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Donated Boeing 727 To Help Train First Responders

As many of you know, Metro, formerly know as the Bi-State Development Agency, operates our MetroBus and MetroLink light rail service. Metro also runs the trams inside the Arch and operates the Saint Louis Downtown Airport (map). Although MetroBus service does reach the airport, my boyfriend drove me on April 19th to view Metro accepting a Boeing 727 from FedEx Express.

Boeing 727-200F donated by FedEx Express
Boeing 727-200F donated by FedEx Express on April 19, 2013

Here is the donated plane will be used:

Although the aircraft’s primary purpose will be to train firefighters and other emergency response force personnel, it will also serve as a classroom and a ground trainer for future pilots and aircraft maintenance technicians, and be made available to researchers and educators for use in their air safety and educational programs.

The pilots’ cockpit will remain intact, just as it is when the pilots stepped out of it, however, changes will be made throughout the rest of the aircraft. The front half of the fuselage will be configured as a standard passenger airliner, complete with a pull-down screen and overhead projector for use in classroom-style presentations to tour groups visiting the airport and the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum, and to youth flying with Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 64 in their Young Eagles program. Jet Aviation, which has a history of doing maintenance and repair work for the FedEx corporate fleet at its facilities at St. Louis Downtown Airport, will assist in preparing the aircraft for its new mission.

The rear half of the fuselage will be outfitted to contain a maze of hanging hoses, wires, and other obstructions with cargo containers, boxes, and jumbled seats. During training sessions, non-toxic smoke generators will fill the aircraft with smoke as if the aircraft had made a crash landing. Area firefighters will be able to don their gear and enter the aircraft to search for survivors and complete a myriad of real-world training scenarios. (source)

Firefighters in the region currently get trained in simulated spaces, not with actual aircraft.  Once ready for training, firefighters from the region will be able to come practice maneuvers in a more realistic setting.

This plane has a brief St. Louis history:

The aircraft was delivered on October 25, 1979, in full Ozark Airlines’ colors, however, it was transferred to Pan American World Airways that same day. Pan Am operated it as “Clipper Frankfurt” from Oct. 25, 1979, until they ceased operations on Dec. 4, 1991. The aircraft was placed in storage from Dec. 5, 1991, until it was acquired by FedEx Express on April 22, 1993. 

Ozark Airlines operated from Lambert until merging with TWA.

— Steve Patterson


Old Big Box Stores Live On, Some Too Long

It has been 15 years since St. Louis-based Venture stores closed.

The chain was founded in 1968 when Target founder John F. Geisse went to work for May Department Stores. Under an antitrust settlement reached with the Department of Justice, May was unable to acquire any more retail chains at the time, and the department store company needed a way to compete against the emerging discount store chains. When May’s Executive Vice President Dave Babcock learned that Geisse had resigned from Target Stores, he spoke with Geisse about starting a new discount retailer, resulting in the founding of Venture.

The first Venture store opened in 1970 in the St. Louis suburb of Overland (after Venture closed, the location became a Kmart, which later closed & was demolished for the current Home Depot). In 1976, Geisse retired and left Venture Stores, which had by that time expanded to 20 units. (Wikipedia)

When I was a kid, following the failure of the Woolco discount chain, Venture expanded into Oklahoma City (source). A Woolco/Venture was very close to my parent’s house, I biked there often to buy 45s & later cassingles.

Last week, as I stepped into a former Venture store at 5401 Collinsville Rd in Fairmont City, IL, I recalled biking to Venture as a kid and even visiting a Venture after moving to St. Louis.

Venture sign
Venture sign remains
This Venture store is now Gateway Classic Cars, click image for website
This Venture store is now Gateway Classic Cars, click image for website
The old Venture name is covered by the current sign
The old Venture name is covered by the current sign
The interior is very original, complete with the paint scheme of the walls.
The interior is very original, complete with the paint scheme of the walls.

When a building gets built we should assume it’ll be around for at least half a century. Often this longevity is a good thing, but not always. I took a picture of the men’s restroom but I decided to spare you that sight.

Older structures do provide good low-rent options for businesses, while not making a positive contribution to the area’s image. This is a good example of why we need to think beyond the original depreciation schedule when building.

— Steve Patterson


Great Ghost Sign In East St. Louis

I’m now curious about “Langley & Reed Bicycle Repairing.”

ABOVE: Ghost sign in East St. Louis

Where in East St. Louis IL was it located? How long was it in business?  Who were Langley & Reed the ?

I miss painted signs/advertising, so much more permanent and interesting than modern backlit signs.

— Steve Patterson


East St. Louis Metal Thieves Leave Dangerous Holes

August 13, 2012 Crime, Featured, Metro East 3 Comments

As sorta a hobby I enjoy looking around East St. Louis. In July I was exploring the area to the west of the Emerson Park MetroLink station (aerial), I was shocked to see how many manhole covers and sewer grates were missing.  Here are some examples:

ABOVE: A tire is in the hole created by a missing manhole cover in East St. Louis.
ABOVE: Sewer drain missing grate.
ABOVE: Sewer grate and manhole cover missing
ABOVE: More missing sewer grates

The curbs, sidewalks, and yes sewers all look relatively new, perhaps redone in 2001 when the adjacent light rail station opened? If you remember the saga of rescuing Jessica McClure from a backyard well then you can understand how dangerous these are and why old tires are in some.

— Steve Patterson


East Boogie: Reflecting on a Hometown

August 2, 2012 Featured, Guest, Metro East 4 Comments

Guest post by Chris Andoe:

I can’t really explain why I’m so drawn to the place, but even sitting two thousand miles away in Oakland (CA) my mind still wanders back to East St. Louis.

I’ve gravitated to abandoned places all my life. My Grandma Andoe lived in North Tulsa, a forgotten and emptying area not unlike East St. Louis. Her yard was skirted by railroad tracks that I would wander as a kid. I’d find forgotten salvage yards filled with rusting chrome and crumbling brick. I’d trample though old graffiti covered warehouses. I’d hear stories about the hobos riding the rails during the depression and how my granddad would visit with them and give them something to eat.

ABOVE: Children play in the shadow of the vacant Spivey Building in East St. Louis. Summer of 2009. Photo by Chris Andoe

As an adult I’ve been able to recapture that feeling of adventure in East St. Louis. I’ve climbed though most of the major abandoned structures, some with breathtaking views of the skyline. I’ve scaled the behemoth Armour Meat Packing Plant and descended into its dark labyrinth basement complete with watery pits. I’ve hiked to ruins only accessible by railroad tracks

I’ve visited the crime scene, complete with dried blood, and written about the gruesome murder in what the St. Louis Post Dispatch described as “a human slaughter chamber” along the riverfront.

East St. Louis has been home to legendary nightlife and I’ve hosted story telling events paying tribute to those good times. I’ve read about the mafia history, the built environment history, and have studied the East St. Louis Race Riot.

Despite all of my interest, research and writings, one thing I haven’t done is gathered the stories and viewpoints from the local’s perspective. This fact struck me recently when my friend Shaun Mexico, an East. Louis native, shared a touching update about his mother and hometown:

“I was driving through East St. Louis earlier, and all the memories of my mom were all that was on my mind. I really wish that I could call her, but I cannot, nevertheless, she holds a very special place in my heart, and she’s with me wherever I go in life. For those of you who still have your mom, you have no idea how much I admire you.”

I asked him right away if he would share his thoughts on East St. Louis and he was happy to do so.

C.A.: What was it like growing up in East St. Louis?

S. M.: Thinking back when I was growing up in East St. Louis, I had more good times than bad times. In the summertime in my neighborhood, we would always have a cook-out that would attract the neighbors, and everyone just had a good time with no problems whatsoever. East St. Louis is similar to other small towns in that it had things that were special, at least to me. For example, if I wanted some great ice cream, I’d go to Pirtle’s, where it was family-owned, and made fresh daily. Everyone would go to the East Side vs Lincoln games, and back then, the neighbors looked out for each other. For me, it was really a great place to grow up.

C.A.: Do you have many friends or family that live there today? If so how is it different than it was then?

S. M.: I don’t have any family that lives in East St. Louis anymore, but whenever I go to East St. Louis, I see a lot of people that I’m familiar with, and it just doesn’t seem as if there is a sense of community. Like I mentioned in the last answer, there would be entire neighborhoods having cook-outs, and they would look out for one another. It just doesn’t seem like they do that anymore.

C.A.: While East St. Louis has a sinister reputation I’ve heard locals describe it as a friendly small town. Is that your experience?

S.M.: I have to admit that it bothers me whenever people disparage East St. Louis, because I don’t know too many towns that don’t have any crime, and while it may be true that East St. Louis may have a little more than most, compared to North St. Louis, East St. Louis is like Mayberry. It really is true that if you’re from East St. Louis, it’s really difficult to not run into someone you know. A funny story is when I would be out with some of my friends, I would always run into someone I knew, and it blew them away, because they just thought that I was popular. Most of the people I would run into were people that I knew from East St. Louis.

When I was in college, one of my college roommates thought the worst of East St. Louis, but instantly changed his mind once I took him there. Close to the summer of ’99, we met with his sister and some friends of his family who were vacationing, and St. Louis was one of their stops. He had told them that I was from East St. Louis, but they didn’t believe it because they felt that I was too well-spoken to be from East St. Louis, and all they had known about East St. Louis is what they had seen on the news. I’m glad that I can help to change that image.

C.A.: What are your thoughts on the abandoned buildings?

S.M.: My thoughts on the abandoned buildings is that they could be restored and put to good use, whether it’s office space or residential space. The saddest abandoned buildings that I’ve seen recently were the old George Rogers Clark Jr. High building, my junior high alma matter, & the old Lincoln Senior High building, my high school alma matter, both of which were suspiciously set on fire recently. The only building that they have restored in recent years and put to use was the old Assumption High School building, which is now a prison.

C.A.: Of everything that’s now gone, what hurts the most?

S.M.: I think what hurts the most is that my high school, Lincoln Senior High, is no longer around, and recently the building was set on fire twice. I had so many great times with great friends at that school.

C.A.: Growing up were you taught about the 1917 race riot? If so what did you hear? Did you know of anyone who was there or had firsthand knowledge???

S.M.: To be honest, I don’t know too much about the race riot of 1917, and seeing that it is part of the city’s history, it should have been taught to us, but it wasn’t. I would talk to some older people that knew something about the origins of East St. Louis, but I don’t know anyone who was there or had first-hand knowledge.??

C.A.: Where do you live now?

S.M.: I live in downtown St. Louis, and what’s cool about living downtown is that I’m so close to East St. Louis, so I can visit whenever I wish.

C.A.: If there was a renaissance in East St. Louis would you be interested in moving back?

S.M.: I would definitely move back, because I think that it would be an exciting and great time for the city.

C.A.: How often do you visit?

S.M.: I go about once a week, and usually I just drive around and look at how the landscape has changed. On some occasions, I may grab something to eat. A fact to only those who know is that East St. Louis has some of the best barbecue that you will ever taste. There are also a few good Chinese food places there.

C.A: Who would you say has the best BBQ and the best Chinese?

S.M.: Young’s on 23rd & State for Chinese, The Red Door on 23rd & St. Clair for BBQ.

C.A.: I’ve heard East. St. Louis referred to as “East Boogie”. What do you think of that nickname? Do you know where it came from?

S.M.: I’ve actually used it. A long time ago, East St. Louis had a strong music scene, so the nickname “East Boogie” pays homage to that. I think that nickname for East St. Louis was around before I was born.

C.A.: What do you think the future holds for East St. Louis?

S.M.: I think that the future of East St. Louis is ultimately up to the people who still live there. I was just discussing this very subject with a friend, and we both came to the conclusion that for any real change to take place in East St. Louis, it must rid itself of all of the corrupt politicians who govern it. There are too many politicians in East St. Louis that aren’t doing anything that’s in the best interests of the people who live there, and until those politicians are excused, the future of the city will be on standby.

The East St. Louis that Shaun knew is rapidly vanishing as most everyone he knew has moved away, mostly to Belleville, Fairview Heights, or the city. The ruins that I’ve studied, explored, and loved are also vanishing. The new Mississippi River Bridge is opening up and scooping out one of the most mysterious and secretive places in the region: Route 3 between Brooklyn and East. St. Louis.

As the landscape changes I’m finding it harder to go over there. I asked Shaun if he could imagine a time when he’d discontinue his pilgrimage because there was nothing left to see.

S.M.: Because I have so many great memories, there will never be a time when I will stop visiting East St. Louis. I look forward to the day when I have children so that I can show them where their dad grew up. Also, there are always people that I have befriended in St. Louis that have a misconception of East St. Louis that’s based on rumors, so on many occasions, I would drive those friends around East St. Louis to dispel those rumors.

Chris Andoe is a writer, storyteller and activist who wanders the West, from St. Louis to San Francisco. Known as “The Emperor” the crown wearing Andoe has been interviewed by NPR, CBS, and has been quoted everywhere from CNN to The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Andoe writes for numerous blogs and covers the West Coast for the Vital Voice.  Andoe lives in Oakland, California.