Friday, October 26, 2007

Vandeventer Place Gates

I realized one day that the gates to the historic Vandeventer Place, razed in the 1950's for the Veterans' Hospital and youth facility, were relocated to Forest Park. I rushed over to snap some pictures before my camera's batteries died.Like many private streets in St. Louis, Vandeventer Place was a closed street, and consequently needed elaborate gates to keep out "undesirables."There's something sad about the Vandeventer Place Gates; they've been robbed of not only their original location, but original purpose to top it off.I almost wonder why anyone bothered to save the gates, considering the unbelievable destruction of so many beautiful houses was occurring behind them.And to add insult to injury, they couldn't even find a place where the gates could still function as an ornamental gateway; instead they just plopped them down in the middle of a field in a quiet corner of Forest Park by the Jewel Box.The gates almost look like the severed head of a murder victim, dumped in the park while the rest of the body lies buried elsewhere.

Click here for an image of the gates in situ.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spring Street Bridge

The massive Mill Creek Valley that cuts through the middle of St. Louis used to have MORE crossing years ago than it does nowadays. Why? Because they've slowly fallen apart one by one. The Spring Street Bridge, which could function as a reliever artery for Grand Blvd, sits in a strange sort of limbo, weed covered and truncated, but still standing nonetheless. Too expensive to rebuild, too expensive (or too lazy?) for it to be torn down.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Grand Center--of Nowhere

I recently traveled down to the Grand Center area to see the street festival. I have rarely seen this many people in Grand Center, despite its moniker as the center of something. What, I don't entirely know. It's definitely not the center of nightlife, or a thriving residential neighborhood.In fact, despite the recent renovation of the Continental Building, which has now apparently devolved into a glorified dorm for SLU partiers, there has been little to no building for new residents in decades.

And quite to the contrary, the area's many cultural institutions seem to do little to make the area any more than an urban office park. Seen below is the atrociously maintained side yard of the Masonic Temple's parking garage. The owners clearly never planted anything the entire summer, or for years. Every plant seen in this picture is a weed, including thistles and dandelions.Below is the University Club Tower--the old one. Like many institutions, the University Club bailed on the city and built a new tower in the suburbs. Ironically, this loss of an institutional history may, and I stress may, have led to its now impending demise. Would it have survived if had stuck to its guns in the city that gave birth to it?Despite some horribly misguided additions, including a poorly matched elevator tower and a hopelessly dated penthouse, the building still exhibits its refined sense of style. Below is a detail of the side of the University club Tower.Below is the entrance to the University Club Tower, with its impressive stone arch and cartouche.The top of the building apparently featured a club where the titans of St. Louis industry--Bush, Mallinkrodt, Lemp and others--gathered to trade tales of whatever they talked about.Below is the entrance to the Humboldt Building, one of the many finely decorated buildings along the heart of Grand Center.Below is the filthy, but noble headquarters of the Grand Center Partners, a sorry group of suburban minded individuals who don't understand why Grand Center isn't a hopping place to be when there aren't shows going on at the Fox or Powell Hall. You wonder why they can't even figure out how to clean their own building. Grand Center is run by Vincent Schoemehl, the hapless mayor of St. Louis who presided over the hemorrhaging of one hundred thousand people from the city during his tenure. He came up with the now failed idea of Schoemehl Pots, which were an attempt to curb crime by blocking off city streets with barriers to prevent crime. The only problem is, the criminals simply walked. In reality, these planters helped to isolate blocks and create more crime, because the criminals didn't have to worry about through traffic driving by and interrupting their mischief.Grand Center believes that the black top parking lot should dominate the area. Just look at this map from their own website. If I were head of Grand Center, I would be embarrassed by the amount of vacant land surrounding Grand Blvd.Grand Center looks like something from Las Vegas, a fake town sitting like an amusement park in the middle of a sea of parking.Below is Powell Hall, which is home to the St. Louis Symphony. They stuck it out in Grand Center in the 1960's and should be applauded for it. But they should be criticized for their selfish occupation of acres of real estate for their damned surface parking lots. Here's an idea: let's build a parking garage and sell the rest for a profit. Maybe they could build musicians' housing or something.This picture below shows how to waste prime frontage space along one of the busiest streets in St. Louis, with none other than a cinder block wall masquerading as art.And yet again, a useless grass lawn right across from Powell Hall. Does this piece of vacant land help or hinder Grand Center? You tell me; on one of the busiest days of the year for Grand Center, not a single person was even lying in the grass. Can someone say useless green space?The Veterans' Hospital, a much needed service in a city like St. Louis, manages to become a detriment to the area. Sitting like a strange, futuristic space ship, the hospital could have been built in any number of more convenient places, but instead, they demolished one of the greatest concentrations of Gilded Age mansions in St. Louis to build this monstrosity.The Sun Theater represents great opportunity for the area, if it can be renovated before facing serious neglect. I will admit that Grand Center is trying hard to fill the space.
And here are yet more of the vacant parking lots that sit empty 90% of the year, anxiously awaiting lazy suburbanites who refuse to walk more than a block to the Fox. All of the parking lots in Grand Center could easily be condensed into two large parking garages, if the organizations in the area weren't so selfishly guarding their little parking fiefdoms.While the view of the Central West End is beautiful from Grand Center, we shouldn't be able to see this if the neighborhood was as thriving as it should be. Just as it was fifty years ago, Grand Center needs to fill these lots with buildings--which will block the view--but provide the lifeblood to revive this neighborhood.Up next, I will document some of the housing that is still left in Grand Center, and if utilized effectively, could begin the revival of the residential portion of the neighborhood.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Laclede Gas Building

The large black Modernist skyscraper in this picture is the Laclede Gas Building. While it dates to several decades after the building of the historic skyscrapers in its midst, I have to admit that the building sort of fits wells with the older buildings. Ironically, someday the Laclede Gas Building will be an historic structure, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

St. Paul Road

While St. Louis County is often viewed as devoid of history, in reality much of the western portion of the county still contains vestiges of close to two hundred years of habitation. For instance, the rail line that heads out west, following the Meramec River, contains numerous small towns that date back to before the Civil War. Even more interesting, many of the roads that we drive on today date back at least one hundred and fifty years, such as St. Paul Road, which will be the subject of this entry.St. Paul Road heads off through the hills south of Kiefer Creek, and is actually one lane for large portions of it. The first, northern section, contains in places the original log cabins of the earliest settlers.At one point, as seen below, the road narrows to approximately ten feet, sandwiched between two old log structures of a homestead. To the east, a large field stretches off in the distance.Sadly, there is little to no information on St. Paul Road, as seen here in the Julius Pitzmann Map.
After St. Paul Road intersects the more recent Ridge Road, it becomes two lanes as it plunges down into the Meramec River Valley. The town of Jedburgh, or sometimes called Sherman, or sometimes called St. Paul, sits along the railroad tracks that have been here since at least the 1840's. The town clearly was larger in the past, but a few of the commercial buildings still stand; this one for instance, has been converted into a single family residence.This church, seen below, is a strange mix of styles; I think it's probably from the 1950's or 60's, but it possesses older stain glass windows as well as an ornate belfry. Who attends this church??This whole area is steeped in mystery, and since I was a teenager (and clearly long before) this part of the county was believed to be haunted--where teenagers got run over by trains or disappeared on the nearby Lawler Ford Road, or as we called it, "Zombie Road." Some friends have told stories of being chased from the area by trucks with their high beams on, or other weird encounters with mentally retarded men on bicycles. I have to admit I've never even met anybody who even claims to know anyone who lives down this way.

Due to the lack of bridges across the Meramec, this area seems destined to stay largely rural, even as suburban sprawl is now reaching as far west as Lincoln County. I, for one, am glad that this area, an interesting relic of the past when steam engines rolled through the sleepy towns of the Meramec, will remain largely undeveloped--and full of mystery.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Anti-Crime Shrubbery

I found this interesting article about the use of specific shrubs that work well as barriers to burglars trying to get in through windows or onto your property. An ingenious and aesthetically pleasing way to stop intruders.

Benton Park West: Part #1

I love the architecture of the Benton Park West neighborhood. That said, I will not live there any time soon. Crime rates are dropping in most areas of South St. Louis, with a very notable exception. Wonder what happened to those shady looking people down your street who moved a while back--making your life much more peaceful? Many of those people causing trouble in another neighborhood are now living in the irregular trapezoid piece of land bordered by Chippewa, Jefferson, Gravois and Grand. There is a somewhat lively discussion going on at Urban STL right now with both sides of the reality of crime in Benton Park West weighing in.But like I said, the architecture, originally built for what I would call, upper blue collar German-Americans in the late Nineteenth Century, is really fantastic in its uniqueness.As seen above and below, two story houses with Mansard roods camouflaging the second floor abound in this area, and these are two relatively normal examples of this style of house, dubbed "Micro-Mansions" by Built St. Louis.The bungalows such as this one below represent good, solid housing stock that St. Louis needs to preserve. Each house may not be the most amazing house you've ever seen, but combined with thousands of other houses that exude their own quiet confidence, and you have an outstanding neighborhood of houses working in architectural symphony together.Likewise, these four houses, once built speculatively at the same time, illustrate how each house can slowly become unique, even after starting out identical to its neighbors. These houses also, unfortunately, represent houses that are probably owned by an absentee landlord: unkempt lawns, long dead shade trees that were never replaced, and just the general feeling that the inhabitants of the houses don't care. These little bungalows, in my opinion, would make the perfect just-out-of-college first home for young home-buyers. Big enough to make the recent college grad feel like an adult, but small enough to be priced reasonably.In the future, I will bring many more pictures of Benton Park West when I get the chance to do more photography of this intriguing area.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tucker Blvd "Bridge"

You might have heard recently about city officials closing the Tucker Blvd Bridge in downtown St. Louis. Calling the structure in question a bridge is a bit inaccurate. They're talking about an old commuter railroad tunnel/viaduct that runs under the street as far as Washington Ave. Here is a great site with pictures.

I found the exit to the tunnel, north of O'Fallon St. I wish they could figure out some way to make this tunnel useful for MetroLink some day.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hilarously Oudated NY Times Article on St. Louis

Awesome! Let's go get some ice cream at the Admiral, and then later we can go shopping at St. Louis Centre!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Compton Heights, Part 4

The final, most elaborate portion of Compton Heights is the large subdivision laid out by Julius Pitzman for the wealthy residents of St. Louis. Supposedly, some of the houses are still in the original families that built the mansions a century ago. I like the Compton Heights subdivision much more than the more famous Westmoreland Place in the Central West End. The houses, quite frankly, are more interesting and more to my taste, and also private security guards have never kicked me out of Compton Heights like they have in Westmoreland Place. I'll let the houses speak for themselves; while their appearance was closely monitored by the neighborhood, there was still wide latitude to create beautiful homes that formed a harmonious streetscape--long attempted in suburban McMansion developments, but rarely attained. Compton Heights has a wonderful website about Pitzman and the entire area,

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Montgomery Street from the Air

Thanks to the Built St. Louis Blog, I found this great tool to look at the city of St. Louis from a bird's eye view.

Built St. Louis - Web Log: Brick Rustlers in Action

Pictured at the following link is the block of Montgomery Avenue where I encountered my brick thief friends. I have dated these images to the summer of 2006 before the Great Storm (the Mullanphy Emigrant Home is still undamaged), and it's shocking how good of shape the buildings are in, which I later saw destroyed--or in the process of being destroyed. The group of three buildings on your right featured the building in the middle which is now a giant pile of brick. Looks pretty stable to me. Likewise, the two houses on the left side of the screen are also completely intact last summer; they are now unstable hulks stripped of several load-bearing walls.

It makes me wonder why these buildings were targeted when they were. Montgomery St. is a short street that ends in a T-bone intersection at one end. It's nice and quiet, and from the looks of it, no inhabited buildings still exist on this block. A perfect place to steal bricks, it seems.

Golf in North St. Louis

How does a round of golf amongst the hallowed grounds of Pruitt-Igoe sound to you?

Yes, as recently as 2000, the city has floated the idea of removing large portions of the street grid in North St. Louis to build a suburban style, "urban oasis" that I suppose would cause people to abandon their McMansions in Chesterfield and resettle in the heart of North St. Louis. As a centerpiece of the redevelopment, the golf course would annihilate dozens of (admittedly depressed) blocks of the 19th C. street grid.

While not every aspect of the plan is moronic, it is frightening that some civic leaders are still trying to compete with St. Louis County in the "suburban wars." The city of St. Louis is being reborn because it offers something you can't get in the suburbs--the urban experience. Trying to reproduce the suburban experiencee in the city will always fail, because places like O'Fallon, St. Charles and Chesterfield do sprawl so much better than the city ever could.

And that's not a bad thing the city does sprawl poorly; it only serves to encourage the city to take a new-urbanist approach to revitalization.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Compton Heights, Part 3

The Compton Heights Reservoir Park also features several other interesting features. Below, is the ornamental, Italiante staircase that leads up to the reservoir itself.Below is the highly controversial statue that commemorates German settlement--or something like that--in St. Louis. It was considered very suggestive, even with its title The Truth Laid Bare.
People were a little concerned a hundred years ago that the truth wasn't the only thing being laid bare in the monument.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Compton Heights, Part 2

The magnificent view of St. Louis from the top of the Compton Heights Tower, starting with downtown and going in a counterclockwise direction:
Next is the view looking north up Grand Blvd towards St. Louis's second downtown, Grand Center, with the North Side stretching off in the distance.
Looking northwest, we see Dogtown as well as St. Louis's third downtown, Clayton, as well as I-44.Looking southwest, the St. Louis State Mental Hospital, in serene, 19th isolation, sits on a hilltop in St. Louis Hills.Looking southeast, St. Francis de Sales and the Budweiser Brewery dominate the skyline of the Near South Side.And finally, the six smokestacks of the Cahokia Power Station loom across the river at Soulard.One thing that is really striking is how green St. Louis is; the tree cover provides a valuable, if often overlooked component to the urban experience.

A Blog detailing the beauty of St. Louis architecture and the buildup of residue-or character-that accumulates over the course of time.