Monday, July 30, 2007

The Arcade Building

This weekend my parents and I decided to take a look at several of the new condo projects in downtown St. Louis. If I actually have the money in 2009, I would really like to buy one. The projects I took a look at are a little different than a lot of the lofts in downtown St. Louis in that they are old office buildings and not old warehouses/factories.

The first one we looked at was the Arcade Building, which is still being gutted, but the friendly Pyramid Companies sales associate took us up on the roof of the neighboring Paul Brown building where we could take a look down into the light well create by the three buildings on the block, the last one being the Wright Building. The Arcade and Wright buildings are being combined into condos, while the Paul Brown is already apartments.Here is an image of the top of the Wright Building, looking to the east across the top of the building. The Wright was built first, and the Arcade Building was then added.
Above is a picture of the light well of the Arcade Building, with white ceramic tiles facing the very large courtyard. I was surprised at how large the area is; many of the units will have balconies overlooking a lush garden.
Looking to the north, you can see as far as one of the water towers--I'm sorry, standpipes--in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
This last image is looking down into the light well, showing the strange structure that rises out of the center of the building. It will feature a garden on the roof, and a guest quarters for one of the larger condos that will be accessible across its own private roof garden. A very cool building, and it will feature a restored Neo-Gothic shopping arcade on street level.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Two Downtown Office Building Lobbies

Many of the old buildings in downtown St. Louis still possess their original lobbies, some of which are breathtaking. Below is the lobby of the Paul Brown Building, recently restored as condominiums.
The stucco work is fantastic in this building, and more importantly, the lobby is lined with shop spaces--in direct contradiction to Modernist buildings with their barren fortress like first stories.
This is the lobby of the Security Building, around the corner on 4th Street. It features a large dome nestled between the two wings of the building.
The lobby features amazing details, drawing from classical architecture but featuring a late Victorian Period exuberance.
Here is a detail of one of the caryatids that line the base of the dome.
Other buildings, such as the Union Trust and Arcade buildings feature beautiful lobbies. The Arcade is now being renovated into luxury condominiums. I can't wait to see the shopping arcade restored to its former glory.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Betrayed by Their Foundations

Nowadays many historic neighborhoods have strict building codes that restrict architectural styles. Builders now find themselves building in styles that were popular one hundred years ago, and many do an excellent job of reproducing historic styles. I was almost fooled by these row houses on the south side of Lafayette Square, even with the near perfect brickwork; after all, maybe they had just done a really great job tuck pointing the old brick.
But as I look on the side of the house, the truth became obvious-the house had a poured concrete foundation. Definitely not from the late Nineteenth Century.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Second Empire Style

I recently attended a wedding in Jefferson City and made it by the Missouri Governor's Mansion. It's a beautiful example of Second Empire architecture.Here is a detail of the front porch of the house. Most typical of Second Empire architecture is the Mansard roof, which is the two roof system, one at a steep pitch usually punctured by windows, and a second gently pitched roof on top. Invented in 17th Century France, it is common throughout St. Louis, and much of America.

BTW, the house in Alfred Hitchcock's movie "Pyscho" is built in the Second Empire style, with some Italianate details.

Lafayette Square

As mentioned in the earlier post on 755, the Lafayette Square neighborhood would have been partially demolished in the construction of the North South Distributor. Ironically, not everyone apparently at the time was opposed to the prospect of interstates surrounding Lafayette Square on three sides. First of all, some homeowners liked the idea of having a cozy little enclave cut off from the city, while other property owners, shamefully abandoning the city, were angry that they weren't going to get money for their property in a state buyout.

Regardless, large swaths of Lafayette Square are still intact, with an interesting mixture of mansions, townhouses and factories that encroached into the neighborhood when it started to decline in the early 20th Century.As can be seen on the side of this townhouse, as the neighborhood declined and the wealthy moved to the Central West End, single family houses became boarding houses. You can actually see a bricked-up side entrance that probably led to the second floor of the house. The owner at one time apparently allowed Domino Sugar to advertise on the side of the then-boarding house. The house is typical Second Empire style, modeled off of French Architecture with its Mansard roof.
Happily, after decades of residential redevelopment in the area, restaurants and bars have moved into the area, making it a true 24 hour neighborhood. Restaurants such as 1111 Mississippi and Sqwires have moved into old industrial buildings that have been renovated into modern spaces.
In distance, behind Sqwires is the old City Hospital, which has been renovated into condominiums. I actually know people who were born in the old hospital before it closed.
Above is what I call dead space, an ill-informed attempt to create a "pocket" park--right across from a gigantic city park, no less. It sits empty, and one can imagine a homeless or indigent person setting up shop in the underused space. Worse, it sits on a corner, which is supposed to be the best places for businesses to thrive. I'm not certain, but I think they're going to build a mixed use store/apartment building on the site.
Here is a detail of the ornate woodwork of the Second Empire style, though I think it's painted a little too garishly, even for the Victorian Period.
Above is one of the grandest mansions in Lafayette Square sitting across the park in splendid glory.
Around the corner from the mansion is the first private street in American, Benton Place.
Here are two examples of houses that were probably built speculatively at the same time on Benton Place.
As is common throughout history, the wealthiest neighborhoods sat on the high ground, enjoying cool breezes and sitting far from malarial swamps and streams that you would find in the old Mill Creek Valley slums. In the distance is a view of Midtown around Grand Center, with the Continental Building dominating the skyline.
Unlike today in suburbia, where houses turn away from the street and line the front of houses with blank garage doors, people in the Nineteenth Century welcomed passersby with elegant details such as this fountain facing Benton Place.

The restoration of Lafayette Square is a triumph of people--not government--taking control of their own neighborhoods and fighting back the crime and despair so common in other areas of the city. The Lafayette Square neighborhood has remarkably low crime for an area so deep in an American city. Residents make it clear that criminals feel out of place, as opposed to neighborhoods where criminals rule the streets after certain hours of the day--if not all day long.

My one quibble with some of the restorations in this neighborhood is that people have cleaned up the houses too much. Some houses are elegant, equipped with modern appliances, but still show their graceful, century old history--their patina. Sadly, other houses have been so over restored that it's difficult to tell that they weren't built ten years ago. Simply a matter of opinion, I imagine.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

This is a link to a fascinating map of St. Louis County in the 1860's. What is amazing is how pretty much every road we know today was already there over 150 years ago.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Power Plant

The Union Electric Power plant down along the wharf produces steam for downtown office buildings, but once presumably churned out thick black smoke. What is so interesting about such a utilitarian building is its rich, neo-classical ornamentation. This building was meant to convey not just strength, but a certain level of artistic sophistication now so lacking in most large power plants. Also of interest is the small, triangular cut out of the front of the building, presumably to allow for train tracks to closely abut the side of the building. Admittedly, the building is absolutely filthy, a victim of the high sulfur content of southern Illinois coal. Perhaps if it was renovated into luxury condos it would be returned to its former cleanliness, but I have to admit I like that this old power plant is still chugging along after close to a century of use.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Road Closed

If the highway engineers would have had their way, you could have driven from I-55 north all the way to the McKinley Bridge, all the while avoiding the morass of the Poplar Street Bridge interchange in downtown. As you might have noticed, this fabled "755" was never built. Or was it? Throughout the downtown area various vestiges of the connections to this road were built, but left without much use. Check out this link for the planned route of the so-called "North-South Distributor."

The huge entrance ramps onto Chestnut and from Pine are remnants of the proposed intersection of I-64 and 755. As you can see there is a huge swath of unused land left, and what I call "superfluous concrete." Here is a picture looking north:In the foreground you can see the Market Street Bridge. Here is the roadway looking south towards I-64:Moving further south, you can still see the excess concrete left at the intersection of I-44, I-55 and the proposed 755. The city has given up on building 755, but has attempted to replace the interstate connection between I-44 and I-64 with the Truman Parkway. This will hopefully provide the missing connections at the Poplar Street Bridge approaches. Ever wonder why you can't go from northbound I-55 to westbound I-64, or from southbound I-70 onto westbound I-64? 755 would have provide those links.

The North-South Distributor is a perfect example of a relatively unneeded interstate that out of town engineers tried to foist on the citizens of St. Louis. Luckily, it was never built, and those acres of land the interstate would have eaten are now still available for new tax generating businesses or conveniently located housing for downtown workers. The city and state have a plan for the "22rd Street Interchange" that will hopefully reutilize the vacant land around the west Market area.

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