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A Decade Since The Praxair Explosion

June 24, 2015 Featured, History/Preservation Comments Off on A Decade Since The Praxair Explosion

Twenty minutes past 3pm a decade ago today, a hot Friday afternoon, a massive series of explosions began at the Praxair facility on Chouteau, on the edge of the Lafayette Square neighborhood.

The burnt-out building in 2010
The burnt-out building in 2010

From the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board:

CSB investigators noted the accident occurred on a hot summer day with a high temperature of 97 degrees F in St. Louis. At Praxair, cylinders were stored in the open on asphalt, which radiated heat from the direct sunlight, raising the temperatures and pressure of the gas inside the cylinders. At approximately 3:20 p.m., a propylene cylinder pressure relief valve began venting. CSB investigators believe static electricity, created by escaping vapor and liquid, most likely ignited the leaking propylene.

Praxair security camera video shows the initial fire spreading quickly to other cylinders. Exploding cylinders – mostly acetylene – flew up to 800 feet away, damaged property, and started fires in the community. The fire could not be extinguished until most of the flammable gas cylinders were expended. An estimated 8,000 cylinders were destroyed in the fire, which took five hours to control.

The investigation determined that the pressure relief set points, specified in industry standards, are too low for propylene and may allow the gas to begin venting during hot weather – well below the pressures that could damage the cylinders. Not only are the specified set points too low for propylene, the CSB found some valves begin releasing gas even before the pressure reaches the set point. Each time a pressure relief valve opens, its performance deteriorates – making it more likely to vent gas at too low a pressure in the future. (One Year after Gas Cylinder Fire and Explosions at Praxair St. Louis, CSB Issues Safety Bulletin Focusing on Pressure-Relief Valve Standards and Good Safety Practices)

Their video explains it all very well:

Today, a decade later, the site remains vacant.

The former Mackay Place with the Praxair site on the right
The former Mackay Place with the Praxair site on the right

There has been proposals, but nothing has advanced to construction. Maybe a gas station will want to locate here to compete with the QuikTrip coming soon at Jefferson.

— Steve Patterson


June 12th: Loving Day

June 12, 2015 Events/Meetings, Featured, History/Preservation Comments Off on June 12th: Loving Day
Mildred & Richard Loving, 1967
Mildred & Richard Loving, 1967

At the end of this month the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on two questions of marriage equality with respect to LGBT people. Forty-eight years ago they ruled on the divisive marriage question of the day: marriage between whites & non-whites, mostly blacks:

Few cases were more aptly named than Loving v. Virginia, which pitted an interracial couple – 17-year-old Mildred Jeter, who was black, and her childhood sweetheart, 23-year-old white construction worker, Richard Loving – against Virginia’s “miscegenation” laws banning marriage between blacks and whites. After marrying in Washington, D.C. and returning to their home state in 1958, the couple was charged with unlawful cohabitation and jailed. According to the judge in the case, Leon M. Bazile, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents…. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Judge Bazile sentenced the Lovings to a year in prison, to be suspended if the couple agreed to leave the state for the next 25 years.

The Lovings left Virginia and went to live with relatives in Washington, D.C. When they returned to visit family five years later, they were arrested for traveling together. Inspired by the civil rights movement, Mildred Loving wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for help. The couple was referred to the ACLU, which represented them in the landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia (1967). The Court ruled that state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional. (Loving v. Virginia: The Case Over Interracial Marriage)

The court ruling is celebrated annually:

Loving Day is an annual celebration held on June 12, the anniversary of the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia which struck down all anti-miscegenation laws remaining in sixteen U.S. states citing “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause.” In the United States, anti-miscegenation laws were U.S. state laws banning interracial marriage, mainly forbidding marriage between non-whites and whites. Loving Day is not yet an official recognized holiday by the U.S. government, but there is a movement to persuade U.S. President Barack Obama to make it so. Loving Day is the biggest multiracial celebration in the United States. (Wikipedia)

Additional resources:

If not for Loving v. Virgina, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas couldn’t live in or visit 17 states with his 2nd wife, but I expect him to vote again marriage equality later this month…he got his!

— Steve Patterson



St. Louis’ Gateway Arch Added To National Register of Historic Places 28 Years Ago Today

May 28, 2015 Downtown, History/Preservation Comments Off on St. Louis’ Gateway Arch Added To National Register of Historic Places 28 Years Ago Today

Twenty-eight years ago today St. Louis’ Gateway Arch was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Gateway Arch, click image to view National Register nomination
The Gateway Arch, click image to view National Register nomination

Five months from today, October 28th, is the 50th anniversary of the final piece being set into place. Click here for all National Register listings in the City of St. Louis, note that razed buildings, like the Century Building, are still listed on this page:

Finally, nominations for some properties and districts are provided for their historical value — the resource itself may have vanished.

— Steve Patterson


First Time All 28 Aldermen Are Democrats

St. Louis City Hall
St. Louis City Hall

History was made last month — for the first time in the history of St. Louis every alderman is a Democrat.  Yes, we all know the City of St. Louis is a Democrat city — to get elected you need to be a Democrat — at least a DINO. But up until last month at least one member wasn’t a Democrat.

In 1949 Democrats took majority control of the Board of Aldermen but Republicans continued to have multiple members, dropping to one in 1977 but up again to two in 1979 when Fred Heitert was sworn in. The number was back to one after Jim Shrewsbury defeated the GOP incumbent in the 16th Ward.  Republican Fred Heitert was an alderman from April 17, 1979 t0 April 19, 2011 — when his successor Larry Arnowitz, a Democrat, was sworn in. But that same day in 2011 an Independent, Scott Ogilvie, was sworn in representing the 24th Ward. Last month Ogilvie was sworn in to a 2nd term — this time as a Democrat.

So last month, on April 21, 2015, became the first time in St. Louis’ history that every Alderman was a Democrat. UPDATE 5/19 7:45am: Current seniority list.

How long will this last? If this is broken will it be by a Republican, an Independent, or a Green?

— Steve Patterson



Doering Mansion Sacrificed for Disappointing Mississippi Bluffs Developments

South Broadway once had some stately homes, with great views overlooking the Mississippi River. In early 2006 one was gone — razed for a multi-building condo project known as Mississippi Bluffs.

The former Doering Mansion
The former Doering Mansion
The River facade
The river facade

Most of the site for Mississippi Bluffs was to come from the former Good Samaritan Home, the Doering Mansion to the North, was included in the sale of the closed retirement home. The developer wanted just the retirement home site, but the seller wouldn’t split them up. Rather than market the Doering Mansion himself, the developer incorporated that land into his plans:

He’s building an oasis of 34 high-end condominiums on the Mississippi, each with its own garage and surrounded by 6.2 acres of park, sidewalks for dog walking and jogging, and a large pool. It sits on the city’s only mile of terrain above the flood plain, 80 feet above the Mississippi, perfectly positioned for views of the barge industry to the north, vast river to the south and Illinois forest to the east. 

Now, if only he could sell that idea to everyone else.

The land Curran is so fond of was once the site of a retirement home run by the Good Samaritans. The nonprofit organization also owned the adjacent Doering Mansion, which sat unused for 30 years. When the complex went up for sale in 2003, the owners’ only stipulation was that the mansion and the home could not be sold separately—no exceptions. Thus both buildings just sat. And sat. (St. Louis Magazine — September 2007)

I wrote about this project quite a bit at the time:

Many questioned the plan and the developer’s ability to perform. See map.

Only one of the planned buildings was built -- on the south end of the site. As promised, the garage doors weren't visible from Broadway
Only one of the planned buildings was built — on the south end of the site. As promised, the garage doors weren’t visible from Broadway

But the balance of the site remained vacant for years. Now the plan has changed — not for the better.

The view from the North entry, where the Doering once stood. Garage doors are highly visible from Broadway.  
The view from the North entry, where the Doering once stood. Garage doors are highly visible from Broadway.
Up close the garages are very prominent. The original condo plan had the tuck-under garages.
Up close the garages are very prominent. The original condo plan had the tuck-under garages. Click image for the official website

Their views of the river are stunning.

It’s certainly possible had the Doering Mansion not been razed it would still be vacant and falling apart, but it’s also possible it would’ve been renovated and occupied years ago. A trusted politically-connected developer was allowed to raze one the few remaining mansions in a historic district because his project would fail without doing so. It failed anyway.

If only the Doering Mansion had been offered for sale on its own, only then would we have known if anyone would’ve been interested in renovating it. I’m just glad I don’t get down to this area very much anymore, I’d hate to see these garages on a regular basis.

— Steve Patterson




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