essential to making a big city work for its residents and visitors.


Who allowed the establishment known as Al Hrabosky's Ballpark Saloon to build its, uh, temporary-appearing buildings in the railyards south of Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Get Your Stolen Stained Glass Back!

From the St. Louis Metropolitan Police:

"The Metropolitan Police Department will give area residents the opportunity to view and claim recovered stolen stained glass windows on Saturday, August 13, and Sunday, August 14, at the South Patrol Division, 3157 Sublette beginning at 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Members of the Department's South Patrol Detective Bureau have recovered a large number of stained glass windows that were stolen from homes throughout South St. Louis over the past year or longer. Anyone that may have been a victim of a burglary where stained glass windows were taken is welcome to view the property at the South Patrol Division this weekend. Victims must provide proof of ownership to retrieve

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

After the Smoke Clears

I returned to the fire on MLK today and also did some research.

The building that burned was a two-story commercial building at the rear of 4416-22 Martin Luther King. I write "rear" because the building that burned down was not attached to the storefront building that faces Martin Luther King -- good news for the building, I suppose.

The rear building was reduced to a pile of rubble and only a few sections of the outer brick walls stand, none higher than eight feet.

Saint Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church owns the buildings.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Milwaukee's Loss

Milwaukee's landmark National Liquor Bar will soon fall to make way for a drug store. Fortunately, a lot of parts of the building -- including its scrumptious neon sign -- sold at an auction this weekend.

I hope that the neon sign stays in Milwaukee, and gets attached to another building in that fair city. It's a work of public art.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

LoftWorks Wants to Hear from You

Kudos to Craig Heller and Loftworks for actually soliciting public comments for their redevelopment of the Syndicate Trust Building. I'm impressed that any developer is trying this hard to be responsive to the needs of the creative people who are the life's blood of this city.


Loftworks LLC and the Sherman Associates (of Minneapolis) are developing the Syndicate Trust building downtown into lofts and are planning to include affordable housing, as well as common gallery and "dirty" work space, that will appeal to artists.

As they develop their plans, they'd like to have artist input. That's where you come in. You don't have to be a potential user of the housing -- just someone who understands what artists of various types might want or need. The developers would like to hear your input so they can shape something that really serves the local arts community.

A focus group on Thursday, August 4 will allow them to hear perspectives from the artist community before they refine their plans. They'll share floorplans and proposed plans for the common areas. Please join us:

WHAT: Artist Community Focus Group

WHEN: Thursday, August 4, 6 p.m.

WHERE: Gallery Urbis Orbis, 419 N. Tenth St.

WHAT ELSE: Refreshments (chewable and drinkable) will be provided.

RSVP via email by Wednesday to Margie at mmnewman@earthlink.net


Margie and Alan
Gallery Urbis Orbis