Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Straggler Lounge

Last night we were scheduled for a meeting of one of the working groups of our Arch connections committee. We planned to hold the meeting at the swanky and historic lounge of the Roberts Mayfair hotel. However, at the last minute, the meeting was rescheduled.

Never knowing how many people read their email on any given day, I went to the Mayfair just in case we had any stragglers show up. Sure enough, promptly at 6 PM, one member of our committee, Paul, arrived. So the two of us worked on the name thing for about a half hour. More on that in a minute. First some appreciation for the Mayfair Hotel.

The lobby and lounge at the Mayfair are right out of the old mob days of 1930s St. Louis. They drip with historic charm. The lounge is dark with a smokey feel, and lots of stained glass. If you're looking for a quaint, private, historic setting for dinner or a drink after work, this place is a good choice. When the adjoining condo tower opens, it will be a great combination of historic and new in the heart of downtown.

Back to the name of our connections group. Paul and I passed ideas back and forth until we came up with "Riverfront Connections Task Force". We liked "riverfront connections" because our group is about improving connections between downtown, the adjoining neighborhoods, the riverfront, and Arch grounds, and we like "task force" because the group is about working toward solutions. Incremental solutions, big ideas, altogether any good ideas that move St. Louis in the direction of reestablising its identity and lifestyle as a riverfront city.

With the two of us in agreement on a possible name, Paul got up to leave. While I was waiting for my ride to arrive, I decided to test market the name with the bartender. By this time, it was just the two of us left in the bar. I made the acquaintance of "Tom", bartender of the Mayfair hotel.

I introduced myself and told him about our group and its efforts to improve connections between downtown and the riverfront. I mentioned the one idea of removing the I-70 depressed lanes between the Arch grounds and the Old Court House and replacing them with a new urban boulevard. His face immediately lit up, and he compared the idea to the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Amazing coincidence, Tom and I were both living in the Bay Area during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake which led to the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway along the San Francisco waterfront.

Tom and I shared stories about life in the Bay Area. The two of us had similar experiences. We both lived in St. Louis once before, moved to California, and then returned to St. Louis. Back in the 1960s, Tom was a bartender in the Gaslight Square district of St. Louis. After getting held up at gunpoint 4 times in one day, Tom had enough of St. Louis and moved to California. It was the mid-1960s.

Back then, the Bay Area was a great place. Rock and roll was coming to life, and the place was affordable. Up through the late 80s, apartments could be found for under $1000 per month. But by the early 90s, things had gone crazy. Tom described situations in the upscale communities of Mill Valley and Sausalito, with rents reaching upwards of $4000 per month, forcing three and four families to live together in the same house, just to afford the rent.

With overcrowding of housing, traffic problems ensued. Tom described bumper to bumper traffic at 11:00 o'clock at night through some parts of Marin County. With people struggling to get by, but still "enjoying" life in the Golden State, I suggested the notion of living with a "false sense of prosperity".

So at about the same time, Tom and my wife and I all came to the same decision. Time to move out of California and somewhere more reasonable. We chose St. Louis. Tom lives in the Central West End. When his friends visit from California, they're jealous of the hip and comparably affordable CWE neighborhood.

So I ran the name "Riverfront Connections Task Force" by Tom and he liked it. He had some other suggestions for improving the visitor experience there. For starters, get rid of the cobblestones. He noted how in the CWE, when they removed the cobblestones from the north side of the Chase Park Plaza, along Maryland Plaza, lots of new businesses opened up. There's no doubt that little stretch of the CWE is much more pleasant now, not to mention easier on the undercarriage of your car and high heeled shoes.

Maybe something as basic an improvement as removing the cobblestones from areas around the riverfront would improve connectivity? Maybe so.


Sol81 said...

I'm very torn on the cobblestones. On one hand, I hate having to drive over them with my car bumping and jostling till I arrive at some parking lot. On the other hand, I dearly love them as they remind me of an older, bygone era that I look at with some sense of nostalgia.

Vanishing STL said...

Cobblestones get a bad rap that is not deserved. The problem with cobblestones, is that just like ANY road, they need to be properly installed AND maintained.

The problem with the landing and that was also the case around the Maryland Plaza roundabout is that the cobblestones have heaved and sunk down in various places creating the equivalent of pot holes in asphalt.

When you look at the surface of the streets on the landing they are full of dips, humps, and waves. All of the stones need to be completely removed and relaid on a supportive base material. When properly laid and maintained, cobble stones should give a light even rumble as you drive on them, not the jerky bumpy ride that now occurs.

samizdat said...

What V-STL said: just relay the cobbles properly, et voila! You could also say the same thing about the Hydraulic brick in our alleys. A nice semi-permeable surface to absorb the storm runoff, not an asphalt repaving allowing it into the sewers.

Anonymous said...

OH you both are so wrong on the cobblestone issue. What brought new business to Maryland Plaza was the refurbishment of the old Saks building and the Chase Prk Plaza and the building of a new parking garage. I have never heard ANYONE complain, nor saw any traffic flow problems on a busy weekend night due to cobblestones. Quite the opposite, when I had guests visiting they absolutely loved the cobblestone streets. It is what gave it its European character and drew people from boring Chesterfield for drinks and dinner.

While I realize the cobblestones in Maryland Plaza were not original, but rather a late 70s/early 80s attempt at reviving the neighborhood, it certainly brought an old world charm to the CWE. The cobblestones and lamp posts gave Maryland Plaza a mystique that other neighborhoods just don't have around STL.

I now live in NYC and have been considering moving back to STL, in particular the CWE. On a recent trip back, I noticed how boring Maryland Plaza looked, it could now be just any old commercial district in any Midwestern city. I think it is VERY sad they were removed and I am so curious why Mr Koplar thought this was for the best? Truly tragic in my opinion!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I had to add one other comment on this subject. I just ran a quick google search on cobblestone+central west end and cobblestone+maryland plaza. I urge you and your friend to do the same. What you will see are site after site describing the area just prior to the removal of the cobblestone, describing the charm and character based on "cobblestone streets and old world lamp posts." Removing cobblestone IS NOT WHAT REVIVES A NEIGHBORHOOD! I sincerely hope you will both consider the aesthetic value cobblestone adds to certain areas before you suggest they be ripped out.

Anonymous said...

I'll add to the chorus. The removal of the cobblestones had ZERO to do with new businesses opening. I'm quite surprised by such an assertion. Of course there are still cobblestones on Maryland about 100 feet from Euclid Avenue and guess what?!?!? Well, Companion opened a new location immediately next to the cobblestones and Gelato di Riso as well and the St. Louis Chess Center . . . get the idea?