Thursday, June 16, 2016

St. Louis Population Loss During Modern Mayoral Terms

With Francis Slay recently announcing he will not run for re-election as Mayor of St. Louis, his four consecutive terms go down as the longest run in our city's history. Back in 2010 I gave the office of Mayor some thought and looking back at that post, for the most part, I still feel the same including the need for a new set of ideas and styles. The Democratic Party Mayors have largely failed if you use residency as the measure of success.

Do people want to live here or not? To me, that is the ultimate measure of a city's success. If it's a hopeful, growing, stable or improving place, people will move there. If hope is lost and the future does not look bright, people will leave. And in St. Louis, people have and continue to leave in droves, mostly for the 90 plus suburbs and small towns in St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jefferson County.

St. Louis has been losing population at a staggering rate since we ended our growth period in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Here are the numbers summarized on the St. Louis Wikipedia page that show the mass exodus of people out of St. Louis:


The reasons are complex and varied on how something like this can happen.  We have a city that was built for one million inhabitants, but we're down to 315,685 and dropping fast (source).

Now that Slay is exiting, I'm starting to read some accounts that praise Slay as a Mayor which make me a little skeptical if you use population as your measuring stick.

I'm not here to criticize though; I recognize that public service is a tough job. The professional and personal toll of being a politician must be exhausting. I respect Slay for being in office for so long and running successful campaigns for re-election. That is not easy.  But the fact remains that during the Slay years ~33,489 people up and left St. Louis during his tenure as our top leader; this is a staggering figure that should always be considered when opining on his legacy. It just blows my mind that we are losing this many people year after year. If the 33,489 people who left St. Louis made up its own city, it would be the 19th largest city in the state of Missouri.

Yet, it would be shallow to just point out the numbers of people who vacated during a single Mayor's term(s), without taking a look at the other modern-day Mayor's numbers. This is not intended to be a petty political shot, rather a quest to understand the history and trajectory for St. Louis during my lifetime.

So let's take a look at the data.

An assumption was made from the graph below; my data source was the United States Census Bureau, plotted out annually by Google. Since this graph only went back to 1970, I used the 1960 data and increased the 1960-1969 data in a linear fashion so I could estimate the population when Mayor Alfonso Cervantes took office in 1965. Meaning, those years will not be accurately represented. But you still get the gist of the population losses.
year by year 1970-2013 data plotted by Google

Here's how the numbers shake out for each Mayor from 1965 to 2014, sorted by the largest declines:



Why the massive drop from 2009 to 2010? Either there is an error in the data, or the rules were changed on how Census counts were estimated. But, you get the point...people are not picking up what these guys have been laying down...and this has been going on for over 60 years.

You know despite these negative numbers, I am still bullish on St. Louis. I've lived here for 22 years and, as a whole, quality of life in the city has gotten better. Sure, there are exceptions, but I still firmly believe there is reason for optimism and hope for the future.

But in order to steer the ship away from this exodus it is going to take leaders who can listen, compromise, think large, act independently and...um...lead. You know, inspire. People with an outsider perspective would be wonderful.

Let's hope someone runs that is interested in the entire city, someone that lives in a neighborhood that is racially and economically inclusive, someone that has lived the challenges of navigating the schools, someone who takes ownership of the harm that petty and violent crime have on our business community and our citizens. Someone that loves it here and cares as much as the devoted on the future of the city. It is now or never, right?

No more silver bullet stadium proposals! We need to focus on neighborhood growth. Jobs within the city's borders that hire new and existing people in the city. Make sure we subsidize and incentivize small and medium sized businesses at the same rates as the larger ones (my neighborhood restaurant has done more to raise my quality of life than the Rams ever did). We need someone who can see the big picture that recognizes our faults and makes every decision to get us one step closer to that goal. If you can articulate a vision and repeat it incessantly until all 315,685 of us know your goals, then we can appreciate the decisions that are made to march toward those goals...even if sometimes it feels like a compromise. We need to feel some wins. I'd prefer 1000 little wins vs. 10 big ones.

Best of luck to the next set of candidates for Mayor. It will be fun to watch the field of candidates unfold. We need as many people paying attention, reading, listening and making educated, careful and critical choices at the ballot box. And remember, if you don't live in St. Louis you can't vote in St. Louis. You are either part of the problem or the solution when it comes to things that matter like hiring leaders. Shooting your mouth off from the suburbs just doesn't cut it when it comes to real change. 

Here's to growth on the horizon and a brighter future that lets all these young people doing great things in our city not think they have to move to the burbs to live out their adult lives.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

St. Louis City Talk Update

Holy crap, I'm edging toward one million page loads on this blog...never thought that'd happen. Anyhow, I've been pursuing the personal goals of writing for pleasure and promoting St. Louis as a great city to live/explore since 2008. I started making lists of public places and photographing, researching and writing about them one by one.

Neighborhoods, parks, libraries, fire houses, you name it, I like making lists and setting goals and sharing my findings with other like-minded people. The experience has been positive overall and I plan on continuing to write on this blog into the near future. It keeps me learning about my city and I never want to be stagnant when it comes to my opinions on St. Louis stuff.

So with that in mind, it feels like the right time to start updating some of the older blogs starting with the neighborhood posts. For instance, I looked back at my Gate District post from 2010 and think I could've done better. This is a part of the city that confused me when I lived farther away; I've since moved to a neighborhood just south of here about five years ago and have spent a lot more time in these parts. We routinely visit a couple friends who live here, my wife now works here, my kids use the St. Louis University track complex here, I've come to love shopping at Walter Knoll for all my landscaping needs and I didn't know Maya Angelou was born here back then. I guess what I'm trying to say is, my perspective has changed. I know more now and maybe I didn't give the Gate District a fair shake back in 2010. I at least have a more personal perspective.

One of the most fun things about a city is that it is constantly evolving, changing and reinventing itself in many ways. This keeps me curious and excited about a place I feel like I know pretty well, but constantly surprises me.

So while I'll be updating some content, I won't delete photos, because I like capturing the city in a particular time. But, I will update content including revised census data, updated park and library links and content related to new development/major demolitions.

And then I'll work on updating the blog to a proper website. I had scheduled a class at the community college in the suburbs to transfer the Blogger site to a website to give it a more modern feel; but life stuff got in the way and I had to cancel. So at this point, I will be seeking out a website design firm to make this thing look better, and if you have any advice on good web designers (in the city of course) I'd gladly accept them.

Anyhow, as far as updated blogs, I started with the Gate District for reasons previously stated; but, going forward I'll update the neighborhood posts in the order of most read, starting with the top ten:


I'll then follow up with some the neighborhoods that have changed the most (by my estimation) in the past five or ten years.  So thank you all for reading and following along the way. I am so grateful to have a hobby that keeps me intellectually stimulated and has brought new acquaintances and/or friendships into my life.

All the best,
Mark

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Firehouses of St. Louis

Having kids in scouts and other groups gets you into some places that you usually would not go. Firehouses are once such example. I attended a cub scout tour of No. 35 on Arsenal Street with one of my sons. This is where I got an appreciation for some of the details within these old buildings.

Also, when I lived in Boulevard Heights years ago, I used to walk my kids by No. 19 on Morgan Ford Road and the firemen on duty would invite us in and let the kids sit in the truck and put on the hat. They LOVED that, and it was very kind and unsolicited...they invited us in without me asking.

My curiosity was piqued. I love making lists and setting goals  and exploring my city, so here we go with yet another adventure: photographing all the city firehouses.

Per the official St. Louis website, there are 30 active firehouses in our fair city.

They are spread throughout the city in 29 different neighborhoods, only Tower Grove East has two active stations.

No. 1 - 2910 S. Jefferson Avenue, 63118, Benton Park neighborhood
No. 2 - 314 S. Tucker Blvd., 63102, Downtown St. Louis
No. 4 - 4425 S. Compton Avenue, 63111, Dutchtown neighborhood
No. 5 - 2123 North Market Street, 63106, St. Louis Place neighborhood
No. 6 - 5747 Manchester Avenue, 63110, Cheltenham neighborhood
No. 7 - 2600 LaSalle Street, 63104, The Gate District
No. 8 - 1501 Salisbury Street, 63107, Hyde Park neighborhood
No. 9 - 814 LaBeaume Avenue, 63102, Near North Riverfront neighborhood
No. 10 - 4161 Kennerly Avenue, 63113, The Ville neighborhood
No. 11 - 2224 S. 7th Street, 63104, Kosciusko neighborhood
No. 12 - 5214 W. Florissant Avenue, 63115, Mark Twain neighborhood
No. 13 - 1400 Shawmut Place, 63112, Hamilton Heights neighborhood
No. 14 - 3523 Magnolia Avenue, 63118, Tower Grove East neighborhood
No. 17 - 3238 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., 63106, Covenant Blu / Grand Center neighborhood
No. 19 - 6624 Morgan Ford Road, 63116, Boulevard Heights neighborhood
No. 20 - 5600 Prescott Avenue, 63147, North Riverfront neighborhood
No. 22 - 1229 McCausland Avenue, 63117, Hi-Point neighborhood
No. 23 - 6500 Michigan Avenue, 63111, Carondelet neighborhood
No. 24 - 5245 Natural Bridge Avenue, 63115, Mark Twain / I-70 Industrial neighborhood
No. 26 - 4520 Margaretta Avenue, 63115, Penrose neighborhood
No. 27 - 5435 Partridge Avenue, 63120, Walnut Park East neighborhood
No. 28 - 4810 Enright Avenue, 63108, Fountain Park neighborhood
No. 29 - 200 S. Vandeventer Avenue, 63110, Midtown
No. 30 - 541 DeBaliviere Avenue, 63112, Skinker / DeBaliviere neighborhood
No. 31 - 4408 Donovan Avenue, 63109, St. Louis Hills neighborhood
No. 32 - 3500 S. Grand, 63118, Tower Grove East neighborhood
No. 33 - 8300 N. Broadway, 63147, Baden neighborhood
No. 34 - 8227 S. Broadway, 63111, Patch neighborhood
No. 35 - 5450 Arsenal Street, 63139, Southwest Garden neighborhood
No. 36 - 5000 S. Kingshighway Blvd., 63109, Princeton Heights neighborhood

I received another list of 11 former firehouses that are still standing as of publishing:

No. 1 - 2411 McNair Avenue, 63104, Benton Park neighborhood (Built 1872)
No. 3 - 3648 S. Broadway, 63118, Marine Villa neighborhood (Built 1919)
No. 7 - 1304 S. 18th Street, 63104 Lafayette Square neighborhood (Built 1897)
No. 26 - 2100 N. 2nd Street, 63102, Near North Riverfront neighborhood (Built 1887)
No. 28 - 3934 Enright Avenue, 63108, Vandeventer neighborhood (Built 1961)
No. 29 - 1219 S. Vandeventer Avenue, 63110, Forest Park Southeast neighborhood (Built 1888)
No. 32 - 2000 Washington Avenue, 63103, Downtown West neighborhood (Built 1892)
No. 32 - 503 N. 20th Street, 63103, Downtown West neighborhood (Built 1919)
No. 36 - 1719 N. Union Boulevard, 63113, Wells Goodfellow neighborhood (Built 1911)
No. 40/41 - 707 N. 7th Street, 63101, Downtown neighborhood (Built 1904)
No. 45 - 914 Allen Avenue, 63104, Soulard neighborhood (Built 1906)

Here is a map of all 41 mentioned above; note the nearly perfect spacial distribution to cover the entirety of St. Louis:

So feel free to follow along. I will start with the 11 former firehouses. Stay tuned!

Union Station 10 Cine' (1988-2003)

When we lose places, be they businesses, homes, or just a building we lose memories, historical touch points to revisit, and worst of all, our identity as a place, as a city.

I gave the many theaters we've lost over the years in St. Louis some consideration here and here. And as of publishing, we have four great movie theaters existing in the city.

Yet, when I moved to St. Louis in the 1990's, there were only two first-run movie theaters in town: the Hi-Pointe and the 10-screen Union Station Cine'. The Avalon at Kingshighway just south of Chippewa (now gone the way of the wrecking ball) was still showing films; but I regret never making it. My wife went there once to see a sing along version of the Wizard of Oz, you know where the little ball jumps around the words on the bottom of the screen. She may have been one of only a handful of women in the seats :)

I did go to the Union Station 10 Cine many times though, so I feel obliged to share my experiences and thoughts on the place since it is the only theater I attended that is now shuttered. It is really hard to find info on the other lost theaters of St. Louis, so I'm compelled to contribute a personal story to the only lost theater I was in.  Sometimes we don't think as kindly of the 1980's as we should, and it might be easy to write these places off. 

The website Cinema Treasures includes many anecdotes from people who attended these lost buildings and I really appreciate their stories and perspectives. So I'll share a couple memories of mine.

I guess even the must mundane spaces have a history and stories tied to the past and Union Station 10 Cine was no exception. It felt like this place needed a proper tribute.

First a little on the building itself.

This theater was just south of the massive Union Station train shed/parking lot near the "Power House". It lasted for only sixteen years, with screenings from 1988 to 2003.  Per "Cinema Treasures":
The theatre opened with a 70mm screen and two auditoriums with THX sound. The theatre itself was a 42,000 square foot free standing building.

The lobby area featured an old fashioned ice cream parlor and a deli so that patrons could either eat before or after the show. There was a mural that was removed from above the old ticket counter in Union Station where passengers would buy their train tickets. The mural depicted line men working on the rails and different types of trains. The mural was restored and put on the wall above the concession stand in the new theatre.

The Union Station Cine' was successful as far as patronage was concerned but the high priced lease hindered the profit. When Wehrenberg went into bankruptcy they tried unsuccessfully to renegotiate the lease but to now avail. They closed the theatre and a short time later Wallace Theatres picked up the lease and operated the theatre until late in 2003. It has been closed ever since. (source)
The mural described above was an important work by artist Louis Grell called "Commerce on the Landing".
Luckily, the history of the mural is well documented by the Louis Grell Foundation:
Grell was commissioned to paint a unique seven foot tall by twenty-eight foot long mural to be mounted above the curved “new ticket counter” as part of the World War II renovation at Union Station in St. Louis in 1942. More than 100,000 passengers used the terminal daily during the height of the war. The St. Louis Union Station terminal was the “busiest passenger rail terminal in the world.” This historic mural titled Commerce on the Landing, depicts the Eades Bridge, Mississippi River front, 2 mighty Steam Boats and an old fashioned steam engine train on the riverfront during the 1880′s. The mural was officially unveiled in June 1942. 
The mural was in place until c 1985, when, during an extensive renovation it was moved to the UNION STATION Cine 10 theatre for a short period until the theatre closed and the mural was lost.
This mural was rediscovered in March 2014 by employees during a $66 million renovation of the hotel and terminal. Please see color pictures of the newly rediscovered mural above. Notice the Impressionist style used by Grell for this particular commission. Versatility by Grell was common. Many news agencies covered the discovery from St. Louis to Indiana, Illinois, many across Missouri, the Washington Times, the New York Post and the San Francisco Gate all ran extensive stories and links to the video covering the great find during a time when great art discoveries are being well represented in Hollywood films such as the “Monuments Men.” 
The mural underwent extensive conservation in St. Louis by artist and conservator Irek Szelag, in preparations to be rehung in the Union Station Grand Hall in mid 2015. St. Louis’s Kodner Gallery owner Jonothan Koder conservatively valued the artwork at $150,000 due to its beauty and relevant historical stature. Union Station owners believe Commerce on the Landing ”is considered one of the most important public artworks ever created for St. Louis.”   
Furthermore, local reporter/producer Ruth Ezell did a wonderful story on the mural and Louis Grell on her "Living St. Louis" segment for local PBS station "Nine Network". Watch the ~11 minute segment below, which aired on Channel 9 in 2015.
So the entry on the mural from Cinema Treasure checks out. Another anecdote on the Cine was from commenter "mmiller" who shared an interesting observation about the building's unique location under the elevated lanes of I-64:
One interesting thing about this theatre was that it was built under a major highway and that the support pillars for the highway were actually in the building without actually touching the building (this was a requirement of the highway department). At one time it was the only building in the US with this bizarre use of space. The construction price of this theatre was very high because of all the extras which also included a full service bar and high end sound systems. The lobby was expansive and very interesting to see. (source)
You can see what the commenter was talking about as the theater is truly tucked under the elevated lanes of the Interstate:
The exterior's coolest feature was the incorporation of the overhang waiting areas for train loading.
The marquee and ticket booth were nothing special compared to the older theaters, but oh how 80's:
The 1980's color schemes were in full force, looking like the early Arizona Diamondbacks uniforms...
 former displays for movie posters
Here you can see the deli and ice cream parlor.
Photos of the Union Station 10 Cine' are hard to find on the web; but, thanks to some of the usual STL bloggers, there is some content available. The following photo is from Steve Patterson, posted on UrbanReviewSTL and shows the atrium in front of the theater building...again, very 1980's...but still in great shape (and in the shadow of the K-SHE 95 studios). I don't know if it was intentional or just my imagination, but it looks like a train from afar:
Photo credit:  UrbanReviewSTL
Union Station 10 Cine' closed in 2003 but not before my wife and I took in the amazing martial arts film "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" in or about 2001. By that time the movie theater was becoming run down, poorly staffed/managed and pretty sketchy...it felt like it was on it's last leg. 

Two memories stood out. 

First, by that time the patrons at the theater were nearly all black. And of course, anyone who knows anything, can tell you that seeing a martial arts movie with a nearly all-black audience is a true American experience...not unlike the difference in attending a buttoned-up, priest-led Catholic mass vs. a more outwardly spiritual Baptist choir/band-led service...both good, but drastically different. The stereotypes are well known and documented, this is not news. And the Union Station 10 Cine did not disappoint on this particular evening.


This showing of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was a full-on, max-volume crowd participation night and we were likely the only white people in the theater and it burned a memory into both of our brains. Sometimes the outbursts and constant talking is annoying, sometimes it is transcendent...depends on the internalized elixir, mood and/or vibe of the night. You just can't make this stuff up. Crouching Tiger was rife with beautiful special effects of flying Qing dynasty warriors and plenty of sword play and sparring. 

The crowd would erupt in hilarious outbursts of commentary related to the bad-ass fight scenes. The in-theater commentary was like standup comedy and this particular night we were into the distraction, embraced it and had fun with it. My wife and I still utter little asides that we heard from the crowd during that movie nearly 14 years later.

It was a great night and a great memory.

Another benign yet not as pleasant memory came on a different night when I went to use the restroom during a show. The lobby and concession area was dark and sparsely staffed and some dude slowly followed me into the restroom. Now I'm not an idiot and I know how to minimize potentially troublesome situations. I thought he wanted to sell me some weed, so I made continuous eye contact and kept conversation going as I stood at the urinal. Turns out his business model was more of a tryst-based one and I was just goobed out. You didn't get this kind of thing in Belleville, Fairview Heights or South County where we grew up watching movies, so I chalked it up to city living and making me stronger and better and wiser to the different things going on in our great society.

So these memories are nothing too special, but my two cents and the stories I can remember from this theater. I'm sure there are better stories and photos out there, so please feel free to share them here in the comments section.

Anyhow, these two stories probably don't make up the typical American movie going experience. They are outliers in the huge sample size of millions of people going to the theaters year after year.  But these experiences described above most likely led to why many quit going to the Union Station 10 Cine'.  If you're not up to it, the talking and interruptions during a movie can be considered off putting, rude and/or low brow.  I bet most suburbanites and visitors staying at the hotel in Union Station who wandered over for a movie walked away shell shocked. The older I get, the more I understand that need for peace and quiet.


One thing seemed clear, the theater was on its last leg.

The reports of the theater's demise are fairly well documented and a couple journalists shared the racial component of the story that I suspected.

A 1996 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article by Fred Faust available on Questia.com documented the unfolding drama with Wehrenberg and the struggles of drawing suburbanites to St. Louis.
Ronald P. Krueger, president of Wehrenberg Theatres, is threatening to close the Union Station 10 Cine.

In a letter Aug. 2 to the Powerhouse Partnership, landlord for the theater, Krueger says Powerhouse has breached the lease because of "Union Station's stated policy of preventing access to this center by minors and other young adults, unaccompanied by their parents during the evening hours.

"Due to its geographic location, the overwhelming majority of this class of individuals are minorities. The result, then, of this policy is to make unwelcome at the center a significant portion of the market which the theatre targets and a concomitant decline in theatre traffic and revenue.

"Consequently, present as well as future economic viability of the theatre operation has been eliminated."

Krueger also complains in the letter that parking problems have hurt business at Union Station 10 Cine.

Unless the "access policy" is immediately abandoned and parking problems solved, Krueger writes, the letter is notice that his company will vacate the premises, probably in 60 to 90 days.

A week after Krueger's letter, Powerhouse sued Ronnie's Enterprises Inc., the Wehrenberg entity that signed the lease. The suit in St. Louis County Circuit Court seeks an injunction that would force the theater to remain open.

The key partners in Powerhouse are developer Garrett Balke and builder Ralph Korte. In addition to the theater, they developed the office buildings at the southern end of Union Station.

In the suit, Powerhouse says the buildings were financed by Aetna Casualty and Surety Co., to whom the rents are assigned. If Ronnie's stops paying rent, the suit states, Powerhouse "will be unable to make its mortgage payments to Aetna."

The theater and other buildings would risk foreclosure, according to the suit.

The Ronnie's lease runs from Aug. 1, 1988, through July 31, 2008, plus optional renewals. The current rent on the 40,000-square-foot theater is $610,887 a year, or $50,907 a month.

There are also common-area maintenance charges. A percentage rent clause says Ronnie's will pay 7 percent of annual gross receipts in excess of $4.1 million.

Neither Krueger nor Balke could be reached Friday for comment.

When Union Station 10 Cine opened eight years ago, Post-Dispatch critic Joe Pollack hailed it as the first first-run movie house in the city since the Stadium Cinemas closed in 1984.

But, noting that Krueger's company had had problems with the Stadium Cinemas, Pollack wondered if the Union Station theater would succeed in drawing suburbanites back downtown, past more convenient mall locations. (source)
The theater was operated by Des Peres, MO-based Wehrenberg Theatres for nine years (1987-1996). Wehrenberg pulled out in 1996 amid some parking disputes and racially charged controversy between Wehrenberg and the theater owner Powerhouse Partnership over parking and Union Station's policy regarding minors at the time. A letter sent to the Powerhouse Partnership shortly before Wehrenberg pulled out contended that the theater's business had been hurt by "Union Station's stated policy of preventing access to this center by minors and other young adults, unaccompanied by their parents during the evening hours." The policy was tantamount to discrimination, according to Wehrenberg, because its primary audience was minority youth. 
Rumor has it that the disputes led Wehrenberg to claim they would never operate another theater in St. Louis and evidence suggests that is true as all their current operations are in the suburbs of St. Louis County and other parts of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota.

Too bad, I have good memories of that Wehernberg jingle playing before many a movie in Fairview Heights, Illinois, and it'd be nice to have them back in St. Louis.
The above policy eventually worked itself out and a new investor came. Wallace Theater Corp., a Portland, OR based firm, acquired the theater from Wehrenberg. They spent $1 million on renovations, and reopened the theater in 1998. Just two years after reopening the Union Station 10 cinemas, Wallace entered into talks with Union Station's owner to end the theater chain's 10-year lease as Union Station was courting Aurora Foods who wanted the extra space to expand their corporate operations (source).

The Aurora Foods deal never came to fruition and the theater was kaput.

With the words of Kurt Vonnegut and Nick Lowe dancing through my head:

"So it goes."

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Charles H. Compton

The Compton Library at 1624 Locust Street, accessible by appointment only, was named in honor of Charles Herrick Compton (1880-1966).
A staunch advocate for the library system in St. Louis, and public libraries in general, Compton was employed by the St. Louis Public Library from 1921-1950. He became the Director in 1938 and held that position until 1950 when he retired. The Compton Library was built in 1957.
Online information about Compton's life is fairly limited, so it felt like a little old fashioned research seemed appropriate. Luckily, Compton published a detailed record of his early life and professional career called "Memories of a Librarian" which was published in 1954 by the St. Louis Public Library.
A book about a librarian, I know what some might be thinking...quiet work spaces, books, Dewey Decimal Systems, etc...paint drying. Yet, the recount of his career pulled me in from the start. His life and stories paralleled America's best of times and worst of times. His career coincided with America's involvement in World War I, the Roaring 1920's and the Great Depression of the 1930's where in one of his speeches to the American Library Association in Denver in 1935 he said:
"As I look on the past twenty  years of war, boom, depression, they are painful years. As I look on the world today, it is all too much a ruthless and a senseless world. As I look toward the years to come, there is a foreboding, but my faith in democracy is unweakened, my belief in libraries as essential in a democracy is unshaken. Libraries will be a part in making of the new and better world which we all desire."
Compton chased that desire and spirit throughout his career and his attention to detail and writing style lend insight into his quirkiness as a staunch book lover. He once said of his profession:  
"We librarians are a chosen people, a peculiar people in our own eyes and perhaps peculiar in the eyes of others."
Maybe so, but Compton's successes and accomplishments transcended any bookworm idiosyncrasies or self-imposed limitations; this man took public libraries to a new level in America and St. Louis was lucky to have him.

So the purpose of this post is to highlight his time in St. Louis and the suburbs to the west of the city as well as some of his key accomplishments.

But first a little background on his early life and lead up to his move to St. Louis.

Compton was born in 1880 in Palmyra, Nebraska, and later moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where he attended a two year preparatory school run by the University of Nebraska where you could finish your four year high school degree in two years. 

He went on to attend the University of Nebraska, graduating in June, 1901.

After graduating and working a number of jobs that took him from Minneapolis to Billings, Montana and eventually back to Lincoln, he soon decided, somewhat by chance, that he wanted to be a librarian, inspired by his sister, who was an assistant at the University of Nebraska Library.

He followed his heart and in October, 1905 took a train to Albany, New York where he enrolled in the New York State Library School. According to Compton this was "when life began for me." During his schooling, he became the librarian of the Albany Y.M.C.A. in 1906. He graduated with his degree in June, 1908.

A few months later, he landed a job as librarian at the University of North Dakota and moved to Grand Forks, eventually married in 1908 and started a family in 1910 with the birth of his first son. The library was one of the 2,509 Carnegie libraries built between 1883 and 1929 throughout the United States.

After working for the University of North Dakota for a year and a half, he accepted a reference librarian position with the Seattle Public Library. Here he made a name for himself by focusing on fund raising and publicity for the library system in the Emerald City. As a result of his efforts and diligence, patronage rose 150%, the book collection nearly quadrupled and the periodicals doubled. Seattle is where Compton blossomed professionally. He started receiving invitations to more and more library associations and speaking engagements at regional conferences. His second son was born in 1914 and they bought their first house.

In 1918, Compton was given leave from the Seattle Library to lead an effort by the Library War Service in Washington D.C., who had requested the American Library Association set up a program to provide reading materials to servicemen both domestic and abroad during and immediately following WWI.

Compton met many influential and talented people in his field during his tenure in the Libary War Service in D.C. He managed a budget of $70,000 per month and was buying an average of 2,500 books per day to establish the library for servicemen. He worked hard, seven days a week and his mission was an overwhelming success. Nearly 3.4M books were shipped to outpost camps, hospitals and bases throughout Europe and the United States. His service and the war came to a close and he returned to Seattle in 1918. In six months he assumed the head librarian position at the Seattle Library.

This service during WWI inspired Compton to take what he had learned and apply it to the homeland as well...for the good of the public. He became part of the "Books for Everyone Campaign" and moved to New York City traveling to and from NYC and Chicago to help lead this effort which espoused the tenet that "good books made good citizens". He amassed a staff of up to 30 employees who were "banging away at the campaign with might and main." The group set out to raise $2M to fund the campaign to distribute books to the public libaries across the country, but the efforts failed to raise their target and the group eventually disbanded. Compton and his family did not like NYC or Chicago life and were happy to return to Seattle in 1920.

In the Spring of 1921, Charles H. Compton was offered the position of assistant librarian of the St. Louis Public Library and by June he was working in St. Louis. He was connected with the head librarian at Washington University who took him under his wing and put him up in a room in his home on Cates Avenue in what is now called the city's West End Neighborhood.When he moved his family to the area, they rented a house in the small town of Kirkwood, MO (pop. 4,500) ~ten miles from St. Louis. When settled they looked for their first house, and chose another small town ~eight miles from St. Louis called Webster Groves, MO (pop. 9,500) in 1922. The home is no longer standing as it was demolished for Interstate 44 construction just south of Webster University's main campus.

The family adapted to life in the suburbs of St. Louis quite well. Like most, they became infatuated with baseball and attended many games at Sportsman's Park watching Babe Ruth play against the Browns, but the Cardinals were their favorite team. The Compton's were accepted into St. Louis Society with open arms led by Charles current love for Mark Twain and Carl Sandburg which carried over well with the men's clubs he was part of that included the Dean of Washington University and former St. Louis Browns and Cardinals great Branch Rickey who eventually went on to sign Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers thus breaking the color barrier in the Major Leagues.

He had a hand in establishing the Webster Grove Public Library on a tax supported basis in 1927 when he served on that library's board until 1931 when he resigned to move to St. Louis after his kids graduated high school in Webster Groves and went to Washington University. They moved to an apartment at 5888 Cabanne Avenue in the West End Neighborhood.



His respect in the National library community was growing and he became President of the American Library Association in 1934 amid the Great Depression where he was tasked with resetting the charter for the Association during the "perilous and trying times" where he rallied librarians to emerge from the "cheerless years" and lead libraries to a brighter day ahead.

Compton's work and inspiration seemed to draw from his American experience of the Great War and the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression. His no-quit spirit during the Depression led him back to Washington D.C. where he led ALA discussions with the Agricultural Deptartment to collaborate on gaining access to public libraries in America's most rural parts. This was a most noble cause, but an increasingly uphill battle when the Treasury was shrinking. This never came to be, but he continued his pursuits and represented St. Louis well. 

Once again faced with the precipice of the changing times, Compton was assigned as a delegate to the International Library of Congress which took him to a conference in Europe where he was hosted by a fellow librarian of German descent. They spoke of Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany acknowledging Hitler's successful management of banking, currency and general economic conditions while lamenting his hatred for Hitler's views toward Jews.

Throughout his expanding endeavors, he was successful in raising funds and expanding the library system in St. Louis. He was a wonderful advocate and diplomat for free public libraries and books in general.

In 1938, Compton was assigned head librarian of the St. Louis Public Library. And, in 1950 at the age of 70, he chose to retire.  Reflecting on that time in his life he said: "I dislike the word gerontology. The very sound of the word is disagreeable. How to grow old gracefully certainly deserves a more pleasing designation."

Beloved by his peers and associates, a huge party was thrown for him in 1950 where hundreds turned out ranging from library staff to media members to national and international friends and colleagues attended.  At this celebration he stated:  "I feel that we all should be tremendously proud of our profession. Many of us became librarians by what seemed mere chance. Certainly that was true in my own case. Librarians almost universally are happy in their work and would not change to other professions. Librarians have enthusiasm for the work they are doing. Life without enthusiasm is not worth living."

His praises were sung by dignitaries ranging from St. Louis Mayor Joseph M. Darst to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. He was lauded for bringing the St. Louis Public Schools and the Public Libraries together through collaborations. 

Today, where all printed materials are being scanned, digitized and uploaded for full global access via the web/cloud, it is uncertain as to what the future holds for books and libraries in general. One thing for certain is that in Charles Compton's 29 years with the St. Louis Public Library, he was able to take public libraries to a new level in our fair city.

Charles H. Compton lived to the age of 85. He died on March 17, 1966.