Thursday, May 31, 2007

Detour: Winterset, Iowa

Over the holiday weekend I made it up to Iowa to see my cousin's graduation. Near where they live is the town of Winterset, where the "Bridges of Madison County was filmed. Winterset is actually the county seat, so it has a remarkable century old courthouse in the middle of the town square.

The interior features a beautiful staircase the winds around the walls without a center support.

The buildings around the courthouse square are all intact, if bearing later facing on their fronts.

This is the way towns should still be built; the surrounding buildings create a civic space, a center of town anchored by the courthouse and framed by businesses.

The parking is kept to the back of buildings. thus maintaining the integrity of the four walls of the courthouse square's "room." Not all of the buildings are in perfect shape, but they're all occupied, which can't be said about most city's downtowns--or suburbs increasingly to be honest.

More importantly, this a space where people actually want to visit; luckily the downtown actually has real businesses that locals frequent and not just touristy junk shops catering to out of town visitors.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Front vs. Back

The fronts of late 19th Century office buildings are frequently heavily adorned with ornate stonework and terra cotta reliefs. Look to the sides and back, however, and these same buildings become simple, functional and mostly lacking in ornament. Due to demolition of their neighbors, or simply because another tall building was never built next door, we can often see the somewhat tawdry and non-public sides of many buildings in St. Louis.

Let's look at the north side of the 700 block of Olive St (the south side is a recently built and unneeded parking garage).

The first building in view is the Chemical Building, notable for its ornate cast iron(?) reliefs on the first two floors along the street. The ornament continues to the roof, but simplifies higher up. The backside, however, reveals a much plainer, and anachronistic stairwell slapped on the back of the building:

Note to the left of the red brick is the back side of the Union Trust building, which is the eastern neighbor of the Chemical Building. Its current owners, obviously uncomfortable with its bland, red brick backside, have commissioned a trompe l'oeil painting on the side of the building. All of the white stone ornamentation is merely an illusion in paint. The front of the Union Trust is impressive in its own right:

Designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan, the Union Trust originally possessed large round windows on the second floor, which are still intact on the less public, alley side of the building.

Such divisions between the public front and private, utilitarian back continue to this day; many suburban house use brick on the front of the house but rarely on the back or sides.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Forest Park Gasometer

It occurred to me on the way westbound on Highway 40 on Sunday that the Forest Park Gasometer had very little time left, as can be seen in this photo.
I returned on Tuesday to get a few more pictures, only to realize that the remaining steel superstructure was gone, leaving only the base. It's important to realize that the gasometer was NOT a storage tank, but rather a pressure valve to contain rises in the gas pressure in the mains of St. Louis.

The base itself has seen better days, with thick encrustations of rust and paint coating its exterior. I could hear the clanging of workmen on the inside of the drum as they presumably cut the steel to more manageable pieces.

Apparently, they're turning the whole site into condominiums or something. The old brick gas house, I believe, will be renovated.

The building across the street has been carefully restored and seems to be a harbinger of bigger and better things happening in the neighborhood. As the post woman seen in the doorway remarked when we spoke on the street, "It's history."

Gasometers have been reused in other cities, such as Vienna, but perhaps the too-utilitarian form of St. Louis's central gasometer doomed it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Transitions: New and Old

As is common in many urban environments, buildings often rub up against each other in a sometimes awkward fashion. The Syndicate Trust and Century Buildings used to seamlessly flow together; now the newly erected and banally named "9th Street Garage", which took the Century's place, now clashes with the more historic Syndicate Trust.

There's something annoying about an historic building being torn down for a parking garage--especially when they re-erect the parking garage to have the same dimensions as the old building. What is even more idiotic is that the Century Building almost certainly would be undergoing a renovation into condos as we speak just like its neighbor on the block--the two buildings were connected for decades--if it hadn't been demolished for more parking.

But don't we need more parking downtown? No, we don't quite frankly. I was recently downtown the same day as the NRA convention--the largest in the city's history--and there were half empty parking garages within two blocks of the convention center. Weekdays are similar; I can always find a spot in any number of conveniently located parking garages. Downtown doesn't need more parking, it needs more businesses and people!

Around the corner at the old Statler Hotel, they did manage to neatly and somewhat effectively add a mirror image addition to the venerable old hotel, as can be seen along the one block stretch of St. Charles on the south side of the hotel.

Can you tell which side is the original?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Switzer Building

I made it down to the Switzer Licorice Building this weekend to see what was left after demolition work started earlier this week. There's still a quite a bit left, with the majority of the building near the Eads Bridge gone so the roadway can reopen. There's increasingly less of Laclede's Landing left, considering that St. Louis markets the area as some sort of time capsule of the Nineteenth Century.

Ironically, this building came within months of being renovated; while there's no way of knowing whether the first part of the rehabbing would have allowed the building to survive last July's infamous storm, one can only wonder if it would still be standing if those storms had come four months later.

Apparently, the Switzer factory was several buildings combined together on the same block, much like the famous Tums factory across downtown.

Nevertheless, the building is left in a precarious state of demolition, totally beyond saving now but still standing in a dizzyingly precarious state.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Welcome to my new blog focusing on the architectural and artistic history and legacy of St. Louis, Missouri. I have been wanting to make this blog for years, and now circumstances have arisen that I am back in my hometown and free to photograph the buildings that make St. Louis such an interesting place to live. Starting tomorrow, I will begin posting photos of my trips around St. Louis. The pictures will range from the area's largest landmarks to the minutiae of daily life such as manhole covers.

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