We've Moved

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

Friday, December 31, 2004

Old Post Office project clears last legal hurdle

From the December 24 St. Louis Business Journal:

Judge ejects suit against Old Post Office tax credits

Save the Lemp Avenue Underground Railroad site!

I don't know much about the proposed threat to the Lemp Avenue site, but I saw this on Indymedia:

Save The Site
When: 2:00pm, Saturday 01 January
Contact: Barbara Woodruff, woodsba@sbcglobal.net
Location: 3314 Lemp Avenue
Transport: Feet from the old Lemp Brewery and just off Broadway.

This site is believed to have been a part of the Underground Railroad and is now in danger of being destroyed and replaced with condos.

We cannot allow our historical sites to be destroyed. This site is of special significance to the African American community as well as the community at large.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

A joke, courtesy of our friend Julia Kite.

An expressway walks into a bar and angrily tells a city street to shift out of the way. So he sits down shakily and watches a black tarmac road walk in. The expressway starts shaking and hides in the bathroom until the black tarmac road leaves. "Why is such a strapping highway like yourself scared of a little road?", asks the city street.

"He's not any little road, he's a cycle path!"

Bryan Cave will stay

The Bryan Cave law firm will remain in its current space in downtown St. Louis rather than move to Clayton or build a new building in south dowtown, acoording to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The city of St. Louis had offered the firm lots of tax incentives for building a new building at either Cupples Station or "Ballpark Village," a move that may have fueled an unsustainable boom in downtown office construction. Other companies would have no doubt wanted similar incentives. Under the present deal, the city is providing a $300,000 forgivable loan so that the firm can expand its space in the Metropolitan Square building from 7.5 to a full 9 stories.

This is good news for downtown, which has recently lost many offices even as it has attracted residents. Downtowns hould not only be a vibrant residential neighborhood but should be the preeminent place for large and important firms in law, finance, engineering, architecture, etc. In short, it should be downtown. I don't expect it to ever regain its status, but that doesn't stop me from hoping that my expectations are foiled.

As for Ballpark Village, I guess it will have to wait for its first new building. I'm not holding my breath.

While Cupples Station could have used a large tenant, it seems to be stable once again. Supposedly Amy and Amrit Gill (of Moolah Temple fame) and McCormick Baron Salazar are both interested in rehabbing some of the remaining buildings, and Downtown Now! has put on hold its stupid plan to demolish Building 7, one of the two remaining Cupples buildings on the block bounded by 10th, Spruce, Clark and 11th.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A rose by any other....

Names of restaurants founded and owned by Chicago developers Jerry Kleiner and Howard Davis:
Red Light

Names of Jerry Kleiner's children:

(Source: Cathy Bergen's article "The Drive-By Developer" in the December 19 issue of the Chicago Tribune Magazine)

Monday, December 20, 2004

Another travesty.

AMF's Western Lanes, the south city bowling alley on Bingham just east of Gravois, is closing! This is appalling. It's the last full-sized bowling alley left in Saint Louis proper. With $1 bowling nights and its storied history, it was a huge draw for young and old. Unfortunately, it drew young and old willing to seek it out, and in dispersed St. Louis, that often does not seem to be enough people to keep anything but a few weblogs going.

Alas. If you went there this last summer and saw a guy wearing a gold bowtie and suit and a gal wearing a vintage dress, that was us. We did our part to help Western. Did you?

St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
It's the last roundup at Western Lanes

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The legacy of Richard Nickel

Today at the Chicago Cultural Center I attended a slide-show presentation of Richard Nickel's photographs of the buildings of Adler and Sullivan, given by Ward Miller of the Richard Nickel Committee. The slide-show included lesser-known color photographs of such notable buildings by the firm, including the Auditorium Building, the Ann Halstead Flats and the Jewelers Building. I was awed once again by the sensitivity to architectural detail that Nickel imparted in each of his images. He articulated buildings in another language than architecture, and thus made them greater than they were when he found them.

As a fitting summation of the day's introspection, I found this essay online tonight: Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground by Dan Kelly. Kelly traces minor buildings and fragments of Chicago buildings by Adler and Sullivan -- the ones Frank Lloyd Wright discouraged Nickel from including in his unpublished Complete Works of Adler and Sullivan -- and concludes:

"...the most minor buildings that construct the city's neighborhoods are always "missed" when they're gone, most often because no one bothered to notice them when they were still here. It follows that preservation isn't just about landmark status or collecting museum-quality ornamental scraps; it's about noticing what builds a neighborhood into a neighborhood. The city's blandest buildings can possess rich histories."

Indeed. This insight had to be what drove Nickel to keep working, and it's what drives this blog. Hopefully, we will help people avoid the "missing" of buildings and, with more effort, the losses themselves.

No such thing as a free ride?

First Day Of Fare Strike Descends On Chicago

That's right. Yesterday was the first day of the citizen fare strike against the Chicago Transit Authority, which is calling for massive cuts in regular train and bus service -- including the elimination of 24/7 hours for the entire Blue Line -- beginning in January 2005 despite its planned expenditures for the multi-million dollar "Gold Line" that would link tourist attractions.

May chaos ensue until CTA backs down, drops the Gold Line plan and demands that Mayor Daley share some of the city's $271 million tax increment financing surplus with CTA.

Of course, that probably won't happen since CTA Board President Frank Kreusi and most of the board are beholden to Little Daley.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Two Theaters That Closed in 1981

New to Ecology of Absence today are pages on two theaters on two different scales in two different cities that closed in the same year, 1981. Neither has reopened and both are deteriorating badly. Yet the future looks brighter than ever for both.

They are:

  • Chicago's Uptown Theatre

  • Saint Louis's Sun Theatre

    (For perspective on the timeframe of the vacancies, consider that I was born on December 31, 1980.)
  • Monday, December 13, 2004

    Dust, Noise, Destruction 24/7: Welcome to Downtown St. Louis!

    "There's nothing you can do to eliminate 100 percent of the dust. But the bad news is, there are residents that are being inconvenienced. The good news for the city is, there are residents." - Stacy Hastie, Chief Executive, Environmental Operations Inc.

    Quote from
    Razing of Century Building raises neighbors' complaints
    in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11 [dead link]

    Saturday, December 11, 2004

    Closing Locust

    A thread on the Urban St. Louis discussion forum shows that the Federal Reserve Bank is closing Locust Street between 4th and Broadway to build a "security plaza." This plan leaves me with mixed feelings. I never like to see any streets closed in downtown St. Louis, because inevitably they close to assemble dead super blocks. On the other hand, I am a staunch opponent of automobile traffic in downtown areas, because such traffic is unnecessary in a small, walkable downtown like the one in St. Louis. Traffic also perpetuates the myth of the need for parking, which leads to many bad planning decisions, like the one that created the ugly parking garage at Broadway and Locust that the Federal Reserve Bank acquired for their "plaza" project.

    This plaza may be a great place to sit and avoid traffic for the handful of downtowners who like to enjoy just being in a dense and busy environment while they read or otherwise relax. Or it could be a dead space in which the Bank's security will usher away any loungers or geeky photographers in the name of protecting the bank from terrorism.

    Two undoubtedly good things come out of this project, though: the plaza's replacement of the street makes the visual blunder of the aforementioned parking garage, which was built over the sidewalk, a tad less offensive; and the plaza project coincides with the restoration of the grand Romanesque Security Building (now fully caught up in irony), completed in 1891 and designed by the Boston firm of Peabody, Stearns and Ferber--their only St. Louis project.

    As to the other results, we'll see what happens. I tend to think that it will be another dead space in this age of paranoia.

    Thursday, December 9, 2004

    Rolling, rolling, rolling

    From today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

    SSM plans new medical complex

    SSM Healthcare is going to build a new campus in Fenton to replace St. Joseph's Hospital in Kirkwood. Their reasons are the typically illogical anti-urban ones: the inability of the old buildings to serve new purposes (always an exaggeration) and the need to have "three times the footprint" of the existing hospital (read: more surface parking lots). While Kirkwood is far from urban, relocating hospitals and other institutions even further from the city is not a good thing. As the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis has demonstrated, people will follow the relocated institutions.

    Fenton may not seem much farther out than Kirkwood, but keep in mind that St. Joseph's Hospital is in downtown Kirkwood and on a bus route. The new hospital will be past I-270 and may not be served by mass transit at all. Mildly bad becomes really bad.

    The notion that Kirkwood isn't suburban enough for the hospital's needs isn't a new one, but it's devastating nonetheless.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2004

    More about this year's TFT parade: Sad news

    A friend informed us that there was a fatal accident at the Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade which we wrote about several entries back. An inebriated driver plowed into the line of bikers, killing one and injuring another. The driver was also injured.

    Articles about the accident:
    Deputy killed in parade crash from the Daily Herald
    Drunken Driving Charged In Toys-For-Tots Biker Death from NBC5.com

    (Thanks to Gary Noll for letting us know about this.)

    Two Events on December 12 in Saint Louis

    "Gaslight Square, an oral history" Book Release Party.
    Sunday December 12, 2-5pm
    Riddles (in the Loop)
    Thomas Crone will be signing books.
    664-6369 for more information.


    Jane Jacobs' book _The Death and Life of Great American Cities_ will be discussed Sunday 12/12 at 1pm. The location is Grbic at 4071 Keokuk (@ Meramec).

    Monday, December 6, 2004

    List of pre-2003 vacant Saint Louis Public Schools properties

    Although this list dates from prior to the 2003 and 2004 rounds of school closings, it is a great source of basic information about all of the vacant property owned by the St. Louis Public Schools:

    Facilities for discussion

    Since television station KMOV published this list, the Roberts Brothers Company began renovating Enright School and a health center purchased the former Hamilton Branch buildings.

    The page is linked to pages that list the occupancy rates for the district's then-open schools. Some of those schools have closed an consolidated, but the schools with over 100% occupancy have seen little changes to alleviate their overcrowding. The current School Board majority seems too bent on depleting the district of resources -- through such stellar acts as selling one of the most sucessful schools, Waring, to St. Louis University for its basketball arena site -- to notice that conditions in schools aren't improving.

    In 2005, St. Louis needs to elect real reformers to the Board of Education. If the Slay machine puts up another Great Slate, the fight will be difficult but we must make sure that this city improves its schools. The city will die if it can't retain families, and the current School Board has failed our families.

    Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade in Chicago

    Yesterday, Michael and I watched an ingenious and fun urban charity event: the annual Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade. Anyone who wants to ride their motorcycle in the parade can, as long as they bring at least one toy to donate to Toys for Tots. Thousands of bikers meet at the Dan Ryan Woods on 83rd (far south city) and ride along Western all the way up to Foster (far north city).

    What I like about the parade as a social and civic action is that it benefits everyone involved (save for a few frustrated motorists and pedestrians who want to cross Western that morning), and it costs very little. The motorcycle riders get to show off their bikes, meet other bikers, and most of all to feel like they're doing something important that will make people happy. Numerous Chicagoans get to watch and enjoy a parade that comes pretty close to where they live no matter where they live (Not everyone is close to the Loop, but the length of Western that the Motorcycle Parade covers cuts through a huge part of the city.). Toys for Tots gets publicity and attention. And, most importantly of all, a lot of disadvantaged kids get toys for the holidays. Besides the money spent by individual bikers to purchase toys and travel to the parade, the only big cost of the event is printing posters to advertise it. It's a pretty low cost and simple event, but it's something that makes a lot of people happy. Social and civic actions like that are very important in cities (and everywhere else), and there ought to be more of them.

    And, of course, watching the parade was a lot of fun, too.

    The kids and adults from our neigborhood who were watching it seemed to really be having a good time. I especially remember one little girl who stood on a bus stop bench and waved and smiled at all the passing bikers. She kept this going for a very, very long time.

    The bikers themselves were having a good time, too. Some were outwardly stoic, while others smiled and waved. A few had even decorated their bikes with tinsel garlands and/or antlers. A fair number of them wore Santa hats with their leather, and there was the occasional full Santa suit. Many mainstream parades have one Santa who is The Official Santa, but it was nice to see a parade where anyone who wanted to could be Santa, and they were all considered equally valid and all received the same smiles from children standing on the curb. The relatively unplanned and unregulated nature of the parade allowed a lot of room for riders' personal creativity to shine through, and I found that much more heartening and fun to watch than more professional, polished parades that I've seen. Michael and I spent quite some time later that afternoon talking about how small, relatively informal parades like that are easy to organize and can make a lot of people in a city or neighborhood happy, and how they have great potential for promoting community interaction. Perhaps cities could treat small-scale, do-it-yourself, neighborhood parades much like they do block parties, with easy-to-obtain permits, so that these events could be fairly regular occurences.

    Chicagoland Toys for Tots website (complete with photos from the parade)

    Thursday, December 2, 2004

    Mexican Hat Factory Redux

    A good thing that I've been seeing around Saint Louis lately is the updating of historic buildings that underwent earlier renovations that weren't very respectful of architectural features. People are taking out dropped ceilings and carpeting and re-opening large, hemmed-in windows and doors. This is far from the norm, regretfully, but it seems that a significant number of people are amending past mistakes. Certainly, Missouri's 1997 historic rehab tax credit provides an incentive to remodel previously-updated buildings in a manner more sympathetic to their unique architectural features.

    One of the biggest of these projects is happening right now at the "Allen Market Lane Apartments," better known as the Mexican-American Hat Factory, in Soulard. This 100-year-old block-sized factory sits at Russell and Tucker. McCormick-Baron spent $4.8 million to renovate it in 1980, for elderly apartments. Under their new moniker, McCormick Baron Salazar, the firm is renovating it again, this time for $11.8 million. They are removing dropped ceilings that obscure the 470 10-foot-high windows, replacing all of the windows and fixtures and... keeping all of the residents! The work progresses around the residents, who will stay in the building. The building will remain in use for moderate-priced elderly apartments.

    This is a great example of how developers nowadays can restore apartment buildings without having to sell out units as condos and force out residents to finance renovation and make a huge profit. Of course, this project benefits from $7.7 million in state and federal historic and low-income housing tax credits. Andy Trivers, designer of the new MetroLofts, Hi-Pointe Lofts and other housing projects in the city, is the architect.

    The project coincides with the current renovation of nearby building also designed by the firm of Weber and Groves, the former City Hospital at 1515 Lafayette. That project, however, will not create any affordable rental housing.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2004

    Neon signs in Chicago and LA

    There's a nice little article by David Witter in this week's Newcity about the sad decline of neon signage in Chicago. Witter compares neon to Impressionist painting in the way that its colors change with changing natural light at different times of day, showing an appreciation of beauty in something that others might dismiss as outdated, garish, and rusty (Anyone wanna ask this guy to move to St. Louis, eh?). Also of particular note in the article is the list of the main reasons for the demise of neon in Chicago: general pressure against liquor stores, the city's preference for signs that lay flat against buildings (as opposed to free-standing signs), the sheer cost of creating and maintaining neon signs, and Chicago's brutal weather.

    The article is online here: The Death of Neon. For those of you in Chicago, Newcity is also available for free in print in boxes and stacks in various locations around the city, which I mention because the print edition, unlike its online counterpart, has photos of the signs that the article describes.


    If you like neon and you're ever in Los Angeles, it's worth a trip to see MONA, The Museum of Neon Art. Their collection includes contemporary neon art and old signs that they've salvaged and restored. While I enjoyed my entire visit to MONA when I went there during the summer of 2003, what I remember most vividly is the moment of walking into the back room where they display all the old, restored signs and hearing

    nnNNNnnt! nnNNNnnt! nnNNNnnt! nnNNNnnt!

    ...the wonderful cacophony of all the old signs buzzing and flashing on and off noisily, each one operating at a slightly different tempo. The signs themselves and the colorful light they cast on the white gallery walls all moved in time to the neon's strange, percussive song. I'm smiling now just thinking about it.