Sunday, September 30, 2007

Continental Building Acrobatics

videoI made it down to the festival in Grand Center on Saturday; it was exciting to see all of the people in what was once one of the most bustling areas of the city. I went back on Sunday to do some more photography; Grand Center was back to the same moribund desolation that it's infamous for with the exception of the Earthways House. What is really striking is that there was literally nothing to do, buy or otherwise patronize anywhere along this strip of Grand Blvd.

The Bandaloop performance was very cool, and an excellent way to show how the Continental Building has seen a rebirth in the new millennium. It's too bad, in the words of the reviewers at Apartmentratings.com, that the building seems to have become a glorified frat house.

Sorry about the video being sideways; try turning your head sideways to get the full effect.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Urban Prairie"

A great article on the demise of one block in Detroit

St. Louis Interstates Hate Parks

I was looking at a St. Louis map recently, and it occurred to me: what is up with every interstate in St. Louis having an inexorable need to cut through one of the city's--and county's precious green spaces? A sampling:

Interstate 70 Cutting through O'Fallon Park

Interstate 64 Cutting through Forest Park

Interstate 44 Cutting through Compton Hill Reservoir Park

Interstate 55 Cutting through Carondelet Park

And of course, the most recent, Page Avenue Cutting through Creve Coeur Lake

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pruitt-Igoe

Many St. Louisans don't realize that one of the most infamous housing projects in the country, Pruitt-Igoe, lies just to the northwest of downtown St. Louis in what was once the center of African-American culture in St. Louis. What is more surprising, is that most of the land of Pruitt-Igoe, demolished in the 1970's, still sits empty, awaiting redevelopment.
Near the Pruitt-Igoe site is Desoto Park, where my friends had a booth at a recent community fair. The fair was well attended and peaceful, despite its somber surroundings. New, seemingly well built public housing has gone up across the street, illustrating the new philosophy in public housing--no more ugly, piece of junk concrete monoliths, but rather urbanist housing that at least mimics the appearance of more affluent housing in the city and suburbs.Above is St. Stanislaus Kostka, which despite sitting in Pruitt-Igoe's shadow, survives as a prosperous, if "heretical," parish serving the Polish-American community of St. Louis.Pruitt-Igoe was a failure almost from the beginning; while it was intended as a noble experiment to remove poor blacks and whites from the notorious Mill Creek slums in the center of the city, it became an isolated, poverty wracked enclave on the Near North Side. It was so isolated from mass-transit and shopping that one family friend related a story of working as a van driver for the complex, ferrying residents to the nearest grocery store, several miles away. Pruitt-Igoe opened just as the city's famous street-car lines were being shuttered and destroyed by the automobile industry, leaving the complex--ironically only minutes by car from downtown--a terrible place to live if you wanted to get to a job.Several websites detail the appearance of Pruitt-Igoe, such as this site and this one for pictures.
Pruit-Igoe actually became the subject of a famous movie when it was imploded in the 1970's.Pruitt-Igoe, along with other failed housing projects, taught Americans that new, wild ideas in public housing was not the answer to poverty, and that poorly designed buildings can actually contribute to the problems they were trying to solve.Here is a recent Post-Dispatch article on the implosion.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Frazer's

My family and I discovered this great reuse of an old storefront across 55 from the Brewery. The food's great too.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Crumby Rundown Malls of St. Louis #2: Crestwood Mall

I hadn't realized how far this mall had fallen since my high school days when I would go to Crestwood just about every weekend. I was alerted to its decline from Dead Malls, and decided last winter to go over and check it out.After having heard about photographers getting arrested at St. Louis Centre, I decided I would need to take my pictures surreptitiously. Perhaps I was being paranoid, but it's better than being chased by mall security, or Leprechauns as we called them back in the day.The problem with Crestwood is its asinine, snake-like floor plan spread along one level. Furthermore, the mall is a strange pastiche of very old, crumby buildings from the 1950's combined with a shoddy early 1980's renovation that did nothing to cure the mall of its awkward design. The mall is now substantially empty, with many of its storefronts sitting morosely abandoned with Westfield's shameless attempt to hide their vacancy. Heavy vacancy has a way of snow-balling--once people start to perceive that a mall is in trouble, it has a funny way of coming true.

Likewise, the food court could best be described as a hell hole ever since its inception. The stench of grease down there ever since I was young still sticks with me. Every so many years, they would redecorate it in some absurd new motif, and one that sticks out to me the most due to its tackiness was when the foodcourt was dressed up like a circus tent. As can be seen, the foodcourt is essentially empty, but considering how undesirable a place it had always been, it's not really surprising.
The corridor leading to the second movie theater, obviously a poorly planned afterthought added to the existing mall, has essentially 0% occupancy in the stores leading to what is presumably the last major draw for visitors in the evening.Perhaps the coup-de-grace is the announced closing of the Dillard's, which anchors the more architecturally interesting end of the mall. The massive brick walls and modernist arches of Dillard's actually always impressed me, and now it's going to be sitting empty in the not too distant future.Someone stick a fork in Crestwood, it's history.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New Houses in Old North St. Louis

I was intrigued at the new development around Crown Candy Kitchen in North St. Louis. There is a lot of rehabbing going on, and more importantly, new housing is being built in styles sympathetic to the historical character of the neighborhood (ie No McMansions).

My excitement, coming from the perspective of an in-the-near-future home buyer, quickly diminished when I saw the prices they are asking for new houses, in quite frankly, an historic but risky part of town. Most troubling, is the seeming lack of garages--facing the alleys of course--for the new houses. I love St. Louis, but quite frankly, there are parts of the city where you don't leave your car parked outside overnight. I know WAY too many people who have had their cars trashed, stolen, or broken into to buy a new house without a garage in North St. Louis.

Back to the prices: $200,000 is WAY too much for a house in that neighborhood. I wouldn't pay more than $100,000 for such a risky investment.

"Terra Cotta City"

While living in Washington, DC for the last six years, I stumbled on a couple of cool sites that featured the vanishing Victorian Period architecture of the city. One of these, Victorian Secrets, interestingly featured a "field trip" to St. Louis and its rich terra cotta history. The terra cotta firm in question actually had its offices in the now vanished Century Building downtown. A very interesting read, and shows yet more reasons why St. Louis architecture is so valuable.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My Encounter With Brick Thieves in North St. Louis

I set out on Saturday afternoon for a friend's birthday party in Tower Grove South, when I decided to take a detour through North St. Louis to take some photos of some old buildings for this site. I had become interested in a section of the city known as St. Louis Place, a wedge shaped neighborhood just north of downtown between Jefferson and N. Florissant Aves. I knew the area vaguely, but basically decided to do some exploring. It did not take me long for my day to become much more interesting.I turned down Montgomery Street (chosen mainly because it wasn't a one way street) off of N. Florissant when I saw the above, rather spectacular building collapse. I pulled over, snapped a picture, and then headed about a hundred more feet up the street.

That's funny, I thought, that house up ahead looks really familiar. I realized that I had seen it here, the Built St. Louis blog about "brick rustlers." I also noticed a powder blue van parked right out in front of the house, and that a much larger chunk of the house was missing--in fact the whole side of the house was now completely gone. I drove a little farther, and snapped this picture of some in-fill housing along St. Louis Place Park.I casually glanced in my rear view mirror, only to realize that the powder blue van was now accelerating rapidly towards me.

It was one of those instinctual moments, when I just knew immediately that it wasn't a coincidence that this van's owner had decided to leave right as I passed by. I realized then that the van's driver had been watching me snap a picture of the collapsed house, which I realized later when I examined the first photo, most likely had collapsed because of brick theft.

My heart was racing, and I realized I had to get the heck out of there--immediately. I fumbled for my cellphone in my coat pocket. I accelerated up to 40 mph, rolled through some stop signs--and more importantly, took a series of arbitrary turns to see if the powder blue van would follow. Even after I made a series of non-nonsensical turns, it was still right on my tail--there was no way that the driver could have been coincidently taking the same path I was taking. I reached St. Louis Ave, with the van a good half block away, but luckily, its engine was approximately 25 years older than my car's, and I quickly began to put distance between myself and my pursuer. I got out onto N. Florissant and headed south. If worse came to worse, I would simply pull up in front of Police Headquarters on Clark St., I reasoned to myself.

Luckily, the van at this point had stopped its pursuit, but I wasn't completely calmed down until I was onto Highway 40. There's something outrageous about people committing open theft in broad daylight, and being stupid enough to draw attention to themselves. I quite frankly had ignored the van at first, and only was drawn to its presence after it began chasing me. How did the van's owner know I wasn't a cop, quite frankly? And where are the police, anyway? The "harvesting" of brick from this house has been going on for months, if not half a year on this street, and not one police detective doesn't want to score an easy arrest of these bozos?

Friday, September 14, 2007

An Almost Unforgivable Error

The Old Post Office Square in downtown St. Louis was remarkable for its near perfect state of preservation on three of its four sides. So the logical action for St. Louis to take would be to destroy one of those three sides. If you don't know me well, I will just say that I'm being very sarcastic. The Century Building, ironically, stood for about a century before it fell victim to idiotic and shady business dealings that called for a new parking garage right across the street from the Old Post Office. Never mind that there are a half dozen other half empty parking garages within a block or two--no, they HAD to have parking right across the street. So while the until recently attached Syndicate Trust Building becomes condominiums, the Century heads to the landfill. Never mind that they could have just as easily turned the Century into condos as well. Well, that would just be too logical. This happened almost two years ago now, and I'm still angry at Mayor Slay and more importantly at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who actually advocated the Century Building's destruction. Sick.

A Few Highlights of North St. Louis

First of all, I apologize for the delay in substantive posts; I've not had the chance to photograph new material in a while...

Largely through two websites, Built St. Louis and Ecology of Absence, I have become fascinated with North St. Louis, in particular the oldest part of the overly large area inside Grand Boulevard. Settled by Germans and Irish close to two hundred years ago in spots, the area is actually going through the early birth pains of a revival. What the image of this revival will look--either historic homes interspersed with compatible, urban construction or an idiotic clean sweep of everything replaced by suburbia--remains to be seen. Here is the path of my trip two years ago in the dead of winter.Above is the Jesuit shrine of St. Joseph, sitting in what is now a very bizarre, 1980's condo complex surrounded by light industry and warehouses just north of downtown. I think this is the area of the infamous "Kerry Patch," where many of the Irish who came to St. Louis before and after the Civil War settled before moving out to Dogtown.
I then headed up North Florissant Ave, which brought me by the hulking mass of this church to the west in the St. Louis Place neighborhood.
You might recognize this house with the mural on the side of it from an earlier post. Maybe someday the vacant lot will be filled in.
Further along, we see yet another sturdy St. Louis split family house, waiting the day when it is considered worthy of habitation--again. Note the decorative motifs in the slate roofs shingles that are most likely original. Further along I came across this hulking building, now a burnt ruin on the edge of Hyde Park.Above and below are pictures of the devastated North St. Louis Turnverein, or gymnastics club, which was destroyed by fireworks in the summer of 2006. Apparently teenagers did it, but considering the way our civic leaders have treated the northern half of St. Louis, is it any surprise that the city's youth has embraced a similar disregard for their neighorborhood as their elders?Moving on up Blair St, up ahead we see one of three standpipes that were built over a hundred years ago to help protect the pipes of St. Louis's homes from the vagarities of the city's steam-powered water pumps. Largely based off of Venice's campaniles, or bell towers, it is the perfect focal point for neighborhood revitalization just south of Grand Blvd.The homes are large and ornate in the Richardsonian Romaneque style, and are happily occupied to some extent. It is very common for there to be nice homes on high ground as in this area.
Below, we can see North St. Louis's iconic, and gigantic, Corinthian column standpipe. It's funny driving around the traffic circle around its base; nobody knows what to do so they just let you go in front of them. It's really amazing that the entire area is demolished; after all, the column could form the focus of an exciting entertainment district around its grand space. Just think, maybe some day we will hear people say that they're going to go out for a night on the town at the "Column."
Finally, we reach the river on Grand Blvd, and the hulking mass of the Mallinkrodt Factory comes into view. Once described by a friend who worked there as similar to Axis Chemicals from the first Batman movie, it's still chugging away, making the nation's supply of Methadone.

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