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Gaslight Square vs. Washington Ave

The familiar Corvette from the Route 66 television series parked on Olive in Gaslight Square, from episode that aired November 30, 1962 -- click image for more detail at IMDB.
The familiar Corvette from the Route 66 television series parked on Olive in Gaslight Square, from episode that aired November 30, 1962 — click image for more detail at IMDB.

When I moved from Oklahoma City to St. Louis in 1990 our long-time neighbor across the street told me of his visits to Gaslight Square in the 1960s. By the time I’d arrived the buildings on the 2-block stretch of Olive were boarded up. I settled just West of there, on Lindell near Euclid. Euclid Ave, in the 90s, seemed to attract crime. Now it’s the greater downtown area — specifically Washington Ave.

First, a look at Gaslight Square:

By summer 1960, it was the place to be for beats, preppies, well-dressed adults, street troubadours and tourists. Olive pulsed with a happy cacophony wafting from places called the Crystal Palace, Left Bank, Laughing Buddha, and Dark Side. Jack Carl dished pastrami and genial abuse at 2 Cents Plain. A row of columns outside Smokey Joe’s Grecian Terrace anchored the landscape.

On March 24, 1961, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen anointed the obvious by renaming two blocks of Olive as Gaslight Square. Laclede Gas Co. later installed 121 gas streetlights, adding flicker to the buzz.

By summer 1961, Gaslight was noisier with more restaurants, taverns, nightclubs and shops. Some of the antiques dealers were squeezed out by rising rents. “The old gang doesn’t come around anymore, but perhaps it is a necessary evil of growing,” Massucci said as cash registers jingled.

Big and future names in show biz played the square. An 18-year-old singer named Barbra Streisand was warm-up for the Smothers Brothers. Allen Ginsberg recited poetry to mellow jazz. Miles Davis and Singleton Palmer were regulars. Earnest ministers opened the Exit, a coffee shop promising meaningful discussion and “jazz liturgy.”

But the crowds also attracted purse snatchers, car thieves and worse. On Dec. 30, 1964, Lillian Heller was fatally shot in a robbery in the vestibule of her apartment building at 4254 Gaslight, just east of Boyle. Heller, 61, and her husband, John, were artists.

Police added patrols and promised security. Young people flocked to discotheques such as Whisky a Go-Go, where hired dancers gyrated on platforms. But throbbing recorded music was drowning the live clarinet riffs. It became too crass and too much.

The old clubs began closing. Laclede doused some of the gas lights in 1967 for failure to pay. Police made drug arrests and thwarted a desperate bid to save the strip with topless waitresses. The Exit gave up the spirit in 1969, about when cultural pathologists pronounced the end of Gaslight. (Post-Dispatch)

Gaslight Square concentrated a lot into a couple of blocks of Olive. This concentration of money and activity attracted those who wanted some of that money.  Rising crime became too much for some so it began to die.

There are parallels to current events, but there’s time to avoid going down the same path. Ever since the Washington Ave streetscape was completed about 15 years ago (Tucker to 18th), so much attention has been focused on a tiny area.

From 2014: Weekend nights traffic gets backed up on Wash Ave between Tucker (12th) and 14th
From 2014: Weekend nights traffic gets backed up on Wash Ave between Tucker (12th) and 14th

The solution is to put less focus on Washington Ave, but also do like many cities: divide downtown/downtown west into geographic districts. Examples: Toronto, Oklahoma City, Kansas City. This has been talked about for years but it has never happened.

Some possible districts include:

  • Garment District
  • City Museum District
  • Ballpark Village District
  • Convention District
  • Union Station District
  • Columbus Square District
  • Library District
  • Central Business District
  • Arch District
  • MX District

None should have “downtown” or Washington Ave”  the name. Sure, crime will still happen, but this way an entire area won’t get stigmatized by something that happens 1-2 miles away. Branding districts could help with marketing efforts.

— Steve Patterson



Readers Overwhelming Support Good Samaritan Laws To Break Into Hot Cars To Rescue Kids and/or Pets

Laws regarding kids or animals left in hot cars vary by state, but the newest being passed are good Samaritan laws that breaking into hot cars to rescue kids or animals believed to be in danger.

From Monday:

Good Samaritans who break into vehicles in an attempt to rescue children trapped inside would be protected from civil liability under legislation pending before Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Elijah Haahr, a Springfield Republican, said the goal is to encourage people to act quickly if they believe it’s necessary to save kids from dangers such as deadly excessive heat. (KMOX)

This was the topic for the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Would you support or oppose a law that allows breaking into hot cars to save kids and/or animals?

  • Strongly support 12 [32.43%]
  • Support 14 [37.84%]
  • Somewhat support 3 [8.11%]
  • Neither support or oppose 1 [2.7%]
  • Somewhat oppose 1 [2.7%]
  • Oppose 3 [8.11%]
  • Strongly oppose 2 [5.41%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [2.7%]

Nearly 80% support. I looked for arguments against such laws, but couldn’t find anything. More than 16% indicated opposition, so I’m curious to hear why.

— Steve Patterson


Too Easy To Meander Inside Many Parking Garages

Lately the issue of safety in parking garages has been in the local news:

There are surveillance cameras at the parking garage on N. 7th street near Washington Ave., however the company that owns and operates the garage, SP Plus, told the victim in a voicemail, “The cameras are not operational”

Now, two years later, it’s the same story. According to an email sent to News 4 by the victim of the sexual assault that happened two weeks ago, SP Plus told her “There are no cameras at 701 N. 7th Street. We apologize for the inconvenience.” (KMOV)

I’m no fan of parking garages — except when I want to take pictures from them. They can often provide some of the best vantage points. Well. assuming I can access them.

Structural repairs being made to one of the Kiener garages in 2010
Structural repairs being made to one of the Kiener garages in 2010

From a photography perspective I like that I can easily access many downtown parking garages without being stopped, but that’s not good for the personal safety of those who park in them. Newer garages seem to do a better job of keeping out people who aren’t retrieving their vehicle.  Still, with any public garage a person can get access if they drive in.

— Steve Patterson


Readers Not Interested In Possible Attack On Electrical Grid

March 2, 2016 Crime 3 Comments

The most recent Sunday Poll received less votes than usual, which I expected given the broad abstract nature of the question. These polls are non-scientific anyway, so basically for discussion and entertainment value.

Q: Likelihood of a [sucessful] cyber attack on the U.S. power grid?

  • Very unlikely 2 [9.09%]
  • Unlikely 1 [4.55%]
  • Somewhat unlikely 7 [31.82%]
  • Equally unlikely & likely 3 [13.64%]
  • Somewhat likely 2 [9.09%]
  • Likely 5 [22.73%]
  • Very likely 2 [9.09%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

The three unlikely categories added up to 45.46%, the likely 40.91%, with the balance in the middle.

Here’s Ted Koppel on the subject:

He says it’s not if — but when. He wants us to prepare for the consequences. For a lighter take see Koppel on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

— Steve Patterson


The Future Role of St. Louis Sheriff’s Deputies

Prisoner transport vehicle
Prisoner transport vehicle

In counties all across America the Sheriff is the law — think Andy Taylor.

Where county/municipal police police exist the elected sheriff typically is limited to the courts. As counties grow, the question is often if a county police department should be created. In 2012 Sr. Charles County did just that — effective January 1, 2015:

“The public, when they wake up January 1st, they will still have the same professional men and women doing the job they had the day before,” said Chief Dave Todd, who was sworn in Tuesday with his command staff and some other officers.

Most sheriff’s department employees are simply shifting into police posts — including Todd, who has worked in the department 37 years, the last 17 as a captain.

The change, set in motion by a county charter amendment narrowly approved by voters in 2012, mainly amounts to putting policing under an appointed chief with predetermined professional experience and educational requirements.

The sheriff remains elected and will be in charge of court security, transporting prisoners and serving subpoenas and some other documents in civil court cases. The county elected its first sheriff in 1816. (Post-Dispatch)

Not surprising, the National Sheriffs’ Association doesn’t like the idea of creating a police force headed by an appointed person rather than elected by the people.

For example:

The argument that creating a county police force will save the taxpayer money is on its very face absurd. To accept this notion requires one to ignore some basic “truths”.

First, the creation of a county police force does not mean an end to the sheriff’s office. Indeed, the county must continue to fund the sheriff’s office, which still must serve as an arm of the courts for security and service of court papers. If the sheriff runs the jail, this responsibility remains within his office, so long as he wishes to retain it. Therefore, funding of the sheriff’s office will continue.

Second, the creation of a county police force will mean new expenditures – some on a one-time basis and others reoccurring. New cars, new uniforms, new office space, new personnel, i.e. a new chief, deputy chief and command staff, as well as new road officers. It is foolish to think that all these people can or will be drawn from existing sheriff’s personnel.

Third, who will handle communications? There could easily be two communications systems, one for the sheriff’s office and another for the county police.

In short, there can be no savings to the taxpayers by dividing the duties of the sheriff’s office and creating a county police. Savings usually come from consolidation of agencies and efforts, not from the opposite, and even then such savings are small if realized at all. (County Police v. the Elected Sheriff)

The issues are slightly different when you’ve had both a police department and a sheriff’s office since 1861. For those unfamiliar, the City of St. Louis was located within St. Louis County until the Great Divorce in 1876.  St. Louis became a city-county with both municipal and county offices — including sheriff.

Now we have a candidate for sheriff that wants deputies to be able to do more — traffic stops, for example. If the deputies have time be out stopping motorists then perhaps there should be fewer deputies — with the savings going to have more police officers.

But I seem to disagree with most readers. In the Sunday Poll 58.34% agreed with the candidate while 35% of us disagreed.

Q: Agree or disagree: St. Louis sheriff’s deputies should be able to execute traffic stops

  • Strongly agree 21 [35%]
  • Agree 10 [16.67%]
  • Somewhat agree 4 [6.67%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 3 [5%]
  • Somewhat disagree 2 [3.33%]
  • Disagree 7 [11.67%]
  • Strongly disagree 12 [20%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [1.67%]

Don’t get me wrong — in the 25+ years I’ve lived in St. Louis the sheriff has been the same guy: James Murphy. I can’t vote for him, but I also can’t vote for the guy who wants to grow a patronage office.

— Steve Patterson




Notice of Open Meeting: Parking Commission of the City of St. Louis
Tomorrow at 12pm CST.
The meeting will be live-streamed via the STL Treasurer Facebook page.
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2 days ago  ·