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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Old home on Virginia in Tower Grove East

Looking through the property database in the City, I found this very old house at 2347 Virginia in Tower Grove East. Anyone know more about it?

Its setback and rural cottage look and feel seem to corroborate the city's reported construction date of 1848. That was probably a good time to live that "far" outside the city. In 1849, much of the developed city would be destroyed in the Great Fire; to make matters worse, a cholera epidemic would kill thousands (10 percent of the city's population).

I have never seen this property before, and I know I've been down the street. I'll have to check it out next time I'm in town and get some photographs.

If you'd like a slightly better view than that City of St. Louis pic above, then click here, for now.

UPDATE [1/31/09 at 9:29 p.m.]: Oops! This property was featured on Landmarks Association's Most Endangered List in 2007. There is a much better photograph there, as well as a brief history. Thanks go to the ever helpful and knowledgeable Michael Allen of Ecology of Absence for this information.

Also, the much more clear photograph indicates an Italianate style--though the rural form is not in dispute. Landmarks notes an 1870 construction date. Again, I am going off of the city's database, which is known to be flawed.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Preservation Board Meeting, January 26, 2009 - Outcome

First of all, does anyone know where, besides Landmarks Association, that I can find Board meeting minutes online? The results of these meetings seem like information that should be more public--meaning, put online.

I happened to call the Board yesterday to find out about the fate of three buildings proposed for demolition.

1108-10 Mallinckrodt was not given consideration since the owner did not show up.

Apparently, the rear of the structure has collapsed. Despite this, the other walls remain solid. Adjacent propert owners complain of continual debris on account of this building and would like to see it come down. Concerned for the demolition of historic properties in his Ward, Third Ward Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr. would like to see the building remain standing.

I applaud the alderman's commitment to see this 1892 building be preserved. I hope that he can work with the nearby residents to assuage their concerns. I believe that the city should eminent domain the property, secure it, and auction it off at a later date. The Hyde Park Historic District cannot afford another gap, especially so close to Interstate 70.

Luckily, 5214-16 Kensington in Academy was denied a demolition permit.

Finally, 7001-03 S. Broadway in Carondelet was approved a demolition permit.

This is a shame, particularly due to the age and size of the building. St. Louis has very few structures remaining from the antebellum period. This one was constructed in 1857. By virtue of that fact, it should likely be left alone. Yet, its inobtrusive size makes this demolition even more puzzling. It rests at the edge of the lot, actually facing Quincy and not Broadway--the city demolished the main structure in 2000 under an emergency demo permit.

The CRO staff report notes that the owner wishes to "clear the lot for future development". Considering that, fairly recently, a building used to be on this lot in front of the tiny structure in question, why is it that the original footprint of this already demolished building cannot be used for this unclear "future" development?

The New Orleans preservation agency, called the Historic Districts and Landmarks Commission (HDLC), does not allow demolition without a redevelopment plan having been submitted first. Further, if the plan is for a parking lot, it is usually denied. If the parking or other lesser use happens to be approved, it is reassessed each year to determine if parking is needed and if there are no other development plans. Urbanistically speaking, this just makes sense. The St. Louis Preservation Board should not approve any demolition without a submitted statement of purpose and redevelopment plan.

From a preservationist standpoint, it pains me to see the loss of an early Carondelet structure--even if it has been altered with permastone.

Recall that Steins Row, another one-story rowhouse from the 1850s, was almost knocked down for a service station.

I already emailed Matt Villa, 11th Ward Alderman, urging him to deny this demo, but received no word back. The application notes that he supported the destrution of 7001 S. Broadway.

In Memoriam: 3963 Gratiot

Swallowed by industry, 3963 Gratiot was a pleasant, if deteriorated, reminder of the onetime residential character of this now very gray and non-residential portion of Forest Park Southeast.

I am not sure when it was demolished, but this present view of the area shows that it's definitely not there anymore. The "graffiti" (it looks like chalk, honestly) actually flattered this building, adding smart punches of color.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Green Alleys in L.A.--doable in St. Louis?

Los Angeles is turning some of its urban alleyways into greenways.

Seeing this story is funny; I was just thinking today of my previous misconception of alleys. To me, they signified urbanity. I grew up in the Bevo neighborhood and always had an alley to play in or to cut through when visiting a friend's house nearby. To me, alleys were a quintessential part of the urban experience. That harrowing alley with evenly spaced dumpsters and unadorned garages just screamed "city" to me as a child.

But check out this aerial view of a typical New Orleans block (Make sure you zoom in unless you have really good eyes):

View Larger Map

There are no alleys. Buildings generally span the entire length of their allotted parcel. Only one neighborhood in New Orleans has alleys--Lakeview--and it's mostly a post-War neighborhood. After all, the purpose of alleys was for loading, in commercial areas, and to allow off-street parking in rear garages, in residential neighborhoods. So, that makes the alley a post-automobile phenomenon.

The L.A. case is interesting: in a park deprived city, alleys can serve as linear parks, offering an automobile-free pathway for pedestrians without also cutting off the connectivity of the city via automobile and bicycle.

The opportunities of green alleys are many. For one, storm water runoff would be lessened if several alleys became strips of greenery instead of impervious pavement. Second, residents could garden their share of the green alley. These alleys could also serve as quiet walkways for neighborhood residents and their dogs.

It's something to think about on an alley-by-alley basis. Would you surrender your alley for green space?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Unnecessary Demo on South Jefferson

As reported by DeBaliviere on the Urban STL forums (better known as Brian over at Downtown St. Louis Business Blog), there is a demo possibly in process at 2001 S. Jefferson (at Allen, just south of the McDonalds).

View Larger Map

Geo St. Louis doesn't show any demolition permits, but it does say the building was condemned to be demolished in June of 2007. This Google Streetview shot was likely taken in October of 2007. Why was this building condemned? Why is it only being demolished now if it was such a threat to health/safety?

The big question here is: where the hell is the demolition review process in all of this? This building falls within the Fox Park certified local historic district; the City Assessor says it was built in 1891.

The Assessor also notes that this is an Auto Parts shop. Might the owner be demolishing the old building for something more autocentric? This building is located dangerously close to I-44 (easy advertising) and already has a context for auto-oriented, anti-urban use (see McDonalds to the north) to point to.

What a waste. We need to reform demolition review in the City of St. Louis.

Really Old St. Louis, Part Two: 6633 Minnesota

View Larger Map

6633 Minnesota is located in the city's Carondelet neighborhood. The city says it was constructed in 1823--the same year as the landmark Bissell Mansion in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Clearly, it's been altered over time--to the point where a passer-by would assume it an unimportant, later frame structure, perhaps.

But, according to the city, it's been on that hill at Minnesota and Haven Streets for 186 years.

As with the last post, I very much doubt that this building is that old. But it is true that Carondelet houses some of the city's earliest remaining construction.

Michael Allen, of Ecology of Absence, confirmed my suspicions of the City's unreliability as far as building construction dates, noting that you should always view the structure's building permit to get an accurate read.

With that caveat aside, I'm going to continue to cover what the Assessor says are the oldest buildings of St. Louis.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Covering St. Louis's Oldest Buildings: #1, from 1810(?)

Since I have a list of all the properties in the City of St. Louis by date of construction (that is, according to the Assessor's Office, and where this information is available), I thought I would begin posting on the city's oldest remaining structures. My list is from 2007, so it will be interesting to see what is still remaining.

It is sort of counterintuitive to start a countdown at the most coveted spot, but it is also difficult to determine where to start on the other end. So I'll begin with the oldest listed date of construction for a structure in the city of St. Louis. And I have a big feeling that it's a total mistake.

First, though, how do you spot an old building in your neighborhood. Well, what is old, I guess, is the first thing you need to figure out. In the city of St. Louis, anything pre-1880 is lucky to be there still. Even so, St. Louis has quite a few scattered pre-1880 structures, mostly in a couple neighborhoods (Soulard, Old North, Hyde Park, Benton Park, etc.). If it's pre-Civil War, and it's not a monumental, public, or religious structure, it's extremely lucky to still be standing. Think the DeMenil Mansion in Benton Park or the Bissell Mansion in Hyde Park.

The second sign of an especially old building is a sudden break from the street wall. Often, these buildings were intended for rural settings, as they were the first structures on their blocks, certainly, and perhaps in their "neighborhoods" for quite a number of years. Their construction predated any sort of formal zoning, for sure, as well as informal zoning and early urban development.

Another sign, often, is simplicity and small size. Many post-Colonial buildings were fairly small and unadorned structures. Colonial buildings were often very functional, rather than decorative, stressing symmetry and utility in daily life. They needed to be simple to heat in the wintertime, another reason for their small size.

But I just don't believe there's anything left from 1810's St. Louis. At that time, St. Louis only had a couple thousand people, if that.

Here is a quote about St. Louis in 1809, from the City's website.

Frederick Billon, who first saw St. Louis in 1809, described the town as virtually unchanged in over forty years. At that time, he said, there were but two roads ascending the bluff from the river at the present locations of Market and Oak (Delmar) Streets. They were abrupt ascents that had been quarried by the settlers for access to the river for water. He further commented that in 1809, Fourth Street south of Elm was a road with only two or three houses.

Structures in just-post-Colonial St. Louis were crude and often temporary. I cannot imagine that this building has been around since 1810, or all of the preservation community would know of it.

Nevertheless, it's at the bottom of the list, and so I'll report on it:

It's actually two almost contiguous properties: 3324 and 3328 North Ninth, in the section of Hyde Park that was trapped east of Interstate 70 upon its construction.

Unfortunately, Google Streetview largely ignored the North Side, so I'm relegated to this somewhat inconclusive Microsoft Live Maps view.

Still, from the looks of it, I do believe the building with the extreme setback (a former "slave quarters"?) could be quite old. But I am really not sure of the stone building on the southeast corner of Angelrodt and Ninth. Next time in St. Louis I will have to take a look.

Anyone care to do an investigation for me?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Now you can type:!

Thanks to the sage advice of Steve Patterson over at Urban Review, I have purchased the rights to

Instead of that finger-wearying blogspot address, please enjoy your shorter pathway to my site!

Also, tell your friends now since it will be easier for them to remember the address. Thanks. [wink]

Remember, that's!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

In Memoriam: 1709 Annie Malone in the Ville

1709 Annie Malone is one of those structures that even stalwart preservationists might admit was a lost cause prior to its demolition.

This 2007 photograph shows a fairly solid front elevation...

...while the rear elevation can scarcely hide its sorry state.

Yet, somehow, it seems to be not altogether impossible that we could pass by this block today and see a solid facade preserved and lying in wait for someone to construct a shell around the historic street frontage.

Instead, we have this:

Not even the tree could survive in this desolate, deurbanized environment. The building was taken down in September of 2007.

Please, City of St. Louis Building Division, research facade preservation. Other cities do do it!

[Images' Source]

Beautiful Benton Park Twins

A photograph by me. McNair Street. January 3, 2009.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Interstate Rights-of-Way: Future Rail Corridors?

Sure, we've all tossed this idea around in our heads. But think of it more seriously in the context of this economy and in the context of increasing prices for oil.

What if our interstate system, and the impending transportation stimulus package being discussed by our new president, were reformatted to include high-speed rail?

Read the article by Karrie Jacobs here.’s time for us to look at the interstate system not as an aging network of highways in need of repair or replacement but instead as we might look at a navigable river. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, of Portland, Oregon, a noted infrastructure advocate, says the system represents “a tremendous national untapped resource.” It encompasses a lot of land. Funds were appropriated at the outset for the purchase of two million acres; according to one estimate, the system actually takes up 40 acres per mile, or 1.87 million acres. But what if we could make those highways beautiful, not by removing bill­boards, as Lady Bird Johnson did in the 1960s, but by using the corridors for more than moving cars and trucks? What if we thought of them as the backbone of a new, more diverse 21st-century transportation system? “It’s time for a different vision,” Blumenauer says. “And a principle for that is how we coax more out of existing resources.”

(Emphasis added by me)

While I've tossed around the concept of conversion of interstates into urban boulevards or transit corridors in the urban core, I never really though of the idea of converting the entire right of way, countrywide, into transit. Certainly, the bolded passage above is correct: interstate highways are so well funded and ubiquitous that their permanence as a national system seems guaranteed--much like a navigable river (well, the permanence part, anyway).

And so, it's not all that crazy to capitalize on their convenience and on their adjacent development to build transit corridors.

Imagine, I-55 becoming less a "highway" than a Metrolink line, at grade, throughout the city. It would theoretically be possible, then, to both restitch the urban fabric lost to interstate construction and to transport people effectively and efficiently. These highway-transit hybrids would function as cross-country rail in rural areas (think Amtrak), commuter rail in exurbs/suburbs (think Metrolink, the Illinois extension), and interurban rail in the city, which could then connect to existing urban transit systems.

I'm all for this innovative idea. The proposed funding imbalance favoring roads-as-we-know-them will be the biggest blunder of the new Obama administration if not addressed soon.

Shame on the Riverfront Times' Stlog, advocating a parking lot on Lindell in place of the San Luis.

Yet another "it's not my aesthetic, so tear it down" sentiment. It's just such an old and nonconstructive view point in this town.

At the very least, the author notes that St. Louis has "more parking than the Mall of America".

Read for yourself here.

Let me know what you think of the new format.

Vote it up or down in the Comments section. Don't worry. I'm not attached yet.

EDIT: I actually freaked out and couldn't stand it anymore. Sorry to those who missed it!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Memoriam: 6323 Arthur in Lindenwood Park

6323 Arthur was a great distance from high-style. Its "fish scale" shingle cladding didn't flatter it. Regardless, located in family-friendly and solid middle class Southwest City, it was likely too small to attract much interest.

Still, I note its demolition with a fleck of sadness. These front gabled shotguns--especially of the wood/frame variety--are quite rare in the city of St. Louis.

It's strange to think that, in such a stable neighborhood, the property just could not sell (despite its size). It's an LRA lot now.

Here's a view from May 2008.

And here is a view of the lot, post-demolition, in October 2008.

The city doesn't have records on a date of construction. Neighboring homes actually date from the turn of the century to about 1930, typically. 6323's simple A-frame design probably dates to around 1910, if I were to guess.

This little house will soon be forgotten, when the straw melds into the soil. It will likely be a side lot for an adjacent property some day, if not very soon.

I think the block was better for having it.

Update: I found this through a Google search. This site will host a new home developed by Blue Brick Properties (and it's going to be green, too). Though the rendering is of the two-dimensional, black and white variety, and an assessment as to its design quality is difficult to make, this news is better news than a side yard for sure. Let's hope the economy hasn't halted construction. After all, the Assessor still notes that it's LRA-owned.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Strassenfest Should Have Gone to South City, not Chesterfield!

This is the wurst news I've heard all week.

St. Louis is spilling over with German heritage--especially the South Side. Most know that the "Scrubby Dutch" for which the South Side neighborhood of Dutchtown was named was actually due to a mispronunciation of the word "Deutsch"--Germans.

From Bevo Mill, to Dutchtown, to Carondelet, to Benton Park West, to Gravois Park, to the Patch...I can think of dozens of locations that might have been more appropriate for a relocated Strassenfest. But loads of parking and "security" is always key, huh?

It's going to be on Chesterfield Parkway West, too? Is there even a space fit for a large community event there?

Boo, I say. What next? Hill Day moves to Arnold?

Monday, January 19, 2009

In St. Louis, Prepare for Brutal(ist) Battles over Preservation

In New Orleans, the crescendo of that city's remarkable drive to preserve their historic and incomparable built environment played out when city planners, including famous New York transportation guru Robert Moses, planned to route an expressway through the beloved French Quarter. In a city that was forever changed by the U.S. Civil War, yet another battle of citizen against citizen ensued. Ultimately, and unbelievably, opponents of the highway won out in what was one of the nation's few successful "freeway revolts."

While St. Louis has had some high profile preservation victories (for example, the Wainright Building, a structure of unbelievable architectural importance that was, of course, once slated for demolition; the Cupples complex in downtown, still mostly intact; the ongoing fight to save the Mullanphy Building, etc.), even more prominent scars to the built environment mar the efficacy of preservation in St. Louis. The loss of the Century Building is perhaps the most bitter and senseless loss of them all, and that dust from that battle has hardly settled yet.

That is why, ironically, the battle for the San Luis is so important. The modernist Hotel DeVille, later San Luis Apartments, has stood in the Central West End since the early 1960s. Many cities across the country are discarding their modernist structures. Some are lost for what is considered better and more contemporary design. Others are lost for lesser uses--such as in the case of the San Luis--for parking lots and garages.

Yet the battle for preservation of the built environment is now embracing modernist structures. In St. Louis, alone, several important modern buildings have been labeled historic and placed on the National Register of Historic Places:
The Plaza Square Apartments in downtown St. Louis; the Nooter Corp. Building in Kosciusko, and, closer to the San Luis, the Bel-Air Motel on Lindell.

Here is an interesting case out of our nation's capital.

The Third Church of Christ, Scientist wants to tear down this building for something they say is a better fit for the neighborhood.

Yet the Church is a rare example of Brutalism--an architectural movement that began in the 1950s and reached its peak sometime in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Preservationists say its uniqueness is an asset. The now oft-maligned Brutalist movement used concrete as a means to represent starkly repetitive geometries. Many decry the style's bulky, concrete facades as cumbersome and ugly. Others say they're a window into their time--and, if nothing else, they make a visual statement!

St. Louis's own Brutalist "Pet Building", now Pointe 400, is an example of the style working within an urban context (in my opinion, anyway).

Pointe 400, taken from the Arch Grounds (thus, all the greenery). Source.

My point in all of this? Modernism is the new stage upon which preservation battles will play out. The impending fight over the San Luis is a very welcome development within the growing St. Louis Urbanist community. It is perhaps the St. Louis "Riverfront Expressway" controversy that was seen in New Orleans: a seminal resistance to the careless destruction of the built environment by the powers-that-be.

Vanishing STL has reported that the San Luis is once again imminently threatened. Luckily, St. Louis Urbanists and allies of "No Parking Lot on Lindell" are meeting to organize an effort to block demolition by the Archdiocese of St. Louis. This meeting will be held on Thursday, January 22nd, at 7pm. The location is Coffee Cartel--mere blocks from the presently ill-fated modernist structure.

I cannot stress enough how momentous and important it is for St. Louis citizens to express to their leadership that they, too, should have a voice and a part in the way their city looks and functions. The Central West End, St. Louis's premiere urban neighborhood, should not be host to a parking lot on its most prominent urban boulevard--no matter how "green" the proposed lot is. Parking is available at the garage at Euclid/Lindell, and I concur with Paul at Vanishing STL that shuttles are a good option for those unwilling or unable to make the one block trek to the Cathedral.

Perhaps more importantly, I believe the San Luis is a structure of merit. Though it will be difficult convincing a wider public of this, that is all part of the fun of reshaping the way urban redevelopment politics work in St. Louis. I regret, more than you know, my inability to directly participate in this movement. But I urge organizers and participants to fight fiercely, brutally, to ensure that this building remains.

Don't take "we need the parking" for an answer. Don't take "it's an ugly building, anyway" as a response. Don't accept "well, it is a green lot" as an excuse. Don't allow closed door decisions to go unnoticed and unpublicized. Attend all public meetings and make your voice and disapproval heard. Write your alderman, as well as 28th Ward Alderperson Lyda Krewson, to express your disappointment in the Archdiocese's short-sighted and anti-urban intentions.

This could well be the turning point in preservation that St. Louis had needed for so long. Too often developers and institutions whose decisions have longlasting effects on the built environment assume they can act because they hear only the scattered voices of pesky "activists" and gadflys. It's high time the "average citizen" stands against ludicrous waste of an important building on one of St. Louis's most important boulevards.

Be a stakeholder. St. Louis needs them. Join this brutal battle and redefine the way the powers that shape this city act toward its citizenry.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

St. Louis is Still Not a "Distinctive Destination"

Every year since 2000, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has released a list of a "Dozen Distinctive Destinations".

These are places that: "offer an authentic visitor experience by combining dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes and a strong commitment to historic preservation and revitalization."

All right, all right. St. Louis is lacking in a lot of those. But, even if it were just a neighborhood of St. Louis, such as Lafayette Square or Soulard, shouldn't St. Louis get some recognition as distinctive?

It's a city with a staggering degree of history, even if a lot of the physical connections to that past have been erased. There's a wealth of existing exemplary architecture and parks. Cultural connections are many (everything from the landmark Dred Scott case to the development of the A-bomb).

Ste. Genevieve, Missouri was honored last year. Maybe someone could make a pitch for St. Louis in the upcoming year?

Here is this year's list, for those interested:

2009 Dozen Distinctive Destinations
Santa Barbara, CA
Athens, GA
Saugatuck-Douglas, MI
Virginia City, NV
Santa Fe, NM
Buffalo, NY
Lititz, PA
Bristol, RI
Hot Springs, SD
Franklin, TN
Fort Worth, TX
Lake Geneva, WI

P.S. If Buffalo and Fort Worth can make it on the list, surely St. Louis can, right?

Hashed out Economic Stimulus Bill Spells Trouble for Transit

This is bad news for St. Louis, which is situated in Missouri, which simply never funded transit to begin with.

The announcement that highway construction--not maintenance!--will outfund transit 3:1 is bad news all around.

But it's worse news in a city whose transit agency is already perilously cash-strapped. Any stimulus bill should recognize the difficulty of funding inter-urban transit and should reallocate funding towards this end.

Please, write to Claire McCaskill and let her know you're a supporter of transit who doesn't need another highway!

To demonstrate your point, show her an aerial of the I-44/I-55/Tucker interchange so that she can see exactly what interstates have done to cities and why they don't deserve the money!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Orleans' Harrison Avenue is a good model for parking in suburban business districts

[NOTE: I'm having trouble with my pictures lately. Those shown below are a bit too large for this narrow blog layout. Please click on each picture to see its full extent, for now.]

Harrison Avenue is located in a section of New Orleans known as Lakeview. Lakeview was one of the most inundated neighborhoods following Hurricane Katrina. Always a middle class, semi-suburban area, the neighborhood has bounced back significantly and continue to rebuild.

Harrison Avenue is a five-block long business district that has a somewhat peculiar parking arrangement. New Orleans' famous wide medians are hollowed out and used for parking in this district. This might sound ugly, but I do think it accomplished a lot of things. For one, it is useful in districts where plentiful parking is expected and needed, and it mostly avoids the need to place front-facing surface lots to the street. Secondly, it screens the parking from both the automobile occupant and the pedestrian. Third, the narrow strip of parking functions almost as a calm "street within a street", very likely reducing traffic accidents.

Let's take a look at some pictures of the area and the parking set-up.


This is a look down one of the rows of in-median parking. As you can see, the median provides quite a few parking spaces--along with greenery--to the business district. The street is approximately 120 feet wide, with 55 feet taken up by the median.


This is a view from the median to the business district. If the street did not sport the median, this stretch would look like an interstate. Many of the buildings are early suburban commercial buildings. These retained urban street frontage, even as squat, one story commercial structures.


This is a photograph of a more suburban-formatted shopping center along the road. Since this was an area built up primarily post-1930, these structures truly have a context. That doesn't necessarily mean that this business district couldn't use a little reformatting to take advantage of the added parking spaces in this central median. Front lots such as this one are likely unnecessary when combining on-street parking with the median.


The view down the median is impressive. It almost looks like some rural parkway with all of the pines.


The mature trees in the median-area are a welcome feature of the median.


This is a great way to both take attention off of the cars in the parking area as well as filter the emissions that automobiles bring with them.


Here's a bonus--an excellent Miami Deco/Moderne bank in the business district.


Finally, here's a shot of one of the entrances into the parking median.

I would like to see such a median placed on Hampton Avenue in St. Louis. It has a somewhat similar profile to Harrison. There are a lot of squat commercial buildings close to the sidewalk, but also mid-century retail buildings pushed back from the street with front-facing parking.

View Larger Map

Imagine the same type of median on this stretch of Hampton. The traffic here is not heavy, but does move rather quickly. The amount of roadway surrendered to the median would invariably reduce driving lines and therefore speed as well. In short, it makes for a much friendlier pedestrian environment where driving passers-by will more likely see the businesses along the street--and have convenient parking too. To me, it's a true win-win in districts of this late urban/semi-suburban profile.

Hampton is much narrower than Harrison (about 60 feet across, from curb to curb) in its southern reaches. Still, a one-lane version of Harrison Avenue's parking median could work (thereby halving the size) from Loughborough on the south up to Nottingham on the north.

Friday, January 16, 2009

More Yahoo! Travelers Give St. Louis a Flunking Grade

A while ago I covered the inane reviews featured on Yahoo! Travel's website. While I think St. Louis could do 1000 times better at marketing itself as a navigable, tourist-friendly destination, some of the comments featured were simply ignorant. For one, why review your trip entirely based on your hotel experience? And does your botched night of dining at Applebee's in West County truly reflect on St. Louis's culinary offerings?

Well, enjoy Round 2--or check them out for yourself here.

By A Yahoo! Contributor, 01/14/09
We were robbed at gunpoint during our visit in January 2009. The robbery occured near Euclid and Maryland avenue, in the Central West End, which is purportedly an ***upscale area populated by young urban professionals.*** The police seemed less than interested in our plight. Even our friends in St. Louis said "Hey, it's the city, you take your chances."
We are never coming back. Our friends can visit us in safe, well-defined Wichita, which is safe and family-friendly.

Ouch. Not much to say about that one. Please--give the city another chance? At what time did this occur? Was anyone hurt? How many people were you with? Yikes...

STL is Baltimore Without an Ocean or Culture
By A Yahoo! Contributor, 01/04/09
I am a well-traveled professional, having been to 44 of the 50 United States. A December 2008 one-week stay in St. Louis has convinced me that it is essentially Baltimore with no ocean/bay or culture to speak of.

1) Extremely segregated
2) Nasty, lazy and ignorant locals
3) Burnt-out abandoned brick buildings
4) Arrogance among the ignorant ("Country Pride, I beleve?)
5) An incredibly apparent aura of depression and unhealthy lifestyles

I found the Gateway Arch somewhat interesting, but the Anheuser-Busch tour was rushed and quite dull, which I liken to the recent buyout by InBev. Having met several individuals that worked at Anheuser-Busch, I can certainly see how their slow, slovenly ways allowed the buyout/mass terminations to happen.
Like the business traveler below, I was holed up in an overpriced (Millenium) hotel with no hot water and rude, snide employees. $15 to park two blocks away, and do NOT walk the streets of STL at night! I closed my deal but I will not be back here, if I can help it.

I'm pleased with the Baltimore comparison, minus the pejorative tagline. Maybe someone can enlighten me--but how exactly do you come to know the work ethic ("lazy") and education levels ("ignorant") of the locals when you're on a (presumably) short visit somewhere?

I find the level of perception improbable among some of these travelers.

St. Louis is NOT the Midwest!
By A Yahoo! Contributor, 01/02/09
It absolutely irks me that so many cretins use "St. Louis" and "Midwest
in the same sentence! This is not the Midwest, people! Chicago, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Milwaukee are good Midwestern cities. St. Louis is a SOUTHERN town, complete with segregated neighborhoods, an immensely lower standard for education/work ethic, poverty, and just downright lazy and indifferent folks. I thank heaven for I-270 so that I may bypass this feted and festering landfill.

When did the South become a byword for "feted and festering landfill"? Again, wonderful perceptive abilities from these visitors, huh? To have a whole 2.8 million/350,000 people pegged on one visit, perhaps?

What Improvement?
By A Yahoo! Contributor, 12/31/08
Many of the reviewers have indicated that St. Louis has gone under "major improvement" over the last several years.
We stopped on the way from Indianapolis to Kansas City. Our last visit prior to this was in 1997, when the area was a vertiable dump. Fast forward 11 years and, yes, there is SOME semblance of genrtification in the areas near Washington Avenue, St. Louis still has a long, long way to go. In Indianapolis, we enjoy our sporting events in areas far away from potentially dangerous areas, which seems to be the opposite of St. Louis, specifically the Edward Jones Dome, just two blocks away from a very seedy area. Lumiere Place looks nice, but when you can see urban blight, poverty and an overall element of desparity across the highway from your $200/night suite, something just doesn't seem right. Great Italian food on the Hill, Forest Park is beautiful, but my goodness the local folks don't really seem interested in anything, let alone serving the customer.

Quote. Of. The. Year. (in bold)

It Really Wasn't Worth the Stop
By A Yahoo! Contributor, 11/09/08
Greetings fellow travelers,

When you're on commuting I-70 and need a place to call it an evening, avoid St. Louis.We (myself, my wife and our five-year-old son) looked at several hotels in downtown STL, and there was indeed a significant safety concern. Soooo.....we headed west and tried Wentzville...more dirty and repugnant folks. We settled in Columbia, MO in a nice hotel. What we are saying, as a family, is that STL may not be worth the stop. Very limited lodging, restaurants and a very serious safety concern.

Could you be a little more specific, perhaps? It doesn't really sound like you saw too much of St. Louis.

We had a great time!
By A Yahoo! Contributor, 10/03/08
Man, I wish we could move here. Our 24 hours in St. Louis were wonderful. First, we sat on a bridge over the Mississippi River for over an hour during rush hour traffic. Then, we had to take a 12-mile detour because one of the main throughfares (Highway Farty to you locals) was closed. When we stopped at a hotel in Creve Coeur, it took the pig waiting on us over an hour to check us in. Then, dinner at Applebee's was five-star - exactly how does one screw up French Fries? And kudos to the pile of lard sitting at the bar drinking his Bud and smoking his cigs - your gruff demeanor, bad acne and Cardinals hat personified the essence that is St. Louis! We can't wait to return!

Argh! Applebee's again giving a bad name to its host city!

These were all the one and two star reviews on the page. If that wasn't depressing enough for you, follow the link at the beginning of this post.

Tourists need wayfinding signs, sidewalks in good repair, an affordable and convenient transit system, better and more creative outreach, good local dining establishments around hotels, street trees, entertainment that is easy to find, ad infinitum. The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission should take note of these reviews, even if some are quite silly.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

An Attractive Parking Garage? It is Possible!

I love how the storefront bays project out from the garage structure. All of the design elements combine to both declare this is a garage and, at the same time, minimize the potential ugliness. The vertical banners draw attention to the roof (and to themselves) rather than the parking deck. The angled roof lends a visual interest to the structure and, again, just doesn't scream "garage"--which is a good thing.

This photograph is courtesy of SitePhocus--"the on-line image library of the built environment".

Sounds like a great resource. No St. Louis photographs there yet, though.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Light as Art.

We witnessed how transformational light can be with Grand Center's "Light Project", which turned this:

Into this:

Well, look what Cleveland has done!

St. Louis could definitely use light to spruce out some dreadful downtown deadweights, such as this!:

View Larger Map

It sadly occurs to me that the stark-whiteness of the felled Century Building would have been a great canvass for light...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On this month's Preservation Board agenda:

The chopping block (translation: requested demo's):

5412-14 Kensington, in the Academy Neighborhood

View Larger Map

Sigh. Academy is one of the North Side's shining stars for preservation. There are troubled blocks, however, and this demo certainly looks unnecessary from this circa 2007 Google Streetview. Has anything changed since then?

7001 S. Broadway, in Carondelet

View Larger Map

I can't get a good view of this one, but the city says it was constructed in 1856. Really...? I don't care how unattractive it is. It should not be touched.

The last demolition proposed, at 1108-10 Mallinckrodt, is perhaps the most egregious. It's that two-story, four family building so typical of the Near North Side. It could provide affordable housing or expensive condo units, depending on the pace of improvement of the surrounding Hyde Park neighborhood. One thing is for certain though--with demolition, this block, and this very historic neighborhood will suffer greatly with this incremental, yet tremendous loss.

When will the residents of St. Louis recognize the value of historic structures--their embedded energy and future value? Why does St. Louis--almost barring any others--have some of the most vacant lots in the entire country? Surely, other cities have experienced struggles to maintain a built environment nearly sacked by depopulation and disinvestment. Why does St. Louis always offer the same solution? Has it ever worked?

I certainly hope the Board will deny these unnecessary demolitions. After the tremendously wasteful demo of the castle-like multi-family on Shenandoah mentioned in the previous post, the City of St. Louis simply cannot afford even one more vacant lot. They add up, and they chip away at the image of St. Louis so many need to see more clearly--the urban one, with a scarcity of gaping vacant holes and a density of buildings and people.

Please, if you're like me and are out of town and cannot make it to the meeting, be sure to email the Preservation Board and express your concerns:

If you're in town and available, please attend the meeting on Monday, January 26, 2009 at 4:00 p.m. The location of the meeting is 1015 Locust, Suite 1200.

Dear Building Division/Preservation Board:

Have you ever heard of facade preservation? Spectacularly outrageous.



Seriously. Cool. Public. Art.

Check it out--from Lvov, Ukraine.

Can we just copycat this for Chouteau's Landing?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Economic Stimulus should NOT be used to bring the suburbs into the city.

An UrbanSTL forumer posted the link to the St. Louis Economic Stimulus Package Proposal, which the city titled "St. Louis: "Fired Up and Ready to Go"".

[cue blank stare]

Among the many things I will discuss from this plan is the I-55/Tucker interchange overhaul, which the city is correct to have identified as a priority.

However, the city wants to reformulate the interchange to leave more room for suburban big box stores!

Page 81 details the "Change We Need":

The former Darst Webbe high-rise public housing development has now been transformed into a mixed-income HOPE VI low-rise development; City Hospital, more than 30 years vacant and vandalized, has now been transformed into residential condominiums, most of which are now sold and occupied. Over the past 30 years, the adjacent neighborhoods of Lafayette Square, Soulard and LaSalle Park have been almost completely revitalized. The most significant missing piece linking all of these successful revitalization initiatives is quality mainstream retail development.

Hmm...okay. I'm listening. But take a look at the old rendering for the site (in the city's Bohemian Hill neighborhood) that the city uses to makes its case:

That site plan is "dependent upon ramp relocation"?

The lack of vision and lack of sense for urban design is flabbergasting. This area has been slowly destroyed with the vision of giving this interchange (Tucker, I-55, and I-44) over to big box retail. Built St. Louis has documented what has already been demolished in the diminutive Bohemian Hill neighborhood. Why aren't these structures providing a model on how to rebuild?

Instead of suggesting that the bloated and utterly disruptive mass of interstate interchanges should be given over to urban development, the plan argues that the extra space is needed so that front-facing surface parking can be in clear view and plentiful.

The author of this write up even has the nerve to argue that one of the benefits of the proposal--under a heading entitled Green Features-- is that more people will be able to "walk and bicycle" to new services provided by the development. Sure, it is possible to walk across a giant parking lot, but it's not exactly "green" design.
The city will continue its long malaise if the absence of sound urban planning continues. The wonderfully urban neighborhood slowly nixed for this future development contains the code on how to rebuild--street grids, small scale, walkability, attractive architecture and design. Yet these lessons seem completely squandered.
It is extremely important to reduce the size, prominence, and convenience of interstates within the City of St. Louis. This interchange is a wonderful place to start the demonstration of how urban neighborhoods can be reclaimed from the clutches of deadening, autocentric planning. This proposal, however, will only damage the nearby neighborhoods. With nothing to distinguish it from suburban strip centers, except for, in all likelihood, higher rates of crime and vandalism, it will take the typical big box route of a 15-year life cycle before creeping blight sets in--perhaps on accelerated track.
I question the wisdom of encouraging big box retail in the City of St. Louis. While big box seems appropriate in less walkable areas of the city adjacent to interstates (Hampton and I-44, for instance), it is not appropriate here, or in many other spots in the City of St. Louis. Too many close-in suburbs (Richmond Heights, Maplewood, Brentwood, and South County) offer automobile-owners a safe and parking-aplenty opportunity to shop in big boxes. It's hard for a more constrained urban site, which, as I've stated, usually grapples with worse crime and perception of crime issues than suburban locations, to compete effectively in the long term. The city should be bending over backwards not for big boxes to place an anti-urban store in city limits, but for small business owners to continue to lend a local flair and distinction from those very suburbs.
Big boxes do not belong in, or near, the Near South Side.

This land should be opened up to smaller scale retail, office, and residential development, with an urban street grid reinstated.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

With riverfront planning, sometimes common sense is key.

I took a stroll down the New Orleans riverfront the other day. It is, of course, notable because the riverfront is elevated above the rest of the city. Ironically, this unfortunate, flood-prone geologic reality is actually a civic and tourist draw. Passing ships literally hover above the city, even though the French Quarter is actually one of the highest elevated spots in the city.

I think these pictures are important because they showcase how simple riverfront development can be. In New Orleans, it's really as simple as a paved walkway, some benches, attractive lighting, some artwork, good transit connections (yes--there's a streetcar line that runs along the riverfront!) and--the big one--active edges.


While St. Louis suffers from an inherent lack of good edges which would cause pedestrians to want to traverse the length of the riverfront, it is partially a problem of marketing. For instance, the northern end of Laclede's Landing is wholly underutilized. The developed portion of Laclede's Landing could be rebranded into something of a residential area, especially if Lumiere buildings its proposed housing (pictured below--Phase II of the development).

As for the Arch and Eads Bridge, I would make a couple recommendations. The idea to transform the Eads Bridge archways into retail is amazing--but it would hinge on hiding the parking garage that currently faces the Bridge. The northern end of the Arch grounds is wholly unwelcoming. While in St. Louis this past December, I was walking on Washington Avenue in front of the bridge when a confused tourist from Dallas confessed to me he was about to give up looking for the 630-foot tall monument! I know it's an issue of grade, since the street is on a large slope that descends to the riverfront. Still, that is nothing some major surgery can't fix. Storefronts should face Washington Avenue on both sides just north of the Arch.

There is little to be done with the Archgrounds portion itself. Of course, the floodwall could and should be painted. And vendors, art installations, boat docks, etc. could enliven the actual riverfront itself.

The Chouteau's Landing portion, along with the Graffiti Wall, have loads of potential--a portion of which looks as if it's being explored. Having residents, as well as tourists and other visitors, in the immediate proximity is a must.

If all of these edges can be cultivated properly, a simple New Orleans treatment would be very appropriate. Let's take a look at some pictures.

The paved brick path is attractive, simple, and doable for St. Louis. This picture actually contains some aspects that a casual viewer might not realize applies to St. Louis as well. This view is looking across the Mississippi River toward a section of the city of New Orleans known as Algiers Point. There is a ferry that connects downtown New Orleans to Algiers--it's free to pedestrians and cyclists and only a buck for cars. Algiers is attractive, quaint, and is a minor attraction unto itself. So too should East St. Louis be that same foil to downtown St. Louis. Not a show-stealer, but a nice complement to the attractions on the other side of the river. And there need to be better connections between the two, too. Lighting the Eads Bridge is one way to draw attention to an existing connections.

The other issue is...take a look at the Crescent City Connection, the twin bridges in the photograph above. They're lit at night and visible from across the low-lying city. They're not anything spectacular, but they do symbolize a grand and important passage over a great river. The Poplar Street Bridge? Not so much. Instead of building a new bridge over the river to the north of downtown St. Louis, the Poplar should receive a much, much needed upgrade.

In this photograph, a restored red trolley car rolls on the Riverfront Streetcar line adjacent to the Mississippi River. The line terminates at Esplanade Avenue, a beautiful tree-lined boulevard that serves as a delightful edge to the French Quarter (it's also where I live!). The streetcar then runs along the riverfront for the length of the Quarter, the Central Business District, and the Warehouse District, ending at the Convention Center--about a mile and a half run.

St. Louis isn't at the point where a streetcar line along the riverfront would really attract a critical mass of passengers to justify it. However, if there is aggressive redevelopment of Chouteau's and Laclede's Landings, this could change.

This is an actively used space. In fairness, this picture was taken yesterday--a Saturday--when it was 80 degrees outside. Even so, even on colder days you will always witness joggers and camera-laden tourists (that's my shadow!).

I'm not sure why these planters were emptied--dead trees, perhaps. And New Orleans has a noticeable problem with less-than-creative graffiti. Since this is technically a City Park, it does "close" at night, which tends to empty it out and allow taggers to complete their "works". Still, the planters and benches offer a place for weary riverfront admirers to relax, and, when trees are restored to their proper place, some shade as well. The skyline of New Orleans--which I do not find overly attractive at all--at least lends a strikingly urban feel to this riverwalk.

The St. Louis Cathedral is located some 1,000 feet from the riverfront, separated by a floodwall and a narrow parking lot. Yet, the spillover of pedestrians is tremendous. The Cathedral is the city of New Orleans' "Gateway Arch"--the popular symbol of the city and one of its largest tourist attractions. The transition here between monument and riverfront is not seamless, as one can see. But the whole spine, Decatur Street, along the riverfront is an active space, and those wanting to briefly escape hyper-urbanism can enjoy the respite that the more subdued riverfront brings.

This is a view of Decatur Street, poking out above the foodwall.

There are numerous statues and sculptures along the Riverfront, but I found this Holocaust Memorial very intriguing. It's interactive art. A sign to interpret the installation exists on one end, along with a description of each different view of the changing kaleidoscope of images. If you stand in one spot, you're viewing one symbolic stage of the Holocaust. Above is the first stage. Interactive, dynamic art is essential to well-used public spaces. It enlivens them. When strategically placed and strewn about the space, each installation can be a discovery that the casual repeat-visitor may not even have noticed before or never took the time to stop at before.

I have many more pictures of the riverfront in New Orleans, but these should suffice for now. Redeveloping St. Louis's riverfront will require thinking of urban spaces in terms of their connectivity as well as their functionality. Downtown St. Louis should not be a series of "districts" with highways, vacant lots, or bland corporate campuses separating them. It is essential to restitch downtown and reduce the deadening visibility of those dividing seams. If the city, its leaders, residents, and business owners, can convince St. Louisans and visitors alike that the riverfront is an asset and that the location is excellent for both commerce and residence, then riverfront redevelopment can be successful. It might even be simple, with the New Orleans treatment shown above.

Dotage does Facebook!

Join the group here.

Why Facebook?

I really, really would like to be more interactive. Someone once commented that she enjoyed the New Orleans-St. Louis comparisons on this blog. I really appreciate comments and suggestions, since I put a lot of time into this blog and would really enjoy some readers! The Facebook group is a good way for me to get feedback and to improve the blog.

Plus, now that I have my own camera (finally!), I expect to feature a lot of New Orleans photos--good and bad--to demonstrate things St. Louis should adopt, absorb, or avoid.

So, please, join the group and help me bring the coverage that you want to see.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Heads up: excellent Skyscraper Page thread provides window into St. Louis's long gone "French Quarter"

Head on over to Skyscraper Page forums to check out a thread with some very rare photographs of the St. Louis riverfront prior to demolition for the Arch.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

St. Louis 2010

What do you want to see for St. Louis in the upcoming decade?

The passage into 2009 reminded me that another decade is nearly upon us. Sure, it's arbitrary to start reflecting every time we hit a Census year (2000, 2010, etc.), but even that event is significant and will tell us a bit about where St. Louis is headed into the next decade.

For the next couple days, I will be posting on legislative, lobbying, and civic actions St. Louis City--its government, its businesses, its residents, its proponents all alike--needs to adopt in order to reposition itself as an urban area in the 20-teens.

Some will have been discussed on other urbanist blogs (spoiler: term limits and fewer aldermen will get their day). Others won't be so commonly noted. Some will be highly feasible. Others will be long shots at best. Some will be city-wide, others neighborhood specific.

For now, though, what are your thoughts on things St. Louis must do in the near future in order to improve its lot?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Southampton Neighborhood, on the last day of 2008

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