Tuesday, January 29, 2008

St. Augustine

My favorite church in St. Louis drew me back to it this last weekend, and this time the light was much better and I was able to capture some great photos of the long-suffering St. Augustine Catholic Church in the Hyde Park(?) neighborhood. People were burning garbage in a large derelict furnace nearby, and generally looking like they were having a good time. I took the pictures around 4:00 PM, so the late winter sun was shining directly on the front of the edifice.My eye was drawn below to the light shining through the blue and yellow stain glass visible through a broken window high up on the side of the church.The spire itself, reminiscent of North German Gothic, commands the entire neighborhood and can be seen on the streets from miles away.I particularly like this exterior placed spiral staircase, which contributes further visual interest to the front of the church.Below is the peaked roof of the church, showing a missing window and another row of blue and yellow stained glass.St. Augustine's magnificence, both in size and ornament, unfortunately is the reason behind its vacancy. It would cost no small amount of money to renovate this church, and the lure of a congregation to simply build a much larger, cheaply constructed McChurch in the suburbs may prove too tempting for anyone to resuscitate this church any time soon.

Update My apologies, the church is not abandoned at all, but under the ownership of this new church. They are in the process of restoring the church, and have a photo gallery of the interior here. Also, the Department of the Interior has a great write-up of the church's historical significance.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Still Standing?

Due to considerable buzz from numerous other blogs on St. Louis architecture, I learned of the impending demolition of a unique ensemble of buildings at the corner of St. Louis Ave and Glasgow Ave in the JeffVanderLou (I hate that name with a passion) neighborhood. Here is a bird's eye view of the intersection before demolition began. The intersection's bizarre angles seem to be the product of the cobbling together of separate additions to the city that had been developed privately with little regard to matching up perfectly. St. Louis Ave is an example of a street that planners "made" out of several old streets.I was under the impression that all of the buildings on the southeast corner were doomed, but when I arrived on Saturday afternoon, the Italianate corner store was still standing, albeit with all of its windows smashed out and lying in jagged pieces all over the entire corner, with little regard to the safety of children in the area.In the picture below, the outline of the two devastated neighbors of the corner store survive; the ground has been carefully smoothed and covered with hay--like any grass is going to grow in January. Apparently the corner store is safe for the time being, though it seems to have received immense shock when the attached buildings were knocked down, as evidenced in the shattered windows.The side of the store building, facing Glasgow Ave, is unadorned, but I can only imagine the amount of light that must have shone into the interior of this building when it was occupied by perhaps the owner of the store below.The back staircase is a perfect example of building with untreated wood; the support post has literally twisted 360 degrees around and it no longer attached to its footing on the ground. My parents were particularly impressed with the precarious decay of the stairs that seem to be holding on by a thread.Back to the Italianate detail of the front, public side of the store. The building displays beautiful cast iron elements, such as this well preserved, stylized Ionic column that anchors the corner of the building.Below is the cornice of the building--which unlike many examples that are slathered in 12+ layers of paint--that appears to be largely untouched by later painting; the details on the pressed tin are crisp and easily readable.The windows, now missing their sashes, exhibit the fine proportions of Italianate buildings in America, allowing large amounts of light to stream into the building.On the northeast corner of the same intersection sits a unique storefront that sits on a triangular lot. The building is an excellent example of how to fill a small, irregular lot. It is slighly damaged, and is rather mysteriously missing a rectangular section of masonry between the two upstairs windows.The next door neighbor, apparently built earlier than the triangular store, is a wonderful Italianate townhouse that looks pretty much abandoned, but not beyond repair. One has to wonder if the owner of the townhouse was not too thrilled to have the storefront go into the lot next to it. Perhaps the house had already become a boarding house by then.The western corners of the intersection return to larger lots with townhouses and single family homes. The northwest corner is very well preserved, with all of its houses occupied legally.The southwest corner still has an Italianate rowhouse, but it appears to be abandoned.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Back Seat Driving in Chicago

I always enjoy the anarchy of the Chicago interstate system, and its often stunning views of the city from above the roof line of most buildings.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Crumby Run-Down Malls of St. Louis #3: River Roads Shopping Center

I have to admit that I had never even heard of River Roads Mall when I was growing up, which is saying something because I was obsessed as a pre-teen in seeing every shopping mall in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Perhaps it is not surprising that the mall was torn down due to lack of business in the last year. I captured the pictures below in early 2007 and I can only imagine that much more of the mall has been demolished.I asked someone who grew up in North County if they ever shopped at River Roads when they were young. They laughed, stating that even 15 year ago they wouldn't be caught dead there. So needless to say, due to the lack of regional visibility and the perception that River Roads was a dumpy, dangerous mall, the shopping center was doomed.I have often stated that the truth doesn't matter, but rather what people see as the truth is what really matters.Despite the mall being a great example of modernist mall design, the owners and surrounding public officials saw no need to keep River Roads.I finally learned about River Roads from DeadMalls.com, and by then it was already dead and not even on life support.Built St. Louis also has some great pictures of the old department store.
Also, make sure to check out the pictures at Ecology of Absence of the funky '70's interior.I have fond memories of malls from my youth in the early '80's when malls that looked like River Roads were still going strong, and it's sad to see them swept away. In a few years, there might be more notable, landmark buildings in St. Louis from the 1850's than from the 1950's.Also, here are some excellent photos of the interior from Irrational Ecstasy.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Continuing in the vein of the last post, the website uses no fewer than seven St. Louis houses as examples of post-modern, McMansion construction in America. Ouch!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Architectural Styles Homepage

A professor at a university in Arizona has an excellent page that details the major styles and periods of American architecture. It is a particularly valuable resource for anyone who gets lost when I use terms such as "Italianate" or "Second Empire."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cherokee Street

Cherokee Street in the Benton Park neighborhood is one of my favorite streets in St. Louis. Cherokee continues on to the west into the Benton Park West neighborhood, where I've heard there are great Mexican restaurants, but today I will focus on the more renovated Antiques Row area. Below is one of the best antique stores on the row, in what appears to have been an old grocery store. The original pressed tin ceiling is still extant on the interior, and you can even read some of the old paint on the side of the building.Below is an example of the Mansard roof houses that line the street; most were once multi-family flats, but now they are being turned into single family houses.Below is an excellent example of the pocket houses that exist throughout the city, providing small, affordable houses for the young and old alike.Below are two later buildings, most likely built after the first wave of construction, but still featuring beatiful cast iron fronts that allow for apartments up above the store fronts. They feature perfect examples of St. Louis terra cotta work.This picture is interesting, as it shows how this building seems to have been altered at some point; the brick does not match up. Perhaps it was originally a two family flat, or the original store front was no longer large enough.This building clearly was once a two family flat, but then at some point the owners converted the first floor into retail and added a store front and balcony out the front. Note the small store that sits right up next to the larger building.Below shows the close relationship houses keep with each other; perhaps originally an alley house could be accessed down this mouse hole.This is the view down Cherokee Street towards the Lemp Brewery. The street is a perfect example of the integration of residential, commercial and clean industrial development within five minute walks from each other. You could work, live and shop for your basic all within your neighborhood.What a great picture below of the side of one of the row buildings on the north side of Cherokee Street. There are literally a half dozen different signs that have been painted one on top of each other in the last century.Cherokee Street, while perhaps too sanitary and "safe" for some tastes, is a perfect example of how a street can be brought back to life after periods of disuse. The historical markers tell stories of how densely settled this neighborhood was as late as World War II, and the street is well worth the visit. Make sure to eat lunch at Mississippi Mudd in the heart of the district; if the weather is permitting, go out back to their patio.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Centennial Farm Sign

A picture of myself at my family's farm this summer showing that the state of Illinois recognizes my family's ownership for the last one hundred years. We own the farm across the road too; that one has been in my family for over 130 years. More pictures in the future of the two barns that date from the late 1800's and 1914. Wait a minute, why am I not wearing socks?

Monday, January 14, 2008


I made it to the Carondelet Museum this weekend, finally. I will tell you all more about it soon.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New Google Earth Images Up

I just realized today that Google Maps has updated its satellite images in the last week. Not only are they new, they are from the summer so the entire region is bathed in a rich shade of green. View the reconstruction of the Tamm overpass.

Old Blog Post

I found this old post from my other blog, and it's kind of funny to see my attitude about different parts of St. Louis from two years ago.

Downtown St. Louis: Where No St. Louisan Has Gone Before

I took the opportunity the Friday before I headed back to DC to do an architectural survey of downtown St. Louis, or at least what's left of it. They're progressing on the new Busch Stadium; I hope the noise from the interstate overpass doesn't affect the viewing enjoyment of the fans in the south stands.

Here's a group of office buildings from the turn of the century; St. Louis has some of the best old skyscrapers after New York and Chicago, and they're horribly underutilized and frequently demolished for a parking garage. People, listen carefully, St. Louis will never revive its downtown with dozens of new parking garages; it needs pedestrian traffic that hopefully the new loft renovations will provide. DC's downtown has revived with a paucity of parking because it has real destinations, not plenty of parking.

I took this picture from the parking garage that I parked in; it shows some of the varied architectural styles present in the area around the Old Post Office. Several buildings in the picture represent the work of some of the 20th Century's greatest architects and need to be preserved.

I ventured into North St. Louis to visit Crown Candy and see what exactly was happening in the seeming netherworld of the northern part of the city. I found a fair share of abandoned houses, but surprising numbers of well restored houses and a lot of empty lots. The term "blank canvas" comes to mind when I think of some of the potential in the areas just north of downtown. Practically no one even lives there any more, so the area is ripe for redevelopment.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Grand Center: Beyond the Boulevard

As urbanists have been saying for years, neighborhoods ultimately need people living in them for them to thrive. Simply having a whole bunch of theaters that are empty 90% of the year is never going to revitalize what was once the second downtown of St. Louis around Grand Blvd.

My tour of the area will focus on the residential portion of Grand Center, which is rapidly disappearing not just by neglect, but by the active purchasing and demolition of perfectly stable buildings for parking lots. The building below represents a beautiful example of the architecture in the area: slightly ragged, but possessing a strong tradition. The building below is based off of Brunelleschi's Foundling Hospital in Florence. It sits empty, and hopefully a wise owner will purchase and renovate it before Grand Center gets ahold of it.Below is one of my favorite buildings in St. Louis. What was originally a Romanesque Revival mansion has underwent various fascinating alterations over the years. As is common in many 19th Century wealthy neighborhoods, mansions became outdated and their original inhabitants moved west to presumably the Central West End. The mansion in questions became a boarding house, and rather interestingly, a storefront was built out the front to the sidewalk line. I have seen examples of this in Washington, DC and Chicago in my own travels. What is absolutely cool is that if you look closely at the spot where the old front door was on the right, you can see how the "renovators" reused stone in the construction of a staircase hallway combined with newer brick. The rooming house was then accessible from a long hallway that came from the front sidewalk. It will take a very creative renovator to reuse this house. Nearby, you can actually see the trees that once sat between property lines, shading houses that are now long gone.Below is a picture of the excuse Grand Center used to get a perfectly stable apartment building demolished in the last couple of weeks: some minor spalling on the exterior wall. The building was perfectly fine; my parents even parked their Mercedes-Benz in the shadow of this building. Let me tell you, if my paranoid parents were not afraid of this building collapsing, no one should have been. Vanishing St. Louis and Ecology of Absence have excellent entries at their blogs on the vanity of the demolition of the Central Apartments.
Below is a beautiful house that apparently has been partially renovated; it sits contextless surrounded by parking lots on all sides. I think I read somewhere the owners are going ahead with renovation; almost certainly they receive constant pressure to sell out and donate their historic structure to a landfill in the name of "progress."Above you can see the fire escapes that lends one to believe that this house too was once converted into a rooming house. Below is the front of the house, with the stickers still on the new windows. This house seems to belong to the first generation of houses built in Grand Center, and predates the period at the turn of the 20th Century when the area became a center of the theater scene in St. Louis.Across the street is this severely altered boarding house that I am afraid almost certainly will face the wrecking ball in the next few years. Certainly we could argue that it would be a small loss, but yet, with hard work, the front of the building could be restored to its previous appearance and use.This picture is self explanatory; the wreckers who demolished the once certainly stately home at this address did not complete the conquest, so to speak, leaving the front steps intact as a sad reminder that tax-paying, business-generating people once lived at this now dead lot.Why this shingle style house has survived is beyond me; it's a little rough around the edges upon closer inspection, but nevertheless, it represents the way Grand Center should be treating its historical buildings.Below is a great example on Vandeventer of the housing/commercial stock so sorely needed in Grand Center. St. Louis University is a large prestigious university with great students aching for a REAL neighborhood around their school. Washington University's students helped revived the Loop, and SLU's students could do the same for their university's neighborhood. SLU has to stop demolishing everything in sight if they expect to improve their image as nothing more than a university in a black hole. I recently talked to a gentleman that went to SLU in the 1950's. He spoke fondly of eating at hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurants east of the SLU campus in admittedly a rough neighborhood back when he was a studnet, but yet he is saddened that SLU's response to this rough but stable area was to bulldoze everything in sight. As long as a building is still standing, there is hope for it.

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