Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

h1

The Telephone Company

December 14, 2014

The telephone is possibly the most rapidly advancing technology of our time.  Flip phones alone could have killed the landline, and smartphones compete with almost every other device in our lives.  Public Payphones, once ubiquitous and imperative, are now an endangered species (I’ve been documenting the survivors on my Flickr stream).

Payphone outside of the abandoned Bell Telephone Company at Locust and Beaumont

As fast as the technology changes, one physical reminder of the old days remains in many communities: The telephone company’s local exchange/switching office.

Bell Telephone Company on Natural Bridge at the St. Louis City Limits

These are in addition to the more high-profile downtown headquarters that are a part of every major American City’s skyline.

Old Bell Telephone Building in Downtown St. Louis

AT&T on the Skyline in St. Louis

Below are some of my favorite neighborhood/community telephone company offices in St. Louis.  My full collection of these photos are in this album on Flickr.

Detail on the Natural Bridge Building

Telephone Company in Kirkwood

AT&T

Detail on the Building at Washington and Spring in Grand Center

Kinloch Telephone Exchange in McKinley Heights

Webster Groves AT&T Building

Downtown East Boogie

East St. Louis Telephone Company

Switching Office on Delmar in the Academy Neighborhood

AT&T Building on South Grand

Detail on the Bell Telephone Company in Maplewood

I have yet to visit a number of other telephone company offices in the region, but hope to stumble upon more.  Happy exploring!

h1

129 Year Old Home Demolished – Gas Station Rumored Replacement

July 29, 2014

A few weeks ago I noticed a heartbreaking demolition just north of Downtown.  On one of the most active blocks in the vital transition between the heart of Downtown/Washington Avenue Loft District and neighborhoods to the north (part of Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration), a rare reminder of contiguous urban form connecting these areas has been erased.  Built in 1885, the home pictured below was purchased for $135,000.00 just over a year ago, only to be demolished a couple of months ago at a cost of $6,000.00.

Home on N. 13th before demolition

1414 N. 13th Street – June 2013

This last weekend I found the time to photograph the lot, and speak with the neighbors at Kunkel’s Auto.  Apparently the little shop’s days are numbered as well.

Soon to be demolished

Kunkel’s Auto – November 2013

The rumor is that a gas station will be going into this prime lot near the new Stan Span/Downtown interchange, and is part of Northside Regeneration’s plans for the area.

Tucker/N. 13th between Downtown and Stan Span Access

Tucker/N. 13th between Downtown and Stan Span Access

In the image above, the red circle identifies the demolished home, blue circles point out existing gas stations, and the green circle is the only other surviving home on this important stretch.  Note that much of the Tucker frontage is devoted to surface parking and inappropriate infill like the straight-out-of-suburbia McDonald’s at 1119 N. Tucker.  Single use modern housing developments barricaded from walkable downtown by superblocks and fences dominate areas to the east and west, leaving Tucker as the only feasible way that McKee’s plan can connect livable urban places to the north and south.

1414 N. 13th – Gone

By squandering what little is left of this area’s built environment for another gas station/convenience store, Northside Regeneration is proving that it’s unfit for the job of remaking this part of our city, choosing instead to double-down on the failed strategies of the last few decades.  I hope that the rumors are wrong, but can’t help but believe them.

h1

McRee Town Today

May 17, 2014

The McRee Town neighborhood (recently rebranded Botanical Heights) has seen an incredible transformation over the last couple of years.  Its positive trajectory has a lot of momentum thanks to the pioneering local design/build firm UIC.  Their redevelopment provides an excellent example for other areas of the city.

McRee and Tower Grove

The above intersection, virtually abandoned just a few years ago, is now seeing new life and gaining popularity thanks largely to sister establishments Olio and Elaia (I haven’t tried the restaurant but Olio’s cocktails are top-notch).  Situated in between Shaw’s Garden and the rapidly gentrifying Forest Park Southeast neighborhood (Tower Grove Ave is still rough there), McRee Town’s new-found spotlight improves outlook for the Tower Grove Avenue Corridor and adjacent areas.

Bar and Restaurant in McRee Town - Tower Grove Avenue

Olio and Elaia

New housing and commercial space in the form of ground up and rehab construction is coming online in the immediate vicinity of this intersection.  Union Studio, SLAM! Agency, La Patisserie Chouquette, DTLS, and City Garden Montessori have all moved into the neighborhood over the past couple of years, and residential demand is increasing.

SLAM!

Relatively rare in the City of St. Louis, single family home construction by UIC has been completed at an aggressive pace.

UIC Infill Housing in McRee Town

Multi-Family residential has also been recently developed at the Tower Grove Mews.

Tower Grove Mews

St. Louis’ lack of connectivity between its destination neighborhoods is possibly our biggest hurdle to overcome.  The interstates, stroads, superblocks and Schoemehl pots that isolate us will not disappear overnight, but evidence of progress in areas like McRee Town both inspire and motivate the entire region.

For more photos of McRee Town over the past few years see my flickr photo set here.

h1

North Sarah Update

June 16, 2013

The North Sarah Redevelopment Project‘s second phase has really started to take shape.

Vandeventer, Grand Center, New Construction

North Sarah Phase II on Vandeventer looking north from Bell.

Three 2-3 story mixed use buildings facing Vandeventer Avenue just across the street from Grand Center’s western edge are the most visible signs of progress.  Although I am unaware of the plans here, similar buildings from phase I have live/work spaces facing Sarah.

From a 10/26/2012 Post-Dispatch article:

The front room doubles as a living room and waiting room, and a big sliding door covers half the interior wall. Roll it one way and an office appears off the waiting room, ready for business. Roll it the other, and the office disappears and a kitchen appears off the living room. A bedroom and laundry room are in back.

Driving/walking down Sarah you can see that most of these spaces are now occupied by small businesses (these shots taken on a Sunday evening):

Live/Work, Redevelopment, North St. Louis, Small Business

Diversity Gallery on North Sarah

Health care on North Sarah

Williams and Associates – Addressing Minority Health Disparities

Health care on North Sarah

Call of Duty Home Health Care Services

Many of the storefronts have more subdued signage that is hard to see while driving past, but the fact that almost all are advertising small businesses is very encouraging.  Across the street construction is underway on another portion of Phase II.  Hopefully commercial space of some sort is included in this new building as well.

New construction in the Vandeventer neighborhood

North Sarah Phase II – Mixed use building going up on the west side of Sarah

Now that the live/work spaces have occupants, maybe we’ll hear news about the planned grocery store soon.

Nothing inside, but the sliding door look promising.

Grocery Store on North Sarah

This is an exciting development, and I truly hope that it encourages infill development between Sarah and Vandeventer that allows at least some of the surviving historic homes to stay.

For more photos of this development, see my flickr set: North Sarah Redevelopment

h1

Near North Riverfront

June 2, 2013

The New Mississippi River Bridge is coming along quickly, and will soon raise the visibility of the Near North Riverfront neighborhood, and its main drag North Broadway.

Mound Street Bridge, Mississippi River, Cass Avenue Bridge

New Mississippi River Bridge from Broadway and Mound

This section of Broadway has a fairly intact built environment and is home to many businesses.  Admittedly it’s in pretty bad shape, but the potential here is humongous.

Near North Riverfront North Broadway Revitalization

Warehouses on North Broadway

Although the thoroughfare is major and many of its buildings are large, the street still has a human scale.  One of my favorite parts of coming here on the weekends is the large number of people out on their motorcycles (presumably many of them are in the area for Shady Jacks).

Motorcycle Tricks Wheelie

North Broadway is already a pretty cool place

Because this area is about to see a lot more traffic, developers will be tempted to build truck stops and drive-thrus with giant billboards and signs to advertise them.  Competitions for who can build the biggest and newest gas stations (or chain drug stores, etc.) have destroyed enough of our great intersections and commercial strips.

Highway Advertising, Urban Blight

Downtown St. Louis Interstate 70 Billboard

I hope the city is working to ensure that development around the new bridge will help knit together the neighborhoods north of downtown, rather than create more barriers in the form of auto-centric development.  670 Million dollars is a big investment that St. Louis needs to take advantage of.

h1

Ash Pits and Coal Chutes

May 9, 2013

Coal powered the industrial revolution in its beginnings in England, during its American continuation in New England and down the east coast.  Coal facilitated the rust belt’s rise, and remarkably remains the dominant source of energy worldwide today.  St. Louis is currently home to several large coal companies including Peabody, Patriot and Arch, but the heyday of coal usage in St. Louis (and the US) is in the past.

Peabody Coal's Mid-Century-Modern HQ

Peabody Energy’s Former Headquarters on Memorial Drive

At the middle of the 20th century most homes in the area were heated by coal (National use peaked around 1940, St. Louis experienced the worst side effects in late 1939).  I’ve heard stories about horse drawn wagons traversing the alleyways of St. Louis and dispersing various grades of coal to its consumers at least until that time.  Some reminders of this era remain, notably the coal chute doors (often marked by brand names like Banner, Schurk, Manchester, Mechanics or Majestic) that can be spotted on houses in every neighborhood of the city and in many parts of St. Louis County.

Historic Coal Chute Doors of Missouri

Coal Chute Doors

Ash pits are slightly harder to notice due to their placement on alleys, but are nonetheless an ever-present reminder of our coal heritage.  The most recognizable and common model of ash pit in the city is P.A. Shorb’s:

P.A. Shorb Ash Pit in a St. Louis City Alley

Ash Pits in-use as planters: P. A. Shorb 1475 Graham

See more photos of these relics below:

Masonic Temple Midtown Albert Groves Grand Center St. Louis University

Coal Chute Door on Masonic Temple on Lindell

Majestic:

Majestic Coal Chute Door

Older in the Gate District:

Coal Chute Door in the Gate District double door swing lock

Adapted to modern usage:

Coal Chute Door in use as a vent in South St. Louis

Ash Pit with Cacti:

Cacti in an Ash Pit in Kingsway East Neighborhood of North St. Louis

For more photos of Coal Chutes and Ash Pits see my flickr set.

h1

Chesterfield Commons and Downtown St. Louis

January 17, 2013

Chesterfield Commons is a gigantic strip mall that runs along highway 40. If you’ve never been (don’t go), it’s like every single big box store you’ve ever seen strung together in a giant row. From the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce’s website:

A great place for one-stop shopping. Seven large retailers – Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart Super Center, Target, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Home Depot, and Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse – presently anchor this 1.9 million square foot commercial development. When finished it will be over 2 million square feet and 1.5 miles long, making it the largest open-air retail center in the country. Chesterfield Commons currently hosts more than 100 shops and 30 restaurants in this beautifully maintained location. The Galaxy cinema features a 500-seat auditorium with the region’s largest movie screen – measuring more than 5 stories. – Chesterfield, MO Chamber of Commerce

I like that it’s described as an “open-air retail center.” It’s a 1.5 mile strip of big box stores fronted by parking lots. Click the photo below to see the area in Google maps.

1.5 miles is huge. That’s the distance from 4th street to Jefferson.

“In business, it’s all about location. Chesterfield has easy access, a good road system and good demographics,” said Robey Taylor, executive director of the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce. – St. Louis Business Journal

Downtown St. Louis (the combined Downtown and Downtown West Neighborhoods), is about 1.5 miles long. A single building, the Railway Exchange, has more than half the interior square footage of THF’s Chesterfield Commons.

However abundant land may seem, it is a finite resource, and its misuse contributes to many types of waste beyond that of square-footage (or acres or square miles). We currently have plenty of vacant land within the boundaries of St. Louis City, as well as available office, residential and retail space in every class. St. Louis needs to wake up to the fact that exclusively auto-centric greenfield development is a poorly considered and shortsighted investment. Maybe after those new outlet malls are completed we’ll have had enough.

Parking Lot that goes on and on for miles

Chesterfield Commons – Summer 2010

Suburban Sprawl Flood Plains St. Louis, MO

Aerial taken 7/11/2013 – Huge Outlet Mall across 64/40 is dwarfed by Chesterfield Commons