Monday, July 31, 2006
Topics that will come up: Buildings, St. Louis, blogging, and modernism.
Topics that may also come up (no promises on this whatsoever): Marilyn Monroe paintings, Government Hill in Forest Park, dead malls, the Chainsaw Kittens, pit bulls, Old North St. Louis, Panorama Lanes, and modernist restroom photography.
The program airs at 7:30 p.m. on 88.1 FM and online.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
What's the hurry to get a plan approved? Why the under-announced meeting?
The revised plan, by the way, is somewhat better than the one previously submitted to the Preservation Board. I have not reviewed it in detail, and unfortunately cannot attend tomorrow's meeting since I already have plans.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
We had to split early due to a report of someone jumping our fence (later disproved), so we didn't get details. The space is apparently called The Warehouse and leased from the Pyramid Companies. Has the northward migration of the downtown art scene begun?
Let's just hope that North Broadway stays mixed-use and retains its vestiges of meaningful employment within close distance of workers' houses. There's plenty of room for art there, though.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Meanwhile, the National Memorial Church of God in Christ in Midtown St. Louis also still stands abandoned, although more secure and completely gutted. When will Grand Center, Inc., the owner of the church, make good on their promise to turn that church into a ruins garden? The last time workers were on site was in 2004, when a crew filled the basement with gravel.
The delay in Gary is due in large part because there are no private interests who want to lay claim to City Methodist, either for preservation or clearance. The burden of dedicating the church to a new future falls onto local government, which is grossly underfunded. Chicago preservation groups have no interest in getting involved in Gary, which is separated by both state lines and states of mind.
In St. Louis, though, the Church of God in Christ is owned by a non-profit redevelopment corporation that is pretty good at fundraising, even if it produces lousy urban planning. Here they have a really great idea and the financial health to pursue further fundraising, but oddly have let the plan go dormant.
Converting damaged church sanctuaries into ruins gardens is a great idea that repurposed spaces difficult to convert for profitable uses. The architecture of these two churches in particular inspires contemplation and hope. City Methodist has to be one of the most humane giant buildings I've ever seen, while Church of God in Christ is relatively small and austere. These buildings have each suffered fires and have passed any point at which church life would have returned. While restoration for other uses is feasible, these spaces have gained wonderful second lives as great, if illicit, public spaces. Purposeful conversion to ruins gardens would make their second-hand functions safer for all and socially acknowledged. Hopefully, these projects can be revived.
Monday, July 24, 2006
When brought to the Cultural Resources Office for adjudication, the homeowners usually appeal their cases to the Preservation Board. The most common defense used by these building owners is that their contractors assured them that the work was legal. (For now, I'll leave aside the aesthetic issues involved in dreadful remodeling projects.) Contractors routinely flaunt historic district ordinances out of ignorance. Building owners are equally ignorant, and don't think to question the words of trusted professionals.
While the volume of these cases is moderate, perhaps some education is in order to prevent this routine occurrence as much as that is possible. It's clear that contractors are not required to know about local historic district ordinances in order to get licensed in Missouri. That could change by requiring knowledge of the ordinances by contractors who want to work in the city.
Building owner education is also in order. Many people are not aware of the restrictions of the ordinances, nor of the benefits of local and national historic district status that allows them to use state historic tax credits for rehab work. Perhaps the city government would be interested in creating an educational program for this purpose under the Cultural Resources Office. While property owners often have only themselves to blame, the number of historic district ordinances is growing, and the ordinances themselves aren't always clear to people who lack familiarity with building materials and architectural jargon. It's easy for people observing a Preservation Board hearing to sympathize with property owners who wrongly removed wooden windows to install vinyl ones with aluminum wrapping on the brick-mold. The enforcement of the ordinances seems punitive rather than supportive, and education could be key to changing public perception.
Of course, even better would be a basic citizen's course in property ownership covering historical designations, basic architectural information, building and zoning codes, home repair and financial planning. That's a big and expensive program, so for now I'd be content to see the city try to provide better education about historic district ordinances.
Last night was the final one for Radio Cherokee.
How was it?
After Bill Ward, Galen may be my favorite drummer.
I only stayed for five minutes.
I stay in a lot. I don’t go to shows much, even the ones that feature great inspirational bands I clung to in the abyss of youth, when life and death, joy and agony seemed to hang precariously between the second and third chord of any number of crunchy, mysanthropic punk songs. My friends later berate me for missing these and other shows, but lately I prefer a few bottles of beer or wine in the quietude of my own home to the hipster parade of rock clubs and dance halls. No matter.
The point is, my wife and I were on our way home from a small gathering of friends when I got a phone message from Galen, informing me of Radio Cherokee’s impending implosion. So we swung the car around and headed back the way we had come- back towards the tree littered darkness of Cherokee Street.
The music was good- inspired even- but I couldn’t help but concentrate more on my other senses. The smell of the room and the people around me- the sweat dripping down my leg... the whir of antique fans given a renewed lease by the proprietors of the establishment. The room was awash in memory. So I had my moment of reflection, repeated to myself a few words some might call a poem or a prayer, and departed.
I’ve missed, I’m sure, many great shows there. But I’m grateful for the many I attended, and even the mediocre or horrible ones.
You see, what is at stake here, what has for the time being fallen on the field of ongoing battle, is much more than just a hole in the wall hangout for lovers of obscure musical genres and weird pop. There is an invisible divide in American culture; one that runs much deeper than politics or religion. Whether or not you, friend reader, enjoyed the bands and performers you may have seen there, you were given, every time you stepped through the door, an opportunity much too rarified of late: moments of participation in what was once upon a time called The Underground. Radio Cherokee was a place where you would never see a Camel rep scanning your friends’ IDs. There were no beer baron logos flashing into the night, no Jagermeister Girls hawking plastic trash-trinkets through chemical tans; hell, there wasn’t even a sign above the door telling you where you were. And there were no restrictions on what could happen on that tiny stage. Just the music- some amazing, some horrible, some just numbingly mediocre- created not in pursuit of Making It Big or the hope of Cashing In, but for the sake of the creation alone- for the love of the creative exchange. Here was a place where Art was more than just a tool of Commerce.
There will be other places for this to happen- the landscape of Pop is subject to many temporary ruptures. Caves and ravines open for a while, attract a few dwellers and spelunkers, then return to rubble. Perhaps this is a good thing. Innovation and change rather than stasis.
May there be one thousand times one thousand permutations to come in the new night.
Until then, Thank You Dave, Galen, Bevin, Matt Gehlert, and all the rest...
-jason wallace triefenbach
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Here is the house at 1219 Clinton Street in the south end of the neighborhood. While it was already damaged and the roof had collapsed at the start of this year, its east wall was relatively intact until Wednesday.
Here is a close-up of the damage to the roof of the William H. Niedringhaus Home on Sullivan Avenue (our house).
There's a photo of the damaged Someone Cares Mission building on Benton Street in the What's New in Old North blog.
Friday, July 21, 2006
When I returned home, I was able to get a tarp from a neighbor and make a hasty covering although continued lightning cut short my efforts. Our power stayed on long after most neighbors lost theirs, but went out before midnight. It remains off, although just last night I saw lights back on inside of Crown Candy Kitchen, where perishables had been evacuated by distributors.
Yesterday, I stayed home and obtained more tarps from neighbors and set to making a sturdier repair. An ex-neighbor who has been helping friends rehab a building that he sold to them was around and helped me with the work. I used various scrap 2x4's, 1x4's and other pieces to nail down the tarps around the edges. I further anchored the tarps with bricks.
At the moment, severe weather has returned and I am at work hoping that my work holds up today. No matter what, we will return to sleep inside of our brick oven tonight to keep thieves away.
Other news from the storm:
Winds took down part of the east wall of the Switzer's Building on Laclede's Landing.
Downtown East St. Louis took an incredible hit, with several small historic commercial buildings in states of partial collapse or with severely compromised roofs. The Stockyards area was hard hit, with the old entrance sign bent and the Robertson's feed store suffering a small collapse. Somehow, the Armour packing Plant and the Murphy Building escaped further damage.
A corner storefront building at Sidney and Lemp in south St. Louis has part of its eastern wall collapse.
Two houses in a lovely Greek Revival row on Howard Street between 13th and 14th streets lost parts of their second-story walls. A commercial building dating to te 1870s in the 1300 block of Benton Street -- the old Someone Cares Mission -- collapsed; it was already fire-damaged. The nearby Mullanphy Emigrant Home thankfully did not incur further damage.
While officials promised to help evacuate people, seniors down the street at the Jackson place senior center were still sitting around outside while the building lacked power. Ambulances came to the center all day long.
Once again, I was reminded that urban areas have grossly inadequate strategies for coping with summer heat. Winter weather can impair driving, so a lot of emergency planning covers winter storms. Summer heat waves always catch cities off guard, even though they are far deadlier than winter weather.
I can't believe that over 400,000 people in the region lack power during 100-degree heat.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
By 9:30 p.m., I was finally done dumping the last bucket of plaster into the alley dumpster.
In nine hours, I removed every bit of plaster and lath in the stairwell to our basement. This task has been on our to-do list for nearly ten months, since the plaster here was heavily damaged by smoke and water related to the flash fire that started in the house's basement in 2003. The plaster in the stairwell has long reeked of smoke, smudged our clothing and crumbled further every time one of us shut the door to the stairwell.
An aside: I do not think that all old buildings need to be gutted to the point at which all plaster is removed; often, plaster is able to be restored. Just because there are few plasterers around does not mean that one should remove it. We are restoring plaster walls and ceilings in four rooms of our house, with the help of a craftsman. While plaster isn't impossible to learn, getting a good finish coat is a challenge and something that I have not mastered. I am not experimenting on our the remaining historic plaster in our house.
For the stairwell, we chose to remove the plaster. Obviously, we could put new plaster back in place but that is cost prohibitive to us. There is a huge cost difference between tracing and filling cracks and laying up new walls and ceilings. Thus, the stairwell will come back together in drywall.
In the meantime, we are so happy to have a stairwell that is clean and free from traces of the fire.
That is, until we have to get started on repairing the back staircase that runs above the stairwell. It needs to have a bowed stringer shimmed, and possible needs to be totally dismantled. This is before the drywall can be hung. So, the nine-hour filthy demolition day was only the beginning...
This would be furniture that is in pretty good shape but that looks a little worn around the edges.
This would be understated, simple modern in plain colors, not showy stuff. But brand name modern that is nonetheless nice.
How do you think you would go about finding good homes for as much of this stuff as possible in a suitably efficient manner, were you to find yourself in such a situation?
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Washington University is seeking demolition permits from University City for three buildings: apartment buildings at 701 and 707 Eastgate north of Delmar, both built in 1925, and a house at 6654 Washington south of Delmar, built in 1918. The apartments have been empty for a few years, while the house was rented to students until this spring. The university claims that the costs of rehabilitation of these buildings exceed the return on the investment, but has no plans to redevelop the sites if demolition occurs.
I have no idea how far along in the process the university is, but I assume that the matter will follow proper demolition permit procedures and be heard by University City's Historic Preservation Commission.
Monday, July 17, 2006
1. Both sides of Olive and Locust streets between 10th and 13th streets need street trees. Also, 11th Street seems to entirely lack street trees south of Lucas (that is, where people actually walk on 11th Street).
2. Bryan Mullanphy once owned the land on which Loughborough Commons is being built. This land was still owned by his estate in 1883, albeit partly subdivided although not yet built upon.
You can read it here: The secret garden.
This is yet another quirky little facet of life that Detroit and StL (and Gary, and Camden, and East St. Louis, and other similarly emptied places) hold in common. Even though it pains me to think about what brick and facade trees mean about the health of the host building (and what they'll mean for it when their roots start growin'), they are definitely interesting.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Friday night, after totally shocking ourselves by getting a solid second place at 52nd City's very fun trivia night, a small group of us then went on to a friend's very nice, rehabbed house in Benton Park. Three out of the five of that evening's group are currently in the middle of big rehab projects (all in Old North!), which we're living in during the work. The three of us couldn't stop oohing and ahhing at our friend's nice, finished house--both because of the charming way in which it was done, and the simple fact that it is finished:
"I love the red walls!"
"This kitchen is so charming!"
"Is that stove from the 1930s?"
"I can't believe you can walk around with your shoes off! Finished floors!"
"Look! A working bathroom!"
It brought me back to when Michael and I travelled to Kankakee, Illinois, last month and stayed in a very average, cheap ol' midcentury motel and we just could not get over how clean the place was. It was definitely not a five star hotel, but man, the simple fact that it didn't have smoke stains and encrusted soot and jagged splinters everywhere made it seem like a luxury to us.
Today, I was reminded of a phrase that our neighbor and fellow rehabber Kathy Sprehe used to refer to one of her worst rehab outfits: The Sloppy Duck Entourage. I thought about that phrase a lot the first ten days after we got the keys to our house last September, when there was so much garbage and vermin inside that we absolutely could not move in. But because we'd not expected the delay in moving, all our worldly possessions were inside our friend's box truck over in Sauget. Consequently, I had two outifts at my disposal, and I was forced to alternate between them each day for those ten days. I actually got reprimanded by my employer after a few days of that, when I showed up yet again in my too-long jogging pants, a dirty du rag, and my very oversized dingy "I TALK TO CATS" t-shirt. (My boss was definitely not a rehabber.)
The phrase popped into my brain yet again today, as I was walking down the street with a filthy, junk-filled bucket in hand, wearing a pair of plaster-streaked, old, stretchy workout pants that were a good four inches too short and at least that many sizes too small for me. I had no intentions of wearing those things outside of the house, but rehab makes you do what you have to do. Hey, at least the house looks good today, even if I don't.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
When we purchased the house, a few sections of our foundation had significant erosion problems due to the intrusion of tree roots, water infiltration and -- most common -- application of hydraulic cement that fell off, pulling out mortar. After making sure that the tree and water problems were eradicated, I have systematically ground these areas out and repointed them with mortar that's a little harder than the original type used but soft enough to keep the limestone faces from spalling, a common problem brought on when people point their foundation walls with inappropriate hard mortars or cements.
The area that I finished last night was an area under a window opening where the inner stones had fallen out completely, leaving an area about a foot deep, three feet tall and four feet wide without stone. The cause of this small collapse seems to be due to water infiltration when the basement window opening was left open and crudely boarded (not sealed) for about two years following a fire in the basement in 2003.
First, I cleaned the area of the loose fill mixture and other debris. Then I ground out mortar and fill around the opening to make a good key into the stable sections of the wall. I began laying the stones a few weeks ago, one course at a time because rubble stone needs to set slowly so that the courses don't fail or push out while setting. I worked in evenings and on weekends. Of course, since the rubble stone was packed in while the entire width of the wall was being raised systematically, I had trouble getting the same stones to fit their places in the wall. I also did not know the original placement, although the outside stones carried traces of a green paint that someone once painted our basement walls (creating another problem for the mortar in the process). How did I get the wall section firm without simply cheating by using mortar to fill gaps?
I turned to the resources at our disposal: the foundation walls of the seven buildings that stood on the lots adjacent to our house that we also own. All of these walls are intact under the ground, and some are clearly visible poking up through the dirt. I mined the top levels of these walls to obtain stones to fit where the original stones could not. Sometimes, I used a hammer and chisel to cut stones to fit.
In the end, I spend many hours and about $25 in mortar to rebuild the foundation area. Time will tell if my work will hold up, but it sure beats the bids ranging from $500 to $1,100 that we had to repair that area. And our bidders proposed using block or other ways of making the job easier for them -- but not cheaper for us. I'd rather make a repair using a traditional method and pick up the skills to make it again if need be.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
The library collection has not been exhaustively cataloged, but it likely contains over 25,000 volumes and twice as many sheet drawings, photographs and primary documents. (My estimates may be conservative.)
The unspoken message is that there is a lot of cool things in the collection, and if you want to see more than a handful of scanned images you can help take the Foundation to the next level at which its holdings may be more widely available.
Friday, July 7, 2006
The Belleville News-Democrat, on the front page of its July 6 St. Louis edition.
The Kansas City Star. The Columbia Daily Tribune.
Guess which daily paper did not run the AP story, while also not updating its own scant coverage. That's right, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which had earlier ran the pathetic headline "Firefighters battle blaze at old athletics complex."
Once again, the Belleville News-Democrat has better coverage of the city of St. Louis than the Post.
Remarkably, the 1898 gymnasium facing Mallinckrodt Street survived the blaze that destroyed much of the rest of the Nord St. Louis Turnverein on the night of July 3, 2006. This survival is largely due to its later fire-proof construction that avoided the use of structural timber that the other sections of the complex used. The gymnasium utilizes steel tied into the masonry walls for its structure. The gym floor is supported by steel columns that are cross-braced for durability. These columns support steel joists under a concrete slab floor that adequately carried the weight of the roof debris that descended during the fire. My inspection on July 5 revealed that the floor was stable across the building, with no collapsed areas. I was startled to see how stable the floor was. Of course, the wooden flooring was largely deteriorated before the fire.
View of the gymnasium northwest from Mallinckrodt Street. All photographs taken on July 5, 2006.
View northeast from the corner of 20th and Mallinckrodt streets.
The masonry walls appear stable, except for sections where the parapet walls had deteriorated and lost integrity. A few sections came lose during storms in the spring, and when the roof burned the falling debris knocked lose larger areas of the walls. All four walls remain mostly intact, though. Steel trusses span the width of the building, with each truss tied into the walls. Some girders are no longer tied due to masonry disintegration. However, most are stable. These trusses are braced at two points in the center of the building by lateral steel channels.
Looking north inside of the gymnasium.
Some additional interior views:
Thursday, July 6, 2006
Who was it that said that no real estate in the city's Third Ward is worth $200,000?
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Tragedy! The Nord St. Louis Turnverein was mostly destroyed by fire on the night before July 4.
Check out our coverage here.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an article today that claims that the fire is a "total loss." This is untrue, because the steel-structure 1898 gym remains stable and could be reserved.
A neighbor reported seeing the Henry Rollins Band, the Dead Milkmen, Naked Raygun and other bands at the Turnverein during the 1970s and 1980s when promoters booked many shows there.
Monday, July 3, 2006
The Madison County Arts Council, through a generous grant from the Gateway Foundation, will begin renovation of the historic neon sign that graces the front of their building -- the Jacoby Arts Center, located at 627 E. Broadway in Alton, Illinois.
"Re-lighting the 2-story Art Deco sign will provide a strong identity for the Arts Center, help reenergize downtown Alton and revive a historic icon," said Kathryn Nahorski, Executive Director for the Arts Center. "We are honored to receive this grant from the Gateway Foundation -- an organization that supports projects including the Great Rivers Biennial, the lighting of the Gateway Arch and Sculpture on Campus at SIUE."
The building that housed Jacoby's furniture store for nearly 100 years was donated by the Jacoby family to the Madison County Arts Council in 2004. In 2 years, the building has been transformed into a community arts center, housing a gallery, gift shop and education wing. The current project, construction of three new classrooms, is nearing completion. These new facilities will allow the Arts Council to provide a broad offering of visual arts classes and meeting space for community groups such as the writers’ guild.
The Madison County Arts Council was founded in 1981 as an umbrella organization serving Madison County Illinois and adjacent areas. The Jacoby Center is the largest and most prominent of the undertakings of the MCAC. Other programs include ARTEAST, Community Arts Access, Arts in the Park and Connect the Arts.
The Madison County Arts Council is grateful to the Gateway Foundation for their generous support.
I urge city officials to thoroughly document the site, which is probably the most fertile industrial archaeological sites in the region aside from East St. Louis' Stockyards District and the Commonwealth Steel foundry in Granite City. Despite cleanup needs, some salvage of artifacts also seems reasonable given that there probably will never be a coke plant in the city of St. Louis again. That's a mixed blessing!
Sunday, July 2, 2006
Why? Because up until these past few weeks, it was by far one of the worst spots in the neighborhood for drug dealing and prostitution. It seems to have cooled off somewhat thanks to neighborly and police action, but nonetheless it remains a center of activity. This neighborhood doesn't have problems with blatant dealing and prostitution nearly on the level of a number of other places I've lived and been before (Yes, really.) and overall I feel pretty safe here, but that particular corner was one for the books.
So the (ahem) fine folks behind Blairmont looked at that and said "Let's name our company after this!"
I've heard about them trying to con a blind woman out of her home, I've lived with the effects of their neglected and frequently unsecured property, but man. This is just one more detail that goes to show you what kind of people Blairmont Associates, N&G Ventures, Noble Development, VHS Partners, and the whole mess of them are simply not good people. To put it politely.
Saturday, July 1, 2006
1. The St. Louis RV Park is the only inner city RV park in the nation.
2. It is modeled on one that used to be in San Francisco, but that one got torn down to build the Giants stadium.
Now that I have perused the StL RV Park's website (linked above), I have learned that it has a swimming pool!
Say what you will (and I'm sure some of you will), but I actually like the RV park here, and have liked it since I used to pass it daily on my way to class at nearby Gateway Middle School. I think has a unique charm, and it's a fairly dense form of living, even if it ain't an Italianate 1860s row house. With all the vacant land we've got up here on the Near North Side, I think that we definitely have room for the RV Park, in addition to our lovely 19th century homes.