Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Path of Least Resistance = Path of Least Effectiveness

St. Louis was proud to announce the opening of the new "Cross County Connector" last year after going over budget and the scheduled completion date. I really saw no need to celebrate--despite being a passionate believer in mass-transit. Why? The route the Cross County Connector takes is so stupid and counterproductive as to be worthless. Take a look at a map of the extension; it literally makes a 90 degree turn and then heads back in almost the same direction as it was coming. Why? Because Metrolink takes the easy way out, whether for the original line or the future by following old railroad lines. But it saves money right? Sure it does, but it also causes Metrolink routes to follow old, incongruous freight lines instead of going where it should. Take Metrolink through the center of St. Louis some time and you'll realize that it largely passes through railyards and industrial areas--not surprising since it follows old railroad tracks.

The most likely next expansion--which is needed--will probably be the North South Connector, linking downtown to North and South County. It will loop around downtown--another major mistake as can be seen in Baltimore's light rail line down Howard Street. Expect long delays at red lights if Metrolink travels aboveground in downtown. Here's a crazy idea--place Metrolink in a newly refurbished Tucker Blvd tunnel. You know, the one that is collapsing and has closed portions of one of the most important streets in downtown.

Take a look at the two branches here. It is a tale of two lines: the north branch logically follows a major commercial artery and consequently will provide a real alternative to driving. The south arm continues the sames mistakes of the past by following a circuitous route through south St. Louis, instead of simply going down Gravois, the most direct route.

We need better thinking at Metrolink.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bohemian Hill Part 2

I decided to swing by the site of the new Georgian Square development and get some pictures of the land clearance. They have placed a very handy sign that gives a street level view of the new shopping center. One could argue two interpretations of the image shown: firstly, you could argue that it's logical to give the view below since that is what most people will see. The second, and more cynical interpretation is that the picture below is attempting to hide the fact that it is essentially a giant parking lot ringed with buildings.As can be seen from the detail of the sign, the new development will at least ostensibly feature sidewalk seating for locals to sit and drink their lattes.The initial site leveling seems like it is in progress, and the trees are now gone. Apparently, they haven't gotten around to moving the utilities yet.A larger issue, and not addressed in the debate, is the absurd width of Lafayette Avenue in between the City Hospital and the new shopping center. No, there is never much traffic on this street, and it could easily be narrowed to provide a more pedestrian friendly environment.I still can't imagine what it would be like to look out the windows of the City Hospital and see a gigantic swath of blacktop. The City Hospital was a possibility for my future home, but Gilded Age is doing such a bad job of developing the environs around its crown jewel that I would never live there now.The only really great aspect of the possible second phase, which demolishes historic homes along Tucker, is the planned elimination of the hugely wasteful ramp from westbound I-44 to southbound Gravois. Here's a great history of the neighborhood and what's already been lost.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jefferson Barracks Chapel

My parents and I were visiting the grave of a family friend in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery when we came across this unique chapel, from 1978.Of course, the doors were locked, and I can't find any pictures of the interior of this chapel, but apparently it is decorated with work by Robert Frei.The chapel is a great example of late Modernist architecture of the 1970's, which unfortunately is increasingly being destroyed around the country. I have an affinity to the architecture of the late 1970's and early 1980's; it is quirky, and now largely gone only thirty years later. But it provides a sort of backdrop to my childhood, when it was brand new and not yet replaced by 1990's banality.The second page of this pdf gives a brief history of the chapel. At a later time, I will investigate the rest of Jefferons Barracks; a strange mishmash of National Guard installation and county park--in what was once the most important military base west of the Appalachians.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bohemian Hill Fait Accompli

My parents and I had just finished a meal at Sqwires Sunday afternoon when we decided to walk around the Lafayette Square neighborhood. We love open houses, and spotted a sign for one of the new luxury in-fill houses built on the southeast corner of the Park. These are the houses targeted by the "Anti-Gentrification Arsonist," as I have dubbed the perpetrator; Gilded Age, the company who built them, came back and are now finishing the houses. I have to admit, Gilded Age does a pretty good job of urban-sensitive in-fill, most of the time.

I say most of the time, because right around the corner, south of the renovated City Hospital (another Gilded Age property) they are engaged in the wholesale destruction of a sad and mutilated neighborhood named Bohemian Hill. A half a year ago, there was a flurry of opposition to the creation of a suburban style strip mall across the street from the City Hospital condominiums, and I saw an opportunity at the open house to ask a Gilded Age representative how the planned development was coming together.

She informed me that they had already started clearing the site, which I confirmed later with a visual inspection. The trees shown below in the picture I snapped a couple of months ago are now, how shall we say it, mulch.From what I gathered from the representative, the project is going ahead in the original configuration: a large, horseshoe shaped strip mall with a grocery store anchor. Built St. Louis has an excellent page dedicated to what has been lost, and what is still threatened.A casual observer might say that the forested wasteland is perfect for a shopping center, but an old satellite image shows that it was hardly barren a few years ago. It's a classic trick of St. Louis developers: buy perfectly good housing, leave it abandoned for a decade, and then tear down the now-decrepit building. Only a sentimental fool would want to save a severely deteriorated building, right?What I can't figure out is why Gilded Age would want to have a giant, mercury vapor lit parking lot right out the front door of their largest rehabilitation project at the City Hospital. Do they really think they'll sell more condos by ruining the view out the front door?The good news is that the remaining portion of Bohemian Hill seems safe; the houses still seem occupied, including three that were actually designed by Washington University architecture students. They were/are actually thinking about tearing down not only historic structures, but houses that were built as in-fill less than a decade ago. One can only hope that the second half of the project doesn't go through; maybe Gilded Age is happy with the western strip-mall and will leave the rest of Bohemian Hill alone.What is perhaps most saddening is how deftly Gilded Age dealt with the opposition to their development on Bohemian Hill. I cruised around the web, including the very active Urban Review STL forums for a while, and couldn't find any other site that has realized that preliminary clearance has begun for the dreaded Orwellian named "Phase III."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Just Wondering

If you read this blog, leave me a message saying "I do." I know some friends have said it's difficult to think of something to say.

Friday, November 9, 2007

National Guard Armory

Most people have seen the old National Guard Armory on the south side of Highway 40 along a desolate stretch of far west Market Street. I searched for any information on this building, that looks like it dates from the 1920's or 1930's, but can't seem to find much information on it.Apparently there was a Grateful Dead concert back in 1968 in the armory, and you can actually buy a ticket from the concert.Also apparently it was the site of tennis matches, according to the Post Dispatch, and also supposedly softball games.You can see a satellite image of the building here. It's a magnificent building, with a nice combination of cut stone and tan brick. Sadly, the location is really terrible; you have to turn down a narrow street and then Highway 40 is looming above you. The area looks like it will remain industrial for the near future, and there's more than enough concert venues around town. Perhaps it would be a good place for "adventure" sports, such as rock climbing walls or other things that highly active people do.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Kansas City Schools

In an interesting twist to the longstanding problems of city vs. suburbs issues, the mostly white portions of the Kansas City School District have voted to break away from the struggling district, leaving the predominantly poor, African American core behind. Kansas City is a lot different from St. Louis City; unlike St. Louis, Kansas City's incorporated limits consist of not just the urban core, but a large portion of the "suburban" portion of the city. Heck, up north Kansas City is still farmland within its city limits.

Read the story here.

I have to wonder if this idea might come to St. Louis; could South City schools theoretically break off from the larger whole? Look for this same thing to occur in other major American cities, if not St. Louis.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

New Movie Review Blog

Check out my new blog that reviews great (and not so great) movies that I like.

Great (And Not So Great) Movies

St. Augustine German Catholic Church

I was wandering around North St. Louis this last Saturday when I spotted the spire of the most interesting church I had seen in a long time. It turns out it was St. Augustine, a long closed parish church in a nebulous area west of Parnell, the northern extension of Jefferson Ave. I was awestruck at the sheer size of the abandoned church, and the surrounding desolation gave the entire neighborhood and church the look of a ruined German village.You can see a vintage photograph at the Archdiocesan archives here. It is hard to believe that such a beautiful church could be sitting empty, but I acknowledge that maintaining such a huge structure is not cheap. The church is an amazing and pure example of northern German Gothic ecclesiastical architecture, as can be seen in this example from Konigsberg. In fact the two churches are almost mirror images of each other.
I felt like I was starting to dwell too long in the neighborhood, so I took off after getting what I felt were mediocre pictures of the church. More images of St. Augustine can be seen at the Built St. Louis website. Rather curiously, the adjacent parish house seemed to be (legally) occupied when I passed by. The block directly across the street, as seen in this satellite image, is completely empty; perhaps it could serve one day as a grand public square in a revitalized neighborhood.

Monday, November 5, 2007

In Search of the Kaes House

As mentioned before, the Meramec Valley in western St. Louis County is an isolated, but history filled region that remains largely unspoiled due to the creation of Castlewood State Park and other subsidiary trails and county parks.What is fascinating about the area, however, is that it was once the site of much more human habitation in the two hundred years since the beginning European settlement. In particular, there were gravel dredging operations in the area, as well as the famous speakeasies and clubs on the bluffs high above the river. Unbeknownst to many people is the existence of an Antebellum farm house on the eastern edge of St. Paul, now within the boundaries of the state park. I spent most of Sunday afternoon hiking the trails to gain a legal look at the old house. It's easily reachable if you cut across private property, but I am an upstanding citizen who doesn't trespass.After two hours of searching, I caught this view below of the old Kaes House across the railroad right-of-way. I didn't cross over the train tracks because the next door neighbors (who will call the cops on you) were out in their yard. So if you want to see great pictures of this lost piece of history click here, at the website of a former resident of the house. The western half of Castlewood is extremely isolated now; the state realized that the previous access trail to the western part crosses railroad property. You cannot legally get to the Stinging Nettle Loop or the Cedar Bluff Trail from Kiefer Creek Road.I had a little energy left and went back to Sherman Beach County Park where I parked my car. It's unbelievable how low the Meramec River is; this photo of the train trestle at St. Paul was taken from two-thirds of the way across the river's channel.Likewise, I took this stunning picture of the valley without getting my feet wet in the middle of the river. It's been dry for a while, because land plants were sprouting in the middle of the riverbed.It's a shame that the Kaes House can't be opened to the public in some form, even if just for a bed-and-breakfast. I think the best option would be to renovate and rent out the house to a private citizen; many Missouri state parks have people living in them. A museum, I think, wouldn't really be viable down in such an isolated area. It's been stabilized, so it's in no danger of collapse, but the state needs to come up with a more viable solution than the status quo.

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