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The City I Can’t Let Go of

March 5, 2008 Guest 8 Comments

A Guest Editorial by Dan Icolari

Recently, when I listened to jazz/blues vocalist Norah Jones sing Joni Mitchell regret-tinged words, “I couldn’t let go of L.A., city of the fallen angels,” it wasn’t the West Coast I thought of. It was St. Louis. And it wasn’t the mention of angels that prompted the thought. It was the sound of regret.

It’s been three years since my wife Ellen and I concluded we couldn’t afford to relocate to St. Louis–a move we had begun to prepare for, both here in New York and there, with help from Steve Patterson and, over time, many other StLers we got to meet in person, online, or both.

The decision came as a kind of relief; there was no way it could have worked. And yet we didn’t fold our tents or turn our backs. With Steve Patterson’s help, we had begun to see the contours of our new St. Louis life. It was a vision we were too invested in to abandon; we still are, it seems.

  • I’m still a member of KDHX, a community radio station I hope will still be there when and if we ever make the move.
  • I miss the newsprint ARCH CITY CHRONICLE and, though the cast of local political characters isn’t always familiar, I still read it online.
  • Ellen followed the Democratic Party primary results in St. Louis as though we had voted in them ourselves.
  • Not long ago, I ordered a book Steve Patterson recommended from Left Bank Books in the Central West End. The idea was to support a local bookstore I hope will still be there when we arrive. I buy the occasional gift from UMA for the same reason.

St. Louis is a promise we have made to ourselves. It’s a promise I still hope we’ll be able to keep.


Denny’s a Landmark?

A guest Editorial by Jim Zavist, AIA.

Recently, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board designated an old Denny’s restaurant as an architectural “landmark”: Seattle Times Article.

This raises, again, the challenges about whether or not mid-century modern architecture will (and should?) be appreciated and properly recognized, both across the country and here locally, in the St. Louis area: http://tobybelt.blogspot.com/2006/11/overland.html

We’re already set up to recognize landmarks, both historic and architectural, both individual structures and groups of buildings (in districts). One basic requirement for architectural significance is being at least 50 years old. Most of us are pretty comfortable with (and conditioned to) recognizing structures from the 19th Century and the early 20th Century, place like Soulard and Lafayette Square. We’re also somewhat comfortable with recognizing certain “modern” public structures, like the Arch. Where there’s a lot more debate is with the need to preserve “modern” architecture.

The ’50’s and the ’60’s were a time of change in popular tastes, both in architecture and in other areas of design. Many of the downtown buildings from the teens and twenties were reclad in aluminum and porcelain steel. The suburbs took off, and architecture morphed to respond to an explosive growth in the use of the automobile. For many of us, it’s the architecture of our childhood. For others, it’s just old and dated / “uncool” stuff that reflects the suburbs we now despise. There was a time when the “painted ladies” of the Victorian era weren’t appreciated. Now is the time that mid-century architecture is most in danger of being lost. It’s no longer new and stylish, and not old enough to have “come full circle” and become stylish and appreciated again.

It seems like most mid-century modern architecture falls under the control of one of three groups of owners, public entities, private commercial owners and private residential owners. Structures under public control or used for private residences are the ones that seem to be under less pressure – their biggest challenge comes when their owners deem them “functionally obsolete”. Commercial owners, especially retail owners, are much more prone to want to tear down, replace and be “up to date”. That said, let me throw out some examples for discussion on the merits of designating them local architectural “landmarks”:

  • St. Louis Fire Department Headquarters – 1421 N. Jefferson
  • The Record Exchange (previously a branch city library) – Hampton & Eichelberger
  • Maplewood City Hall – north side of Manchester, between Laclede Station Rd. and Big Bend Rd.
  • the older parts of Crestwood Plaza
  • Lindell Bank Building, Hampton & Chippewa
  • multiple inner-ring suburban churches, including the Ethical Society
  • Del Taco on Grand north of Forest Park Parkway

My questions to the blogosphere – should any or all of these be designated as architectural landmarks? What other ones should be on the list? Are any more endangered than the others?

The other part of this whole discussion is private property rights and functional reuse. It’s one thing to designate a structure as a landmark (and offer tax credits). It’s a whole ‘nuther thing to define functional, economically-viable uses for older, and at times, “obsolete”, structures. The Record Exchange is a classic example. It was apparently not too difficult to move out the book stacks and to move in the record racks – no significant exterior changes were required and the structure’s appearance was (and is) “preserved”.

The antithesis to this is the Schnuck’s at Hanley & Clayton Road. The land underneath the structure and the parking lots is worth a lot more as something, anything else, probably a multi-story mixed-use project. Clayton could designate the structure as “historic” and could delay its ultimate demolition, but there’s little that that can be done legally to stop it from happening. Admittedly, it’s not “great” architecture, but, much like the Denny’s, it is representative of what was considered to be good retail architecture from that era (see http://www.groceteria.com/ for others). Is it worth the battle to save it (and other retail structures from the ’50’s and ’60’s) or should we just “move on”?

Finally, is the residential side. St. Louis County was home to several notable “modern” architects and recently identified a comprehensive list of “notable” structures: http://www.co.st-louis.mo.us/parks/history/MidCenturyModernArchitecture.pdf In some of the “nicer” parts of the county, the same argument of “functional obsolesence” is being used to justify the demolition of significant residential structures so they can be replaced by larger McMansions that, charitably, “make a different statement” for their owners. Unfortunately, one legacy of that time is increasingly threatened: http://www.stlmag.com/media/St-Louis-Magazine/November-2007/A-Conversation-with-Ralph-A-Fournier/ Some areas are starting to address the issue (http://www.olivettemo.com/aam/documents/ResidentialNPRAdvisoryCommitteeFinalReport.pdf), but many aren’t, and all face the same private-property-rights-versus-public-good conundrum almost all areas struggle with . . . thoughts?


“Ten Things That Suck About Having a Stroke”

An update by Steve’s friends:

When shown Margie’s previous post Steve’s first reaction was, “I am going to write a post called: Ten Things That Suck About Having a Stroke.” When asked what he loved about it he responded without missing a beat, “NOTHING!” THAT IS SO STEVE! With that, we — as Steve’s closest friends — are convinced more than ever that he is on the road to full recovery.

For the first few weeks we (and the doctors), while optimistic, knew not what level of recovery he might achieve. Since starting rehabilitation a few days ago, the progress he has made physically is nearly matching his sharp mental acuity.

Again, he wants to thank everyone for all the cards, flowers, and well wishes — even from those with whom he has disagreed in the past. The outpouring of offers of support are overwhelming. Your generosity may be called upon in the future, but rest assured he is well taken care of at the moment.

At this point he is expected to be in rehab (we keep asking whether he’s met Britney yet) for another couple of weeks. So, while he is not quite up to resuming his role here as “Urban Arbiter,” he may be posting here sooner than any of us expected. Until then, more guest editorials are lined up to keep the discussion of positive change in St. Louis going. Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?


Ten Things I Love About St. Louis, and Ten Reasons Why I Left:

February 28, 2008 Downtown, Guest, STL Region 79 Comments

Editor’s Note: While Steve Patterson is recovering from his stroke, Urban Review St. Louis will present guest essays from a variety of perspectives. Discuss. Enjoy. Argue. Disagree. Stick around!

Guest Editorial by Margie Newman

Margie Headshot 1

I love St. Louis, even though I chose to leave it. Random reasons:

Things I Love About St. Louis …

  1. The amazing architecture–at least the structures that haven’t been demolished for parking lots. Ahem.
  2. The Arch. How did that happen? In St. Louis? Really!
  3. People like Steve Patterson, Michael Allen, Antonio French, Marcia Behrendt and Roger Plackemeier, who’ve put themselves on the line to stand up for this place.
  4. Forest Park. Man, I miss that park.
  5. The North Side. I spent my earliest years in Walnut Park, and I have a deep, abiding, regret-filled love for that part of the city. The brick architecture, the density, the trees, the corner stores. The real feeling of neighborhood.
  6. Washington Avenue’s renaissance. But see below for the flip side of that coin …
  7. The neighborhoods, in roughly this order: Downtown, the Hill, South Grand/Tower Grove, Soulard, Lafayette Square, CWE, the U City and St. Louis sides of the Loop, midtown.
  8. The water towers. Weird and wonderful.
  9. Calvary and Bellefontaine cemeteries. Almost as much as Forest Park.
  10. The art freaks. Even when they’re bellyaching.

But I Left St. Louis Because …

  1. I’m 45, and while the city is getting better, St. Louis isn’t going to become enough city for me in my lifetime–at least not during the part of my lifetime in which I’m continent and ambulatory.
  2. My industry isn’t happening or growing in St. Louis on the scale it is elsewhere, and pay rates for my work are less than half of what they are in Chicago (where I live now). Sad, but a fact.
  3. I spent too much time in St. Louis convincing people, especially “leaders,” that the earth is round. If they hadn’t seen it with their own eyes, they couldn’t imagine it might work here. It’d help if they left town now and then, or listened to experts who came here to share lessons from the outside world (cf. Rollin Stanley).
  4. There was work to do downtown, and not enough of us to do it. I admit: I burned out.
  5. The people who run/ran Downtown St. Louis, the Partnership, and other “civic progress” groups are largely invested in NOT changing things. The old regime is fully entrenched, protecting its piece of the ever-shrinking pie.
  6. Alright, you all knew this was coming, but … the Century Building fiasco. It proves (and taught me) the intractability of reason #5. I still find it unbelievable that it all went down like it did.
  7. Washington Avenue. Yep, it’s cool. But what the hell? Why so much investment focused on and limited to ONE street? Turn north or south at 14th Street, and it feels like you’ve suddenly left Disney’s Main St.
  8. Empty promises. Drive around downtown and ask yourself: weren’t they supposed to re-time these lights? Wasn’t there an article about wi-fi being installed all over downtown … like four YEARS ago?
  9. Violations of the street grid, such as amputating St. Charles Street block by block. Drive down 4th Street and weep.
  10. The unsettling feeling that no one’s minding the store. So many basic things untended. Examples; crumbling infrastructure, inadequate police patrols/traffic control, the sheer number of people running stop signs (and I mean RUNNING them) in mid-town. But hey, check out Ballpark Village! Oh, wait …

I love St. Louis. I miss St. Louis. But I can’t say that I will ever come back other than to visit. Not soon, for sure. But I applaud all y’all for hanging in there and fighting for what we all know St. Louis can be. In a younger person’s lifetime, at least.


Patterson on the Mend!

February 18, 2008 Guest, Steve Patterson 54 Comments

This update is being posted by Steve’s friends.

As many of you have heard, Steve experienced a stroke on February 1. He is making progress in his recovery, but he may not be able to post here for some time. We’ll provide updates as appropriate and according to his wishes; at the same time, we all hope that he will be publishing here again himself, sooner than later.

Please post your greetings and best wishes for Steve below, and we will make sure he receives them. He greatly appreciates the outpouring of well wishes many of you have already sent.

If you would like to send a card to lift his spirits just mail it to his office and we’ll get it right to him:

Circa Properties, Inc.
C/O Steven L. Patterson
4507 S. Kingshighway Blvd.

Saint Louis
, MO 63109


Steve’s Friends

PS Keep checking back for guest editorials to keep the urban discussions rolling.