Monday, January 12, 2009

Steve Patterson, Man of Urban Influence - Part 2

Steve didn’t have any engagements immediately after this, so he agreed to show us around St. Louis. Naturally, he showed us the Arch and the Old St. Louis Courthouse. Apparently, a park used to extend 20 blocks west from the arch, but some of the land had been converted into office buildings, which Steve described as “hideous”.

To the south, we saw the outline of Busch Stadium. We asked if it was more convenient to have the stadium close to downtown, he told us it was actually kind of a nuisance since the stadium put in as much parking as it would in the ‘burbs, and it created congestion without contributing much to the neighborhood. We turned northward, passing a group of back to back parking lots. Steve was concerned about how bland the exteriors of the parking lots were, and talked about how St. Louis’s zoning was stuck in the 1940s.

One block to the north was 1920s era building with an elegant façade, which Steve praised. We passed an abandoned shopping mall, which Steve told us was St. Louis’s great hope of downtown revival in the 1980s. It was only partially new at the time; abandoned skyscrapers nearby had been built in an older style, and were converted into department stores and linked to the newer mall building with glass-encased overhead walkways. The whole complex was closed now, except for a Macy’s in one of the older buildings and the parking structure across the street. Apparently, there had been a Rite-Aid in the ground floor of the structure, but that had closed and had since been converted into more parking.

We turned left onto Washington St., and Steve told us a bit about the history of each of the buildings we passed. There was an office complex which had demolished and old theater to build an open plaza which eventually became more parking, and a newly built entry to St. Louis’s convention center. He then took us by the American Institute of Architects, whose headquarters were in a hotel nearby. He knew everyone who worked there, and introduced us. When they heard we were going to the inauguration, they were excited for us, and also worried for our safety. We assured them we’d be okay. The lobby was filled with books about the St. Louis area, and since Anheuser-Busch was headquartered in St. Louis (prior to its acquisition by InBev), there were pictures of the Budweiser Clydesdales in one of the books I was browsing through. The woman behind the desk assured me that they were enormous, and scary to stand next to.

We left and continued west with Steve; he showed us a building with gargoyles that sprayed steam, which we all found fascinating. We walked into the former garment district, although there wasn’t as much in the way of garment production happening nearby anymore. Instead, many of the old factories had been converted into lofts, and there were stores and restaurants on the ground floors. The street had actually been made narrower; a lane was subtracted in each direction and the sidewalk was widened. Since this was the garment district, the double-yellow divider in the street was replaced by tiles placed to resemble a closed zipper. Steve was generally happy with these changes, but he was unhappy that some of the side streets had also been closed. Most of the lofts appeared to be doing well, but some of the loft conversions had unceremoniously been scrapped. One of the loft companies had gone out of business right before a conversion was scheduled to happen, and signs advertising loft living had been left up in a still abandoned building.

Steve took us past the St. Louis City Museum, which he said was a must see. It was certainly unique; it looked as if Rube Goldberg was left to make a machine using only materials he found in a junkyard. Slides connected the heads of life size dinosaurs, and school buses teetered from the top of a nearby building. We didn’t really have time to go in, but it was certainly interesting to look at.

Steve was kind enough to take us to the rooftop of his own loft building. The clouds had lifted somewhat, and the view was great in both directions. We took a few pictures of the skyline, as well as a few with him in the foreground (see previous post). He had to get going at that point, so we parted ways. He said he would be looking to our blog for more on the inauguration. We'll do our best to keep you posted, Steve.

We walked back, stopping by the St. Louis Library on the way. St. Louis ain't half bad, and we'll do our best to go back soon.

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