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New Book — ‘Scenes of Historic Wonder: St. Louis’ by Jaime Bourassa & Cameron Collins

November 25, 2019 Books, Featured, History/Preservation Comments Off on New Book — ‘Scenes of Historic Wonder: St. Louis’ by Jaime Bourassa & Cameron Collins

Local publisher Reedy Press comes out with many great books every year, usually on a specific subject.  For example 2015’s ‘Downtown St. Louis’ by NiNi Harris (a 2nd edition was just released). Today’s book is different, the subjects are varied. The only common element is they’re oddities.

Quirky, provocative, awe-inspiring, and just plain bizarre describe the scenes captured in this often comical, always fascinating pictorial. The images in this singular collection depict one-of-a-kind moments that we’ll never see again, mainly because they reflect a specific place in time in history. Glimpses of everyday work, family, and public life not to mention scenes of leisure, sport, and entertainment convey what made each period unique. Informative captions place each scene in context and give substance to moments that range from mundane to wondrous and, in some cases, downright wacky. (Reedy Press)

Here’s a list of how the many topics are organized:

  • Old St. Louis
  • Transportation
  • World’s Fair
  • Sports
  • Industry and Innovation
  • Fun and Games
  • Education
  • Everyday Life
  • Hard Times
  • Brews and Food

In flipping through this book the last couple of weeks I’ve learned new things about St. Louis’ history, seen pictures I’d not seen before.

Here’s a small fraction of the subjects covered:

  • Mound City, the opening subject is Native-American mounds that used to exist on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River.
  • Kayser’s Lake, at  9th & Biddle, was one of many stagnant ponds to eventually be drained to get rid of disease and make room for development.
  • The Campbell House Museum opened in the 1940s, but they didn’t have a good record of what the interior looked like in the past — but in 1973 a photo album from 1885 was found!
  • In 1910 a biplane flew under a span of the Eads Bridge (obviously not during flooding).
  • The 1906 demolition of the Farris wheel used in the 1904 World’s Fair, which had been used in 1893 fair in Chicago. Residents at the time considered it an “eyesore.”
  • A steeply-banked wooden motordrome (motorcycle race track) used to exist at Grand and Meramec — that I new. The photograph, however, it not one I’d seem before.
  • I also knew the zoo’s original location was on the east end of  our current Fairgrounds Park (Grand & Natural Bridge), but the photo used is new to me.
  • 3-story outhouse for tenements. Yes, a great photo of a 3-story outhouse structure with walkways to adjacent tenement buildings.
  • St. Louis’ historic Chinatown area, commonly known as Hop Alley, razed in the 1960s for parking for the new baseball stadium.
  • Homer G. Phillips Hospital, for African-Americans, was the result of segregation. It helped train thousands of black doctors and nurses. The photo used isn’t a building exterior shot, but a group of professionals inside working.
  • Four Courts Building, 1870-1917, occupied the block bounded by Clark, 11th, Spruce, 12th (Tucker).

If you’re a St. Louis history buff this book needs to be on your coffee table or bookshelf.

— Steve Patterson

 

A Modern Addition To A Historic 1859 Structure

August 12, 2019 Accessibility, Featured, History/Preservation Comments Off on A Modern Addition To A Historic 1859 Structure

The library building at the Missouri Botanical Gardens is one of the original structures from when Henry Shaw opened his private gardens to the public in 1859 — 160 years ago.   It’s a small structure, as the gardens expanded it simply outgrew it. It was rarely opened after being closed.

Since Shaw’s death in 1889, the building has served many functions—from research lab to offices to restaurant. Since its closing in 1982, it’s only open on special occasions, such as Shaw’s birthday celebration each July 24.  (Missouri Botanical Garden)

I was fortunate enough to get to see the interior on a rare opening on July 10, 2011.  This meant leaving my wheelchair as the bottom of the steps and using the handrails to walk up the steps. It was worth the effort.

The Museum Building: Commissioned by Henry Shaw in 1858, this neoclassical building was designed by George I. Barnett and modeled after a building at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England. Originally, this building served as a small natural history museum, and housed the library.
Interior in June 2011

They planned a restoration project and addition to make the building accessible. Adding onto a significant historic building, especially one designed by a noted architect, is very tricky. Most people, I think, probably assume it’s best to use the same materials & style  — to try to blend in. That’s the opposite of what is recommended!

Instead you want to use modern materials from current times. It’s best to not do irreversible damage where adding on.

This view shows the original on the left with the 2018 addition on the right. A glass connector attaches addition to the historic. South facade.

I’ll let the architects behind the project explain the addition:

The 2,150 square foot addition is designed with a contemporary use of stone, distinguishing it from the existing building and reflecting current building technologies and materiality.  A glass volume creates a formal entry on the north façade while the south façade is comprised of a modern limestone finish.  The limestone masses define transparent entries both on the north and south facades.  As a whole, the addition is simple, yet unique; providing much-needed access and facilities in a building that subtly complements the original historic structure. (Christner)

As you approach the historic main entrance from the North you’re directed toward the left.

You see this sign first.
You turn and see the addition, the garage on the left is old — but not historic.
Approaching the entrance you can see through to the South entrance. This view shows an upper floor of glass walls.
Looking back North from inside the upper level — the glass box is where the stairs come up. The elevator is behind me.
No matter how you get up one level, this is what you see. A little bit of the outside wall is now inside. A former window becomes the opening into the main historic space.
This is looking North, toward the original main entrance doors.
This is the view looking South. The new addition is accessed at the back left, just past the bookcase. The upper level mezzanine is not open to the public.
In the back (south) room a vaulted ceiling had been hidden for decades by a dropped plaster celling.
Built-in shutters on the sides of the windows in the back space.
Back at the South side you can see how stone on the addition conceals the elevator.

The addition not only provides access to the historic spaces, it also provides much-needed restrooms & drinking fountains on the East side of the garden. It opened last year, but it was only recently I got to see & experience it.

I’m so glad so many parents use baby strollers in public, it’s an added incentive to makes spaces accessible to everyone. Kudos to everyone involved with this project.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Michael O.D. Brown May 20, 1996 – August 9, 2014

August 9, 2019 Featured, Ferguson, History/Preservation Comments Off on Michael O.D. Brown May 20, 1996 – August 9, 2014

Five years ago the world learned where Ferguson Missouri was located because a young black man was unnecessarily killed by a white police officer. We’ve seen it happen over and over since.

Days later roses in the center of Canfield Drive ended at the spot where Brown’s body was left for four hours the afternoon Saturday August 9th, 2014
A section of the Canfield Drive sidewalk was replaced, along with a plaque. August 2016 photo.
9/7/16

The Urban League built a new facility on the site of the nearby burned out QT, there also included a plaque. August 2017 photos below.

ADA-compliant accessible route from public sidewalk to Urban League building set back behind parking.
Bench along route, before building
Plaque beneath bench

I have thoughts on proposed development in Ferguson & Dellwood, but I’ll share about those another day. Today I pause and think about Michael Brown and the too-long list of others who were unarmed but died in the hands of police. Hopefully in my lifetime I’ll witness the end of such discrimination.

— Steve Patterson

 

New Book — ‘Historic Missouri Roadsides, 2nd Edition’ by Bill Hart

July 26, 2019 Books, Featured, History/Preservation, Missouri Comments Off on New Book — ‘Historic Missouri Roadsides, 2nd Edition’ by Bill Hart

I’ve posted many times about day/weekend trips my husband and I have taken in small towns in Illinois & Missouri. Now we have a beautiful new hardcover book to guide us exploring more of Missouri. We especially like “two-lane” trips, as interstates are so boring.

Who hasn’t heard the call of the open road and felt the desire to get out of the city and see the beauty of the Show-Me State? Historic Missouri Roadsides offers all the history, recommendations, and itineraries you need to make the most of a picturesque trip down a two-lane road or highway. Richly illustrated with photographs from the author’s own collection, you’ll find tours of varying lengths, most beginning near Kansas City or St. Louis. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a local “staycationer,” you’ll want to check out these tours like Route 79 along the Mississippi River or El Camino Real leading down to the Missouri Bootheel. Don’t miss the Route 24 tour through Excelsior Springs and across the state into Ralls County or a chance to see the Osage Hills and Prairies in Laclede County. Find insider’s tips on the best locally owned businesses, restaurants, and lodging along the way with character and a hometown feel. The second edition of the book offers even more destination trips including Fulton, Sedalia, the Boonslick area, the Arcadia Valley, Glasgow, and St. Joseph. Bill Hart takes the wheel and shows you the very best of the roads from St. Charles County to old Route 66. Thumb a ride through this beautiful guide to enjoy all that small town Missouri has to offer. (Reedy Press)

I like the organization, with suggested groupings of towns and interesting back routes between them. Hart suggests using a free Missouri state map, or a printed atlas. I’ll stick to using maps on my phone connected to our car’s screen — with “avoid highways” turned on.  Each area has places to eat, stay, visit, and to do — very helpful. Often our trips are based on a cafe in a town many miles away from St. Louis. Food tourism.

Thumbing though the book & scanning the index I’ve learned so much about Missouri. For example, I can finally afford to visit Paris!  Paris…Missouri.  According to Wikipedia it was platted in 1831 and named after another Paris. Paris…Kentucky.

This hardcover bill is filled with many photographs. It’s available from St. Louis’ Left-Bank Books (in stock!), St. Louis-based publisher Reedy Press, Amazon, and others.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Mixed On Latest Blight Removal Effort

July 24, 2019 Featured, History/Preservation, Neighborhoods, North City Comments Off on Readers Mixed On Latest Blight Removal Effort

Blight was in the news last week, and was the topic of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll.

Before I get to the poll results, let’s talk about blight.

We have obsolete and blighted districts because our interest has always been centered in the newest and latest houses and subdivisions in areas of new development. As home owners have moved to successive outlying neighborhoods the earlier homes have gradually been allowed to deteriorate. No matter how great the extent of disintegration these old homes are seldom adequately repaired and are rarely torn down. This is no way to build a sound city.

The above quote isn’t from a press release about the new effort, it’s from St. Louis’ Comprehensive Plan — from 1947!

Combating blight is nothing new, but what is blight? In 1947 part of their definition was the number of housing units built prior to 1900 (82,000), number of units with an outdoor privy/outhouse (33,000), and the number of units where families shared a toilet (25,000). Today we do still have units built before 1900, but I doubt a single housing unit in the city lacks a private bathroom.

Yet blight remains, in different forms.  Dictionary.com defines blight as:

the state or result of being blighted or deteriorated; dilapidation; decay: urban blight.

St. Louis certainly has lots of deteriorated, dilapidated housing stock. For every home lovingly restored there’s probably 10 in various states of disrepair. St. Louis has struggled with this for generations.  The latest effort because it involves two wealthy individuals trying to leverage their fortunes:

Tech billionaire Jack Dorsey, a St. Louis native and co-founder and CEO of both Square Inc. and Twitter, along with Detroit native Bill Pulte, whose grandfather founded national homebuilder Pulte Homes, were paying for the demolitions — $500,000 for a pilot program to completely clear more than 130 lots in a four-block area of the northwest St. Louis neighborhood hard hit by abandonment and vacancy.

“St. Louis is a lot easier to solve,” said Pulte, who several years ago launched the Blight Authority, a similar initiative in the Detroit area. “This problem can be solved. This problem can be solved in less than 15 years…. This is just about willpower at the government and private sector level.”

So why not renovated, rather than raze? Good question. The answer is complicated, but “willpower” is an important factor. If we look at Old North St. Louis many buildings in very poor condition were stabilized for many years until they could be renovated. It was a huge effort that paid off…eventually. The neighborhood has seen considerable new infill since, from Habitat for Humanity houses to a trendy shipping container house.  Very different than when I lived in the neighborhood, 1991-1994. It helps the neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Former Arlington School on Burd Ave in Wells Goodfellow neighborhood was converted into housing in 2012, new construction was built around it. This former school is the only building in the neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places. Click image to see my January 2013 post from the opening of the new housing, Arlington Grove.

The Wells Goodfellow neighborhood is very different from Old North.   It’s also old, but at least a generation newer than Old North.

Wells/Goodfellow is part of an historic section known as Arlington, which takes its name from John W. Burd’s Arlington Grove subdivision of 1868. A memorable disaster in the history of the Arlington area occurred in October 1916, when the Christian Brothers College building at North Kingshighway and Easton Avenue (now Martin Luther King Drive) was destroyed by fire, one of the worst in the City’s history, taking 10 lives.

The area received its name from John W. Burd’s Arlington Grove subdivision of 1868. More subdivisions were built in the mid-1880s, with residential construction continuing until 1910. By the mid-1920s, the last of the residential subdivisions were opened. (City of St. Louis)

The location is on the far west edge of the city:

Wells Goodfellow general boundaries are defined as Natural Bridge Ave. on the North, southward to Union Blvd. on the East, westward to Dr. Martin Luther King Drive on the South, northward to the City limits on the West to Natural Bridge Ave. (City of St. Louis)

The housing stock is a mix of brick structures like we see in many neighborhoods, and wood frame structures that are becoming increasingly rare.

I photographed this wood-frame home at 1928 Burd Ave in the Wells Goodfellow neighborhood in January 2012. It was built in 1903.
If we look closer the original porch brackets remain, the porch light is on so it was occupied.

I’m a huge fan of old wood-frame buildings, especially large homes from St. Louis’ heyday. The home above was a pile of rubble by August 2017 but not cleaned up until this month.

Across the street 1927 Burd Ave was still standing on Saturday, but both brick structures on each side had been razed. This frame house is likely gone by now, it was built in 1884.

These large frame homes are the exception for the neighborhood, most housing is smaller and modest.

!912 Clara Ave, left, and 1904 Clara Ave are occupied, the two similar houses in between were just razed.

The two that were razed were in bad shape two years ago. 1910 Clara Ave was built in 1908, was just over a thousand square feet in size. 1906 Clara Ave was built a year earlier, was just under 900 square feet. The two remaining houses are similar vintage and size.

The red dashed line shows the initial 4-block “blight elimination zone”

I’m sure the owner-occupant of one of the remaining houses is relieved to have the dilapidated neighboring structure gone. Both of the razed houses might have been technically feasible to renovate, but the economics just don’t add up in Wells Goodfellow.

There is one neighborhood in St. Louis where modest frame & masonry shotgun houses are well maintained, and often renovated. The Hill — the Italian neighborhood.

A couple of modest frame houses in The Hill neighborhood

When these aren’t renovated you’ll see a larger home built where 2-3 once existed.

Here we see a large newer home, left, on the same block as very modest houses. The house two to the right is very small.

The Hill neighborhood is of similar vintage and the housing stock was originally very similar — modest worker housing of frame or brick construction. One has had continuous investment, the other large scale abandonment.  In Wells Goodfellow few buildings are listed for sale in the MLS.  Those that are listed cost less than the average new car. Hell, less than many good used cars. Other city neighborhoods with this type of housing the unfortunate reality is closer to Wells Goodfellow than The Hill.

So when an owner-occupant dies their family sells the house to the only buyer, likely an absentee landlord. At these prices they can recoup their initial investment in less than 5 years.  The landlord rents it for as long as they can, then walk away.

This brings us back to the issue raised in the 1947 plan:

We spend $4,000,000 general tax funds annually to maintain our obsolete areas. (This sum represents the difference in cost of governmental service and tax collections annually in these areas.)

In 1947 we had overcrowding and hadn’t reached our peak population. Since then we’ve lost nearly 2/3 of our population.  Do we write off this neighborhood, or keep investing like the successful Arlington Grove housing immediacy to the south of this blight elimination zone?

In 1975, consultants from Team Four Inc. advised St. Louis planners to pursue a strategy of neighborhood triage: ‘‘conservation’’ for areas in good health, ‘‘redevelopment’’ for areas just starting to decline, and ‘‘depletion’’ for areas already in severe distress. The firm’s recommended strategy reflected the latest thinking among urban planners, but it provoked outrage among residents of the city’s predominantly black North Side, who read ‘‘depletion’’ as a promise of benign neglect. (The Trap of Triage: Lessons from the ‘‘Team Four Plan’’)

While you ponder the implications of not rebuilding the neighborhood, let me share more of my photos from visits this weekend.

I’m in love with the architecture of both 2518, right, and 2520 Clara Ave.
Looking south on Clara Ave at cross street Highland Ave., the frame house on the corner also has very nice proportions.
5744 & 5748 Highland Ave, just before Goodfellow on Saturday.
24 hours later I returned to see 5748 Highland Ave had burned.
5711 Kennerly Ave, left, was the most interesting house on a very depressing block

I get these mass demolitions, if I lived in Wells Goodfellow the decay would be stifling. I also think the mass demolitions will send the message not to invest in the housing, because the neighborhood is disposable.

Here are the non-scientific results of the Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: 15 years from now these cleared blocks in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood will be an asset, lifting the rest of the neighborhood.

  • Strongly agree: 3 [9.68%]
  • Agree: 7 [22.58%]
  • Somewhat agree: 2 [6.45%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 2 [6.45%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 4 [12.9%]
  • Disagree: 4 [12.9%]
  • Strongly disagree: 7 [22.58%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 2 [6.45%]

It’s very hard to think the area of cleared lots will be an asset in 15 years, a lot depends on what happens next.

— Steve Patterson

 

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