Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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P.M. Bruner Sidewalk Lights in Seattle, WA

August 3, 2011

As I walk down unfamiliar sidewalks I make sure not to ignore the ground, always on the lookout for sidewalk markers.  Due to this conditioned vigilance, I have accumulated a decent photographic collection of these markers from cities all around the country.  Right now for example, I am in Aurora, IL, a Chicago Exurb whose attractive city center is loaded with sidewalk markers that I am quite happy to have stumbled upon.  This particular sidewalk contractor stamp includes an exact date:

Happy 29th Birthday!

The details that some sidewalk stamps carry provide starting points for research that can reveal much about a city’s past.  While visiting Seattle last month I came across a nice selection of sidewalk stamps and markers, the bulk of them concentrated in Pioneer Square.  Pioneer Square has a remarkable history as Seattle’s original downtown.  After the “Great Seattle Fire” of 1889 (seems like every American city has had a great fire), the city began rebuilding immediately, but soon after reconstruction had begun planners made the decision to raise the streets up a story to remedy a problem with flooding during high tide.  During this transition, building entrances were moved up to what became street level, and new sidewalks were built one story above the old ones.  Because the original ground level entrances were sometimes still in use underground, many sidewalks in this area have skylights to allow light into the passages below.  A popular tourist attraction, the Seattle Underground Tour, allows you to walk along some of these underground sidewalks and listen to bad jokes.

Sidewalk Skylight as Seen from the Underground Tour

These skylights are all over Pioneer Square and are hard to miss for even someone with only a casual interest in sidewalks (I assume).  The fact that so many of the sidewalks in Pioneer Square are over 100 years old is awesome to me, but, after almost a month in Seattle and regular trips to Pioneer Square and other sections of the city’s historic core, I stopped carrying my camera after dark.  I figured that anything I was interested in, I had already photographed several times.  Thank God for camera phones, because on one of my last nights in Seattle I looked down and saw this:

Installed by L.A. Norris - Bruner Patents

This sight brought me back almost to the beginning of my relationship with sidewalk markers.  An interest that began after coming across a St. Louis Sidewalk Company sidewalk marker.  After making this initial discovery I started enthusiastically searching the internet for more, and the first bit of gold I struck was a flickr photo of a P.M. Bruner Sidewalk marker in Tower Grove East.  I immediately began walking blocks in the neighborhood until I found them myself, and since then I have come across several identical markers in other sections of the city.

P.M. Bruner Sidewalk Marker

Almost every new sidewalk marker I see gets its text googled, and this one was no exception.  Unlike most cement contractors, however, P.M. Bruner has a pretty serious online presence, particularly if you perform a Google Patent search.  Interestingly enough, Preston Martin Bruner of St. Louis, Missouri holds several patents for Sidewalk Lights that closely resemble those visible in the photo of L.A. Norris’ sidewalk.

Sidewalk Light Construction - P.M. Bruner

Is it possible that a St. Louisan designed this technology that helps make Seattle’s Pioneer Square so cool?  It is very possible, but unfortunately, all I can do is speculate and continue to keep my eyes and ears open.  If anyone has more information on this subject, please share.

Update:

I found a website with a photo of a P.M. Bruner sidewalk with “vault lights” in Houston, TX.

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Vote for Cahokia Mounds! Only Three Days Left!

June 27, 2011

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is currently hosting a Community Challenge that will give the three historic sites with the most votes a cash prize.  Currently, Cahokia Mounds is ranked 13th and will require a big push during the last three days of voting to make it into the top three.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cahokia Mounds gives the St. Louis Area an extremely unique International attraction.  While visiting Berlin recently, I found many references to Museum Island‘s designation as a UNESCO site.  This is a source of great pride for the people of Berlin.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that most St. Louisans appreciate the significance of Cahokia Mounds and are unaware of its status as a World Heritage Site (nobody in my family knew that we had a UNESCO site in St. Louis when I mentioned it in Berlin).  This is our chance to both contribute to Cahokia Mounds, and to help spread the appreciation of our history that the United Nations recognizes while many locals fail to.

If the flying saucer on Grand is worth fighting for, Cahokia Mounds certainly is too.

Click on the image above to register, and cast your vote for Cahokia Mounds.

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The 10th Street Mall in LaSalle Park

June 21, 2011

A few weeks ago I had the day off and needed to take my car to the shop, so for the first time in a while I was able to do some St. Louis Exploring.  For lack of a better idea, I simply took the bus downtown and starting walking toward Soulard, knowing that I didn’t really have a good grasp of what lay in between.  The dead zones between our “destination neighborhoods” are one of the biggest problems St. Louis has to tackle.

LaSalle Park

Crossing under Highway 40 on Broadway I entered LaSalle Park, a hidden gem nestled between Soulard, Layfayette Square and Downtown.  The neighborhood is cut off from the rest of the city by highways, and the damaged street grid leaves its few surviving blocks particularly isolated.   A Pedestrian Mall replaces Tenth Street from Hickory to Park Avenue, effectively separating the renovated historic homes to the east, from the mess of urban renewal to the west.

Tenth Street Mall in LaSalle Park

Dead-end streets north of Park on Ninth Street have been turned into cul-de-sacs, but they are shady, quiet, relatively dense, and feel great to walk down.  Large bushes visually separate the cul-de-sacs from the pedestrian mall, but the sidewalks merge into it.  The mall itself is both devoid of life and overgrown.

10th Street Pedestrian Mall from Park

In many ways, the Tenth Street Mall reflects St. Louis urban planning in general.  It has preservation on one side and auto-centric modern development  on the other.  It has glaring successes and failures.  It is cool and attractive but also lacks maintenance and use.  For many, however, it seems that LaSalle Park has the best of both worlds.  It is in the middle the city, but feels suburban in many ways.  It’s both old and new.  It has a totally random pedestrian mall running through part of it; and apparently that’s what people like because LaSalle Park is one of a small handful of St. Louis City neighborhoods to have gained population in 2010.  If you haven’t been, go check it out – the experience is quite pleasant.

More photos of LaSalle Park can be found here.

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Cowan Street

May 2, 2011

Today I was randomly driving around the city when I passed what looked like a bombed out church just a stone’s throw from Interstate 70 on Prairie Avenue.  For some reason I felt a need to park my car and investigate on foot, a decision that led me to stumble upon a small and forgotten North St. Louis Street – Cowan Street.  The St. Louis Public Library’s Index of Street Names offers us a brief history:

COWAN STREET (E-W). Appeared in the 1854 subdivision of West Lowell. The name originated in the Irish and Scottish as “dweller in a hollow; worker in metal, a smith”. There is a Cowan, Tennessee, and a town and lake in Canada named Cowan. No specific personal attachment has been found for a St. Louisan, however. (Hyde Park & Bissell-College Hill)

Cowan Street

The current state of the street is terrible, with just two shells of unsalvageable buildings remaining on it.  Originally only one block long, the street was truncated into a dead end as soon as Highway 70 was built, severing it’s connection to Broadway.

Cowan Street on Bing Maps

Approximately 100 years ago, this little street was home to Wagon Making, Mushroom Tunnels, a Church, School, homes and more.

Cowan Street in 1909 - From a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

Today, St. Paul’s Lutheran School is two walls rising from a pile of rubble.  As can be seen above in the screenshot from Bing Maps, the school was standing fairly recently, and even hosted basketball games.

St. Paul's Lutheran School

However small Cowan Street is, its loss is a loss for the whole city.  I hope that some new development is lined up to capitalize on this site’s visibility from the interstate, but have little reason to be optimistic.

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Our Water Towers

March 25, 2011

St. Louis’ three Standpipe Water Towers are monumental historic structures which two of our city’s neighborhoods have been blessed with.  Often referred to as being three of only seven surviving historic standpipe water towers in the country, it is a miracle that they were able to survive all of the urban-renewal related destruction that occurred within our city limits over the last century.  Unfortunately I have no idea which other historic water towers are in the same category as ours, but Milwaukee WIChicago, ILLouisville, KYCincinnati, OH, and New York City all have old towers that appear well cared for and maintained.  The same could possibly be said for the Compton Hill Water Tower, but our two Northern water towers are under-appreciated to say the least.

Bissell and Grand Water Towers

I know that I am not the only one who feels this way about the Grand and Bissell Water Towers.  Their powerful presence needs to be better used to improve the North St. Louis neighborhood that they reside in.  Daron Dierkes has recently written two articles in his excellent blog St. Louis/Elsewhere (here and here) on the water towers and the College Hill neighborhood.  His ideas are great and I’m sure the neighborhood residents have many more ideas.  As I walked around the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon, I saw churchgoers, yard workers, porch sitters and others enjoying the beautiful day.  Some people visited the small business strip on Grand just West of the Old White Water Tower that is home to several active businesses such as The Obama Meat Market.

East Grand Commercial Survivors

Unfortunately, my photograph above shows the edge of East Grand’s surviving historic commercial buildings.  As seen in the first photo above, the entire circle around the Grand Water Tower is empty grass lots.  Thanks to whitewall buick on Flickr I am able to include a photo of the circle around the water tower that was taken in 1942.

North Grand Water Tower - 1942 - Courtesy of Whitewall Buick on Flickr

The photo is focused on the water tower, the buildings surrounding it taken for granted.  Today, we are lucky to be left with the Water Tower and mostly intact residential streets around it.  The loss of circle hugging commercial buildings from around the Old White Water tower is a tragedy, but could also be looked at as another opportunity for a future developer to take advantage of.

Bissell Water Tower up Bissell Street

I predict that the preservation of these landmarks will pay dividends for the College Hill neighborhood and for the City of St. Louis as a whole.  Those people who prevented these structures from being destroyed over the years were saving them for this stage in the city’s life.  Although the North Side is emptying out at a scary rate, there is still a lot of greatness in what is left.

For more information on the water towers visit http://www.stlwater.com/watertowers.php.

Also, see my College Hill Flickr Set for more photos of the Water Towers and of the neighborhood.

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St. Louis Velodrome

March 23, 2011

While surfing around on YouTube recently, I came across a Living St. Louis video on the St. Louis Velodrome, a bicycle racecourse in North St. Louis.  Apparently this current Velodrome is a replacement for one in Forest Park that sat in the area created by the Kingshighway Jog.

After watching this video clip I had to try out the Velodrome.  Although it was interesting to see, my used mountain bike and I were clearly unprepared to properly appreciate the unspectacular loop of asphalt.

Penrose Park Velodrome

Instead of spending time on the Velodrome I ended up exploring the neighborhood on my bicycle.  The Mark Twain neighborhood turned out to be pretty cool.  I found a couple of stretches of brand new brick houses right across the street from Bellefontaine Cemetery that were surprisingly good looking.  There isn’t a whole lot of new construction in North St. Louis, so I was particularly happy to see good quality infill here.

Old and New in Mark Twain

Seeing this Velodrome and the living neighborhood around it was a very positive experience, reminding me how much this city has to offer, and how much of it I have yet to explore.

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Union Depot of Joplin

January 6, 2011

This week I stumbled upon the Union Depot of Joplin, MO.  Driving North out of downtown on Main Street you can just barely glimpse it off the side of the road.

Joplin Union Depot

After seeing this awesome building and walking around it, I did some research online and found some very interesting facts, one of which was that the structure is concrete, made from scraps left over from local mining operations.  Joplin, MO was thinking green in 1908!

Joplin Union Depot - Abandoned

The abandoned depot hasn’t been used by anyone but graffiti artists for decades, but appears to be in remarkably good condition.

More photos of Joplin.

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New Scott Transit Plaza loses Neighbors

December 19, 2010

Last weekend I noticed that one of my favorite buildings had come down.  While driving down 40, I glanced towards the Armory and saw a large lot of dirt to its south instead of the corrugated-steel warehouse that was there last time I had looked.

Beck and Corbitt Steel on Spring

I admit that the building was not an architectural marvel, or even particularly attractive, but I loved it.  With its ring of graffiti underneath the large letters announcing its former tenant, this building told the story of the area now and in the past.  It had me imagining what it was like alongside the train tracks running through the middle of the city when they were alive and productive here.  Only two blocks south of Market Street and directly on the tracks, this was a prime location.  In addition to all of this, the building had a small feature that really attracted me to it.  This Bear (or Badger as I have always called him) was on the West side of the building.  I will miss it.

The Badger

I originally speculated that this would be the site of Metro’s new Park and Ride lot for the new Scott Transit Plaza, but was corrected by Jennifer from NextStopSTL (Thanks!).  Unfortunatly, I still don’t know why this block was raized.  Maybe the land is going to be used by whoever is in the former May Company Warehouse that sits across Spring.

Gone

A couple google searches taught me that the Million square foot warehouse sold by Macy’s last year for 2 million dollars has at least 2 tenants now: Hazzard Moving and Storage, and Warehouse of Stuff.  Hopefully this land will be used productivly for those tenants or maybe for some future plans for the Armory (wouldn’t that be cool?).   I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what happens, but whatever it is, I won’t forget what was here before.

600 S. Spring

I really wish progress didn’t have to be so destructive.

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Ellen Clark Sculpture Park Finally has Sculptures

December 15, 2010

While visiting The Best Steak House this past weekend, I noticed some activity on the former site of the Marina Building at Lindell and Grand, a fenced-in grass lot that was recently bestowed with a sign identifying it as the Ellen Clark Sculpture Park.  It was finally getting sculptures!

Ellen Clark Sculpture Garden is Under Construction

This lot has been informally used as a dog park for several years and I am glad to see it made into a more attractive place. Although I am disappointed to see a permanent use for the land that doesn’t add to the density of the neighborhood, the fact that something is happening is a releif.  What I really hope is that the black fence (ubiquitous on SLU’s campus) surrounding the lot is removed.

Not the Entrance - A Fenced in Sculpture Park

This corner is very important in linking SLU’s campus to Grand Center and while it is fenced-in it will remain underused, something that is particularly important to avoid in a place where neither of the two adjacent corners attract much activity.  Midtown is one of the coolest neighborhoods in St. Louis already; with more seamless connectivity between the University’s, Grand Center and Midtown Alley, the neighborhood could truly reach its potential.

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New Habitat Homes in ONSL Look Great!

December 6, 2010

This March, Habitat for Humanity started building 17 LEED-certified homes on Hebert St and Sullivan Ave in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.  I was very excited when I first saw the renderings and am even more happy now that I’ve seen them in real life.

Three New Infill Homes in Old North St. Louis

I am particularly happy to see new flounder houses in the neighborhood.  Several flounders help make up these new habitat homes.  Just a block away from the flounder above is an old one in pretty bad condition.

Crumbling Flounder Alley House in Old North St. Louis

The new homes built by Habitat for Humanity are wonderful additions to the neighborhood and their completion really adds to the momentum and excitement of the reopening of 14th street.

More of the New Homes

The red color of the new homes blends in fairly nicely with the brick that the rest of the neighborhood is built out of, and I even like the awnings.  Thank you to Habitat for Humanity and everyone who helped out with this project.  The final product looks great!  For more photos of the new houses, see my small flickr set here.