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Every City Needs An Old Fashioned Soda Fountain

July 21, 2012 Featured, Travel 1 Comment

Crown Candy Kitchen in St. Louis has been a favorite place of mine since my first visit in the Fall of 1990. Every city should have a family-run soda fountain and perhaps every city does.

A few days ago I retuned from a trip that included a day in Dallas, a couple of hours in Ft. Worth and five nights in my hometown of Oklahoma City. I was 23 when I moved to St. Louis but at no point did I ever make it to Kaiser’s. That changed Tuesday.

ABOVE: Kaisers Ice Cream in Oklahoma City is their Crown Candy — a long running soda fountain

Like Crown Candy, Kaiser’s has a history starting with an immigrant:

In 1910, Swiss born Anthony “Tony” Kaiser opened Kaiser’s Ice Cream Parlor on NW 7th and Robinson. In 1918 he moved his operation to this very spot. Through hard work, imagination, and commitment to his guests Tony shaped Oklahoma City and manifested the American dream. While the Kaiser’s building and concepts therein have evolved over the years, the philosophy Mr. Kaiser predicated over 100 years ago remains the same: feed people and make them happy. (Kaiser’s)

Oklahoma didn’t become a state until 1907 but Kaiser’s is three years older than Crown Candy (or 5 years younger at this location). Not sure why I find that fascinating,

ABOVE: Interior of Kaiser’s

As a kid this area was one of those nobody would visit, it was rundown to say the least. Today a roundabout solves a decade-old traffic problem and popular restaurants abound in the area.  The Plaza Court building was built in 1926 and it includes structured parking at the back of the building, a new thing for the 1920s. It was largely vacant and derelict most of the time I lived in Oklahoma City.

The lesson here is for St. Louis natives, St. Louis has had rough times, some self-inflicted, but things are improving even if you refuse to open your eyes and see them. During my visit to Oklahoma City I found myself in areas I’d have felt uncomfortable driving through 25+ years ago and now I was in them as a pedestrian after dark.

I don’t want to move back — St. Louis is home, but I’m glad to see Oklahoma City doing things to force me to drop my notions about how I thought Oklahoma City will always be.

— Steve Patterson


What Is Normal? A Small College Town In Central Illinois

Normal is & isn’t many things, but it’s definitely a town in Illinois. The old downtown of Normal IL is undergoing a transformation and rebranding into Uptown Normal, which is the reason for this post. First, some background:

Normal is an incorporated town in McLean County, Illinois, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 52,497. Normal is the smaller of two principal municipalities of the Bloomington-Normal metropolitan area, and the seventh-most populous community in Illinois, outside of the Chicago Metropolitan Area. The mayor of Normal is Chris Koos.

The town was laid out with the name North Bloomington on June 7, 1854 by Joseph Parkinson. From its founding it was generally recognized that Jesse W. Fell was the force behind the creation of the town. Fell had arranged for the new railroad, which would soon become the Gulf Mobile and Ohio, to pass west of Bloomington and then curve to cross the Illinois Central Railroad at a point where he owned or controlled land. Most of the Original Town lays south of the tracks, with Beaufort Street as its northern limit, and some blocks west of the Illinois Central and north of the tracks. Fell, his brothers, and associates quickly laid out many additions to the Original Town.

The town was renamed as Normal in February 1865 and officially incorporated in 1867. The name was taken from Illinois State Normal University, a normal school (teacher-training institution) located there. The school has since been renamed Illinois State University after becoming a general four year university. Normal is adjacent to Bloomington, Illinois, and when mentioned together they are known as the “Twin Cities”, “Bloomington-Normal”, “B-N”, or “Blo-No.” (Wikipedia)

Bloomington’s 2010 population was 76,610 for a combined total of 129,107 with a 40/60 split between the two municipalities. Why Normal?

Last month I attended a LEED-ND workshop sponsored by the USGBC Missouri Gateway Chapter.

 The LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism and green building into the first national system for neighborhood design. LEED for Neighborhood Development is a collaboration among USGBC, Congress for the New Urbanism, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. (Source)

The facilitator was architect/planner Doug Farr.  Of the numerous examples presented one was in Normal IL, with a traffic circle with the center as a destination spot. The circle includes water features using filtered storm water.  I was intrigued. A few hours later I had my train ticket and hotel reservations for the Friday and Saturday night before Memorial Day.

ABOVE: Uptown emerging from the former downtown, click image to view aerial in Google Maps

Many of the old buildings were razed, new parking garages built, and street patterns were changed.  From Farr & Associate’s website:

Despite being home to Illinois State University and having a population of 22,000, downtown Normal has been in a prolonged state of decline, marked by reduced retail choices and deferred building maintenance. Farr Associates prepared a redevelopment master plan to revitalize the downtown. The preliminary $211 million redevelopment plan is anchored by a new traffic circle and stormwater-treating fountain, an Amtrak multi-modal high speed rail facility, a new children’s museum, beautiful streetscaping, and new retail and mixed-use buildings.  (Source)

The railroad line runs behind the buildings on the right in the picture above. Currently passenger service is on the far side of the tracks, away from the new development  in Uptown.

ABOVE: The Normal IL Amtrak station is the "fourth busiest Amtrak station in the Midwest behind Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, and the station served more passengers per train than St. Louis." Click the image for the source from Wikipedia

With Illinois State University within walking distance students use Amtrak often. Students returning in the fall will get off the train near the Uptown Circle.

ABOVE: The center of the Uptown Circle uses storm water as a design feature. Click image for more information
ABOVE: This summer Amtrak service will switch to the other track and a new station the faces the Uptown Circle

The new station will be in the building on the left. Also in the building and garage will be the Bloomington-Normal Public Transit System, the bus service operated independently of the two municipalities. The top two floors will become the new Normal City Hall. The existing city hall near the existing Amtrak station will be full with other departments, including more room for the police department.

ABOVE: Normal IL Mayor Chris Koos chats with an employee in his bike shop

I met with Mayor Chris Koos at his bike shop to discuss the goals and process of this dramatic change. Koos has been mayor since 2003, their elections are non-partisan. I asked if people questioned all the bike racks in Uptown since he sells bikes for a living. “All the time” he said, adding “My response to then is ‘Would you question the street resurfacing budget  if I owned a car dealership?'” I was quite surprised by the number of pedestrians and cyclists I saw — more bikes than I’d see in all of downtown St. Louis!

ABOVE: Seeing bikes locked to bike racks is a common sight in Uptown Normal

One area has so much demand for bike parking that an automobile space on the street has been converted to bike parking.

ABOVE: As I was eating breakfast at a 24 hour diner facing ISU two young guys biked up and had to lock to a railing since no racks were provided on the outer edges of the development
ABOVE: The same building as the 24 hour diner contains apartments and an urban CVS

Really? Normal can get an urban CVS while we get typical suburban stand alone stores in a sea of parking? Other retail spaces in the building aren’t yet leased, the apartments above are off campus housing managed by ISU. Nice to see a university involved in new high-density urban development! Someone get Biondi a train ticket to Normal IL.

ABOVE: Normal isn't immune to bad design, the Marriott is set back behind a wide driveway
ABOVE: In 1993 Normal bought and renovated an art deco theater from 1937, click image for more info
ABOVE: Looking west on North St toward Broadway, older buildings retained
ABOVE: The restaurant with the 2nd floor arched openings was created based on photographs of a building that burned down in the 1970s. Part of the upstairs is an open-air patio.
ABOVE: Uptown Normal has more maps to guide visitors than downtown St. Louis
ABOVE: On Saturday I used the Bloomington-Normal Public Transit System to go from Uptown Normal to downtown Bloomington, they don't have bus service on Sunday

I’ll return for another visit once the new Amtrak station is open and more new buildings have been finished. It would be nice to visit during the school year to see how active Uptown is or isn’t. On the train trip I noticed evidence of track work to reduce delays.

– Steve Patterson


OKC’s Devon Tower Taller Than St. Louis’ Arch

The tallest building in St. Louis is Metropolitan Square at 593 feet, just under the 630 foot Arch. The Devon Tower under construction in downtown Oklahoma City reaches a height of 850 feet! Wait, what?

Yes, Oklahoma City is getting a massive new tower added to it’s skyline. More like dwarfing the rest of the skyline. Tuesday I posted about how Chesapeake Energy is redeveloping retail shopping adjacent to it’s campus and today the story of another OKC corporate giant, Devon, changing Oklahoma City. Cost estimates are $750 million.

ABOVE: Devon Tower under construction in downtown Oklahoma City, November 2011

The 2nd tallest building in OKC is the 1971 Chase Tower at 500 feet. The 3rd is the 493 foot First National Center built in 1931. Forty year gaps between these buildings, though I doubt in 2051 a building will top the Devon Tower.  I won’t be around anyway…

ABOVE: The Devon Tower looms over the historic 145 foot tall Colcord Hotel (white, right of tower)

Devon’s employees are already downtown, just in various buildings. Consolidating into one facility makes sense but the scale is enormous. I look forward to seeing the completed building and how well it connects to the streets.

Meanwhile in St. Louis we don’t seem to have any companies even considering a new building.  We certainly have plenty of available land.

– Steve Patterson


St. Louis Needs CEOs Creating Walkable Shopping Around Their Corporate Campuses

Over the last 6-8 years I’ve watched the corporate campus of Chesapeake Energy Corporation in Oklahoma City grow and grow and grow. But I wouldn’t use the old phrase “sprawling campus” because the site has developed quite dense and walkable.  Most of you in St. Louis have likely never heard of Chesapeake so here is a summary from Wikipedia:

Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) is the second largest producer of natural gas in the United States, a top 15 producer of U.S. liquids and the most active driller of new wells, according to an August 2011 investor presentation. It recorded 2Q 2011 natural gas production of an average of approximately 3.049 billion cubic feet (86,300,000 m3) of natural gas equivalent, a 9 percent year-over-year increase. The 2010 full year was Chesapeake’s 21st consecutive year of sequential production growth.

The company had a few buildings in an older office park when I first visited an employee. Recently those original buildings were razed.

ABOVE: Construction equipment has is a fixture of Chesapeake's campus

From such humble beginnings, the company’s Oklahoma City footprint has multiplied an astonishing 450 times. The Chesapeake campus now measures 2.7 million square feet. Employees work in 24 buildings, and there’s another half million square feet of office space under construction. (source)

They even have a page to talk up their campus:

Chesapeake’s 72,000-square-foot Fitness Center is located on campus, and plays host to a wide range of recreation programs, group exercise classes, cardio machines, weight room, basketball courts, racquetball courts, swimming pool, fitness assessments and preventative health screenings. Our adjoining athletic field hosts a variety of outdoor events during and after work, including coed flag football, soccer, kickball, team Frisbee, softball and personal training, and includes a quarter-mile track.

Also on campus are three restaurants, The Wildcat, Fuel and Elements, which offer a wide variety of healthy choices for breakfast and lunch. From a fresh salad bar, to made-to-order deli line and grill, employees have a variety of healthy alternatives to choose from.

The impressive fitness center was one of the first new buildings constructed as expansion began. Even though they have three restaurants for employees on campus they have developed shopping across Western Ave to the west. I posted about ClassenCurve last year.

ABOVE: ClassenCurve just opening in September 2010

Last month a new Whole Foods opened at The Triangle at ClassenCurve. Chesapeake is located on the edge of Nichols Hills (map), a small but very affluent suburb of Oklahoma City, their version of our Ladue. Tulsa has had a Wild Oats/Whole Foods for years, located in a space vacated by a former chain grocery. There have been several times I would stop at the Whole Foods in Tulsa to pick up items to eat at my parents house in Oklahoma City.

ABOVE: OKC's newly opened Whole Foods

Now I can stop at the huge new Whole Foods store in OKC when I’m visiting family.  The thousands of workers on Chesapeake’s campus can walk across the street to get a salad, food from the hot bar or pick up a few groceries. Whole Foods is in Oklahoma City now because of Chesapeake.

ABOVE: Bike racks are right out front, easy to use and actually used by cyclists

The campus-adjacent shopping isn’t just intend for Chesapeake’s employees, all can enjoy — assuming they can afford the types of shops locating in the retail spaces. By my standards the retail developments are barely walkable but compared to most of OKC they are a pedestrian paradise.

ABOVE: Public sidewalk along Classen in the campus looking west toward the retail

The architecture of the retail is a complete contrast to the campus. The campus has Georgian red brick structures while the retail is dark, modern and sleek.They compliment without copying. The retail doesn’t have any of the materials, look or logo of Chesapeake.

I can’t think of any Fortune 500 company in St. Louis that has done what Chesapeake has done. A-B? Nope. A.G. Edwards (now Wells Fargo)? Nada. What about institutions with deep pockets like Saint Louis University? Yeah right!

Chesapeake’s campus, like most corporate & institutional campuses, has lush lawns, water features, plantings and lots of parking. It’s edges separate the public from private but it does so in a friendly way. Architect Rand Elliott:

“We’re really fortunate,” Elliott stated “to have a number of CEO’s in this community, including Aubrey certainly, who believe that architecture is a powerful statement, and an important one for our community and for their businesses, as well.”

I was fortunate to have been paired with Rand Elliott on a project in middle schools during my freshman year at the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture. We need CEOs that will create walkable campus-adjacent space in the St. Louis region.

– Steve Patterson


Worth the Wait

November 26, 2011 Featured, History/Preservation, Travel Comments Off on Worth the Wait

In the more than 21 years I’ve lived in St. Louis I’ve made many trips back to Oklahoma City to visit family & friends. Each of those times I visited a number of places to see the positive changes taking place. I also drove by my favorite building over and over hoping to see change.

ABOVE: Long-vacant 4-family in August 2009

When I arrived earlier this month my brother had a news story waiting for me:

A Crown Heights property that languished for years — and was referred to by neighbors as the “Moldy Manor” — stands as a reminder that even in a historic preservation district there can always be a black sheep. But it’s not as if the Art Deco fourplex on the southwest corner of Olie Avenue and N.W. 37th Street was an ugly duckling; it was quite the opposite in its day, although it sat rotting for decades. (full story)

Finally, the long time owner (since 1963!) finally sold to a person who will renovate the building! Many had tried to buy the property over the years but the owner was difficult, asking far to much for the property and not maintaing it.

ABOVE: Aerial image shows large hole in garage roof (left) and hole developing in main roof. Click to view in Google Maps

The 4-car garage matched the 4-family’s design.

ABOVE: Matching deco garage with additional living space, August 2009

Sadly the city had  to condemn and raze the garage structure, likely prompting the owner to finally sell.

ABOVE: Work has started to renovate the 4-family, November 2011

I’m looking forward to my next trip to Oklahoma City and seeing the completed renovation. I’ll need to time my trip so that I can go into one of the finished apartments.

The Crown Heights neighborhood is a beautiful historic area of single family homes with only a handful of multi-family properties. However, they recognized this particular 4-family was better a vacant eyesore than a vacant lot. Neighborhoods don’t get stronger by razing buildings.

– Steve Patterson




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