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Thursday, October 28, 2004

More fires in St. Louis's McRee Town neighborhood

From the October 26 St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"3 suspicious fires hit McRee Town

"Suspicious fires were set in two vacant buildings in McRee Town early Monday and in a third building nearby, authorities reported. The fires were in the 4000 block of McRee and Folsom Avenues in McRee Town and a three-story multifamily building at 39th Street and Shaw Boulevard.

"All the fires were discovered between 3 and 4 a.m., and police bombing and arson squad detectives presume all three were set by the same person. McRee Town was beset by a rash of fires in December, but until Monday the area had had just one fire over the past six months."

Seems that wholesale land clearance and gentrification have done nothing to make this area safer.

Be the Century Building for Halloween.

Halloween is in just a few days, so we thought we'd suggest a costume idea that's actually frightening: The partially demolished Century Building.

First, you'll need to procure a large cardboard box, or, lacking that, several sheets of cardboard or smaller boxes that you can combine into a big Century Building shape. Local stores like liquor stores, grocery stores, and big-box chain stores often have boxes that you can take (for free!). If you go to a store and don't see any, ask a worker. If possible, try to find a white box to save yourself effort later when you decorate the box (to match the color of the Century's facade).

Once you've got a big box, you'll want to add a head hole, armholes, and a place for your legs to go. We suggest starting this step by cutting the flaps off of the (open) top of the box and turning the whole box upside-down, so that there is an entire open side of the box for your legs. This will make it easy for you to remove the costume if you need to go to the bathroom, and will also make it easy for you to walk or run around incase you're pursued by any bloodthirsty, money-hungry developers (more on that later).

After you've made an opening for your legs, add the head and arm holes. When considering the size for the head hole, you may want to take into account that it'll be easier to just make a smallish head hole than to deal with making a very large hole and adding suspenders to hold the box up on your shoulders.

When you've got the box tailored to fit you, you'll want to make the box look less like a cardboard box and more like the Century Building. If the box you're using is not close to white, you'll want to make it off-white to capture the look of that beautiful, rare, soon-to-be-rubble Georgian marble. Paint (cheap poster paint, perhaps) would be effective and easy. You could also glue or tape paper to the box.

For the roof, you probably just want to color, paint, or paper the top of the box over so that it’s black, to match the roof of the Century. (Built St. Louis has a good view of the Century’s roof here). If you’re big on accuracy, you could draw a few gray rectangles and circles or even glue on very small gray boxes to represent the structures on the roof.

Next come the windows and main features of the building. Michael Allen's 2002 article on the Century at Indymedia has a couple of images of the whole building that give a pretty good overall view of how the building looks. There are similarly helpful photos at Built St. Louis on Rob Powers's article"The Case Against an Urban Plaza". Also on Built St. Louis are this picture and this picture. And, of course, if you live in or near St. Louis, you could always go see the Century (or what’s left of it, anyway) for yourself.

It’d probably be a good idea to sketch everything on and lay out where it will go before you get started. (Remember, yard and meter sticks exist to help you!) The media you use to represent windows and other important features is up to you. You could use pencils, markers, or paint. You could glue on construction paper, magazine page cuttings, wallpaper, or aluminum foil for the windows. Be creative! If you want to really capture what the place looks like, you might consider adding the image of the boards that cover the bottom floor’s windows and entranceways (And the spray-painted words that adorn them, i.e. “NO SCRAP,” “UNSAFE,” etcetcetc). If you’re excruciatingly detail-minded, you could draw in the graffiti tag that is painted on the inside of a couple of windows (that tag being “HOVER”).

Before you start adding (drawing? painting?) in smaller details of architectural ornament, you should absolutely go look at What We're Losing in the Century Building, Built St Louis’s short photo tour of the Century Building. There, you can see some good, close-up images of the building's ornament.

At this stage in making the costume, you may be worrying if you don’t consider yourself to have much in the way of art skills. But relax: No matter how sloppily you decorate your Century Building costume, you can be confident that without a doubt it will be better designed and executed than the hideous parking garage that will replace the actual Century Building.

Once your Century Building box is fenestrated and decorated to your liking, it’s time for the painful part: Starting demolition. Using scissors, a box-cutter, your hands, or whatever you deem necessary, rip two adjacent corners off the roof of your building. Try to do so in a way that leaves the edges looking rough and gory, but just be sure that you don’t rip so much off that the support structure of your costume is compromised and you have to work to make it wearable again. To see photos of the demolition in progress so that you can make your damage as accurate as possible, visit Save The Century or KWMU's article on the demolition.

You may wish to simply leave the corners ripped off so that people can see you (and your clothes, or so we assume) underneath. You could also fill in the shapes of the missing corners with a representation of the exposed floors, rooms, and inner structure of the building showing through. (Incase you’re a stickler for detail, you might want to know that the top floor of the building has collapsed since demolition started.)

You could also use cardboard, paper, or fabric painted/markered a bright red to depict gore, if you want to draw attention to the violent, cruel nature of what has been done to the Century and consequently downtown St. Louis. If you really want to get graphic with this, you cold even draw blood dripping down the side of the building from its demolished corners. To make this even more dramatic and personal (If you’re really furious about this or perhaps will be going to a party where you’ll see Mayor Slay on Halloween), you could extend the depiction of violence to your face and arms. Many drugstores, supermarkets, and big-box chain discount stores sell fake blood and tooth black-out wax (to make it look like your tooth was knocked out) this time of year, and those would be effective. If you want to create the look of a black eye, rub red, pink, or purple eyeshadow or blush (A plum color is best, but other colors work.) in an irregular circle shape around one eye. Then, add a thinner layer of black, very dark brown, very dark purple, or very dark blue eyeshadow over this. Smear and blend as necessary to make it look more realistic.

THERE YOU GO! Once everything dries, you’re the Century Building!

If you want to do a couple or buddy costume, your partner could go as Mark Finney, the greedy developer whose Conlon Group once owned the Century Building and drove out its tenants, or as Steve Stogel, the developer who put toegther the current plan to demolish the Century. For this costume, your partner should wear a suit and tie. (Thrift stores are your friend!) Stuff the pockets of the suit with play money (which you can buy or easily make with paper, a pen, and scissors). Besides that, wearing a plastic pig nose would really help convey your developer’s character. You may also wish to get a pair of thrift store shoes and cover them with toy cars to represent the parking garage that will replace the Century, and the general tendency of car-centric development that has leveled many a beautiful historic building in St. Louis and other cities worldwide. If you have chosen to show blood dripping from the demolished portions of your Century Building costume, the person dressed as Finney might have fake blood dripping from her/his/etc mouth, as if Finney was eating the Century to fulfill his disgusting greed. Alternately, you could make a wrecking ball (string, tape, and a lightweight ball) attached to Finney’s arm, which he could use to strike the poor Century.

Have fun, be dramatic, and make sure plenty of people see you in costume. If you send us a picture of you dressed as the Century Building, we’ll post it in this here blog. We also highly encourage you to send photos of you dressed as the Century to Steve Stogel, Mark Finney and Mayor Slay. Their contact information is:

Steve Stogel, President
DFC Group, Inc.
7777 Bohomme Ave., Ste. 1210
Clayton, MO 63105

Conlon Group Inc
20 Allen Avenue
Saint Louis, MO 63119

Mayor Francis G. Slay
City Hall, Room 200
1200 Market Street
St. Louis, MO 63103

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

More Century Building

Thanks to Built St. Louis for a smattering of links to St. Louis Business Journal articles on the Century Building:

Closing the deal: Six-year struggle comes to an end

Judge denies effort to stop demolition of Century Building

Doube jeopardy (a highly disturbing, ignorant editorial)

Friday, October 22, 2004

The more things change...

Apparently, the millions of dollars being reinvested in downtown Saint Louis and the countless historic buildings being reborn as lofts and hotels are not -- repeat, not -- part of any sensible urban planning.

That's right, the totally senseless is still as inherent in St. Louis urban development as it has been for the past fifty years. This week, however, one of the most senseless things ever to happen in St. Louis began: the demolition of the downtown landmark, the Century Building at 9th and Olive.

The 1896 office building is a Missouri singularity and an American original. It's clad entirely in marble and utilizes a unique combined concrete-and-steel frame construction. Largely unoccupied since 1994, the building now falls to make way for a useless parking structure.

The Century Building is part of the last remaining intact group of downtown office buildings, those clustered around the Old Post Office. This group is now forever altered, and irreplaceable. No other intact corner in all of the city compares to 9th and Olive, which paled in comparison to the senselessly-destroyed brilliance radiating from 7th and Olive (mostly destroyed in the early 1980's).

KWMU radio has posted photos of the demolition in progress.

Built St. Louis has images of the Century prior to demolition along with an impassioned plea for saving the building.

In April 2002, I published an article about the city government's plan to purchase the Century Building and its neighbor, the 1906 Syndicate Trust Building: The Biggest Windfall in St. Louis History.

The Save the Century site stands as a grim reminder of the widespread support that the building had from thousands of caring Saint Louisans, who could not stop this devastating event.