Sunday, February 19, 2017

Charless Village Update - McKinley Heights Neighborhood


It was a fun blog for me because it started with simple curiosity of a CF Vatterott housing development called "Charless Village" on an empty lot. But, it evolved into a deeper understanding of St. Louis' past and present. Once I started poking around, I figured out this was the site of a former SLPS school, Charless School.
One thing led to another and I found myself on the Charless School alumni Facebook page, which brought exchanges with folks with firsthand knowledge of the school.

Then, one of our best reference librarians in the city stumbled across the blog and helped me track down the closing date for the school, and verify the fact that the school was indeed named in honor of Joseph Charless and was damaged by a tornado in 1896.

This beautiful school was operational from 1895 to 1981. Arsonists provided the final blow in 1988 setting a 3-alarm fire in the school...it was razed in 1993 and sat as an empty lot until 2016.

Arsonists can prove to be a stronger force of destruction than even the worst tornado that Mother Nature brought to St. Louis...so it goes.

Anyhow, it was a fun post where history unfolded and I got lost in it for awhile.

I chose to go back to check on the progress.

So here's a chronological set of photos that takes you from the property as a vacant lot in June, 2016 to the current state in February, 2017:


Google street view Image from June, 2016

November, 2016 from Shenandoah Avenue
November, 2016 Alley View
 February, 2017, old meets new on Shenandoah Avenue
 February, 2017, Shenandoah Avenue view
 February, 2017 alley view
Future parking off the alley

So opinions and thoughts on new construction in our historic neighborhoods, such as McKinley Heights can be lively and quite varied.

I will hold my cards close to my chest on my personal opinions until this project is finalized; but to date, I have to say I'm optimistic.

The street grid is respected both on Shenandoah and the alley. Parking in the rear makes a huge difference for quality of life in this part of St. Louis...these will have it. The massing, the subtle yet varied styles/forms and relationship to the awesome buildings on each side is respected. So far so good, I'll revisit upon completion and weigh in on the finished product.

Will these be market rate offerings? Will there be demand and will they be purchased quickly? 

Stay tuned. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Some Quick Thoughts On An MLS Stadium


Well, I guess the electorate of STL is all of a sudden respected. If you recall, we were decidedly not thought to be worthy of voting on the Rams stadium debacle (check the record on the aldermen who voted for that mess...and who are running for office).

Now remember, if you live a couple feet west of Skinker Boulevard, a few feet south of the River Des Peres, a few feet west of Cement land or a few feet east of the halfway point on the Stan Span, you don't matter in this conversation. 

If you are a suburbanite, you are not being asked to pay for an MLS stadium. You are not being asked to pave a massive expanse of land in your city for surface parking lots that get used maybe 20 days a year. And most importantly, you don't get to vote on whether STL gives ~$60M in tax money to pay for a MLS stadium. 

You are irrelevant if you don't live in STL when it comes to an MLS stadium. 

Why? Because the suburban cities in the areas surrounding STL don't want anything to do with giving public tax dollars to the prospective MLS ownership group (who I'm almost certain don't even live in STL).

There is no regional taxing district for sports arenas. Outside of the ZMD and GRG initiatives, there is little desire to share in this region.  STL is expected to carry the weight on regional issues, both ones the county people want and of course the ones they want absolutely nothing to do with. For instance, can you imagine the county taking an equal part in caring for the homeless, the growing population of elderly on fixed incomes or oxy/heroin/meth/crack/booze addled members of our region? 

No, these are STL problems. We are expected to take these things on...and of course the stadiums/parking lots for hockey, baseball, soccer and any other sport you can imagine.

I'm feeling cynical lately, forgive me. I just don't think people like County Executive Steve Stenger want anything to do with STL. And sadly, I feel he's the voice of the angry people I hear in the burbs who hate STL and it's problems both perceived and real.

But a vote on an MLS stadium is coming up (if you live in STL)...and what American doesn't love a vote?

I take a vote very seriously. I try to do my best to educate myself, be fair, compromise and think of the greater over my selfish interests.

But this MLS ownership group has asked ONLY STL for tax $ to pay for their stadium. Their... Who is they? I'm not sure I can put a face to the names. I'm not sure I've met them or seen them at any neighborhood meetings of public forums in STL to drum up support and make us want to support them.

Who are these guys? Will I know by April when I get to vote on this $60M or so of our hard paid dollars.

Imagine an alternate past where this MLS ownership group showed themselves before they made the ask. Sure they are likely staunch county boys, rich kids all grown up and successful and connected. Good for them. But they're probably genuine, well-meaning people. We are all reasonable Midwesterners, no?  Heck, STL people loved the Busch family well after they left for Sunset Hills and Huntleigh and other areas outside of STL...even in the post-In-Bev days, we still seem to love them.

When will this ownership group let us know how much they love soccer (their last pitch was for NFL football) and apologize for not introducing themselves earlier.

It's been too long, guys.

St. Louis is a small town (~300K) and most people know each other, or at least recognize each other. But few in STL know these guys...at least the people in my small hoi-polloi circles.

What if they acknowledged the huge ask of $ they were making on us. What if they acknowledged the need for strong schools and crime prevention in STL, yet made a convincing pitch for their investment in a team and stadium we would (by default) own? 

What if they threw us a bone for our vote?

What if they signed a city contract to donate money/build three quality soccer fields in STL for the CYC and SLPS to use. (currently there are 0). What if they committed to aerate, seed and water said fields for 30 years? What if they vowed to pay for SLPS/CYC/Charter school soccer coach/referee training programs?

If you think soccer is big in St. Louis please come witness the fields the CYC league plays on. Please come with me and walk the fields the SLPS high school league plays on. Let me show you the field one of the greatest middle schools in the country practices on. Let's meet the soccer coaches in St. Louis and see what they want/need.  

I've heard nothing like that...just that we're dumb and missing out on this amazing opportunity to build a stadium. Um, we've got 3, two with teams in them...and they are just not helping us gain residents and money. Check the stats guys.

The 100 or so cities in the suburbs outside of St. Louis have a rich history investing in soccer programs and fields. Look no further than the impressive soccer park off of I-44 just west of I-270. St. Louis has nothing like this. Nor does St. Louis have plans for anything like this. We have bigger fish to fry. We're not at the stage of building soccer field or rock climbing in our schools or neghborhoods yet...maybe you guys could help us.

But these regional leaders/investors who don't live here or care about crime/schools/neighborhoods here want our public money and are willing to give up none of theirs.

Float me a plan that makes sense. Throw me a bone. Give me some reason to believe. I'm a taxpayer, a resident, a dad, a voter in St. Louis...the one city in this 2-state, 100 or so city region that will decide the fate of soccer for now.

As of now, this ownership group has given St. Louis people very little to grasp onto. 

Memories of Kroenke and the great County rulers so close but yet so far from St. Louis are swimming in my mind.

I'll remain a skeptic until this group of investors shows up here....in St. Louis...to make their pitch.

April is just around the corner.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

3801 Hampton Avenue - In Danger of Suburbanization

Man, I recently got a slap in the face when I went to get some Christmas shopping done at a place I have a long history with: FYE at 3801 Hampton Avenue just north of Chippewa in the Lindenwood Park Neighborhood.
As I was entering, there was a posting on the front door urging people who don't want a fast food joint to buy out this store, demo the building and put up a typical suburban drive thru to contact the city leaders and FYE's corporate HQ:
I failed to publish this before the Jan 5th deadline...sorry.

Now I've got nothing against chains, really. They can fit quite nicely into a city's urban fabric. Check Chicago as an example. I was taken aback by how much chain stuff exists in that city. It gets harder and harder to find a decent, locally owned place to eat in downtown Chicago. The chains are taking over, yet they are forced to fit into those beautiful Chicago buildings because they are mixed-use buildings, the floors above ground level in Chicago are usually residential or office. Here it is easy to mow down a single story single-use building and build new...in this case drive thru garbage.

No doubt, Hampton Avenue is a car-centric thoroughfare. But, the mid-century buildings that still had somewhat of an urban feel are going the way of the dodo and being replaced with the modern suburban model. Bradburn School supply was recently mowed down for another QT just up Hampton near Elizabeth Avenue.

So what is this fast food joint that wants the property on Hampton? In this case Chic-fil-A is on the prowl.

Why do I care, Hampton is a lost soul you might say. It is the Big Bend of the city.  Well, the problem is, this is not a higher use proposal. It'll be a setback for Hampton as a city street. It turns it more toward the suburban auto-centric boring generic, American crap.

I have no beef with Chic-fil-A in particular. I've never even been there. This would be the first Chic-fil-A in St. Louis. The current locations are all in the suburbs in this regional market. A Chic-fil-A would likely generate more tax dollars than FYE. It may even generate more jobs.

But, it will not make a place. A place that can bring people together. A place-making place. Believe it or not, but FYE is a place where people who love comic books, weird movies, off the beaten path music, anime and other things can converge. It is a place to get a job if you want to talk about non-mainstream things. It is kind of like a Hot Topix for the city.

And, there's a personal connection. When I first graduated college in the mid-1990's and moved to St. Louis after landing a job in my scientific field, I needed supplemental income. I was living in Dutchtown and searched the yellow pages for music stores to work part time. I went into (then) Blockbuster Music and got a job shortly thereafter.

This was a great job because I could judge other people's music choices, a sport/art I was obsessed with back then. It was easy because Blockbuster's business model at the time was a "listening station" where you could bring up any CD in the store and the employee would pop it in and you'd put headphones on and rock out. It was my job to open the disc they brought up without breaking the CD seal or packaging and insert the disc in the player, let them listen, and return the disc to it's container and resort it if they didn't buy it or package it back up for the customer if they wanted it.

If the customer brought an Ace of Base CD up, I could work my disapproving eye rolls (without getting caught).

If they brought up a Pavement CD, we were (you can goddamn count on it) going to have a long conversation.

Sounds cheezy and 90's for sure, but it was fun because I felt like a bartender for music fans. Soccer moms, hard core music fans, burn outs, kids...it was great and hilarious. I liked the job.

Then, the employees took turns on shifts where you were given the keys to the in-store sound system. I looked forward to my nights. I could finally show these guys how cool I thought I was.

One night formed a memory/experience that I'll take to the grave. Now remember, this was pre-Internet, so you didn't have every song in the world available in a click. You didn't have an algorithm making constant recommendations based on what you listen to. You had to tune in and turn on the hard way, by listening and reading and hanging out in the right places. Or you could have one of the most personal human gifts: the heartfelt recommendation from a friend. This is gold to a real music fan. If someone takes the time and effort to make a personal recommendation, it is a very intimate thing. I miss that about the pre-Internet music days.

It was my night to spin the hits. I went to pick out a Superchunk CD to let these drum machine mf'ers hear a real band. I picked a release I didn't own, No Pocky For Kitty. The album cover is burned into my memory banks.

Superchunk, if you don't already know, is a straight ahead, hard driving rock band. The singer/guitarist and bassist later founded Merge Records. They are an important American band to people who loved guitar rock/punk/indie.

They are consistent, meaning almost all records sound similar. They forged their own distinctive loud guitar sound, and they stick with it.  You know what to expect.

When I popped in the disc, it was weird. Like nothing I'd ever heard. It was challenging, weird, 1960's psychedelic, 1990's lo-fi, British-sounding? Maybe they had another band lineup in their early days that I was not aware of.

I was perplexed. So was the store manager who came down from the catbird box. It was literally an office up high that could look over the entire store floor.

He came down from the box, asked what the hell I put in. I said Superchunk. He walked back silent, slightly disapproving. A couple tracks later he came back and asked me to take it out.

I obeyed with no thought about it. Put the CD back in the jewel box and re-filed it.

I told my girlfriend/now wife about it, and how that sound stuck out. Man, the band must have taken a turn early in their career. I couldn't shake the sound, so I went onto CD Now and bought Superchunk's No Pocky For Kitty online.

When I got it in the mail. I invited my wife over, appropriately set the scene for listening to music, popped it in the stereo and said "listen to this".

Track one comes on...and it's typical Superchunk. Crunchy guitars, driving drums and bass and Mac's sweet voice. I was shocked. Sure it sounded great, but it was textbook Superchunk, I fast forwarded again and again. What happened, this wasn't the weird thing I'd experienced at Blockbuster Music.

I forgot about it and months passed, I quit the job at Blockbuster. But, the memory of that night and the sound of that record was still lingering. I decided to go back to Blockbuster and find No Pocky For Kitty. I grabbed it and went to the listening station and asked the guy to play it. There it was again. That weird ass sound.

An employee at the listening station mistakenly placed the wrong CD in the Superchunk box. I asked for the CD, looked at it: Scat Records, Guided By Voices "Bee Thousand".

I went to the G section and no Guided By Voices. So, I guess I was going to buy the Superchunk case with the Guided By Voices CD in it.

This GBV album was like nothing I'd ever heard. None of my friends new this band. It was completely new and fresh. I listened to it over and over. I recommended it to whoever would listen. I had a new favorite band...they were from Dayton, OH where another favorite of mine at the time were from (the Breeders). I love Midwestern rock bands.

This was how I discovered GBV and I've since bought hundreds of their songs, gone to several shows, etc etc etc. They are a lifelong favorite ever since I crossed paths with that weird mistake. To a music nerd, these stories are like gold.

The memory comes to mind every time I pass 3801 Hampton.

The probability of someone having a meaningful life experience working at Chic-fil-A are close to nil.

The soul will be gone.

According to my boss at Blockbuster, the building used to be a Peaches and a grocery store before that.

The building has history, per city records it was built in 1954. It has an urban form. It abuts the sidewalk along Hampton.

Here's a nice photo from beltstl.com as well as confirmation that it was a grocery and Peaches:


Peaches must have been a 1970's dream, I've seen the crates all over town in antique shops and at yard sales. 
Here's the only photo I could find of the Hampton location; that is Mama's Pride doing a promotional event:

The Pinterest poster claims the event was in a St. Louis Peaches, but I have doubts unless the interiors of all Peaches were identical.  There are some great videos of the Ballwin, Missouri Sound Warehouse/Peaches location the day it closed on June 29th, 1986. The interior looks exactly like the Ballwin store. I will keep searching for the truth.

Note on the first video, Rocks Off by the Rolling Stones is playing in the store (followed by Rip This Joint). That's what I'm talkin' about. I cherish every second of these videos, thanks for sharing YouTube user styxreo:


 Per a recent Riverfront Times article:
The building, which sits at 3801 Hampton Avenue, has a long and storied history — for the most part, as a purveyor of music. The space was constructed in 1954 as a National grocery store. In 1976 the record store Peaches opened in the spot, selling mostly vinyl throughout the '80s. Then it was known as Sound Warehouse and, later, Blockbuster Music in the '90s. In 1998 it became Warehouse Music, which was purchased by Trans World in October of 2003. Trans World kept the existing name for three years before rebranding to F.Y.E. in 2006. (source)
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the proposed buy out of FYE in November, 2016:
Chick-fil-A has under contract the F.Y.E. store at 3801 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis and plans to replace it next year with one of its fast-food outlets. 
A manager at the F.Y.E. store said Wednesday he was unaware of the Chick-fil-A project. 
HR Green is handling the project's engineering and "running point" on getting a conditional use permit for the Chick-fil-A at the site, Vavrina said. The Atlanta-based fastfood chain plans to have one of its customary general contractors build the Hampton Avenue outpost, he said. (source)
Read: a suburban American crap shack eyesore.

This is not a higher use.

If you are like me and want to rage against the suburban machine, contact the following and make yourself heard:

Ward 23 Alderman Joseph Vaccaro:


Phone: (314) 622-3287 

Fax: (314) 622-4273

Or FYE's corporate offices at:

Transworld Entertainment
38 Corporate Circle
Albany, NY 12203
1-800-540-1242

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cole Chemical Building - 3721 Laclede Avenue in the Midtown Neighborhood

The following is an example of how a building can pique one's curiosity and desire to learn about your surroundings and place in history. Conservation and preservation of places and buildings is such a valuable asset toward historical understanding and providing context within a city.

I was having lunch across the street from a building that caught my eye. There was a blue placard affixed to the building with a cool font that said "Cole's"; I had to cross the street to get some photos and take a closer look.

The building is on St. Louis University's main campus at 3721 Laclede Avenue in the Midtown Neighborhood. It is currently in use as an administrative building called Beracha Hall.
The building is sleek, you can tell it was designed to be special with modern touches from the Art Deco era (c1908-1935) with curving brick and concrete. And since the building was beautifully restored and major investments have been made to the interior, we all get to appreciate it for years to come as it has found a place on the SLU campus. The two story blonde brick building sits just west of the beautiful and brand new Spring Hall student housing tower.
You can see the building is wrapped in blue neon lighting. I have yet to visit after dark to see if it is illuminated.

Further inspection of the building's exterior proudly state the year it was founded and who designed it.
 perfect art deco font
founded in 1918

This is a testament to St. Louis' largest and oldest university doing the right thing and making the right investments to make them a community asset.
Hopefully SLU keeps this in mind as they are given carte blanche to develop massive swaths of land on nearly 400 acres on the south medical campus. Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The Board of Aldermen on Friday passed a bill granting St. Louis University broad authority to control what is built on nearly 400 acres in midtown and surrounding neighborhoods. 
The university envisions building new academic and medical buildings to go along with private investment near its medical center and north campus. 
Friday’s 17-4 vote, with one member voting “present,” formally declares the area as blighted and allows SLU to form what is known as a Chapter 353 redevelopment corporation.

It gives the university control over the zoning and tax incentives that will determine what is built in the area. (source)
This kind of smart investment seen right here on Laclede Avenue builds goodwill, respects our history and makes SLU more part of the neighborhoods they are in versus a fenced off entity apart from our neighborhoods.

I've had a sinking feeling that SLU would seek to close more city streets that run through their campus. This would effectively hide these buildings from the public. People like me that love to explore every nook and cranny of the city will be blocked. We need to fight street closures in nearly all cases. I'll be keeping a close eye on this one.

But the investment and reuse in this building is amazing. The interior of Beracha Hall is brightly lit, modern and totally functional.

If Laclede Avenue was closed, I likely wouldn't have been eating a sandwich on that street, I wouldn't have spotted the Cole's logo on the building. And, I would have remained ignorant of Hugo Graf's impact on St. Louis.

When I saw the Hugo K. Graf signature on the front exterior, the name sounded familiar. I searched this site and found out why, I'd crossed paths with Hugo Graf's other works while researching the St. Louis Public Libraries and schools. W.T. Trueblood and Hugo K. Graf Architectural Firm designed the Carpenter Branch on South Grand in the Tower Grove South Neighborhood.

Click around a little on the web and you find that Graf was also responsible for the Carter Carburetor office building (now the Grand Center Arts Academy) in the Covenant Blu/Grand Center Neighborhood. In fact he did all kinds of work around Missouri.

This guy is another fantastic architect who left behind some amazing work.  Born in St. Louis, he moved to the burbs in a house he designed in Webster Groves, MO. Per the State Historical Society of Missouri:
Hugo K. Graf was born in St. Louis on 17 January 1888 and died in 1953. He designed several significant buildings in St. Louis and the surrounding metropolitan area, including the Carpenter Branch Library and parts of the Barnes Hospital complex. In the 1920s he partnered with William T. Trueblood in the architectural firm Trueblood and Graf. He went into independent practice in 1934 following the dissolution of the partnership.
I will be planning a trip to the University of Missouri - St. Louis campus to see first hand the collection on Graf:
This collection contains papers, photographs, and images from the Architect Hugo K. Graf and the architectural firm “Kramer and Harms.” The Hugo Graf photos are generally of completed businesses and residences. The images are generally drawings of buildings, residences, and one drawing of a streamlined automobile from Lawncraft Incorporated. Also included are a copy of the “Missouri Ordnance News” that includes information wartime activities in Louisiana Missouri and several issues of the “Architectural Concrete” journal. The earliest document in this collection is a Graf paper that dates from 1924. The collection contains papers and photographs from Kramer and Harms. Gerhardt Kramer, who had worked for Graf, started this firm with Joe Harms following Graf's death. (source) 
Per the Missouri History Museum:
The Hugo K. Graf Albums are photographic portfolios of the work of St. Louis architect Hugo K. Graf. The first album contains 18 captioned interior and exterior views of the buildings and campus of Central Methodist College in Fayetteville, MO. The second album contains 27 photographs of Graf's work in St. Louis, including the Rand-Johnson (surgical) wing of Barnes Hospital; Cole Chemical Company, the Carter Carburetor building or Pythian Building, a factory of Jackies-Evans Manufacturing, the headquarters building for the 7-Up company and interiors, the Forest Oldsmobile-Cadillac dealership, the Peck and Peck clothing store and miscellaneous interiors; and photographs of renderings of a factory for Majestic Manufacturing, IBM, and a grocery warehouse. The collection also includes an original pencil design rendering for the 1940 addition to Missouri Portland Cement Company. (source)
That will be fun, can't wait to check it out. I'll do a proper post on Graf for this blog because I can't find a good photo of him on the web and I have much to learn. Stay tuned.

Then there was also the mystery of Cole's. What'd they make? Well, living in the information age is a real treat. A few clicks and I was piecing it all together.

Cole's was the trademark of Cole Chemical Company of St. Louis per a trademark renewal application with the U.S. federal trademark department. The product line in the application listed their line of pharmaceuticals including analgesics, anesthetics, antispasmodic preparations, cardiovascular agents, diagnostic aids, diuretics, hormones, laxatives, narcotics, vitamins, alteratives, antacids, antirheumatics, antiarthritics, coating agents, digestants, disinfectants, metabolics (source)

You know, just a little bit of this and that. They had great ads:






Again, the point of this post is to consolidate some information on Cole Chemical Building but to also hammer home the point that without preservation of this building, I'd be ignorant of the past significance of this part of my favorite Midwestern city.

Now that SLU has invested in the building's future, they have a cooler looking campus...a historic looking campus...and I now know more about Cole Chemical Company and will be making trips to UMSL to visit the Hugo Graf portfolio archives and Poplar Bluff, MO to visit this theater that Graf designed. 
Photo Source: Cinema Treasures



The Cole Chemical Building/Beracha Hall look great. 

Laclede Avenue between Grand and Vandeventer are the kinds of development and investment we need on the medical campus.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year And Thanks For Reading

I just wanted to check in and give thanks to folks who've followed this blog or who've stumbled upon it over the years. I have been at this website for over eight years and I had a blog called South St. Louis City Talk before that, so I've held this as a hobby for almost 25% of my life.

I never expected anyone to read this, but once I figured out that people do, I had to change my writing style to be responsible and not just shooting my mouth off like I can do in person with friends/acquaintances.

I surpassed 1M page loads in 2016 and I told my wife I would hang it up after that. I've made (multiple Busch-induced) claims like that before, but something personal tells me to keep going. I just enjoy it too much to quit. And it still doesn't feel like work...it remains a hobby I visit when I want to and no regrets or anxiety when I don't.

I firmly believe in setting free the things you love before they become stale. But that's not been the case here.  I've received largely personal goodwill from this endeavor. I've connected with people researching their pasts or looking for a place to build their future. I've met librarians, firemen, academics, bloggers, city employees, teachers, politicians, researchers and most of all, my fellow St. Louis citizens through this endeavor.

This website keeps me feeling positive. It is something I feel like I can control; or, a narrative I can create for myself to keep my chin up and to share with others free of charge.

The more cynical I become or the more I learn that disgusts me or disappoints me about St. Louis tend to feel like distractions when I fight it with positivity and stay focused on the potential of the future.

My professional training is biology and laboratory research and my job has morphed into scientific writing in the recent past. While I love agriculture, science, ecology, data and statistics and explaining it to experts around the world, it is rather clinical and, well, data based. There's little room for creativity and opinions in scientific writing, and this blog frees my mind to write in a more subjective manor with a slant toward bias: my love of St. Louis.

As it turns out, I need this outlet to stay intellectually stimulated when thinking about where I live and justifying my life decisions.


Hell, I bought a 49cc scooter because of Steve Patterson, before I even met him. He inspired me to watch traffic patterns and be aware of design of streets and city infrastructure. I bought a nice camera because I wanted to take pictures like Built St. Louis. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You wanna tell me Badfinger doesn't rock?

These were the people writing about the stuff that I wanted to read. They filled the niche that the mainstream media didn't cover on TV, radio or in print. I've learned so much from them. They've inspired me in their writing, lectures, tours and overall integrity-laden support of St. Louis.

If you are a music fan, you've heard the story of how not many people bought Velvet Underground records, but those that did started bands. I wanted to see if I could do it too.

And it has been nothing but fun. I've kept it a hobby. I try not to be too political or negative. I try to keep a cup half full (not empty) next to the laptop and camera when I write and share photos.

And, one of the things that makes me so proud is there is a growing community of people much younger than I that GET IT. They get urbanism. They get the real definition of St. Louis as a city and not a region. They understand the politics and are trying to come up to speed with the history and local context. They are critical and skeptical. They have tools I've not yet developed. They are connected.

And they are thoroughly inspiring to me...my hope.

Some of these young people are starting to get serious and run for offices and work within the system for change. The old guard and racist/protectionist ways from both black and white people in St. Louis will get challenged.

I feel this next generation sees St. Louis is a different light. They see race, ethnicity, urban living and class in a different light than my suburban 1980's ways. They are the light that I want to follow into the future where we finally see a gain in population in this city.

I felt like when I moved here I fell in love with this old city. I felt like I was in the minority though as a transplant from Illinois. It was like being a Squirrelbait fan...like minded people were not easy to find pre-Internet. When my first generation STL friends started to leave the city it burned a little; I've been honest with them on this fact so I don't mind saying it here.

I needed a goal to make me intellectually explore whether I should stay or go, to raise a family here or move back home or to another city.

St. Louis City Talk is largely the result of me trying to fully understand St. Louis north to south, River to Skinker. To give a fair shake at a true understanding. To break down myths and colloquial thoughts that I'd inherited from the media and St. Louisans and suburbanites. I had to find out for myself.

And eight years have passed on this blog, twenty two living in the city.

And when I think about whether to keep or drop this hobby after all these years, I still feel like I can fill a gap where others can't...and that is pure freedom to responsibly say what ever I want with nothing but my reputation at stake.

I have nothing monetary to gain, and am beholden to only myself.

I have never made one dime from this website. If I've been paid, I've donated the money back to the organization, or given it to my neighborhood association. I don't advertise, so am free to criticize developers that are bilking us for tax dollars that should go to better uses than private profiteering.

I don't copy protect my photos. They are for all to use and reference. They are now used in text books and magazines and websites all over. All I ask is for proper citation. It's all free, one of the reasons I like the information age. My hobby has been fun, it is free, it is yours to read or not. I'm not trying to gain popularity or anything. I don't advertise, I don't promote other than twitter and facebook.  I do this for me and I share it with you. That simple.

I'm not an architect, builder, lender or anything that would hold me back from criticizing projects. I'm not overly political. I'm not a die-hard Democrat, Republican, Green or Libertarian. I'm independent and free to support the best person for any office. I usually stay out of political stuff, but I've gotten involved in the past for more personal reasons than larger political views or power shifts.

I'm for anyone who gets city living, can relate to the pluses and minuses of our schools, cops and neighborhoods and can bring people together to move us forward.

I feel like I can be critical or praise anyone I want. I feel like I can give an honest perspective on St. Louis because well, I live here, not the suburbs. My kids go to SLPS magnet schools (so far anyway), so I can talk about that from a firsthand point of view.

I've lived in several neighborhoods, some racially and economically mixed, some not. I've dealt with the cops and fireman in good and bad ways. I (as have friends and family) have been the victim of crime here.

I've rented and owned property. I pay taxes here and I vote in every election.

I don't try to be a fake and speak up on the County issues. I don't live there, I can't vote there, I will respectfully leave those issues to the folks in those cities. I'd feel like a charlatan if I started to weigh in on how people in Pine Lawn should or shouldn't police their small town (I just shut up and pay the traffic tickets) or how University City people should or shouldn't feel about pastie bars.

Although, I can't resist the occasion pot shot at the haterz in the burbs. Trust me, I'm been awash in St. Louis potshots from suburbanites for the 22 years I've lived here. They need a little in return...but, boy is that skin thin. So I've learned and been coached to tread light(er).

But, I don't mean any harm and I don't like internet contentiousness. As a pre-Internet Gen-Xer, I firmly believe lively debates should happen in person. I think I've been lucky enough to avoid weirdos and haters for the most part. The comments and feedback I get are largely positive, I've received constructive criticism from people I respect. That is the best of all.

We need independent voices and I feel like I can do that with honesty and nothing to gain other than an occasional new friend, acquaintance or connection.

I've tried to remain accurate and factual in all my writing. Sure I get it wrong sometimes, but I'm not a journalist and don't claim to be. I don't double check sources every time.

Spellcheck is on, but my unofficial editor sits by my side unpaid and a bit sick of my spiel. She humors me and provides me the time to do this hobby and for her I'm most grateful in 2016 and every year we've been together.

But, you can bank on my heart being in this and trying to do the best for the city I love.

Thanks to all those who've followed along over the years, who've given kind words, constructive criticism or just listened to me go on and on and on about STL.

Happy 2017!