Thursday, August 31, 2006

Remaking STL



If things weren't going on in STL, there wouldn't be so many discussions like these taking place.

Whatever your take on improving St. Louis, there are lots of opportunties to be an active part of it.

Our greatest asset is us.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Open Windows

The cool weather that arrived yesterday gave us the opportunity to open the windows and let fresh air back in the house. It also marks the first sign of fall and the end to our summer heat. A few months ago, I entered the summer driving an older, paid-for, mini-van with no air conditioning.

Our independent mechanic quoted us a $1,000 price to repair the A/C. Rather than sink that kind of money into a vehicle barely worth the cost of repair, I decided to try the summer with no air conditioning. There were a few times when it was real hot. But overall, it wasn't too bad.

A car driving in hot weather with open windows is a sure sign of a vehicle with no air conditioning. When it was hot, I'd look around in trafffic to see how many other cars had their windows open, us drivers suffering the heat together. There were always a few, and sometimes, depending on where I was driving, there would be alot more.

So next year, if the van is still rolling, I'll go again without air conditioning. On the other hand, driving without a heater in the winter, that's a different story. I remember a bizarre incident from about 20 years ago. It happened at a convenience store located on a frontage road to Highway 70 in St. Charles County.

It was nightime and I was driving from St. Louis to Kansas City during a snow storm. I pulled in to the quick shop for a cup of hot coffee. While paying the cashier, a man rushed into the store, covered in snow, wearing goggles and a ski hat. How could he possibly be so snow covered? Was he riding a motorcycle? I stepped outside, and the answer to my question was immediately obvious.

He was driving a car with no windshield. Now, seeing someone drive a car without a windshield is odd enough, but for someone to be driving through a snow storm with no windshield is, well, let's just say we have a word for that type of behaviour in the St. Louis area, and we're not talking about basketball players from Indiana...

Monday, August 28, 2006

STL Rising-Favorite Historic Reads

Life in St. Louis in the 19th century must have been fascinating. It looks like it was a beautiful place.

A great book that takes you back to early St. Louis is called God Sends Sunday by Arna Bontemps. Bontemps is a writer from the Harlem Renaissance.

Any other interesting life and style reads about old St. Louis?

Macklind Rising

Neighborhood dreams are becoming fast reality along Macklind Avenue in the Southampton neighborhood.

Krekeler's grocery store is being remodeled as a neighborhood deli.

The old D and J's Keg is now operating as "The Mack", drawing in a younger, hipper crowd.

The old Major Drycleaners is becoming the "Macklind Perk" coffee house.

Home Eco is an environnmentally conscious store in a remade second hand and video rental outlet.

Business owners have come together to form a Macklind Avenue Business Association.

Southampton has a downtown. Can neighborhood lofts be far behind?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Kudos to CIN

The City of Louis Community Information Network, or "CIN" for short, has created an interactive feature that gives visitors and locals a wonderful directory of the many interesting things to see and do around all parts of the City.

Check out the CIN's list of "Must See" Attractions in St. Louis.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

While Mets Pound Mulder...

...New Yorkers Still Have Heart For St. Louis.

If you're reading this from a New York deli, what do you think would be the perfect mix for Ballpark Village?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Isringhausen Must Go

Jason Isringhausen has been a weak link for the Cardinals all season, but last nite's blown save and loss to the Mets takes things to a new low.

Izzy's "batting practice" pitch to Carlos Beltran in the bottom of the ninth, leading to a 2-run, walk off home run, cost the Cardinals the game, and blew an all-star performance by Sir Albert.

Pujols was carrying the team on his back with seven RBIs, including two home runs, one a grand slam. Izzy gave it all away when he grooved that pitch to Beltran.

Cardinal fans deserve better. The new stadium was part of a package supported by St. Louisans to keep the Cardinals competitive and downtown. Cardinal ownership needs to hold up their end of the deal and field a solid closer.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Lizz Wakes Up StL With a Cuban

Ricardo Alarcon, President of the Cuban Parliament, was this morning's featured guest on Lizz Brown's WGNU Wakeup Call program in St. Louis. Alarcon was speaking by telephone from his home in Havana.

Who said STL is a dull place? Cubans on local radio? It's like Russians invading Northern California.

Back in the 1800s, there were St. Louisans travelling to Cuba by boat.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Better St. Louis

Almost renamed the blog this morning after reading the latest editorial in the STL Business Journal.

The Business Journal editorial was about civil discourse in St. Louis and being a friendlier, more civil place: a Better St. Louis.

I hesitated, thinking that perhaps the idea might continue to feed our negative regional self-esteem.

Last nite, we ate out at themed restaurant, one last hurrah before the back-to-school grind kicks in. The theme of the restaurant involves having an entertaining chef cook at your table. It's a proven restaurant formula repeated throughout the country.

Matt just returned from a 2-week stay in California. While there, he dined at a similar place. Unfortunately, at the California spot, the chef didn't entertain much; in fact, he hardly uttered a word. When the shrimp was done, he put some on your plate, and said, "Shrimp".

His show continued in similar fashion: "Chicken." "Vegetable." Etc.

Last nite in St. Louis, our chef put on a real show. He was relaxed, funny, and in to it. His jokes had good timing; his cooking tricks worked. Plus, the dinner was tasty, the price was moderate, and the service was excellent.

We can be a better St. Louis, but we need to remind ourselves that St. Louis is already pretty darned good, getting better, and a place where you can find 10,000 years of happiness if you try a little.

Sure, we might not all agree that opening a themed, chain restaurant in the City of St. Louis, say at the new Loughborough Commons shopping center, makes us a better St. Louis, but at least we'd have some interesting discussions about it!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sound Downtown

Someone is turning up the volume on downtown streets.

New restaurants have installed quality outdoor sound systems and are playing recorded music outside their establishments.

Appealing to more senses, the sounds are helping to liven the experience of our downtown.

STL Hot Spot

Immigration increases in Missouri making national news; Hispanics take notice.

Friday, August 11, 2006

South Side of STL

Most of us St. Louisans don't think of ourselves as southerners, but a lot of outsiders do. They must be right.

Explore Old St. Louis, and there's no denying our southern ancestry.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Weber and I-55 Revisited

A few months ago, STL Rising featured the frozen-in-time section of South County near Weber Road and I-55, around Monte Bello Pizza and the old Stupp Brothers Steel Mill.

Somehow (through cyber connections I will never understand), a neighborhood resident found that buried thread and commented from the perspective of one of the locals:

"I have lived right next to Stupp Brothers for 14 years now and I have to tell you that I am going to miss out quiet little neighborhood when we get the buy out letters. The entire time I have lived here the only single thing that has changed is that we no longer hear the horns when Stupp is changing shifts. It is very quiet and peaceful and has been for forever.I think the luckiest day of my life was when I bought this little peace of land.There are not to many people that can say their neighborhood is just as good or better than it was 14 years ago. Well at least not in Lemay. Oh and Monte Bellos is still open but they are on the buy out list also."

The full thread is in this link.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wine Country Encore

With our belongings loaded into a U-Haul, we pulled out of St. Louis, headed for California, Kerri driving our Toyota, and me following behind in the moving van.

We had an unscheduled longer stay in Abilene, Kansas. Kerri rolled the Toyota in the center median of Highway 70. She was okay, but the car was totaled.

As a young boy, I attended "August Moon Concerts" at the Mondavi Winery in the Napa Valley. One summer during college, I lived in St. Helena, and helped build a winery. In the 60s and 70s, the Napa Valley was the mainstay of the California wine industry, and Sonoma was just getting started. Access was easy, and the area was uncrowded.

By the 80s, much larger crowds started to tour the area, especially the Napa Valley. Wineries started charging for wine tasting. The Napa Valley Wine Train started rolling. Lines of tourists were a common sight, especially on weekends.

In 1989, I started working for a homebuilder based in Sonoma County. Approvals for housing developments were slow to come by, so the company started looking further out for buildable sites - and affordable projects. By this time, in search of affordable housing, Bay Area workers were buying houses in the Central Valley, and making bleary-eyed, 2-3 hour commutes back and forth to work. Fast forward to 2006, and you have to wonder how these commuters are faring with today's gas prices.

Meanwhile, we maintained contact back in St. Louis. We made trips back to visit about every six months. We knew we belonged back there. Then in 1992 Kerri became pregnant. We both wanted our child to grow up in St. Louis, so we started making arrangements to move back.

In Feburary 1993, we arrived on our return move to St. Louis. A day later, we became first time homeowners, closing on a story-and-a-half bungalo in the City of St. Louis. In March, Matt was born, and the same couple who had invited us into their Dutchtown two-family seven years prior would be his godparents.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Riding the Reverse Wave

From the gold miners of 1849 through the farm workers of the recent past, California has been a destination for migrants seeking opportunity for generations. In the middle part of the twentieth century, population growth in California was largely fueled by the abundance of affordable housing, jobs, and mild weather.

However, sometime around 1980, things started to change. Incomes were not keeping up with housing prices. Traffic was becoming a daily grind. Efforts to produce affordable housing were opposed by no growth interests and environmentalists. Younger Californians were caught in the middle. A new trend started. Young, educated Californians started leaving the state.

Most of them didn't move too far. They headed for Oregon, Washington or Nevada, then Idaho and Montana. But mostly, they stayed west. Often, when they arrived in their communities, they were not welcomed and met with resentment. Locals were concerned that the incoming Californians would drive up local housing prices and "Californicate" their states and towns.

It was the summer of 1986 when we made our out-migration from California. We moved beyond the western US all the way to St. Louis. When we arrived, many locals here could not understand why anyone would leave California for St. Louis. It seemed no one moved to St. Louis by choice.

Kerri accepted the job transfer with Citicorp, and I figured I'd find work in a real estate field. In a few weeks, I was hired by a small title company in Clayton abstracting real estate titles.

We rented an apartment in unincorporated St. Louis County near Olive and 270. Life in St. Louis was a constant adventure for us. We spent our free time exploring. After a while, we would know our way around St. Louis better than most locals.

We made frequent trips into the city. We attended Cardinal and Blues games whenever we could. We heard about free admissions to many St. Louis attractions, and took advantage of the offers as much as possible. We loved the compact nature of St. Louis and the wide availability of cultural opportunities.

We were constantly amazed at the kindness and humility of St. Louisans. We studied old neighborhoods and back roads. We made many friends and developed ties in the community.

With our bearings set in St. Louis, we started to explore further away areas. We visited nearby historic small towns in all directions. Then we travelled to all the major regional destinations within half day's drive of St. Louis. A few times, we drove all the way to the East Coast. We were loving the proximity our new St. Louis address had to the rest of the country.

We had lived in St. Louis from 1986 through 1989 when a real estate developer back in California made me an offer to good to refuse. We decided to choose finances and proximity to family as the reasons to leave St. Louis and return to California. The return to California would become a brief three-year intermission in the lives we had begun in St. Louis.

The return trip west did not begin uneventfully. Kerri was not happy to leave St. Louis. We both had mixed feelings about leaving. Like the father figure from the film, "Meet Me in St. Louis", who plans to move his family from St. Louis to New York in pursuit of a better career opporunity, for a few years, I too would be known as "The Criminal".

Monday, August 07, 2006

Meeting Jack Buck On the Radio

California is the most populated US state that doesn't pick up the night time signal of KMOX's 50,000 watt broadcasts. A big part of the reason is that the Rocky Mountains act like a giant wall dividing California from the rest of the country. So, back in the days before satellite or internet radio, Californians were among the only people living in the United States who never got to listen to Cardinal baseball.

Instead, we had "West Coast Baseball", and for most of us, that meant the Giants and Dodgers. For me, growing up in the northern half of the state, it meant the Giants. Sure, we had the Oakland A's, a team that gave us multiple world championships, including the dynasty years of the early 70s. But the A's could never win the hearts of Northern Californians. Their loyalty was with the Giants.

Unfortunately for California, the storied Giants left most of their magic back in New York. In the forty-plus years since their move west, they've never won a World Series. And besides all the losing seasons, being a Giants fan was just plain tough duty for a baseball fan.

Many games drew less than three thousand spectators. Conditions at Candlestick Park, or the "Stick" as we called it, were horrid for baseball: nasty cold and windy. Hardcore fans wrapped themselves in blankets and down parkas for night games, when Giants management came out with a new gimmick: awarding medals to those fans who would stick it out until the end of an extra-inning night game. They called the medals the "Croix Du Candlestick", and I earned a few of those.

Looking back, I wonder how many home runs Willie Mays might have hit had he not played hundreds of games in front of meager audiences in the frigid conditions at the 'Stick.

Even with little success to celebrate, Giants fans were loyal baseball fans. And since we didn't much care for the A's, and couldn't stand the Dodgers, for baseball excellence, we looked east. And for National League fans, that would often mean the St. Louis Cardinals.

Now back to that spring visit in 1986 to St. Louis. We Californians only seldom heard the voice of Jack Buck, and then usually only on national CBS broadcasts of football games. We're riding in the car with our new St. Louis friends showing us around. The husband, a guy about my age, reaches for the radio. He makes a comment about this radio station, KMOX, and how it is the radio station in St. Louis. He made the point about it being the home station for the Cardinals. He went on and on about how great KMOX was, and I'm thinking, "All this fuss over a local radio station? This seems a little strange".

He clicked on the radio. A Cardinal game was in progress. Then we heard the gravelly voice of Jack Buck announcing the game. With him was a screwy sidekick who seemed more interested in his frosty Budweiser than the proceedings on the field. I asked our host about Jack Buck being the announcer for the Cardinals. Noting just the slightest touch of smugness (something I would learn later to be a trait seldom exhibited by St. Louisans for anything having to do with this town), he smiled, and confirmed that, indeed, Mr. Buck was the regular daily announcer for Cardinal baseball.

Baseball was made for radio. And Jack Buck had the perfect baseball voice. I sat in the car and listened. I thought about how nice it must be to listen to that voice year after year announcing baseball.

That weekend we started some traditions. Our new friends showed us around St. Louis. They took us to Grant's Farm and Rigazzi's. We drove downtown and visited the Arch and got a glimpse of Busch Stadium. We ate toasted ravioli and drank from Frozen Fish Bowls. At the end of the visit, our new St. Louis friend gave me one his prized possessions: a red golf-cap, with a Rigazzi's logo.

A couple of days later we were back on a plane headed home to Northern California, seriously thinking about the idea of leaving everything we knew and moving to the Midwest. Our family and friends would think we must be nuts.

Friday, August 04, 2006

1986: From Contra Costa to STL

Kerri and I were married in 1985 and lived twenty miles northeast of San Francisco in the bayside community of Martinez. By then, I had lived in the Bay Area for about twenty-five years.

I graduated from Cal State Hayward about a year earlier, and was working as a waiter at a private golf and country club. I had been working at the club for about three years, when one day, completely out of the blue, one of the club's principal owners asked me about my career plans. I told him how I was interviewing for various finance and management positions. About a week later, he called to offer me an interview to work as his assistant in his family's real estate development business. I got the job.

The position taught me about real estate. It's where I had my first opportunity to represent citizen groups in their development efforts. These citizens were long time landowners, and the work was geared toward developing their historic farm lands from pristine greenspace and "view shed" areas into high-end suburban housing developments.

We were having successes with our development plans. Over the objections of environmentalists, we succeeded in securing government approvals to expand the urban boundary and the ultimate service area for domestic water supplies. Next, we were successful in securing general plan amendments, increasing the housing development potential of the area from agricultural, 1oo-acre minimum lot sizes, to densities allowing up to one housing unit acre. This change increased the number of homes that could be built within our development area from 20 to 2000 units. Today, the area is built out with multi-million dollar executive homes.

As things turned out, I wouldn't be around for any of the land sales or home construction. About a year after being hired, my boss was killed in a car accident in Mendocino County. As his assistant, my job was no longer necessary, and after another couple of months, I was let go. By then, Kerri and I had been married for about six months, and Kerri was working in the commercial leasing department of Citicorp, in nearby Concord, California.

As my job was ending, Citicorp was in the process of centralizing its leasing operations to St. Louis. At the Concord office, Kerri was on the phone every day closing commercial leasing transactions with her counterparts in Missouri. When word came down of Citicorp's plans to shut down its Northern California operations, Kerri started hearing about job opportunities in St. Louis.

A friendly STL person encouraged us to visit. She invited us to stay at her place with her husband and their year-old daughter. We could stay in the unfurnished, upstairs apartment of the two-family they rented in South St. Louis.

Before we were married, Kerri was living in the Central Valley river town of Sacramento. The late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen once called Sacramento the "Midwest of California". Kerri figured St. Louis and Sacramento would be a lot alike: two old river and transportation towns. I thought about St. Louis in terms of Delta Blues music and the St. Louis Cardinals.

We were both open to checking out the place, so we booked a flight and headed to St. Louis. It was a beautiful spring day when we arrived at Lambert Field, and drove in a rental car to the address of a small brick building on Winnebago, just east of the Sears store on South Grand. We didn't know it then, but this weekend trip over twenty years ago would be the start of our lives in St. Louis.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Best Of: More Views

Getting from the Arch grounds to this vantage point is a lousy trip (you pass the same spot we found some shattered car hardware that turned into an interesting piece of wall decoration), but hazarding the walk get's you to one of the best money shots of downtown STL.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Piasa Meditation

The human body has amazing power to cope with stress. If you're tired of the hot weather, look at the picture above, and think of cooler times to come.

It's a brisk 20 degrees outside; the trees have dropped their leaves; the holiday season has ended; things are quiet; kids are hunkered down in the middle of their school year; and eagle watching rides are shared on our scenic back roads.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Grows in Full Sun

Summer view from Market Street with median plantings full grown.