Street Trees And Re-establishing An Urban Canopy

In part one of my posts related to curb appeal and environmental sustainability, I discussed a "Milkweed for Monarchs" project undertaken by the Fox Park Neighborhood Association in 2015.

In this post, I will share my personal connection to a street tree project recently completed in the same neighborhood. I joined the Fox Park Neighborhood Association for a one year term through 2015. The board was looking for projects to bring to the general membership that would benefit the neighborhood in a meaningful way.  Several proposals were weighed including the median project mentioned previously, a sidewalk replacement project and finally a street tree replacement project.

The neighborhood had been seeking upgrades to the medians for years, so that was a no-brainer. The other two options took some research.

It started with some simple observations of the neighborhood.  Walking the streets and auditing the sidewalk situation and the largest contiguous stretches of streets without trees.  The sidewalks were ruled out after receiving a couple cost prohibitive bids, so we focused on street trees.

Why are trees an asset to the neighborhood?  Well, the benefits to the public, property owner and pedestrian along the sidewalk are indisputable and well documented.  One of my favorite reads on the subject is from Dan Burden's "22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees" published in 2006.  Burden is a Senior Urban Designer at Glatting-Jackson Architectural and Design Firm in collaboration with Walkable Coummunities, Inc.

In short, here's the list of 22 reasons urban street are a benefit to any city:

  1. Reduced and more appropriate urban traffic speeds. 
  2. Create safer walking environments
  3. Trees call for placemaking planting strips and medians,
  4. Increased security
  5. Improved business
  6. Less drainage infrastructure.
  7. Rain, sun, heat and skin protection
  8. Reduced harm from tailpipe emissions
  9. Gas transformation efficiency
  10. Lower urban air temperatures
  11. Lower ozone
  12. Convert streets, parking and walls into more aesthetically pleasing environments
  13. Soften and screen necessary street features such as utility poles, light poles and other needed street furniture
  14. Reduced blood pressure, improved overall emotional and psychological health
  15. Time in travel perception
  16. Reduced road rage
  17. Improved operations potential
  18. Added value to adjacent homes, businesses and tax base
  19. Provides a lawn for a splash and spray zone, storage of snow, driveway elevation transition and more
  20. Filtering and screening agent
  21. Longer pavement life
  22. Connection to nature and the human senses

Pretty impressive, eh...there is something on that list for everyone from the environmentalist to the staunch libertarian.  As I said, these benefits are pretty universal and many are backed by empirical data vs. subjective or academic reasoning, which adds to the rock solid line of evidence that street trees are a benefit to all.

Take for instance #6:

"Trees absorb the first 30% of most precipitation through their leaf system, allowing evaporation back into the atmosphere. This moisture never hits the ground. Another percentage (up to 30%) of precipitation is absorbed back into the ground and taken in and held onto by the root structure, then absorbed and then transpired back to the air. Some of this water also naturally percolates into the ground water and aquifer. Storm water runoff and flooding potential to urban properties is therefore reduced."

You can read up on all 22 reasons HERE.

Anyhow, here is how we went about our project. Each year the various wards throughout the city are allotted funds that can be spent largely at the discretion of the elected alderperson. In our case, we have a great working relationship with the alderperson, Christine Ingrassia, and she helped fund a street tree audit of the city's sixth ward. This will go a long way in understanding where to invest in trees in the future. We asked Ingrassia to help us navigate the system and make contact with the correct departments in the city.

For this particular project, the neighborhood association had some funds saved up from various fund raising campaigns and we wanted to show our commitment to getting Fox Park back in the tree game by making a purchase of trees directly from our organization's treasury.

Next we had to do some homework to bring a plan to the Board and then to the general membership for a vote.

We started by investigating available species. We went to the Missouri Botanical Garden's wonderful website to select species that are low maintenance, drought resistant and have low pedestrian trip-causing debris (e.g., acorns, gumballs)

The city also has a list of trees that they recommend:

We narrowed it down to three species including the ginko, Freeman maple and blackgum. Ginko's were voted down on the off chance that female trees (you only order males) could find their way into the supply chain and females produce the 

butyric acid-laden fruits which are quite foul smelling (that doesn't stop my dog from eating them like Skittles).

So we set a meeting with the city's Forestry Department to share our intentions and develop a game-plan to help us identify the species, associated cost, locations within the neighborhood and the logistics of ordering the trees and getting them planted.  So, our alderperson, the head of Forestry, the Urban Forester and two other certified arborists on staff were kind enough to sit down with us in April and talk trees and help plot out our path. We had the following questions:

1. species availability

2. height and trunk diameter available

3. planting instructions/location suggestions within Fox Park

4  what is needed from us?

5. next steps and other feedback from forestry

Turns out the arborists liked our choices for species and said either would work. We decided upon the blackgum as it is a hearty native that does well in clay soils and has colorful fall foliage and  has very little debris.

Blackgum:

 Nyssa sylvatica 

Per the Missouri Botanical Garden, blackgum are a "plant of merit" and categorized as low maintenance and "tried and trouble-free".  The species selection was a go.

Forestry explained the process. They would be responsible for:

  • site assessment
  • recommendations for any box cuts (taking a saw and cutting ~6 inches off the sidewalks) to create more space for the tree
  • receiving and holding the trees from the nursery until time for planting in late 2015
  • planting

The cost for each 2-2.5 inch diameter tree was $140.00, all above labor included.

Forestry agreed to send out a staff arborist to help us identify ideal planting locations.

Now that we had an understanding of the process and associated costs, we took the details back to the board who agreed to propose the purchase of 20 trees to the neighborhood's general membership for a vote.

We then took the plan to a neighborhood meeting for a vote. The general membership voted unanimously in support of the project.

We were on our way.

In July, on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year, we met with one of the city's arborists to walk the neighborhood and select some good sites.

There was some heavy construction throughout some parts of the neighborhood, including Oregon Street and Magnolia Avenue, so we avoided those areas.  We also had to avoid some obvious obstacles such as utility lines.

We expresses an interest in having this first planting be in a high profile, high traffic zone. We wanted a large contiguous stretch that currently had NO trees to help make the biggest impact of a planting. The 2700 block of Russell Boulevard immediately came to mind as this is likely one of the most traveled east-west corridors in Fox Park.

Dan the arborist made his recommendations, a small group of board members concurred and we marked twenty planting sites with orange spray paint for the next step in the process: box cuts.

Depending on the width of ground between the street and the sidewalk, cutting the sidewalk could be necessary to give the trees enough space to grow.

This work was carried out by the city:

Then, we just had to wait for the weather to cool off, typically around October or November.

Well I was lucky enough to be on Russell and Ohio the day the Forestry Dept. workers delivered our trees to get some photos and thank the guys that did the truly hard work...the digging.

Here's the result of their hard work and the dedication and support of our local alderperson and neighborhood association.

Hopefully the neighborhood has shown that we are committed to reaping the benefits that urban street trees provide and we'll see the next generation of neighborhood leadership continue this worthy pursuit.

And if you were one of the lucky neighbors to have a tree planted in front of your abode, please consider helping establish these beauties by providing plenty of water.

Cheers, Fox Park! You are better looking and healthier today than you were a year ago.

Why I Think A Second NFL Stadium Is Bad For St. Louis

With a pending vote by the Board of Alderman on whether to fund the construction of a second NFL stadium in the city, I wanted to cobble together my thoughts here at the last minute as to why I think this is a bum deal for residents of St. Louis. I usually keep my mouth shut as it is endlessly frustrating to constantly disagree with decisions that local leadership make. I find myself in the minority when it comes to what we need and what is considered progress. Why even bother? Maybe a Hail Mary pass is in order; whatever, this time it feels like the vote could be close enough to reject this public money going to billionaires. Maybe people need to speak up more...who knows.  I don't think the state has much appetite to fund this stadium either, so who knows what could happen.

Either way, it'll be interesting to watch these next few days play out.

Before I share my thoughts I want to make some things perfectly clear:

I'm not anti-football. I love all sports from the Olympics to the NFL. Just like the arts, sports are a spectacle of human accomplishment, and I don't discount its beauty, history or place in society. I am not sitting on a high horse on this one. 

Secondly, I respect people who work for the Rams and those who think St. Louis needs a team. I disagree with them on the stadium issue as you'll see below, but I will listen and I feel no malice toward anyone on the opposite side of the argument...but, we've been down this path before with the Dome. And you can see where that got us.

Thirdly, I do not seek to point out differences between St. Louis and the many cities in the suburbs to perpetuate the divisiveness that exists in this region. In fact, if I were voting on it, I'd go for a full merge of the county and the city a la Kansas City, Louisville or Indianapolis so we can all act like one big region and voting/taxing block as opposed to 100 different cities all building walls and tiny empires and acting selfishly.  But, I know that won't happen anytime soon and therefore when I speak about our region, I am using facts based on tax bases, electorates and boundary lines that do indeed divide us up into cities which are distinctly separate from each other by all measures. At times these boundaries must be considered if you are to realistically break down the situation.  Think Ferguson after the Michael Brown events; the world became very clear that St. Louis and Ferguson are different if every conceivable measure other than proximity: different voters, different police departments, different set of problems, different way of raising tax money. I don't mean to come across like I hate the suburbs because I don't; I'm fully aware of the charm and pressures of suburban living. My hometown is one of those suburbs albeit on the Illinois side.

Finally, I'm not anti-tax subsidy where it makes sense for the majority of residents. If the return is there and it helps create a more functioning city that attracts decent jobs and more people and solid funding for schools and everything else a city has to offer, then it's worth it. 

So that said, here's why I think spending public money on

a second

 NFL stadium is bad for St. Louis:

1. We already have a perfectly good stadium that was built in 1995. It is only 20 years old and functions perfectly as a football stadium. Trust me, people LOVED the Dome when Warner, Faulk, Pace, Zahir-Hakim, Holt and Bruce made magic there. It was insanely hard for the opposing team to hear and the place was electric...and I'm saying that as a baseball fan...it was the hottest ticket in town. NFL football was insanely entertaining and people came to the Dome in droves. Furthermore, the Dome provides multiple stadium configurations that can seat up to 70,000 people. Seating levels include: a private luxury suite level with 120 suites, a private club seat and luxury suite level with 6,400 club seats, a concourse level (lower bowl) and terrace level (upper bowl). The city leaders in the 1990s negotiated a bum deal that put the city on the hook for upgrades that couldn't realistically be met. The Rams ownership used this stipulation in the contract to demand crazy terms and unrealistic upgrades. We don't have that money. So a group of suburbanites chose to draw up plans for a second NFL stadium, not in their city of residence, rather within walking distance from the current one. The Dome is perfectly fine and will hold more fans than the proposed stadium. Instead of realizing the city is under true pressure financially, the Rams chose to gouge us on the Dome vs. work with us.

2. I don't know for sure but I don't think Dave Peacock, the leader behind the new stadium plan, is a resident of St. Louis. Per wikipedia, he was born in the small town of Webster Groves, just outside the city limits of St. Louis, I presume he doesn't live here now. I know there are eyes rolling after reading this.  But when the chips fall and tax dollars and electorates come into play, city boundaries become crystal clear and accuracy and facts must trump "feelgood regionalism".  This will become important in point #8 below. Peacock is however an investor in local startup LockerDome which does have a St. Louis office, so props are given there.  But yet again, we have outsiders who can't vote here and don't care about our schools, streets, alleys, parks, street lights, sidewalks, police/fire pensions, etc.  Those things are paid by taxes and voted on by residents. Some will cite Peacock as a leader and a savior of St. Louis. It's hard to canonize someone with that title when they aren't a true resident with skin in the game. You want to spend our tax dollars? Come live hear and send your kids to our schools and drive down our alleys and visit our firehouses to see what we really need. I imagine those things look very different in Webster. I think leadership needs to come from within. It's always easier to spend someone else's money.

3. The Rams are not a good franchise. Their owner's net worth is $7.6 billion per

Forbes, 2015

. That means he is the 62nd richest person in the richest country in the world. If anyone can afford a football stadium it is this guy. He is a horrible leader, non-existent to the fans and frankly people can't stand this guy. He is so shrewd and driven by $ that he has no face or personality that you can latch onto and support.  If we are going to pony up tax dollars to help a billionaire make more money, we should have it be a lovable leader. Isn't that one of the pluses of sports? Communal love for a team? The Rams are not that team. They are horrible and people have not gotten behind them in recent years for this reason as much as the deplorable level of play/coaching. I went to the Pittsburgh game this year and walked past the hard core tailgaters just north of the Dome and saw this effigy of Kroenke:

4. Some will say that St. Louis needs to be relevant and being an NFL city is part of that relevency.  Well, you have to take a look at the numbers to understand that being an "NFL city" hasn't translated into much success for St. Louis. A vibrant city means lots of people and lots of jobs...wealth.  St. Louis has neither and it continues to drop precipitously; I'll elaborate on this point in reason #5. Now remember, when I say St. Louis I mean it literally as in, the City of St. Louis. There is no doubt in my mind the County benefits more from the Rams than St. Louis does.  Why? Because the Rams chose to locate their corporate HQ in the suburbs in Earth City, MO avoiding property taxes and job creation in the city. So the Rams leaving St. Louis for Maryland Heights or Earth City or Carson or Inglewood have the same impact on our tax base...I suggest moving the team to the suburbs so you don't eradicate our architecture further and build another deadzone on the door step of our city. I realize the Rams do pay gameday earnings taxes, so that would go away if the Rams played their game in the burbs or California.

5. Speaking of people leaving St. Louis, let's see how we've done since we became an "NFL City", first from 1960-1987 with my childhood team the Big Red and then again with the Rams starting in 1995. So, when the Cardinals first started playing in St. Louis in 1960 the Census counted 750,026 residents. Since becoming an "NFL City" in 1960 and the Cards eventual move to Arizona in 1987, we lost 353,341 people and by 1990 we were down to 396,685 tax payers, citizens, voters...you know St. Louisans. Sure this brutal loss was not the direct result of the Cardiac Cards or NFL or pro sports in general. But the point I'm trying to make is that NFL football and the 2nd Busch Stadium (that is now bulldozed) did nothing to "save St. Louis" and it was active ~100 days per year since the baseball and football Cardinals played there. People vote with their feet and they continue to do that to this day in St. Louis...I wish it weren't that way, but it is. In fact, since the Rams moved from Southern California to St. Louis in 1995, we lost another 58,000 residents. We are down to a paltry 317,419 people in a once powerful, dense city of >800,000. NFL football has done nothing for the city of St. Louis. No one who moves to Kirkwood, MO or Maplewood, MO or O'Fallon, IL citing average game-day experience at the Dome as their reason for leaving St. Louis for suburban pastures.

6. St. Louis, as a result of devastating population loss, has become poor. Per our comptroller, our credit rating is at risk of being downgraded and our tax dollars continue to disappear as the region's largest corporations double down in the suburbs and former great employers/tax payers like AB send high paying jobs to cities with direct flights and better global access (read NYC and Chicago). The median income in the suburban county immediately west of St. Louis, called St. Louis County has ~90 cities and vast swaths of unincorporated land has a pleasant median household income of $53,482. Break that down to a city that most, if not all people know, say Kirkwood and you get a median household income of $77,420. St. Charles County, one of the fastest growing cities in the next county to the west is at $56,622. The U.S. median household income is $53,891. Where does St. Louis stand? $34,800 (

source

). Friends, we are poor and the last thing we need to be using our dwindling tax dollars on is a second NFL stadium and a team with a horrible owner.

7. The new stadium will not generate property taxes. Do you know why people continue to leave St. Louis? The answers I hear are crime or schools. Do you know how those are funded? Racism is the third reason, but it tends to get buried in the crime or schools reasons, so you won't hear many people say that out loud. But it is there. This is a bad financial deal for the city, generating little to no money to go back to our schools, infrastructure and bills that we have to pay.

8. St. Louis was asked to go it alone, without the financial help of the wealthier suburbs chipping in. Only St. Louis was asked to pony up at the local level for this $1 billion stadium. Again, I don't make these distinctions about our region to pull us apart and point fingers. But the fact of the matter is the County Executive (kind of like the Mayor of the suburbs) did not want to fund the stadium, so the wealthier suburbs are out. Dave Peacock (wealthy suburbanite) and his stadium team do not live here (my assumption, sorry if he does live here), yet lobbied a judge to deny St. Louis citizens a right to vote on this use of taxes to fund billionaires. Then in a blow to the residents of the city, a small group of alderman chose to vote against a bill (albeit a sacrificial lamb) to bring stadium funding to a vote of the people. This has made folks in my small circles increasing disenfranchised with the process and the pitch for a second stadium. Shut up and pay we are told; we know what you need and we don't even live there!

9. We have a perfectly good stadium within walking distance from the proposed new one. The last thing we need is to further demolish the history of this city with a horrible use of land. A deadzone is what NFL stadiums are. This plan is a so-so stadium surrounded by a sea of surface parking that will get used ~10 times a year. People come here, tailgate for a couple hours, go to the game, and drive back home. This NFL fanbase has done little for St. Louis. We need businesses that operate all year, jobs and residents. This stadium will do nothing to keep Schnucks Culinaria open or get us a Walgreens/CVS or City Target that we so desperately need Downtown. AT&T is not going to reverse course and fill up the tower with employees all of a sudden. That ship has sailed. Trust me, the Bissinger's rehab of a former warehouse/factory on the North Riverfront is what we need 10 more of, not stadiums. Deadzones...it'd be so much better in the suburbs and office parks which are already soul-less deadzones.

10. I'm going to keep my commentary on the Rams and Kroenke to a minimum. But, they are horrible on every level. Nothing is fun, no one is lovable, they hate the city and treat us like we're lucky to have them here. You chose the suburbs to set up your HQ and you come down here only on game day. Lease some office space here for your corporate operations. Be part of St. Louis not Earth City, MO. But they don't do that. And people will say it is a blow to our self esteem if we lose our football team. It'll sting a bit at first, but we got through the Big Red leaving and nothing changed. The Rams coming here in 1995 changed nothing. Personally, I think ugly wake-up calls like Ferguson have the potential to slap the region in the face and merge and start making meaningful changes that will grow our region and reverse our trend of poor leadership and less investment than any football team winning or losing could ever do.

We don't need another NFL stadium in St. Louis. We can't do it, we can't afford it. We need our money for our bills and our schools and our infrastructure, which no one else will pay for but us. If Kroenke and Peacock want to build a new stadium, I suggest the wealthier suburbs as a location. They are in a better spot to afford it. The corporate HQ is already there, build a stadium in Maryland Heights or Earth City and let us off the financial hook and abandon St. Louis in full. Don't worry, we can work out a deal to license the naming rights of the "

St. Louis

" Rams back to the team for a small fee. We can use the money.

Curb Appeal and Infrastructure in the Shaw Neighborhood

The Shaw Neighborhood

 caught my attention recently with some noticeable infrastructure upgrades along Shaw Boulevard. I'll start with the decorative cross walks at the intersections between Grand Boulevard and Tower Grove Avenue; but there is more.

The crosswalks welcome you to the historic Shaw Neighborhood:

The crosswalk below gives tribute to the beautiful

Mullanphy Investigative Learning

Center that has served the neighborhood at Klemm and Shaw since 1915.

The intersection at Lawrence Street recognizes the presence of St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic grade school:

St. Margaret's recently completed a new middle school building to accommodate their growing enrollment. The building has an urban form and was built atop a former surface parking lot.

The good news doesn't stop with handsome crosswalks. There were also some much welcomed pedestrian infrastructure and traffic calming improvements as well. Bump-outs were installed at several intersections. Why are these important? I looked to the invaluable Urban Landscapes blog to find out:

Bump-outs (also known as “curb extensions“) have become commonplace in many subdivisions across the country.  They are also common in the existing neighborhoods as a means of traffic-calming.  The purpose is to provide an additional element in protecting the vehicles parked on the street and enabling shorter, safer crossing for the pedestrian at the intersection. (source)

Bump-outs also provide additional permeable ground between the sidewalks and the street that can serve to reduce storm runoff lightening the burden on the sewer system, all the while affording an opportunity for native landscaping vs. asphalt. Notice the young tree planted in this bump-out and the added protection the row of parked cars get:

Trash receptacles were strategically placed at high volume pedestrian intersections:

The crossings are ADA compliant:

Shaw Avenue was also repaved from Grand to 39th Street. Hopefully we will see painted bike lanes and protected parking lanes.

So where did the money come from? Who came up with the design and executed the work?  Why Shaw Avenue and not another street in the neighborhood?

To help me answer some of these questions, I reached out to the Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation's executive director Sean Spencer. Who gave me some great background information and a taste of what is ahead for his organization.

First a little background on the Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation (TGNCDC) history and mission:

Established in 2013, the TGNCDC is a consolidation of the former Grand Oak Hill Community Corporation, Southwest Garden Housing Corporation, and Shaw Neighborhood Housing Corporation. The three organizations served the Tower Grove South, Southwest Garden, and Shaw neighborhoods, respectively, for over 30 years. Recent changes in community development funding allocations from the City of St. Louis and a renewed focus on outcome-based community development initiatives necessitated that these three organizations combine resources and service areas to more effectively serve the community and leverage existing resources.

To view the full service area for the TGNCDC, click 

here

.

The work I've highlighted above is part of a goal within the 2015-2019 Strategic Plan set forth by TGNCDC through comprehensive community input. This goal is to 'Revitalize and Strengthen the Long-term Stability and Growth of the TGNCDC Service Area (Area-Wide Improvements)'.

Specifically, what I've described above falls into the Infrastructure Improvements bucket, set up to:

  • Improve public spaces, infrastructure, signage and landscaping
  • Work with Neighborhood Association and Alderperson on infrastructure improvements
  • Promote commercial facade, 50/50 sidewalk, LED lighting and ADA improvement programs

How about the actual crosswalk pattern and design?  Per Spencer, the scalloped mosaic design and fonts for the crosswalks were selected by the Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association's beautification committee. These are not just the temporary decorative painted crosswalks you see across the city, these are the longer lasting (~8-10 year lifespan), reflective types. The technology is called DuraTherm®:

DuraTherm® is a specially-designed preformed thermoplastic material that is inlaid into an imprinted asphalt surface and thermally bonded using specialized infrared heaters. Engineered to lie slightly below the asphalt surface, DuraTherm® is protected from wear, ensuring effective service life while maintaining its attractive contemporary look for years. A specialized pavement heater softens the existing asphalt. Templates are pressed into the surface to create the imprinted pattern. Pre-cut sections of DuraTherm® are set into these impressions. The specialized heater is used again to bond the material to the asphalt surface. (source)

Why was Shaw Boulevard the focus for this project? Spencer explained that through neighborhood charrettes and surveys, the participants wanted to focus energy on Shaw Boulevard and DeTonty Street as target areas for reinvestment. This makes perfect sense, because if you've lived here for more than 20 years, you are well aware that many properties on these streets had seen better days as time wore on. With the high visibility of DeTonty Street from I-44 as well as Shaw being a major east-west street connecting Grand to Kingshighway, it is easy to understand why these two streets would be target areas to uplift and invest with new brain power, volunteer/grant writing efforts and city investment.

The crosswalks and infrastructure upgrades described above were largely paid through Ward 8 funds allocated annually across the city with spending typically through the discretion of the publicly elected alderman.

I'm told that other upgrades are in the works providing more fodder for continued excitement including replacement of the dim cobra head street lights with high efficiency LED lights through a community development block grant as well as a group working hard to consider landscaping options for the streetscape through a grant from a large bank.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for DeTonty Street as well, with the recent plans proposed for a $4M 8,000sf education center focused on urban food production, nutrition, and science education for elementary school students at Lawrence and DeTonty.

This educational effort will be led by local private, charter and public school leadership and faculty at St. Louis University and will serve thousands of students at

Mullanphy Investigative Learning Center

,

St. Louis Language Immersion School

,

Tower Grove Christian Academy

and

St. Margaret of Scotland School

. It is great to see such collaborative efforts among the various schools in the area. NextSTL reported on this proposal in October, read the full story

HERE

.

NextSTL also reported earlier this month on a proposed $10M 84,000 square foot development that will bring apartment and town homes to a long vacant stretch of land along DeTonty Street between Thurman and Klemm. Read the full story

HERE

.

So keep your eyes on Shaw, Southwest Garden and Tower Grove South for future improvements and excitement.

Cheers to all those working hard to make St. Louis the great place it can and should be.

Curb Appeal and Milkweed for Monarchs in the Fox Park Neighborhood, St. Louis, Missouri

I was lucky to be part of two recent beautification and sustainability projects in the Fox Park Neighborhood and I wanted to share them here for your consideration.

While the aim of both projects was to improve the curb appeal of one of the interior neighborhood's most traveled east-west streets, Russell Boulevard, there is also the bonus of promoting environmental biodiversity and sustainability in an urban setting.

One project was the return of street trees to the 2700 and 2800 blocks of Russell Boulevard and the ~2100 block of Ohio Avenue (just south of Russell) which have become alarmingly de-forested over the years.  I will describe this project in full when the tree plantings are completed.  Stay tuned.

The second project, which was completed on October 25th, 2015, is a series of Milkweed for Monarchs gardens that will grace the end caps of the medians along Russell Boulevard between Ohio and Oregon Avenues.

Per my sources (a longtime Fox Park resident and a former police officer in this district), the medians were part of an effort to calm traffic and put an end to drag racing during the Schoemehl administration. It worked for the most part, but the medians were installed in a haphazard manner.  They were built right on top of the street without breaking up the asphalt beneath, providing only ~8 inches of soil for anything to grow.  They were filled with Missouri clay which is literally hard as a rock and not amenable to water absorption nor proper drainage without amendments of organic materials (compost) to enrich the soil.

Over the years, neighbors have attempted plantings in the medians with mixed results.  The 2600 and 2900 blocks are fully planted and well cared for.  Yet, the 2700 and 2800 blocks remained rather barren with several dying trees and sparse, non contiguous plantings on display.

I've heard neighbors complaining about the appearance of the medians for the ~5 years I've lived here.  The time seemed right to do something about it.

Enter an acquaintance of mine Cody Hayo, owner of Pretty City Landscaping, LLC.

Cody reached out to me to discuss his interest in collaborating with neighborhoods on gardening initiatives.  He wanted to offer his  time, expertise and skills in landscape design and implementation to assist neighborhoods trying to plant sustainable gardens in urban settings.  We met over a beer at the Royale in Tower Grove South and discussed our intentions and common goals of improving the city.  I am optimistic that this next generation of St. Louisans, devoted to the city, are the ones with a chance to really make a positive impact on our future, and Cody is one of those small business owners who falls into that bucket.  We hit it off and parted ways with the goal of future collaborations.

The Russell medians immediately came to mind as a perfect candidate for some professional assessment and much needed TLC.

I went back to the Fox Park Neighborhood Association with a plan to engage a landscaping professional to help us design something interesting, affordable and sustainable for our medians.

The board approved of the plan first and then the general members of the neighborhood association voted in favor of the project...we were off running.

Cody donated his time and expertise (pro bono) and helped us research grant options, plant species, site selection and an overall design for our medians.

We met with Cody and longtime Fox Park resident, and all around great guy Chris Barton, to assess the current landscape.

Chris (left) and Cody

Cody went back to the drawing board and designed a plan that would transform the four end caps of the medians.  The first 20 foot of each end cap were chosen as a reasonable amount of work for a volunteer group to plant and maintain as well as to fit within the confines of a "Neighbor's Naturescaping" grant program offered by invaluable local entity Brightside St. Louis headquartered in the Southwest Garden Neighborhood.

One of the unique aspects of this program is a collaboration with the "Milkweed for Monarchs" program within the City of St. Louis:

"In partnership with Mayor Francis Slay’s Milkweeds for Monarchs, Brightside is encouraging Neighbors Naturescaping applicants to consider planting a butterfly garden. Many plants on the STL Monarch Mix plant list will be available on Brightside’s recommended plant list."

This is the route Cody recommended and the path we chose.  The design was set, the local alderwoman signed on in support, the neighborhood association voted again in favor and the plan was in motion.

So we filled out the grant application, including the well-researched plans from Pretty City, made a couple modifications on species based on reviewer feedback, attended a community workshop and a couple months later were deemed the proud yet humbled recipients of a $1,500 grant including the donation of 280 Missouri native plants:

  • 80 Prairie Dropseed grasses (Porobolus heterolepis)
  • 48 Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • 48 Bee Balm (Monarda bradburiana)
  • 48 Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • 24 Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)
  • 24 Goldenrod (Solidago missouriensis)
  • 8 Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia missouriensis)

Compost and mulch were provided by the city.

Now comes the fun part...the planting.

Over the course of three weeks, we loaded up personal vehicles with plants and planned three separate plantings.  My lovely wife and kids provided much of the free labor, moral support and back rubs necessary to pull this off.

We loaded compost and mulch in the beds of my kindest of neighbors' trucks. The multi-talented and creative Chris Barton rigged up two 55-gallon rain barrels with a sump-pump, hose and watering wand in the back of his personal truck to feed the Missouri native plants with much needed water to establish themselves before the onset of winter.

With pick axes, post hole diggers, shovels and pitchforks in hand (and no shortage of strong will) we hacked through the densely packed clay soil to overcome the conditions to get our gardens established.

I can't tell you how thankful I am to know such hard working people willing to donate their precious weekends to something like this. Residents along Russell and Oregon saw us working and joined in to help.  But it was the core group that showed up week after week to complete the process.  The work was not easy but we overcame.

Thanks friends and neighbors for sharing the desire to uplift the long-neglected corners of our great city.

Yes, thirteen year olds do work hard...

 Two of my dearest friends and the best St. Louisans you will ever meet

 Ain't no labor like retired guy labor...

 The usual suspects, always there to lend a hand under the toughest of conditions

One down, three to go...

Alright, now the hard work was completed so let's share a couple before and after pics:

 before

after at California Avenue

 after at Oregon Avenue

 before

after

Now the easy part.  We registered our garden with the City's 'Milkweed for Monarchs' program and became the 188th garden toward the city's goal of 250 total.  There are many gardens north to south and east to west.

map source

Not too shabby, eh St. Louis?

Now what does this all mean, and why should we care?  Well, monarch butterflies are one of the most easily recognizable (read: loved by humans) beneficial insect species on the planet.  They are gorgeous, serve an important role as pollinators and millions of them migrate throughout North America, from Canada to Mexico.  Entomologists and climate change scientists concur that declines in milkweed, habitat loss and climate change are contributing to lowered numbers of monarchs.

The Mayor's office advocated for St. Louis to be included as a city on the cutting edge of monarch education and habitat reclamation:

On Earth Day 2014, Mayor Slay launched Milkweeds for Monarchs: The St. Louis Butterfly Project to foster the connection between people and urban natural resources where they live, work, learn and play. Milkweeds for Monarchs (overview document here) aligns with the City of St. Louis Urban Vitality & Ecology Initiative, is an effort that advances objectives in the City of St. Louis Sustainability Plan, and carries out a priority in the Mayor's Sustainability Action Agenda. The Mayor led the effort by having the City create 50 monarch gardens in 2014; most of these gardens are located at fire houses and City parks across the City. The Mayor challenged the community to plant an additional 200 monarch gardens to celebrate the City's 250th birthday. The program was expanded in 2015 to reach further into the community and to schools. (source)

This is not just talk, as St. Louis was awarded several substantial grants through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to establish the city as the "St. Louis Riverfront Butterfly Byway". (source and source).

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced a first round of grants totaling $3.3 million from its recently launched Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund (MBCF). The 22 grants, which will be matched by more than $6.7 million in grantee contributions, will support the restoration of up to 33,000 acres of habitat in areas identified by experts as key to monarch recovery. “NFWF and our partners acted very quickly to launch this new competitive grant program, and we were delighted to have drawn such a large number of excellent proposals,” said Lila Helms, NFWF’s executive vice president of external affairs. “The grants we announce today will fund on-the-ground projects that will quickly contribute to a healthier, more sustainable monarch population.” Monarch butterflies are found throughout most of the United States, and a majority of the population migrates up to 3,000 miles to overwinter in Mexico. Over the past 20 years, the North American monarch population has plunged from 1 billion to fewer than 60 million, due to many factors, including loss of critical habitat. These beautiful, black-and-orange insects depend not only on nectar-producing plants throughout their range, but also milkweed — the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. (source)

Others in the area are taking note of this movement including a consortium of Universities and  other concerned institutions who are dedicated to researching the latest issues that affect the monarch.

Monsanto Company (headquartered in nearby Creve Coeur, MO) jumped in providing much needed funding to the cause (source):

"The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Monsanto Company announced today a commitment to partner in support of NFWF’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund. As the first company to contribute to NFWF’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund, Monsanto will provide $3.6 million over three years to match funds provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies that will support habitat restoration, education, outreach and milkweed seed production to benefit monarch butterflies."

Here's the respectable list of research institutions within the consortium working hard to understand some very complex issues facing the monarch:

  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: Monsanto will match the initial $1.2 million pledge from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund and provide $2.4 million additional funding to match commitments from federal agencies over the next three years. This support will be targeted to provide habitat restoration, education and outreach and milkweed seed and plant production.
  • Monarch Watch: A nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas – focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration. This grant will enable Monarch Watch to produce and make available milkweed plants free of charge for landscape improvement, including buffer strips on farm-lands, roadsides, rights of way, parks, public lands and demonstration plots along the monarch’s migratory path – which stretches from Mexico to Canada.
  • Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium: The grant will help drive research to create quality habitat, develop guidance and demonstrations for farmers to cost-effectively improve and expand habitat, and monitor milkweed and adult monarch populations to track progress. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium can serve as a model framework for other state-level initiatives planning to implement monarch conservation.
  • Pheasants Forever: The grant will lead to the planting of monarch and pollinator habitats at more than 70 Monsanto research and manufacturing sites and facilities located in the monarch breeding range. This includes the creation of three Learning Center programs to demonstrate how to establish sustainable monarch and pollinator habitat, which is also the same habitat critical to upland birds. These programs engage, enroll and educate farmers and communities to contribute to a resilient monarch population.
  • University of Guelph: The grant will help to understand migration patterns and identify priority areas for milkweed restoration in the United States and Canada so that investments in habitat improvement are more successful.
  • University of Illinois at Chicago,Energy Resources Center: Researchers will use these resources to identify and prioritize available public and private lands for monarch habitat improvement using geo-spatial analysis. This information will support the success of restoration programs by considering habitat location, quality and cost across diverse landscapes.

Now the Fox Park Neighborhood of St. Louis is a tiny part of this monumental effort.  We are on the list to get an official sign marking our gardens:

So a sincere thank you goes out to Cody Hayo at Pretty City Landscaping and Mary Lou Green, et al. at Brightside St. Louis for sharing their expertise and resources and for the support of the Fox Park Neighborhood Association and the Alderwoman of the 6th Ward.  But most of all, thanks to the small group of volunteers who are willing to heave a pick axe, lug wheel barrows filled with compost and mulch and spend multiple hours during their precious weekends to support improving a long neglected corner of our fair city.

It is you guys that make living in Fox Park fun.

Cheers to Chris Barton, Beth Conroy, Beth Stelmach, Dale Thuet, Rob Moreland (and wife), Shannon Groth and the kids and the new neighbors I met for the first time who came out to help.

In the spirit of transparency, I am a current member of the Fox Park Neighborhood Association and a 21 year employee of Monsanto Company.

African American Theaters of St. Louis

Continuing my posts on St. Louis Movie Theaters, I've looked at the four fully operational theaters as well as the many we've lost. This time I'll consider the long list of what were exclusively or became African American (AA) theaters.

How many? Hard to tell as the subject has not been fully researched to date. But per my best source of published information on the subject is Eric Ledell Smith's "African American Theater Buildings - An Illustrated Historical Directory, 1900-1955".  Per Smith's assertion, there were 31 AA theaters in St. Louis.

Eric Ledell Smith, a Detroit, MI native, was a historian at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. He died June 15, 2008 at the age of 58. He published this book in 2003.

This book is hard to find; I got it on Ebay and I hope to donate it to the St. Louis Public Library as I feel it is the best place to start if you are interested in the subject and the citations are complete and thorough if you want to dig into the microfiche and digital archives of newspaper ads and movie trade journals which are becoming more and more available in digital format.

I'm assured by several librarians, who've been cherished resources, that the Central Library will be interested in the book.  So hopefully you'll be able to check it out soon.

Per Smith, it was extremely hard to find information on the AA theaters. Very little visual and written documentation was available in his research. But you have to start somewhere and Smith's book is valuable in that it identifies theaters by state and city and where possible, the years of operation. He claims that his book is the first to feature photographs of black theater buildings. Admittedly, the author was honest in stating that it is going to be very hard to document the history of black theaters due to the lack of reliable info. But he intended the book to serve as a touchpoint for local historians to take it over from here. In my assessment this book does just that, but not much more. It provides the most comprehensive list of AA theaters in St. Louis that I could find. But, if you are looking for more than addresses, Cinema Treasures and Cinema Tour offer more photos and first hand/local knowledge, but it's a good scholarly start. No photos of St. Louis theaters were published in this book and the only two discussed greater than a simple address and # of seats is the Booker T. Washington Theater that was at 2248 Market Street.

Josephine Baker performed her vaudeville act here as a young girl.  Drake Walker's Bombay Girls vaudeville act came here in 1926 and included, among others, Bessie Smith. The Count Basie Orchestra played here many times in the 1930s and 40s.

So here's the comprehensive list that Smith accumulated; but note it is a clunky, non-reliable list.

Per Smith, there were 31 AA theaters in St. Louis; but if you do a simple review of his list, you'll find some duplications based on "renaming" the same theater over the years. I've color coded the duplications for your consideration:

Theater                     Address

Amytis    4300 Ferdinand Streek

Assembly*     Jefferson Street

Aubert    4949 Easton Avenue

Booker T. Washington    2248 Market Street

Carver     1310 Franklin Avenue

Casino     1620 Market Street**

Circle    4470 Easton Street

Comet    4106 Finney Avenue

Criterion   2644 Franklin Avenue

Douglas   4201 Finney Street

Globe   Franklin Street

Jest-A-Mere   4201 Finney Street

Joy*   No Address Available

Laclede   3116 Laclede Avenue

Lincoln*   3045 Olive Street

Marquette   1806 Franklin Avenue

Movie    2620 Market Street

New Movie   2620 Market Street

Olympia*   No Address Available

Palace*   No Address Available

Pendleton   4264 Finney Avenue

Queens   4704 Maffit Street

Regal   3142 Easton Street

Retina   2008 Market Street**

Roosevelt   317 N. Leffingwell Street

Star   16 S. Jefferson Avenue

Strand   2000 Market Street

Sun   No Address Available

Uptown    4938 Delmar Avenue

Vendome*   2313 Market Street***

Venus   4264 Finney Avenue**

* = Not listed on Cinema Treasures

** = sourced from Cinema Treasures

*** =  address found in the Freeman Illustrated Colored Newspaper

Upon further inspection and based on subjective evidence on Cinema Treasures, the Carver and the Globe were one in the same, just the product of a name change over the years, so really the count is probably more likely to be 26.

So where does St. Louis fit in with the rest of the country? The following count represents the total number of AA theaters documented in each city in from 1900-1955.

The top 20 cities were listed:

City      # of AA Theaters

New York, NY  60

Chicago, IL   49

Detroit, MI    48

Washington D.C.   34

Baltimore, MD   34

Philadelphia, PA   31

St. Louis, MO    31*

Indianapolis, IN   22

Houston, TX   21

Atlanta, GA   20

Cleveland, OH  20

Los Angeles, CA   18

Pittsburgh, PA   18

New Orleans, LA   17

Dallas, TX    15

Norfolk, VA   15

Cincinnati, OH  14

Newark, NJ    13

Jacksonville, FL    13

Kansas City, MO   12

* = by my count, 26 unique theaters; no change in Nat'l placement, but I did not research the other cities for accuracy.

This top ten national ranking in AA theaters is largely a reflection of the history of St. Louis (and old cities of America in general), with many mostly free blacks on the East Coast, and descendants of the slave trade in the South and of course, the substantial migration of black people arriving from the South looking for work in northern factories in the days of segregation which happened to coincide with the golden age of Hollywood and central HVAC when all-day theaters hit their stride. This customer base and social trend meant lots of theaters in St. Louis.

Researching the AA theaters is tough and finding printed material on the subject proved a challenge. But, our library system is local treasure and most of the books out there on the subject are available in the central stacks.

One of the books cited in Ledell was "The African American Theatre Directory 1910-1960" by Bernard L. Peterson, Jr. available in the Central Library's reference section.

There are only two AA St. Louis theaters mentioned in this book:

This book is a great resource for the non-local AA theater & vaudeville troops that passed through St. Louis, but really isn't much help in understanding the buildings themselves. So nothing else in book form that I could find. 

But, in the digital era, newspaper and trade journal ads being scanned and uploaded to a server are our best bet for understanding more about these theaters.

Oh, and of course, documenting the stories of old timers who attended these and are willing to talk about em is the BEST method...but it takes time and connections and a strong bullshit meter calibrated toward fact vs. folklore.

Let's get into what I could drum up for each theater:

Amytis Theater, 2300 Ferdinand

Sourced from Cinema Tour, contribution from Darren Snow (source):

As is the case with most of the St. Louis theaters catering to African-Americans in the first half of the last century, the history of the Amytis is difficult to trace since these theaters generally did not advertise in the daily newspapers. City directories do, however, show a listing for the Amytis at this address from 1937 to 1958. This theater does bear at least a tangential relationship to a major figure in Black history, however: It was located in the Poro College/Hotel complex founded by Annie Malone, America's first Black female millionaire.

The theater is no longer there, here's an entry from Cinema Treasures: 

The Amytis Theatre, which opened in 1934, was closed in 1960 and afterward demolished in preparation for a neighborhood redevelopment project that never materialized.

It is now an empty lot next to a church in the Ville Neighborhood.

Assembly Theater, Jefferson Street

This one was listed by Smith, but not Cinema Treasures or Cinema Tour.  It was managed by AA, Richard Barrett in 1921. It is listed on Jefferson Street which is dubious, because Jefferson is an Avenue (nerdy nuance). Its existance is corroborated in the Julius-Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide, 1921 ed.

Aubert Theater was at 4949 Easton (now MLK):

This theater operated from 1923 to 1953. It's hard to believe these brick beauties could only stand for 30 years. The times didn't think these buildings mattered from a historical or architectural standpoint. There is a Family Dollar in its place today.

Booker T. Washington, 2323 Market Street.

Booker T. Washington is the theater with the most entries from Smith, 2003. It was originally a vaudeville house and eventual a picture house. When central AC came around, it was later named the Booker Washington Air Dome. It was at 2323 Market, not 2248 as listed in Smith, 2003 as corroborated by an advert in the August 20, 1910 edition of The Freeeman, An Illustrated Colored Newspaper out of Indianapolis, IN:

Smith, 2003 goes on to cite that it was originally managed by Charles H. Turpin, son of a free slave and brother of Tom Turpin, a famous ragtime pianist which is a whole other story worth exploration. The story on rapiano.com describes the theater as:

"a vaudeville theater in a partially tent-like structure at 2323 Market Street, just a block down from the former Rosebud on the other side of the street. Charles employed many ragtime greats during the theater's run through the mid-1910s, including composer/arranger Artie Matthews."

The Rosebud Cafe, at 2220-2222 Market Street, was a legendary club for black pianists.

Carver/Globe/Palace Theater, 1310 Franklin Avenue

I couldn't find much on the Carver/Globe, frequent poster "JAlex" on Cinema Treasures said:

"Originally known as the Palace Theatre, the first mention of the house I found was in February 1911 when (the) theatre became part of the O.T. Crawford circuit…an affiliation lasting one year. Theatre renamed Globe in 1932.  Renamed Carver in 1944. Theatre operated until late 1955. Structure demolished in early 1956."

Here's a possible photo of the theater when it was the Globe:

Casino Theater, 1620 Market Street

Cinema Treasures has an entry that lists that address as 1618 Market.  No photos.  The property is now a parking lot for the U.S. Post Office facility.  This was the part of St. Louis that had many of the ragtime clubs.

Circle Theater, 4470 Easton (Now MLK)

From Charles Van Bibber on Cinema Treasures:

"One of many theatres that lined Easton Avenue. The Circle Theatre had a varied life. It opened in 1910 as the Easton-Taylor Theatre, later shortened to the Easton Theatre, and later renamed the Circle Theatre. From 1943 until it closed in 1951, it was an African-American theater. For a neighborhood house it was elaborately decorated. It had a small balcony with colums along the staircase that led to the balcony. There were a lot of mirrors in the lobby with lush red draperies and trim." (source)

It is now and empty lot.

Comet Theater, 4106 Finney Street

Apparently the theater had a sign with a lit up shooting comet.  It was demo'd in the 1980s. The site is now a group of urban scaled new homes called the North Sarah Apartments in the Vandeventer Neighborhood.  Too bad the history was not recognized and preserved.

Criterion Theater, 2644 Franklin Street

Rumor has it a Greek family owned this one. It was operational until the mid-1960's, it was demo'd and is now an empty lot. Prior to it's demo there was talk of making this an AA history museum. Too bad.

Douglas Theater/Jest-A-Mere, 4201 Finney

An entry from Jerry Alexander on Cinema Treasures has this entry:  

"The Douglass Theatre, at 4201 Finney Avenue, was opened in November 1918 by Charles Pitman as the Jest-A-Mere Theatre. One of the theatres for the Black population in a time of segregation, the theatre was purchased in 1927 by Thomas James and was renamed the Douglass Theatre, after the Abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
When the theatre opened, newspaper coverage said: “Entirely built by Colored labor, completion of big building is a triumph for the race; continuous fight made by unions to force Colored men off the job”. 
Seating capacity listed as 850 at opening; reduced to 700 in 1934; reduced to 650 in 1950 (per Film Daily Year Book). 
Located in St. Louis' Ville neighborhood, the Douglass Theatre apparently, per newspaper advertistments, was last open in April 1962." (source)

It is now an empty lot.

It's odd that a publication: "Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking" cited the Jest-A-Mere at 4300 Page Street, but corroborates Charles Pittman as the manager (he was AA) (source).

Joy (no address)

This one is a mystery.  Nothing on Cinema Treasures or Cinema Tour.

Maybe it was mistaken in Smith's list as a St. Louis theater, when really it was in a small Missouri town, as there are three other Joy Theaters in MO:

Laclede Theater, 3116 Laclede

Here's an entry from Charles Van Bibber from Cinema Treasures:

"The Laclede was built and opened in 1940 as an independent theatre. It was located in the Mill Creek section of the city just blocks from the Grand White Way where all the movie palaces were located. The theatre had an African-American audience. No trace of the Laclede to be found at all. The Laclede closed in 1959."

Per JAlex, frequent contributor on Cinema Treasures added the following:

"Laclede Theatre built by Alex Pappas. Architect of record was O. W. Stiegemeyer. House approximately 500 seats. Opening date was March 23, 1940. Closing date was June 23, 1959. Theatre, from the beginning, was for the African-American trade."

This one was demo'd for what is now the Harris-Stowe University campus. 

Lincoln Theater, 3045 Olive Street

Not much exists on the Laclede.  Cinema Tour lists this as existing, but no address or other info.

Smith's reference cited the Film Daily Yearbook 1952-1955; which I was unable to track down. This one remains one of the bigger mysteries.

Marquette Theater, 1806 Franklin

According to Bibber on Cinema Treasures:

"The Marquette Theatre opened in 1913...(and) became an African-American theatre in 1943. The theatre went to weekends only in the mid-1950’s and closed in 1961 when the area was mainly demolished to make way for an industrial park." (source)

No photos; it is now an empty lot.

Movie Theater/New Movie Theater 2620 Market Street

This one was right at Jefferson, across from MSD's HQ.  Cinema Tour lists the address as 2351 Market, not 2620 as published in Smith.

From Cinema Treasures:

"The Movie Theatre opened in 1921 seating 406. The Movie was just a small sub run house located a few blocks from the busy Union Station. It was remodeled in 1946 and renamed the New Movie Theatre. It stayed around until the travel by trains had dwindled to nothing and closed in 1957 when the area was set to be redeveloped."

Olympia Theater, 107 South Broadway

Smith said Olympia (like the beer), not Olympic. But I'm pretty sure it was Olympic...although this should not be confused with the Olympic Drive-In (nee Rock Road Drive-In) in North County.

From the "My View From The Balcony" website: 

The Olympic Theater was located at 107 S. Broadway St. Louis Missouri and opened in 1866.

The above picture is from 1870, The Olympic first entertained with vaudeville acts and minstrel shows. After 1869 it turned to legitimate drama. A new theater building replaced the 1866 building in 1882. Theater greats of the nineteenth century, Edwin Booth, Joseph Jefferson, Edwin Forrest, Helena Modjeska and Charlotte Cushman performed on its stage. (source)

There is a book published on the subject:  "A history of the first Olympic Theatre of St. Louis, Missouri, from 1866-1879" by Theodore Clark Johnson.  It is in the stacks collection of the Missouri History Museum. 

I'd be surprised if this was an AA theater.

Never been there, that's another one to add to my list.

***Update from November 2, 2015***

Reader Greg Johnson (twitter: @PresbyterianStl), tweeted a photo from the Missouri History Museum archives which indicate the theater was in the 1400 block of Market Street and was razed for the  Kiel Auditorium.  Here's a photo and link to the story:

Pendleton/Venus Theater, 4246 Finney

Per Charles Van Bibber on Cinema Treasures:

"One of the theatres for the black audience in the times of racial segregation, this opened in September 1915 as the Pendleton Theatre (the theatre just east of Pendleton). Opening publicity stated “the only house for colored west of Jefferson”. The name change to the Venus Theatre occurred in February 1924. The theatre was last noted as being open in 1933." (source)

This was another AA theater owned and managed by an AA, E.F. Austin (source).

Here's an entry published inThe Moving Picture World Volume XXVII from January-March, 2016:

Queens Theater, 4704 Maffitt

This one had an airdome on the east side of the street.  There are some great personal stories from former employees at Cinema Treasures.  Read them HERE.

This building is still standing in use as a church.  The front has gone through some major alterations, so I showed the side of the building here:

Regal Theater, 3142 Easton (MLK):

Some photos capturing the demolition were taken by Ecology of Absence:

At one point it must have been called the Coliseum, as this building below, certainly looks the part:

From Charles Van Bibber on Cinema Treasures:

"The Regal Theatre opened in 1931 seating 846 as part of the Arthur Theatre chain. (Franchon & Marco at that time) Very impressive theatre from the outside but rather plain on the inside. A two story building with a small balcony seating just under 200 with the balance on the main floor. Odd thing about the theatre was that the rest rooms were located in the lobby of the balcony. No rest rooms on the main level. The front of the theatre was constructed with a pale blue marble up the front of the building and about twenty feet down each side."

Retina Theater, 2008 Market Street

No photos available, is now a parking lot for Maggie O'Brien's next to Union Station.

I was able to find this ad on Todd Franklin's Flikr page:

This one was managed by a white guy, J.H. Gentner. (source)

Roosevelt Theater, 317 N. Leffingwell

Entry from Charles Van Bibber on Cinema Treasures:

"The Roosevelt Theatre was one of about six neighborhood theatres built for African-American clientele. The theatre opened in 1927 seating 591. A single floor theatre, located in the middle of the block just a half block from busy Franklin Avenue and three blocks from the neighboring Criterion Theatre. The Roosevelt Theatre outlasted the Criterion Theatre by many years.The front of the theatre was a simple block front with a cream and orange mix in color with a large marquee lined with tons of neon. The theatre closed in 1966 when the neighborhood was slated for redevelopment. Remained a busy theatre until the day it was closed. Admission prices remained the mainstay until the theatre closed. When it closed adults were 75 cents and children were 25 cents." (source)

It was demo'd and is now a surface lot for an auto repair shop.

Star Theater, 16 South Jefferson

From Charles Van Bibber on Cinema Treasures:

"The Star Theatre opened in 1922 as part of the Komm Theatre chain and seated 866. A two story theatre on the outskirts of downtown St. Louis. 344 of the theatres seats were in the balcony with the balance on the main level. The Star had a black with burgandy streaked marble facade with a large marquee. The verticle sign had no lettering just a huge flashing gold neon star. The three sided marquee came all the way to the curb and the larger tractor trailers were always bashing into the front part of the marquee. The neon on the front side seldom worked because it was always getting torn off. The inside of the auditorium walls had two large star shaped light fixtures on the side walls that would dim when the features started. One of the few theatres that had curtains that raised up instead of opening from the middle to the sides. The theatre was closed in 1959 when the area was redeveloped for a large hotel. The Star theatre was a movie over house for both the Loew’s State and Loew’s Orpheum theatres downtown. When the features were done at the Loew’s they moved to the Star." (source)

It was managed by a white guy: Christ Efthim (source).

Strand Theater, 2000 Market Street

I can't find any evidence of a Strand on Market.  I could find a Strand right next to the Columbia Theater on Sixth Street by St. Charles Street. But this was not the one at 2000 Market Street.

Here's a photo of the 6th Street Strand Theater from the Missouri History Museum collection:

Sun Theater (No address listed)

I cannot find anything to corroborate this theater ever existed as a AA theater.  The Sun that was in Grand Center was never an AA theater, it had German roots, I have no idea where Ledell got this info.

Uptown Theater, 4938 Delmar Boulevard

Per Jerry Alexander on Cinema Treaures:

"The theatre opened in 1910 as the Delmar Theatre with a stock-musical company policy and within a few years became a motion picture house. The architect was E. W. Pipe.
The theatre was located at 4938 Delmar Avenue and seated 839. An airdome opened next door for the summer months and seated 1,380.
The theatre was renamed the Embassy Theatre in 1924 and in 1931 became the Uptown Theatre.
As a film house the theatre closed in 1953 and in 1954 the theatre was last used as the site of a jazz festival." (source)

It is a suburban styled strip mall today, just east of Kingshighway.

Vendome Theater, 2313 Market Street

The Ledell book was unable to find this address, but I was able to find it listed in a ad from the Freeman Illustrated Colored Newspaper from October 8, 1910:

There was a cluster of AA theaters around Jefferson and Market where MSD and Wells Fargo now stand.

So there's my best contribution to the AA theater history in St. Louis.  Tracking down the Film Daily Yearbook, 1952-1955 as well as the book Blacks in Black and White by Henry Sampson will be key in filling in some of the blanks.

If you want to collaborate on research or have photos or stories to share, look me up.

New Life For A Former Auto Dealership in Fox Park

Walk up Jefferson Avenue, just north of Gravois in

the Fox Park Neighborhood

, and you may notice something new and exciting at the corner of South Jefferson and Victor Street. Most recently, the building at 2501 Jefferson housed a music club/performance space called "the Warehouse" which closed not too long ago. Per

city data

, 2501 Jefferson was built in 1921.

Here's an idea of what the building looked like during its "Warehouse" years.

screen capture from Google Streetview

You may not recognize the building if you looked at it today. There is a major storefront and interior renovation taking place that hearkens back to the building's days as an auto dealership for the Riefling-Vigar Automotive Company who sold Fords and later Nash Ramblers.

Frank Joseph Riefling became the president of Riefling Auto Company. He was born in St. Louis in 1877 and died in 1946. He was laid to rest in the Mount Hope Cemetery in the small town of Lemay, MO just south of St. Louis.

photo sourced from: "

Find A Grave

"

Per an advertisement in "The St. Louis Lumberman" from September 15, 1917, The Riefling - Vigar Automobile Company once occupied the 2333-2341 buildings along Jefferson (now a car wash and gas station/junk food shop):

And here's a billboard advertising the dealership:

But, back to 2501 Jefferson...the folks behind the current restoration are the Larson Financial Foundation (LFF), a 501(c)3 non-profit philanthropic entity under the Larson Financial Group, a financial adviser focusing on the needs of physicians.

One of the ventures of LFF was to convert this former Ford/Rambler showroom to house LFF offices as well as a cleaning company called Wellspring Cleaning (currently in Creve Coeur, MO) and a startup furniture and woodworking shop called

Narrative Furniture

:

Their's is a very interesting story:

"Narrative Furniture Inc. is the expression of a vision to reclaim and realize the power of story through custom furniture design and economic development. Our legacy quality furniture company is built upon the forgotten manufacturing roots of St. Louis. 
St. Louis was once a major manufacturing hub back in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. Whether it was beer, carburetors, bricks, shoes, or Corvettes, St. Louis made it. Unfortunately, the Great Depression and the years to follow dealt a crushing blow to our budding town. While some industries were revitalized during the 1950’s, particularly the automobile industry, manufacturing in St. Louis had long since reached its peak. 
But, we’ve got a legacy to uphold. We have planted our roots in a building that was once filled with Fords and Ramblers, in the historic Fox Park neighborhood, and we’re here to stay. We have seen the industrial spirit of our town thrive and die, and we could not be more thrilled to take part in remaking this spirit." (source)

As part of their vision, they are currently undergoing the expansive renovation of the building and a reclamation of the storefront to honor the Riefling - Vigar Auto Company history.  Here's the full story from the LFF website:

"Located on the city’s south side, South Jefferson Avenue was home to a thriving automobile industry in the first half of the 20th century. Like many of the older industries upon which St. Louis was built that have either moved on or closed down, the industry has left a number of large warehouse buildings as monuments of a previous era. One such building is located at 2501 S. Jefferson, built between 1919 and 1921 for Riefling-Vigar Automobile Co as a Ford dealership. During the post depression decades, Ford distribution was dramatically reduced in St. Louis, and Riefling-Vigar began selling and offering maintenance for the Nash Rambler automobile from the site. The building has served a number of purposes since the dealership went out of business over half a century ago, and now will serve as home base for LFF domestic initiatives in St. Louis City. 
The 2501 S. Jefferson building is located on the southeastern edge of Fox Park, a historic neighborhood on the city’s south side that has seen a massive industry exodus in the decades following the Riefling-Vigar closure. LFF desires to be a part of the revitalization that is already taking root in the neighborhood. In addition to moving its offices to the building, LFF will move its two social enterprise ventures, Wellspring Cleaning and Narrative Furniture, into the building immediately. With plans to set up a full-scale wood shop in the basement, we hope to facilitate training and employment that will impact the surrounding community for the long term. LFF also plans to work with the Facade Program, part of the St. Louis Development Corporation, to restore the building to its historic architecture and aesthetic. In addition, LFF’s work with the Facade Program will create shared work and an incubation space for social enterprise in Fox Park, which we anticipate will evoke community pride in both the history and the potential innovation that is represented. 
LFF closed on the building on August 13, 2014, has begun renovation work, and plans to move into the space in the fall of this year." (source)

To learn a little more about my new neighbors, I contacted John Peters and Andy Kim, directors of LFF to get their perspectives on the building and the work they've undertaken. They were kind enough to invite me to their offices and show me around.

The main level was the automotive showroom where cars were once driven in from street level off of Victor Street:

They exposed the original stained glass on the storefront and are keeping the amazing tile floor.

The brick walls were exposed and the fold out windows are fully functional, and in use on my visit, providing a pleasant cross breeze.

The basement is where the woodworking action will occur, with several saws, planers, etc. that will be used to create some of the most beautiful modern designs of furniture, kitchen cutting boards, succulent pots, etc. I've seen. Much of their offerings are created from reclaimed wood. More details will emerge on the work and offerings of Narrative as they approach launch and scale up of the business...right here in Fox Park. Here are some examples of their work:

photo source:

Narrative Furniture

                                  photo source: 

Narrative Furniture

Speaking of wood, the original freight elevator still exists in the building.  It's floor, walls and grates are all made of wood and are apparently still functional and will be maintained by the latest owners to keep the historical context alive.

The second floor is the real charmer. It was designed to house John and Andy's offices as well as meeting space and practical uses like storage and restrooms.

The skylights were freed up and restored to provide a tremendous amount of natural light and the modern glass and sleek lines of the furniture and hardware chosen to accent the offices adds a tremendously good vibe to the space.

nautical cleats formed as door handles

natural light from the restored skylights

Several relics from the automotive days were shared, including a numbering system painted on the 2nd floor which was most likely used for a parts inventory system, a section where spray painting and body work went down and an advertisements and paper weight from the Riefling-Vigor days.

Upon completion, Larson has offered their space to host neighborhood meetings and community gatherings and look forward to being part of the community and part of the city's bright future.

Here's to another historic brick building seeing a new chapter in its life, and a very intriguing and ambitious new neighborhood business in Fox Park.

Bob Reuter - Tales Of A Talking Dog

I regret never meeting local musician, artist and writer Bob Reuter who died tragically on August 3, 2013 in an elevator shaft accident in a downtown loft. 

But in typical St. Louis fashion, happenstance brought a couple connections. As a teenager, I was in University City, MO at Vintage Vinyl and I made a flip purchase of one of Bob's records. When the clerk checking me out saw it, he gave me a weird, gruff stare and voiced toward the back of the store: "Hey Bob, this guy wants one of your records, should I sell it to him?" I turned around and saw the look on (who I presume was) Bob Reuter's face and he just kind of stared back at us like he was either slightly pissed or utterly disinterested. I felt like I had to justify why I was buying this record and it was memorable (albeit insignificant) and it stuck with me. As a young suburban kid from Illinois this deviance from buying music at a Camelot/Musicland mall situation proved a serious pull to the west across the Mississippi River.

The other brush with Bob was, of course, listening to his "Bob's Scratchy Records" show on KDHX. The music was typically solid off kilter stuff from Carl Perkins to Neil Young to Dick Hell. Really, it was his on-air personality that made the show standout. I've always liked the more off-centered, regionally grounded stuff that KDHX brings and Bob's show fell into that bucket...a real St. Louis original.

Fast forward to Bob's untimely death in August, 2013 when I started to read a lot of personal tributes, eulogies and kindest of words from friends/acquaintances on Facebook and other media sources saying beautifully nice things about Bob and his impact on their lives and the friendship he brought to many in the St. Louis arts and DIY/Lo-Fi community.

I wish I'd met this guy, more now than ever after having read his book "Tales of a Talking Dog" available at the Central Library at 1301 Olive Street.

The book is hard to find, but you can get one with some persistence. I'm hesitant to put the contact info on here so as not to inundate the kind soul who has helped me out with gaining copies in the past.  I will offer to give it to you if you are so inclined, just send me a note.

Here's the story on the publishing of "Tales of a Talking Dog":

Reuter's memoir of his life in St. Louis (and small towns in North County) from the 1950's up until his death in 2013 tells a sometimes tear jerking, sometimes hilarious but always unflinchingly honest recount of what it was like to be a fringe white guy coming of age in the fading industrial north St. Louis post-Civil Rights Era.  You trust his perspective and his accounts of racial stories because he always gravitated toward people who were not racist trash; he talks of befriending a black guy in his teenage years and how this had a calming effect on his life, they eventually became roommates in 1969. His stories are largely centered on his upbringing in North City, but pass through the then new suburbs in North County, west St. Louis near the DeBaliviere Neighborhood, a brief time in Syracuse, NY, and then finally settling into a bona-fide artists life in south St. Louis until his untimely death.

The book is a page-turner. A rapid, well written, zig-zag through his life...mostly with the tragically less-documented 1960-1980s St. Louis as the backdrop. If you share a deep interest and quest for understanding of how North City turned from a dense, fully operational healthy group of industrial working class/European-immigrant neighborhoods to the current state of decay and abandonment, then this book is an essential document to take in the stories and settings of the real working-class Northside. Some of Reuter's stories are foreshadowing for why white people disappeared in droves starting in the 1950s...and the bleeding of residents continues today.

He describes his upbringing in North City in great detail and usually accompanied with an occurrence either humorous or tragic enough to make a lasting impression, all the while keeping you glued to his story, always with St. Louis as the backdrop. It paints a familiar yet still distant time when white people still lived in North City is equal numbers to blacks and what it felt like to become a numerical minority as a kid in your neighborhood.

Bob's voice is one that you can't help but trust because he's so honestly portrayed himself in his youth and adult years as well. You want to hear his take on growing up in North City at 2909 Bailey Avenue in the Fairground Park Neighborhood in a violent, transitional, weird time in St. Louis' history.

You'll read first hand accounts and faded memories of a place with Arkansas 3-leg chicken and chop suey joints, hillbilly chanties "never meant to last", Southern Pentacostal Church girls in storefront churches who's dads moved north to work in paint factories by the river.

You'll hear of when North City was still integrated with whites and blacks and how one of the last remaining Catholic schools Bob attended had to chain the door from the inside during school hours and the schools with white students were forced to stagger the time they let school out so the kids would have a chance to get home before the black schools let out and the brutal beat downs would occur.

Bob describes a time in ~1966 when black people started marking their turf and how the mid-60's were becoming inhospitable for even open minded cool white people with roots in the neighborhood:

"Well, 'round about then, the black folk started moving in and marking out their new turf. Seemed like they'd move in during the winter, but you wouldn't really notice 'til it got warm out. Civil rights was heatin' up and the streets were a war zone. I kept spending more and more time at the band house down off Broadway near the river, and only touched down back home on occasion."

And then in 1969 walking home from school:

"My senior year in high school, I'd walk the two long blocks from the school to the bus stop to get home. It was the only Catholic high school on the Northside. This wasn't no place to be white, and the worst thing a teacher could do to you was keep you after school long enough to miss your bus and have to get home alone. They staggered our schedule to let us out twenty minutes before the all-Black public schools in the area, so as to limit confrontations. So this one night, there we were, a handful of white and black Catholic school guys, all just tryin' to get home. Too early for trouble...or so we thought. 
I stood there with five or six others and noticed this one sad kid, some sophomore misfit leaning 'gainst the corner lamp post alone. Then, as if out of nowhere, a black kid gang surrounded him, moving in quickly. Piranhas come to mind. 
I watched in slow motion. He was there and then not, lost in a sea of throwing black hands. Then just as suddenly, they pulled back and I saw him, now covered in blood, slide slowly down the pole to the ground. He had no facial features, just streams of blood. The boys who'd jumped him swung wildly as they fled. One hit me in the mouth as he passed. I spun, scared to death, out into the street with nowhere to run-no safe direction-just as the bus pulled up, just slowly with doors open."

Stories of when the city used to hose down the streets to wash all the trash into the sewers, and a recount of the established rules in place for swimming in Fairground Park post the horrible 1949 race riot that took place there. Stories of being strung out and living in a 17-room abandoned house just north and west of Forest Park in the hedonistic 1970s. Bob describes living among thieves and drug addicts and racists and tales of friends getting rid of old wrecked cars by driving them into the Mississippi River.

His tales of a musician and artist are equally fascinating with memories of working on the set of "White Palace" and describing the 1970s St. Louis underground rock scene when the "St. Louis Outlaw" paper was published and rocking out with the Dinosaurs, one of the first DIY bands of the time. How he was listening to Iggy Pop and the Stooges eating canned stew smeared on Wonder bread, practicing in basements in the industrial zones off Broadway by the river and "rockin' and rollin' on the lowest possible level". He describes when musicians would do popup shows on "Hippie Hill" in Forest Park by the World's Fair Pavilion.

photo sourced from Forest Park Forever

The book also provides insight on the juxtaposition of St. Louis and neighboring suburbs in North County. The entry on page two reads:

"When I was growing up in North City, we hated anybody who lived in the suburbs. They hardly knew we were even there (you mean people LIVE down there?)."

And how living in the working class city made him an alien in the "new suburban life" out by Lambert Airport where we recounts a tale where he was dropping a friend off at his house in a then wealthy suburb after a night of drinking and needing to drain his bladder in the worst of ways. He went in to a place where he wasn't welcomed during the day, where his friend's mom called him "Icky Boy".  After a night of drinking, here's how he describes that drop off:

"So I'm in the bathroom trying to pee. I gotta go but it's hard to concentrate cause I'm blind drunk and can hear her (friends' mom) lecturing him. I'm standing there over the toilet, supporting myself with a hand on the wall, and I'm looking around at the bright red shag carpeting on the floor and the frosted glass shower doors with etched little fishes swimming 'cross wiggly waves....All of a sudden, I just get this wild hair and start pissing all over everything-the carpet, the fuzzy toilet seat cover, the frosted fishy shower doors (I never ever lived anywhere with a shower). 
When I finished, I surveyed my work and saw that it was good. I slipped out the side door and on out to the car like I'd just knocked over a gas station. The whole way home to the city, I felt this warm glow of satisfaction: I'd done what I'd done for my people, for my class...and 'cause I just figured it was the kind of thing that a guy named "Icky Boy" would probably do."

Again, the soul of the book is Bob's heartrendingly honest accounts of growing up without a dad and being raised in a place where he wasn't always welcome and had a complicated relationship with his family. Admitting to being a broken man at times, but how redemption of art and plodding through kept him going. There is an uplifting recount of a time playing the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, MO and having a cherished interaction with a kid in the audience that'll bring a tear to the eye of any dad or childless guy alike.

Then, a memorable story about one of Bob's favorite guitar players, Gene Edlen, from North County. He describes Gene's showman-like, yet legit playing and songwriting that he admired from afar as Gene and he were from different parts of town (City v County) and those folks typically "didn't mix". He tells a story about one day Gene was called for his draft physical during the Vietnam war; he showed up and proceeded to go through the motions of the physicial when he found himself standing in a line and just decided to say 'fuck all' and took off running down Market Street in nothing but his underwear and shoes to escape the draft processes. Gene became a fugitive and was laying low playing in biker bars and hanging out in North County. Gene died and here's how Reuter recounts his passing:

"So when did Gene die? I don't know, late 80s, early 90s. Go on out to the Charlack Pub and ask, they'll tell ya. 
I heard that shortly before the time of his death, he was playing 4 AM shows over on the East Side. 
How'd he die? I suspect it was written up as "death by misadventure." I didn't really know Gene. I know he at least knew who I was...but goddamn it. You can't even believe how much you're missed, brother. You did leave you mark."

Bob Reuter, I didn't really know you either, but I miss you, brother. Thanks for telling your stories in book form. As a result, we have one of the best personal accounts of the 1960s/70s St. Louis rock scene and growing up in North City in its most transitional era.

Ghosts of St. Louis Movie Theaters Past

Previously, I discussed the four remaining, fully operational, St. Louis cinemas. While looking into their backgrounds, I became fascinated with the history of the past theaters of St. Louis...most of which are long gone.

How'd I find out about these places?

Well, there's always more than one way to try to understand the past.

You can take the academic approach and go straight to the library, reading through the documents, papers, maps and corroborated information that may or may not exist...this is the time consuming route, the route journalists and other people getting paid should take. Or, you can scour the internet or best of all, get out and see for yourself (my go-to method) and try to imagine the place and how a theater would have fit into the fabric of the neighborhood. The dark horse method, usually the most fun and personable, you can read from or listen to first hand accounts from people who were there or who devoted their time to research and share it with the public. 

For the latter, there is a fantastic source:

Cinema Treasures

This online catalog of movie theaters past and present has some incredible photos and snippets of information. Some of this info is crowd-sourced, so it may be more on the subjective or anecdotal side and there are some cases of slightly inaccurate details. However, that should not stop you from exploring this amazing site.

Lord knows I did, for almost a week straight. And the point of this post is to share a list and as many photos of the St. Louis theaters of the past that I could find.

Most of the entries of St. Louis theaters were written by one Charles Van Bibber. This guy obviously has a ton of experience and first hand knowledge of the city's theaters. I tried to connect with him to get his story and understand how he has so much information and experience with St. Louis theaters. We connected briefly via social media channels, but there was no interest to meet or do an interview. So it goes.

But in typical St. Louis small town/big city fashion, the plot thickens.

I was at a local tavern and started spieling about my new-found obsession with local theaters, and the conversation spread to the table behind me where sat someone who just happens to be an urban explorer with tenfold my experience. Turns out, this guy has devoted a tremendous amount of time looking into this same topic and just so happens to have a three-ring binder filled with research, photos and info...I have connected with him and hope to revisit that conversation and follow up on this fun topic. We'll see.

These chance connections are one the things that makes St. Louis such a charming place to live.

Anyhow, after spending a solid week of my spare time reading, riding around and looking for photos of the St. Louis theaters, I thought I should share my findings and a summary of the info I pulled from various sources.

As a result of my online research, I've also become fascinated with the all-black movie and vaudeville houses and will be posting my findings on them as soon as I do a little more poking around and after I read this recent find on eBay:

But, my true fascination with movie theaters started with something very simple: the signs...the metal and neon of the grand marquees. These signs are disappearing at a tragic rate. I've lived here for ~21 years and many of my favorite metal signs have vanished. Movie theaters and cinema in general are one of the greatest things 20th Century American's gave the world. It is a strength of ours and the buildings themselves were built to be an extension of that artistic expression, a gift to the neighborhood or city in which they resided. There were over 150 theaters at one point in the heyday of St. Louis neighborhood theaters, so there was fierce competition as well. >90% of them are gone...meaning demolished, wiped out. This is not a St. Louis-only problem: the other three Midwestern cities I scanned (Kansas City, Memphis and Cincinnati) have lost most of their theaters too.

History was not on the side of the movie houses. Many were simply places to get the hell out of the heat, a brief respite from the hot and humid St. Louis summer before the onset of affordable central HVAC. Then came T.V. in the 1950s, burlesque/go-go dancers in the 1960s, XXX adult films in the 1970s and VHS/Beta in the 1980s...by the 90s most of the theaters were all gone (except the Hi-Pointe and Union Station Cine)...it seems these buildings were under constant attack by technology and the changing times. It was tough to keep up, many older theaters were reconfigured to skating rinks or bowling alleys. Pair that with the intense wave of suburban flight that continues to suck people from St. Louis to the tune of nearly 550,000 people lost since 1950...the customers up and left and demanded newer multi-plex theaters surrounded by a sea of surface parking. Such is the trend to this day in the suburbs.

A good example of this eventual demise is the Garrick Theater built in 1904 and eventually razed in 1954. It started as Loew's playhouse and transitioned to vaudeville around the time of World War I, legend has it Al Jolson and Fanny Brice performed here.

Then it transitioned to a burlesque, check out the fine print: "69 people, 32 white, 37 colored", progressively inclusive or insanely racist?

Then by World War II it had become an adult movie house. It was razed in 1954. (source)

Now Showing:  "Burning Question- Victims of the New Sex-Craze"

Too bad we lost so many of these places. But luckily, Cinema Treasures is a repository for some photos that are invaluable if you are trying to understand the history of St. Louis. I've spent way too much time on this site dreaming, driving around getting current photos, trying to find where these once stood; but again, the point of this post is to mine through the photos and information and share the St. Louis-centric stuff for your consideration.

There are other valuable resources out there for documenting St. Louis theaters, usually the ones that are being demolished, like Built St. LouisVanishing STLEcology of AbsencePinterest and several Flikr accounts I stumbled upon. But for a central repository for vintage photos of the cinemas, you can't beat Cinema Treasures.

When searching for 'St. Louis' on Cinema Treasures, it counts 160 theaters, of those 132 are actually in St. Louis (many are in the 90 or so cities in St. Louis County and unincorporated parts of the suburbs that will not be discussed here).

Of those 132, 38 have no photos available so there is no current photographic evidence readily available online. Sadly some of these were the all-black theaters including Booker Washington, Douglass, Laclede, Casino, Marquette, etc. The Lyric was demo'd for the current Busch Stadium parking garages. All these buildings are gone and photos are not readily available online. Here's a list of the 38 theaters with no photo images on Cinema Treasures:

Dig a bit deeper and you can find some photos of some of these missing places. For instance, I was interested in the King Bee (great name), Tower and Chippewa Theater at 3897 Broadway which supposedly became the home of an appliance store owned by locale pitchman-legend Steve Mizerany. I was able to find these:

"a 50 cent show for 5 cents"

Used to host "battle of the bands", just down from the white water tower in the College Hill Neighborhood

will need to verify this

There are 35 theaters (Kings is listed in error) that have photos of the buildings, but no obvious discernible evidence of the signage that it was indeed that particular theater.

Here are a couple examples:

Bonanza: 2917 Olive Street, 63103

Maffitt: 2812 Vandeventer, 63107

New Merry Widow: 1739 Chouteau, 63107 (near Ameren)

Go check them out, many are already gone or on their way to the landfills and brick/scrap thieves.

The good news is, there are 59 theaters with photos of the the buildings when they were operational or with enough there to verify it.

Some were massive losses to Mother Nature, Urban Renewal, or good old fashioned abandonment and neglect.

In my humble opinion the biggest losses were the Ambassador, Congress, Granada, Grand, and Loew's State...nearly all victims of either urban renewal or neglect.

The Ambassador

at 411 North 7th Street was a Downtown treasure. How the hell do we continue to allow this kind of thing to happen? Shamefully, this was destroyed in 1996. Mercantile Bank got the demo permit...and the fools in charge of the city let it happen.

Instead of a big city work of art we have a dead zone "plaza" in the heart of downtown:

The Congress at 4023 Olive Street was in the Central West End.

The Grenada at 4519 Gravois was in the Bevo Mill Neighborhood at Taft and Gravois from 1927 - 1992. The 70s - 90s were brutal for demo's in St. Louis.

Then (image via Cinema Treasures)

Then (image via Cinema Treasures)

Here's the current site use:

                                   Now (image via Google Street View)

The Grand Theater at 514 Market was built in 1852 and destroyed in the 1960s for the latest round of bad ideas (read recent NFL football stadium proposal just north of Downtown) associated with Busch Stadium II which stripped most of Downtown of it's history and brought us a ton of parking lots and surface lots...all activity killers. Busch II lasted for a mere 40 years but its wake of destruction was intense and we're left with...parking lots.

The Loew's State Theatre was at 715 Washington Boulevard. It was demo'd in 1983...

You get the idea, we've lost a lot over the years. St. Louis was built to be amazing and special and boomed when America did...sadly its bust years were devastating as ~0.5M people vacated for the exploding suburbs in a mere 50 years. This vacuum hit the oldest parts of the city hardest.

I've shown the most grand losses, but there are many, many others worth noting.

Following are those others that we have lost entirely or are still there, waiting for someone with the means to save them. All photos were sourced from the Cinema Treasures website.

The Roxy at Lansdowne and Wherry in the Southampton Neighborhood, the building was there from about 1910 through 1975:

The Macklind Theater on Arsenal, just west of Macklind in the Hill neighborhood was operational from about 1910-1951:

Then (image via Cinema Treasures)

Now (image via Google Street View)

The Melba was at 3608 South Grand near Gravois. Here's the entry from Cinema Treasures:

The Melba Theatre was opened on November 29, 1917. After adding a long succession of neighborhood houses, Fred Wehrenberg acquired the Melba Theatre. The 1,190-seat house on Grand Avenue had an airdome next to it. During warm evenings, shows would be stopped in the auditorium, and film reels carried to the airdome. The movie would then continue in the cooler outdoors.
When built, the Melba Theatre had a park in front of it. Later, an office building with stores was constructed on the site of the park. It formed an arcade which led to the lobby of the theater.
When the theater was torn down, the office building remained. The marquee from the Melba Theatre was moved to the Melba Theatre in DeSoto, Missouri, another theater acquired by the Wehrenberg chain.

This beautiful building is still on Grand, here's a more current view:

The Ritz theater was at 3608 South Grand near Juniata and operated from 1910-1986:

The site is now a pocket park with ideas of commemorating the Ritz. Here's a story and excerpt from NextSTL:

"A proposal by artist Walter Gunn has been chosen by popular vote to seek funding. His proposal, titled Ritziata, received more than 42% of votes cast for proposed art installations on the site. You can read the full proposal text below. Now that a selection has been made, an Indiegogo campaign has launched. The funding goal is $133K."

The Shenandoah at 2300 South Grand and Shenandoah operated from 1912-1977:

The Columbia was at 5257 Southwest on the Hill and it is rumored that Joe Garagiola worked there:

photo source: Landmarks Association of St. Louis

The Princess was at 2841 Pestalozzi and is still there although bastardized with a fairly heavy hand:

theater as a church

current scene in Fox Park Neighborhood

The Apache was at 411 N. 7th Street:

The Apollo Art was at 323-329 DeBaliviere and was raided several times by the police because they were showing foreign and independent films:

The Arco was at 4207-11 Manchester in Forest Park Southeast, now called the Grove:

The Armo Skydome was at 3192 Morgan Ford, now a 7-11.

The Aubert was at 4949 MLK:

The Avalon was at 4225 S. Kingshighway just south of Chippewa.  This one was operational from 1935-1999 and was popular in its later days for showing the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It was demo'd in January, 2012 and its demise is very well documented.

 photo sourced from: "DJ Denim" on Flikr

The Bijou Casino was at 606 Washington Ave:

The Capitol was at 101 N. 6th Street:

The Cherokee was at 2714 Cherokee:

The Cinderella was at 2735 Cherokee and is currently undergoing a renovation, yay!:

The Comet was at 4106 Finney (all black theater):

The Empress was at 3616 Olive, it hosted many performances by Evelyn West, a beautiful dancer some called "the Hubba-Hubba Girl" or "the $50,000 Treasure Chest" as she apparently insured her breasts to the tune of $50,000 through Llyod's of London:

The Gravois was at 2631 South Jefferson:

The Hi-Way was at 2705 North Florissant:

The Kings was at 818 N. Kingshighway:

The Kingsland was at 6461 Gravois near the intersection with S. Kingshighway. It was operational from 1924 through the 1990s when it was sold and demo'd for an Aldi's.

It's destruction was captured within the "Straightaways" album inset by Son Volt showing the stage on display for the final time amongst the piles of red brick:

Album inset photo: Son Volt "Straightaways", 1997 Warner Bros. Records

The Lafayette was at 1643 South Jefferson (the building in white); this is now a Sav-A-Lot:

The Lindell was at 3521 North Grand:

The Loew's Mid City was at 416 N. Grand:

The Martin Cinerama was at 4218 Lindell and was pretty mod, with a curved screen and plenty of mid-century charm:

The Melvin was at 2912 Chippewa and is still there to see:

The Michigan was at 7226 Michigan and was freaking awesome...until ~1999 when it was razed:

The Missouri was at 626 N. Grand (currently being renovated, yay!):

The New Criterion (all black theater) was at 2644 Franklin:

The New Grand Theatre at 702 North Grand apparently screened the first talkie in St. Louis, Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer":

The Orpheum (or the American) was at 416 N. 9th Street:

The Pageant was at 5851 Delmar (not THAT Pageant):

The Palm was at 3010 Union:

The Pershing was at 5917 Delmar:

The Regal (later Coliseum) was at 3144 MLK, check out the Vanishing STL photos and story:

The Rio was at 5566 Riverview:

The Senate was at 9 North Broadway (read the article on the tragic collapse, it calls Downtown "Skidrow"):

The Shaw was at 3901 Shaw at 39th Street. It was most recently Salamah's Market and was purchased from the local community development corporation. It is slated for a renovation into a catering and events company called Wild Carrot per a nextSTL story from May, 2016. Per that story, the sign is returned.

Conceptual image of "Wild Carrot"

The Stadium Cinema II was at 614 Chestnut and was once converted to Mike Shannon's restaurant:

The Sun was at 3627 Grandel Square and was lovingly restored and in use by a public charter school Grand Center Arts Academy:

The Thunderbird Drive-In was at 3501 Hamilton (I'm dying to find better photos of this one):

The Towne (formerly Rivoli) was at 210 N. 6th Street and was a well known adult film spot:

Union Station Ten Cine was at 900 Union Station on the south side of the property.  It was operational from 1988-2003.  It's closing is pretty well documented and I will do a separate post on it in the future.  Photos are surprisingly very hard to find.

The Victory was at 5951 MLK:

This one had a long history as the Mikado and then was renamed the Victory in 1942 per roots web:

"The Mikado / Victory Theater was located on the north side of Easton Avenue, just east of Hodiamont Avenue in the Wellston business area. The address was 5951 Easton Avenue (today Dr. Martin Luther King Drive., St. Louis, MO 63133
The O. T. Crawford chain built the Mikado theater in 1911, the architect was F. A. Duggan. The Original Japanese design seated 1608, including the balcony. The building was completely redesigned in 1939 in a
modern art deco design. Fire regulations, wider seats, and aisles reduced seating capacity to 1103. The newly modernized Mikado added a permanent marquee projecting over the entrance.
In December 1941, WWII began. In many cities a theater named Mikado (a dated term for "Emperor of Japan") would be renamed. The Mikado was renamed the Victory theater in February, 1942."

The Virginia was at 5117 Virginia and is still standing:

The West End was at 4819 Delmar:

Here's another one right before its demo in 1985:

The Whiteway was at 1150 S. 6th Street:

The World Playhouse was at 506 St. Charles was known for burlesque:

Thanks to Charles Van Bibber for the time and effort you've shared with us for future consideration and pondering. And of course, thanks to Cinema Treasures for cataloging these important places.

If anyone out there reading this has family photos of any of these theaters, please consider sending me a note and we can connect to get them scanned in for the future generations to appreciate.

groth_stl@hotmail.com

Movie Theaters of St. Louis

St. Louis has four full-time movie theaters. Each venue offers something completely unique and makes a night out at the movies a great experience. While four theaters may not sound like a lot for a city of ~319,000, it works. Among the four, there is a good mix of first run, blockbusters, family, art house and the occasional classics thrown in for good measure.

But, it is the overall experience, the vibe, the place that differentiates the city's theaters from the typical experience you get in the staid designs or faux retro feel of modern multiplexes surrounded by surface parking far from the central city.

The Chase Park Plaza Cinemas, one of the four I'll discuss, claims to be:

"the civilized alternative to the megaplex"

I agree with that assessment, and it seems to apply not only to the Chase but to the other three as well.

You can catch a movie with a little more of that old world charm in  either the Hi-Pointe Neighborhoodthe Central West EndMidtown or Downtown.

So lets take a look at each.

1. The Hi-Pointe Theater (1005 McCausland Avenue, Hi-Pointe Neighborhood, 63117)

This theater is one of the things that makes St. Louis great.  From the metal and neon marquee, to the curved stainless steel and glass box office, to the concession stand, to the seats and...even the bathrooms are cool with mostly original fixtures.  This is the coolest venue simply because it is like stepping into another time when you enter. The Hi-Pointe is the oldest continuously operating venue in the city and stepping into the lobby is like time-travel as the owners have tried to maintain the original character of the interior as well as the exterior.  And its location near Forest Park, Dogtown, The Cheshire Inn and the massive Amoco Sign, just add to the ambiance of this place on the very western edge of St. Louis.

This is a fun place to take people from out of town and a great return for date nights.

St. Louis City Talk circa 2010

St. Louis City Talk circa 2010

Notice the billboard and grey paneling over the marquee in the shots above taken in 2010?  As of publishing, the front facade is getting a makeover.  The brick and windows on the second floor are now on display and the grey paneling is no more, giving the building an even more authentic look...check it out:

Here's a little history on the Hi-Pointe from their website:

"An understated and wonderful St. Louis gem, the Hi-Pointe Theatre was built in 1922 at the incredible intersection of Interstate 64, Clayton Road, Clayton Avenue, McCausland Avenue, Forest Avenue, Oakland Avenue and Skinker Boulevard, today also the home of the world’s largest Amoco sign and just at the southwest corner of Forest Park. Taking its name from the surrounding neighborhood, it is the highest point in the City of St. Louis. Unlike other theaters of its time, the Hi-Pointe was always intended to show movies—not vaudeville or plays—on the big screen in a huge, comfortable auditorium. 
During the early days of cinema, the Warner Bros. Circuit of Theatres operated the Hi-Pointe, followed by Fanchon & Marco, St. Louis Amusement and St. Louis’s Arthur Enterprises. 
St. Louisans George and Georgia James have owned the theater since the 1970s. Their daughter, Diana and her husband Bill Grayson have expanded the Hi-Pointe's repertoire adding a second screen with 'The Backlot' and are continuing the family tradition these days. 
The theater has benefited from many renovations over its history. The aquamarine seating, long a favorite of St. Louis moviegoers, was added in 1963. Today, the theater boasts a huge new screen and explosive Dolby Digital sound while preserving the theater’s historic and neighborhood cachet, including a cozy lobby, turquoise curtains, quaint second-floor restrooms and men’s urinals noted by the Riverfront Times as “best in St. Louis.” 
As the oldest continuously operating single screen movie theater in the St. Louis metropolitan area, the Hi-Pointe is proud to continue its 90-year tradition today. The theater features convenient parking, student discounts, reasonable ticket prices, and awesome popcorn that won’t require a bank loan. 
Moviegoers from all over the region love the Hi-Pointe, and it’s frequently voted St. Louis’s favorite theater. 
See the newest movies in style at St. Louis’s oldest theater!"

As noted above, the current owners recently opened "The Backlot", a second screen on the second floor of the building directly behind the main theater.  This brick beauty was converted to a 50-seat, single screen theater with a nice sized screen (19 x 8 feet) and comfortable, reclining seats.  They have beer, wine, cocktails and all the usual salty and sweet snacks you would expect all for a reasonable price.  The theater is on the second floor and there are offices on the first floor.  

My favorite approach to the Backlot is from McCausland through a narrow brick gangway that just makes the city experience that much better.

my girl on her way to the Backlot

Parking is adjacent and plentiful and of course accessible by foot, bike and Metro Bus.  This place is a St. Louis treasure.  Congrats to the owners for the investment, good stewardship, and love for St. Louis movie traditions and of course, brick architecture. 

2. The Moolah Theater (3821 Lindell Boulevard, Midtown Neighborhood, 63108)

Get ready folks, this one is something to behold.  From the minute you arrive, you know you are somewhere special.  Centered between the bustling Central West End and the main St. Louis University campus centered near Grand and Lindell, this location is easily accessible from anywhere.

Walking up to this beauty created in the Moorish vein is something to behold with it's blue and yellow terra cotta trim, pharoah's head sculpture and lavish archways.  The building opened in 1914 and was the home of the Moolah Shriner's a Masonic Organization that used the building until the 1980s when they vacated St. Louis for the staid and safe suburbs in 1988.  The building was left to rot and fell into severe disrepair.  It's amazing how destructive the legacy of abandonment and middle class flight can be on a city...but, thanks to good stewards of St. Louis history and architecture, Amy and Amrit Gill, a massive multi-million dollar renovation took place around 2003. The Moolah was converted to apartments and the existing single screen theater opened in 2004.

The lobby is awesome.  There is a side area to watch movies or the Cards/Blues game if you are waiting for your kids to take in a movie.  There is a great little bar that shows vintage, sometimes kitschy, films and offers up local beers and tasty cocktails.

There is an eight-lane bowling alley downstairs if you want to bowl a few frames, shoot some pool or play some ping pong. Full bar in the bowling alley as well.

The theater is single screen...yeah, that's right multiplexes, a single screen. It is THE largest screen in the region (20 x 45 foot) and the seating is mixed with standard seats, leather couches, love seats and chairs. There is a balcony and a main seating area that accommodates ~500 total patrons.

The ceiling is a work of art and is illuminated with alternating colors and shades of light.

There are plenty of nods to the Shriner's legacy from Fez-shaped lamp shades to art work.

This place is a testament to the value of re-use, re-purposing and historic renovation in place making. St. Louis is better off with this work of art. There is nothing else like it in the region...go enjoy it!

Access by Metro bus, foot and bike are easy, as is the convenient and free structured parking lot directly north of the Moolah.

3. The Chase Park Plaza Theater (212 Kingshighway Boulevard, Central West End Neighborhood, 63108)

How can you not love the Central West End, the most diverse, bustling and well-to-do, yet accessible neighborhood in St. Louis. Vibrant and bustling, this is another fully urban experience.  You can arrive by Metrolink (Central West End red and blue line stop), Metro Bus, foot or cycle. Parking is free in the lot across Lindell at Kingshighway.

The Chase Hotel is work of art and the hallways and lobby are nothing short of stunning. 

Walking in from the Lindell side is the best point of entry, walking through the revolving doors into the dimly lit box office area complete with Grand piano.  Walk through the hallways amongst the various ballrooms toward the grand hall connecting to the hotel lobby. 

You can't help but feel grand at the Chase.

This 1920's era building is swanky and has that big-city feel. The theaters opened in 1998 and boast some of the vintage charm including an organ player who serenades the audience before the show, Bissinger's chocolate, local beer, wine and ushers who hand out candy on the way out.

Want to impress your significant other or out of town guest? Take them here. The scene is top shelf, elegant and meant to impress. The screens can be a little small, but the handsome murals, intimate setting, sound and picture quality more than make up for the modest screen size.

From the STL Cinema's website:

"The theaters at Chase Park Plaza Cinema consist of five intimate auditoriums with luxury seating, all-digital sound systems and "state of the art" projection. 
This unparalleled design and composition effectively sets a new standard for the St. Louis cinematic experience. 
Renowned architect Salim Rangwala, in conjunction with innovative cinema operator Harman Moseley, worked together with nationally recognized artist Dick Godwin to transform the former Chase Club into five modern day atmospheric theaters. 
With a stadium seating "presentation theater" and trompe l'oeil masterpiece in each auditorium, the Chase Park Plaza Cinema is a high tech representation of the Hollywood studios' great screening rooms of the past. This unique cinema concept is now offered for the first time to the discerning moviegoing public at the extraordinary redevelopment of a St. Louis landmark, the one and only Chase Park Plaza."

If you don't walk the neighborhood after the show, you are missing out.  There are too many great bars, restaurants, dessert shops, etc to mention.

4. The MX Theater (618 Washington Boulevard, Downtown Neighborhood, 63101)

This is St. Louis' newest theater, opening in 2013.  Located in the Mercantile Exchange (MX) district downtown, the building used to house the shuttered St. Louis Centre indoor mall...although it is hard to recognize it today after an amazing redo and modernization.  You can't miss the MX with it's beautiful sign that mimics a classic film reel with alternating red lights illuminating "M-O-V-I-E-S", letter by letter. 

nighttime

daytime

The style of the interior and exterior of the MX is sleek and modern. The three screen theater has padded seats that recline, and have a pull out lap-table for food and/or beverages.

photo credit:   MX Movies Flickr Page

concession stand

They serve more substantial food including gourmet hot dogs, nachos, tacos, quesadillas and of course toasted ravioli that can be enjoyed in the theater or in the adjacent full bar and dining area called the French Connection Lounge.

The location is fantastic between Laclede's Landing and the more concentrated restaurants and bars along Washington Avenue.  It is accessible by Metrolink, within steps from the Convention Center stop, Metro Bus, foot and cycle.  There are bike racks along Washington right in front of the venue.  Parking is free and super convenient as you enter the garage near Locust and 17th Street and park on the second floor, walk right into the theater and they validate your parking with the purchase of a movie ticket.

The National Blues Museum, slated to open in early 2016, will be located across the street.

Photo source: www.nationalbluesmuseum.org

Pi PizzeriaSnarf'sTaze Street FoodTakaya New Asian and many other dining options exist within walking distance.  You can't go wrong at this venue and with the structured parking, bike racks, big city skyscrapers and Metrolink stop, it has that big-city feel.

Like many other examples in St. Louis, the setting is as impressive as the destination, you really get an experience along with your ticket, you get to experience places that are special, not just a boring suburban multiplex that you can find from coast to coast.

In part two of this post, I will discuss the cinematic treasures that we have lost over the years.

Forest Park

Forest Park

This is one of the most visited places in the city.  The park benefits from a rare St. Louis County - St. Louis City pooling of public moneys with the creation of a special taxing district where the vast suburbs of St. Louis County pay taxes to Forest Park as part of the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District (ZMD).  Just look at what can be accomplished when resources are pooled!  We have a world-class art museum, zoo, history museum and planetarium...all in Forest Park. Oh, and don't forget the Muny, Steinberg Ice Rink or the Jewel Box.

St. Louis Street Name Pronunciation

I love St. Louisans who grew up in the city, live in the city and root down in the city.  Being an Illinoisan and now St. Louisan for 20 years, I get constant joy from hearing how people talk and pronounce St. Louis names and streets and buildings.  

These real people give us that local linguistic soul, dialect and annunciation that I've come to appreciate over the years.  Being in the near geographic center of the U.S. affords us the opportunity to get tastes of how different people talk in this country...we might just be the melting pot of American diction.  Drive just an hour south of St. Louis in either Missouri or Illinois and you'll hear the countrified rural drawl...not like the deep south, but definitely southern.  Drive north of Decatur, IL for a taste of the Polish/Chicago thing.  Near the Iowa border with Missouri you get a taste of the Northern Midwest thing (a taste of Brainerd from Joel and Ethan Coen's "Fargo") or Scandinavian diction.  Not Minnesota or Wisconsin...but getting a bit closer.

Scandinavian Midwestern Gold

Nationally, St. Louis is probably not recognized as having its own accent, but colloquially, we probably do...it's just not well documented.  I think it is there buried in nuance  But a trained or curious ear can pick it up.

Look no further than local hip hop artist Nelly and actor/comedian Cedric the Entertainer discussing the nuances of pronunciations in the St. Louis black community on

the intro track

to Nelly's still kick ass recording "Country Grammar".  I love hearing that nuance when I talk to people.

St. Louis needs its own 

Alan Lomax

, the famous theoretician of folk linguistics (and one of my favorite Americans), to investigate and record these weird sounds and dialects and pronunciations from my fellow St. Louisans.  St. Louis University should get a sociology or languages grad student to take this on :)

Anyhow, as I continue to traverse this city, I'm usually on my scooter which is the perfect vehicle to drum up conversations with strangers.  People want to talk when they see a dude on a scooter.  "How much mileage you get?"  "How fast does that thing go?"  "You need insurance on that?", "You look stupid on that thing"...you catch my drift.

Memories of Billy and Benny McCrary dance through my 1970s memory banks every time I turn the key of my low cc ride...

Anyhow, a two-wheeled vehicle, a motorcycle helmet covering my ears and a clunky camera around my neck means you can't safely use GPS, so I often find myself asking people for directions to certain buildings or streets.  Sometimes the street pronunciations I hear back are truly entertaining.

I am providing this list for new comers.  This is how the locals pronounce the following streets:

Gratiot = Gra'-chit

Gravois = Grav'-oy

Chouteau = Sho'-to

Goethe = Go'-Thee

I-64 = For'-tee

Baden = Bay-den not Bah-den

Your highfalutin French is not needed here kind sir, this is how we/they roll it off the tongue in the STL.

I will add to the list as new discoveries are made.

But back to our great street names...

The St. Louis Public Library has compiled a list of all the St. Louis street names with a brief history.

Glen Holt 

and Thomas A. Pearson of the Special Collections Department of the 

St. Louis Public Library are responsible for this fascinating resource

.  Thank you, gentlemen, for your hard work and tireless research.  Your efforts have helped me understand and uncover the mysteries of my city and for that I am very thankful.  

So thinking about the work of Lomax, Holt and Pearson, why not embark on a field recording of St. Louis Street Pronunciations?  You could have the proper annunciation and the colloquial one side by side.  

But this has got to come from the real St. Louisan's, the ones who live on these streets...and this won't be hard, because St. Louis is a porch-sitting paradise in the summer.  People line the stoops in most neighborhoods, especially many of the all black neighborhoods in North City.

I had a conversation with an old man that I will never forget when I was photographing a park in North City.  He was hilarious and cool.  If half the shit was true, you could write a graphic novel about his view of his neighborhood.  He about laughed me out of the conversation when I grossly mispronounced Cabanne Place...it was like I almost offended him...and I ended up laughing too.  I now know how pronounce Cabanne in a way that won't get me laughed at.  But, I still don't have the proper pronunciation cemented in my brain to either match reality with or enjoy the play of local vs. proper. 

I imagine traveling to the more curiously named streets...microphone and recorder in hand and getting a sampling of the street names as pronounced by the hoi polloi.  You could add these tiny .wav files in a link next to the street names on the directory.

Hey Glen and Thomas, if our paths ever cross, let's talk!

Meanwhile, I'll keep logging my weird street names and the way I hear people say them.

St. Louis' Florist Row

Some industries tend to consolidate within a city.  Look no further than Produce Row in

the Near North Riverfront Neighborhood

where you can find fresh fruit and vegetables making their first stop in the city before getting re-purchased and distributed throughout Missouri and Illinois.

The long loading docks are abuzz with activity on most days and the scene is good.  Produce Row has been located near the intersection of North Broadway and North Market Street since 1953:

According to a 2011 story from one of the fresh produce industry's oldest trade publications, "

The Packer

":  

"...21 companies inhabited Produce Row’s 98 stalls, ranging from wholesalers, to foodservice companies, to brokerages. That’s less than half of what it was just 10 years ago, when 57 companies operated along “The Row.”  Still, those 21 companies simply occupy more stalls, making Produce Row a busy place most days — and nights.
“I think we’re 100% occupied,” said Vince Mantia, president of William Mantia Fruit Co. “There are opportunities down here to stay in business.” 
Most of the hustle and bustle around the row takes place at night or in the early mornings, when most of the 18,000 tractor-trailers that visit the place annually come and go, leaving before the crack of dawn to deliver a shipment of goods to near or distant retailers or foodservice companies.
“This is one of the most competitive markets around down here,” said Jeff Moore, vice president-sales for the Midwest region for Tom Lange Co. Inc., Springfield, Ill. “But it’s a friendly competitiveness. It all boils down to service, relationships and quality.”
The space between the two rows of buildings, which also serves as a parking lot, is known simply as “the street.”
“Our guys walk the street at 6:30 every morning to see product, what everyone else is bringing in,” Moore said. “We’re seeing what we’re selling. That’s an advantage of being on Produce Row.”

Other industries are clustered as well, like Florist Row in

the Gate District Neighborhood

, but you might not know it.

Just south of Chouteau Avenue between Jefferson and Grand, you will find this charming cluster of wholesale and retail nurseries, greenhouses and florists.  Unlike the St. Louis Produce Market, Florist Row is largely open to the public, even offering weekend hours.  This is another one of St. Louis' more hidden gems that make city living so much fun.  But, why does it have to be hidden?  It wasn't completely obvious to me that this strip of businesses, creating a little clustered industry row, is right along LaSalle Street between Ewing Street to the west and Jefferson to the east.  Driving by on Chouteau Avenue, it is not "sold" to passers by.  I'd like to see a big metal and neon sign with an arrow pointing you to the strip...forgive my ham-handed computer skills, but something like this:

This could be a destination place for plant, flower, nursery enthusiasts (see

Bowood Farms

in the Central West End).  I've lived in a neighborhood just south of here for nearly five years, and never knew this was open to the public.  I assumed it was wholesale only.  Not the case.  There is a real opportunity for Florist Row to advertise and sell the strip a bit more to the hoi polloi...it could only help.  And the Gate District would benefit from a little place making.

This is a great spot to get your gardening supplies in a relaxed, laid back setting. 

Walter Knoll alone has a great selection of indoor and outdoor annuals, perennials and tropicals.  The staff is very kind and the place has the locally owned, slower paced vibe that you don't get at Home Depot or Lowes.

Walk east from there, where greenhouses dot the streetscape and stop into one of the florists where you will find a small army of floral arrangers diligently creating delightful offerings for festive occasions or get out of jail cards for generations of desperate men :)

Ever wonder where those pre-arranged floral bouquets and arrangements come from?  Right here.

Upon our visit, we looked around and couldn't help but notice the fact that the diversity of the staff nicely reflected the diversity within this part of the city.  We overheard conversations about the Cardinals game, weekend plans, kids and the best flowers to work with this week.  It was a relaxed and homey feel yet abuzz with activity of ten or so folks clipping, arranging and packaging flowers for their final retail destination.  A great, locally owned, city scene.

You'll see young women shopping for wedding flowers, hobbyists and creative types gathering supplies for their work and moms and daughters picking out craft supplies.

Florist row is yet another reason to love St. Louis city living.

But, back to the "industry row" concept...when thinking about critical mass, as defined as t

he minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a venture, what are some 

other industries that could benefit from "a row"?  A cluster of businesses that all of a sudden become a place, a destination.

I am thinking a strip of our awesome local chocolatiers such as Bissingers, Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate, Merbs, Kakao, etc all setting up shop nearest Bissinger's new (awesome) location just north of downtown on Broadway occupying historic warehouses and factories.  How about a "coffee row" including all the local roasters.  A tasting room showcasing all the local brews would be fantastic.  Just think of the local flavor that could come from such a consolidation...not to mention the supply chain efficiencies...

Little Bosnia, Little Saigon, Little Sierra Leone...the possibilities are endless...concentrating businesses into a single, walk-able spot creates density and supports place-making.  Look no further than the Hill as a prime example.  Strength comes in numbers.  I like to make "a day of it" hitting all my faves on the Hill...it's so easy to just park the car and walk to all the markets and restaurants.

What "rows" have you seen in other cities that you think would work in St. Louis?

St. Louis Zoo Expansion Presents Huge Opportunity for Dogtown

I am fascinated with the Dogtown area of St. Louis. This part of town is a gamisch of three neighborhoods including

Clayton/Tamm

,

Franz Park

and

Hi-Pointe

...maybe more depending on who's talking.  Whatever the boundaries, I find this to be one of the more compelling, densely populated and "real" parts of town.  It has soul and it is kind of like the city's version of Maplewood, MO, a popular and gentrifying suburb of St. Louis directly to the west of this area. Dogtown boasts a diverse housing stock and a rich connection with Irish ancestry and identity.  Dogtown helps give St. Louis a sense of place and the intersection of Clayton and Tamm Avenues feels like the heart of this part of the city.

It would make a great place to live...and with its many locally owned and operated bars, restaurants and businesses, it's certainly a great place to visit as well...hence the point of this blog post.

When I walk the streets of Dogtown, I see a hilly, dense, urban neighborhood with rich traditions and pride.  The diverse housing stock is largely prideful and well cared for:

                                                 Looking west over the dense grid in Dogtown

Dogtown's architecture is a real mix best appreciated by a walk up and down the streets.  Slow down and take a look at how these humble particulars make a handsome sum and you can't help but love it:

At no time is the charm of Dogtown more apparent than around the break of Spring and St. Patrick's Day, an important day for people of Irish and Catholic descent, and Dogtown is the center of a parade and street party to honor the day.

A nod to the Emerald Isle

This part of town has remained stable and strong over the years and I think the future will be even brighter for the western edge of our city.

Try to see Dogtown through the optimistic lens that I do:

There has been much investment and development in the last five or so years around the fringes nearest Hampton and Oakland Avenues.

The Cortona at Forest Park was recently ranked as a

"Top Five New Residential Development" by St. Louis Magazine

.  This development brings much needed density and vibrancy to the former Checkerdome/Arena site.  The building is mod, bright and cool.

Photo Source: www.cortonaforestpark.com

The Tri-Star Mercedes dealership is nothing short of a sleek, modern and as urban as an automotive dealership can be.  Nice building, nice German cars!

Tri-Star Mercedes Benz at Hampton and Berthold Avenues

And then you have the promise of the St. Louis Zoo expansion.  This future addition is exciting and holds much promise as the Zoo does most things top shelf and classy.

From

the Zoo website

:

Unlike the existing Zoo campus in Forest Park, the expansion site is next to a residential neighborhood and retail corridor.

Plan recommendations include:

  • Using the expansion site to create a new entrance to the Zoo, anchored by a major attraction—an orientation point for visitors that would serve as a welcome center and be a hub of activity providing a unique experience and iconic architecture.
  • Moving parking facilities — from the existing campus and congested Forest Park roads to surface lots and a structured parking facility at the expansion site (This facility would capitalize on existing topography and provide both above-ground and underground spaces.)
  • Linking the expansion site to the existing Zoo campus with an iconic bridge, a gondola, wheeled trolleys or trams.
  • Placing not only parking but Zoo administrative/service/distribution operations at the expansion site, allowing room on the existing campus for new animal habitats and expansion of the Zoo's veterinary hospital.
  • Developing Zoo-themed retail, dining and lodging (an animal-themed hotel, for example).
  • Enhancing public space (creating a dog park, farmers' market or an outdoor event area)

While it was sad to see the former Forest Park/Deaconess Hospital go the way of the wrecking ball, it is hard not to see the St. Louis Zoo's expansion as a great replacement and even an upgrade for the western edge of our fine city.

image source:  cardcow.com

site as of March 14, 2015

While typically it's hard to get excited about a field and pending parking lots, this is an exception.  There is very real opportunity here.  The St. Louis Zoo is a destination locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Approximately three million people visit the zoo each year

(

source

)

.

Encouraging these visitors to park on the south side of I-64 affords Dogtown with a massive opportunity.  Thousands of hungry, curious, meandering families, friends and tourists (each with a wallet) will descend on Dogtown without the physical barrier of the massive I-64 highway.  Many of these visitors know that a hotdog, pretzel and cold Busch will be available at the zoo, but they also need to know that there are a vast assortment of neighborhood restaurants and drinking establishments within walking distance...all with a lot of soul and local flavor.

But, many visitors don't like to take chances...they want safety and security.   With little ones usually in tow, I can understand. They need to be led.  Many suburbanites and tourists would not be characterized as "adventurous" or "urban explorers".  That's why we need to spoon feed them; we need to hold their hand and guide them on an extension of their St. Louis Zoo adventure, right into the heart of Dogtown.

Turn right to the zoo, turn left for Historic Dogtown...

So what's it gonna take?

Well, when I visited Boston, MA I walked a 2.5 mile "Freedom Trail" which led you on a self-guided tour of some of America's most historic places.  It was fun, but most of all, it was easy.  It is a fantastic way to take in the history and of course the city itself.  There are red stripes and bricks that mark the way.  You never get "lost" because the map is right there beneath your feet.

Dogtown needs something like this leading from the new parking lots of the Zoo to the many AWESOME spots in the heart of Dogtown nearest the zoo expansion site.  Heck, the stripes and bricks could even be green to honor the Irish history:

The

"Walking the Dog(town)"

tour could lead visitors down Graham Street to Clayton Avenue and circle around Tamm Avenue, which feels like the heart of Dogtown.  A simple cell phone application and signage could lead people to the dining, drinking and other stops.  It could easily be updated to include businesses as they come and go.  Ten restaurants within ten minutes...you get my idea.

Want to experience a truly local treat, the Slinger?  Walk to the Courtesy Diner through the streets of Dogtown and belly up to the counter for a slinger with onions and peppers.

photo source:  

the13blog

Want to have a cold, rich beer brewed on site?  Walk to

Heavy Riff Brewing Company

.

How about pizza and a local microbrew from 4-hands, Civil Life, Modern Brewery, Urban Chestnut, Schlafly, etc at

Felix's

?  The building itself has windows that open up onto the street to give it that al fresco feel.

How about a delicious hamburger and a side of fried mushrooms at

Seamus McDaniel's

?

The smoked on-site chicken salad at

Nora's

is off the charts and nestled among a nice row of small businesses built right up to the street.

That's not it, there is much, much more.

All, locally owned, all neighborhood, all St. Louis.  The REAL St. Louis, the one with the soul.

Demolition is now complete on the parcel of land between Hampton, Graham, Berthold and Oakland.

The future is bright, the slate has been wiped clean and is now ready to be reset.  Even if/when the Zoo decides to build it's own restaurants, etc, it won't simply compete with the existing neighborhood, it will attract more to the area.  It can only build critical mass, it can only add to Dogtown.  I dream of visitors leaving St. Louis and saying "the Zoo was awesome (and free) and the sandwich and beer we had at lunch in that charming neighborhood was good too."

Improving connections to the zoo on both sides of I-64 is important.  Connecting the zoo

visitors

to the heart of Dogtown is equally as important if we are ever to turn people on to the great neighborhoods we have in the city.

Getting people to

walk

neighborhoods is important toward having them

connect

with them.  You have to interact with people who live there, you have to look inside homes as you pass, watch kids playing in the alley, pass by people porch sitting/drinking and observe the connected-ness of urban lifestyles. You don't get to know your city until you slow down, park the car and walk it. You won't "get" many subtle parts of St. Louis by blowing by at 35 MPH plus on Hampton or Clayton.  Park the car and walk around.

Dogtown is a treasure, now the visitors and tourists need to experience and see what we, the locals, already do.

The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

The old Chain of Rocks Bridge is located near the northern tip of St. Louis.  It's span of the Mississippi River measures just over one mile and it connects 

the Riverview Neighborhood

 of St. Louis to the manmade Chouteau Island, part of the city of Madison in Illinois.

The bridge was built by a private venture for ~$2.5M and opened to vehicular traffic in 1929 (

source

).  The bridge company relied on tolls to operate the bridge which once carried the legendary Route 66, bypassing the Mother Road from its former route directly through the southern part of downtown St. Louis south on the MacArthur Bridge. A federal mandate stripped the company of the ability to charge tolls and the butt-ugly, boring, staid, New Chain of Rocks bridge (opened to traffic in 1966) immediately to the north.  This was the death-knell for the old Chain of Rocks bridge, closing in 1968.

Thankfully, kismet was on the side of the bridge and my favorite city's history. The bridge was nearly destroyed by the Feds but was spared due to luck and circumstance:

"The bridge deteriorated, and during the 1970s, Army demolition teams considered blowing it up just for practice.  In 1975, demolition seemed eminent.  Fortunately for the bridge, a bad market saved the day.  The value of scrap steel plummeted, making demolition no longer profitable.  At that point, the Chain of Rocks Bridge entered 20 years of bridge limbo--too expensive to tear down, too narrow and outdated to carry modern vehicles." (source)

This is one of three bridges you can walk across in St. Louis, the majestic Eads bridge downtown and the McKinley Bridge are the other ones.  Sure, they have better views of Downtown St. Louis, but the Chain of Rocks is my favorite for walking because it is pedestrian only, whereas Eads carries vehicles and Metrolink and McKinley carries cars.  It gives the bridge a peaceful experience like no other and it is unique for other reasons.

First, a walk across this bridge affords the best views of the Mississippi River itself with muddy water rushing over a shoal of limestone rocks for which the bridge takes its name just to the south.  This forms raging rapids that can easily be seen and heard from the bridge's deck.  It is a lesson in the power of the river and a reminder of why recreational boats and yachts are limited on this stretch of the Mississippi and why locks were engineered for barge passage.

Secondly, there are distant views of downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch reminding you that no matter whether you are in the northernmost, southernmost or westernmost edge of the city, you can still find a view of the of cities greatest mid-century modern sculpture.  And then of course, you have unbeatable views of the two majestic mini-castle water intakes.  These are still a functioning part of the St. Louis waterworks.  The site was selected in 1865, the year the Civil War ended.  The water plant commenced operations in 1895 and when a filtration system was added in 1915 it was the largest water filtration water plant in the world.  St. Louis was built to be great.

Intake Tower #1 (1894)

Intake Tower #2 (1915)

Thirdly, this bridge was featured (among many other St. Louis spots) in the 1981 movie

Escape from New York

starring Kurt Russell and featuring one of my favorites, Harry Dean Stanton.  

It is storied that director John Carpenter 

purchased the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in St Louis for $1 from the government and then returned it to them for the same amount after filming was completed (

source

).  What do you do when an American city doesn't look post-apocalyptic enough and it's the early 1980s?  Well, you come to St. Louis.  And for that I love the Chain of Rocks even more for documenting the dirty history of abandonment we have in St. Louis. 

Fourth, the bridge mirrors the history of the entire city of St. Louis especially that of the near south up through all of north St. Louis.  The worst days, the 1970s-1990s were ripe with disinvestment, abandonment, suburban pressures, school closures, violence, decay, racial upheaval and finally near collapse on the verge of erasure.  Gladly, the bridge was spared despite some pretty terrible behavior in the 1970s - 1990s.  

There was an amusement park at the foot of the bridge from 1927 to 1977 called

the Chain of Rocks Fun Fair Park

.

Thanks to the time and efforts of YouTube user "TheMrMac45", photos of the Chain of Rocks Fun Fair Park are displayed in his brief video below...click on the frame and take in that sweet Falstaff concession stand:

Also watch this video to see footage and reporting of the auction of the rides and other assets at the shuttering of the park in 1977:

As stated in that video by the late park owners, 1971 was really the last good year the park had. Six Flags opening in the suburbs and rowdy vandals took the park down.

The negativity reached its most horrifying conclusion in 1991 with the gruesome rape and double murder of sisters Robin and Julie Kerry at the hands of Marlin Gray who was quoted by witnesses and the prosecution as saying "he felt like hurting somebody".  He was convicted and executed by the state of Missouri in 2005.

This mixture of personal emotions and understanding and dreaming of a past I was not around to see fill my head every time I walk across this bridge.

Walking up the approach on the Missouri side, it is hard to image, with a mere width of 24 feet, that there were two lanes of traffic.  You don't really get how dangerous that must have been unless you remember driving the bridge yourself, or until you walk it and imaging that tight squeeze between cars and of course the 22 degree band in the middle of the bridge.  I've never driven a bridge in the U.S. with a bend like that.  Walking it helps you relive the past.

Slow down!!! Turn left!!!

Your eyes are easily trained to look up and take in the rusty girders or down at the powerful, swirling river below:

There are momentos of the Route 66 era to catch your attention, as well:

photo credit: Built St. Louis

But the part of the bridge's history that is right beneath your feet is the one that I am most fascinated by. It is that of the gritty, dirty, fun and dangerous days of the 1970s-1980s when Chain of Rocks was closed to all but those willing to walk it...the amusement park was still there and shuttered and like a Scooby Doo set.  The bridge was hulking and dark and you could climb down its manholes to the pier.

It is obvious that when the bridge closed, it became a spot for kids to hangout and party, drink, smoke and listen to music a la 1970s/1980s fashion.  The remnants of this era of the bridge are still there, but are fading fast as time marches on and the elements and repairs take their toll on the signs of the times.

I'm not so naive as to think this was all just good ole teenage fun a la Richard Linklater's version of the 1970s in 1993's Dazed and Confused.

But if you read the fading grafitti you can get a sense of the times.  I don't think the 1970's and 1980's teenage grafitti will be as cherished by those in charge and responsible for the bridge's future, nor the general population, as it is by me, a child of the 1970s and a former K-SHE real rocker...but it is this history that sparks my interest and what I want to capture and add for future generations to see.  This is the part of the historic timeline of the bridge that will likely be lost...but at least there will be photos and memories.  Here's my tribute to the fading momentos of wasted days and wasted nights on the bridge:

Head For The Mountains

 Just Say Yes

Bet I can throw a rock and...

 Simple and Plain

Satan Pentagram (later "sucks" was added below SATAN)

 Curt and Linda 4-Life

  Volkswagon symbol with "Bad Bug"

 Remnants of Monty Python

 Yo Adrian

There was a time when K-SHE 95 was insanely cool.  It has since been neutered but it used to mean something.

For those that like the weird, 1970s/80s St. Louis as much as I, watch the late, legendary Pete Parisi on his World Wide Magazine show strolling across the bridge.  You can see some of the exact graffiti that still exists, but Trailnet and Madison have cleaned and painted over most of it (with the best of intentions).

The bridge was placed on 

the National Register of Historic Places in 2006

 and Trailnet has had a most positive hand in its future and maintenance.  It is currently owned by the city of Madison, Illinois and they are good and kind owners, as they help host "eagle days" and other events inviting the public to enjoy the bald eagle populations that are in great numbers on the Mississippi.

I have hope that as the bridge ages and improves over the years it will be maintained by Trailnet and historical societies such as 'Route 66'.  The Old Chain of Rocks, unlike the New Chain of Rocks bridge is a constant reminder of American history good and bad and St. Louis' place as a great American city.

Walk it, ride it, enjoy it and most of all, take in the fading past of when Moxy, April Wine and Molly Hatchet were on the airwaves.