Sunday, March 11, 2007

Magnolia Square Church Key

The new name for the Manchester strip in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood is "The Grove". The Grove is a hot night spot in St. Louis. I met Calvin last night during our first night time visit to The Grove.

The Church Key in The Grove doesn't allow smoking in the main bar. In the back they have put up a little one-room building with a fire pit where smokers gather. Calvin's job is to stoke the fire. The Church Key is owned by the same family that owns Bellon Wrecking.

The little building with the fire pit is made out of pallets of salvaged brick, stacked three high. The bricks are fastened to the pallets with steel straps. The fire pit is in the center of the room, and the roof is reinforced by huge steel I-beams and covered by salvaged steel plating. Adding to the casual atmosphere, there are a couple of strands of large-sized, Christmas lights hung from the ceiling. There's a small boom box in the corner playing music, but you couldn't hear it until very late at night when the conversation and the crackling fire had quieted down. The little room is cozy and inviting. From the outside, it looks like a primitive brick mound.

Calvin and I talked about demolition. Calvin works for the Bellons. Bellon lost out on the bid to Spirtas for the Gasometer demolition over on Chouteau. Spirtas and Bellon are competitors in the demolition business. Calvin said that Bellon and Spirtas are the two biggest demo contractors in St. Louis behind Alberici. Calvin laughed when he told me how Bellon won a bid to a demolition right next door to the Spirtas office.

The Grove is rapidly improving and it has a feel different from any of the other hip destinations around St. Louis. It's an old highway. Last nite, we had to park a few blocks away from the Church Key to find a parking space on Manchester. The other nearby bars and restaurants were packed. One member of our party said the new "R-Bar" is the latest hot spot. The Chouteau viaduct just reopened, making it easier to get to The Grove from the east. Calvin said this part of Manchester Road is the old Route 66.

Bellon demolished the old Chouteau viaduct. The viaduct travels over lots of rail lines. Calvin said the railroad has its own rules. They wouldn't let Bellon work during daylight hours, so the demolition had to all be done in the middle of the night. The new viaduct is beautiful and reconnects St. Louis east and west.

I spent most of my time back in the little brick room with the smokers around the fire. Even though the weather has warmed up, it was still cool enough outside to enjoy a warm fire. Calvin and I took turns stoking it. Occasionally, I'd walk back inside the main bar. The Church Key is a beautiful historic rehab on the north side of Manchester.

Out back, next to the little building with the fire pit, there's a concrete patio with some stone benches. One of the benches is next to the back fence. I climbed up on it to look over the fence and into the neighborhood. About ten yards past the fence, on a formely vacant lot, there's a brand new, beautiful playground for children and families.

The north side of Forest Park Southeast is now on the National Register of Historic Places and the Church Key is one of many historic rehabs completed or underway in the neighborhood. When the Bellons renovated the Church Key, they used some of the contents from the old St. Aloysius Church near Cunetto's on the Hill to finish the rehab. Bellon demolished St. Aloysius last year to make way for the new, upscale Magnolia Square housing development.

The demolition of St. Aloysius reminded me of the demolition of the old Arena. I had many fond memories, all sports related, of St. Al's. The gym at St. Al's had a Lamella roof, just like the Arena, only smaller. The coolest thing about a Lamella roof is the wide, unsupported span of wood-framing it creates. It makes for great sight lines. If you were ever in the Arena, you know what I mean. At St. Al's it was the same thing, only smaller. We used to watch CYC basketball games in the St. Al's gym. It was my favorite gym on the CYC circuit and one of the oldest.

Now the church, the school, and the gym are gone and the site is being developed into a subdivison of upscale homes. The parishioners have been assigned to St. Ambrose on the Hill. Neighbors of the old St. Al's were happy to see the new homes come in. The houses at Magnolia Square have nice designs, with alley-facing garages, front porches, and many quality features. Selling in the middle-upper three hundred thousand dollar range, Magnolia Square has raised the bar substantially for home prices in the area.

Back at the Church Key, some of the custmers, neighbors of mine, were talking about the reuse of old St. Aloysius church parts. Pews had been converted to booths, a stained glass window is back-lit into a nice wall feature, and the old kneelers are now foot rests for the bar. Using old church parts in bars and restaurants is nothing new in St. Louis.

The most famous example was the old Talayna's pizza place across from Washington University. Talayna's was filled with sculpture and stained glass from many old city churches. Talayna's closed and the old building was torn down. The religious artworks all found new homes. An attractive new building has taken its place.

We talked some more about the pews and the kneelers inside the Church Key, and how cool the whole place is. One person said how maybe someday the pews in our church would end up in a restaurant. Or maybe something like Ninth Street Abbey? It could happen.

A couple years ago, St. Aloysius was a vacant, surplus church and Manchester Road in Forest Park Southeast was mostly filled with vacant old brick buildings, left behind when Highway 40 bypassed Manchester Road. There was no such thing as "The Grove".

Today, the old St. Aloysius church site has been transformed into an upscale housing development, and there is new life in "The Grove", some of it transported from St. Aloysius Church.


Anonymous said...

That artist's rendering of the new house looks like it's sitting in a forest.

Anonymous said...

The design of the house is an abomination. Where do you find any old home in the city with that look like this house? Are we going to allow the designs like this and Botanical Heights to become the norm for the city? Who on the Hill has oversight of the design? The majority of the design is vinyl side with a brick teaser on the front. New Town has better designs than this one?

Anonymous said...

Most of the houses are so close together, the vinyl down the gangways is hardly visible.

Brick should go on the sides facing streets.

Think costs.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could say I respect your view, but quit frankly it is propaganda. The church was the center of the neighborhood. Check out the site here for another approach.
I hope your not an urban planner. Kind regards.

Rick Bonasch said...

This post was not about urban planning. It was just commentary and observations.

Thanks for reading.