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Reading: Clayton Missouri: An Urban Story

October 20, 2012 Books, Featured, St. Louis County Comments Off on Reading: Clayton Missouri: An Urban Story

A beautifully illustrated book recently came across my desk, Clayton Missouri: An Urban Story by Mary Delach Leonard with Melinda Leanard:

In 1878, Ralph Clayton and his neighbors Martin Franklin and Cyrene Hanley donated 104 acres of farmland so that St. Louis County could build a courthouse and county seat. The townsfolk who pushed to incorporate Clayton, Missouri, in 1913 had little reason to suspect that their rural outpost of small frame buildings and plank sidewalks would later be recognized as a progressive metropolitan hub-one carefully buffered from quiet tree-lined neighborhoods and gorgeous parks. Clayton, Missouri: An Urban Story reveals the making of a city and the people who built it as a community. This lavishly illustrated book tells Clayton’s story through historical anecdotes and the voices of residents, timelines, and pullout sections on key facts and figures, plus stunning photographs of modern street scenes and nostalgic images of the city’s past. Also highlighted are important city leaders and residents who looked to the future at critical moments. Their efforts helped yield the Clayton of 2013, where magnificent steel and glass high-rises reach to the sky within blocks of historically splendid homes, many of them designed by noted architects of the twentieth century. (Reedy Press)

Clayton became the county seat for St. Louis County when St. Louis divorced itself from the county in 1876. I’ve only skimmed this hardback book so far but I look forward to reading more about this municipality on the west edge of St.  Louis.

— Steve Patterson


The German House & A New Book On St. Louis Germans

For a while now I’ve been thinking about doing a post on the huge boarded building on Lafayette Ave but I didn’t have time to do the research. Then I received a review copy of Jim Merkel’s new book: Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans and there among the many stories was the history of the building.

ABOVE: The German House at 2345 Lafayette

Jim Merkel sent me the text from that story from the book to use as a preview for you here:

The Place for Gemuetlichkeit

In the years before America fought the Nazis and Japan, Das Deutsche Haus was the place for all things Gemuetlichkeit. Opened in 1929 after a campaign that included help from such German luminaries as former mayor Henry W. Kiel, it soon became the center of German-American life here. The four-story brick building at 2345 Lafayette Avenue was the home of seventy-six German societies within three years after it opened. Built for $380,000, it had meeting rooms and halls able to accommodate crowds from 40 to 1,200. The building was full of activity.

Carl Henne, a St. Louisan born in Germany, remembered those days in a 1972 article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. “It became the home Hall, which was right across the street,” he said. “We had balls, dances, concerts and Christmas parties there. Every Sunday night we used to always someone to talk to.” He liked it so much that he chose it as the place for his wedding breakfast.

Then came the war, or at least the events leading to the war. In January 1939, word got out that Colin Ross, an agent for a Nazi publishing house in Germany, wanted to give a speech at the German House about the German occupation of the Sudetenland. Groups ranging from labor groups to the VFW to the American Legion to the St. Louis Council for American Democracy protested. Seeing the uproar, the board of directors of the German House turned the request down. Later, when the war started, the name was changed to the St. Louis House. Otherwise, though, it remained a place for Germans.

When the war ended, the name reverted to the German House. But times were different. People were leaving the city and didn’t feel safe in the neighborhood. Poor finances almost forced the place to close. Still, it remained a popular place for local German groups to have their offices and for events. “We had 800 people at our affair last fall,” Henne, the president of the Schwaben Singing Society, said in a 1972 Globe-Democrat article. “If the neighborhood and parking get better again more German societies will go back — there’s no better place in town. The acoustics are great.” The acoustics were so good that the St. Louis Symphony recorded an album at the German House, produced by Columbia Records. But the place wasn’t good enough to survive just on Germans, and an owner said anyone who wanted to could use it. A Mexican bar and restaurant opened in the basement. The bowling alley closed. It was a matter of time before the place joined the ranks of shuttered German gathering places.

The German House was just one of the buildings Germans put up around St. Louis to gather for singing, dancing, exercising, arguing, or the theater. One was the Strassberger Music Conservatory. The three-story building at Grand Boulevard and Shenandoah Avenue once was a place to celebrate the city’s German music culture after it was built in 1904-05. Today it has a mix of upscale apartments, offices and stores.

Another building originally meant for a gathering place of Germans stands at 2930 North Twenty-first Street. In 1867, German settlers founded the Freie Gemeinde, or “Free Thinkers” Congregation. The building was home of a Gesangverein (choral club) and a library with three thousand books.

Some other buildings in the city formerly served as homes for Turner groups. They include the North Side Turnverein, 1925 Mallinckrodt Street, and the South St. Louis Turnverein, 1519 South Tenth Street. One building that is home to a still-active group is the Concordia Turners, 6432 Gravois Avenue. But that’s an exception. Almost all have a different purpose from the original German intent, and that includes the German House.

The end for the German House came in 1972, when the Gateway Temple of St. Louis, Inc. bought it for a church and school. In 2007, the Church of Scientology of Missouri bought the building for $1.6 million. Church officials plan to renovate the building, which would include a counseling area, classrooms, and an area for services. But for now, it’s unused.

The building doesn’t appear to be listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places, but it’s included in the Lafayette Square Historic District (PDF of nomination).

ABOVE: The building appears to be in very good condition.

The building was just a decade old when Germany invaded Poland, suddenly a bad time to be of German ancestry. Had WWII never taken place would the building still be open and filled with German societies? Would it have shuttered anyway due to the city’s population decline? Of course, we’ll never know the answers.

More relevant questions are in present time; does the Church of Scientology of Missouri still have plans to renovate and occupy the building? If so, would the public get a chance to see the interior at any point?

Pick up a copy of Jim Merkel’s new book for a fascinating look into the German part of St. Louis history.

— Steve Patterson


Reading: Human Transit by Jarrett Walker & Straphanger by Taras Grescoe

Two books arrived recently, both on transit, specifically now how transit can improve our lives: Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker and Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe. Given that I’d sold my car over a month ago both books piqued peaked my interest.

Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives:

Walker takes complicated and often technical subjects and presents them to the reader in layman’s terms.

The table of contents shows the topics covered:

  1. What Transit is, and Does
  2. What Makes Transit Useful? Seven Demands and How Transit Serves Them
  3. Five Paths to Confusion
  4. Lines, Loops, and Longing
  5. Touching the City: Stops and Stations
  6. Peak or All Day?
  7. Frequency is Freedom
  8. The Obstacle Course: Speed, Delay, and Reliability
  9. Density Distractions
  10. Ridership or Coverage: The Challenge of Service Allocation
  11. Can Fares be Fair?
  12. Connections or Complexity?
  13. From Connections to Networks, to Places
  14. Be on the Way! Transit Implications of Location Choice
  15. On the Boulevard
  16. Take the Long View

Walker doesn’t offer the solutions, he asks the questions to get us to determine what  we need from our transit system:

This book aims to give you a grasp of how transit works as an urban mobility tool and how it fits into the larger challenge of urban transportation. This is not a course designed to make you a qualified transit planner, though some professionals will benefit from it. My goal is simply to give you the confidence to form and advocate clear opinions about what kind of transit you want and how that can help create the kind of city you want.

I can tell this book will be a valuable resource for me. Read the blog here and purchase here ($35 softcover)

Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile

Grescoe takes a different, but valuable, approach to transit. Examples from numerous cities in North America and the entire world are examined.

Taras Grescoe rides the rails all over the world and makes an elegant and impassioned case for the imminent end of car culture and the coming transportation revolution

“I am proud to call myself a straphanger,” writes Taras Grescoe. The perception of public transportation in America is often unflattering—a squalid last resort for those with one too many drunk-driving charges, too poor to afford insurance, or too decrepit to get behind the wheel of a car. Indeed, a century of auto-centric culture and city planning has left most of the country with public transportation that is underfunded, ill maintained, and ill conceived. But as the demand for petroleum is fast outpacing the world’s supply, a revolution in transportation is under way.

Grescoe explores the ascendance of the straphangers—the growing number of people who rely on public transportation to go about the business of their daily lives. On a journey that takes him around the world—from New York to Moscow, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Bogotá, Phoenix, Portland, Vancouver, and Philadelphia—Grescoe profiles public transportation here and abroad, highlighting the people and ideas that may help undo the damage that car-centric planning has done to our cities and create convenient, affordable, and sustainable urban transportation—and better city living—for all. (MacMillan)

Not sure yet how lessons learned in other cities will apply to St. Louis but such knowledge is important to quality solutions.

Final thoughts

Both books reference a quote commonly attributed to Margaret Thatcher: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” 

It appears that the quote was misattributed to Thatcher:

Attributed to her in Commons debates, 2003-07-02, column 407 and Commons debates, 2004-06-15 column 697. According to a letter to the Daily Telegraph by Alistair Cooke on 2 November 2006, this sentiment originated with Loelia Ponsonby, one of the wives of 2nd Duke of Westminster who said “Anybody seen in a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life”. In a letter published the next day, also in the Daily Telegraph, Hugo Vickers claims Loelia Ponsonby admitted to him that she had borrowed it from Brian Howard. There is no solid evidence that Margaret Thatcher ever quoted this statement with approval, or indeed shared the sentiment. (Wikiquote)

Who spoke the words isn’t as important as the general agreement of much of the world with this view.

I’m glad to have these two books in my library.

– Steve Patterson


Reading: St. Louis Parks by NiNi Harris and Esley Hamilton

May 19, 2012 Books, Featured, Parks 3 Comments

The St. Louis region is home to many great parks and now historians (and personal friends) NiNi Harris and Esley Hamilton have collaborated on a book about parks in St. Louis city & county, respectively. The title, appropriately enough, St. Louis Parks.

ABOVE: Cover of the new hardcover book from Reedy Press, click image for publisher's page

The forward is by Peter H. Raven and the 164 page book is filled with beautiful images by photographers  Mark Abeln and Steve Tiemann.

ABOVE: Image of Fairgrounds Park by Mark Abeln

The wealth of knowledge that both Harris & Hamilton have shared is overwhelming. NiNi Harris shared this thought with me:

I love showing visitors to St. Louis around our City Parks. They are always awed by the beauty of our parks. And they are wowed by the number of parks, the variety of sizes from pocket parks to enormous Forest Park, from pedestrian parks to driving parks, from squares to linear parks. Hopefully, this book can help more people discover and enjoy this remarkable treasure.

Look for it in the library or your local bookstore.

– Steve Patterson


Readers On Library Use

May 16, 2012 Books, Featured Comments Off on Readers On Library Use

Last week readers responding to the poll indicated their use of the public library:

Q: How frequently do you, or an immediate family member, use the public library?

  • Weekly 41 [33.06%]
  • Monthly 27 [21.77%]
  • A few times a year 20 [16.13%]
  • Rarely 19 [15.32%]
  • Never 10 [8.06%]
  • Daily 6 [4.84%]
  • Other: 1 [0.81%] – “2 – 3 x weekly, various branches”

I guess it’s good that just 8% indicated they never use their public library. I wasn’t sure what to expect, weekly was the answer with the most responses, followed by monthly. When the central library reopens this year I’ll be there often hopefully. The original post is here.

– Steve Patterson