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New Book: ‘The Last Children of Mill Creek’ by Vivian Gibson

April 15, 2020 Books, Featured Comments Off on New Book: ‘The Last Children of Mill Creek’ by Vivian Gibson

Mill Creek, a vibrant African-American neighborhood, destroyed by Urban Renewal, is one of my favorite St. Louis subjects. So when the publisher contacted me for a review copy of ‘The Last Children of Mill Creek’ I quickly said yes.

A true story of growing up in segregated St. Louis, The Last Children of Mill Creek is the debut memoir by a talented writer finding her authentic voice later in life.

Vivian Gibson is a native St. Louisian who grew up in Mill Creek Valley, a neighborhood of St. Louis razed in 1959 to build a highway. Her family, friends, church community, and neighbors were all displaced by this act of “urban renewal.” In this moving memoir, Gibson recreates the everyday lived experiences of her large family, including her seven siblings, her crafty college-educated mother, who moved to St. Louis as part of the Great Migration, and her at-times forbidding father, who worked two jobs to keep them all warm and fed. With an eye for telling detail, she sketches scenes populated by her friends, shop owners, teachers, and others who made Mill Creek into a warm, tight-knit, African-American community, and reflects upon what it means that Mill Creek was destroyed in the name of racism disguised as “progress.”

The Last Children of Mill Creek is a moving memoir of family life at a time very different from the modern-day, when many working-class African-American families did not have indoor plumbing and when sundown laws were still in effect—and a document of an era that is now often forgotten or denied. In Gibson’s words, “This memoir is about survival, as told from the viewpoint of a watchful young girl —a collection of decidedly universal stories that chronicle the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.” (Belt Publishing)

A family memoir isn’t the usual type of book I’d look at on this blog. It only has one photo, a family photo of a mom reading to kids. No photos of buildings, no maps or charts. Gibson does mention their neighborhood being vacated and razed, but only to provide context.

I’m very glad I didn’t turn it down.

I usually just scan books, but this book I read cover to cover. Yes, it’s a short book — but it still took me a week (post-stroke reading is a challenge for me). Gibson does a wonderful job of introducing the reader to her family and their home that was at  2649 Bernard Street. In doing so she also describes the Mill Creek neighborhood.

Gibson lived with her parents and seven siblings in a 3-room cold-water flat, her paternal grandmother lived alone in the upstairs flat. Yes, a family of 10 lived in just three rooms. Well, her brothers stayed in the basement. Their flat was basically beds and a kitchen. A single light bulb per room. And rats.

With overcrowding into flats lacking hot water, but with plenty of rats, Mill Creek was a slum, right? No, Gibson’s descriptions of her street, neighborhoods, businesses, churches, schools, etc. is of a wonderful tight-knit neighborhood.

Once the current pandemic is over I want to meet Gibson to ask her more about the buildings, blocks, and businesses. In the meantime I’m going to start reading the book again, taking note of the many details she does give. I’d like to see another book — or a film — about the neighborhood.

Many of you likely saw The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, about the failed high rise public housing project. I think someone needs to do a film/documentary about life in neighborhoods a generation before they were razed.  Mill Creek is a good place to start.

Gibson’s book beautifully describes life growing up in Mill Creek, it saddens me it was physically erased. I can’t recommend this book enough, very enjoyable. I’ve spent many more hours thinking about it than reading it.

— Steve Patterson

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New Book — ‘5 Rules for Tomorrow’s Cities: Design in an Age of Urban Migration, Demographic Change, and a Disappearing Middle Class’

February 17, 2020 Books, Featured Comments Off on New Book — ‘5 Rules for Tomorrow’s Cities: Design in an Age of Urban Migration, Demographic Change, and a Disappearing Middle Class’

The times are changing, how we think about the design of cities also needs to change. The old ways just won’t cut it going forward. Thankfully people like Patrick M. Condon are thinking about the future of cities.

How we design our cities over the next four decades will be critical for our planet. If we continue to spill excessive greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, we will run out of time to keep our global temperature from increasing. Since approximately 80% of greenhouse gases come from cities, it follows that in the design of cities lies the fate of the world.
                                                                                                                                             
As urban designers respond to the critical issue of climate change they must also address three cresting cultural waves: the worldwide rural-to-urban migration; the collapse of global fertility rates; and the disappearance of the middle class. In Five Rules for Tomorrow’s Cities, planning and design expert Patrick Condon explains how urban designers can assimilate these interconnected changes into their work.
 
Condon shows how the very things that constrain cities—climate change, migration, financial stress, population change—could actually enable the emergence of a more equitable and resource-efficient city. He provides five rules for urban designers: (1) See the City as a System; (2) Recognize Patterns in the Urban Environment; (3) Apply Lighter, Greener, Smarter Infrastructure; (4) Strengthen Social and Economic Urban Resilience; and (5) Adapt to Shifts in Jobs, Retail, and Wages.
 
In Five Rules for Tomorrow’s Cities, Condon provides grounded and financially feasible design examples for tomorrow’s sustainable cities, and the design tools needed to achieve them. (Island Press)

I generally like to share the table of contents, but the above publisher description lists the 5 rules, which are the main chapters. Google Books has a preview of selected pages, here. This is a well-sourced academic book, not a coffee table book.

— Steve Patterson

 

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

 

New Book — ‘They Will Run: The Golden Age of the Automobile in St. Louis’ by Molly Butterworth and Tom Eyssell

October 28, 2019 Books, Featured Comments Off on New Book — ‘They Will Run: The Golden Age of the Automobile in St. Louis’ by Molly Butterworth and Tom Eyssell

Despite thinking the St. Louis region has been destroyed for the automobile, I’m also a car buff. For good or bad, the car had a big influence on the 20th century and St. Louis.

A new book looks at the auto manufacturers that called St. Louis home, the dealerships, and everything else to do with cars in St. Louis. (I may need to write the book on how Harland Bartholomew destroyed the city to accommodate the car.)

Anyway, ‘They Will Run: The Golden Age of the Automobile in St. Louis’ is a photo-filled history of the car in St. Louis from early manufacturers, to dealership rows like Locust & Kingshighway, Corvette assembly at Union  & Natural Bridge, etc.

From the local publisher:

Were it not for a few quirks of history, St. Louis might have become the center of the American automotive industry instead of Detroit. Since the late 1800s, St. Louis has been home to dozens of automobile makes and to numerous manufacturers, large and small. In They Will Run: The Golden Age of the Automobile in St. Louis, head down the road of automotive history in the Gateway City, where transportation has always meant power.

Many St. Louisans have heard of the famous Moon automobile of the early twentieth century, but what about the Dyke, the Dorris, and the Gardner? Learn about the city’s prominence as a key automobile manufacturing hub through the 1960s, and the role played by notorious St. Louis playboy and bon vivant Harry Turner in bringing the automobile to St. Louis.

Do you know which vehicles produced here helped the Allies win World War II? Or which ones helped carry and sell beer, create the legend of America’s first true sports car, or were raced around ovals and across the country? Dig down under the roads to uncover the previous lives of streets that once served as Automobile Rows lined with beautiful buildings in which to buy or repair cars.

Authors and car enthusiasts Molly Butterworth and Tom Eyssell deftly take the wheel of this in-depth guide to the automotive heritage of St. Louis. Sit back and enjoy the ride, from the horseless carriage, through the halcyon 1920s, and up to the everchanging automobile industry of today. (Reedy Press)

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed flipping through the pages of this book.

Here are three upcoming events, all free, where you can hear from the authors.

  1. Book Presentation and Signing
    Tuesday, October 29 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
    Webster Groves Public Library
    301 E. Lockwood Ave.
    Webster Groves, MO 63119
    (314) 961.3784
    Free and open to the public
  2. Book Presentation and Signing
    Tuesday, November 12 from 7 to 10 p.m.
    Alpha Brewing
    4310 Fyler Avenue
    St. Louis, MO 63116
    (314) 621-2337
    Free and open to the public
  3. Book Presentation and Signing
    Monday, November 18 from 7 to 8 p.m.
    St. Charles City-County Library – Library Express WingHaven
    7435 Village Center Drive
    O’Fallon, MO 63368-4768
    (636) 561-3385
    Free and open to the public. Please register here.

A fascinating book packed with St. Louis history.

— Steve Patterson

 

New Book — ‘When The Blues Go Marching In: An Illustrated Timeline of St. Louis Blues Hockey’ (Championship Edition) by Dan O’Neil

October 14, 2019 Books, Featured, Popular Culture Comments Off on New Book — ‘When The Blues Go Marching In: An Illustrated Timeline of St. Louis Blues Hockey’ (Championship Edition) by Dan O’Neil

Regular readers know I’m not a sports fan, but I can get caught up in the moment when a St. Louis team is close to winning a championship. When the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup one of my first thoughts was wondering when I’d see a Blues hockey book.

The answer was last Friday — that’s when I received a review copy of  ‘When The Blues Go Marching In: An Illustrated Timeline of St. Louis Blues Hockey’ (Championship Edition) by Dan O’Neil.

When I finished the first edition of this book, the Blues had gone 50 seasons without capturing the NHL’s ultimate prize. Then came their 51st season, unprecedented and improbable. Nineteen inconsistent games into the 2018-19 schedule, the Blues made a coaching change. Thirty-seven games in, they possessed the fewest points in the 31-team league. Playoffs were a pipe dream, and the Stanley Cup seemed more distant than ever. But steadied by an interim coach, lifted by a rookie goaltender, and sparked by a record winning streak, a storybook unfolded. And with it came a mandate to revisit this volume, to account for the most remarkable episode of all—the rags-to-riches tale of a Stanley Cup championship. (Reedy Press)

This is a new edition of a prior book. It’s entirely chronological starting  with the 1967 expansion of the National Hockey League (NHL) and concluding with the Stanley Cup win. In between these are important dates and the story behind that date — changes to players, coaches, and owners; memorable plays, etc.

There are some upcoming events that you might find of interest:

  • Presentation and Book Signing:

Wednesday, October 30; 7pm-8pm
Grant’s View Branch of the St. Louis County Library
9700 Musick Ave
St. Louis, MO 63123

  • Book Signing

Friday, November 8; 5pm to 8pm
Blend Salon and Spa
7401 Manchester Ave, Suite 200
Maplewood, MO 63143

If you’re a Blues hockey fan this is the book for you.

— Steve Patterson

 

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