Demolition Documentation People

Worth Watching: Vanishing STL

by Michael R. Allen

Anyone who spends much time studying the lost buildings of the city — especially those in the central corridor — is bound to run into architect Paul Hohmann. Now chief architect for Pyramid Architects, Paul has been involved in many rehabilitation projects over the years. Privately, Paul has studied our city’s historic architecture and amassed a wealth of knowledge and photographs. Sometimes I have concluded that Paul and I are the among only a handful of people in the city to have paid attention to an obscure building that was demolished — or at least the among the few who still mourn its loss and recall its details.

Now, Paul is sharing his record of lost buildings through a new blog specifically dedicated to local buildings that have been demolished since 1990, Vanishing STL. So far, Paul has posted two entries. The most recent is on the well-known Beaumont Medical Building on Olive Street, wrecked for the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts building. The other entry is about the lesser-known Olympia Apartments at Vandeventer and West Pine.

The entries have abundant photographs to covey both the facts and the beauty of these lost buildings. While the perspective is retrospective, notice the present perfect tense of the blog name. The name is apt given that the vanishing of the historic city is far from over, and far from slowing.

2007 St. Louis Election People

Christian Saller Can Tell You Where He Stands

by Michael R. Allen

Although I no longer make endorsements in this blog, and there really aren’t many candidates running for the Board of Aldermen this year, I have to point out one of the candidates.

Christian Saller, a Democrat running in the Sixth Ward, actually has a historic preservation platform. He also has well-defined stances on problem properties and neighborhood development.

Recall my call for such artciulated stances in my December 7 post entitled “Candidates and the Built Environment.” At least one candidate has answered the call.

Art North St. Louis Old North People

The Flop House

by Michael R. Allen

Kudos to Kira and Gordon McKinney, who earlier this month hosted the grand opening at what is probably the first art gallery in Old North St. Louis in this century, if not ever. The Flop House at 13th and Hebert opened on December 8 to a ragtag assembly of young people, many of whom had not ever visited the neighborhood before. On display at the opening — again, an Old North milestone — were charcoal-on-paper works, accompanied by the requisite snacks and Stag beer. (Incidentally, Stag Beer was brewed for awhile in the 1950s by the Griesidieck family at the nearby Hyde Park Brewery at Florissant and Salisbury avenues.)

Needless to say, rehab at the Flop House is not yet complete, and it did not have heat for the chilly opening night. Not that such limitations matter to Kira and Gordon or the attendees. In true neighborhood fashion, someone had an idea and didn’t let trivialities stand in the way of making it happen. This spirit has helped Old North’s older generations overcome great troubles, and in newer residents it’s helping generate a vibrant cultural energy that’s infectious.

Keep watch for great things at the Flop House in the new year.

Documentation People

Jill Mead’s Photographs

Jill Mead has started posting architectural photographs from St. Louis and Kansas City to Flickr. Her photographs show a compelling level of detail, from terra cotta pieces to old enamel neon sign boards.

View the photographs here.

Art People

Big Small Town

Looking for holiday greeting cards that are witty, well-designed and show scenes from the St. Louis in which we really live?

Check out Big Small Town Designs, the effort of Bill Michalski. He’s got you covered.

People Rehabbing Soulard

Neighborhood Baseball

by Michael R. Allen

Did you know that, once upon a time, there was a restoration baseball league in St. Louis? At least, according to historian Larry Giles, the league existed for one season in the early 1980’s. The league consisted of teams from rehab neighborhoods, although apparently one neighborhood was head and shoulders above the rest.

The championship game was a match between the Soulard “A” and “B” teams.

People Urbanism

RIP Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs has died at the age of 89. Has anyone had a greater impact on theories of urbanism and, most important, on the shape of cities in the last fifty years?

Chicago Documentation Louis Sullivan People Salvage

Anniversary of Richard Nickel’s Death Passes

by Michael R. Allen

Thirty-four years ago day, Chicago photographer, historian and salvager Richard Nickel was killed when several thousand pounds of the steel and concrete guts of the Chicago Stock Exchange Building fell on him. Nickel was inside of the building — designed by Louis Sullivan — on the first floor, having come to the building to rescue a stair stringer and a few other items after repeated warnings from wreckers to stay away. Nickel stepped forward a few years too far ahead of the preservation game to have had things easy. He saw destruction around him, especially of the works of the now-lauded Sullivan, and set out to at least document condemned buildings through photographs. Then he made the fatal discovery that he could recover parts of these buildings that would otherwise never be seen again. Motivated only by a love for preserving knowledge, and often privately very bitter, Nickel took over 11,000 photographs and saved countless pieces of architectural ornament, most of which now belongs to Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Nickel rarely made a dime from his efforts, and never held a steady job except for the one that he assigned himself. He was somehat reclusive and shunned public attention, instead exerting influence through relationships with writers, architects and historians whom he thought were sympathetic to his lonely cause.

Nickel’s work demonstrated that systematic efforts for photographic documentation and architectural ornament recovery were as important to architectural history as theory and research. While his amateur salvage efforts pale in comparison to those of St. Louis’ own Larry Giles, at the time Nickel started saving parts of Sullivan buildings in the 1950s scholarly interest in architectural salvage was non-existent. Nickel blazed his own path, and influenced architectural historians and preservationists that have come since his departure. Without Nickel, so much that I hold as certain may not even exist at all — buildings and ideas both.

People University City

University City Documentary Screens on Wednesday

University City: The First Century debuts this Wednesday, March 8, at 7:00 pm at COCA (the Center of Creative Arts located at 524 Trinity in University City). Covering the 1850s through the 1990s in 58 minutes, this documentary explores the unique history and character of University City, Missouri. It is produced and written by Margie Newman and Lynn Josse with photography and editing by Alan Brunettin, narration by Jim Kirchherr and original score by Dan Rubright.

This is the first full-length documentary film about University City.

Hundreds of photographs, as well as vintage films and a dozen interviews are part of the documentary. Given the prior collaboration of Josse, Newman, Brunettin and Rubright on the awe-inspiring — albeit very different — …it’s just one building, expect to be informed and inspired by the story of a very unique American suburb.

After the screening, television man Dick Ford will moderate a panel discussion featuring the filmmakers and three of the experts who are interviewed in the program (Esley Hamilton, John Wright, and Sue Rehkopf).

Doors open at 6:30 with a suggested dontion of $10 at the door.

Old North People Rehabbing Urbanism

The Spirit of Old North St. Louis

by Michael R. Allen

Since our stove won’t work until Saturday (needs a new ignition, a part that was hard to locate for a 1950’s Roper), we are still eating out most every night. Last night, with the slushy roads populated by speeding drivers, we did not want to take our chances with driving anywhere. We walked the block between our Sullivan Street home and Crown Candy Kitchen on St. Louis Avenue, taking in the beautiful sight of our neighborhood covered in a blanket of snow.

Crown’s was deserted, save for Mike Karandzieff and three staffers holding down the place. Mike himself waited on us, and we chatted with him before ordering our usual order. It’s great that this place is so dependable and near. Earlier in the day, Claire had walked down to Marx Hardware on 14th Street to take back some wrong-sized cornerbead and to buy a miter box; the Marx brothers took back the cornerbead even though they operate on a cash-only basis and don’t have a refund system. However, we have been regular customers of theirs since before we even moved into our place, and they reward our return trips with generosity.

After we ate — and after we decided to splurge for delicious sundaes as cold as the air outside — we walked back home. Light streamed out of a small storefront on 14th Street behind Crown’s. Inside, a crew of twentysomethings was scraping paint off of a wall while listening to music. This is the future home of The Urban Studio, a community space that our neighbor and fellow twentysomething Old North St. Louisan Phil Valko has created.

We returned home full of hope and good cheer. I was so inspired by the spirit of the neighborhood that I finally found the strength to remove the broken old faucet from our sink so that we could replace it.

Anyone wanting to partake of the Old North community spirit is welcome to join residents for the neighborhood New Village Brewing Company’s holiday beer-tasting tonight at 7:30 p.m.